C'mon, it'll be fun! The Cult of Rakdos is a scream!
"I mean, really, what kind of a demonically evil scheme involves rollercoasters and cotton candy anyway?"
Overnight, the circus came to town. But something's wrong — very
wrong. The circus music, which should be cheerful, seems menacing
. The attractions (especially the freak display) seem off, the cotton candy is a sickly shade of green, the knife thrower doesn't miss
, and the clowns
...well, the less said about the clowns the better.
And people are disappearing, either consumed by or turned into
the circus denizens.
This trope is the brother to The Little Shop That Wasn't There Yesterday
, and often used in context with freaks
, providing instances of either Red Right Hand
or The Grotesque
A common variation on the theme is a killer amusement park
, with homicidal costumed mascots and a fun house that's anything but. If it's in a video game, expect a roller coaster that acts an awful lot like a mine cart
Something Wicked This Way Comes
, a novella written by Ray Bradbury
and published in 1962 and turned into a movie in 1983, is a big inspiration for this trope, although the 1919 movie The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
is probably the Trope Maker
- The Little Shop That Wasn't There Yesterday: Like the Circus, the Little Shop is a liminal space between the fantastic and the mundane. But the Little Shop isn't expected to move around, and is always magical: the Circus of Fear need not be magical, though it usually is.
- Amusement Park of Doom: If the Circus were to permanently settle down somewhere, it would be an Amusement Park. Note that you generally must choose to visit the Park, whereas the Circus comes to you.
- Crappy Carnival: You won't have fun here either, but the reason is mundane incompetence, not eerie menace.
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Anime & Manga
- The Dead Moon Circus of Sailor Moon.
- Buggy the Clown's pirate crew from One Piece.
- In episode 20 of Cowboy Bebop, Spike faces off against Mad Pierrot in a creepy circus inspired by Batman: The Animated Series.
- It's also called Space Land, and can be seen as a mockery of Bebop itself.
- The titular Robot Carnival is one of these. It used to be a normal circus, but years of wear turned it into this and it turns the citizens into the towns it visits into its new performers. Or just makes them explode.
- There were hints of something called a "Nightmare Circus" sub-arc within the Mahorafest arc of Mahou Sensei Negima!. Sadly, it was cancelled due to the main story taking up much more time than expected.
- Black Butler has a whole arc in the manga where Ciel and Sebastian join Noah's Circus to investigate the whereabouts of children that have gone missing. Needless to say, what starts off as your average circus with jugglers, tightrope walkers, and acrobats turns much darker as we learn about the secrets behind it.
- Near the end of the ultra- squick horror manga Gyo, the protagonist visits a circus where all the acts are composed of or powered by victims of the "death stench" gas-producing virus that has ravaged Japan.
- Another short manga by Junji Ito, Circus ga Kita also has a travelling circus where performers die one by one during the show. It doesn't matter that the circus loses performers or that the audience witness these horrors, since every single spectator will become part of it.
- In Tite Kubo's short lived Zombie Powder, Balmunk has a Circus of Pain/Fear that just springs up from the ground.
- The third opening of (Goku) Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei.
- Cat Soup has one, featuring a woman getting dismembered and a giant bird that's swallowed clouds (that ends up causing a flood).
- Copernicus Breathing may or may not fit neatly into this trope. Although it does not contain any supernatural elements, le Cirque de Soir is pretty gritty and the way it is visually portrayed is like a horrifying acid trip for a vast majority of the time and not to mention, the ringmaster pimps out several of the performers.
- The graphic novel The Last Temptation had one. It was written by Neil Gaiman and Alice Cooper.
- In the Marvel Universe, the Circus of Crime was a front for criminal activity. It consisted of guys like Bruto the Strongman, Princess Python, the Human Cannonball, the Great Gambonnos, the Clown, Live Wire, and the variously threatening-and-not so much Ringmaster, whose hypnotic hat was often the key to his schemes. Generally less overtly creepy and homicidal than other examples of this trope, the Circus of Crime is mostly in it for the money.
- Marvel villain Arcade's deadly amusement park, Murderworld, also has elements of the Circus Of Fear, and so far hasn't fallen to Villain Decay. Probably because he has so many Murderworlds.
- Also in the Marvel Universe, in a New Mutants flashback, they find a circus, it's run by Skrulls who are kidnapping humans and shrinking them. As expected, the New Mutants trash the place, including various structures that didn't need it.
- Slapstick, another Marvel hero resurrected in the aftermath of the Civil War, got his start trying to save his classmates from Evil Clowns From Dimension X who were using a circus to kidnap people and turn them mediocre. No, really. Everything got righteously smashed up.
- The Joker likes doing variations of this in the various Batman incarnations. Most famously, he buys an Amusement Park of Doom in The Killing Joke and crews it with circus freaks, using it to attempt to drive Commissioner Gordon insane by showing him naked pictures he'd taken of Gordon's daughter after he shot her through the spine. And there was a song.
- Also from Batman, in Grant Morrison's Batman and Robin, the first arc features an evil circus troupe led by the Nightmare Fuel inducing Professor Pyg. In the second issue, the new Robin visits the actual circus and more Nightmare Fuel starts when he is attacked by Professor Pyg's masked henchmen.
- Pyg's major underlings all resemble sideshow freaks, as well, including a grossly overweight bearded lady in a tutu and a human flame act who can burn others but not himself.
- In Spider-Man: Noir, Norman "The Goblin" Osborn recruited his inner circle from the circus freak show. The Vulture was a geek who had become more animal than man, Kraven was an animal tamer, the Chameleon had the uncanny ability to alter his facial features, Ox was a strongman, Montana did rope tricks, and Fancy Dan was a promoter. As it turns out, Norman himself was a refugee from the same freak-show, where he had been put on display since childhood as "the Goblin" because of his thick, green, scaly skin. He hides it under a latex mask nowadays.
- The Real Ghostbusters fought a ghost-circus in their comic-book incarnation. The zombie elephants were somewhat creepy.
- The second arc in the first volume of I Hunt Monsters has the heroes dealing with a circus run by werewolves.
- An early arc of James Robinson's Starman features this type of circus. The "freaks" themselves are mostly nice people, but they are controlled by the ringmaster and his evil lieutenant. Because this is Starman, the lieutenant comes back during the invasion of Opal City.
- Hoax Hunters has a traveling circus as a front for a murderous cult. It used to just be a regular circus, until the ringleader met an Eldritch Abomination and went insane. Most people who come in contact with it never suspect there's anything wrong — and also probably think that goat guy is wearing a costume.
- The hero Dark Hawk has an origin involving witnessing his father take a bribe inside a creepy, abandoned carnival and stumbling upon the mysterious amulet that would eventually give him his powers.
- A young Hellboy ran off one day and found one of these. It was run by one "A.T. Roth".
- Resident Evil: Fire and Ice opens with the main characters fighting a zombified circus troupe, which includes a car filled with zombie clowns.
- Akiko's horrific past as a Magical Girl in the backstory of the Battle Fantasia Project involved three years fighting against the Carnival of Blood, who want you to join them forever, in addition to the four years fighting her current enemy, the Nightmare Factory. It's primarily glossed over if mentioned at all, because going into specifics would subject the poor girl to horrors that would break most Magical Girls, horrors to which not even Puella Magi Madoka Magica can compare.
- In the Horseshoes and Hand Grenades sidestory Month of Sundays, Damballa transforms the Narumi Detective Agency into this and the main attractions just happen to be the fighting of Creepy Doll versions of three different Kamen Riders.
- In Misunderstandings, the very human Peter Collins is captured by one of these, run by an evil unicorn named named Big Top. When he escapes, other ponies are concerned that this "alien" might be violent because of his poor treatment and both sides are overly cautious towards one another, especially due to a language barrier separating the two.
Films — Animation
- The Big Bad for the movie We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story runs a 'literal' Circus of Fear. Everything in it is geared towards horror. Except for the clown, ironically enough.
- The obscure film known as Felix the Cat: The Movie takes place in one of these for most of the film, since the Big Bad sends the Damsel in Distress there to perform for his amusement.
- Invoked in Disney's Pinocchio where some of the crates the Coachman locked about half the Donkey Boys in appear to be heading for a circus (the other crates were heading for the salt mines).
Films — Live-Action
- The film Batman Returns had the Penguin secretly running the Red Triangle Circus Gang, a gang of crooks who, like him, were former circus performers. It is hinted that they abducted children when they were a legit circus, likely the reason they shut down.
- Two-Face's goons dressed up as two-sided clowns when they attacked the circus in Batman Forever.
- Oddly enough, this has been mostly averted with The Joker in his most recent live action outings—though he does come close in Batman
- The movie Freaks both used and defied this trope. The freaks are all loving and caring people, the clowns are good-natured and charming (although one of them has a hilarious speech-impediment), and the animal trainer is frigging gorgeous. There's a bit of black comedy involving a pair of conjoined twins, one of who is getting married, and the soundtrack is slightly creepy, but that's about it. Unless you get them angry, as the evil female trapeze artist and misogynistic strong man do. Do NOT get the freaks angry.
- The movie version of The Elephant Man involves the title character's escape from one of these. The movie was directed by David Lynch, who must have jumped at the chance to try his hand at this trope.
- No prizes for guessing what the Hammer horror film Vampire Circus is about.
- Before he gets to the famous Hall of Mirrors Michael O'Hara from The Lady from Shanghai, is dumped in one of these.
- The monsters in Killer Klowns from Outer Space are aliens that look like clowns and come to Earth on spaceship that looks like a circus tent.
- The movie Waxwork is about a group of teenagers coming across an evil waxwork museum.
- Christopher Lee starred in a 1966 fim actually titled Circus of Fear.
- In the James Bond film Octopussy, the titular female lead uses a circus as a cover for her criminal activities as well as using circus acrobats and aerialists to commit crimes for her, while a renegade Soviet general plants a nuke in her circus. Not necessarily evil, but initially misguided.
- Give Yourself Goosebumps #1 is called Escape from the Carnival of Horrors. And then much later there came "Return to the Carnival of Horrors", because apparently you just can't stay away. (To be fair you're bullied into it by the book itself in the first entry (after all what the point of reading it). In the second entry you brave it once again to get your oblivious cousin out.)
- Played straight with a later Choose Your Own Adventure book called Trapped in the Circus of Fear.
- Endless Quest also had an entry actually titled Circus of Fear. Decide for yourself whether the title's talking about the circus being run by bad guys or all the usual circus animals and attractions being replaced by creatures from the D&D bestiary.
- Averted/inverted in Iain Lawrence's Ghost Boy. The main character discovers that the freaks are kind and good-natured, but they still unsettle him a little, and the non-freaks are much better at being charming.
- The Carnivorous Carnival
- Angela Carter's Nights at the Circus doesn't feature an evil circus per se, but some scary and strange crap definitely goes down.
- One of TSR's Endless Quest books was actually called Circus of Fear, involving a circus run by evil dopplegangers looking to assassinate the current ruler and take over the kingdom.
- In several Incarnations of Immortality books, ghosts run an ethereal amusement park, where the ghosts try, and often succeed, in scaring the visitors. Amusingly, people kissing seems to scare the ghosts, in return. However, the rest of the amusement park is typical, if ghostly, fare such as a smoke ring toss.
- Subverted in The Saga of Darren Shan, where the "Cirque Du Freak", though intended to be nightmarish and slightly horrifying (and potentially dangerous), actually provides a warning beforehand of what it will be like, and gives patrons an opportunity to leave. If any are injured, the show is halted until they are fixed up. Also, the "freaks" are rather friendly and personable people, and the Circusmaster, Mr. Tall, actually runs the cirque as a means of providing people with strange abilities with shelter, family, the opportunity to travel, and a circumstance where their unique abilities can inspire wonder rather than fear.
- Something Wicked This Way Comes. Its carnival is strongly implied to thrive on fear and unhappiness.
- The Pilo Family Circus. An extradimensional travelling circus of madmen, magicians, and monsters, where the employees are paid in bags of management-controlled wishing powder made from the crystalised remains of human souls- extracted from the audience. Oh, and the managers have a nasty habit of causing global chaos on Earth via the Fortune Teller and the Clown division, on behalf of a race of reptilian demigods imprisoned beneath the showgrounds.
- Redwall's Slagar the Cruel runs a traveling show which seems perfectly benign (except that all the performers are weasels and stoats). The show is used to distract the good guys while a performer drugs their drinks and Slagar himself hypnotises them, and when they wake up the "show" has vanished, taking their children with it.
- Count Otto Black, a Running Gag recurring villain in Robert Rankin's insane versions of novels, is often seen running a circus.
- Jean-Claude, from the Anita Blake series, owns and runs a fully functioning vampire circus, clowns with fangs and all.
- The Theater des Vampires in The Vampire Chronicles, who are vampires hiding in plain sight. They manage to be both scary and complete jackasses at the same time. They act out vampires killing humans on stage while the human audience watches in oblivious entertainment, and sometimes even satirically offer themselves in place of the victim they don't believe is a victim.
- Not a circus, but an amusement park - Full Tilt by Neil Shusterman. Good god, Full Tilt.
- The Buffy the Vampire Slayer novel, 'Circus Of Souls'. She figures it out soon enough, but is then zapped by the brain-altering magics of the circus.
- The Manual of Detection has Caligari's Travels-No-More Carnival, which is this trope in spades.
- Nick Harkaway's The Gone-Away World subverts this by having a circus help and support the good guys.
- The Circus of Doctor Lao, the one novel by Charles G. Finney. One amazing novel.
- The setting for the Ravenloft novel Carnival of Fear.
- According to the short story "A Boy and His Monster" in Star Wars: Tales from Jabba's Palace, Malakili the Rancor Keeper was previously employed by the Circus Horrificus, where Hutts paid to see weird creatures get tortured to death.
- There's a G-rated version in the children's picture book The Amazing Spider-Man: The Big Top Mystery. To be sure, the circus in itself isn't scary, but it becomes this way once Spidey learns that he has to stop a saboteur from causing deadly "accidents" for the performers and spectators. Among the perils are a panicky elephant, a crazed lion, and a murderous clown who had "arranged" all the accidents and whom Spider-Man had rescued from the aforementioned lion earlier in the story. After he is finally caught, arrested, and questioned, the clown admits that he wanted to prevent the owner from selling the circus so he wouldn't lose his job.
- The Fun Fair, Nightside's first amusement park ended up this way. It's considered a very bad place (and this is Nightside we're talking about) and requires services of major exorcists just to keep it quiet. The protagonist even comments on the nerve and bravery of someone who graffittied the front gate sign.
- Circus of the Dead, a short e-book by Seth Blackburn, is about a circus that features a real zombie as it's main attraction. As is expected, things don't end well.
- The Goosebumps book Welcome to Horrorland, which spawned a sequel (Return to Horrorland) and two spinoff series (Goosebumps: HorrorLand and Goosebumps: Hall of Horrors).
- The Peabody-Ozymandias Traveling Circus & Oddity Emporium of the eponymous novella in the Repairman Jack universe by F. Paul Wilson serves as this. Peabody is more or less a regular owner of a circus, by Ozymandias's freaks bear an otherworldly taint.
- The main antagonists in Devils Cape are the Cirque d'Obscurite, a group of carnies who developed superpowers based on their talents when they were exposed to the death of a superhero and murdered first one hero, then the rest of his team. They're led by the Behemoth, formerly part of the freakshow, but also include Hector Hell, Kraken, Werewolf, Osprey, and Gork.
- Doctor Who, during the Seventh Doctor's tenure, had the Psychic Circus in The Greatest Show in the Galaxy.
- There was also an untelevised script for a Sixth Doctor story called The Nightmare Fair, later released as a novel, then an audio play (unofficial) and then an audio drama (official). The circus in question belongs to an enemy called the Celestial Toymaker.
- Subverted in the Third Doctor's Carnival of Monsters, with the showman Vorg portrayed as ignorant of the horrors he's leading.
- Torchwood series 2 had the Night Travellers in the episode "From Out of the Rain".
- The Sarah Jane Adventures series 2 had Spellman's Magical Museum of the Circus in the story The Day of the Clown.
- Ace Lightning's appropriately named Carnival of Doom. The one seen in the actual show would be pretty innocuous if not for all the digital supervillains who happen to live there, though.
- One episode of Star Trek: Voyager had a circus that was run by an anthropomorphic manifestation of fear (depicted as a Monster Clown, naturally).
- Papa Lazarou's circus in The League of Gentlemen might qualify as a subversion. While Papa Lazarou's appearance is pure Nightmare Fuel and he spends all his spare time kidnapping women ("You're my wife now!") Royston Vasey is already so full of freaks that the circus soon flees in terror, as the town is too weird even for them.
- Heroes headed in this direction in their final season. The season opened with the role of primary antagonists falling on a group of carnies, led by a man named Samuel who injected ink into people and manipulated it inside their bodies along with creating earthquakes and manipulating earth In the end it turns out this is a subverted trope as the carnival was a protected home for people with powers where they could openly be themselves.
- Most of the carnies aren't really evil, just misguided by Samuel. He was manipulating them to give him more power. The carnies were just looking for an safe haven to openly use their abilities and earn a living.
- An episode of Mutant X dealt with a travelling circus led by a man whose power was to trap people inside funhouse mirrors.
- The short lived series She-Wolf of London (aka Love & Curses) featured an episode during it's first season, Big Top She-Wolf, that dealt with a demonic circus.
- Dumbo's Circus, a popular puppet show on the Disney Channel in the 1980s, had a Halloween Episode whose climax was the musical number "The Day the Spooky Circus Came to Town" (with a bass line, believe it or not, filched straight from Michael Jackson's Thriller). Somewhat ironically, the Aesop of the episode was to teach kids to not be afraid of Halloween (or circuses, for that matter).
- A lot of Tom Waits' stuff, especially the albums Swordfishtrombones, Franks Wild Years, Rain Dogs, Alice (which includes a song about Johnny Eck), The Black Rider, and Blood Money.
- "Circus of Death," from the Human League's first album Reproductions, tells the story of a singularly destructive circus. The song is also, oddly enough, a Hawaii Five-O Fanfic of sorts.
- The Insane Clown Posse's appearance and Dark Carnival mythos is based on this trope. Many of their songs, including "Murder Go Round", "House of Mirrors", "Halls of Illusion" and "Tilt-a-Whirl" relate to Circus, or rather, Carnival of Fear-based themes.
- The cover art, title track and its music video, and associated merchandise (comic books, action figures and a CD-ROM game) of the 1998 KISS album Psycho Circus make use of this concept.
- The Song Flohzirkus by Samsas Traum is exactly about this. One of four thrown knives is guaranteed to hit, and the woman is actually sewn in half.
- This is kind of the whole schtick of Seattle-based group Circus Contraption, especially during their "Grand American Traveling Dime Museum" show.
- Creature Feature's "The Greatest Show Unearthed". is all about this:
Come inside, for the ride,
Your deepest, darkest fear!
The best night, of your life,
You're never leaving here!
The unknown, the unseen,
Is what you'r gonna find!
Witness this, witness that,
Untill you lose your mind!
- Nox Arcana's CD Carnival of Lost Souls is based on ''Something Wicked This Way Comes'', so features one of these.
- Emerson, Lake & Palmer and their "Karn Evil 9". Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends...
- Bob Dylan's "Ballad of a Thin Man" from Highway 61 Revisited if the lyrics are taken literally, takes place at least partially in a Circus Of Fear.
- The video for "I Stay Away" by Alice in Chains, made even creepier by the use of somewhat grotesque puppets. The song doesn't really have much to do with it.
- Circus of Sour by Donovan doesn't sound like it's about a particularly nice circus.
- A lot of Hannah Fury's music evokes feelings of this, but "Carnival Justice (The Gloves Come Off)" especially makes use of some creepy carnival imagery.
- The artwork for Mr. Bungle's self-titled first album centers around this trope, as does the song Carousel (off the same album).
- "Dark Woods Circus" of the Vocaloids. Perfect example.
- "Circus Apocalypse" by the dark cabaret act, Vermillion Lies.
Come down and join the circus
It's the end of your world
Come down and join the circus
All you dead boys and girls
If you still have a pulse
We can remedy that
You can check your life
While you check your hat
- The dark cabaret act Circus Contraption is MADE of this trope.
- P!nk's Funhouse Tour featured quite a few freakish clowns. The name comes from one of her songs: "This used to be a fun house/But now it's full of evil clowns".
- The song "Grease Paint and Monkey Brains" by White Zombie. It even starts with a circus calliope breaking down mid-song.
- Poets Of The Fall has the awesome song/music video"Carnival of Rust". It is run down. It is creepy. It has a girl in a gas mask. It. Is. Awesome.
- The Concept Album The New World's Fair by Michael Moorcock and his band Deep Fix (yes, Michael Moorcock sang and wrote songs!) involves the denizens of a carnival in a post-apocalyptic world.
- 'Circus metal' is slowly becoming its own sub-genre for a combination of circus music (or more generally dark cabaret) and metal. Good examples of this are Stolen Babies and Unexpect.
- The circus folk in Panic! at the Disco's "I Write Sins Not Tragedies" are a subversion since, while definitely creepy, they're actually the good guys.
- The aptly named Dark Cabaret group The Carnival are centered around this.
- Nightwish's song Scaretale has a part like this.
- As does the music video for Storytime.
- "Cirkus" by King Crimson is a rather mind screwy version.
- The album cover of Strange Days by The Doors features some freaky circus people too.
- The original Heel Doink the Clown qualifies, of course.
- The Oddities, in 1998 WWE, started as this, as a traveling carnival freak show complete with creepy music led by the Jackyl. The group turned Face (Good), and the Jackyl was replaced by Sable, and the Insane Clown Posse came on board and would rap their new theme song, "Oddities", as the group danced down to the ring. ICP later turned heel on their way out of WWE in late 1998. The Oddities, by early 1999 down to Golga (John Tenta), Kurrgan, the Giant Silva and George "The Animal" Steele, suffered through Badass Decay/Redemption Demotion and were released in February 1999.
- Sinn Bodhi's Odditorium in Chikara
- AAA's Psycho Circus.
- Total Nonstop Action debuted "The Menagerie" in 2014, headed by Knux and including Rebel, Crazzy Steve, and The Freak as wrestling carnies.
- G-rated example: The 54th album of Adventures in Odyssey features a carnival that is a front for a counterfeiting ring.
- In the 2013 Broadway revival of Pippin, the Show Within a Show "Pippin, His Life and Times" is specifically being performed by a circus troupe (with performers from the Real Life Canadian troupe Les 7 Doigts de la Main). The reason it's this trope is that over the course of the production, particularly in the second act, matters become increasingly disturbing until the Grand Finale - where the players try to convince Pippin to commit a dramatic suicide in order to be "Extraordinary". When he refuses, the Lead Player becomes hostile and takes away the "magical illusions" of the show and he and the company encourage members of the audience to come and take Pippin's place. Because "we're right inside in your heads!".
- The Old World of Darkness has the Midnight Circus.
- The Swords & Sorcery Scarred Lands setting has a Circus of Fear nation. The Carnival of Tears in Blood Bayou.
- Appearing in the Warhammer spinoff game Mordheim, and referenced in Warhammer too, is the Carnival of Chaos, a circus staffed by Chaos worshippers and daemons of Nurgle (who, despite being the Chaos God of despair, is a rather jovial fellow). The show seems to be benign until the climax when the Carnival members and and their stage's true putrid corruption is revealed. At this point the entertainers slaughter anyone who hasn't already fallen to the diseases secretly spread during the performance. They then round up the women and children who survived, the Carnival Master taking a finger from each woman and taking them as his "wives".
- Dungeons & Dragons
- The titular organisation from Ravenloft's Carnival box set seems like this at first, with the workers divided roughly between mutated freaks and spooky, utterly silent folks in bizarre face paint, many of which work as rather disturbing clowns, but it actually subverts the trope. The Carnival is one of the most accepting and hospitable places in the Demiplane of Dread, and most of the workers are good people. Most of them... there are some members who are actually evil, though they've managed to hide this from their fellows. One of the options for the true nature of Isolde, their leader, (and which has more or less been adopted as the truth), is that she's a rogue angel who came to Ravenloft to pursue the incubus known as the Gentleman Caller, with the Twisting resulting from the interaction between her nature and the sheer corrupt nature of Ravenloft. The original workers for Isolade's Carnival, however, are escapees from a now-dead Darklord called "The Puppetmaster", who ruled a domain (the Carnival l'Morai) that played this trope straight (Carnival of Fear, mentioned in Literature above, deals with the original domain, not the current Carnival).
- Despite all this, as is only appropriate in Ravenloft, the Carnival's still very creepy. The Skurra are attendant Vistani who wear strange black and white facepaint (the Skurra-verra) that protects them from the Twisting at the cost of making them mute. The Twisting causes people who stay overlong in the Carnival to mutate, their form changing to reflect their hearts and souls- for example, the bitter and malevolent Professor Pacali's repressed plots take life as deformed midget "things" that grow from his flesh. This is the source of his "Pickled Punks". One of the "attractions" are the horrifically warped Chaos Spawn-like remnants of people who attacked the Carnival, entities referred to simply as The Abominations. And some of the populace were strange and unnatural before they entered the Carnival, like a bloodthirsty leopard with the ability to assume a humanoid form, a Seawolf (an amphibious werewolf), the Fetch of an evil wizard and a Wax Golem.
- 1st edition supplement Adventure Pack I, adventure "The Circus of Gandolfo". The title circus is just a cover for a Doctor Frankenstein-like Mad Scientist who likes to kidnap people and perform bizarre experiments on them.
- An Old World of Darkness supplement titled Midnight Circus detailed something very much like this, containing all manner of supernatural creatures enslaved to a mystic travelling circus dating back to the Roman era. It was disturbing even by World of Darkness standards.
- In the New World of Darkness, Vampire: The Requiem gives us the vampiric bloodline called the Carnival. Every last vampire of the bloodline bears a circus-freak deformity (their founder suffered from sirenalia, and was billed as "the Andalusian Mermaid"), and they often act as traveling or static carnivals, the better to hide in plain sight.
- The Pathfinder module Carnival of Tears showcases a carnival where icy fey have taken over, and are slaughtering the attending townsfolk in gruesomely creative ways. No one notices, due to powerful illusion magic that replaces every event of horror with a completely normal, even enjoyable, carnival scene.
- Magic: The Gathering has the sado-masochistic hedonist Cult of Rakdos with its circuses◊ of DOOM.
- One of the playable "families" in Gloom is Darius Dark's Den of Deformity. The description for Darius Dark himself is: "The circus is in Darius' blood. And there is an awful lot of blood in Darius' circus." Although creepy and weird, the circus performers don't seem to be evil so much as incompetent. With the possible exception of Mister Giggles...
- The Circus Maximus for GURPS.
- Also for GURPS, Poponax the Evil Clown's carnival from the Magic Items 2 sourcebook. The carnival itself is relatively harmless, but all the prizes and souvenirs the visitors receive are cursed.
- In the Mutant Chronicles Universe, the Dark Apostle Semai's method of obtaining sleeper agents in human society is by having carnivals in big cities abduct children to brainwash them.
- The Pale Moon clan of Cardfight!! Vanguard is less grisly than most other examples on the page, appearing to all intents and purposes a regular circus run by Fetish Fuel Station Attendant performers, but these staff are monsters, the circus animals are chimera, and one stronger performer of note is a giant Uncanny Valley Girl.
- Mort from Gunnerkrigg Court creates one of these at Antimony's suggestion to scare her classmate Paz.
- Gamzee from Homestuck more or less has this as his overall intention now that he's "sane", a turn of events which could arguably be the most utterly terrifying moment in the comic to date. Just listen to "Midnight Calliope" or "The Carnival". It's recommended you have a spare pair of pants on hand.
- It has been announced that once Grave Academy starts, a part of the academy or a separate location will be this.
- An episode of the Flash series Xombie had Dirge and Zoe fighting a horde of zombie clowns in an abandoned amusement park, while Dirge's undead dog
Cerebus Cerberus faced off against a zombie tiger.
- Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab made a series of perfumes with collectible cards designed around the "Carnaval Diabolique".
- SCP Foundation
- Inverted in one episode of Welcome to Night Vale. A perfectly ordinary and benign carnival accidentally wanders into the horrifying town of Night Vale, and then flee in terror from the mob of distrustful townsfolk who were threatening them.
- Mighty Orbots had to deal with "The Cosmic Circus", a fake circus designed to duplicate key members in the Galactic Patrol. Was actually kinda creepy.
- Episode 9 of Ben 10, "Last Laugh", feature a circus led by a Vampiric Draining Monster Clown named Zombozo, whose members included: Acid Breath, a zombie-looking man breathing acid; Thumbskull, a Dumb Muscle strong man with a broken horn on his head; and Frightwig, a Dark Action Girl with Combat Tentacles as hair.
- One episode of The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo.
- A possible variation: an episode of My Little Pony involved the witch Somnambula inviting the ponies into her illusory carnival, where she steals their youth.
- Taken from Something Wicked, at least the movie; in the book, the reverse happens to the teacher, but she's turned instead into a child and has to run away with the freaks at the end.
- Circus Gothica in Danny Phantom.
- Rayman: The Animated Series has one of these as the whole plot setting. Did I mention half the cast are kids?
- An episode of Loonatics Unleashed had one where Mix-and-Match Critters are made and used to perform.
- A Captain Caveman episode on The Flintstone Comedy Show, "Clownfoot," featured the episode's villainous clown, Clownfoot, using a circus as his hideout. At said circus, Clownfoot also rigs a tandem bicycle Wilma and Betty are riding on a high-wire to fall apart, over a cage full of hungry saber-tooth tigers.
- The Tiny Toons episode "Sawdust and Toonsil" has Gogo Dodo caught and imprisoned by a very-Satanic-looking ringmaster when he attempts to rescue some of his fellow Wackyland residents (a sphinx, a unicorn, etc.) from a circus. Bugs, Buster, and Plucky have to rescue him. They never really show the rest of the circus, but the Ringmaster's treatment of the Wackylanders is pretty nightmare-inducing.
- Episode 12 of Super Robot Monkey Team Hyperforce Go!, "Circus of Ooze".
- Mighty Max has an episode where an Evil clown named Freeko kidnaps children, and morphs them into creatures for his freakshow. This episode, as one would expect, is brimming with horror.
- The Funhouse in ReBoot. One of the rarest games on the Net (because only User children play it) and is nearly impossible for sprites to beat. Bob and Dot are the only confirmed sprites to escape it alive.
- "Wild" Bill Krebb's sideshow in Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers episode "Showtime." the performers are slaves, the acts have zero safety net, he gladly exploits the fact that Andorians go feral in captivity. And this was a lighthearted episode...
- In Aqua Teen Hunger Force episode, "Circus," Shake sells Meatwad to the circus for $2. Other acts include "Inside-out Boy," and the show does not go well for anyone, especially the audience.
- Jose's mechanical circus from Cyber Six seems pretty cool to the audience but is actually an elaborate death drap for the titular character. Of course if you get out of line, like Lucas does, you get taken to the back and thrown to a massive two-headed robotic snake.
- The season 1 finale of Team Galaxy features this, where the circus clowns kidnap humans for their performances.
- Carnival Diablo: The Ultimate Sideshow plays on this trope. The Carnival is run by the Devil, and the performers are presented as other-worldly beings with bizarre abilities. Many acts seem to put performers, and sometimes audience members, in danger.
- The Circus of Horrors is a real circus show that plays on the trope.
- The mad clowns, Heckles and Twitch.
- The original Roman-style circus (gladiator fights to the death and Christians being fed to wild animals), making this trope Older Than Feudalism. However, the "attractions" were only scary to the people in the pit as most Romans enjoyed these public displays of violence. The actual amounts of deaths in the arenas have also been wildly exagerated by history, as gladiators cost a ton to train and most battles were not to the death.
- Circus Circus in Las Vegas used to have a 3D motion ride with this trope as its theme.