Expensive horror films have more expensive theme tunes, they'd be sort of choirs of small children going, "Ahhahhhhahhhhahhhahhhahhh I died tragically ahhhahhhahh"
If a program or film wants to add fear to a scene one of the most creepy ways is to have a Creepy Child
, or a whole creepy choir, singing somewhere in the distance or background, usually the tune is a mournful nursery rhyme. Sometimes it will seem like the characters can hear it and they may even call out, asking if anyone is there.
Compare and contrast: Ironic Nursery Tune
which is always something the characters can hear and is often said or sung by one of them. Compare Ominous Latin Chanting
. Contrast Cherubic Choir
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Anime And Manga
- Black Lagoon: "My mother has killed me... my father is eating me... my brothers and sisters, sit under the table, picking up my bones! They'll bury them, under the cold marble stones..."
- Amatsuki has a choir of children singing the creepy nursery rhyme "Toryanse" in a whisper when Yakou appears.
- Nausicań of the Valley of the Wind features several eerie moments when Nausicaa as a child chanted this eerie little tune, which is still quite ominous despite it being only "Na na na". If you fail to see why, consider that at the film climax, Nausicaa has more or less become an avenging version of a Messianic Archetype; in the manga, it is far, far worse.
- Neon Genesis Evangelion uses this in the Rebuild movies in the distressing scenes.
- The ghosts in the short story Ashes, Ashes (from the compilation Somewhere Beneath Those Waves sing the eponymous nursery rhyme to draw attention to their skeletons.
- The Innocents has a few instances, plus a child's creepy poem recital for good measure.
- An iconic one from A Nightmare on Elm Street: "Freddy's Coming For You"
"One, two, Freddy's coming for you...
Three, four, better lock your door...
Five, six, grab your crucifix....
Seven, Eight, gonna stay up late...
Nine, Ten, never sleep again."
- Easily half of Tim Burton's films (particularly those scored by Danny Elfman) tend to have this in the background somewhere.
- In Coraline, this trope is practically the whole soundtrack.
- The opening of Children of the Corn (1984) depicts what happens to the town after the children murder all the adults through crayon drawings as a choir of children sing wordlessly.
- Poltergeist has a great one with "Carole Ann's Theme", a semi-religious sounding lullaby that sounds very innocent and pure.
- In a creepy scene in The Birds by Alfred Hitchcock, schoolchildren sing the nonsense folk song "Risselty-Rosselty" while a mass of crows slowly gather on an empty playground, waiting to attack them as soon as they leave. Subverted in that the children themselves are innocent victims, the creepiness coming from the context, suspense, and situation.
- Samara Morgan sings one herself in The Ring.
"Round we go, the world is spinning.
When it stops, it's just beginning.
Sun comes up, we laugh and we cry.
Sun goes down, and then we all die..."
- Not actually singing, but in The Bad Seed, Rhoda playing "Au Clair de la Lune" on the piano, especially when Leroy is burning to death.
- The opening theme to Pet Sematary is this trope to a T.
- Parodied in Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted, when the three lemurs wind up in Sonya the bear's supposedly empty train car. Creepy child-like singing appears...but it turns out that Mort is singing. King Julien, who gets freaked out by the chanting, tells him to stop.
Live Action TV
- In Dark Shadows, we hear Barnabas Collins' dead little sister Sarah long before we meet her. She sings "London Bridge" quietly, and occasionally plays a recorder.
- Doctor Who has been doing this since at least "The Trial of a Time Lord" where the Doctor was hunted through a series of abandoned warehouses whilst Creepy Children sang Ring-a-Ring-o-Roses in the background. It wasn't clear if he could hear or not. The new series used it in the Series 6 episodes "Night Terrors", "Closing Time", and 'The Wedding of River Song".
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
Can't even shout, can't even cry,
The Gentlemen are coming by.
Lookin' in windows, knockin' on doors,
They need to take seven and they might take yours.
Can't call to mom, can't say a word,
You're gonna die screaming but you won't be heard.
- Star Trek
Hail, hail, fire and snow
Call the angel, we will go
Far away, for to see
Friendly angel come to me.
- Also, the episode "Miri" has unseen children singing standard schoolyard chants, to creepy effect.
Huffety puffety Ringstone Round.
If you lose your hat it will never be found,
So pull up your britches right up to your chin,
And fasten your cloak with a bright new pin,
And when you are ready, then we can begin,
Huffity, puffity puff!
- Near the end of the second season of Veronica Mars, there's a closing-episode montage set to Alejandro Escovedo's "Falling Down Again", which features children singing in the chorus and laughing during the fade-out, playing in conjunction with the imagery of Thumper chained to a urinal, struggling while the stadium is being demolished.
- The Poirot episode "One, Two, Buckle My Shoe" makes use of this at the beginning and throughout the episode, as children ominously sing the nursery rhyme.
- Stargate SG-1: The episode Grace has Major Carter wandering away from the X-303 Prometheus' bridge to investigate a rendition of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star that seems to be coming from somewhere nearby. She doesn't find the source.
- Twilight Zone: Did this in the 1960 episode Nightmare as a Child. Helen hears her child self singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star over and over again. Need creepiness with a tight budget? Just add reverb!
- Toby sings a creepy variation of "patty-cake" at the end of Sweeney Todd after realizing Todd had killed Mrs. Lovett and then killing Todd himself. This is left out of the Tim Burton movie, in which Toby just silently walks away.
- This trope is invoked in Dragon Age: Origins when the Warden explores a creepy orphanage rife with demons and ghosts.
One, two, Maric's run through
Three four, the kingdom's at war
Eight nine and now you die
- Strangely, subverted by Disney. The Beta for Epic Mickey was supposedly going to have this in the form of the iconic song It's A Small World playing backwards during the Gremlin Village level. According to Warren Spector, the launch version was supposed to have the lyrical version as the boss for the Clock Tower, but copyright reasons kept this from happening. One can assume this is why the song doesn't play backwards at any point in the game.
- Dishonored features a rather ominous variant of The Drunken Sailor known as "The Drunken Whaler".
- The tag children singing "Kagome, Kagome" around Miku in the first Fatal Frame, and the handmaidens singing "Sleeping Priestess" in the third one. Specially effective with the handmaidens, since they are singing about skinning and impaling people in a monotone, almost entranced tone of voice.
- At the end of the first Episode in Umineko: When They Cry, Natsuhi, George, Jessica and Battler are taking refuge in Kinzo's study when the phone rings. When they answer the only voice they can hear is Maria singing in the background.
- In League of Legends, Thresh the Chain Warden's leitmotif involves little children singing a creepy nursery rhyme about how the rattling of Thresh's chains may be the last thing you hear.
- The Binding of Isaac plays Jesus Loves Me over the credits when you beat it enough times, with a creepy distorted effect.
- In Rule of Rose the aristocrats sing a creepy tune about stray dog around a fire in the chapter Sir Peter, shortly before jennifer is forced to shove the rat stick in Amanda's face.
- In Bravely Default the theme tune of the Ba'al bosses includes a segment of this in their Leitmotif.
- South Park used this trope in the episode "Ginger Kids".