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Defanged Horrors
"It's not too scary, I think it's just scary enough."
Roger Ebert on Harry Potter's suitability for kids

A good scare in a controlled environment can be a lot of fun. Horror movies and roller coasters make their money based on this truth. Well, kids like to be scared as well, and books and movies are produced to do just that.

Defanged Horror is a genre of horror created with kids in mind. However, it has to tread a fine line: being genuinely frightening to children without causing their parents any undue concern, so the standard scares of adult horror are not an option here.

Instead Defanged Horror will rely on turning the children's imaginations against them. The monster will be vaguely described. The consequences of venturing into a forbidden area will only be hinted at. Victims of the threat will simply disappear rather than having a Kid Hero stumble across their mutilated corpses.

This is by no means a put-down of the genre. Hardcore stuff like Se7en or Silent Hill is not really suitable for giving ten-year-olds a good Halloween scare. This is simply the media version of the campfire or sleepover ghost story.

On occasion, Defanged Horrors can be more scary than the explicit kind. This happens when what the average imagination can come up with is scarier than what the average Slasher Movie will come up with. (Of course, sometimes, you can scare kids—or anyone, for that matter—without even trying.)

Strangely, it is often the adults that they are toning it down for, not the kids. As the above paragraph mentions, kids will probably find Defanged Horrors (done well) and normal horror movies equally scary. It's just the parents that'll complain if their children watch a movie with blood in it, meaning less money.

Not to be confused with The Taming Of The Grue. See also Nothing Is Scarier, where the menace isn't visible but is all the scarier for that.


Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime 

  • Pokémon uses this sometimes, such as in episodes featuring Ghost Pokemon.
  • Mon Colle Knights has one episode where the Count Collection gets possessed by a vampire before seizing Professor Hiragi hostage. The Knights must fight their way through a castle filled with zombies, suits of armor, Frankenstein monsters, and more. Saban switched this episode around with a much earlier one, which is understandable (i.e. to tie in with Halloween, which isn't celebrated in Japan).
  • Keroro Gunsou. A yukata-clad ghost lives in the Hinata family's basement, Fuyuki is a big fan of the occult, and episodes of the manga and anime center around spooky story contests among the main characters and their friends.
  • Spirited Away takes place entirely in a world full of spirits who dislike humans. Both of Chihiro's parents are turned into pigs after eating some of the food there. And that's just the beginning of it all.

    Disney 

    Literature 

     Live Action TV  

  • The Goosebumps TV adaptation.
  • Are You Afraid of the Dark?
  • Another literal example, but also a parody: the Monty Python's Flying Circus episode "You're No Fun Anymore" features various uses of the title phrase. One of these is a parody of Hammer Horror films, with Count Dracula (played by Graham Chapman) looming menacingly over a sleeping woman. He goes in for a bite...and his fangs fall out. The woman wakes up, looks at him, and says, "You're no fun anymore."
  • Space (the Canadian equivalent of the Sci-fi channel) used to have short segments they'd play between shows to fill up their Canadian content requirements. One of the segments was a Blair Witch style 'recovered footage' short story, where we'd watch regular home movies that invariably took a turn for the strange. These where all done without explicitly showing anything evil, for instance the family who are driving along only to be knocked out and awaken in a vast, empty, rock-strewn wasteland. The second was far more scary, and was the tale of a crypt in the middle of a lost-graveyard containing something. We aren't shown what it is, as our camera man refuses to go down. But needless to say, whatever it is, it starts haunting him, and that book of Eldritch lore his friend recovered before 'disappearing' isn't helping matters.
  • Doctor Who manages to put even adults under the bed shivering, often without a single drop of blood ever seen, and sometimes with a body count of zero.
    • The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances two-parter takes a fairly traditional zombie movie plot and alters it so there's no blood and no deaths. And it's possibly the creepiest bit of programming ever to be aired on television.
    • Blink gives it a run for the money; it's terrifying, considering there are almost no special effects and only two character deaths, both of which are peaceful, non-violent, and off-screen.
    • The Silence and the Vashta Nerada (the murderous shadows from River Song's first appearance on the library planet) are also both disturbing. In fact, any episode written by Steven Moffat during Russell T Davies' tenure as showrunner will probably have an original and terrifying villain.
  • The Haunting Hour
  • Wishbone's adaptation of A Tale of Two Cities made the guillotine a menacing specter using only cabbages.
  • House of Anubis

     Video Games  

  • Banjo-Kazooie features a witch who wants to steal Tooty's beauty as the main antagonist. Her lair, filled with things like cobwebs, cauldrons, and goblins, comprises the main section of the game. This trope is especially in play in Mad Monster Mansion.
  • Snowboard Kids 2 features a course called Haunted House.
  • Super Mario: The entire series has places with ghosts (especially spherical ones called Boos). Most of these are in haunted houses, but there are also places such as a haunted forest, a sewer system, and at least two sunken ships. Bowser is also known to reside in a gothic castle at the end of most games. Luigi's Mansion revolves around this trope from beginning to end.
    • According to Chuggaaconroy, this is the reason a hunter ghost was cut from Luigi's Mansion; he would have been the only {explicitly} homicidal ghost and was deemed too scary.
  • In the EarthBound trilogy, some things fit this trope, such as the Rosemary Manor, the Zombie Apocalypse in Threed (during which no actual death and destruction is shown), and Osohe Castle. Moonside might also count. Other stuff in the games, though... not so tame.
  • Pokémon: Certain Pokedex entries in the series (especially about Ghost Pokemon) are this trope. For example, Gengar likes to imitate people's shadows under a full moon, and then laugh at their fright, Banette was a doll who seeks revenge on the child who disowned it, Dusclops traps anyone who looks into its eye into a void, and so on. Of course, none of this actually happens in-game.
    • Some of it averts this, however, such as Hypno being a prime example of Adult Fear. Usually, the pokedex is considered a prime source of nightmare fuel.
  • Sonic Heroes: The Hang Castle and Mystic Mansion zones.

     Web original  

  • BIONICLE web serials. Especially Tuyet's death

     Western Animation  

  • Avatar: The Last Airbender has lots of very well done instances of kiddy horror.
    • The poster boy for Defanged Horrors would certainly be Koh the Facestealer, a massive centipede demon that steals faces. The faceless monkey in front of his lair is a genuine scare, but it's his voice and his words, which are genuinely spine chilling.
    • The keeper of the library in the desert is just a very large owl, that's actually very polite and friendly. But it's clearly not a mere mortal creature and it's made very clear that one should not abuse its trust. And when it eventually gets angry, things turn really scary.
    • The Blood Red Moon during the season 1 finale.
    • Even though it's clearly on the side of the good guys, the Ocean Spirit single handedly (with Aang as a medium) destroying the entire Fire Nation Fleet and its troops, is really a terrible sight to behold. The fact that he's terribly pissed after the Moon Spirit is killed by Zhao helps a lot to drive the hammer home.
    • And let's not forget that this is a kids' show set in the middle of a century long war. There's no blood or corpses on screen the entire time, but it's explicitly mentioned many times how relatives died in battle or where executed by soldiers, and it's shown how soldiers abuse helpless farmers or how benders are put to forced labor in concentration camps. There's even a full scale genocide, and open discussions about assassinating the Big Bad. If there's a way to expose eight years old responsibly to these topics, Avatar probably comes closer to it than anything else.
    • The scene with Hama when she talks about bloodbending with such pride and pleasure also counts.
    • The fate of, uh, Zuko's face in "The Storm" is a good use of three different kinds of discretion shot to get the point across while still being (sort of) family-friendly. As the Discretion Shot summary states, things can be a lot more horrifying to the fertile imagination if you don't show it.
    • The creepy smile of Jo Dee.
  • Aaahh!!! Real Monsters is a series about, well, monsters that scare humans. All of their "scare scenes" are very effective in showing how the monsters scare humans without scaring the audience in the process, mostly through giving said monsters individual personalities and motives (they're only doing it to complete school).
    • And stay alive.
  • Teen Titans did this on occasion, such as when Raven pulled Dr. Light into some sort of dark vortex within her cloak, and when he came out he was curled up in the fetal position muttering, "S-so cold. Make it stop. Please make it stop."
    • The episode "Haunted" also ranks up there as one of the creepiest pieces of Western Animation targeted towards kids. They took Slade, a villain who's already creepy in his own right, and left the audience constantly unsure whether he was Back from the Dead and torturing Robin, or whether Robin had gone insane and was mutilating himself. The truth is somewhere in between.
  • While not borderline scary (at least for the older folks), Danny entering the Ghost Zone for the first time in Danny Phantom was deliberately given an atmospheric, spooky, and naturally ghoulish feel to it; they were really emphasizing just how vastly different this world is compared to Earth. Of course, it's always a little disturbing when numerous skeletons pop out of graves and try to latch onto you.
  • This trope is the whole point of Scooby-Doo. Especialy the movies Zombie Island and Witch's Ghost, where the monsters the main characters confront are real, instead of disguised human criminals.
  • The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack.
  • Courage the Cowardly Dog, which often turned the Surreal Horror up a bit too much, and we all learned the hard way that you can't unsee this stuff...
  • Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.
  • Some episodes of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic including Stare Master and Lesson Zero go into this territory.

     Real Life  

  • In Japan, a popular children's game is kimodameshi, where kids have to accomplish some minor task in a creepy yet safe environment. Adult guardians will be lurking about to make things interesting for the participating children. (Essentially a less malign version of the American haunted-house tradition; there are no maniacs with chainsaws in a kimodameshi, but there are mysterious lights and noises, and ghosts wearing white shirts spattered with red ink. Their imagination does the rest.)
  • Deemed necessary by G. K. Chesterton:
    "Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon."


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