Dwight: What is this thing you just sent me?A work has a scary or disturbing image that clashes with the tone of the work. Getting Crap Past the Radar which is just downright bizarre, creepy, or has Unfortunate Implications, but which is made even worse by how you would never expect to see something like that in a work like this. It's often, but not always, a blink-and-you-miss-it sort of thing, and can require Fridge Logic to really notice. Like, is that what they were really trying to imply? But... it's not that kind of show. How could that be what that was supposed to be? Don't expect the publicity for the work to give away these moments either. Some find these even more horrific than outright horror, since knowing it's horror prepares the viewer. A Vile Villain, Saccharine Show can be a common form of this. A Sub-Trope of Mood Whiplash and Nightmare Fuel. Compare What Do You Mean, It's for Kids? (works that are disturbing but family friendly), What Do You Mean, It's Not for Kids? (mistaking a work for being family friendly), Crapsaccharine World (when the contrast is deliberate), Art-Style Dissonance, Backstory Horror, Surprise Difficulty (games being more difficult than you'd think). By the nature of this trope, entries below will be SPOILERS. Even just seeing a work listed is a spoiler in and of itself.
Jim: Oh, it's so cool. It's a picture of the most relaxing meadow you've ever seen.
Dwight: Idiot. I know what this is. It's supposed to lure me into a sense of calmness, then a ghoul pops up and scares me.
Jim: Now why would I do that? Dwight, of all people I know you're unscarable.
Jim: Oh, it's so cool. It's a picture of the most relaxing meadow you've ever seen.
Dwight: Idiot. I know what this is. It's supposed to lure me into a sense of calmness, then a ghoul pops up and scares me.
Jim: Now why would I do that? Dwight, of all people I know you're unscarable.
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Anime And Manga
- Princess Tutu starts off looking like a sugary-sweet, very cute ballet-themed Magical Girl show in a very picturesque town that has Cat instructors, and a Penguin that plays piano - then the crows come, then let's not get into the Finale of Season One or all of Season Two
- If all you know about Higurashi is the cover, you will be very surprised by the beginning of the first episode, and troubled by the vaguely sinister opening credits, but the bulk of the episode will seem like a typical Slice of Life comedy featuring a boy who has recently moved to a cheerful small town and befriended four female classmates... but before the first episode is over, the boy has realized he's living in a Town with a Dark Secret, and everything starts spinning out of control, and by the end of the fourth episode, half of the main characters have died gruesomely, including the Decoy Protagonist, and you realize the beginning of the first episode showed you that this was going to happen. And then the fifth episode begins with one of the younger main characters stabbing herself to death with a huge knife for no apparent reason, and after the opening credits, it's back to light-hearted comedy.
- Revolutionary Girl Utena, which poses so convincingly as a bog-standard Magical Girl series that the first company to try translating it marketed it as such ... then changed their mind hurriedly at the start of the second season.
- Narutaru seems at first like a cute little story about a girl and her pet dragon-thingy. Then it starts going horribly wrong...
- This seems to be typical of Mohiro Kitoh's work. Bokurano is an initially charming Humongous Mecha show with child protagonists. All of those kids are going down, and you'd need to use factorials to calculate how many universes get completely destroyed over the course of the series. And Wings of Vendemiaire is about charming little living puppets going through horrible, horrible things.
- Ah, Pokémon Special. It's supposedly the closest adaptation in terms of spirit, so it's probably a kid-friendly story about a ten-year old who roams the countryside to be a Pokémon mast- holy shit, is that a rotting Psyduck zombie?! Oh, God. Are the Elite Four planning to commit genocide in order to preserve the world for Pokémon?! And who's that creepy masked guy?!
- I'm Gonna Be an Angel!: Painfully sweet, cutesy, silly and looks like it was made for some toy store line. By the end of the series, the darkness, creepiness and mindfuckiness will make many cringe. And there's a pretty explicit yaoi innuendo going on there too.
- Puella Magi Madoka Magica: A Ridiculously Cute Weasel Mascot or whatever offers to make a grant a young girl's wish and give her powers beyond imagination. Every episode after the third is a Wham Episode.
- Dai Mahou Touge (or Magical Witch Puni-chan) features a magical princess sent to a high school in the human world as part of her princess training. She has a cute talking animal side-kick, a magic wand, and the ability to animate vegetables into evil minions (or to jump into whatever she's cooking). This adorable little girl wrestles opponents with the intention of breaking bones, says "submission is a princess's way!", and her animal sidekick, who was forced to be her pet after she kicked the tar out of him, constantly wants to kill her. Within the magical kingdom not everything is so magical; for instance, an army of slaves is used to move trains. None of this is ever shocking to Puni, but her normal human companions are often either stunned or frightened.
- School Days starts out as a cute teenage love story about a guy trying to get a girl with help from his female friend. When he does finally get her, he does a bad thing, and things spiral out of control as the series gets much darker and depressing and loses all traces of its cheerfulness. This all culminates in the final episode with his girlfriend, having just murdered his female friend, snuggling his disembodied head.
- Momotaro's Divine Sea Warriors starts out as a cutesy film with adorable animals, but once the title character shows up it turns into disturbing war propaganda.
- The first Unico movie starts off with a bunch of cute baby unicorns, but ends with Unico impaling a demon and sending him straight to Hell.
- School-Live! is an excessively saccharine Slice of Life high school anime for almost all of the first episode. There are hints here and there that it won't stay that way, but everything still seems relatively normal... until the very end of the episode, where it's revealed that there's a Zombie Apocalypse afoot. Only then does the true nature of the series become apparent, and it doesn't get any better from there. It's disturbing not just because of what's going on, but also because of why it was so sweet and cutesy until then: one of the central protagonists lost her grip on reality and is imagining everything as it was, rather than as it is.
- Paperinik New Adventures: Hey look, a comic with Donald Duck as a superhero. Man, this is gonna be so funny... Wait, did those alien vampires just conquer an alien world and transform everybody into zombies? And now they are heading toward Earth?
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic (IDW). The cartoon has its Darker and Edgier moments, but they're few and far between. The first story arc has Ponyville being invaded by Changelings, the Cutie Mark Crusaders being imprisoned (although this is somewhat Played for Laughs), and genocide of some Ridiculously Cute Critters (yes, really). The second arc features the ponies being Forced to Watch their worst nightmares whenever they fall asleep and Rarity being corrupted by an Eldritch Abomination. If you want cute and funny stories about ponies, you're better off getting the My Little Pony Micro Series.
- Ghost Rider serves as this for the Marvel universe. With a gallery of mostly upbeat superheroes like Iron Man and Captain America, you suddenly come across this.◊
- The Punisher. In a universe of superheroics and otherworldy beings, Frank Castle is a ruthless vigilante who kills some of the most realistically horrifying criminals in some of the most brutally violent ways possible.
- If you go by (especially early) advertisements and fan descriptions of Loki: Agent of Asgard it's a light-hearted, colorfull, fanservicey comic where Loki turns into a unicorn (issue #8) or goes speed dating (issue #2) while trying to earn their redemption. Besides what can possibly be creepy in a comic that opens with a shower scene and a filked song from Wicked? Well, let's take a look at the cover of issue #12◊. The first surprise creepiness actually comes at the end of issue #1 where the villain is revealed and then the series systematically trolls the readership and slowly but surely spirals downward into the darkness that reaches it's "peak" in issues #10-#12 subsequent issues being a rebound but still rife with creepy *cough*legions-of-Hel*cough*.
- The My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fangame Story of the Blanks starts out as a nice, interesting little game starring cute little Apple Bloom finding a town full of blank flank ponies in the Everfree Forest. Then you find a skeleton in the fire place. And that's just how the scary part STARTS.
- Super Filly Adventure is a fun little My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fangame that has you attend one of Pinkie Pie's parties and save Ponyville with your flank-kicking combat abilities. Even the "bad" ending where you become so obsessed with baking muffins that Ponyville burns down is far more silly than disturbing. Then you discover the secret "Blank Flank" ending, which is accessible only if you play the game at a very late hour...
- Cupcakes is going for this, but nearly everybody in the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fandom already knows about the twist. It starts out innocently, with Pinkie Pie inviting Rainbow Dash over to bake cupcakes, but then Pinkie takes her to the basement to graphically slaughter her.
- The Pony POV Series chapter "Playtime" is mostly lighthearted, focusing on the Mane Cast talking with Princess Gaia as if she were simply Fluttershy and the foals that Ponyville has been turned into just playing around. Then Princess Gaia's facade shatters, revealing her true form, Nightmare Whisper.
- Marie D. Suesse And The Mystery New Pirate Age! starts off like a "Girl falls into One Piece" adventure, until the main character finds themselves alone on the Thousand Sunny with the crew mysteriously gone missing. Then weird things start happening, a disembodied voice starts singing, and the hostile Klabauterman shows up... Things only get darker and creepier from that point on. It's all the more unexpected because based on the first chapter and summary you would have thought the story was just a Mary Sue parody.
- Moonstuck, aside from the occasional appearance of Dark Woona, is a silly and fun romp across the moon with Woona making lots of friends and things that don't make sense. The final boss fight, and the lead up to it, is shockingly dark and depressing even without comparing it to the rest of the story, with one of the most terrifying portrayals of Discord that the fandom has ever produced.
Film - Animated
- The film version of Watership Down starts out with a fun and interesting myth about the creation of the world by Frith and how the rabbits and other animals came to be. Then we flash to the main plot and get a group of animated rabbits, and it all looks like an enjoyable kid's movie about cute little bunnies until suddenly Fiver mentions something about the field being covered with blood. It quickly goes downhill from there.
- Felidae starts cheerful with the main feline protagonist, Francis, and his owner moving in to a new neighborhood. Then Francis encounters one of the many feline victims of a killing spree occurring throughout the film, has a nightmare involving marionettes made of cat corpses, and the Big Bad gets his stomach cut open with his FREAKING ENTRAILS FALLING OUT!!!
- The Brave Little Toaster. Right off the bat we have Air Conditioner raging himself to death, there's the Nightmare Sequence involving a Monster Clown, then near the end of the film, there's a musical number in which anthropomorphic cars are being crushed to death.
- Don Bluth films:
- The Secret Of NIMH: Looks like a movie full of cutesy mice, as well several Family Unfriendly Deaths, some with blood!
- All Dogs Go to Heaven: Looks like a movie with angel dogs: all you have to do is watch the climax and Charlie's nightmare.
- An American Tail: Mostly fine, but Fievel's separation from his parents, whose hope in finding him wears thin quick, is rather sad. Then at the end, the Giant Mouse Of Minsk.
- The Land Before Time: Cute movie about dinosaurs... The mother of one of them is killed by a T Rex, who in turn is drowned in a hot spring.
- Disney Animated Canon:
- Meet the Robinsons. The first 3/4s of the movie are full of colors, gleeful wackiness and literal bubbles. Then, just after what appears to be a daring rescue, the robot friend gets speared through the chest and dies, the main character's best friend/future son disintegrates into nothingness, the world is plummeted into despotic despair and slavery, and the main character's family, being controlled via electronic hats that cover their faces, starts trying to kill him by beating him off a very high fall. All in the space of about two minutes.
- Pinocchio is the story of a cute little puppet boy and his journey to become human... which leads to the Pleasure Island subplot, which involves other boys getting lured into a seeming happy-looking place where they can misbehave and do what they want, but then get turned into donkeys and shipped off to work themselves to death. We see a nightmare-inducing sequence where one boy screams and begs for help as he slowly and painfully transforms.
- Dumbo is a somewhat depressing story of a young elephant who is mocked for the size of his ears, but it's still presented in a cute and lighthearted fashion. Then Dumbo gets drunk and starts to hallucinate, resulting in twisted, bizarre visions of ghost-like apparitions straight from Hell.
- The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. It's a cute story about Pooh and his friends as they have adventures in the Hundred Acre Wood. Then Pooh falls asleep and what the hell am I looking at? Technicolor elephants and weasels shapeshifting? What's with the creepy music? Why is that faceless honey pot laughing?
- The Ichabod segment of The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad is lighthearted comedy...until the Headless Horseman shows up, at which point everything goes to hell.
- Disney movies in general can have this effect on people who have only ever heard of their reputation as family friendly media.
- ParaNorman is mostly a Fantastic Comedy about hilariously ineffectual zombies and living characters who aren't any more competent, though the very realistic bullying Norman suffers stops it from being fully a comedy. Then the true nature of the "witch" is revealed, and suddenly everything in the film becomes a lot more horrifying.
- The dead from Corpse Bride are anything but scary or even creepy. They're lively, upbeat, and a hell of a lot more fun to be around than the so called living. Then they find out it was Lord Barkus who murdered Emily and suddenly careen rapidly into horror town, ending with Miss Plumm ominously saying "new arrival" as they literally drag him to hell.
- Rango starts out as a fairly light-hearted Western for kids, with only a few sinister villains to occasionally darken the skies. Then Rattlesnake Jake shows up, and introduces us to a new meaning of fear.
Film - Live Action
- Movie adaptations of Roald Dahl's children's novels can reflect their source material in this manner depending on what's emphasized in the early going. While James and the Giant Peach and the 2005 version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory telegraph the darker undertones of the stories early on, consider 1971's Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory: The sugary "The Candy Man" opening number and general down-to-earth aesthetic of the first half doesn't exactly prepare the audience for stuff like the boat ride... See also Matilda, with its freaky wide-angle closeups and uncannily cartoonish torture/violence.
- Chitty Chitty Bang Bang starts out as a lighthearted family movie in the vein of Mary Poppins. Then, everything changes when the Child Catcher attacks.
- Ghostbusters, despite being about ghosts, is a lighthearted comedy...except for moments like the library scene, and any scene with Gozer and company.
- The Indiana Jones movies are fun action-adventure films for the most part, but it seems like every installment is required to have at least one nightmarish moment out of nowhere.
- Raiders of the Lost Ark has a few moderately disturbing scenes scattered throughout, like the gruesome booby traps in the temple, the snake-infested Well of Souls (Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?), and any time Major Toht appears. But the ultimate Surprise Creepy moment comes at the end, when the Nazis open the Ark of the Covenant.
- Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom turns creepy during the banquet of eels, snakes, beetles, eyeballs, and monkey brains, and the tunnel of bugs scene soon after. The horror increases a thousandfold during the Human Sacrifice ritual, in which the Big Bad rips a man's heart out and plunges him into lava. It has to be seen to be believed.
- Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade has the moment when Donovan picks the wrong Grail.
- In Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the chills start when Indy gets trapped in a Stepford Suburbia filled with creepy plastic dummies (it doesn't help that it's actually a nuclear testing ground). The next majorly disturbing moment occurs when Dovchenko gets devoured by army ants. And near the end, the terror culminates when the aliens appear and kill Spalko by psychically flooding her mind. Say what you will about those aliens, but you've got to admit they were damn scary.
- Monty Python's The Meaning of Life. Oh, it's a Monty Python movie. How bad can it be? Well, you have the "Find the Fish" segment, the "Live Organ Transplants" sketch, the bit with Mr. Creosote, the ending with The Grim Reaper...The Mr. Creosote sequence is particularly noteworthy because it's the only movie scene that Quentin Tarantino finds disturbing.
- Pee-wee's Big Adventure is...well...a Pee-Wee Herman movie for the most part, but then you have the infamous scene with Large Marge.
- Return to Oz. Although the original The Wizard of Oz arguably qualifies because of the Wicked Witch of the West and her eerie flying monkeys, Disney's unofficial sequel Return to Oz pulls out all the stops on the terror. Nowadays, the creepiness is probably too well known to qualify for this trope. But when Return to Oz first came out, moviegoers who hadn't seen the marketing or trailers expected it to be more in tune with the original movie. Boy, were they in for a nasty shock. This is a big part of why the movie was initially so poorly received, although today it's considered a Cult Classic.
- Who Framed Roger Rabbit may be a classic comedy, but it turns super-disturbing any time Judge Doom is on screen.
- The fantasy novel series Fablehaven. Despite its bright and cheerful kid-aimed covers, it gets smacked upside the head by our friend Cerebus remarkably quickly. Each book is darker than the last, but the covers remain cute and inviting.
- The Candy Shop War by the same author has an arguably more kid-friendly cover, but is just as dark.
- Olivia Kidney has a title protagonist who appears on the cover as an adorable, cartoony little girl. She talks to ghosts all the time, including her beloved dead brother. There's the ever-present implication that everything that's happening might just be a product of an extremely overactive imagination. Or maybe it's all real. They never really let you know for sure, and it's not clear which would actually be worse.
- Redwall starts out seeming like a sweet little Low Fantasy series about cute fuzzy animals in a pretty woodland setting. Then some pretty damn horrifying things happen to them. It says quite a bit about this children's series that it was the first work of literature to get its own Complete Monster page.
- Roald Dahl was one of the great masters at this in his stories/novels for both adults and kids — but especially the kids' stuff. Consider Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: The first third of the book is a light story about a mysterious candy factory and the mostly wacky, grotesquely bratty kids who get the chance to visit it...and the remaining two-thirds reveal it to be a setup for a morality play in which said brats meet a variety of dreadful fates — getting sucked into pipes, thrown down rubbish chutes, etc. And it's Played for Laughs, with the Wonka Factory effectively a positive portrayal of a Crapsaccharine World. A Black Comedy for kids was virtually unheard of in 1964, and the book was controversial for years afterward, with Moral Guardians appalled by its cavalier attitude towards children getting imperiled.
- When unhappy or unpleasant truths intrude on the relatively peaceful lives of characters in the Aunt Dimity cozy mystery series, they often do so in this way. Open a box expecting to see maybe an heirloom—find fully dressed human remains. Heave a sigh a relief that the "murder" turns out to have been an accident—well, that's jolly nice, but your hero has just had a flashback on a real murder he witnessed and is near catatonic. Similar mood dynamics occur when solutions are given and the culprit turns out to be obsessed and/or insane.
- There is an old nonfiction children's book called Model a Monster. The first three-quarters or so teach children how to create adorable balsa-wood and papier-mache models of prehistoric animals. Things very suddenly take a turn for the deeply strange in the last quarter...
- The Harry Potter books most definitely qualify, particularly before J. K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and abandoned all pretense of Harry Potter being a whimsical children's series. The first book had a huge three-headed Hell Hound and a man with a second face on the back of his head (and, as the author herself noted, opened with a double murder but is still considered a kids' book). The second book introduced giant spiders, blood graffiti, a possessed diary, and a fifty-foot death snake that can kill you with a glance. The third book had Harry being hunted by an escaped convict believed to be a deranged mass murderer, who is in turn being pursued by even worse soul-sucking Eldritch Abominations.
- Dr. Seuss peppered his children's books with surprisingly dark imagery from time to time. For example, Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose, which ends in Thidwick's unwanted guests being killed and taxidermized.
- Henrik Drescher's book Pat the Beastie ended with Paul and Judy being eaten by the titular Beastie.
- Cracked did an article about 6 Bafflingly Dark Moments In Beloved Children's Book Series, including:
- Berenstain Bears books dealing with school shootings, drug trafficking, and child predators on the Internet.
- A Magic Tree House book in which the kids meet Abraham Lincoln and his family, knowing full well that their new friends are going to die horribly in the future.
- The final Mary Poppins book, in which Mary and the kids rescue a child slave.
- The Last Battle, the bleak Gainax Ending to The Chronicles of Narnia.
- Cracked has also discussed other unexpectedly dark children's books. For example, The Lonely Doll is about a doll who gets adopted by two teddy bears who spank her and treat her like a prisoner. (The fact that the book is illustrated entirely with creepy black-and-white photographs doesn't help at all.) The Little Rabbit Who Wanted Red Wings is also shockingly bleak, as the rabbit gets his wish but is then ostracized by his mother and neighbors who don't recognize him.
- Shel Silverstein and Maurice Sendak could go from lighthearted whimsy to Grimm's Fairy Tales-esque creepiness surprisingly quickly. The often dark and grotesque illustrations don't help either.
- Alice in Wonderland and the Land of Oz books can have this effect on people only familiar with the Lighter and Softer adaptations. This is a big part of why Return to Oz (see the Film section above) was so freaky — it was more in tune with the original Oz books than the 1939 adaptation was.
Live Action TV
- In one episode of Gotham, we meet Jerome, a poor kid who travels as part of a circus with his mom. When she's found dead, he’s very convincing in his grief. But as soon as Gordon confronts him with evidence that he murdered his mother, he chillingly transforms from grieving son to laughing maniac who explains he killed his mother because she was a nag. And he's a predecessor to The Joker.
- Sesame Street is often notorious for featuring segments that would creep out younger viewers, especially during the classic era. One minute, the show would be teaching children the alphabet and numbers and the next minute, you have some disturbing imagery and moments throughout some segments such as the infamous roaring dandelion from the Daddy Dear segment and the Deranged Animation in the animated Bird segment.
- The Electric Company: You wanna talk about "My Lollipop is Following Me"? Because I don't.
- Monty Python's Flying Circus was whimsical for the most part but could turn really creepy at times, in no small part due to the Deranged Animation and occasional Surreal Horror.
- Doctor Who is a wacky Science Fiction show that largely runs on camp and Narm Charm (particularly in respect to the often laughable special effects). A lot of the episodes are pretty lighthearted to boot. That said, the show has been known to take abrupt turns for the extremely dark and disturbing, particularly when Steven Moffat is at the helm.
- The animated music video for Mystery Skulls' "Ghost" starts off as a cute and colorful homage to Scooby-Doo accompanied by an upbeat dance number with some unexpectedly gloomy lyrics. By the end of the video viewers have been treated to Demonic Possession, Mind Screw, a brutal murder, and a shockingly sad backstory to the "villain" of the video, though the upbeat music stays consistent throughout.
- Part 1 of the Putin_P series using Vocaloid appears to introduce the story as light, slightly odd pop songs about Rin and Len's romance and her jealousy of Miku's prominence. The ending of track 1, a song about her wanting to be with Len, features her babbling dementedly over and over again, "Don't leave me alone", and track 2 features, at the end of her song where she sings with children, Red Rin repeatedly saying "I hate children". Things only get darker from there.
- The Beatles are mostly known for silly love songs in the early pop days and for cerebral experimental music after Going Cosmic. But then you have Surreal Horror in tracks like "Revolution 9," and a disturbing portrayal of a Crazy Jealous Guy in "Run For Your Life."
- The week-long Garfield Story Arc where he wakes up one morning and finds his home inexplicably empty and decrepit, as though no one has lived there for years, and images of the people he knows fade into nothingness as he approaches them. Yeah, Jim Davis was really going for Something Completely Different in those strips.
- Calvin and Hobbes has its moments, often due to freaky imagery and disturbing scenarios◊ from Calvin's imagination◊.
- Pippin: The songs, the poster, even the characters will try and convince you this is a musical comedy "coming of age" tale. It's not.
- Mr. Toad's Wild Ride at Disney Theme Parks (now only in California) is made of this. What's billed as a simple fairground-like kids ride ends with Mr. Toad being sentenced for his recklessness by a mean-looking judge, having an implied fateful run-in with a train, and taking riders with him to his fate in the depths of Hell. Fire and brimstone are all around, cartoon demons jeer at the riders, and the room gets a little bit hotter. All while jaunty music plays! Not to mention the fact that hell is the last room. Mr. Toad drags his audience to hell with him and that' the ending!
- The Disneyland Railroad is just a slow-moving transportation ride around the circumference of Disneyland Park with a few stations along the way—not something that would seem too dramatic. However, at least one part near New Orleans Square involves travelling through a dark tunnel with mysterious eyes poking out, and the stretch between Tomorrowland and Main Street features a Prehistoric world diorama (actually from the 1964-65 World's Fair) inspired by a scene of Fantasia. In it, a T. rex and Stegosaurus stand locked in vicious battle while other dinosaurs face imminent death at the hands of drought and disaster. Really, Disney parks can do this trope in their sleep.
- The Noah's Ark at Kennywood looks like a friendly ride on the outside but on the inside, it has things like a loud elevator, flashing monkey faces, and it makes you think you're going to drown at the end.
Video Games - Nintendo
Nintendo and their development teams may well be the reigning champions of this trope. They have a family-friendly, even kiddy image, but quite a few of their games are clearly intended for brave kids.
- The Legend of Zelda - Primarily E-rated games. E-rated games that include, among other things, a temple dedicated to death, zombies that are trying to kill the protagonist, and the apocalypse. Probably the two most blatant examples are Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask. The ESRB seems to have caught on by the time of Twilight Princess, but even so its T rating was probably just because of the darker graphical style, since Skyward Sword has an E10+ rating despite not being too much more lighthearted.
- Just when we thought Nintendo made The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker to look absolutely and completely harmless, along comes Link stabbing Ganondorf in the brain. And when you consider how incredibly dark the backstory of this game is, it suddenly seems like the game's happy atmosphere was taunting the past and the people of ancient Hyrule, much like how the happy music in Clock Town seemed to taunt the people who stayed oblivious to their impending doom, only more subtle.
- Skyward Sword has its moments too, most notably in the Ancient Cistern. At first it seems a bright and pleasant place with lots of clear water and green and gold scenery. And then you descend into the lower parts... Which culminates in Link climbing a rope to escape only to find that a horde of zombies is also climbing that same rope... and then you learn that to continue, you have to go back down that same rope.
- Pikmin - More E-rated goodness that involves sending adorable little carrot-creatures to near-certain doom against beasts many times their size. In the first game Olimar does this to survive. In the second, it's all about getting treasure. And in the third, it's to prevent an Apocalypse How. Some of the more bizarre enemies in the game include a frog-shaped embodiment of poison, the moaning intangible Eldritch Abomination known as the Waterwraith, and the immortal shape-shifting monstrosity that is the third game's final boss. Olimar actually does wonder:
Would this have been a peaceful planet had I never come? No... Surely the Pikmin lived like this before my arrival. They MUST have.
- Pokémon Mystery Dungeon:
- Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers starts out with cute little monsters, in particular the nervous partner character, learning how to be good explorers. Starts getting a little uncomfortable when a child is abducted by a criminal, gets out and out distressing when you get dragged into the future, and the game really doesn't let up on the creepy for the rest of the story. You and your partner are encouraged to commit suicide at one point! Yep, E-rated.
- Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team was already pretty creepy, like when all your friends suddenly turn on you and chase you for what seems to be days, clearly intent on killing you. And then there's the tale of Gardevoir's past...
- Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Gates to Infinity certainly seems cheery at first, starring two Pokémon adventuring together and trying to make a home for themselves while exploring an uncaring world, and the whole thing is drenched in The Power of Friendship. Eventually, one of your allies is brutally murdered and you are beaten nearly to death, the Quirky Miniboss Squad is revealed to be a suicide cult, and the world is threatened by an Eldritch Abomination made of despair, hopelessness, and bitterness.
- The mainline Pokémon games themselves have started to get in on the fun, especially with the creepier Pokedex entries - see entries like Yamask and Shedinja's just for starters. Then there's Pokémon Black and White... would you like a nice cup of horrific psychological abuse of a child with your cute monster battling?
- Pokemon Diamond, Pearl, and Platinum has pretty creepy moments as well. In all three games there are fun adventures, cute friendly monsters, and an evil cult that wants to destroy all of existence so their leader can reshape the world in his image and become God. Oh, and did we mention that Platinum contains an extra segment in the main storyline where you end up in a parallel universe and face off against a massive Eldritch Abomination of a dragon?
- In comparison to Pokémon Colosseum, Pokemon XD starts off much Lighter and Softer. Then we find out that Cipher abducted a ship and we still don't know where the crew went...
- Pokémon Red and Blue's Lavender Town. Between the background music being more unnerving than it should be possible for any 8-bit song to be and the sudden revelation that Pokemon can actually die, there's the entire origin story of Cubone/Marowak and its/their skull-helmet thing. Not to mention the Cinnabar lab and the vague bits of Mewtwo's backstory we learn there.
- Pokémon X and Y brings us to the Kalos region, a lovely region where great emphasis is placed on beauty and harmony. Then we find out about the various wars that took place there. Oh, and the evil team wants to use an ancient superweapon to effectively nuke the entire country.
- EarthBound. 99% Cartoon-y goofiness, 1% incomprehensible cosmic horror. And it's the last 1%, too, especially because of the final boss...
- Super Mario Bros.:
- Mario gives Link a run for his money throughout the Paper Mario games, which end up a lot like Earthbound with the subject of murder (though he was actually just unconscious) dealt with in the first game; an Eldritch Abomination appearing as the final boss of the second; and the third's plot being explicitly that reality itself was being destroyed, later revealed that this includes The Afterlife. Also notable is Super Mario Galaxy which is hours of compressed sheer joy — and then the universe is annihilated in a supermassive black hole.
- The Mario & Luigi series takes an abrupt dark turn in Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time. The whole plot is about a near genocidal Alien Invasion of the kingdom, with the captured Toads subjected to a fate worse than death and some of the most spectacular examples of Scenery Gorn in an E rated game.
- The Kirby games feature a very cute eponymous protagonist, colorful and fanciful levels, and lots of frightening bosses. One of them is actually named Nightmare, and he's not even the scariest by the long shot! Perhaps most infamous among them are Marx Soul, especially his death sequence, and Zero, mostly for his Clipped Wing Angel transformation. Kirby 64 continues the tradition; while Dark Matter and especially the possession scenes are at least unsettling, they still don't provide any good warning for the jarring final boss. It took Kirbys Return To Dreamland to finally jack up the age rating to E10+, and the games mentioned earlier only got an E10+ rating when the Kirby Dream Collection was announced. For reference, that's over a decade since their original releases.
- Magical Starsign. The game is saccharine and kid-friendly through-and-through until Semolina commits suicide through a carnivorous flower before you get a chance to protest, and becomes one of your Cosmic Keystones. Later, you get to learn the fate of Applepie, and/or every human in the universe once the robots start to run out of fuel: robots turn humans into "gummies", their battery cores. And that's ignoring the star-devouring abomination that is the Final Boss...
- The Wii U-exclusive Game And Wario is a collection of fun, lighthearted minigames based around characters from the WarioWare series. One of the minigames, "Gamer", involves 9-Volt secretly playing WarioWare microgames whilst in bed. 9-Volt's mother 5-Volt occasionally checks in on him, and he must hide from the mother while simultaneously playing the game. At first glance, the game is not all that creepy, especially during the tutorial, and the mom is kinda cute looking◊. But the actual game has the mother check in on 9-Volt in several very creepy ways, including popping out of the television (with ominous static immediately beforehand) and sneaking past the bedroom window with a creepy, dissonant rising strings theme playing as she walks past. The mother may or may not open the window, adding to the tension. She also takes on an eerie shadowy look with glowing eyes, and will change into a demented-looking demon if she catches you. This all happens while the WarioWare microgames are playing on the Gamepad, adding dissonance to the situation.
- Endless Ocean starts off as a fun little semi-educational game where you swim around the ocean and look and pet all kinds of fish. Then you start swimming in the deep parts of the ocean and encountering all the types of realistically detailed creatures that live down there. It's a bit surprising to go from swimming around a coral reef petting clownfish to swimming around a dark trench and running into a giant squid. In the sequel the last part of the story involves your fellow divers disappearing and when you find them being attacked by a giant deformed shark.
- Hresvelgr from Boktai 3: Sabata's Counterattack basically looks like a Pac-Man ghost in a top hat. Then he unfurls his wings and shows what he looks like underneath: a maw filled with teeth and a single eagle's talon.
- Super Smash Bros. for 3DS and Wii U decides to go this route with its True Final Boss, having the shapeshifting Eldritch Abomination known as Master Core burst out from within the regular boss Master Hand. Made even creepier with the addition of its Master Fortress form in the Wii U version, which is a disturbingly organic platforming level that must be entered and destroyed by eliminating a series of pulsating red growths within.
- The world of Splatoon is revealed via the final Sunken Scrolls to be distantly post-apocalyptic, set long after global warming and the rising sea levels ended the human race.
Video Games - Other
- A lot of Myst has this. Special mention goes to the brothers' rooms in the first game, and Myst IV's Serenia - a lovely world of glowing butterflies, literal stone forests, and magic, memory storing lotuses. And then comes the Spirit Ceremony and the Big Bad's plan for Yeesha.
- In Psychonauts, Milla's brain seems to contain nothing but fun and parties. However, if you manage to find a slightly out-of-the-way area, you discover that she used to work at an Orphanage of Love... which was destroyed and all the orphans killed in a house fire and continue to haunt her nightmares, crying out things like, "Save us, Milla," and "Milla, why won't you help us?" Reportedly, the original plan was to have Milla's nightmares attack Raz, from time to time— this is where the Giant Space Flea from Nowhere mini-bosses in the Milkman Conspiracy stemmed from.
- Ecco the Dolphin - A game starring a cute dolphin who has lost his family to extremely hungry aliens. He must go back and forth through time, battling past sharks, jellyfish, enormous spiders, and trilobites, braving eerie music and disturbingly solemn, frightened fellow dolphins, to rescue them and the Earth. Later locales include a meat grinder scrolling level where you're continually molested by terrifying masses of chitin and blobs of acidic green goo, and slime tubes in the sky that cause you to plummet five miles into roadpizza if you mess up and fall out. The final game in the series has you swim inside the body of a giant alien and attack its beating heart. Rated E for Everyone!
- NiGHTS into Dreams... is a pretty, if slightly surreal game which involves prancing around dream worlds and battling weird monsters. Then you get to Wizeman. A colossal, looming shadow with no distinct face, a thundering voice, and six eyes, each one set into a separate, floating hand. His first direct interaction with the protagonists in the sequel is to suddenly appear in the hub world, tear apart the ground, and take out Invincible Hero NiGHTS by electrocuting them into unconsciousness and then dragging them with him into the Dark Sea.
- Aquaria follows a similar premise as Ecco, only this time the protagonist is a fish girl. She finds herself utterly alone and starts to explore the ruined civilizations, and eventually meets their crazy gods and the Big Bad who made them. And yes, just like in Ecco, there are Womb Levels in Aquaria.
- Eversion starts out as a brightly-colored relentlessly cheerful platformer and ends as a Cosmic Horror Story, with the player character either being or being eaten by an Eldritch Abomination. Although if you know who H.P. Lovecraft is, the opening screen serves as a warning about that, as the game starts off by quoting him.
- Irisu Syndrome!. On the surface: a Nintendo Hard Falling Blocks game. Then there's the game's plot, as well as the bad endings.
- Ai To Yuuki To Kashiwamochi, from the same creator as Irisu, is another puzzle game with a dark, dark secret.
- Kingdom Hearts. Having the Disney Label on it and trailers featuring tons and tons of our beloved characters from Disney Animated Canon made it seem like this game was intended for children ages 6 and up. Then the Final Fantasy elements show up and the OTHER feeling Disney is famous for.
- The game added its own Nightmare Fuel in form of the Heartless, creatures who, contrary to what their names imply, don't lack hearts; they ARE hearts corrupted by the darkness. These little monsters have one goal in mind: To corrupt all hearts that there are, and the hearts of the worlds they haunt are especially sought after. You know that the cheerful game those trailers announced isn't that cheerful when you see an innocent NPC being turned into one of those monsters as his face freezes in a fearful expression, and that's toward the beginning of the game.
- Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days starts as a melancholy but often heartwarming story of three friends who just happen to work for the bad guys. By the end, one of those friends has been revealed as a monstrous replica of Sora that is slowly eating the protagonist's essence just by existing. S/he attacks then you to force you to kill him/her. You know, for kids!
- Miss World '96 Nude is infamous as a horror game posing as a porn game. The gameplay consists of removing the obstructions that block your view of pictures of scantily-clad women. Take too long, and the image "turns" - the woman turns into a hideous monster as the gameplay gets harder. It's the ultimate in Fan Disservice, and freaky.
- 40 Winks was intended to be a pseudo-nightmare played in a way that was positively adorable. Even though the "scary" aspects of the game were mild, the completely innocuous music and eerie simlish were complete Nightmare Fuel.
- Ōkami: Most locations are vibrant with colorful characters, bright music, and thick-line artwork reminiscent of a Japanese scroll painting. The surprise comes mostly from two locations: the Sunken Ship and Yoshpet forest. They are creepy and quite jarring in contrast to the rest of the world. And there's also the Body Horror parts where you go inside someone's body, which is as nasty-looking as you'd expect (particularly the stomach acid dripping from the water dragon).
- Free Realms: Merry Vale, the 24-hour party place where everyone has fun! ... too much fun to notice that their kids are getting abducted.
- Hatoful Boyfriend: A very, very silly game about dating pigeons. At least until the backstory reveals itself.
- Quest Fantasy is So Bad, It's Good, and involves characters who go "oh es so kawaii" and reference the zelda cd-i games. The second half of the game has characters dying and bleeding from their eyes and a boss that is a Shout-Out to Giygas.
- Can Your Pet is a cute online Tamagotchi-style game in which you dress up, feed, bathe, and play with a baby chicken. Then you unlock the bicycle. It's not a bicycle, but saw blades that will kill the chicken you so lovingly raised.
- Cave Story has a Badass Adorable player character and his Action Girl partner, Ridiculously Cute Critter NPCs, and a Recurring Boss made of ham and soap, with a few sinister implications as to the plans of the Doctor. Then said Doctor reveals himself to be irredeemably evil in the worst way possible, the whole supporting cast is dead, captured or incapacitated, and in order to prevent a repeat of the war ten years ago the characters either have to destroy the whole island (Normal ending) or go to Hell and kill the island's prisoner (Best ending).
- The webgame Cookie Clicker starts off mundane, then moves to ridiculous, then suddenly turns creepy when you unlock the "grandmapocalyse", with progressively warped images of grandmas appearing on the page background, creepy status/news updates that keep getting worse and worse from "unnerving" to "apocalyptic", and some disgusting worm-like things raiding your cookie stash, which you have to fend off.
- Sonic the Hedgehog (2006), as reviled as it is, does have a surprisingly creepy villain in Mephiles, a manipulative character vaguely resembling Shadow who has no mouth, yet speaks. Not helping matters is the fact that, in the endgame, he straight-up murders Sonic in the blink of an eye.
- Sonic Adventure and Sonic Adventure 2 got the Surprise Creepy ball running for the series in general. Players expect the same old song-and-dance of Sonic stopping Eggman from taking over the world, but the former throws a curveball with the reveal that Eggman's new pet, Chaos, wiped out an ancient civilization (the circumstances leading up to it being pretty frightening in their own right) and almost does the same thing in the present day. The sequel sends things even further Off the Rails when it turns out someone was straight-up KILLED in the backstory, fueling a drive for revenge on the part of Eggman's grandfather that nearly destroys the world!
- Sonic Unleashed has bright, vibrant, beautiful landscapes and a world full of unique and oftentimes humorous characters. Even the fact that the world is broken apart isn't as bad as it would seems. Then you run into the final boss, Dark Gaia, a colossal Eldritch Abomination that's more intimidating and monstrous than the likes of Perfect Chaos and Solaris. Then it becomes Perfect Dark Gaia, in a supremely gruesome transformation sequence that involves sprouting extra arms from its sides in a shower of blood and splitting its head open to reveal eyes and masses of tongues!
- Indie developer CC & SH loves this trope. It normally appears as an Easter Egg that you have to go and go very much out of your way to hunt down. For example, in their first ever game, Ping!, clicking specific spots on the screen during the end credits will cause the game to suddenly go full-screen, showing a black background with pulsating Chinese text and a very disturbing noise. You can't even exit the game at this point without bringing up task manager, either.
- Calm Time starts relatively normal, with a party being held at a house in the countryside and the guests enjoying it and socializing. Then a girl in the kitchen asks you if you can hand her over the knife so she can cut the bread. Already from the way the main character holds the knife can you deduce that something is amiss, and shortly after that, shit gets real.
- The freeware game Dreaming Mary starts out, on the surface, in an adorable pastel-colored dream world where you play with a bunny, a penguin, a fox and a boar, fulfilling certain tasks from the first three animals and eventually getting all four seeds necessary to join the boar behind the last door. You're told through the radio that there are only three doors in the hallway, and you shouldn't look for a fourth one. Obviously, there IS a hidden fourth door, and entering it will unlock an alternate version of the dream world that can be entered through the painting in your bedroom... It's a shadowy, Real Is Brown, blood-stained living room with the plushies that three of the dream animals represent (each getting torn up after receiving a seed) and the stuffed head of a boar, and it's all pivotal to unlocking the Golden Ending. Also, watch out for the crude shadowy figure that chases after you whilst calling you a "sweet girl" in its deep, uncanny voice.
- The game Fantasy Maidens Odd Hideout starts out cute and lighthearted, with young friends playing together in a house made of desserts, and fairies who live inside the house. Then the door knob on the house's only exit is removed, and it and all the windows are boarded up, trapping them inside, and it all goes downhill from there...
- Spooky's House of Jump Scares presents itself as a Defanged Horrors parody of horror games, where you navigate the house of the titular Cute Ghost Girl, and at most you get startled by cute cardboard cutouts. That is, until you progress further into the game, where you encounter the actual monsters and come across various notes left by previous travelers. Spooky herself is also heavily implied to be not what she seems.
- A Hat In Time is a gleefully adorable Genre Throwback 3D platformer. Bright, colorful, cel-shaded, and generally the most cheerful thing you'll find. Except for Queen Vanessa's Manor, where it basically turns into Amnesia: The Dark Descent in terms of game play... and is legitimately pretty disturbing to match as you try to make your way through the house, hiding from the Queen's tormented spirit lest she turn you to stone and reading the notes describing her twisted life.
- In the first episode of Life Is Strange, there are definitely hints of some dark subjects - a missing girl, an innocent girl being bullied, a girl who tells a story about how she was drugged but got away in time - but for the most part, the game had an optimistic, teen indie air so a lot of people assumed it would have a pretty light air and only briefly touch on the darker stuff. Episode 2, in which a girl describes how she was drugged and possibly raped and then attempts (or commits) suicide definitely brings the creepiness up. But Episode 4, in which the player has to look around an underground bunker where girls were drugged and dragged to so they could be manipulated into sexual positions for photos, with those photos being shown to the player, before the episode ends with the protagonist being stabbed with a needle and drugged while her friend is shot in the head, and the ending teaser showing said protagonist tearfully trapped in that bunker again while the villain preps more needles... well, it sure as hell wasn't light.
- Sonic Dreams Collection starts as a rather tame riff on the Sonic fandom, but as the levels and sequences progress, the scenarios become increasingly morbid, disturbing, and bizarre.
- The indie PC game Braid: A quirky puzzler with cute, bumbling enemies and brightly colored scenery. And then you get to the end and discover that The character you are playing is not the hero out to rescue the Damsel in Distress, but rather a crazy Stalker with a Crush. Also there might be An Aesop about the atom bomb, depending on how you interpret it.
- Champions Online is a mostly lighthearted Affectionate Parody of The Silver Age of Comic Books. That is until you encounter the "Aftershock" missions in which you're dragged into a hell dimension and have to save UNTIL agents stranded there along with you. Even so, none of this is particularly bad, up until the part where you are tasked with entering the tortured psyche of Elspeth Macalister and rescue her from the malevolent memory of her mentally ill mother, who having killed Ellie's father is now dead set on doing the same to her own daughter. As if this weren't nightmarish enough, the mental projection of Ellie's childhood home is covered in throbbing organic-looking red veins and there is an ever-present Heartbeat Soundtrack thrumming in the background, punctuated by Ellie's heart-wrenching pleas for help and her mother's shrill calls for her daughter to show herself. In amongst this madness, you must stealthily lead Ellie to safety without her mother spotting her. If you fail, Elspeth will become Brainwashed and Crazy in the real world and you'll be forced to kill her alongside the Stringy-Haired Ghost Girl responsible for her mind rape. I thought this game was supposed about wacky super hero hijinks...
- Undertale is a game where you meet a number of delightfully quirky characters who crack countless jokes and puns, including dog knights who just want to be petted and a Large Ham who believes that everything shown in anime is real. It's also a game where a cute little flower turns out to be an even more nightmarish and unkillable terror than Freddy Krueger. If you decide to slaughter every monster in your path, don't expect to have a good time or pleasant dreams, and if you actually do a complete pacifist run you get to end on one hell of a happy ending, but not before you go through the True Lab which is like one of Resident Evil's facilities if it popped up in Silent Hill.
- Drawn to Life: The Next Chapter is, like its predecessor, a relatively lighthearted game. And then the credits roll, and you see oil paintings of the fatal car accident that caused their world to come into existence.
- The Gradius series features this. Most of the games are standard Shoot 'Em Ups with little in the way of Nightmare Fuel, but the final bosses tend to be very disturbing, including things such as a disembodied, skinless head, a large brain with a face surrounded by several eerie, moaning faces, and a giant eye.
- Crimzon Clover seems like your typical Bullet Hell shooter, with massive tanks, bombers, and mechs to destroy...for the first two stages. Then comes stage 3 which features the only "organic" enemies in the game: deadly giant flowers and insects.
- The Unfinished Swan is a little adventure game about a boy chasing an Unfinished Swan through a world of white that you color by throwing balls of paint so you can see your way through. It's all well and good and positive... until you get to the Forest. Suddenly, Darkness Equals Death and darkness is EVERYWHERE, there are evil eyes glaring at you from everywhere, and only certain plants will light up the surroundings (and even then, not that much).
- Homestuck: So, it's about a bunch of kids trying to play a videogame? Cool! And then the deaths start happening... and then the blood... and then THIS and THIS happens and you're having nightmares from this RELENTLESSLY LIGHTHEARTED webcomic.
- Bogleech: The gwound is made of tasty!
- Although this was intended to be an inversion.
- Brawl in the Family: It starts off with a lighthearted and goofy atmosphere that it never sheds, but has a lot of Black Humor, even to Death as Comedy levels. The dramatic story arcs are also often quite dark. In this sense, it mimics the storytelling style of Kirby.
- M9 Girls!: For a comic with pretty Magical Girls designs and Shojo influences, the Big Bad and his croonies are pretty freaky-looking and disturbing.
- Monster Pulse: It's all fun and games until someone gets their head bashed in with a rock. Although the entire premise of "organs being ripped from the body and turning into giant monsters" might also fit the bill.
- Issues 8 and 10 of Sonichu. The former explores the titular species' sexuality in disturbing detail, and the latter has Author Avatar Chris-Chan eliminating everything he hates, from homosexuality to Encyclopedia Dramatica and 4chan (represented by Chris destroying an entire building full of people), and finally brutally murdering the four people behind Asperchu just for making fun of him. All in a webcomic supposedly meant for children.
- The whole point of Happy Tree Friends is taking Ridiculously Cute Critters living their lives gaily and subjecting them to every Cruel and Unusual Death imaginable, with blood and guts galore.
- Pokopokopikotan is an adorable stop motion video of two little paper girls on a bright setting. At least, at first...
- Don't Hug Me I'm Scared. It starts out innocently enough, with a talking notepad encouraging Sesame Street style puppets to get creative to a catchy song. By the end... well, let's just say that they take it a bit too far.
- Follow the Sun. Think Don't Hug Me I'm Scared, Only SCARIER.
- Teddy Has An Operation starts out reasonably cute, with all the "cute" things one might find inside a teddy bear. Then we get to the deeper layers, figuratively and literally. At least it ends on a positive note, unlike most examples on this page.
- Quite a few series in The Slender Man Mythos use this trope. Several start out as ordinary video or web blogs that seem perfectly normal for the first few entries, only for things to go creepy when Tall Dark And Faceless pops up.
- "Counting Song" by Adam Buxton starts off as an ordinary, kids sound about numbers set in a Sugar Bowl. It quickly turns into a lament about how terrible the adult world is, all while keeping its cute look (albeit a lot more grey).
- Bob the Dancing Camel. A goofy poem about a circus camel that runs away from his abusive master and joins up with a singing rat to become famous but then said master gets his revenge.
- Tokyo Magic Star starts out as a normal magical girl fanime. Things go downhill from there.
- Natsumi STEP! On the surface, it's an adorable animation about a girl who goes to a magical world full of kittens and puppies. That is until you go to the second link where it shows Natsumi, our cheerful protagonist crying. If you go back and observe the animation, as well as viewing the SWF file of that second link, you will learn the real story behind this seemingly cute film. It's actually about Natsumi going to hell after killing her boyfriend and committing suicide.
- Every 90s Commercial ever starts out as the title would suggest - a lampooning of advertising common in American children's television during the 90s, complete with Totally Radical clothes, lingo, and editing. Then the Conspicuous CG-enabled teleporting accident happens....
- Board James started off as a cheery guy showing off and playing board games. Even the Mr. Bucket episode was styled as a Narmy horror pastiche. Come the Dream Phone episode, and Board James has taken a turn for the surprisingly scary, what with James's friends being murdered, James becoming quite unhinged, and the implication that he may have killed his friends himself.
- Courage the Cowardly Dog, taking cartoony premises and villains and making them genuinely horrifying. Katz is probably the most frequent source, as when his latest overly elaborate Death Trap fails he usually just resorts to strangling Courage.
- The original My Little Pony pilot, "Rescue at Midnight Castle". Starts off with rainbow ponies playing around and a cute song, and then suddenly switches to ponies being kidnapped by the dragon-like minions of a demonic centaur. It only gets worse after that with the ponies being turned into monsters, and the villain threatening to decapitate a baby dragon.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic continues the series' fine tradition of cute cartoon ponies facing dangerous situations and sinister evil-doers.
- "Party of One" has Pinkie Pie become depressed because she thinks her friends don't like her anymore. You think you're in for something sad, but then cue Sanity Slippage Companion Cube party with twitches, abstract flickering backgrounds, and enough Creepy Circus Music to make you think the makers of Silent Hill were behind the scene.
- "The Return of Harmony" introduces Discord, a goofy-looking Mix-and-Match Critter trickster villain who starts causing chaos in Equestria by making a cotton-candy-and-chocolate storm, and sets up a game for the ponies to play in order to defeat him. Said game has him gleefully break and corrupt five of them, and deliberately rigs the game to make it impossible for him to lose. The first part ends with him winning, and he spends most of the second part turning Equestria into a World of Chaos and rubbing Twilight's face in her failure until she (temporarily, thankfully) crosses the Despair Event Horizon.
- "Lesson Zero", infamously so. The series is no stranger to Sanity Slippages, but Twilight's descent into paranoia and insanity, complete with an endless parade of Nightmare Faces, is immensely disturbing. "HIII, GIIIIIRRLS!" indeed.
- In "Hearth's Warming Eve'', the play starts out somewhat serious, but still not that bad. Cue Eldritch Abominations feeding off the founders' Fantastic Racism and attempting to freeze the entire world. Keep in mind that the play is based directly off of the history of Equestria's founding, so it most certainly did happen in "real life".
- "Baby Cakes": Aww, it's a babysitting episode, how kyuuute! Wait, where'd they go, and what's with the sinister music?
- "A Canterlot Wedding:" Twilight Sparkle has apparently messed up big time, and she's sad, but it looks like Cadance and she will make up. Then HOLY HORSEAPPLES "Cadence" is evil! Part 2 ratchets up the horror even further, with a full scale invasion of Canterlot by bug-like shape-shifting monsters.
- The Chimera from the episode "Somepony To Watch Over Me" in season 4 was definitely a big surprise. She is arguably the creepiest villain in the whole show, and is especially surprising because it is the first time a truly scary villain has ever shown up in any episode that wasn't either a season opener or a season finale, and that episode seemed like a typical comedic Slice of Life episode at first.
- Sweetie Bell's nightmare in "For Whom the Sweetie Bell Toils" is surprisingly disturbing for an otherwise mundane Slice of Life episode.
- The Season 5 premiere "The Cutie Map" features a Well-Intentioned Extremist Knight Templar as the villain, who literally tears the cutie marks right off the flanks of ponies and completely breaks them with imprisonment and psychological abuse until they comply and are willing to live in her town that looks troublingly like a concentration camp. She tops it off with a Villain Song based on World War II propaganda music and some incredibly dark lyrics:
- While not as messed up as Sweetie Belle's, Apple Bloom's nightmare in "Bloom and Gloom" is quite dark as well.
- "The Cutie Re-Mark" has Starlight Glimmer traveling into the past to make sure the Mane Six never united and throws Twilight into a series of Bad Futures where one of the previous villains had won. Each is darker and more messed up than the last, beginning with King Sombra putting mind-control helmets onto every last citizen of the Crystal Empire and the lands he's conquered to make them fight to the death for him. Even the Bad Future pertaining to Flim and Flam turns out to be quite unsettling, as the brothers have turned Equestria into an industrial wasteland with the sky a dark orange from the pollution.
- The Powerpuff Girls has the infamous episode "Speed Demon." The Powerpuffs decide to race home from school... and go so fast that they warp into a strange, warped and destroyed version of Townsville. There, they see that the townspeople have gone insane. The Mayor is dead and Miss Bellum blames herself. The Professor (their father figure) is obsessed with futilely recreating his girls (and attacks the real things when he thinks they're hallucinations). And their kind-hearted schoolteacher just stands in place, right where she was waving goodbye to the Powerpuff Girls before they vanished for over 50 years. It's at this point that the already-creepy villain known only as Him shows up and reveals his true form, informing the girls that because they weren't around to save the day, this nightmare world is all their fault. They manage to go back in time so they can stop the Bad Future by being there to save the day, but the Fridge Horror of the episode is palpable.
- Adventure Time looks like such a fun and childish show, and most of the time it genuinely is. Then comes the mountains of Nightmare Fuel, loads of Backstory Horror, and numerous Vile Villains.
- "Holly Jolly Secrets" is by far the most infamous example. A two-part episode composed mostly of Christmas-like hijinks and watching Ice King's embarrassing video diaries, it ends with the most shocking and depressing reveal in the entire series, forever changing the nature of a main character. "My name is Simon Petrikov."
- "Beautopia" is nowhere near as bad, but when those inflatable pool floaties turn out to be anything but, even the characters are terrified.
- "Finn the Human"/"Jake the Dog" begins in an Alternate Universe where Finn is a normal kid with a normal dog and deals with normal family problems, trying to help his parents with a gang of thugs. Cue the Destiny Gang burning down Finn's house with his family still inside, Finn becoming the Ice King and losing it in a horrifying way, and the origin of the Lich.
- The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack is also like this. One episode showed what appeared to be a cute child, turn out to be a creepy looking older guy.
- Another episode repeatedly cuts away to a terrifying picture of a live-action cat's face with large black pits for eyes and a round mouth with needle-like teeth. No doubt traumatizing hundreds of children.
- As the picture shows, a short called "The Snowman". Starts off really cutesy, with a human and his animal friends building a snowman and dancing around, but all hell breaks loose when the snowman comes to life and goes on a rampage.
- By the same company, "Circus Capers", a cartoon that blatantly plagiarizes the designs of Mickey and Minnie Mouse, starts off pretty generic and happy... then Minnie is revealed to be cheating on Mickey with the obvious villain of the cartoon. Mickey discovers this, and almost instantly becomes fat and depressed. He begins to sing "laugh clown, laugh" with a horridly wrinkled and disfigured face. In response, Minnie realizes her horrid mistake, attempting to return to Mickey. He rejects her, and, out of nowhere, HIS FACE COMES OFF OF HIS BODY, ENLARGES, WINKS AT THE SCREEN, AND INFLATES, COVERING THE ENTIRE SCREEN WITH THE BLACKNESS OF HIS NOSE. What follows in several prints of the cartoon is a quick cut to a bunch of happy dancing ducks from the unrelated short The Booze Hangs High. A couple prints give a "The End" screen instead of said ducks, but one wonders if that wasn't the actual ending.
- The Phineas and Ferb episode "Phineas and Ferb Get Busted!" starts as a typical episode, but it all changed when their mother actually finds out about the boys shenanigans. From then on, it becomes way darker and morbid than a typical episode. It turned out to be All Just a Dream at the end, but still.
- Steven Universe. On the surface, it looks like a fantasy series about a group of warriors and the boy trying to understand his powers, while they fight monsters of the week. It's mostly very heartwarming and lighthearted, but Steven nearly gets himself turned into a grotesque cat monster (confirmed to a reference to nightmare-fuel-legend film Akira) by being unable to control his shapeshifting powers once, aformentioned monsters are really Gems like the heroes that have been corrupted in some way, there was an episode that ended with Steven watching several copies of him turn to dust and die for real, a colossal monster inhabiting the inside of Earth threatening to destroy it and all living things, and the rotten cherry on top is in the episode "Chille Tid" where Steven has a dream (an obvious reference to old sitcoms). Everything goes pretty normal for the most part. Steven is waiting for Connie for his first dance. He opens the door and...a two-eyed Garnet wearing sunglasses comes in and gives him advice for it. The second time he opens the door, instead of Connie we get this pleasant picture.◊ It's agreed through the fandom that it was one of the most unsettling moments of the entire series. Luckily, the series manages to still be strong Sweet Dreams Fuel on countless levels.
- Over the Garden Wall is a charming story of two brothers trying to get home, meeting a bunch of colorful characters while being periodically menaced by whatever creatures The Lost Woods can throw at them, but ends up being a Double Subversion. For the first half all the supposedly creepy things and people turn out to be either harmless or outright helpful, and most of the conflict comes from Wirt unintentionally making things harder for himself. Then a witch that tries to brainwash them is melted and an evil possessing spirit tries to eat them. Then the Beast takes center stage, and everything goes to hell very quickly.
- There's also the ending Cartoon Network logo which features our two heroes looking like dark spirits with soulless eyes which is which is actually a reference to the fact that they're in a purgatory world and are facing death. And since that's the end credits logo that means we get surprise creepy "after every episode''.
- The Cracked article mentioned in the Literature section above (6 Bafflingly Dark Moments In Beloved Children's Book Series) also discusses Arthur (because of its penchant for nightmare sequences and the Uncanny Valley) and The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh (because of its freaky stories that often pertain to loss of identity and existential dread).
- The Ren & Stimpy Show and SpongeBob SquarePants jump from Surreal Humor to Surreal Horror with jarring speed and are both very fond of the Gross-Up Close-Up and other terrifying imagery.