"There's no earthly way of knowing... which direction we are going...As much as they might scare some people, at least monsters, serial killers, and Primal Fears are scary in a comprehensible way. This is where Surreal Horror comes in. It's not just nightmare-inducing, it's nightmarish in a literal way, by being surreal, disjointed, dreamlike, and filled with bizarre imagery, usually saying goodbye to all logic and sanity in the process. In some cases, though, it might not always work. This is likely the main reason clowns can be scary, along with other creatures of the Uncanny Valley. It's worth noting that not all Surreal Horror works may be considered "horror" in the genre sense, but they're horrifying all the same. Often overlaps with Body Horror, Deranged Animation, Eldritch Abomination, Eldritch Location, Evil Is Visceral, Mind Screw, Our Monsters Are Weird, Silence Is Golden, and Through the Eyes of Madness. Super Trope to Word-Salad Horror. Compare Accidental Nightmare Fuel. Contrast Nightmare Retardant and Surreal Humor. See also Nothing Is Scarier.
There's no knowing where we're rowing... or which way the river's flowing...
Is it raining, is it snowing?... Is a hurricane a-blowing?...
Not a speck of light is showing, so the danger must be growing.
Are the fires of hell a-glowing? Is the grisly reaper mowing?
YES! The danger must be growing, for the rowers keep on rowing,
AND THEY'RE CERTAINLY NOT SHOWING... ANY SIGNS THAT THEY ARE SLOWING!"
There's no knowing where we're rowing... or which way the river's flowing...
Is it raining, is it snowing?... Is a hurricane a-blowing?...
Not a speck of light is showing, so the danger must be growing.
Are the fires of hell a-glowing? Is the grisly reaper mowing?
YES! The danger must be growing, for the rowers keep on rowing,
AND THEY'RE CERTAINLY NOT SHOWING... ANY SIGNS THAT THEY ARE SLOWING!"
— Willy Wonka, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory
open/close all folders
Anime & Manga
- The Eclipse (which took place in a nightmare realm called the Nexus) and The Qlippoth in Berserk.
- Black★Rock Shooter: Some of the Scenery Gorn has aspects of this.
- Cat Soup is this combined with Grotesque Cute.
- Devilman has some moments of Surreal Horror. Like when a demon disguises itself as the water in Miki's bathtub, and attempts to drown her.
- Pretty much every manga by Umezu Kazuo, notably Drifting Classroom in which an entire elementary school is transported to a nightmarish After the End world, and Fourteen, in which a humanoid chicken (named George) is leading Nature's revenge against the industrialized humanity.
- The works of Junji Ito. Uzumaki and Gyo are what happens when he crosses it with Body Horror.
- Kyogoku Natsuhiko Kosetsu Hyaku Monogatari. Bizarre imagery abounds, characters and architecture are truly strange-looking, and the series' roots in Japanese horror folk tales are rife with surrealism.
- Mononoke combines classic Japanese horror myths with a surreal art style and puzzle-like battles.
- Mr. Arashi's Amazing Freak Show and all of the works of Suehiro Maruo, due to belonging in the "ero-guro", or erotic-grotesque movement.
- The End of Evangelion: The second half, especially when the mass-production Evas become covered in bubbling, multiplying Rei-faces. The spectacle will likely leave you with the same look on your face as Shinji. There is a taste of it as early in the second episode, when Shinji sees the reflection of his Eva after a battle, half its skull showing through broken armor. A giant eyeball regenerates in the socket while he's watching, then it focuses on him. He passes out screaming. The reaction is understandable.
- Paprika, especially later on in the movie. It is about the merging of dreams and the real world, so this is to be expected.
- Paranoia Agent is about a serial assaulter who hits people of low sanity with a bent golden baseball bat. This increases when he begins exhibiting unhuman powers, and events are often shown from the mental perspectives of the characters.
- The Witches' labyrinths in Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Most of which look like getting attacked by a cross between a Salvador Dalí painting and the opening theme song to Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei.
- Serial Experiments Lain physically represents the Internet as another layer of reality. Unlike other shows which would display a friendly, clean cyberworld, Lain portrays it as disorienting and bizarre. Add in hallucinations and the blending of the real world and the Wired (Internet) and several scenes get quite intensely strange. Even the more mundane stuff has a surprisingly unsettling atmosphere.
- Soul Eater: 90% of this can be attributed to Kishin Asura, he practically has Nightmare Fuel as a Battle Aura.
- The Midnight Parasites, a 1972 Japanese animated short based on the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch with a weird psychedelic rock soundtrack.
- The series version of Vampire Princess Miyu has several episodes that easily fall into the surreal horror category, but as for the last story arc, two words: Chicken. Heads. And it is terrifying.
- Zdzislaw Beksinski's "Fantastic Period" between the '60s and '80s. He said he wanted his work to look like photographs of dreams, not necessarily anything horrific.
- H. R. Giger. He created the Xenomorphs, after all.
- Francisco de Goya's "Black Period".
- Salvador Dalí, one of the most famous artists who took inspiration from dreams.
- Louis Wain is a good example of mental deterioration affecting one's art in this way. Near the end of his life, he suffered from what is believed to be severe schizophrenia, so his comical drawings of cats◊ in human situations transformed into increasingly abstract pictures that hardly resembled cats at all◊.
- The Sandman: The Corinthian has shades of this, where this trope meets the more reasonable horror trope of the Serial Killer. Guy who strips teenage boys to their underwear, ties them up, then cuts out their eyes to eat them? Freaky but not too out of place in a realistic setting. Immortal literal nightmare who's been doing this for about forty years running for his own amusement? Freakier. (And, of course, he has More Teeth than the Osmond Family in his eye sockets in lieu of eyes. Yet he can still see. And he can eat things with them, like people's fingers if they try to take his shades. And if he eats someone's eyes that way he can see things they've seen.)
- Johnny the Homicidal Maniac and its spin-offs. Throw Goth, Surreal Humor, Black Comedy and Surreal Horror in a blender and you get this... and the inside of Jhonen Vasquez's brain.
- Much of Grant Morrison's run on Doom Patrol. Notably, the Scissormen, his first story-arc. Weird, red-suited slenderman-lookalikes. Oh, but they have scissors for hands, and speak in nonsense phrases, and "cut" people out of reality and into a city in another dimension. Grant Morrison does some weird stuff, long story short.
- Shade, the Changing Man's first villain was the American Scream, and the blend of Surreal Horror with Primal Fear and Adult Fear recurred throughout the series.
- 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 away into nothingness as he approaches them. Yeah, Jim Davis was really going for Something Completely Different in those strips.
"An imagination is a powerful tool. It can tint memories of the past, shade perceptions of the present, or paint a future so vivid that it can entice... or terrify, all depending upon how we conduct ourselves today.”
- Liō often resembles a Victorian morality fable, but more random. Go fishing? The fish are fighting back, and ready to eat you! Ignore the warning not to go sledding on a particular hill? There's a monster hiding under the snow at the bottom! Naturally, the emphasis here tends to be on the brutal death awaiting those who make the wrong choice.
- The Homestuck fan adventure Alabaster: The Doomed Session. The entire story is slightly experimental visually, but then you have moments like The Glitch or even worse, the L.E. Scratch parody.
- Thirty Hs and its spinoffs have some semblance of this trope, particularly the "Rape Ape" chapter, if you don't regard them as Surreal Humor.
- Apparently, some guy decided to make a grimdark of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic featuring Twilight Sparkle in the most unnerving way possible◊. The majority of it is fine, but those freaking eyes...
Films — Animation
- The Forest of Still Life in We Are the Strange. Toys and strange machines are scattered haphazardly all around, and then, we're introduced to a rather unnerving stopmotion Creepy Child with a doll's head.
- Svetlonos (The Torchbearer). Made by Václav Svankmajer, the son of the surrealist Czech filmmaker Jan Švankmajer. It combines Greek Mythology and Steam Punk with a Nightmarish dose of LSD...
- Coonskin is a really trippy blaxploitation satire from the man who brought you Fritz the Cat and Heavy Traffic. Highlights include demons ripping out a man's eyeballs, among other things. Truly worth checking out.
- it's such a beautiful day combines Surreal Horror with Surreal Humor. Justified because the protagonist Bill is mentally (and perhaps terminally) ill, and has to deal with how his depressing (yet ridiculous) life may eventually end with premature death.
- Dumbo features the infamous "Pink Elephants on Parade" number. After Dumbo gets Unsuspectingly Soused, we get treated to a Disney Acid Sequence featuring Pink Elephants with Black Eyes of Evil.
- Disney would later follow up the creepiness of "Pink Elephants on Parade" with a similarly bizarre Nightmare Sequence in The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. Behold, "Heffalumps and Woozles."
Films — Live-Action
- Un Chien Andalou. Watch out for razors. It also contains elements of Surreal Humour, which makes the atmosphere even more unsettling.
- The content of the video tape in The Ring is clearly a homage to Un Chien Andalou.
- The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari: One of the main reasons this founding work is so creepy. The plot itself generally makes sense, but the set designs, costumes, and overall mood are very dreamlike and strange, even for a silent movie.
- Eraserhead is one of the weirdest of David Lynch's feature films, although his short film RABBITS (about 40 minutes long) is just as (if not more) surreal. Also, Inland Empire. Other David Lynch movies (especially Lost Highway) also show signs of this. A few scenes in Mulholland Dr. as well, particularly the Winkies scene and the scenes involving the old people. And practically all of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me.
- Jacob's Ladder, which turns out to be the protagonist's Dying Dream, slams back and forth between terrifying weirdness and mundane drama with the abruptness of getting hit over the back of the head with a brick.
- Tetsuo: The Iron Man is this combined with Body Horror, particularly of the bio-mechanical sort.
- Begotten, a silent, black-and-white (like in BLACK AND WHITE, not even a single shade of gray) experimental film that opens with God disembowelling Himself. It just gets weirder from there. The sequel, Din of Celestial Birds, is just as weird.
- David Cronenberg has been known to create works featuring very disturbing visuals, particularly with Videodrome and eXistenZ.
- In the Mouth of Madness is pretty much a surreal Cosmic Horror Story, being full of Mind Screws, Cosmic Retcons, and Breaking the Fourth Wall sequences. But the tip of the iceberg is the ending: It turns out the movie you're watching is the one which is driving people insane and turning them into monsters.
- Antichrist. Those animals? According to the talking fox, chaos reigns.
- Pink Floyd -- The Wall tends to dive into this territory more than a few times, due to its emphasis on telling Pink's story Through the Eyes of Madness as well as from a "realistic" perspective. Case in point, this scene.
- Finnish director A J Annila's Sauna. Its main antagonist is the titular piece of Sinister Architecture that feels far more sentient and malevolent than an immobile building rightfully should.
- Most of the '80s output from Lucio Fulci qualifies, with the copious Gorn mixed with bizarre dream-like happenings that really make very little sense. The Beyond is the one which likely takes the cake in the Mind Screw department, ending with the last two protagonists stuck in a kind of ontological maybe-symbolic post-apocalytic hellscape that is either Another Dimension they're now trapped in or what our world just turned into in the space of a few minutes.
- Hausu. The premise - young group of protagonists enter a house in which bad scary stuff happens - is simple enough, but said "scary stuff" is much more bizarre than the film's Western peers.
- π. The Eraserhead-esque black and white atmospheric directing style certainly helps.
- Donnie Darko is about a troubled teenager who has regular meetings with a six-foot tall anthropomorphic bunny rabbit who can see the future, and just gets weirder from there. Like, when a translucent wormhole comes out of his chest, or when a movie screen implodes.
- Dario Argento's Suspiria is somewhat like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari in that the unsettling tone of the film owes much to its characters going about their business in some pretty bizarre interiors… apparently without ever noticing◊ anything◊ unusual◊. Suspiria's actual plot details are a little weirder, though.
- All the films of Jan Švankmajer (Alice, Little Otik and Sileni, among others) may classify in this trope, due to heavy use of Medium Blending live-action with Deranged Animation.
- In Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, the whole portion inside the factory is surreal and often creepy, but the ultimate moment of Surreal Horror is the infamous boat ride sequence (which is where the page quote comes from). Even the cast had no idea Gene Wilder would be singing! It's so creepy that many modern showings leave it out, and Disney Channel put a content warning before their showings of the film (the only time they've used a content warning for anything below a PG-13 rating) mainly on the strength of this scene being included in its near-entirety.
- Black Swan. It was inspired by Psychological Horror Perfect Blue, so no surprise there.
- The 1981 porno Nightdreams was an attempt to make porn that worked as legitimate art. Along the way, something went horribly wrong, and the final product was a bizarre, nightmarish, sick movie that is very disturbing and not the slightest bit arousing. Totally worth checking out.
- Event Horizon went in that direction, since it is about the thin line between our world and a dimension made entirely out of Chaotic Evil.
- The Shining. In the book, a lot of the hotel's history is explained to us. In the movie, we see the ghosts and visions as the characters do — with little to no context or explanation as to what the hell is going on.
- Death Bed: The Bed That Eats is a strange arthouse-horror-sexploitation movie about a demon possessed bed that eats people by melting them with a pee-like substance. It gets way weirder, nonsensical, and trippier from there. And there's a guy who lives behind a painting that constantly talks to the bed with no response. A must see!
- Repulsion enters this territory once Carol's rape dreams start.
- Hellraiser and Hellbound: Hellraiser II mixes this with ungodly amounts of Gorn and Body Horror.
- Cube, for taking place in a bizarre yet definitely dangerous setting of the, well, cube.
- The Woman Who Powders Herself, an insane black and white short from the '70s that features lots of animation effects and disfigurements.
- Possession. A husband and his wife's lover search for said missing wife. They find out she's shacked up with a second lover. Said second lover turns out to be… not a human. It all goes downhill from there.
- The works of Shozin Fukui, such as 964 Pinocchio (1991) and Rubber's Lover (1996) depict surreal horror in a manner similar to Tetsuo: The Iron Man.
- Subconscious Cruelty is this with very disturbingly erotic and bloody scenes.
- Terry Gilliam's Tideland, while disapproved by critics, was a surreal horror fairytale.
- Monty Python's The Meaning of Life utilizes a heavy amount of Surreal Horror, hopping disjointedly from one bizarre but creepy scenario to another. Let's see, there's "Find the Fish," "Live Organ Transplants," Mr. Creosote...and it all culminates in a meeting with The Grim Reaper himself.
- In the film Being John Malkovich, being the original John Malkovich and not knowing when a hole in an office building could allow you to be controlled by someone else; then there's the time he tries to go through it himself.
- Come and See. Several sequences in the movie are implausible and downright surreal, and intentionally so.
- Mamoru Oshii dips into it on occasion with his live-action films. In particular, Talking Head is about as close to a David Lynch film as you can get without the man himself directing.
- Apocalypse Now has an increasingly surreal and downright disturbing atmosphere throughout its duration.
- mother! fits this trope like a glove, made by grandmaster of psychological-thriller surrealism Darren Aronofsky, featuring a tiny cast of nameless characters, a heavily allegorical plot featuring tons of sexual and violent unpleasantness, climaxing in literal baby eating.
- The 1983 short film Possibly in Michigan won some notoriety on the forums of Reddit for its use of this trope. Its YouTube summary ("Two women are chased through a shopping mall by a cannibal") isn't necessarily inaccurate, but it only gives you the faintest idea of the movie's true scare potential. A cannibal is pretty standard fair for horror films. But... when the victims are a pair of Ambiguously Human women with eery lilting voices who burst into rhyme at random moments, the cannibal is a mysterious tuxedoed stalker with a distorted rubber face who somehow no one can see, the shopping mall is an almost-empty building that hosts wild dance parties for people in animal masks, and the chase is punctuated by random bursts of Stock Footage? That's Surreal Horror.
- The King in Yellow: There is a play so decadent that it acts as a Brown Note linked to a Humanoid Abomination implied to be the Anthropomorphic Personification of decadence; we don't know how that can even be possible. And the play is also linked to a cursed symbol which summons an undead creature; that creature's nature/origins are completely unexplained. We don't even know if the Crapsaccharine World depicted in The Repairer of Reputations is real or not; the tales featuring the play are interconnected, but that's the only one which explicitly depicts such a world, and it has an Unreliable Narrator. Everything is weird and nothing is certain; only decadence and doom (except for the sort-of lucky pair in The Mask. Maybe).
- H.P. Lovecraft: A horse with a hundred horse legs, 50 human heads, 200 human legs, and the whole thing is purple. H. P. Lovecraft one ups that by 100 levels.
- House of Leaves: A book that is a labyrinth. To sum it up, each person who is screwed over by the book finds a book with the story of him finding the book and his story being written in the book and said person dying or disappearing, MAYBE.
- This is the reason some people find Alice in Wonderland to be nightmarish rather than amusing.
- Thomas Ligotti, who has drawn on a lifetime of intricate and disturbing nightmares for much of his writing.
- Stephen King's From a Buick 8 has as the theme that there are some things you just can't understand and sometimes you'll never have answers. Also, the things that come out of the Buick's trunk make you feel like you're being raped. They're not even malicious, but their bizarre nature horrifies everyone who sees them.
- The Third Policeman is a nightmarishly surreal novel by Irish author Flann O Brien (think James Stephens meets House of Leaves while being dictated to by Salvador Dalí) and after reading you'll probably never look at a bicycle in the same way again.
- The alien needle monsters in Eden Green take strange, absurd shapes, and the title character nicknames them things like 'herbivore' and 'giraffe'.
- Lots of Neil Gaiman's works use this. For instance, American Gods has a scene in which a prostitute swallows a man through her vagina, and "The Problem Of Susan" shows us a deranged version of The Chronicles of Narnia in which Aslan fucks the White Witch and gruesomely devours the Pevensie children. Hell, even his kids' books revel in this. Coraline is about a girl who crawls through a tunnel into another world full of puppets who want to stitch buttons onto her eyes, and The Graveyard Book has a scene in which two children enter a mausoleum inhabited by a naked, tattooed Celtic warrior (who, thankfully, isn't real) and an enormous, undead, snakelike monster.
- Even the original Narnia series introduced this at one point, when the characters approach a shadow-enshrouded island "where dreams come true." It sounds like a good thing, but since Real Dreams Are Weirder, we're talking about nightmares here, and a lot of those nightmares are pretty surreal (for instance, Eustace's nightmare apparently involves scissors, and we can only guess what that entails).
- John Dies at the End. The crude humor might lead you to assume otherwise, but it's definitely horrific and strange.
- The Torque in China Mieville's Bas-Lag Cycle. A cancerous force of mutation that is hard to describe in its effects. It blights the landscape turning them into constantly shifting and wrong geometries, it has startling effects on living things (one of the most prominent examples in the series is a train full of people, merged with the train car they were in turned into one enormous amoeba like mass which seems impervious to damage, or the researcher who slowly notices that small circular holes of herself are disappearing). Even the Mad Scientist main character of the first book views Torque as an uncontrollable and terrifying force.
- The later stages of Lamplight. What starts off as a shadowy ghost story takes a full turn into reality-warping horror by the final third of the novel.
- Various scenes from Twin Peaks (again by David Lynch), including the dream at the end of episode 2, the Black Lodge scenes in the finale, and every scene with Killer BOB. The Return also has plenty of this.
- The Danish TV series The Kingdom (Riget), which is set in a hospital and involves such things as the birth of a fully-grown man with way too long legs, and a doctor having the cancerous liver of another man transplanted into his own body For Science! and as a trophy.
- The British series Sapphire and Steel, while nominally SF, is also deeply unsettling in the fashion of a good ghost story — little or nothing is explained in any detail, which tends to enhance the dream-logic feel of the show.
- The Prisoner: Did he escape? Who captured him? What the hell is going on? Who is #1? Why do they care? Who are these people? WHY DOES THAT DOOR OPEN THE SAME WAY AS ONES ON THE ISLAND?!
- Garth Marenghis Darkplace has some comically absurd horrors, like Skipper the Eyechild.
- Doctor Who has dipped into this with some storylines:
- "The Web Planet", which focuses on several races of Insectoid Aliens and uses lots of dreamlike imagery in the visuals, sound and deliberately nonsensical dialogue ("We must make mouths in the walls and then they will speak more light"). Not to mention the sheer dream-logic which the aliens run off — beeping ants with larvae that fire bolts of shrieking light controlled by a strange tentacled creature that speaks through web tunnels, makes the TARDIS console go spinning out of the TARDIS and away, and can control anyone wearing gold; giant bees with strange inhuman voices that can fly through space to the moon… The rather unrealistic costumes also enhance the weird atmosphere, perhaps unintentionally.
- "The Mind Robber", which takes place in a kind of dream dimension, starts in a blank white void, and has things like Jamie's face getting turned into a 'puzzle' that the Doctor has to solve, but he does it wrong and ends up changing Jamie's appearance.
- "The Deadly Assassin" involves the Doctor being sent into a computer nightmare based on common bad dreams strung together with no narrative coherence in a dreamlike manner — a surgeon with a giant syringe about to inject him full of blood while he's paralyzed, a soldier leading a horse wearing a gas mask, and sudden falling being just three things.
- "The Doctor's Wife" has the characters landing on an extra-dimensional junkyard asteroid... that turns out to be an Eldritch Abomination that devours TARDISes. Among this entity's minions are a sinister Cthulhumanoid and a ragged man and woman made from dead Time Lord body parts woven together. Eventually, the Eldritch Abomination hijacks the Doctor's TARDIS and tries to escape into our dimension and wreak havoc.
- Tim & Eric's Bedtime Stories abandons the Surreal Humor of previous Tim & Eric creations for this, featuring a world where toes are removed by scissors as often as tonsils are taken out.
- The infamous Max Headroom incident is a good example of this. On 22 November 1987, an unidentified prankster hijacked Chicago airwaves note and broadcast eerie footage of a guy in a Max Headroom mask spouting gibberish (and briefly, at the end, being spanked by a woman in a French Maid costume). Cracked has a good summary.
- This House Has People In It is a short film from Alan Resnick that never explains itself. Nothing seems to make sense? Why is that girl sinking into the ground? Nobody knows! Why does this simple house need a surveillance system? Nobody knows! What the hell is Tom's deal? Nobody knows! Why is everyone sinking into the ground now? NOBODY KNOWS!
- Hannibal initially makes a half-hearted gesture at realism by having its protagonist suffer regular hallucinations, but eventually that explanation is dispensed with. And often the more horrifying things are literally happening, like a man whose skull was hollowed out to make room for a working apiary, the two separate "artworks" constructed from mutilated human corpses by unrelated "artists", the... everything involving horses or pigs, and a body flayed and manipulated to resemble an oversized, anatomically-correct human heart. The show draws inspiration directly and openly from David Lynch.
- The House in Beyond the Walls has its merry way with the laws of phyics in every conceivable way. The zombie-like creatures inhabiting it don't help either: you can't communicate with them, they vastly differ in intelligence and hostility and sometimes seem to wear boar heads for fun.
- Neutral Milk Hotel's lyrics fall here pretty often. Especially "A Baby for Pree" and "Two-Headed Boy".
- "Revolution #9" by The Beatles has this effect on some people. It's a mashup of strange sounds which bears little to no resemblance to what most people think of as "music."
- Some of Pink Floyd's early instrumentals have this effect on some people, particularly "A Saucerful Of Secrets", "Main Theme", and "Sysyphus". You can definitely count also "Careful With That Axe, Eugene."
- Rush's "Cygnus X-1", which also overlaps with Cosmic Horror.
- The Residents. An avant-garde music group formed in the 1960's who have managed to stay anonymous throughout their whole career. Here's a taste. Besides the music itself, the music videos, video game and other creative output all serve to emphasize this.
- Pretty much everything by Swans, an experimental industrial band from New York. One of the band's members, singer/songwriter/proverbial witch and keyboardist Jarboe, has solo material that delves so far into the realms of Surreal/Psychological Horror to the point that it becomes impossible to listen, although you can't help but wait it out in terror. The release of their 2012 album marked their 30th anniversary; it sounds as though they haven't missed a step nor do they plan on doing so.
- Many modern Technical Death Metal bands that focus around using dissonance, disorientating time signatures and bizarre vocal styles to create an extremely dark and dreamy atmosphere fall into this. Examples include Pyrrhon, Portal, Artificial Brain and Ulcerate. This style can be traced back to Gorguts' album Obscura and the Finnish band Demilich; arguably the two most unsettling examples.
- The Pixies were influenced by Surreal Horror movies like Eraserhead and Un Chien Andalou. (Source)
- The later works of Scott Walker are the stuff of nightmares, especially the album the Drift.
- Antihoney, a mysterious Japanese musical project, features a unique dreamlike soundscape. Their songs are free, available to download on their official site. The music is already pretty weird on its own (some songs even completely reversed on release), the ethereal vocals only emphasizes the creepiness. It was brought to fame (among fans) largely by the sinister Surreal Horror imagery created in the fan made music videos by Youtube animator nana825763, and they fit suprisingly well with the music. It's very, very trippy.
- The Mars Volta slips into this at times, with their odd Word Salad Lyrics and odd, Mind Screw music.
- Queen's video for "I'm Going Slightly Mad." Well, what do you expect for a song with Reality Subtext about dementia brought on by the terminal stages of Freddie Mercury's AIDS?
- Likewise, David Bowie's video for the song "Ashes to Ashes" on his album Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps). Again, the song itself has some dark Reality Subtext, this time about Bowie's drug addiction — though as with the aforementioned Queen song, the video is just a mishmash of freaky images.
- Much like the Technical Death Metal example above, many of the stranger bands in Black Metal are prone to doing this, often through use of Uncommon Time, bizarre vocals, dissonant guitar tunings, and unconventional song structures. Deathspell Omega and Blut aus Nord are the poster boys for this style. Some of the other bands who practice it include Oranssi Pazuzu, Jute Gyte, Spectral Lore, and arguably Liturgy.
- Warhammer 40,000: Try leafing through the descriptions of Chaos mutations sometime. And good luck catching a peaceful night's rest if you do. Oh, and Chaos imagery and architecture also counts. Explicitly described is the alphabet of Chaos as "sanity blasting sigils".
- Normality embodies this trope, as it lacks a dice mechanic and largely consists of furious ranting at a world gone wrong.
- In Deadlands, players may have to run through a session or two of this if they die and come back harrowed or travel through the Hunting Grounds.
- Changeling: The Lost has Arcadia, comprised of the domains of The Others. The other Dark Worlds in the New World of Darkness pale compared to it, simply due to its sheer variety and absurdity.
- Exalted: The entirety of the Wyld. Mortals entering it will be unmade, but the Exalts might have a slight chance of surviving with both their mind and body intact.
- In JAGS Wonderland, Chessboard One has elements of this. The Chessboards below it are this.
- The Hastur Mythos in Delta Green are made of this, because Hastur personifies the breaking of the laws of reality and logic. They are modelled after The King in Yellow.
- Rule of Rose. A cruel caste system ruled by little girls is weird enough, but then there's the monsters...
- The Silent Hill series sometimes drifts into this:
- Silent Hill 2 contains several examples:
- Pyramid Head's appearance in Silent Hill 2 is also a visual example of Surreal Horror, with his massive, rusted polygonal head that could never be supported by the rest of his body. It's even deconstructed; it's shown that he hates the big heavy helmet but has long since given up on trying to get it off.
- The Alien Geometries of several locations are very disorienting.
- Maria's repeated deaths and sudden reappearances are very disquieting.
- The nightmare hospital from Silent Hill 3 and its infamous mirror room that shows various mismatched reflections.
- Silent Hill 4 has an infamous hospital room.
- Silent Hills' playable teaser has you looping through a slowly degrading suburban home over and over again, finding Eraserhead-esque babies in a decrepit bathroom and talking to a mutated paper bag, among other strange things.
- Silent Hill 2 contains several examples:
- American McGee's Alice. Alice in Wonderland was pretty surreal already, so of course a darker version of it is going to evoke this.
- Yume Nikki. Sure, it's a dream, and dreams are weird, but how many people have whole worlds in their head full of bloody eyeballs?
- In Eternal Darkness the Surreal Horror angle runs rampant, especially once your sanity meter runs low. The whole thing is just one big screwed up wide awake nightmare.
- Mondo Medicals and its sequel, Mondo Agency. The atmosphere is very oppressive and your goals vague - even the gameplay evokes this trope through the bizarre perspective tricks.
- While much of Earthbound is surreal and trippy, its endgame heads straight into this trope. MOTHER 3's famous removed unused enemy backgrounds even more so.
- The Path, which is the story of Little Red Riding Hood as a series of nonsensical (or possibly allegorical) scenes and vignettes.
- Baroque, especially the original release due to a heavy atmosphere created by the limitations of the system.
- The Orz from Star Control II are your friendly neighborhood aliens, who look a bit like large parrotfish, and, due to their language being too alien for the Translator Microbes to manage, they also speak in Engrish. And remember: never, EVER ask them what happened to the Androsynth.
- When it isn't a tactical shooter, F.E.A.R. goes for this. One of the highlights of the first game was an extended sequence where you couldn't be sure if the man taunting you was a hallucination or in the room with you, and doors you were trying to flee through seemed to move away from you. It ended with a dive into a pool of blood that left you standing beneath a gore-soaked ceiling. In the first expansion to F.E.A.R, there was a very memorable sequence where the player tries to open a door at the end of a hallway. Finding it locked, you turn around to see that the hallway you had just came down had transformed into the entrance way to an asylum.
- Entering one room and finding it empty, save for an operating chair and a door on the end. Go through that, and find TWO operating chairs. Repeat until blood starts appearing and the increasingly large volume of chairs start getting attached to the walls and the ceiling, as the walls start to progressively cave in. Hmm.
- Survival Crisis Z looks like a standard Zombie Apocalypse at first, but the observant player will notice something... odd about these undead. (For instance, they giggle as they attack.) The farther you get, the crazier it gets.
- The Penumbra series. Starts off as a fairly normal horror scenario of the PC going into a abandoned mine full of savage wildlife to find his father, then you end up in the Elaborate Underground Base of a ancient conspiracy, dodging sentient virus infected zombies, and in the final game you're solving puzzles in a weird mash of all the locations in the first two games, while the PA system begs you not to finish the game so that she won't be alone, and dead supporting characters rant inanely at you.
- Killer7, a technicolor acid nightmare of a video game.
- Drakengard sneaks up on the player, beginning as a dark Medieval European Fantasy that just happens to have weird references to "the Watchers" sprinkled in. The standard ending mostly avoids the trope, but each unlockable alternate ending gets successively more unhinged, till by the fourth there are giant demonic babies falling from the sky.
- Catherine. Never have the consequences of infidelity looked quite so nightmarish.
- Eversion is a very happy example of this. Enjoy your blood.
- Shadows of the Damned drifts toward this frequently, with content that's as disturbing as it is nonsensical. Somewhere between goats being a source of light and finding out strawberries are made of ground-up tongues, you either learn to just roll with it, or give up.
- Sentinel Returns has been described as "the most terrifying E-rated game ever made". It is set in a surreal, dark, chequered landscape where you play as a robot with the mission to absorb monstrous creatures of flesh and metal called Sentinels before they absorb you, by teleporting to gradually higher altitudes. The landscapes feature trees that look like spermatozoa and breathing boulders with a sphincter on the top. This is the introduction. And the soundtrack has been composed by John Carpenter. By the way, if you're expecting explanation for anything about the game to come from anywhere, you're going to be disappointed.
- A recurring element in games by Edmund McMillen:
- The Binding of Isaac, a deranged tale of a little boy, whose brutally abusive mother intends to sacrifice him to God. Filled with Body Horror, Big Creepy-Crawlies, disturbingly Freudian imagery, and Toilet Humor.
- Time Fcuk, a deranged tale of a young man, whose future self throws him into a very strange box in which time and physics make little sense. Most of the horror here is psychological, as the protagonist slowly goes completely insane navigating the physics-breaking puzzles, dying repeatedly with no consequence, talking to both past and future versions of himself, and talking to the growing lump/clone on his head (which he names "Steven").
- Meat Boy is tame compared to the other examples here, but it still contains Hell, sawblades, zombies, copious amounts of blood, sawblades, ruined landscapes, and a psychotic fetus. And lots of sawblades.
- Coil, for providing little context for the events within, yet seeming very sinister even in ambiguity. Most people interpret it as a story about rape, but Edmund's personal interpretation is about somebody meeting with Death.
- Grey Matter uses motifs based around mental illness and the brain in general.
- Maxis's User Created Content game SPORE has a subculture among the creators known as UBD, which lives for Surreal and Body Horror, making bizarre, twisted versions of just about any animal, plant, body part, or object you can imagine, as well as a few you thankfully can't imagine. The morbid Puns they use for names don't help. Neither does the fact that all of SPORE's hardcoded character animations are goofily exaggerated.
- LSD: Dream Emulator is a cult PlayStation game in which you explore colorful and quirky dreams, with a lot of randomly generated content. The more dreams you play through, the stranger and more deranged things get.
- The Half-Life mod Cry of Fear features this to some extent throughout but a few "nightmare sequences" use this to even greater effect, the start of one is signified by Alien Geometries and/or hallways and rooms coated in blood.
- In the subway behind the brick wall is an excellent example, after some hallways using Alien Geometry you drop down into a maze covered in blood and full of impossibly tall people bound up in bags with twitching heads that look like they've had their grey-matter squeezed out. All of them are hanging from the ceiling like cattle in a butcher factory and constantly moving around. Touching one results in instant death and the soundtrack does not make things any more pleasant.
- Much like Cry of Fear, Afraid Of Monstersnote is incredibly surreal. The protagonist, David Leatherhoff, goes through several nightmare sequences in his own mind, where the world is a deep, matte black. Twitching, growling things lurk in the walls, which seem to be drawn out of white ink.
- Ao Oni would just be normal horror, if it weren't for the fact that the monster is a bizarre invocation of the Uncanny Valley that manages to look simultaneously humorous and horrifying.
- UIN is the story of a boy, lost in a cupboard filled with Eldritch Abominations.
- the white chamber thanks to its shifts to a Dark World.
- The Chzo Mythos also has a Dark World like the above in its later entries. A bit of Serial Escalation in that the first two games are mostly about supernatural but still comprehensible killers, and the latter two have transcended into full-on Cosmic Horror Story.
- Lone Survivor is this and Survival Horror. The monsters are fleshy, twitchy things, walls are covered in gore, half the dialogue makes no sense, and mirrors teleport you to your apartment.
- Limbo is set in a grainy, monochrome world mixed with forested and industrial terrain. There are dead bodies in the early part of the game and almost everyone and everything are there to kill you. And when they do, the deaths are quite gruesome. There is one part where you have to use the husk of a giant spider as a makeshift bridge across a pit of spikes. And that is not the end of it.
- Among most Zelda games, The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask uses this trope to the largest extent, which inspired the creation of Ben Drowned. The titular mask of Majora is shaped like a heart but with eyes on it and it's being worn by a demented scarecrow. Meanwhile, the moon has an evil leering face that constantly stares down at the people it's about to crush. Just to name a few points. Other games show surreal moments at specific times, such as the Fused Shadow backstory in Twilight Princess.
- Spec Ops: The Line starts veering into this territory as the main character's grip on reality becomes more fragile. It doesn't help that the setting, Dubai in ruins and constantly wracked by sandstorms, makes for a vicious, victory-less battle on ever-shifting ground amidst collapsing infrastructure with basic supplies dwindling... set among some of the most beautiful and opulent displays of wealth on Earth, all rendered worthless in the struggle. Say, a shoot-out in a glitzy night-club between dusty, screaming soldiers, bullets ripping into the artwork on the walls and cover provided by life-size jewel-studded giraffes, while a floor-installed aquarium of live fish flits beneath their feet and burning hot sand spills in through the windows. Hallucination? Nope. It's just what warfare in Dubai would look like.
- Ib has some pretty decent mind screws. Like stairs that meow, walls that give applause, hallways that never end unless you walk through it a certain way, paintings that come alive, roses that determine your value of life, marble statues that can walk, and crayon drawn books whose pictures move and depict preschooler murder. Fun times...
- The normally comic MMORPG Kingdom of Loathing descends into this in its more serious zones, such as fighting an Eldritch Abomination resembling Mr. Peanut in the Caliginous Abyss, or having the embodiment of the Crackpot Mystic's fears, doubts, regrets, and anger be old-school video game characters.
- OFF eventually turns into one during Zone 3. Even earlier than that if you return to one of the purified Zones and discover that the Batter's mission isn't as good as you thought it was.
- Harvester has absolutely copious amounts of blood and guts, but a lot of the creepy factor comes from just how utterly wrong the entire town is. Then in the end-game, you break into the headquarters of the Lodge of the Harvest Moon, and things get really weird.
- The Last Door is chock full of this. Everything feels a little unhinged from reality and each person seems to be at least a little insane. The closer Jeremiah gets to solving the mystery of what's going on, the more warped and bizarre everything gets.
- The Hedge Maze from Castle Red a sprawling labyrinth fool of bizarre and random imagery meant to disorient the player. The rest of the game features strange happenings and inexplicable events as well, but the Hedge Maze is perhaps the point of maximum surreality. No other section of the game features a garden of human heads, for example.
- Paracentric, in the vein of games such as Yume Nikki and OFF that are mentioned above.
- LISA doesn't seem so bad at first, then people start turning into contorted flesh monsters and your hallucinations start getting worse...
- South of Real starts in a rather bog-standard haunted mansion, albeit one the player character grew up in. True to the title, though, the reality of the game goes completely south by the end of the game as the main character realizes the depths of depravity their own parental figure sunk to in an effort to save the world.
- The Cube Escape series. Its room escape puzzles include slicing open a fish and watching a fully grown tree sprout out of it, descending into Van Gogh's severed ear to his bedroom in Arles, and cutting open an old man's sewn-shut mouth to let his human head be replaced by a crow's. Oh, and terrifying Humanoid Abominations created from the unpleasant memories extracted from the bodies of dead humans.
- Undertale has Photoshop Flowey, often known by the Fan Nicknames God Flowey and Omega Flowey, in the Neutral/Pacifist Route climaxes. It appears a horrific fleshy pronged skull with eyes that appear to be crudely cut out from video footage, connected to a series of tubes and a TV screen showing a 2-bit photorealistic human face that looks like it's in intense pain. Endlessly looping thorny vines stream from its face and two clawed cactus-arms appear to be connected to the tubes. Its attacks include rains of nuclear bombs with normal Flowey sprites drawn on them, huge bush-worms with human teeth, finger guns connected to plants that fire pairs of sunflowers, and laser-guided vines aimed at the player. During the fight, horrific "music" plays and Photoshop Flowey will repeatedly use the power of the human souls to attack with crudely drawn knives, star/ballet shoe combos, and abusive words among other things. The horror is taken Up to Eleven later if you're on a pacifist route as you're forced to take on multiple nightmarish abominations in the hellish True Lab. Both must be seen to be believed.
- Sonic Dreams Collection uses this in conjunction with Surreal Humor. Every game except Make My Sonic (which is almost entirely surreal humor) has some degree of disturbingly bizarre content:
- Eggman Origins, after going through the hidden process of making it available, turns out to be a game where the player's custom Sonic character feeds an egg/bird-like Eggman worms in an empty white void. Eventually, a tower rises with Eggman in the middle, and he seemingly turns the character into the original Sonic. This is noted as the player having "One ascension."
- Sonic Movie Maker features one-eyed egg people that ask for bizarre things, a noisy eye inside of the moon, a hidden glitchy blue ball that can deform structures and blares out static if one moves too far away from it, Sonic eating Tails, and a section set in Rouge's womb (which is also like a stomach) where the player eventually falls into a crib.
- My Roommate Sonic is a first-person "Dating Sim" where a spying Eggman sends the player text messages explaining what to do. Eventually, Sonic's eyes merge into one, which becomes a portal that sucks the player into an alternate landscape where they become a Sonic-like creature. While the phone appears in the background, giant, giving one final message.
- World of Warcraft occasionally veers into Surreal Horror when the players encounter something truly mindbending. Certain locations like the top of Karazhan and the depths of Ahn'Qiraj seem to be in endless voids, when they're both tangible places you access in the real world, and certain bossfights, notably Yogg-Saron's, screw with the player's perception of the world, forcing them to kill illusions of friends and heroes.
- This trope pretty much describes most of The Evil Within. It starts off with the main character investigating a mass murder, but then you encounter monsters that reek of Body Horror, Facial Horror, and occasional Uncanny Valley, locations that just randomly appear and disappear, various enemies (namely the Big Bad) that can warp reality, and a really creepy hospital that you can go to to upgrade and save your progress. All justified once you discover exactly where you are.
- During Here They Lie the main character takes a journey through a muted dreamlike apocalyptic landscape encountering impossibly vast industrial cityscapes, insane people with animal heads, boat journeys through kaleidoscopes, an abandoned train station filling up with blood deep underground, sinister giant business men on fire and a theater filled with people attempting suicide among other bizarre events along the way.
- Doki Doki Literature Club!, a cheery, seemingly innocent Romance Game that nevertheless is prefixed with a Content Warning about disturbing content. The game eventually devolves into a mix of Psychological Horror and metafictional, fourth wall-breaking existential horror, with lots of disturbing glitches and the occasional bit of gore.
- June uses this and creepy art to its advantage. Talking Communist dogs, Stan's repeating deaths, the obsession with faces (or lack of), no inner fourth wall with a TV that can control space...
- Unsounded has one where Sette falls through a shadow and into the Khert, or fabric of reality itself, which is created from the memories of the dead. It's as bizarre as it sounds.
- Astray3 is plenty surreal from the first strip, but the oven-head monster is even worse than the carnivorous umbrellas. At least the killer whale guy seems friendly...
- Marble Hornets, especially the videos made by totheark. A lot of Slendy stories, actually, especially once Sanity Slippage sets in. After all, it's a freaking terrifying meme/artificial Urban Legend where the primary figure is... a tall guy in a suit with no face.
- Many of the videos made by "nana825763" in YouTube. Especially her videos "username666", "another youtube", "pokopokopikotan", "none", "cooking idol" and "embryo" just to mention some of them. She likes to make scary videos with Japanese terror legends and other related things.
- Whateley Universe: Maybe half the dimensions Josie ends up visiting in "I Looked into the Abyss", including one that was half Cthulhu Mythos and half Alice in Wonderland.
- Welcome to Night Vale straddles the line between Surreal Humor and this, focusing on news broadcasts from a small town with a terrible and unknowable dog park (where dogs are not allowed), a faceless old woman who lives in your house (yes, yours), a Boy Scout troop with ranks that go up to "Eternal Scout" and whose initiation ceremonies result in dark-eyed children coming to town, and the sheer carnage of Street Cleaning Day.
- Many SCP Foundation pieces use this; the objects are often extremely strange (some are even surreal without being particularly horrific) and the way the clinical, detached nature of each article gives you a feeling that, even though you have some information, you have no way of knowing exactly what these things are all about. A few specific examples include SCP-1782, SCP-1425, SCP-2030, and Bees.
- The viral video Don't Hug Me I'm Scared has a trio of puppet characters enjoying themselves by using their imaginations... until their imaginations turn the video nightmarishly surreal. In the end, everyone decides, "Now let's all agree to never be creative again." The sequels are at least as terrifyingly bizarre as the original.
- The Nostalgia Critic's "Top 11 Nostalgic Mindfucks" discusses some of these moments (in addition to some less scary ones, like Toontown from Who Framed Roger Rabbit and the Title Sequence to Pee-Wee's Playhouse). In a meta-example, the video itself can be pretty freaky too.
- Bogleech heavily favors examples of this to more conventional horror, the accounts of people's real-life nightmares are prime examples.
- Aqua Teen Hunger Force. It's usually Surreal Humor but occasionally it crosses the line into whacked out nightmares.
- Ren and Stimpy delves into this on occasion, in particular "Hermit Ren" and the Commander Hoek and Cadet Stimpy episodes. Lots of Deranged Animation too.
- Courage the Cowardly Dog tends towards this sort of style, but given its target audience, blends this with Nightmare Retardant.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender:
- In "Nightmares and Daydreams", most of Aang's nightmares (and later, hallucinations) are merely funny. However, his last nightmare before he decides to avoid sleep altogether (leading to the hallucinations) is downright terrifying, even making Momo (Aang's pet lemur) creepy.
- Zuko's Nightmare Sequence in "The Earth King."
- The paraphernalia wagon sequence from Halloween Is Grinch Night. It's very easily comparable to Yume Nikki, being basically the protagonist walking through a series of strange, nightmarish visuals.
- On the topic of Dr. Seuss cartoons, The Butter Battle Book features a similarly creepy Disney Acid Sequence about building weapons of mass destruction. The Butter Battle Book is one of Seuss's darkest children's books, and Ralph Bakshi directed the Animated Adaptation, so no surprise there.
- The collective animation project Hopital Brut (French for "Gross Hospital") has something to do with horrific experiments at the eponymous hospital, including lobotomies that entail the complete obliteration of the rest of the head. It's best not viewed by the faint of heart or the sound of mind.
- Adventure Time:
- It drifts into this sometimes, particularly the episode "No One Can Hear You" where a deer is depicted with human hands.
- To say nothing of the Nightosphere, which is more or less a cute animated version of Bosch's hell.
- The Powerpuff Girls exhibits this whenever Him (a crossdresser Humanoid Abomination) shows up.
- Gravity Falls has Bill Cipher, living embodiment of all that is both hilariously deranged... and just plain deranged, when his interests are against yours.
- The Simpsons' Don Hertzfeldt-directed Couch Gag. Yes, it's a satire of Franchise Zombie. Doesn't make it any less surreal/disturbing (it looks like something Starfish Aliens could make when trying to imitate The Simpsons; it even mentions viewers' flippers. And whoever made it is ruled by a self-styled "dark lord" who seems to want to remark that all animals can scream and that "amusement is control").
- The show also parodied Twin Peaks in the second part of "Who Shot Mr. Burns?" Chief Wiggum falls asleep on the job and finds himself in a strange building (which looks just like the Black Lodge), where a dreamlike version of Lisa makes odd, cryptic references ("THIS... SUIT... BURNS... BETTER") in a stilted voice and reality changes at a moment's notice. The trouble is that Wiggum is too stupid to figure out what the heck is happening, and Dream!Lisa is eventually forced to outright tell him her message ("BURNS'S SUIT!"). When the Chief awakens, he happily talks about the "weird backwards-talking dream" he just had, prompting concern from the other cops.
- Some of the post-movie episodes of SpongeBob SquarePants qualify, possibly unintentionally. The most obvious case is the Season 7 episode "Squidward in Clarinetland": it starts with two nausea-inducing scenes of Krabs completely breaking out in hives, and SpongeBob getting the flesh of his right arm eaten off by a cloud of insect-like creatures... and then Squidward enters the safe. The poor guy first navigates a labyrinth of filing cabinets that could not possibly fit in there, while following SpongeBob, whose laugh is unusually creepy in this episode. Then he opens a door, and winds up in a field that is empty except for the giant clarinets growing out of the ground and a buried, talking eagle head, which eats him. In its stomach, we see that the eagle has multiple esophagi despite only having one beak. Then Squidward gets flushed out of the eagle's stomach, somehow winding up inside a pinball machine which turns out to be a giant SpongeBob, with a giant Patrick there to torment him as well. Even the Encyclopedia SpongeBobia admits that "this episode scares children." They would hardly be the only ones.
- The Real Ghostbusters; especially episodes happening in Another Dimension or those that involve poltergeists, goblins and the like.
- Nightmares, as the opening description implies. They have inspired more than one example of this trope.
- Hallucinogenic drugs. Ones that are poorly prepared or spiked can cause horrifying hallucinations. Notable examples include:
- K-2 is synthetic marijuana that has been banned from Michigan. The drug seems to slow time like regular marijuana, but it gives an extreme high that lasts a short period. It can react poorly in some people and cause them to be confused and dangerous to themselves and the people around them. People who take it can still move freely (if they don't faint) and can become easily frightened by the strange sensations they are experiencing. Non-violent people will suddenly assault seven people in half an hour. The experience messes with time perception and memory so badly, it can feel like a person has been trapped in some kind of prison for years. It can also cause a user to have periods of what feels like a panic attack months after use.
- There's also Salvia divinorum, which takes the horror to even more horrifying degrees than K-2.
- Step one: cut a ping pong ball in half. Step two: tape the halves over your eyes. Step three: turn on white noise and listen to it through headphones. Step four: have a red light flashing above your head. Step five: hallucinate.