"It's beginning to look a lot like fish-menEverybody in a small town is in on a secret. A terrible secret that nobody outside the town must know. The visiting protagonist slowly begins to suspect that something is wrong. Such towns are often located in Lovecraft Country. If the terrible secret is covered up with a sweet veneer, see Stepford Suburbia and Uncanny Village. If it's big enough - say, a country or more - then you have yourself an Empire with a Dark Secret. ("The Secret" doesn't have to be a supernatural one; it can be something as mundane as a murder cover-up.) A Wrong Genre Savvy character may take it for a Close-Knit Community — or vice versa. See also Corrupt Hick, A Fête Worse Than Death and Crapsaccharine World. Contrast Arcadia. As can be expected from a Trope like this, Spoilers may be unmarked. (And that is far more warning than most visitors to these towns get.)
Everywhere I go;
From the minute I got to town
And started to look around
I thought these ill-bred people's gill-slits showed."
Everywhere I go;
From the minute I got to town
And started to look around
I thought these ill-bred people's gill-slits showed."
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Anime and Manga
- Many of the towns that Kino visits in Kino's Journey have a dark secret somewhere along the line. Sometimes it isn't an actual secret, but just something that casual travelers won't notice at the first sight, while at other times it's played dead straight.
- The town that Kirika wanders into in Noir was founded for the sole purpose of guarding the entrance to Altena's manor, and the villagers will kill anyone who interferes with their instructions.
- Kurôzu-cho from Uzumaki seems normal enough... for about five minutes. Then people start going insane, turning into giant snails, whirlpools start sinking any boats that come near... you know, all the normal risks of building your town on top of some kind of crazy Cosmic Horror Story spiral shrine that is both alive and seems to just really, really hate people. All people. A lot.
- In Monster one of the towns mentioned was used for child psychological experiments.
- Another, the secret is not with the town itself but contained entirely in Class 3-3. Each school year, the class has one extra person in it - someone who has died. Nobody, not even the "extra" themself, remembers their death or that they shouldn't be on the class roster, but since their presence means there is one too many people in the class, the universe tries to balance things out by killing members of the class (and their family and friends) in increasingly improbable and gruesome accidents. The class in turn try to stave off the calamity by selecting one member of the class and pretending they don't exist for the duration of the school year, a countermeasure which is dubiously effective at best.
- 7 Seeds has the Ryugu Shelter and the Fuji Ship arcs.
- The Ryugu Shelter is a gorgeous amusement park that appeals to the people in it and entertains them in any way they can, while actually functioning as a safety bunker. It looks great, but behind the scenes, things quickly fall apart as an accident lowers their food rations a lot and the higher-ups decide to send half of the people to a different shelter, but are actually killing them off so that the other half can continue to live... not to mention that a deadly parasite breaks out.
- The Fuji Ship is an armoury and filled to the brim with guns, rifles and any other kind of shooting weapon. It's also filled with mummified corpses and full of bacteria and rust, so you know something terrible happened. The worst part is that it contains a built-in Kill 'em All function that sets the ship vertically and will launch a bunch of missiles, including a nuclear bomb, all over Japan to kill every person, if ever a situation arose where it seemed that all hope was lost... and the countdown is set!
- In the "Dressrosa" arc of One Piece, the port town of Acacia appears to be peaceful and pleasant, despite being ruled by Doflamingo; a place where people and toys live together, and gladiators fight in the colosseum. But the Straw Hats soon find out that the numerous living toys on the island are actually humans changed by a Devil Fruit user, and all memories of the transformed humans are erased aside from those of the toys themselves. Those who lose in the colosseum are fated to become toys...some of which are prisoners for rebelling against the Donquixote family. Oh, and also, Doflamingo is only in charge because he framed the last ruling family and won the public's heart with Engineered Heroics.
- One Piece's sixth movie has an island with a dark secret.
- We also have Water 7, though that's a very minor case. On the surface, it seems like a happy, Venice-like city where its premier ship-building company makes ships for people all over the world, and they have a railroad that runs on the ocean. We later learn that the island it's on is sinking, not helped by a Giant Wall of Watery Doom that hits once a year. Oh, and the president of said ship-builders holds the blueprints for a world-destroying battleship, currently being set up for an assassination from the Government. But, by the arc's end, one of those problems has been resolved, and the other is in the process of being resolved.
- Even Luffy's home island has this; the Goa Kingdom seems like a perfect and beautiful place...but only because the kingdoms rulers throw everything that would make it look bad, people included, into a giant landfill that has become a district unto itself. And when some World Nobles are scheduled to visit, the rulers decide to have everything, people included, burned to the ground.
- Whiskey Peak is the definition of this trope - cheerful and welcoming at first sight, turns out to be giant trap for pirates, entirely populated by bounty hunters. Oh, and that giant cacti hills near the town - actually it's regular hills, covered in gravestones,which appears as needles from afar.
- In Sunday Without God, Ai feels like her village is keeping some kind of secret from her, but she isn't sure what. So instead she performs her gravekeeper duties by digging graves for when the villagers eventually die. She later learns that every villager was actually already dead, meaning she was the only living person in the whole village.
- Wildstorm's comic book sequel to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) remake reveals that the residents of the town are completely aware of Leatherface and his family's murderous and cannibalistic tendencies, but don't do anything out of fear of retribution. At one point, after the heroine escapes from the Hewitt family lair and makes it into a bar in town the patrons stop her from calling for help and bring her to the pursuing Leatherface.
Bar Patron: "We don't want no Hewitt trouble."
- While we're on the topic of Wildstorm, this is essentially the entire premise of Out There. El Dorado, California is a prosperous community — because of a Deal with the Devil. Four local teenagers find out. Hilarity, as you can imagine, ensues.
- Matt Murdock finds himself run afoul of one of these in Daredevil: Reborn — there's an old quarry filled with corpses, and he almost gets added to the pile after the sheriff discovers who he is.
- Nightwing once encountered a town where every inhabitant was in the witness protection program, and the inhabitants were prepared to kill to ensure that no one from their old lives find out where they were.
- The Fantastic Four, at the beginning of their superhero career defeated a group of Skrull spies. Reed Richards brainwashed them into becoming cows and retaining that form for life. The milk from these cows affected a small dairy town named King's Crossing, causing the inhabitants to develop shapeshifting powers and become paranoid and insular. The Fantastic Four, via a girl Johnny Storm was dating, ended up investigating the town and neutralizing the threat.
- According to Runaways, the reason that the Los Angeles of the Marvel Universe isn't crawling with supervillains in the same manner as New York City is because for years all the criminal activity in L.A. was controlled by the Pride, who were so evil and vicious that no sane criminal or supervillain dared to cross them.
- The Jack Chick Crusaders comic Broken Cross features a town dominated by Hollywood Satanism.
- Merksay, one of the Orkney islands, in And Then Emily Was Gone. Children tend to go missing and people say they've just run away. Plus, there's a meatpacking plant that seems to be putting parasites into people.
- Riverdale is revealed to have one in Afterlife with Archie. In order to save the town during World War 2 the three original founding families made a deal with the witches of Greendale to protect the town and everyone in it. This however was in exchange for a child from each of the founding families over the next three generations.
- Downplayed in Alias: the "dark secret" of the small town visited in the "Rebecca, Come Home" arc is run-of-the-mill right-wing fundie idiocy, complete with a Sinister Minister preaching Fantastic Racism from the pulpit. Jessica goes to investigate a teenage girl's disappearance and finds that she just ran away to be with her girlfriend in the next town over and get away from her drunken father and ultra-conservative mother and aunt. The place is set up to seem idyllic but proves to be no more or less screwed-up than anywhere else.
- Scooby Apocalypse has the Mystery Gang stumble on the town of Halcyon, Montana, which is somehow completely unaffected by the nanite plague and the monsters, which naturally raises a few red flags. It eventually turns out that the town is actually empty except for one little girl who became a powerful psychic capable of creating lifelike illusions.
- In the Firefly fanfic Forward, the unnamed village in the "Charity" story is being attacked by mercenaries/slavers for unspecified reasons. As the story progresses, things become a lot clearer. The village had been infiltrated by an "Inducer" psychic, who could control people's emotions. Being a product of the Academy, she is less than stable. The Blue Sun corporation tracked her down after she murdered an entire Blue Sun facility using mind-controlled villagers, and sent the mercenaries to recapture her.
- In the AU Ah! My Goddess fanfic, Scapegoat, the main setting is Omelas, which is this kind of town.
- Believe it or not, Cloudsdale becomes one of these in Rainbow Factory. Its secret is that those who fail their flight exam are sent to the titular Factory to be brutally murdered, all for the sake of producing rainbows.
- "Gloomy Town" in the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic Filk Song of the same name is a town hidden in the Everfree Forest that started as a leper colony for ponies with Cutie Pox, and is aeons old because the inhabitants "don't know how to die". This would be a Wham Line and spoilered out if the title card wasn't a zombie-pony standing bold-as-brass in the middle of town, cocktail in hoof.
- Story of the Blanks starts out as a seemingly bright and cheerful My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic flash game where Applebloom wanders off into the Everfree Forest and finds a small village called Sunny Town. Then, after talking to the ponies who live there, she goes into a strange house away from the rest of the town and finds a corpse in the fireplace. As it turns out, the ponies in that town think Cutie Marks are a curse rather than a representation of whatever's unique about the pony they belong to, and kill anypony who finds their special talent. Poor Applebloom ends up fleeing a cursed village while its undead inhabitants chase her down.
- This is our everlasting punishment - what we deserve. Now run. Run for your life.
- Doubling as a Shout-Out, Soul Eater: Troubled Souls features none other than the town of Innsmouth as the setting for a mission. The Deep Ones are the targets and are responsible the decayed state of the town. They are also a an enigmatic clan of Kishin cultists who wait Asura's return and gather souls for him. Who is sent out on this mission? Ox Ford and Crona.
- In The Terrible Secret of Animal Crossing, the protagonist finds himself on a bus to a camp under strange circumstances, and bit by bit, the secrets of the camp's much-too-happy exterior finally come to light. Even the final chapter is aptly named, "All's Well That Ends."
- A Great And Powerful Heart: Trixie wanders into a remote community called Promise, which to her misfortune, is a town founded by Filli Terram, an earth pony supremacist group. They are so hateful, they left two unicorn foals to die in a dangerous forest .
Films — Animated
- In Toy Story 3, Woody and the gang wind up in a day care that looks like paradise. The toys (led by a fluffy stuffed animal named Lotso Huggin Bear) are all friendly, there are always lots of kids to play with them so that none of the toys ever get outgrown, and there's a repair ward that keeps the playthings in tiptop shape. However, their dark secret is that, in order to stay in the older kids' playroom, the ruling toys regularly sacrifice new toys to the toddler's playroom, where too-young children bash and beat toys until they are destroyed and thrown out.
- Atlantis II: Milo's Return has an effectively creepy and chilling version of this which could come straight out of Lovecraft Country: the first tale in the arc consists of a constantly foggy, frigid Norwegian town where all the townsfolk seem to be hypnotized, brainwashed, or under a spell. If the constantly bulging eyes, monotonous voices, and deathly pale skin doesn't scare you enough, the so-called leader of the town is secretly in league with a Kraken, linked to it through some form of telepathic connection which grants him eternal life and power, as long as he continues to sacrifice hapless travelers to his master/slave. (The...relationship is never quite pinned down as to who really controls whom.) And in what may be a clear homage to, or at least an echo, of Shadow over Innsmouth, after the villain and the Kraken are eliminated and peace, sunshine, and happiness return to the townsfolk, a deleted alternate ending shows the innkeeper with her baby...which extends a Chthulu-like tentacle out of its blanket to caress her cheek, while she lovingly coos and starts talking about it 'growing up big and strong'. Whether this implies Face Full of Alien Wing-Wong or simple Body Horror is up to the viewer to decide.
Films — Live-Action
- The 1955 film Bad Day at Black Rock is one of the codifiers of this trope. It concerns a veteran of World War II heading to the town of Black Rock to pay a visit to Komoko, the father of a Japanese war buddy who died trying to save his life, only to find that the entire town has something to hide — namely, that Komoko was murdered by Reno Smith, the most powerful man in town, a racist landowner who tried to cheat Komoko by selling him some arid farmland with no water only for Komoko to make the farm prosperous by digging a sixty-foot-deep well. Soon after Pearl Harbor went down, Smith got drunk with a handful of others, harassed Komoko, burned his farmstead down and shot him.
- The Stepford Wives concerns a small community where every woman acts like the perfect wife. Only it turns out that the "wives" are actually robots who are programmed to act this way, and they are replacements for the real wives of Stepford who are murdered by their husbands.
- In Children of the Corn 666: Isaac's Return, the citizens of former Ghost Town Gatlin act normally, but gradually drop it until it's time for the final prophecy.
- Hollowed Ground is about a small farming town who kills visiting families and tries to make one visitor give birth to their messiah.
- Beautifully subverted in the movie Big Fish with the mysterious town of Specter: the idyllic small town exuding a weird feeling of wrongness appears to be a textbook version of this trope (complete with hints that no one ever leaves, a woman with a Stepford Smiler-esque grin, and all its residents inexplicably going barefoot all the time), but The Reveal never comes; it's simply a Quirky Town.
- It's never explicitly stated, but Specter is supposed to be heaven. No-one leaves, everything is perfect, and there's the talk and surprise of people stumbling in before their time.
- There's also the fact that the version of Specter we see in the film isn't quite the real thing- Ed Bloom is exaggerating the story. It's more likely he found a very nice, idyllic town as a young man, but simply felt like he didn't fit in, or that he deserved more challenge in his life so he left. Everyone being barefoot and that business about expecting his arrival might've been minor occurrences he blew out of the water or simply made up entirely. No Reveal was made about the town's secret because there wasn't one.
- Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy:
- In the movie Hot Fuzz, all the members of the town of Sandford's Neighborhood Watch secretly murder everyone in the town that is "unpleasant", so that nothing stands in their way of winning "Village of the Year". All murders are disguised (sometimes poorly) as accidents.
- In The World's End, all of Newton Haven has been replaced by robots that aren't robots.
- In Aussie slasher Dying Breed, the townsfolk are the inbred Cannibal Clan descendents of 1820s Serial Killer Alexander Pearce.
- In the horror film Dead & Buried, the town of Potter's Bluff offers another riff on the "double-hidden" secret: The town's entire population, including the sheriff protagonist, are unknowingly reanimated corpses, brought back to life in some unexplained fashion by the local coroner. Who may very well be dead himself.
- The John Carpenter film In the Mouth of Madness features the surreal, warped town of Hobb's End, which may or may not be the fictional creation of horror writer Sutter Cane. Features of the town change and rearrange themselves, the residents are monsters in disguise, and the Only Sane Man ends up taking shelter in a movie theater where the events of the film are playing out on the screen, as the world burns down around him.
- Implied in the Friday the 13th (2009) remake, where at least one resident was shown to be aware of Jason living and killing in the old campgrounds. This is markedly different from the originals, where the residents of Crystal Lake didn't seem to know exactly what was going on at the camp, but were pretty clear in their warnings to outsiders.
- In Freddy vs. Jason, many adults in Springwood know of Freddy's dream-killings, but have conspired to conceal this from the town's youth to starve him of the fear that gives him power over dreams. Jason comes to Elm Street at Freddy's instigation, so his killings will revive old stories about the Springwood Slasher and restore Freddy's powers.
- In John Landis's An American Werewolf in London, the small English town of East Proctor's Dark Secret is, unsurprisingly, a werewolf.
- Cragwich from Lesbian Vampire Killers where the villagers ensure a continuing steam of sacrifices for the lesbian vampires in exchange for sparing their lives.
- The 2009 German thriller, The White Ribbon, about strange events occurring in a small German village in the years before World War I, certainly counts.
- The nameless village in the middle of the swamp in Sauna. Their dark secret is the titular sauna, and they would be really glad if no-one ever came in or paid attention to it. They're not bad people in any sense, more like reluctant guardians of an evil secret the world is better not knowing.
- In Dagon, based loosely on H.P. Lovecraft's The Shadow Over Innsmouth, the people of Spain will not speak of or visit Imboca for good reason: the city was taken over by an pagan god when its desperate people turned to him for help.
- In Eye of the Devil David Niven (as a French count) must return to his home to be sacrificed for a better crop or something. The entire town are Satanists posing as Catholics, including their priest.
- Nilbog from Troll 2. Its entire population consists of vegetarian goblins who turn people into plant mush and then eat them.
- Inverted in Purgatory. All the townsfolk of Refuge are Famed In-Story dead outlaws, murderers, or prostitutes who must live virtuously - no violence despite abundant weapons, little swearing, no theft despite the well-stocked general store, no drinking despite the saloon - for ten years before they can go to Heaven; one wrong move and they're taken right to Hell. Living people can sometimes reach the town, so all of its residents take a Meaningful Rename and perform a Masquerade of simplicity and normalcy for them, hoping to be left alone to serve their sentences. It's a dark secret for them, because they believe they have to either let themselves be killed or go to Hell if they fight visitors, but harmless enough to keep - they're even willing to let someone more peaceable who finds out leave.
- Winter's Bone: Everyone is connected in some way with the meth business, and just about everyone knows who killed the main character's father.
- The whole unnamed town in the horror anthology film Terror Tract is fucking nuts!! Consisting of nothing but strange deaths, and bizarre incidents that a realtor tries to hide from a couple who wants to buy a house in the area....except he can't keep the secret and tells the buyers about each house's sordid grisly background.
- The Truman Show. In this case, everyone's in on the secret except one of the residents...
- In 1975's Race With the Devil two vacationing couples discover the hard way that apparently everyone in rural Texas is a murderous Satanist worshipping the Aztec gods.
- In addition to the town of Twin Peaks (which carries over from the show), Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me also has Deer Meadows, where the policemen are secretly in league with drug dealers and the local trailer park contains a portal to Another Dimension that people keep disappearing to.
- In Mississippi Burning, two FBI agents come to a small town in Deep South in order to investigate the murder of three civil rights activists. Turns out half the townspeople were involved in the killing.
- In We Are Still Here, The town must sacrifice a family to the ancient evil hidden underground every 30 years or be destroyed.
- A truly bizarre example with the town of Santa Mira, California, which due to serial Shout Outs has become a stock location for otherwise totally unrelated horror films. It's been the site of a covert alien invasion, bizarre pagan cult rituals, and many more.
- Author Stephen King calls this "The Peculiar Little Town" and has confessed that he has a weakness for writing stories of this type (among them Children of the Corn, Rainy Season and You Know They Got A Hell Of A Band).
- His best known peculiar little towns are Derry (IT) and Castle Rock (good number of stories), both in Maine, which tend to redline the weird-shit-o-meter on a regular basis. In the end, Castle Rock is destroyed, which is probably for the best. Castle Rock is destroyed by a visiting evil that took advantage of the secrets and flaws of many of the townspeople so that it could take their souls.
- Haven — which is near Derry, in The Tommyknockers. It starts off as a normal town, but becomes this trope when the alien spaceship is first unearthed and slowly makes everyone crazy and obsessed with it.
- The town Jerusalem's Lot from 'Salem's Lot. It's had a family of gangsters that worships demons and consorts with vampires. One of these vampires comes to town and then it really has a dark secret. By the end, the whole town is undead except for the protagonists who burn the town down and leave. A couple of later short stories by King reveal that burning down the town only temporarily halted the vampires. And it's hinted throughout both the novel and the prequel story that we still don't know the worst of its secrets.
- The townsfolk in Rainy Season try to warn people about their annual "bad weather problem," because warning the newcomers is part of the tradition. As is the inevitable death of the newcomers — always a young man and woman.
- The residents of Ludlow, Maine keep the secret of the real Pet Sematary, the Wendigo, and what lies beyond the deadfall...
- Cthulhu Mythos examples:
- The eponymous town in H.P. Lovecraft's short story The Shadow Over Innsmouth is a decaying seaside town where everyone has the distinctive "Innsmouth look". Eventually the narrator discovers that the residents are half-man / half-fish and worship the Deep Ones.
- Kingsport in "The Festival". Or, rather, the "dream version" of Kingsport. The "dream version" can't have been entirely imaginary though, since in the later Lovecraft story, "The Silver Key" the protagonist is casually mentioned to have read about excavations under Kingsport's church that revealed a hidden system of tunnels mentioned in "The Festival".
- Possibly every town in Lovecraft's imaginary New England. Naturally, the most prominent of these towns is Arkham, Massachusetts, where a house isn't considered complete if it doesn't have five or six different dark secrets worked into its construction.
- The Tcho-Tcho people are a Tribe with a Dark Secret. In T.E.D. Klein's "Black Man with a Horn," a missionary goes to investigate the people, who turn out to be very vile. However, the missionary still doesn't know what the tribe is doing, and is sure they want it that way. In other stories in the Cthulhu Mythos, their dark secret is established as cannibalism.
- August Derleth had a town that secretly worshiped Ithaqua.
- Ramsey Campbell sets his tales in the Severn Valley. Almost every town has some dark evil lurking somewhere, in various degrees. Some are hidden and the inhabitants ignorant, other evils are trapped, and then there's the whole towns in on the secret.
- In Watership Down, the bucks arrive at a warren where everything seems abundant, though the residents act rather strange (for instance, there's a strong taboo against asking where anyone is). Later they discover that the warren is, in fact, a free-range rabbit farm, and it's common and widely accepted knowledge that rabbits are dying in snares. (The reason for this quiet acceptance is the tradeoff: complete immunity from all of Rabbitdom's non-human enemies, enforced at the end of a gun barrel.)
- Graystone Bay in the anthology series edited by Charles L. Grant. A sinister foundation, and jam packed with weirdness, until it literally disappears in the fog.
- The Goosebumps series:
- Welcome to Dead House is about a teenage girl who discovers her new house is "The Dead House" to which a new victim is invited every year and devoured by the undead residents of the town.
- In My Hairiest Adventure the town is run by a scientist, and all the kids there are actually dogs.
- The town of Shadyside in R.L. Stine's Fear Street series. Teens dying horribly, being possessed by evil — and it's all going on for centuries.
- Lesser Malling in the first book of The Power of Five series. The secret is that all the villagers are working to open a gate which will let the Old Ones, and the protagonist is one of the five tasked with making sure that such things don't happen.
- There's also a village of cannibals in the last book.
- The company town of Despair, CO. in Lee Child's Nothing To Lose. Its dark secret isn't (really) that the giant metal recycling plant is recycling munitions ("the government's dirty laundry"), bombed-out cars from Iraq, or even that they're helping deserting soldiers flee to Canada but its religious fanatic owner is stockpiling the salvaged uranium to set off a dirty bomb and jumpstart Armageddon by causing (even more) fighting in the Middle East. Their mistake is trying to run the Determinator protagonist out of town and leaving a deserter-turned-informer to die in the desert to be found by said protagonist.
- Scrote in Terry Pratchett's Soul Music, probably. We never actually get it confirmed that there's anything sinister about their traditional barbeque near the rockery, because The Power of Rock protects our heroes.
- In Brotherhood of the Rose by David Morrell, the intelligence services of the world have set up several luxury "retirement" communities, each regarded as neutral ground where no-one is allowed to be harmed. Only the men running them know that the residents (ambitious men who've fallen from grace, cooped up in a gilded cage which eventually palls) are frequently Driven to Suicide.
- Tower Valley in Magnus is revealed to be the testing ground for the Mark of the Beast.
- The town of Omelas, from "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" by Ursula K. Le Guin, must always keep a mentally handicapped child locked in a dark basement, given only the barest amount of food to survive, without any kindness or affection given to that child for any reason whatsoever, for the moment anyone gives that child any sort of comfort at all, their entire "Utopian" society will collapse in that instant. The story is unclear whether the child was born handicapped or has just broken from malnutrition, fear, and only a few moments of cruel human contact a day. The Trope is ultimately played with in a meta context because the narrator, who had been singing the praises of Omelas as a Mary Sue Topia so far, is Genre Savvy enough to know that the reader is so used to this trope that they cannot believe Omelas can be so perfect just because, so he drops the description of the child and the unspeakable atrocities that are done to it, and thus the reason why the titular people walk away (they are the ones who cannot stomach such a horrible thing being done for the sake of the town being perfect, and prefer to take their chances finding happiness elsewhere) with a "here you go, the trope you were waiting for! A horrible flaw in the system! Are you happy now!? do you believe this town to be "realistic" enough now? flair.
- Harvest Home by Thomas Tryon features a quaint little New England town called Cornwall Coombe that celebrates a harvest festival involving fun activities that will insure the life of the corn crop. Attending this particular festival uninvited carries a pretty steep penalty.
- Silverdale, Colorado in John Saul's Creature is a quaint company town where the school has a high-tech sports clinic...which seems to be turning the kids in the town into 'roid raged monsters...
- Dashiell Hammett's short story "Nightmare Town" (in a collection of the same name) seems like a weird town where people act strange, there seem to be more houses than people, and the guy running the town is openly threatened by his son. The secret is that it's run by, and for, murderers and thieves, and the protagonist happens to get there a few days before the place is burned down for the insurance money. It's one of the few examples where the secret isn't supernatural, and yet still manages to be just as much Nightmare Fuel. Only a handful of people don't know the secret.
- Inverted in Good Omens. Lower Tadfield has a secret, but it's hardly dark. Superficially it's a quaint little Quirky Town complete with pristine cottages, white picket fences and apple trees, but it hasn't changed for ten years: Urban development bypasses it completely, the weather is always perfect, and the area is rich in ley lines. This is because it's the home of the ten-year-old Anti-Antichrist, who wants to keep it intact for his perfectly normal childhood amusement.
- The Survivalist series by Jerry Ahern. In a post-World War III American the title character finds an apparently peaceful village where no-one even mentions the war. It turns out that everyone made an agreement to use up all available resources to keep things going as before; when the supplies run out they plan to commit mass suicide by blowing up the town. Unfortunately by the time he finds out a woman whose husband has died has tied him up so they can die together.
- Played with in W. D. Valgardson's short story Bloodflowers; what was originally a Quirky Town only became a TWADS after the narrator accidentally gives the superstitious townsfolk the idea to sacrifice him.
- Peyton Place. Basically, the entire novel is author Grace Metalious's way of saying that every idyllic American small town has at least one dark secret hidden in its depths.
- Lakeside in American Gods, which also seems to be Lake Wobegon with the Serial Numbers Filed Off. Though the only living resident who knows the secret is one old man (Hinzelman) who's actually a Germanic tribal deity who made a deal with the town's founders. In exchange for ensuring Laketown's prosperity he kills one child every winter. The other residents weren't told by their ancestors who made the pact and chalk the disappearances up to runaways or custodial disputes. It turns out the Hinzelman kills anyone who figures it out, including one of the father of one of the residents. When the chief of police figures it out, he is horrified and promptly kills Hinzelman to stop the cycle.
- In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story "Shadows In Zamboula", cannibal slaves roam Zamboula at night. Their masters hide away and let them eat strangers, to prevent a slave revolt.
- Harfang, from The Chronicles of Narnia, is a beautiful, luxurious city, home to the only "Gentle Giants" of the far north. Actually, these giants will eat any creature that isn't a giant, including their guests.
- Dras-Leona from the Inheritance Cycle. The townspeople worship man-eating monsters known as the Ra'zac and Lethrblaka, offering them slaves and body parts as sacrifice. Their High Priest(ess?) is so mutilated that (s)he is missing all four limbs and part of his/her tongue.
- Jakub Wędrowycz stories feature a secluded village inhabited entirely by neanderthals whose progeny has somehow survived until modern times. To the outside world, they seem just to be a bunch of very ugly humans who hate strangers and don't pay much attention at the church (assuming that there is currently a priest there after the previous one has died in mysterious circumstances). In reality, they're half-animalistic, still worship their pagan deities and indulge into cannibalism, eating their dead.
- Moonlight Cove, California in Dean Koontz's Midnight. It appears to be a quiet coastal village until you notice the ominously overprepared police force and hear about all the violent deaths in recent weeks. Turns out, Moonlight Cove is under the control of a megalomaniacal Mad Scientist trying to create a race of cold, efficient New People, and the remaining normal citizens are all scheduled for "conversion." Unfortunately, some of the New People have been . . . regressing.
- Another Koontz example is Moonlight Bay in his Christopher Snow books, where the authorities are cooperating with the military to hide a massive, civilization-destroying secret.
- Denke, Kansas, a town of cannibals in S.K. Epperson's Borderlands.
- Haven: A Novel of Anxiety has the titular town in Idaho, which seems nice at first, but is full of racists who massacred Chinese miners in its early days and harbored Nazis after WWII.
- "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson, though the dark secret isn't kept secret from anyone in the story, only from the reader.
- In Richard Matheson's "Children of Noah", a man gets arrested in a speed trap in a small town which displays a large banner "BBQ Tonight". Oh, yeah.
- In The Santaroga Barrier by Frank Herbert, the residents of the town are secretly addicted to an Applied Phlebotinum drug called Jaspers.
- In Norman Partridge's Dark Harvest, all the teenage boys of a small Midwestern town are entered into a Deadly Game with a murderous pumpkinheaded scarecrow named the October Boy. But wait, that's not the secret.
- The real secret is that every winner of the game is actually set to be killed by their father in order to become the new October Boy, and the father is then expected to help put the boy together when the next game begins. The protagonist ends up helping the latest October Boy when he learns the truth.
- In The Silver Codex the town of Centerville has a lot of dark secrets going on.
- In The Halfblood Chronicles, the treatment of humans by the elves that run things generally ranges from chattel to cattle. The third book, Elvenborn, introduces the estates of House Prastaran... which handles things in a manner far closer to unusually egalitarian/idealized English squiresnote and have to put considerable effort into stage-managing the visits of outsiders.
- Warhammer 40,000 novel:
- In Dan Abnett's Brothers of the Snake, Space Marines go to sort out which farmships have a Khorne cult. Some do, some don't, and one manages to pretend it doesn't for some time. They kidnapped and nearly managed to sacrifice one of the Marines, by torturing him to death.
- This also occurs in Mitchell Scanlon's Horus Heresy novel Descent of Angels. A planet has been delaying their full compliance with the Imperium for years now, all the while hiding the presence of their xenos overlords. Ultimately, they've been buying time to summon an Eldritch Abomination to defeat the Imperial forces.
- The settlers in The Damnation of Pythos are one big cult of Chaos. It's not hard to infer this, however, given that a) the planet is home to creepy old structures, b) the settlers are devoutly religious (uncommon in M31 humans, given that the Emperor's forces have been enforcing secularism at gunpoint across the galaxy for two hundred years at this point), and c) the book is called The Damnation of Pythos, indicating that some damning may be going on at some stage.
- In The Wheel of Time, Mat and the Band run across the town Hinderstap, where the people are zombies who go apeshit every night and kill each other, but wake up in their beds the next morning regardless. However, two things set them apart from most of the other entries on this list
- The townsfolk don't actually know what is going on exactly. They know they all seem to black out at the same time every night, experience horrific nightmares, then wake up in their beds, and their is some sort of damage done to the town. This happens regardless of whether they leave the town or commit suicide. They always wake up in their beds, and anyone who stays the night in the town (or dies their) will suffer the same thing. The villagers have a pretty good idea of what is going on, but not exactly, and try to soldier on as best they can.
- The villagers actively try to prevent the fate from happening to anyone else by keeping people from staying in the town's limits overnight. They are not remotely malicious, just basically trapped in a "Groundhog Day" Loop, and bitter about it.
- The town of Wind Gap in Gillian Flynn's "Sharp Objects."
- The eponymous town of "Bent Road."
- The town of Golgotha, from Six Gun Tarot has many, many dark secrets, from the vampire in the unmarked grave to the head in a jar upstairs of the general store. And that's leaving aside the Cosmic Horror from beyond time and space buried in the old silver mine.
- In The Altruistic Personality by Samuel P Olinger, the author says that there were a few small hamlets during World War II where rescuing hapless fugitives was almost the town's chief industry.
- Taveye in the webnovel DO NOT TAKE THE SHELLS has a sign on the beach with the eponymous phrase on it. Ask one of the residents why, and they'll just say you really shouldn't take the shells. And that's not even getting into the strange weather, or the mysterious disappearance that took place there in the past.
- Hyde River in The Oath by Frank Peretti. The residents are unfriendly, "town father" Harold Bly publicly beats his wife with impunity, and it has the highest rate of bear assaults per capita in the region. The bears aren't responsible for all those deaths.
- Ivorygate from Demon Meat For Dinner is a small town populated with supernatural creatures, groups of hunters, militantly trained hunters, merchants that cater to the supernatural and hunters alike, and Purgatory.
- In Masterminds, it's increasingly obvious that Serenity is this. Everyone has a place to work and live, the kids always get whatever they ask for, and there's no crime, violence, or even dishonesty—but over time things just don't add up, and the kids catch their parents in lies. The secret turns out to be that Eli and 10 other kids are clones of notorious criminals, raised in a safe environment to determine what made someone bad.
- Heart of Darkness features a native tribe in Darkest Africa, ruled by a European ivory trader turned depraved cult leader.
- Venice, Florida, in the Jason Wood series, finds itself overrun with werewolves who have replaced key inhabitants, once the titular protagonist drives them into hiding. They take the opportunity to replace all the 'Crywolf' devices with ones which don't work to reveal them. It also manages to attract a Mirrorkiller.
Live Action TV
- Subversion: American Gothic (1995) has Trinity, SC, a town whose dark secret is that its sheriff is the Devil Incarnate. But no one knows this fact at all (except Merlyn, it seems), while only the few who run afoul of Buck's wrath, dare to cross him, or refuse to obey him ever even discover what a Magnificent Bastard he truly is. On the other hand, there are quite a lot of people in town keeping their own secrets: Dr. Crower, Gail, the coroner, the priest, Ben, Selena...
- Given that Sheriff Buck actively recruits people with dark secrets so that he can manipulate them (and eventually steal their souls), Trinity could be described as a town where everybody has their own dark secret.
- In "Murdersville", an episode of The Avengers, an entire town conspires to offer outsiders the opportunity to stage a murder. The townsfolk will serve as alibis and help dispose of the remains afterwards, in return for a sizable sum of money. (The villagers who refuse to participate are kept locked up in ancient torture devices in the town museum.)
- The New Avengers had "The Eagle's Nest" where a remote Scottish island was harbouring a dark secret. The island had been secretly taken over by Nazis at the end of World War II, and the monastery as being used to house the cryogenically frozen body of Adolf Hitler until such time as they could revive him.
- One of the centric themes/plot lines of Bates Motel.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Subverted with Sunnydale. It's a sizable city instead of a small town. Instead of everyone being in on the dark secrets (the portal to Hell, the various demons and vampires that treat the place like a buffet and the buried [sometimes magical] treasures hidden in the right mausoleum), most of Sunnydale's citizens are hilariously oblivious/in denial about the many, many mysterious deaths that occur there. The only humans in on it are various characters who tap into the dark powers of the place for their own ends, such as the Big Bad of Season Three. The secret government lab under the college is the least exciting secret there was.
- Cannon: In "Fool's Gold", Cannon tracks a pair of armored car robbers to a small town in New Mexico. Cannon is greeted with suspicion and harassment from the moment he arrives. It turns out the robbers have used the loot from the heist to effectively buy the town to give them a place to hole up while they recuperate.
- The suburbs in Chuck vs. the Suburbs. It turns out that everyone in their cul-de-sac is an agent of Fulcrum, a criminal organization.
- The Criminal Minds episode "House On Fire", has an entire town flip out on an orphaned boy due to rumors of Brother–Sister Incest. His Roaring Rampage of Revenge takes the form of Kill It with Fire.
- Jon Stewart on The Daily Show mocked the "this town holds a Dark Secret" advertising for Wolf Lake by saying "Let's ask the werewolves! Maybe they know what the Dark Secret is."
- The made-for-TV-movie The Disappearances has, among other things, a ghost-town with a secret. The sheer volume of red herrings presented eliminates the ability to accurately figure out what that secret is, mind you, but it's most assuredly there.
- This is the essential plot of Eureka, where the eponymous town is the site of a top-secret government research facility. The tagline for the first season was "Small town. Big Secrets." (Though it's portrayed as more of a Quirky Town despite the Death Ray, runaway Nanomachines and other Phlebotinum Overload that happens on a regular basis.)
- Happy Town tried very hard to be this to the point that they ended up making it fit the title while advertising heavily to be certain absolutely everyone knew it was a Sarcastic Title.
- Haven, Maine - A small town that hosts various cursed individuals. The mysterious 'Troubles' have recently returned, causing the deadly powers of some citizens to reactivate with horrible consequences. Loosely based on (well, uses some names from) a novella by Stephen King.
- The Heart She Holler: All the weird things that happen can be traced back to Meemaw, because the Secret is that she can't die. But the real Secret is that she can die, but only from ...
- Morton Harwood in the Doctor Who spin-off K-9 and Company. Well, if cheerfully explaining to visiting reporters "They're a bit sensitive about that [devil-worship] around here. It's traditional, you see." counts as a secret...
- In case you were wondering about LazyTown, it has a dark secret of its own. In the old days before the active warriors came, LazyTown was lazy. No fitness, no healthy things, NO NOTHING. Every mayor until the active warriors came were part of the family of the "evil dude"(who was the last of his family to be mayor of LazyTown before the warriors put him in a prison & buried him deep underground.
- The League of Gentlemen. Royston Vasey has enough secrets to go around. The main one would probably be the "special stuff" sold by town butcher Hilary Briss.
- The town of Maiden Creek in the Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries episode "Death on the Vine" has a secret regarding the death of a German farmer at the end of World War I. Phyrne Fisher steps into the middle of the secret when the farmer's son calls her in to investigate, only for her to find that he has been murdered by the time she arrives.
- The Mission: Impossible episode "The Town" features a town full of Soviet spies.
- Storybrooke in Once Upon a Time, in which nearly everyone is a Fairy Tale character brought into our world through a magic curse, though none of them remember. Though most of the inhabitants are decent people, the mayor is the Evil Queen from "Snow White" who frequently abuses her power through both mundane and magical means. Even after the curse is lifted, everyone gets their memories back, and the Queen is deposed, Storybrooke still fits the trope as the citizens work together to keep outsiders from finding out who they are.
- Played for Laughs in the Ripping Yarns episode "Whinfrey's Last Case". It turns out that all the inhabitants of the Cornish fishing village where agent Whinfrey takes his holiday in 1913 are in fact German spies. What's more, this turns out to be part of a conspiracy between the British and German Governments.
- One episode of The Rockford Files features the town of Pastoria, which traps wealthy travelers in the town, frames them for an absurd number of crimes, then convinces them to plea bargain and pay a large fine to the city instead of going to jail.
- In the Roswell episode "Harvest" (2nd season) the main characters travel to the suspicious town of Copper Summit, Arizona — which turns out to be filled with their alien enemies.
- Smallville. The charming little town is plagued by a million and one various threats, but the wave of psychotic meteor freaks brought about by the first meteor shower is closest to this trope. Most people know that there is something wrong with the meteor rocks and many witnessed its effects on people, but a lot of them seem to live in denial or blame it on the LuthorCorp experiments. However, the biggest secret of the town is actually quite benevolent: There is basically a Physical God in the form of a teenage Clark, who is doing his damndest to protect the town from the other secrets overrunning it. He's stays incognito, because well he's really insecure.
- In the episode "Harvest", Clark and Lois find themselves in a small farming town when their car breaks down. It turns out that the townspeople owe their unnaturally good health to deposits of blue Kryptonite in their ground water, and plan to sacrifice Lois to insure a bountiful harvest.
- Stargate-verse series:
- In Stargate SG-1 episode "Nightwalkers", the team arrives in a mysterious town to investigate the disappearance of a scientist. The townspeople are alternatively friendly and hostile towards the protagonists and it is revealed that the whole town was taken as a host by Goa'uld symbiotes, including the scientist who had originally given the alarm. However, the townspeople themselves were not aware of this as the symbiotes take control only at night.
- Stargate Atlantis does this trope when the Genii is first introduced. Seems like a simple farming community, right? And they want to trade food for C-4 with the expedition to make it easier for them to clear their fields, right? Not really: they have a Cold War-level underground city powered by geothermal energy and want the C-4 in their nuclear program.
- The sleepy English village of Little Stempington from Suburban Shootout seems unbelievably clean, genteel and old-fashioned- until you find out that it stays that way because of gun-toting housewives threatening anyone who affronts their middle class values.
- Pretty much every small town the Winchesters visit in Supernatural. For some reason, it seems that you can't become a person of respect in your town without having committed some horrific act in the past.
- Beacon Hills on Teen Wolf is just full of them.
- The village in the Brecon Beacons in the Torchwood episode "Countrycide".
- The titular town in Twin Peaks is a quaint and charming town with an outsized number of dark secrets. Canadian drug and prostitution ring involving the town's high schoolers? Check. Series of suspicious deaths? Check. Extremely shady plots among the town's business leaders? Check. Woods with a portal to Another Dimension occupied by demons who possess people? Check.
- The lovely Virginian town of Mystic Falls is a wonderful place to live, with frequent town festivals and friendly locals. The only danger is the frequent "animal attacks", which certainly aren't excuses contrived by its Council and the town's founding families to conceal its recurring vampire problem.
- The X-Files episode "Our Town". The Arkansas town of Dudley is entirely made up of cannibals who kidnap, kill and eat human beings in order to maintain their youth. They accidentally eat a victim who has Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and become infected with that syndrome.
- Mount Weather from The 100 initially seems like the safest, friendliest, and most luxurious community on post-apocalyptic Earth, but Clarke can't help feeling like they're hiding something from her. Then she discovers where their medical "treatments" are coming from ...
- Dice Funk: Stoneroot is this all over.
- Warhammer 40,000 favors the Planet With A Dark Secret approach instead, with roughly even odds of Chaos, Eldar, Genestealers, and/or Necrons being said secret. Since we're talking about planets here, there's plenty of room for multiple dark secrets to be hiding out, all of them unaware of one another.
- New World of Darkness:
- The core rulebook features a story about a town where every year, several people die without any explanation, and they encourage the new-in-town priest to quietly accept it. He doesn't get the hint until Death himself shows up to tell him to shut up and sit down. However, for those who are Genre Savvy, it is implied that it's actually a vampire using Dominate. The way he looks and how he manages to "freeze" the poor priest in place does look like something a vampire could do...
- The Boston Unveiled supplement for Mage: The Awakening has the fishing community of Howard's End (probably inspired by or in homage to H.P. Lovecraft), where all of the residents are cannibals who are members of the Red Word cult, a group who worship an alternate history so abhorrent that it was aborted from reality into the Abyss, where it became sentient. A wharf along the coast of the town contains a portal into the Spirit World, wherein lies the cult's sacred temple, which the cult devours people in for the purpose of wiping them from history.
- Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting Ravenloft
- The quevari appear as normal, pacifistic human beings most of the time, seemingly untouched by the evil that surrounds them. Until the three nights of the full moon that is, when every man, woman and child turns into a bloodthirsty killer. They've learned to block out what they do when they change, and never speak of it (even to travelers).
- Considering its Gothic horror theme, it'd be hard to find a town in Ravenloft that doesn't have a dark secret.
- The board game Arkham Horror takes place in Lovecraft Country and each board represents a different town from the Cthulhu Mythos.
- In Dogs in the Vineyard, the PCs are sent by an Expy of the 19th-century Mormon church to visit a series of towns. They have some simple duties, like healing people and delivering the mail, but the interesting ones (i.e. the ones you actually have game sessions for) are either headed for this trope or already there, and the PCs have to fix it by any means necessary before it falls into full-blown demon-fueled Hate and Murder.
- The Flying Frog board game Touch of Evil is all about one of these, though the actual secret depends on which version of the game you're playing, anything from vampires to a Headless Horseman to an Eldritch Abomination.
- Call of Cthulhu supplement Dreamlands, adventure "To Sleep, Perchance to Dream". Everyone in the small Vermont town of Bensamin is a Cthulhu Mythos cultist. After the PC Investigators are lured there, they're captured by the townsfolk and kept as future Human Sacrifices.
- Silent Hill, a small town founded by cultists and harboring a very twisted Dark World. Silent Hill: Homecoming introduces another TWADS, Shepherd's Glen, this time with extra child sacrifices.
Ironically, Silent Hill in the film adaptation is inspired by the Real Life small town of Centralia, Pennsylvania, whose citizens accidentally set a coal seam on fire by burning trash and never bothered to tell anyone about it until a child nearly fell through the ground and into the fires below. It's nothing more than a smoldering Ghost Town now.
- The village on the island with Balduran's ship in Baldur's Gate. Which is not so secret anymore, since anyone simply refers to it as The Werewolf Village.
- Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth uses the town of Innsmouth from the Cthulhu Mythos (see the Literature folder).
- Dead Rising introduces us to the cozy mountainous small town of Willamette, Colorado, with a population of 53,594, which at first appears to be entirely innocent in its recent involvement in a zombie outbreak possibly induced by violent Mexican-American terrorist Carlito Keyes, but seems to be more related to the incident than before upon closer investigation. It is revealed that the town was only founded recently after the massacre of a small Mexican village left over from the Mexican-American Wars, which was wrongly accused of being involved with drug cartels, and was experimented on by violent bio-weapon wasps born out of a failed illegal livestock research, which were in turn released on the city later by said violent Mexican-American terrorist, a survivor of the genocide.
- In survival horror title Camp Sunshine, whatever town is nearest the titular camp seems to hide fairly well the fact that there was a violent mass murder committed in the camp that used to be where Camp Sunshine now stands, even though this incident only happened a couple of years before the game begins. There is no hint that the protagonist, or anyone else he meets over the course of the game, was remotely aware of this.
- Haven in Dragon Age: Origins is a little mountain town where the locals are suspiciously tight-lipped and uunwelcoming of outsiders, and the main characters are greeted by a Creepy Child reciting an ambiguously ominous nursery rhyme. Everyone who lives in Haven is a member of the Disciples of Andraste, a cult which has turned to worshiping a dragon and practicing a form of blood magic.
Zevran: Just once I'd like to walk into one of these places and discover a lively dance, or a drinking festival. Or an orgy. But alas, no.
- Final Fantasy VII's Nibelheim. After the town burned to the ground as a result of the Super Soldier Sephiroth going off the deep end, Shinra, Inc. had the whole place rebuilt and populated by hired actors in an effort to hide the fact that the entire incident ever happened.
- In The Secret World there is an entire three-part zone that is basically a huge Lovecraft Shout-Out (complete with the Ur-Draug, a Cthulhu Ersatz as a dungeon boss). One of the zone parts is Kingsmouth - a small, cozy town that's currently under a zombie and draug attack. There are lots of quests that let you dive into the town's history - and while there is apparently not one, huge secret, there has been a LOT of creepy things going on through the years. This is also lampshaded by several NPCs.
- In The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, there's a minor town you have to visit after a merchant's daughter disappears there. The Church has a book dedicated to "the Deep Ones", and people say things like "the Brethren don't take kindly to strangers. I'd leave before they find out you're here." If you spend the night in the inn after asking questions, you wake up in the middle of the night to find yourself under attack by some cultist, then can find your way into the underground to discover that the shopkeepers daughter is about to be sacrificed for an unknown reason. Not even unknown daedric reasons, the "Deep Ones" are something else entirely.
- Shadow Hearts:
- The first town you come to is mostly abandoned except for demons and tormented souls. The town fits this trope all the better considering that they, you know, are the bitter souls of abused domestic animals who want to eat you. That certainly puts a damper on things. Funny thing: Yuri knows this going in, but he doesn't care, because he knows he can deal with it.
- Bistritz is another one — but the secret isn't the vampire up in the castle (he's a Friendly Neighborhood Vampire), it's the experiments being conducted by the mayor, which are waking up monsters.
- Professor Layton:
- Saint Mystère has a secret, though it isn't dark - nearly all the inhabitants are robots, and the village itself is designed to keep Baron Reinhold's daughter Flora safe until a suitable caretaker appears for her.
- The second game has a town with a secret too: the village of Folsense (and maybe the townspeople) is one giant hallucination.
- The trend continues into the third game: Future London isn't London from the future at all, it's a city in the present located underground the actual London.
- Even crossovers that feature Layton aren't exempt; Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney features the quaint little town of Labyrinthia, which turns out to be a government project to test a hypnotic solution that brainwashes its denizens to think magic and witches exist. It's practically tradition by now for this trope to be applied to the Layton franchise.
- The town of Doolin in Folklore is known as a place "where the living can meet the dead." This is only kind of true, but in the course of trying to get to the bottom of what really does go on in Doolin, protagonists Ellen and Keats uncover a few other nasty secrets revolving around a series of deaths and disappearances which took place seventeen years previously on the night of Samhain.
- World of Warcraft:
- The town of Pyrewood is home to Alliance-friendly NPCs during the day, who turn into bloodthirsty Worgen that attack anyone on sight at night.
- Silverbrook in Northrend: The town inhabitants are actually Worgen who act friendly towards you, in hopes of turning you into one too, but you get better, and they get hostile. After this every trapper settlement is hostile to player.
- Fallout 3's Andale. Best town in the (destroyed) US, fresh baked pie every morning, and cannibalism. And a long tradition of incest among the TWO families in the town.
- It looks like Charwood is one of these in Neverwinter Nights. It's actually only the noblemen who have the secret, and the townspeople have just been screwed over by it. And then you find out that the nobles themselves were screwed over by Belial. Essentially, the demon tricked one of the brothers into a massacre, the latter tricking his sibling into luring and actually killing the children involved, before figuring it out and tossing his brother's phylactery into a shrine to Lysander, who just stuck the whole place into a "Groundhog Day" Loop until a third party could come by and sort everything out. It did a number on everyone's minds.
- In Darklands, the events take place in medieval Germany. The protagonists begin the main quest by finding out, which of the many villages has a Dark Secret of being populated by devil worshippers. Attending the mass there is particularly creepy...
- That and as has been pointed out in reviews. Just when you think you can recuperate from your injuries in a small village you might well wake up in the middle of the night to find them trying to sacrifice you to demons.
- The small New England town of
InnsmouthIllsmouth in The Call of Cthulhu PC adventure Shadow of the Comet.
- Early in Final Fantasy IX, the characters enter the town of Dali, where they're secretly making Black Mage constructs for Queen Brahne that bear a strong resemblance to one of your characters.
- Around the start of Chapter 3 in Terranigma, you go to Louran, a nice little desert town with nice people and a lot of ambitions. Until you find out that Louran's been destroyed for quite a few years now and all its inhabitants are actually zombies. The nice town you saw was an illusion by a girl who used to live there.
- All of the zombies themselves are also illusions by the girl (who can somehow hurt and even kill you) that disappear forever once you find her, and nobody actually lives there at all.
- There's also Crysta, which is a copy of Storkholm in the Light World complete with copies of its original inhabitants. Near the end of the game, the villagers and chickens turn into spirits and attack you if you talk to them (doing no damage). You can kill them by throwing things at them, but they regenerate. They also drop massive amounts of gold which is completely useless by this point of the game, as there's nobody to buy anything from (Crysta's shopkeepers aren't exactly eager to help).
- The First Town of The Witcher, the outskirts village of Vizima, apparently plagued by beastlike ghosts possessing dogs. Though they blame the local witch, she simply sold them the implements the corrupt people demanded to curse themselves with. The town elders are collaborating with and selling their children to a vicious mob who casually murder the citizens. There are definitely ghost-dogs and the like, but the dark secret is WHY they are there.
- Mass Effect series:
- Zhu's Hope in Mass Effect. The colonists are all mind-controlled by the ancient plant creature that lives beneath the city.
- In Mass Effect 2 Samara mentions another example of this trope in her backstory: a small asari colony that had been seduced by an Ardat-Yakshi, an asari with a rare genetic mutation that causes her kill anybody she has sex with, who feature prominently in their mythology as evil gods and anti-heroes. She had convinced the entire colony to worship her as goddess, and sacrifice their young Maidens to her, and when Samara came the entire colony save for the youngest children threw themselves at her to give the Ardat-Yakshi a chance to escape.
- Mass Effect 3 has Sanctuary. Supposedly, it's one of the last safe places in the galaxy in the face of the Reaper invasion. In reality, it's a Cerberus facility, run by Miranda Lawson's evil psychotic dad. All the hapless refugees are getting experimented on. And then the Reapers show up...
- Also from Mass Effect 3 is Mahavid, an asteroid that plays a part in the Leviathan DLC. The entire population is under Leviathan's mind control, and have been for a decade. The Creepy Monotone and multiple people saying "you should leave" or "you don't belong here" give it away.
- Fatal Frame. Some of the things that happened to outsiders were unpleasant, before and after the communities' imminent demises.
- Dragon Quest VII has present-day Labres: the town features a monument boasting about the heroic villagers protecting one of their own from some terrible travelers who tried to slay the transformed man. But this version of events is a complete lie — the truth is that they lynched the poor man, and threw a child and the travelers who tried to stop them to the real monsters. The monument was originally meant to remind them of their greatest failure, but corrupted and turned into a feel-good lie to drum up tourism. Ultimately, you discover the real monument, only for the mayor to destroy it — but not before their children all get a chance to read the true version of events and swear to spread that version instead, even against their parents' wishes.
- Kakariko Village in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. The place is home to not one, not two, but THREE of the creepiest places in Hyrule, the Bottom of the Well, the Shadow Temple, and the House of Skulltulla. Unlike most examples, the town's inhabitants seem blissfully unaware of all the strangeness going on underneath them, but otherwise it fits the trope perfectly.
- Harvester: The town of Harvest. It is clear from the get-go that Harvest is not a nice place to live, and nobody even tries to hide that. Despite this, it does contain a Dark Secret like you would not believe. The town of Harvest does not exist. It is just a virtual reality program that Steve and Stephanie were hooked up to. The entire program is a murder simulator and it is supposed to slowly and surely turn Steve into a Serial Killer. He can get out of the program... if he murders Stephanie and makes her Killed Off for Real.
- The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim has the hold of Markarth, which has not one, but TWO dark secrets: A good number of people in town are Forsworn infiltrators and most of the rest are cannibals who worship the Daedric Prince Namira.
- Not to mention the haunted house with a shrine to Molag Bal in the basement.
- Golden Sun:
- Vale, the heroes' hometown, seems to be one of these to outsiders in the first game due to The Masquerade about Psynergy. This apparently gets dropped between The Lost Age and Dark Dawn, when Vale's destruction causes its people to move to Kalay and word gets out about Psynergy.
- Garoh in The Lost Age, though the secret itself is not as dark as the reason they keep it secret. This one's also presumably moot as of Dark Dawn thanks to the rise of the beastmen.
- The Secret of Monkey Island. The island seems pretty peaceful (even the cannibals eventually bargain with you). That is, until you discover The hellish labyrinth beneath the giant monkey head.
- Deadly Premonition takes place in the town of Greenvale, the site of a murder that brings in FBI agent Francis York Morgan. Morgan eventually discovers two important things about Greenvale: several decades ago Greenvale was used in a government experiment involving a drug that made people insane, and the current sheriff runs a tiny S&M cult and forced several of the women in the town to be his sex slaves.
- In Tears to Tiara 2, a level takes place in the unnamed village. The village priest's description of it sounds like Benedictine Monasticism. Turns out the priest is a Giant Spider, the village full of monsters, the inhabitants are brainwashed and forced to pray to Watos, and it's all a test for a bigger project by the Holy Empire.
- The titular Maple Creek of The Ghosts of Maple Creek in the Enigmatis series. Some people who visited previously said it was nice, but the locals tended to act rather strangely. Of course, it's more the local preacher you have to watch out for...
- Out of the entire Crapsack World that is Tokyo in Shin Megami Tensei IV, there's this one shelter, Tennozu, in which people are still splendidly fed, where investigators keep disappearing, and where an old cult's making its bid for revival...
- The town of Covenant in Fallout 4 will set off alarm bells in any remotely Genre Savvy player's head almost immediately, whether it's due to the concrete walls and guard towers on the outside or the clean pre-war houses and overly friendly people on the inside. They're actually a bunch of paranoid psychos who have been kidnapping random passers-by and performing gruesome torture experiments on them to see if they're synths. You can travel into the tunnels under the town and bring their cruel and insane operation to a close, but it will piss off everyone living in the town so you'll have to clear it out by force to resettle it, and as a final twist, if the girl you rescue from their clutches, Amelia Stockton, dies, you find a synth component on her body. There is a Railroad runner named Old Man Stockton, but whether Amelia is an innocent synth who was freed and adopted as his daughter, or an Institute plant to get information on the Railroad, is left ambiguous.
- Inverted by the Institute. For their shadowy and sinister reputation, it certainly doesn't prepare the Sole Survivor to see a sleek, shiny Star Trek-esque utopia on the other side of the teleporter. Though this becomes ZigZagged when you see the shocking slave-like conditions the Synths live under plus the scientist's mental gymnastics to convince themselves that their creations aren't sentient when the Synths are based on your son's DNA. And then there's the fact that they're the ones creating all the Super Mutants roaming around on the surface...
- Rift has Lakeside, a low level town in Freemarch that serves as one big Shout-Out to The Shadow Over Innsmouth, with Abyssal cultists instead of the Cult of Dagon. Same difference.
- Wellington Wells, the fictional English town which is the setting for We Happy Few. Whatever the Very Bad Thing was that happened during World War II in this world's timeline, it was so awful everyone tried to forget it through a combination of Orwellian tyranny and censorship and abuse of a Fantastic Drug called Joy to keep up everyone's spirits. Unfortunately, now Wellington Wells has two dark secrets: the Very Bad Thing, and the fact that their seemingly-perfect civilization is on the verge of collapse.
- Possom Springs from Night in the Woods. It's a Dying Town full of depressed people who would love nothing more than to pack up and leave. It's dark secret is the cult of people who sacrifice drifters and "degenerates" of society to an Eldritch Abomination in hopes that it can bring prosperity back to the town.
- Played with in Dark Elf Historia, where Terma Village's deep, dark secret isn't that they're sacrificing young women - they're completely open about that. The actual secret is that the town elders are, in fact, gang-raping the young women, and the "sacrifices" are just an excuse to kill them afterwards so that they don't talk.
- Not a town exactly, but the Chateau de l'Hiver from Fleuret Blanc qualifies. It's the seemingly-normal headquarters of the protagonist's employers, but it's full of weird stuff that doesn't seem to add up. The employers are also very cagey about their true goals and how they got the castle. Other inhabitants who aren't in on the secret (or are they?) harbor many suspicions and theories about their employers. It turns out the FOIL judges swindled the castle from its former owners, but more pressingly, they're using it to store the prized possessions of the FOIL members — who are murdered when their tenure is up.
- The Holiday Star seems like a lovely dream of a fairytale land with a little town where everyone's friendly and accommodating. ...but it wouldn't be on this page if that was all there was to it. It's ruled by a spirit who traps visitors there, forcing dreamers to starve to death and be absorbed into him, then sort of puppet them around to greet and talk to the newest batch of visitors.
- Higurashi: When They Cry has Hinamizawa. A dark secret? Try about a dozen. The Curse of the Cotton Drifting Festival is only the first we learn about.
- Charby the Vampirate: Subverted with the human city of Kellwood which has a magically enhanced Weirdness Censor and a city-wide Glamour to prevent the humans from noticing anything off with their monster infested city which rests on the edge of a forest that is much, much Bigger on the Inside and filled with kingdoms of demons and The Fair Folk. It doesn't work on everyone and seeing something shocking enough can break the glamour for an individual permanently. The city's Animal Control is actually a city funded Creature-Hunter Organization.
- In Crossed Claws, it turns out that before moving above ground, the Hollow's government was responsible for a lot of shady dealings, including cruel experiments performed on its prisoners. Even now with the government no longer holding influence, some are hell bent on making sure its history remains buried forever.
- Dear Children's Hearthbrook certainly seems to have one, if the hooded figures running around in the graveyard are any indication.
- Girl Genius:
- Sturmhalten. Everyone may not be in on it, but except for the ruling family, and apparently a few nobles, the town's entire population is made up of revenants. And the Prince is trying to resurrect the Big Bad. By abducting every female Spark he can get his hands on to try to give her a new body. Including his own daughter. Who has her own plans to wrest control of said revenants and the Big Bad's other minions. It may be easier to just list the things that weren't Dark and Secret about the place: it's a town, it's in a mountain pass.
- Mechanicsburg; Not only is it populated entirely by minions waiting for their masters to return, but it's a Genius Loci built on top of a holy spring known for causing insanity and death.
- Podunkton from the Sluggy Freelance arc "Phoenix Rising" is secretive to the point of parody about its past as a mafia controlled town, or the current state of its vigilante based peacekeeping.
- The citizen's of Richard's village in Looking for Group are all ravenous undead capable of slaughtering common mortals with ease. Even the little girls can rip out a man's heart.
"We call it Pretty Pretty Unicorn. It's a work in progress."
- In Lovecraft Is Missing, Tough Luck, Oklahoma is revealed to have its own Cthulhu cult that meets secretly in an old barn.
- Kit n' Kay Boodle's Yiffburg is one, though their method of "secrecy" is simply being too ridiculous for anyone to take seriously as a threat. The comic is drawn in a cutesy, cuddly, cartoony art style, but when the candy coating is washed off, the end result is that the main protagonists are very dedicatedly out to conquer the world and convert it to mindless sexual hedonism in the name of their gods- however, they don't tell that to anyone outside their Sugar Bowl town, because the rest of the world won't openly oppose them as long as they're only complaining about what lazy perverts they are instead of actively trying to stop the spread of their cult.
- Ironically, the only one trying to stop the cult is Karostropov, an evil body-jumping, asexual spirit with an erectile dysfunction who went from ruling a dictatorship to becoming a Corrupt Corporate Executive trying to destroy the very island the city rests on. He ends up dead. When even a monstrous body-jumping ghost has the same thoughts the rest of world has about you, you know something is wrong with you.
- Memoria They all wear masks and it's run by a Creepy Child — it gets worse.
- In No Rest for the Wicked, the protagonists come upon an unnamed village where the villagers believe that there is a witch in the forest who has abducted and murdered huge numbers of their children. They're right, but the thing is that the children weren't entranced into the forest by the witch's magic, the villagers have been abandoning their children in the forest to die (in some cases) or they've intentionally not done anything to prevent their children going in of their own volition. Once November, Perrault and Red kill the witch and bring the only living children back, they leave the villagers with their guilt.
- Shadowgirls: The original Innsmouth, an early example of this trope, was a decaying hovel of mutants and secret cults. In Shadowgirls, however, its modern-day incarnation appears to be a perfectly ordinary coastal town. But don't let appearances fool you: the Esoteric Order of Dagon still controls most of the government and Deep Ones lurk off the coast.
- Silent Hill: Promise having inherited the setting from Silent Hill proper.
- In the Whateley Universe, Whateley Academy is literally in Lovecraft Country, since the closest town is the Dunwich. Only maybe half of Dunwich is in on the dark secrets, since the town has been gentrified.
- SCP Foundation
- SCP-599 ("Uncharted City"). Exactly what the Dark Secret is is never directly stated, but it's implied that the town is a malevolent Genius Loci that lures people in, then kills them and integrates them into itself as citizens.
- SCP-1948 ("Weather Bird"). SCP-1948 is a bird that creates nice weather to keep itself comfortable. The town sacrificed people to it whenever the weather got worse, not realizing that it was responding to El Niño and would return to normal once the system had passed.
- Night Vale is an Eldritch Location where time doesn't work properly and members of a shadowy, all-powerful government routinely practice their public speaking skills by denying the existence of things like cars and eggs, so as to more easily deny the existence of things like three-headed graffitist dog packs, the illegal use of public funds to raise the ghost of Syd Barrett for a private Pink Floyd concert, and angels. However, every citizen seems to be cheerily aware of these facts, so maybe it's not so secret after all. This trope may apply more to the neighboring town of Desert Bluffs, which is even more horrific than Night Vale, but the radio host there speaks so cheerily that we'd never know about the pulsing meat walls, smears of blood and handfuls of teeth that decorate his studio.
- Both Towns seem to have Dark Open Secrets. Everything is expected to work like usual, except stated otherwise, by the audience, but... is it their usual our our usual?
- Scarfolk Council is about the town of Scarfolk in North West England that did not progress beyond 1979. Instead, the entire decade of the 1970s loops ad infinitum. In Scarfolk, pagan rituals blend seamlessly with science; hauntology is a compulsory subject at school, and everyone must be in bed by 8pm because they are perpetually running a slight fever.
- Avatar: The Last Airbender:
- "There is no war in Ba Sing Se." If the Earth Kingdom is the Fantasy Counterpart Culture of China, then Ba Sing Se, the capital, is more like the modern PROC or North Korea. It's a perfectly safe city, full of culture, divided into separate districts, where the guides smile all the time. Oh, and the poor and undesirable are walled in, people are forced to deny there's a one-hundred-year old war going on, and anyone who starts asking too many sensitive questions gets disappeared and brainwashed.
- Jet's treetop village. "Oh, cool, a settlement of teenage rebels! Maybe they can help us fight the Fire Nation!" Only problem is, these Well Intentioned Extremists often take their rebellions a little too far...like, oh, I don't know, when they beat and robbed a harmless Fire Nation civilian, or when they destroyed an entire Earth Kingdom town just because it was occupied by the Fire Nation army.
- Justice League has Seaboard City, a town in an Alternate Universe that serves as an Affectionate Parody of The Golden Age of Comic Books. It's later revealed that the whole thing is secretly under the control of a tyrannical, reality-warping child named Ray Thompson. After a nuclear war devastated their planet, Ray went mad and used his powers to recreate Seaboard City as he remembered it, forcing the remaining survivors to play along with the illusion or be killed.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: The episode "Cutie Map", the gang finds a strange town in the middle of nowhere, where all the ponies have an "=" as their cutie mark, everyone acts disturbingly happy, and everyone has The Un-Smile. Pinkie Pie is noticeably creeped out. Turns out she had a reason to be, because the Big Bad of the episode had literally stolen everypony's cutie marks and magic (and hence personalities).
- The first episode of The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo has the gang enter a town where everyone turns into a werewolf at night as a result of a curse put on them by the demons of the chest. They try to get the gang to leave to keep them from finding out about it, then try to keep them from leaving once they find out. Luckily, Flim-Flam manages to cure everyone.
- Crystal Cove in Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated, the town hides a dark secret to which is connected to the Planespheric Disks. To which the old Mystery Inc would kill over for.
- The town of Gravity Falls, Oregon is home to everything from magical creatures to government conspiracies, which are slowly uncovered with the help of a journal the main characters found in the woods. It turns out there was a secret society erasing people's minds of the wonders they encountered, but with it gone, some of these secrets may come into the light sooner. On the other hand, Mayor Cutebiker passes the "Never Mind About All That" act after Weirdmageddon, which prevents anyone from talking about the events of Bill's reign over the town, so the town's citizens have begun self-censoring the weirder things of the town.
- In one episode of The Real Ghostbusters, the heroes were unlucky enough to encounter a town called Lupisberg, which had three dark secrets. The first one was, the inhabitants were vampires. The second one was, the vampires inhabiting the town were feuding with another clan of vampires (not that the other clan was any better, mind you). The third secret was, both clans of vampires had taken over the town from the original residents, who were werewolves, and imprisoned them under the town. After the heroes released the werewolves who were dead set on taking their town back, the heroes were smart enough to high-tail it out of there.
- King of the Hill revealed that Arlen has one in "Harlottown," though it gets subverted in that it isn't so much a secret as it's something everyone simply forgot about. Peggy discovers that Arlen was originally called "Harlen," and that it was founded by only women. Harlen was originally a town run by and populated by prostitutes, and its actually name was Harlottown. The name got shortened because, as Peggy put it, "People were in such a rush to get there they didn't have time to say the whole name."
- Taiji, a town located in Higashimuro District, Wakayama, Japan, conducts an ongoing dolphin hunt off its coast (as made well-known in the 2009 documentary film, The Cove). Mercury levels among its citizens are much higher than average as a result of the sale and consumption of dolphin meat in Taiji. The film depicts a cover-up orchestrated at all levels, from the fishermen themselves up to the town's mayor, revealing a town striving to hide its dark secret from the rest of the world.
- Colorado City and the other compounds of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS, not to be confused with the LDS church, aka Mormons), at least until their polygamy, child weddings, and abandonment of teenage boys became public knowledge through several high-profile raids in 2009. Still, they tend to be very hostile to visitors, with news reports showing residents running from cameras and police officers attempting to arrest the reporters.
- Sundown Towns: Towns where "those people" would be driven out "after sunset". The '60s and the Civil Rights movement drove a lot of these towns to change and the more rabid elements went underground. However many cities had this status at one point in their history, one town finally apologized in 2015.
- The murder of violent hooligan Ken McElroy in Skidmore, Missouri happened in broad daylight on Main Street and must have been witnessed by dozens of people, but for decades no one in town has said a word to authorities or reporters about who killed him.
- Adamstown, the one and only town in the remote Pitcairn Islands, a British territory in the Southern Pacific. In 1999, a UK police officer serving a temporary assignment in the Islands uncovered allegations of sexual abuse on the island teenage girls. It led to the arrestation of seven men (including the mayor) representing a third of the male population of the town, much to the protest of the overall population.
- The little town of Alcasser in Spain was the location of a gruesome and very mediatic kidnapping and murdering of three teen aged local girls in 1992. Due to the Wild Mass Guessing, media attention, and Satanic Panic overtones of the case, and many a private investigator, amateur or not, ghoulish individuals and paranormal researchers meddling in, the townsfolk adamantly and understandably refuse to talk to anybody who does even mention the crimes. Doubly so because the whole thing heavily damaged the town's image and economy for a while. To this day the locals are still rather distrustful of strangers, specially if they suspect they are into a tourism of that kind.