There are plenty of childhood-destroying freak-beasts, and at the top of the pile is the Red Queen's true form: A giant fleshy monster with tentacles reaching across Wonderland who has the Mad Hatter's head in her mouth, with Alice's head in his mouth. Most other enemies, and a fair few allies, achieve the same effect.
It gets worse when you read the manual and find out that the whole thing is taking place in Alice's head, whilst she is trapped in her own mind in an asylum, undergoing the brutal "treatments" of that era. Also, the "Quit" screen was truly horrifying.
Regarding the "Quit" screen, it's an extreme close-up of the Mad Hatter, and instead of "Quit", the yes/no question is "RUNNING AWAY, ARE WE?" Well, if we weren't before, we sure as hell are now!
The Nightmare Spiders (particularly for arachnophobes, and the faces on the backs are just creepy) and the kids in the school and asylum levels. Talk about DISTURBING.
The Jabberwock. Not only is he terrifying enough in the original books, but in this game he is the embodiment of Alice's guilt for accidentally causing the fire that killed her parents. You first encounter him in a replica of her own house, perched in the middle of a boiling magma land. Then he mocks Alice, saying that she smelt the smoke and she felt the flames, but was too busy having tea with her friends to bother to save her parents as they burned alive screaming upstairs. And just to nail it right home, you fight him in the burning remains of Alice's house.
Oh God, the poor Dormouse and the Hare. Since the Mad Hatter has gone truly insane, he's turned them both into twisted half-steampunk cyborgs, with sewn skin and pinned lips held by clasps and experiments on them by dunking them in acid or burning them with lasers. And you're not sure what's worse: that Hare is 100% lucid and bemoans that they have no tea, or that poor Dormouse is so far gone that he doesn't even notice what's happening.
The Insane Children. They're harmless, but having a close look shows that their heads are enclosed in a horrible apparatus that hold their eyelids open or lips apart. And then you see that the clockwork automations are created by fusing these poor kids inside — and you learn this after you've killed some. The final part is that after you see a child turned into a machine, you see the bloody words "You're Next".
If you pay close attention in the asylum when you're smashing the clocks in the kids' rooms, you realize that doing so stops the flow of mysterious white vapor into the room. When you do, the kids will switch from silently flapping their hands to the more active manifestations of insanity you see them exhibit in the school. The implication would seem to be that the steam is some kind of sedative/antipsychotic gas, which is really dark as all hell when you think about it. It has a more practical scare factor, too — I was terrified of the kids and was relieved to see one being still and quiet, and then when I smashed the first clock, it twisted around backwards and laughed insanely. That was the last time I played that level at night.
The insane children are back in Madness Returns, and rather more mutilated- some have exposed brains. They also represent the kids abused by Dr Bumby, in the dollhouse level, which is a whole different type of creepy.
No mention of the Chesire Cat? He looks like a methed out Malaysian god with a soothing, deep voice that could talk you into sawing your own arm off, dripping with barely restrained contempt and ill intent. Freakiest part of an already very dark and warped game.
The ending of the trailer. After we see the backstory (the fire in Alice's house that killed her parents) we see Alice sitting in a bed, her eyes wide open and unblinking with a rabbit tucked into bed beside her. Then the rabbit turns to her and says "Save us, Alice!" in a really creepy, low-toned and distorted voice.
Where exactly to begin with the sequel? Let's start with the 'where' indeed?
First we have lovely pastoral Wonderland...that slowly devolves into a hellish, dead world with black ichor dripping everywhere and a blood red sky.
And how. Going around the happy Wonderland, butterfly jumping, nice music, family memories. Down the slide- wheee! Oh, look! I just landed in a puddle of blood!
Right in front of the pile of bones that used to be the Gryphon, no less. Even more painful considering he was an ally in the first game.
Actually, the bones belonged to the Jabberwock.
Then there is Hatter's newly renovated realm, a steampunk's nightmare of gears, grinders, and a Dodo 'misery-ium'
Next up is Tunderful and the Deluded Depths. Not too bad, at first. Little dark humor with the Carpenter & Walrus...and then you have to enter into the pitch black tombs of dead sailors, not to mention what you find under the Theater when you get back. Hope you weren't in the mood for sushi!
The room under the theatre, which is brutally decorated with bloody piles of fish people that have been torn open and gored.
Especially when you notice that the mayor is still alive and crucified, and he's groaning insane gibberish. Also the Walrus' rampage against the oysters and the audience is quite disturbing.
The Mysterious East isn't too bad...until you enter the paper wasp tombs that are slowly filling with the black ooze of ruin, and the walls whisper to you.
The seemingly innocent female statues later in the level that, upon further inspection, have the heads of wasps. And even the ones with normal human heads are crying blood and half-naked with their kimonos pulled open, which one can probably assume is a manifestation of Alice's guilt over Lizzie's rape.
What about the mutilated Origami ants, or those imprisoned in cages suspended on a huge abyss? And the fact that the Wasps will fill them with eggs, just like Real Life wasps?
Queensland. Hey remember how great that entire living womb of a castle was? Well now you get to play through a dead and rotting womb... until the end, and then you get the place in high-def!
Speaking of Queensland, it would be foolish not to mention the Queen's Executioner, who is three times taller than the normal cards, cannot die, and has maggots in both his eye sockets.
What you have to do to the King. Poor bastard's trapped and is blocking Alice's way into the castle. So, what does she have to do? Smash him. All that's left of him is his right eye, still trapped on the wall staring into nothing.
And who can forget the zombie cardmen?
How about the Queen herself? She might be more unsettling than downright terrifying at first, but that changes quite a bit towards the end of her scene: after giving Alice a lecture on ignorance, she picks her up with her tentacles, opens her mouth far too much for comfort and eats her alive. All of which is seen in glorious first-person. Oh, and there's an image of it on the game's wiki, which you really don't want to accidentally stumble across.
The Dollhouse. It deserves special notice: it looks like a giant city of dollhouses, only that the houses are ripped apart and disembodied doll parts are everywhere, as well as Dollgirls waiting to kill you with scissors and fire. Gets worse as the game progresses, everything gets darker and darker and it feels like you're traveling through some sort of abandoned orphanage/hospital/asylum, with even more disembodied doll parts, skeletons in glass displays, dolls with parts cut and ripped out, hell, even the levers are with a bloodied eye or a doll head with its brain exposed floating in liquid, watching you as you pull the lever. The soundtrack does not help at all.
The Broken Doll enemies in the Dollhouse. Yeah, it's a giant broken doll attacking you with fire breath and broken scissors. Imposing, but by this time we've been through the Queen's level. We've seen worse. Then, while you're attacking it, you shred its clothes. The doll then shrieks, wraps her hands around her body, and shakes her head. You follow this by blowing her arms off, rending her (almost) helpless and then ripping open her chest and assaulting her heart.
When you replay the game. Did anyone see it? Yes, run around and look for collectibles you missed... then the Insane Child appears. Watching you. Waiting for you. And running away when you go after it. So does that mean that every time you've been in Wonderland there is a insane, horribly mutilated, unnatural young child that will never be innocent again waiting and following and watching your every move? Paranoia Fuel much?
Oh, and, guess what, it appears again! As Alice runs around in her subconscious in that place only lit by streetlamps, the horribly mutilated child shows up once again. It's following her, like it always has, but now it has lost half its body, trailing and dripping blood behind it and CRAWLING BACK to Alice while trying to talk to her and saying "We need your help!" There is just something innately horrifying to a young child that has been reduced to such a state. Despite everything that has happened to the child it is following you, what could have happened to it that made it crawl back to Alice and beg for help? What attacked it? What could be looming ahead? It makes for powerful Foreshadowing. Then, even though it is the stuff of nightmares, the Insane Child is still on Alice's side, and it is trying to help her regain her sanity.
Body Horror: The opening sequence of the game. Alice is sailing "with a friend" the White Rabbit, but then his head explodes in a shower of blood, the river turns into black slime infested with doll heads and doll parts, then the dolls crawl up Alice and rip her face off!
Doctor Angus Bumby. And not just his monstrous, Wonderland form (The Dollmaker), but also of his role in real life. And also the fact that he was going to be a Karma Houdini if it weren't for Alice.
The asylum sequence. Not the usual brand of creepy that Alice dishes out. It was the subtle atmosphere, seeing the other patients wandering around, trying to get a good look at their faces — only to see that they had no faces, and then being cornered by the Tweedle Brothers and the faceless nurse, strapped to a bed, and nearly lobotomized.
The patients do have faces. Horrible, grimacing dark faces equipped with clamps and stretchers straight from A Clockwork Orange.
Poor Alice. She's been shaved of all her hair, lobotomized and is just a hollow shell of herself doing nothing but walking around the asylum with nothing but a vacant stare and a straitjacket binding her.
The rape subtext on the Dollhouse. Near the end you find a giant doll, with a gaping hole between its legs, lying on the floor, legs wide open. You have to go through that hole and through that doll to the other side.
There are two giant dolls: the one referred to above, each with a hole to go through.
Alice getting turned into a doll with a giant freaky head near the end.
Nothing Is Scarier: The Dollhouse level. Creepy music playing in the background, an environment full of broken dollhouses and dolls which degenerates into some dark basement/asylum full of giant nails sticking out, more doll parts, impaling spikes, skeletons in glass cases...and guess what? You have to walk around as Alice around all of this creepy stuff. And NOTHING happens. Not even a random monster attack is scarier than this.
The hopelessness of the London segments. Almost every named character is looking to take advantage of Alice in some way or another - and most of them are bigger than her. It's a setting where innocence is prey, trust fatal and virginity a myth. The banality of it all is shocking. After the first few throaty offers to take Alice to bed, paranoia sets in. The poor thing is scarred enough as it is; but even without the schemes of Dr. Bumby, an encounter with the wrong gentleman could so easily undo all her slow recovery and destroy her for good.
In the first game, the insane children represet the others at the asylum. In the sequel, they're the orphans at Houndsditch. Everyone knows that, right? Well, now make the connection. Not only are those kids being pimped out, but they're all mentally damaged to that extent. And then Bumby's 'therapy' corrupts their memories and destroys whatever's even still left of them until they're just blank slates, toys for others to abuse. That's pretty horrific. Owch.
Hey, you know those framed cross-stitch things that typically say "HOME SWEET HOME"? Well, Houndsditch has a couple like it that you might just blow by if all you're trying to do is get on with the game part of the game. The first says "HOME SAFE HOME"; given the above, it's rather ironic. The second you'll encounter says "EARN YOUR KEEP"; normally good advice, except for how Bumby expects them to do so...
Just the concept of the games is heartrending. This isn't some slashing gore fest- this is an exploration of a broken child's mind. Just think how scarred Alice must be to imagine up such a twisted world where everything - even the flowers - are out to get her. Even more, she's relatively stoic in the face of it all, casually wondering around and shrugging off the carnage as though this were normal. Imagine just how horrific her family's death and the asylum treatments must have been to warp her childhood fantasies into this.
Alice herself is no saint either. She usually makes no attempt to end the suffering of others, she just waltzes past them. A village full of enslaved gnomes? Who cares, I just want to follow the rabbit! Insane children in asylum rooms? Not only will I leave them mad and gibbering, I'll cut off their sedative and drive them more insane! That's right, even the game's heroine is cold hearted to a degree.
To be fair, she is saving them in a way, since defeating the Queen is liberating Wonderland. Doesn't make up for the fact that she hardly bats an eyelid.
Come the sequel, that's the entire point. She's been suppressing her guilt over her inaction towards the horrors being inflicted on those around her.
Not to mention when she goes Hysterical...
The entire soundtrack. Except for the final song, where everything is okay of course. Have a listen to the "Dementia" trackhere.
Near the beginning of the game, before your first Wonderland section, in fact, you can encounter some children playing hopscotch, if you go to the right place. Nearby, facing the wall, is a little girl. If you go near her, she numbly recites a poem. The way she says it might lead you to wonder what happened to her. A possible clue? Near the end of the game, The Dollmaker recites it when turning Alice into a doll.