Making things worse was the fact that it was on every Warner Bros. kids' video in summer/fall 2000. Can you imagine being a kid planning on watching Scooby-Doo, only for that trailer to come onscreen and terrify you, especially when it was paired with the Warner Bros. Halloween ad mentioned in the Vanity Plate section?
This is a considerably darker movie, even by Batman standards. Something that really stands out is the attitude that Terry and Bruce have about the Joker. For Terry, the Joker is similar to how we, the audience, would view him: Scary, sure, but definitely as famous as Batman. But Bruce has zero time for that romanticization of the past.
The soundtrack, "Joker Family Portrait", makes it all the worse. While it starts off as a light and bouncy (if somewhat morbid) riff on 50's sitcom themes, complete with Mickey Mousing, everything stops dead with a sudden low piano chord as Tim is revealed strapped to the operating table. As both he and Joker begin to laugh uncontrollably, the horns play a Dark Reprise of the earlier "family" leitmotif. Worst of all is the high, screaming electric guitar notes, apparently created with the vibrations from a music box.
A line you'd never want to hear the Joker say:
Joker:In time, the shocks and the serums took their toll, and the dear lad began to share such secrets with me...secrets that are mine alone to know...Bruce.
We do kinda know that this line is coming, though, as it's hinted at twice earlier, first when the Joker and his gang crash the party at Wayne Enterprises, and Bruce sees him for the first time in 40 years.
Bruce: It can't be...
Joker: Oh, no. Your old eyes do not deceive you, Brucie! After all, who'd know me better than you?
And then all our fears are horrifyingly confirmed when Joker invades the Batcave and says the two words we never wanted to hear:
After revealing to Batman that he knows who he really is, the Joker says what may be the most sadistic, evil line ever said by ANY incarnation of the character:
Joker: It's true, Batsy. I know everything. And kinda like the kid who peeks at his Christmas presents, I must admit it's sadly anti-climactic. Behind all the sturm and bat-a-rangs, you're just a little boy in a playsuit crying for mommy and daddy! It'd be funny it weren't so pathetic...Oh, what the heck, I'll laugh anyway!
The Joker's Mind Rape of Tim is considered such a monstrous Moral Event Horizon at this point that even Harley Quinn isn't forgiven for helping him with it; she seemingly gets Killed Off for Real for itnote She survived though, partly because of Poison Ivy giving her a Healing Factor and partly because one of the creator of the series favors her. And despite the implication that she genuinely cared about Tim, she's still particularly terrifying this time around, especially with her cheerfully blase attitude towards what the Joker did to Tim and how enthusiastic she is about trying to murder Batgirl.
Harley: Okay, so he roughed the kid up a bit! But I'll make it right! Batgirl: Yeah, you're mother of the stinkin' year. Harley: (grabs a boulder to bash Batgirl in the head with) You'll see... we'll be one big happy family!
The idea that Harley genuinely wanted a family actually makes her part in the situation even more horrific if you think about it. She was perfectly willing to help the Joker sacrifice an innocent boy's sanity for the sake of having a child of her own and shows no objections to it at all.
While it certainly doubles as a Moment of Awesome for him, the scene where Joker invades the Batcave and gasses Bruce is particularly nightmarish, especially the POV shot from Bruce's eyes, which now provides the "welcoming face" for this page.
When Terry heads back to the Batcave after being assaulted in the nightclub, he finds the clock smashed, "HA-HA"s spray-painted all over the cave (and it's worse in the uncut version of the film; the paint is blood red) and, worst of all, Bruce on the floor by the computer apparently dead from Joker venom.
Doubles as Tear Jerker when you realize this is a Call-Back to Terry's origin as Batman. He came home to a similar scene one night and found his father inside, brutally murdered. The killer may even have painted/carved a smile on Warren McGinnis' face a laHeath Ledger's Joker (it was meant to look like an attack by a gang of Jokerz). Terry's whispered "Oh, God, no" says it all.
One could argue the uncut version is darker, but Bonk's death in the re-edit version has him hit with Joker gas, dying of laughter as slowly as possible with his teammates looking on in fear.
As mentioned in the commentary, truly the worst thing about that gun is how it's a double-subversion of the My Little Panzer trope: It has a bright neon-red plastic ring around the muzzle, just like all toy guns are supposed to have to keep police from mistaking them for real guns, needlessly endangering the children playing with them. Yet, in one of the Joker's typically cruel violations of all things decent and sacred (in this case, childhood innocence), the gun is not a toy and not safe at all.
Even more chilling is the Joker's death scene, which varies depending on which version you watch.
In the edited version, the Joker gives Tim the laughing gas gun and tells him to "make [Batman] one of us." However, Batman's voice easily breaks through Tim's mind, and he tosses the gun away and pushes the Joker into a room with two tanks of water; the Clown Prince of Crime gets knocked into one, gets soaking wet, and tries going after Tim, but he slips and turns on the electrode machine. The scene immediately cuts to the outside of the room, where his horrifying death scream is heard! Nothing says it's Nightmare Fuelfor kids like this one! And you thought the film developers were trying to make things any easier. It doesn't.
The uncut version is even more terrifying: the Joker tosses the "Bang!" Flag Spear Gun to Tim, then pulls Batman high as his trophy and says, "Make Daddy proud. Deliver the punchline." Besides his chilling voice, Tim giggles like a maniac and, if you've seen the scene with Bonk, you know what's gonna happen: he pulls the trigger once and the "Bang!" flag pops up. When Batman tries to calm him down with "Tim...", he keeps giggling and doesn't calm down very easily, only more slowly than the edited version. Also, the aforementioned blood on both Batman's and the Joker's mouths and the same creepy music don't help matters either. The Nightmare Fuel starts getting higher and higher as the Joker, the blood still on his mouth, loudly barks out, "DO IT!!!" And the creepy music starts escalating Up to Eleven as Tim laughs more loudly and is about to pull the trigger as if this were the end of Batman. But once the boy finally fires the gun...the projectile doesn't hit Batman at all. Instead, it hits the Joker in his vital spot, sending him flying across the room onto the giant building blocks. Gasping weakly, he mutters out his ironicFamous Last Words: "That's not funny... that's not..." The Nightmare Fuel finishes off with his dying gargle as he gets choked up in blood, and then his body falling lifelessly onto the floor. Truly a Family-Unfriendly Death that's less scary than the edited version, but still...
The background music that accompanies this terrifying flashback scene, "Arkham Mayhem," is almost all Nightmare Fuel and part Tear Jerker. Give it a listen... if you dare!
Joker's Villainous Breakdown near the end. Imagine, if you will, as Joker's usual demeanor is chipped away piece by piece as Terry openly mocks him to try and catch him off guard. First he gets snappy, which isn't so bad. Then he screams "YOU'RE NOT BATMAN!" and completely loses it, and manages to swing a table at Terry...a little surprising. Pinning Terry down with the table, standing on top of it, yanking the mask off and proceeding to strangle Terry, producing one of his most insane laughs ever given, sounding more and more unhinged as he speaks? Downright scary, especially when you get a POV shot from Terry's eyes for a few seconds.
Joker (Looking furious and euphoric): C'mon, McGinnis... Laugh it up now! You miserable little punk! LAUGH! IIIIII CAAAAAAN'T HEEEEAAAAAR YOOOOU!
Before that, Tim knocks off the beakers before making his hideous transformation worthy of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde into the Joker via microchip. And Tim's voice evolves into that of the Clown Prince of Crime, which makes it all the scarier.
The fact that, despite voicing the character for nearly a decade by this point, Mark Hamill actually felt uncomfortable voicing him in this film. Let's put that in perspective. In the original series, the Joker repeatedly killed people in droves, abused his girlfriend, stalked a guy for years on end, and created Joker venom, which is basically Nightmare Fuel in gas form. All of which was turned Up to Eleven in Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. And yet what the Joker did in this movie unnerved his voice actor.
The Grand Theft Me trope is quite chilling in virtually any work of fiction, and here is certainly no exception. The Joker states that, with time, he will learn to permanently suppress Tim's natural consciousness, effectively causing a Death of Personality. Also, as he's using Tim's body, he can impersonate Tim's voice and effectively deceive people—including Tim's own wife—through phone calls.
The opening fight with the Joker's gang, particularly one moment when Terry faced off with the Creepy Twins. That was the moment when he was momentarily on his knees and a bit groggy from a blow and one twins is winding up for a kick to his head. As the scene goes quiet and you see her from Terry's wavering point of view, the utterly sadistic glee on her face and the disturbingly confident graceful movement to her upcoming attack clearly sends the message that this is going to hurt and she regards it as a high point of her life to get this chance to lay the Dark Knight low.
Let's not forget this exchange:
Chucko: Batman showed up and we had to ditch, but we were able to save this: the console's memory board. (He slides the board to Joker, who is sitting across the table. Joker catches it.) I know it's not much, but—