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Nightmare Fuel: Thomas the Tank Engine
This, children, is what happens to the engines that aren't 'Really Useful.' Sweet dreams.
Thomas the Tank Engine is a series where perfectly sentient beings are cut up while still alive, abandoned for years in places where nobody else can find them while they helplessly rot away, other people's incompetence can get you killed and have you blamed for it, and even some of your coworkers are out to have you killed. This is a series for children.
Because the early episodes were written by a railway enthusiast, the train accidents were pretty realistic, and there was the recurring threat of the old-fashioned steam engines being turned to scrap. In addition, the behavior of troublesome trucks is frequently almost suicidal. The trains-with-faces are a bit creepy in and of themselves. In fact, you could probably go on and on about this show, but a few specific examples are...
Henry's accident in "The Flying Kipper". Adding to this was when one of the modelers' hands briefly appeared.
"Percy Takes the Plunge".
In the episode "Trucks", some troublesome trucks, attached to the top of a hill by a cable, snap loose and roll down the hill yelling, "hurrah, hurrah," and then smash into Peter Sam and are completely destroyed (Peter Sam is badly battered himself, and is left for a while surrounded by and covered in debris).
It's even worse in the original book illustrations, where you can see the trucks' anguished expressions as they're torn apart.
The trucks are utter sociopaths. Notice how many trucks died over the course of the series or were otherwise destroyed (like Scruffy) or exacted Disproportionate Retribution onto the engines.
Episodes taking place at the shadowy Other Railway, where engines are scrapped, which is lined with faceless diesels and broken-down steam engines.
Donald and Douglas' backstory was pretty horrifying,
Worse, the show never really established why they would be scrapped—unlike Oliver, for instance, they were in good condition and proved to be immensely useful once they got to Sodor. It seemed to hint that any engine could, and would, be scrapped if it wasconvenient for the humans, regardless of how 'useful' they actually were.
In one of the stories, Donald explains to Percy why they had to escape to the Island. Complete with a painting of faithful steam engines, facing the cutting torch, whilst all alone in a cold, damp and dark siding and literally staring death in the face is awful! In the background, you can see 'dead' steam engines, men cutting them up and cranes ripping them apart. It was more of a jab by the author at the British Government and British Rail at the time in the 1960's. New steam engines were built, so that BR could function and help rebuild the UK after the war. By the 1965 good, efficient diesels were around. So, we see a mass culling of steam engines - many had only been built. "Yes, you've worked really hard all of your short little life - but theres a new, shiny design avaliable! So, you're going to have to die now. But, its all good. Some of your parts will be melted down, and remade into parts for a diesel!" Got knives, forks or spoons made in Sheffield post 1940's - take a wild guess where the metal came from....
Seeing Henry being bricked up inside a tunnel for, "always and always and always," for being disobedient. The worst part? The story ends with Henry still trapped, alone in the tunnel as we're told by Ringo that "he deserved his punishment." Those sad eyes peeking over the wall...
In Calling All Engines, the engines have nightmares about what happens when they are no longer deemed "useful", and some of their dreams are very surreal and disturbing... particularily Percy's. He dreams he's used as a roller coaster. And, for whatever reason, he has massive bloodshot eyes in his dream.
Hero of the Rails has Hiro, the old Japanese engine, falling apart while running for his life. And it doesn't help that's he's screaming in agony as all his parts go flying off of him, and all Thomas can do is yell for him to keep running. It's the train equivalent of bleeding to death.
The "ghost train sequence" in "Percy's Ghostly Trick". If the jerkily animated ghost train doesn't scare you, the horror-movie soundtrack will...
The episode where Thomas is hired to take a dragon decoration to another town on Sodor for a festival. Percy is downright scared of it and from a kid's point of view, the dragon was scary, and the music that played whenever it appeared didn't help.
S.C Ruffey's fate in "Toad Stands By". No way that having Oliver essentially draw and quarter one of the characters could ever traumatize children...
The episode "Percy Runs Away" when Percy forgets to tell the signalman to let him switch tracks and thus suddenly realises that Gordon is hurtling straight towards him. The looks of absolute horror on both the trains faces will make you wince.
Smudger's fate in Grandpuff, which was to be turned into a stationary generator. What makes it worse is Duke's nonchalant response of "You can see him behind our shed. He'll never move again.". And what really makes it horrifying is that you can see that Stuart and Falcon are just as disturbed by this as the viewers. However, Duke is actually smiling as he tells his unhinged story.
Diesel 10's original voice was apparently far too sinister for a children's film, so all the lines had to be redone without his Russian accent. Despite this, his face and giant claw are still terrifying.
The original Diesel beat him easily - he managed to turn everyone (except the Fat Controller) against Duck with a few simple rumours. Even now, in the new series, he still turns up despite other characters falling by the wayside. He's just that good.
Any train injury is horrifying in human terms. For example, there's an early episode where Gordon, unable to stop himself, smashes through the back wall of Sodor's main station and ends up hanging halfway out the hole. His wheels are hanging below him, having come off in the impact. This is the equivilant of having you legs ripped off, only attached by a few bits of flesh.
The undercarriage also falls from Henry before he comes to rest capsized after crashing in Season 1's The Flying Kipper.
The episode where Percy first appeared. Hatt went to get him out of a roundhouse full of inanimate engines covered up by sheets. Creepy.
Even Misty Island Rescue manages to sneak in some Nightmare Fuel. First there's Diesel, who's just trying to be useful, who ends up hanging off the edge of an unfinished bridge...on only two wheels, trying not to fall into the sea below. After that there's Thomas and the logging engines trapped in the underwater tunnel with nobody knowing they're there. And then Diesel 10 creeps up in during The Stinger...
Godred was an unruly mountain engine who wouldn't apply his auto-brakes and eventually had an accident. He fell halfway down a mountain. Godred was still alive. Not scary enough? They said "We can't afford to mend you again" so they took him to the shop where he got smaller and smaller... They took him apart and used his parts to repair the other engines.
Culdee made that story up to keep unruly engines well behaved; though perhaps Wilbert Awdry only included that line as to not frighten the younger readers…
Word of God states that was his concern, yes. Oddly enough, some Thomas And Friends media and toys also use Godred, despite not appearing once in the TV series and being a minor character in the books anyway. Perhaps showing a present day Godred, alive and happy, was their way of easing concerns of traumatised kids happening upon the books and reading about an engine being slowly hacked to death.
In the original Thomas the Tank Engine books, the illustration in Stepney the "Bluebell" Engine accompanying the revelation that steam engines on the Big Railway are being scrapped. The locomotives waiting to be scrapped are clearly depicted as sentient, every bit as much as Thomas and the others. And they know they're going to die.
Another story has a disobedient engine locked in a shed, gradually being cannabalized for parts by the humans who own the railway. And he's still alive and concious. And you thought Smudger had it bad...
Several episodes that feature train crashes and wrecks are quite unnerving. One early example is "The Flying Kipper" where Henry gets into that massive wreck after crashing into the breakvan of another train. The sudden strike, dark lighting, and the sight of Henry derailing are disturbing in their own right, with a dose of Tearjerker for seeing Henry in this state. And, as noted on the Fridge page, said breakvan had three guards in it. Only two are mentioned jumping clear of the wreck.
There's also the story of the Spiteful Breakvan. At the end, Douglas smashes through the Breakvan, splintering it to pieces. Granted, the Spiteful Breakvan is an Asshole Victim, but seeing a crane tote its face away is kinda unnerving.
Another Asshole Victim example would be S. C. Ruffey, the ringleader of the trucks in the yard that leads insulting songs against Oliver in "Toad Stands By". To settle with him, S. C. Ruffey is put at the head of Oliver's train so that he can bumped if he causes nonsense. S. C. Ruffey tells the rest of the trucks in the train to hold back, which turns out to be his fatal flaw. Effectively, Oliver pulls on S. C. Ruffey and tears him apart in Sodor's own version of Drawing and Quartering. Granted, he's put back together at the end of the episode.
Though not in the original books. There, Sir Topham Hatt inspects Scruffey's remains and discovers he was extremely poorly built and maintained, and decides to scrap him.
It's worsened in the original books, where in both instances the two victims are heard begging and screaming in pain for the trucks to go forward, but to no response. Nothing gets in the way of the trucks' fun, not even the well being of their own kind.
James easily has the nastiest angry face out of the main engines, simply because of how pissed off he looks. Then we have a brief scene in "Old Iron" where the camera is directly in front of the tracks where James rolls in unnervingly close with said angry expression glaring directly at the viewer. It also doesn't help that his coat is red, which is usually the color to signify anger.
Gordon's angry face is on the same boat as James'. The wrinkles on his forehead help make it look very unpleasant to look at.
A few of the engine's face masks look kind of creepy, due to a tad Uncanny Valley in their facial designs and expressions. Thomas and Percy's original "eyes closed tight" expressions stand out in particular (though it doesn't help they were almost always used as they were about to smash into something face first).
There's also a nightmarish quality to the existence of the Troublesome Trucks/Freight Cars themselves. They giggle and take pleasure in engines' misfortunes, like to be a pain and interference, and are even willing to undergo their own destruction for the sake of getting back at an engine.
For example, look at the episode "Trucks"/"Rusty Helps Peter Sam". The trucks being towed up the slate mine line try to warn the trucks going down that they're not going to crash into Sir Handel, their intended target, but Peter Sam. The downward trucks still snap their cables anyway and crash right into Peter Sam, who can only shut his eyes as the collision hits.
"Stepney Gets Lost" is an episode where, well, Stepney gets lost while going down the tracks at night. He comes across a disturbingly red glow and finds himself in the scrapyard. His driver and fireman go out to search for any help, leaving Stepney stranded on the line (and thus, completely unable to move). The diesels Iron 'Arry and Bert come up alongside and behind him, smirking at his situation while Bert pushes a helpless Stepney beneath a massive grabber with the intent of leaving him to be scrapped. And they take pleasure in this idea. If it hadn't been for the arrival of Sir Topham Hatt, poor Stepney might have been...lost forever.
Even worse? In this episode, Iron 'Arry and Bert are both Karma Houdinis. The effect is diluted due to Villain Decay in later episodes, but their first appearances here are frightening. The fact that they take pleasure in pushing a helpless engine towards a scrapping death...
They manage to revive this creepy quality in their later cameo in "Fergus Breaks the Rules". When Fergus ends up at the scrapyards, Iron 'Arry and Bert appear through the hellish red glow and ominously ask if Fergus "likes it there".
One episode in the second season had Edward save Trevor the traction engine from scrap, and it proceeded towards a vicar buying him, and him and his children playing with Trevor on a farm. The closing line of the episode is written fairly harmless, and is simply Trevor falling asleep muttering the words "I like children" slowly to himself, over the thought of once again being surrounded by carefree optimism and fun. When watching it as a kid, it's harmless, but when you replay it as an adult, it kinda comes off creepy...
Boulder◊ from "Rusty and the Boulder" really plays up Uncanny Valley. True, it's just a carved version of Gordon's displeased face mask, but seeing it fade is a tad creepy. So is the final shot of Boulder looming over the quarry where it zooms up to Boulder's frozen expression.
Boulder is creepy throughout the episode. Look at the damage it does. Look how close it came to running over several engines. One notable instance is when Rusty gets around the corner and believes he's safe, only for Boulder to somehow appear behind him.
The second season had a recurring Leitmotif for whenever an engine crashes. While it also qualifies as Awesome Music, the rising Jaws-esque riff gives a heavy sense of inevitable dread as you know something brutal is about to happen to the engine in question.
In the episode "Scaredy Engines", Duck ropes Thomas into staying at the Smelter's Yard to get back at him for teasing Percy. As soon as they exit the sheds, and suddenly we see the large door slam shut and Thomas is all alone and the scene itself is rather unsettling.
From Tale of the Brave, we get the Scrap Monster. It resembles a twisted, metal monster with twirling eyes, jagged teeth, a crooked nose, and a giant shovel arm. Percy encounters it late at night, and is understandably terrified. It's really just a pile of old scrap metal on some flatbeds, left by James to scare Percy.