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Defanged Horrors

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"It's not too scary, I think it's just scary enough."
Roger Ebert on Harry Potter's suitability for kids

A good scare in a controlled environment can be a lot of fun. Horror movies and roller coasters make their money based on this truth. Well, kids like to be scared as well, and books and movies are produced to do just that.

Defanged Horror is a genre of horror created with kids in mind. However, it has to tread a fine line: being genuinely frightening to children without being too scary and without causing their parents any undue concern, so the standard scares of adult horror are not an option here.

Instead Defanged Horror will rely on turning the children's imaginations against them. The monster will be vaguely described. The consequences of venturing into a forbidden area will only be hinted at. Victims of the threat will simply disappear rather than having a Kid Hero stumble across their mutilated corpses. And as scary as things get, things will just about always turn out okay.

This is by no means a put-down of the genre. Hardcore stuff like Se7en or Silent Hill is not really suitable for giving ten-year-olds a good Halloween scare. This is simply the media version of the campfire or sleepover ghost story. If it's done badly, though, the movie often comes across as simply cheesy. This can be a difficult balancing act, especially in film: it's hard to market a horror movie that is designed not to be especially scary, and such works often end up flopping in theatres, though they may be Vindicated by History, or especially Vindicated by Cable, in later years.

On occasion, Defanged Horrors can be scarier than the explicit kind. This happens when what the average imagination can come up with when the details are left to the audience's imagination is scarier than what the average Slasher Movie will come up with. Of course, sometimes, you can scare kids — or anyone, for that matter — without even trying, and what is a pleasant little spinetingler for one child may give another scream-yourself-awake nightmares. We all have different thresholds, and sometimes a very young child can't watch anything that's even the slightest bit unsettling without being horrified by it, in which case the horrors may not be so much defanged, but rather made completely nonexistent.

Strangely, it is often the adults that they are toning it down for, not the kids. As the above paragraph mentions, kids will probably find Defanged Horrors (done well) and normal horror movies equally scary. It's just the parents that'll complain if their children watch a movie with blood in it, meaning less money.

When this shows up in a video game, it will usually be in a Big Boo's Haunt type area. In other media, this trope frequently occurs in a Halloweentown setting.

Because this subgenre is targeted at children, it will typically ground itself in child-specific fears and anxieties, such as the anxieties of moving house, not being believed or listened to about important things, grown-ups being unable to protect you if they don't disappear outright, and figures of authority - such as teachers or the police - abusing their power. Other kids may also be the source of fear, via being low on the pecking order, and getting laughed at or bullied. Fortunately, all of these are fears that can be tapped into without needing to get too gruesome or violent.

Related to The Taming of the Grue, which may be an eventual byproduct of this. Often, but not always, a part of Spooky Kids Media. Can overlap with Nothing Is Scarier, where being unable to see anything scary is what makes it frightening. Can also overlap with Comedy Horror. A Halloween Episode of a children's series often falls into this category. Also see Badbutt, for another genre being toned down for children.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Mon Colle Knights has one episode where Prince Eccentro gets possessed by a vampire before seizing Professor Hiragi hostage. The Knights must fight their way through a castle filled with zombies, suits of armor, Frankenstein monsters, and more. Saban switched this episode around with a much earlier one, which is understandable (i.e. to tie in with Halloween, which isn't celebrated in Japan).
  • Pokémon: The Series uses this sometimes, such as in episodes featuring Ghost Pokémon.
  • Sgt. Frog. A yukata-clad ghost lives in the Hinata family's basement, Fuyuki is a big fan of the occult, and episodes of the manga and anime center around spooky story contests among the main characters and their friends.
  • The Digimon Adventure episode "The Call Of Dagomon" was essentially a kid-friendly version of a Cthulhu Mythos story.

    Comic Strips 
  • Calvin and Hobbes sometimes got into this territory, with Calvin's fear of Things That Go "Bump" in the Night lurking under his bed. The collection The Essential Calvin and Hobbes also included a beautifully-painted brand new story, A Nauseous Nocturne, set to a spooky poem written in the style of Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven.
  • Similiarly, The Far Side would sometimes get into macabre territory with vampires, boogiemen, witches, and the like, but the focus was always on the comedy, and nothing is genuinely threatening in the comic's goofy art style.

    Films — Animation 
  • The Nightmare Before Christmas, directed by Henry Selick and produced by Tim Burton. The citizens of Halloween Town are various monsters whose job is to scare people, but when they are not working, they are quite friendly and pleasant (with the exception of the Big Bad Oogie Boogie and his three minions).
  • The Brave Little Toaster has several scenes that would be outright Gorn if it wasn't happening to household appliances. Especially the scene in the shady parts-salesmen's shop, which is played exactly like a horror scene. Practically lampshaded in the following musical number, which directly compares the current situation to a number of old horror films.
  • Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit plays out as a monster movie, except the monster is a vegetarian, killing vegetables instead of humans.
  • Laika are known for making stop-motion animated movies that tend to push the envelope on how scary a kids' movie can get. Their first two movies, Coraline and ParaNorman are the most overt examples, being effectively child-appropriate horror movies. Their third and fourth films, The Box Trolls and Kubo and the Two Strings, are more Dark Fantasy. Averted with their fifth feature, Missing Link, which is a Buddy Picture Road Movie with more of a high-flying adventure tone.
  • Fantasia's memorable "Night on Bald Mountain" sequence, which depicts demons and ghosts celebrating to the classic strains of Modest Mussorgsky. It helps that, aside from dancing around, they don't actually do anything, and there's never any threat of innocent people being hurt. Additionally, the sequence ends with the tolling of a church bell, and the rebuked demons returning to sleep as a procession of churchgoers with lanterns walk by while Franz Schubert's "Ave Maria" plays, signaling the restoration of order and the triumph of good over evil. Many children found this disappointing, preferring the energy and excitement of the diabolical revelry to the pious solemnity of the final scene.
    • To a lesser extent, the earlier sequence set to Igor Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring" features a ferocious battle between a stegosaurus and a Terrifying Tyrannosaur, and then a sequence of all the dinosaurs dying out in an arid desert. Not quite horror movie imagery, but still a lot more intense than most kids are used to, and at the time, it was considered to have some of the most spectacular and lifelike dinosaurs ever put on screen.
  • The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. While the Mr. Toad segment of the story is a pretty light-hearted Funny Animal story, the second part of the movie - a broadly-faithful adaptation of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow - is full of this trope. It's packed with autumnal imagery, even featuring a Halloween party and a fun, spooky song by Bing Crosby, and climaxes with a spectacular chase scene with the Headless Horseman pursuing Ichabod through a dark forest. But the chase scene still has plenty of of cartoony slapstick, the movie ends on a scene showing Ichabod safe and happy, and an observant child will pick up on the hints that there was never any real danger in the first place.
  • Sleeping Beauty has elements of this, too. Its villain, the sinister fairy Maleficent, is often considered Disney's best villain, and the scene where she hypnotizes Aurora into pricking her finger on a spinning wheel has an eerie, nightmarish feel to it. The climactic scene where Maleficent invokes "all the powers of Hell" and turns into a dragon was perhaps the most exciting final battle scene yet made in a children's movie at the time, and provides a pretty literal instance of G.K. Chesterton's famous line (see below under Real Life).
  • The Black Cauldron was a critical and commercial flop at the time, and the cult following it's built up in the years since is mostly because of the scarier bits, particularly John Hurt's performance as the sinister Horned King.
  • Spirited Away takes place entirely in a world full of spirits who dislike humans. Both of Chihiro's parents are turned into pigs after eating some of the food there. And that's just the beginning of it all.
  • Monster House has a few intense moments and the animation can get a bit wonky but it's generally seen as a fun, Halloweeny romp for kids.
  • The BIONICLE Direct to Video movies had shades of this.
    • The first film, Mask of Light nearly got banned in Germany because of its scary imagery, despite the content itself being fairly tame. Instead of full-on violence, the film features "smart heroic thinking", where both heroes and villains could only cause indirect or accidental harm. Due to censors, scenes in the villain's lair had to be re-colored from red to green, and most shots where the Rahkshi split open their head-plates, revealing the squirming worms inside, were cut from the German release.
    • By the third movie, Web of Shadows, the LEGO company abandoned concerns about frightening or violent content, allowing the filmmakers to test how far they could go with a more horror-inspired tone (balanced out by moments of goofy comedy), jumpscares, mooks committing suicide on order, and actual violent combat — as the characters are basically robots who look like LEGO toys and the villain army is made up of Giant Spiders, they could get away with a lot. International distribution still proved difficult however, and close to 10 minutes were cut from the German release.
  • Wendell & Wild, directed by Henry Selick (who also did the above-mentioned The Nightmare Before Christmas and Coraline, is about a preteen girl who moves into a haunted boarding school, while fending off Demonic Possession attempts from a pair of incompetent low-level demons played by Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele. There's plenty of spooky imagery but the tone is consistently lighthearted and funny. Peele also co-wrote the film, and in many ways it feels like a child-oriented counterpart to the horror movies he directs.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Tower of Terror film, based on the theme park ride.
  • Another one based on a ride at Disney Theme Parks, The Haunted Mansion (2003) (starring Eddie Murphy) has a backstory involving murder and even suicide, but it's still a pretty light-hearted family adventure movie.
  • The Watcher in the Woods is essentially Baby's First Gothic Horror Movie. No real gore, the fear is in what we don't see. Nonetheless, it has an unambiguously happy ending.
  • Tim Burton owes quite a bit of his career to this trope, especially during his early years as a director (mid-1980s to early '90s) when he was commonly thought of as a slightly unconventional children's filmmaker.
    • Beetlejuice was originally envisioned as a straightforward haunted house movie, but gradually was adapted into a more-or-less kid-friendly comedy horror movie (there is a single F bomb which feels genuinely out of place), and eventually spawned a more overtly child-oriented animated spinoff.
    • This tendency blew up in his face a little when Batman Returns flopped: Burton tried to be "funny-scary" and overshot the mark, becoming too grim and unpleasant for general audiences, though the movie's tone is weird and specific enough that it's become a bit of a Cult Classic today.
  • The Wizard of Oz's Wicked Witch of the West managed to be remembered as one of the scariest - and most iconic - villains in cinematic history, even while appearing in a very family-friendly fantasy musical. She never really does anything particularly violent (aside from trying to burn the Scarecrow and threatening to drown Toto), and she has the rather petty goal of trying to reclaim her dead sister's ruby-encrusted shoes. But with Margaret Hamilton's gleefully psychotic performance, combined with some deeply unsettling makeup and prosthetics, well... there's a damn good reason so many kids are terrified of her. Often being the first "scary" villain that kids see in a movie helps too.
  • Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, much like the books it loosely adapts, was lauded by many critics as an excellent introduction to the horror genre for the PG-13 audience.
  • Troll 2 was clearly intended to be a relatively child-friendly horror movie, with a Kid Hero, a prominent pee joke, and little in the way of gore or nudity. Despite this, it has an uncomfortable sexuality throughout, and is also generally just a very, very bad movie, leading a lot of viewers unclear on who, exactly, it was meant for and what it was trying to do.
  • The Monster Squad pits a team of Genre Savvy Free-Range Children against the classic monsters. It's an ode to the Universal Horror movies of the '30s, '40s, and '50s, but aimed at the children of the '80s. This is probably why it initially flopped - not many the kids who were the right age for this kind of adventure movie had grown up with the likes of Dracula (1931) or The Wolf Man (1941) (or would be allowed by their parents to watch it), though it eventually found its place as a Cult Classic.
  • Hocus Pocus, another one that flopped on its initial release but has since been Vindicated by History. A trio of Wicked Witches return from the dead to modern day Salem to prey on the life force of children on Halloween night, but the overall tone - and especially the Large Ham performances of the three witches - keep things fun and largely kid-friendly. It says a lot that the director of this movie, Kenny Ortega, went on to make High School Musical.
    • Hocus Pocus 2, when it eventually got made, carried on as another fun Halloween bit of spookery, but for the millennial crowd who had grown up with the first one and for a newer generation of children.
  • Ghostbusters can be described as "what if a supernatural horror movie like Poltergeist was suddenly interrupted by four wisecracking ghost exterminators played by '80s comics?" While the threats they face are presented as Lovecraftian in scale, all of them can be defeated with generous application of practical science, and even some of the ghosts themselves, most notably Slimer, are too cute and goofy to be actually scary. It even climaxes with an Eldritch Abomination taking the form of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, an in-universe marketing mascot. It's no wonder that, despite it being aimed mainly at adults, the film was a huge hit with kids, enough to spawn a spinoff Saturday morning cartoon and a Lighter and Softer sequel.
  • Pod People was a peculiar and not-entirely-intentional example of this trope. Director Juan Piquer Simon originally intended to make a straightforward Scifi Horror movie, but partway into production, the studio got wind of the success of a little film called E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, and insisted that Simon rework what he had to be more kid-friendly and include a subplot about a little boy befriending one of the aliens. The end result is a cute (if derivative) family film awkwardly grafted onto an exploitation horror film; to say that there is a tone problem would be an understatement. Nevertheless, it does have fans, mostly via its appearance on Mystery Science Theater 3000, who consider the tone problem the very thing that makes the movie So Bad, It's Good.
  • The Gate was made when the PG-13 rating was still fairly new, and is a movie dedicated to making the most of that newly-defined market, pitting a Kid Hero against the Stop Motion Legions Of Hell. It's often thought of as a great entry point for parents who want to introduce their kids to the horror genre.

  • The "Adrenalina" series (of two books) by Brazilian author Lilian Spyriano as well. The names and cover art are already indicative — Coração Acelerando ("Heart Going Faster") and Sobressalto ("Jolt", as in Jump Scare). Both are Gamebooks, the former set in a forest and the latter in the city. Both go all the way in the Sliding Scale of Comedy and Horror, particularly has most endings are kinda tranquil given what you get on the path: for instance, the protagonist feels an evil presence on the elevator going back to his apartment... but arrives safe at home, where his maid says: "Throw away this underwear! You're too old for me to accept washing it!"
  • There are a few Mad Libs books that deal with ghost stories, horror movies, and the like, such as Spooky, Silly Mad Libs and Night Of The Living Mad Libs, but the basic format of the game - together with their watered-down descriptions of the plots to horror movies - ensure that the results will be more Surreal Humor than anything genuinely frightening.

  • Bunnicula, a parody of horror literature, is about the eponymous Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane rabbit which Chester the cat tries to convince the protagonist, Harold the dog, is a vampire.
    • One of the sequels, Howliday Inn (and the later Return to Howliday Inn) mix it up a little bit by swapping the horror out for mystery and suspense, dropping Chester and Harold into a kid-friendly version of a Ten Little Murder Victims plot at a sinister boarding house for pets while the family are on vacation. Disney Death is in full effect though, and everything turns out okay.
  • Neil Gaiman has written a few of these, most of which began life as bedtime stories for his children. He has described his daughter as "a real life Wednesday Addams" and seems to greatly relish the opportunity to tell this type of story.
  • Goosebumps. The stories tread a very fine line, often threatening something truly horrible (usually in vague language), but not actually going through with it.
    • Taken quite literally with the story Vampire Breath: one of the elder vampires wore fanged dentures because he had no teeth.
    • In one of the Give Yourself Goosebumps books, you could end up in an endless maze that is supposed to contain various monsters. What you get are things like a slow-moving Frankenstein's monster and a toothless werewolf. Your character outright tells the creator that you think his monsters are lame.
  • The humorously-titled Deadtime Stories, which followed the Goosebumps formula.
  • The earlier Harry Potter books, as per the page quote. The later ones got a bit Darker and Edgier, but were still basically teen-appropriate.
  • Deltora Quest, despite its Medieval European Fantasy setting, eschewed a lot of the standard fantasy races and monsters in favour of a much stranger Dark Fantasy world, featuring:
  • De Griezelbus series by the Dutch author Paul van Loon are a perfect example of this. Almost every installment deals with a group of kids who are forced to listen to the stories of the werewolf, and later vampire/undead writer P. Onnoval, with a climax at the end of each book. The stories are a combination of horror clichés like vampires, werewolves, etc. and a great deal of suspense and most stories leave the end open, leaving you to wonder what happened. Overall, the tone of De Griezelbus is about on par with Goosebumps.
  • The Teacher from the Black Lagoon, along with its sequels, is about a boy who hears rumors that a certain teacher or school staff is a monster who terrorizes children in a nasty yet Bloodlessly childish and twisted hilarious manner. In the end, it is revealed that the rumors are false and the teacher is fun and child-loving. Black Lagoon Adventures, a chapter book series, does keep the staff as actual monsters, but they don't do anything scary (and no one minds them) and the conflicts presented are Real Life everyday problems a child would face.
  • The Bailey School Kids features a quartet of schoolchildren who constantly run into horror-movie monsters who want nothing more than to... teach and/or coach sports? Of course, the entire premise is Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane, so the people they run into could be just plain old weird, rather than out-and-out paranormal.
  • Roald Dahl featured Defanged Horrors in a lot of his children's stories, but The Witches - a story about a young boy and his grandmother taking on a conspiracy of child-murdering Wicked Witches - may be his only book to take the full plunge into this genre.
  • Rowley Jefferson's Awesome Friendly Spooky Stories: Not many of the stories are outright horrific, often having some sort of wholesome twist on them by the end. This is intentional, since it's Rowley writing the book, and he's easily scared himself.
  • All over the place in the children's book series Bat Pat and its animated adaptation.
  • The anthology Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and its sequels, although the illustrations were unsettling enough to cause a lot of controversy at the time, with detractors arguing that they were too scary for kids. A later rerelease replaced them with much tamer illustrations, which actually earned some backlash from fans of the books, who liked the original, creepier pictures. While the stories themselves are mostly pretty good (if, at times, a little familiar), it's the artwork people really remember.
  • Similiar to the above, Spooky Stories For a Dark and Stormy Night is a collection of largely kid-friendly ghost stories from world folklore and a few original stories, with excellent illustrations by Gahan Wilson that straddle the line between silly and genuinely creepy.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Goosebumps TV adaptation.
  • Are You Afraid of the Dark?, which uses the framing device of a group of friends telling scary stories around a campfire in order to convey stories of a similar calibre. Notably the series happens to have genuinely unsettling endings that would be right at home in a fanged horror series, most infamously one where a kid befriends the creature living in the basement by feeding it a bully and agrees to keep feeding it, starting with his own sister, in exchange for whatever he wants.
  • Another literal example, but also a parody: the Monty Python's Flying Circus episode "You're No Fun Anymore" features various uses of the title phrase. One of these is a parody of Hammer Horror films, with Count Dracula (played by Graham Chapman) looming menacingly over a sleeping woman. He goes in for a bite...and his fangs fall out. The woman wakes up, looks at him, and says, "You're no fun anymore."
  • Space (the Canadian equivalent of the Sci-fi channel) used to have short segments they'd play between shows to fill up their Canadian content requirements. One of the segments was a Blair Witch style 'recovered footage' short story, where we'd watch regular home movies that invariably took a turn for the strange. These where all done without explicitly showing anything evil, for instance, the family who are driving along only to be knocked out and awaken in a vast, empty, rock-strewn wasteland. The second was far scarier and was the tale of a crypt in the middle of a lost-graveyard containing... something. We aren't shown what it is, as our cameraman refuses to go down. But needless to say, whatever it is, it starts haunting him, and that Tome of Eldritch Lore his friend recovered before 'disappearing' isn't helping matters.
  • Doctor Who is a strange example of this. On the one hand, it's a show filled with cheesy CGI and a handful of mild jump scares. On the other hand, some of the villains can be genuinely scary even to adults.
    • "The Empty Child" and "The Doctor Dances" two-parter takes a fairly traditional zombie movie plot and alters it so there's no blood and no deaths. And it's possibly the creepiest bit of programming ever to be aired on daytime television.
    • "Blink" gives it a run for its money; it's terrifying, considering there are almost no special effects and only two character deaths, both of which are peaceful, non-violent, and off-screen. In it, the villains are angel statues which move only when they're not being observed. So long as you're looking at them, you're safe - unless, of course, you blink...
    • The Silence and the Vashta Nerada are also both disturbing. The Silence combine a fairly unsettling costume with a very creative premise (you forget about them the minute you look away) and the Vashta Nerada are a swarm of living shadows who eat victims alive in a split second. In fact, any episode written by Steven Moffat during Russell T. Davies' tenure as showrunner will probably have an original and terrifying villain.

  • Despite the name, Gottlieb's Haunted House has no truly frightening aspects, and the horrors are downplayed to a family-friendly level.

    Theme Parks 
  • The Haunted Mansion at Disney Theme Parks has always strived for just the right balance of fun and scary. This has resulted in more than a few redesigns and revisions to account for changing times, and different versions of the ride across the parks also have to account for different cultural sensibilities, too. Hence, the version in Paris, Phantom Manor, is Darker and Edgier than the others, while the Hong Kong Mystic Manor is Lighter and Softer.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean plays in a similar manner, starting off in a dark bayou and being taken down a waterfall into a cove full of skeletons. The child fears are tossed aside when Yo Ho! (A Pirate's Life For Me) kicks in.

    Video Games 
  • Banjo-Kazooie features a witch who wants to steal the beauty of the hero's sister as the main antagonist. Her lair, filled with things like cobwebs, cauldrons, and goblins, comprises the main section of the game. This trope is especially in play in Mad Monster Mansion.
  • Snowboard Kids 2 features a course called Haunted House.
  • Super Mario Bros.:
    • The entire series has places with ghosts (especially spherical ones called Boos). Most of these are in haunted houses with suitably creepy music, but there are also places such as a haunted forest, a sewer system, and at least two sunken ships. Bowser is also known to reside in a gothic castle at the end of most games.
    • Luigi's Mansion revolves around this trope from beginning to end.
  • Hollow Knight: A game with a story about a Hate Plague that's consuming a kingdom, with all sorts of terrifying monsters lurking in ancient caves, and horrifyingly amoral villains. The game also stars a cute bug as The Hero, and there are a lot of friendly characters that not only are concerned about their well-being but actually go to great lengths to help you and can have their kindness returned to them. Oh, and the Power of Friendship wins in the end. Unless, of course, you go for the DLC ending, in which you win by becoming an Eldritch Abomination.
  • Pokémon: Certain Pokédex entries in the series (especially about Ghost Pokémon) are this trope. For example, Gengar likes to imitate people's shadows under a full moon, and then laugh at their fright, Banette was a doll who seeks revenge on the child who disowned it, Dusclops traps anyone who looks into its eye into a void, and so on. Of course, none of this actually happens in-game. Usually, the Pokédex is considered a prime source of nightmare fuel.
  • Pumpkin Jack is a game about the Devil sending Stingy Jack to kill the one guy who could end his reign of terror. Of course, the lighthearted tone and cel-shaded, toonish look is what makes it family friendly.
  • JumpStart Adventures 4th Grade: Haunted Island is this trope of the Survival Horror genre. The gist of the game is you are a 4th grader who is alone on a haunted island trying to rescue the rest of their class from a witch who has turned them into monsters. Of course, everything is trying to scare you on the island - Fortunately, you can't actually die, but a lot of kids who played the game were quite scared by its atmosphere.
  • Star Wars: DroidWorks went this route, despite not being outright labeled as such. After the training missions are finished, you get to apply what you learned in several new missions, but this time the Empire's assassin droids are running around, and they will hunt you down unless you manage to outwit them. These droids have a fairly dumb AI, contrasting their chilling taunts, but the droid you build can't be equipped with any kind of shielding or weapons, let alone game-saving. What caught many kids off guard is that despite numerous hintings of the droids' presence in the missions, it's never stated that they're actually there until you see one face-to-face.
  • Spooky's Jump Scare Mansion embraces this from the word go: the titular ghost greets you at the door looking like something out of Adventure Time, and the titular jump scares are nothing more than harmless and frankly adorable cardboard popouts of skeletons, ghosts, and the like. After the fiftieth room, this rapidly gets subverted, with genuinely scary monsters and Apocalyptic Logs of the last people to be here.
  • The "Gamer" minigame from Game & Wario. You play as 9-Volt as he tries to game past his bedtime, but he has to watch for his mother, who you must watch on the TV by paying attention to various cues and not being faked out by false cues. Said mother becomes a creepy gray shadow with flashlight eyes, much of the cues involve suspenseful "Psycho" Strings, and she can invade 9-Volt's room with this playing.

    Web Original 
  • Some of the BIONICLE web serials. Author Greg Farshtey used to write violent, edgy Tabletop RPG novels before LEGO hired him as a magazine and comic writer, hence one of his complaints about the BIONICLE franchise was its lack of brutal bloodshed. In the short, written format of the web serials though, he could live out his fantasies, skirting around the issue of injecting horror and violence into a children's toy franchise by writing about bloodless Mechanical Lifeforms, keeping his descriptions brief and introducing expendable alternate universes where important characters could be killed off in morbid ways. Even Greg was at times shocked at what LEGO let him publish. Notable examples were the indescribable Eldritch Abomination Tren Krom or the final fate of Alternate Universe Tuyet, Portal Cut in two with her upper body ending up in the Void Between the Worlds — horrific in-universe, but not too different from taking apart an actual LEGO toy in real life.
  • used to have a game called “Attack of the Mutant Artificial Christmas Trees”. In it, you threw snowballs at the trees to defeat them. If you hit the elf, one of your Christmas lights would burn out. The game ended when all the lights burnt out. The evil trees had menacing faces and robotic arms, and said things like “Christmas is cancelled” and “bah humbug” in creepy deep voices, along with growling noises. The main menu featured the elf promoting the use of real trees rather than artificial ones: “Nothing says Christmas more than a real tree”.
    • Also on Primarygames was a Tetris-style game called “Shrunken Heads”. The heads had to be matched according to both their color and eyes in order to progress. While the heads looked somewhat adorable, they made gross gagging and grunting noises when they were dropped.

    Western Animation 
  • Adventure Time: The episode "Hug Wolf" plays out like a typical werewolf movie except that all the werewolves do is... hug people. Everyone still treats being hugged by a hug wolf as a horrible fate (because they're being hugged without consent).
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender has lots of very well done instances of kiddy horror.
    • The poster boy for Defanged Horrors would certainly be Koh the Facestealer, a massive centipede demon that steals faces. The faceless monkey in front of his lair is a genuine scare, but it's his voice and his words which are genuinely spine chilling.
    • The keeper of the library in the desert is just a very large owl, that's actually very polite and friendly. But it's clearly not a mere mortal creature and it's made very clear that one should not abuse its trust. And when it eventually gets angry, things turn really scary.
    • The Blood Red Moon during the season 1 finale.
    • Even though it's clearly on the side of the good guys, the Ocean Spirit single-handedly (with Aang as a medium) destroying the entire Fire Nation Fleet and its troops, is really a terrible sight to behold. The fact that he's terribly pissed after the Moon Spirit is killed by Zhao helps a lot to drive the hammer home.
    • There's no blood or corpses on screen the entire time, but it's explicitly mentioned many times how relatives died in battle or were executed by soldiers, and it's shown how soldiers abuse helpless farmers or how benders are put to forced labor in concentration camps. There's even a full-scale genocide and open discussions about assassinating the Big Bad. If there's a way to expose eight years old responsibly to these topics, Avatar probably comes closer to it than anything else.
    • The scene with Hama when she talks about bloodbending with such pride and pleasure also counts.
    • The fate of, uh, Zuko's face in "The Storm" is a good use of three different kinds of discretion shot to get the point across while still being (sort of) family-friendly. As the Discretion Shot summary states, things can be a lot more horrifying to the fertile imagination if you don't show it.
    • The creepy smile of Jo Dee.
  • Aaahh!!! Real Monsters is a series about, well, monsters that scare humans. All of their "scare scenes" are very effective in showing how the monsters scare humans without scaring the audience in the process, mostly through giving said monsters individual personalities and motives (they're only doing it to complete school, and stay alive).
  • Courage the Cowardly Dog, which often turned the Surreal Horror up a bit too much, and we all learned the hard way that you can't unsee this stuff...
  • While not borderline scary (at least for the older folks), Danny entering the Ghost Zone for the first time in Danny Phantom was deliberately given an atmospheric, spooky, and naturally ghoulish feel to it; they were really emphasizing just how vastly different this world is compared to Earth. Of course, it's always a little disturbing when numerous skeletons pop out of graves and try to latch onto you.
  • Dinosaur Train has several Halloween episodes, which all feature the kids going out at night and playing safe, staged, spooky activities. One of them, "Haunted Roundhouse", introduces Vlad Volaticotherium. With his purple and black colour scheme, Cute Little Fangs, eastern European accent, and resemblance to a bat, he evokes imagery of vampires, but he's just as harmless and friendly as everyone else in this show.
  • Fangface is a children's cartoon full of monsters and spooky imagery, but the emphasis is kept on the visual gags and the adventure. The title character, for example, is an extremely silly and harmless werewolf.
  • Gravity Falls is a paranormal mystery show mainly aimed at older kids, mixing a heartfelt Coming of Age Story with all the Twin Peaks-inspired Surreal Horror the creators could get away with.
  • While The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy was generally more of a wacky Black Comedy than an actual horror show, it was never afraid to go for genuine scares, particularly in the Grim & Evil era. For example, "Son of Nergal" is an atmospheric The Thing (1982) homage where most of the child characters are slowly killed off, with their frozen corpses shown prominently.
  • Over the Garden Wall is essentially a Folk Horror story aimed at kids, and with enough light-hearted breather episodes to keep the moments of genuine darkness from overwhelming the series.
  • The My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "28 Pranks Later" takes the concept of a Zombie Apocalypse and tones it down to be as kid-friendly as it could possibly be. Rather than actual undead creatures with decaying flesh, the "zombies" here are simply ponies with rainbow frosting on their faces partaking in an elaborate prank.
  • This trope is the whole point of Scooby-Doo. Especially the movies Zombie Island and Witch's Ghost, where the monsters the main characters confront are real, instead of disguised human criminals.
    • In “Scooby-Doo and the Reluctant Werewolf”, Dracula needs a werewolf for his car race. He turns Shaggy into one and promises Shaggy, Scooby, Scrappy, and Googie their freedom if they win. Of course, the monsters don’t play fair, and Dracula’s wife Vanna is too oblivious to really be of help.
    • Miss Grimwood, the monster kids, and their parents in “Scooby-Doo and the Ghoul School” are kind enough. Revolta and Creeper, however, not so much. Plus the Well-Dweller who Scrappy plays ball with looks rather unsettling.
  • While it still has its share of genuine scares, Tales From The Cryptkeeper is considerably toned down from the live-action series it's based on. The Cryptkeeper himself is even made less grotesque and more approachable. Some stories on the show even have monsters who are much less evil than they appear to be.
  • Teen Titans did this on occasion, such as when Raven pulled Dr. Light into some sort of dark vortex within her cloak, and when he came out he was curled up in the fetal position muttering, "S-so cold. Make it stop. Please make it stop." The episode "Haunted" also ranks up there as one of the creepiest pieces of Western Animation targeted towards kids. They took Slade, a villain who's already creepy in his own right, and left the audience constantly unsure whether he was Back from the Dead and torturing Robin, or whether Robin had gone insane and was mutilating himself. The truth is somewhere in between.

    Real Life 
  • In Japan, a popular children's game is kimodameshi, where kids have to accomplish some minor task in a creepy yet safe environment. Adult guardians will be lurking about to make things interesting for the participating children. Essentially this is a less malign version of the American haunted-house tradition; there are no maniacs with chainsaws in a kimodameshi, but there are mysterious lights and noises, and ghosts wearing white shirts splattered with red ink. Their imagination does the rest.
  • Deemed necessary by G. K. Chesterton:
    "Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon."