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Disguised Horror Story

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"I just realized we're fucking playing P.T. after I thought we were doing Sakura Spirit!"
Danny Sexbang, Game Grumps, after Doki Doki Literature Club! reveals its true colors

The purpose of a horror story is to scare the audience and scares rely, on some level, on the element of surprise — the more unexpected the scare, the more impact it has. But there lies a problem — an audience experiencing a horror story fully expects to be scared or exposed to horror tropes since that's what they came for. While this doesn't necessarily lessen the impact too much, as the story can still be effectively scary, an upcoming horror writer might decide they want to maximize the impact of the horror by making it as unexpected as possible.

Enter the Disguised Horror Story — a work in the horror genre that masquerades as a non-horror work. It sets up a bright, colorful, or serene tone and atmosphere to lure viewers into a false sense of security, then abruptly drops the facade for maximum impact. One such type of work is the Subverted Kids' Show, which often employs a stereotypical, Sugar Bowl-like aesthetic to make the subsequent twist even more jarring. The marketing can further enhance the effect by intentionally hiding the true nature of the work and playing up its saccharine elements — though just as many give away the story's true nature to attract horror fans who might otherwise ignore it. Either way, the twist will generally only work for so long before the work becomes known for its hidden dark nature, but one can still expect at least a few complaints from parents who thought it would be a great thing to show their kids.

While these can show up in any genre, they are most frequently independently produced Video Games and Visual Novels. Part of this is because big studios are frequently reluctant to take such a risk as deliberately misleading their audience as to the genre of work, whereas indie games are far friendlier to experimentation. The other reason is that many such games take inspiration from the massively popular Doki Doki Literature Club!, which exploded in popularity for its macabre subversion of the Dating Sim. Big studios can attempt this, however, though their execution will be different. The work will usually still be branded as what it is, but it will attempt to lure the viewer/player to a false sense of security before showing its true colors later on.

May involve a Cosmic Horror Reveal. Compare Surprisingly Creepy Moment, which is a horror-like moment or section of an otherwise non-horror work. Particularly common in the Digital Horror genre.

By the nature of this trope, entries below will be SPOILERS. Even just seeing a work listed is a spoiler in and of itself.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Bokurano is an initially charming Humongous Mecha show with child protagonists. All of those kids are going down, and you'd need to use factorials to calculate how many universes get destroyed throughout the series.
  • Digimon Ghost Game adheres to its Spooky Kids Media premise mixed with slice-of-life elements. The setting is a Lighter and Softer post-modern urban setting rather than the usual adventure story, and the protagonists are drawn in a more "adorable" style than those from prior seasons. It doesn't take long for the show to go straight into horror tropes such as Body Horror, Forced Transformations, Jump Scares, mass abductions, a few villains are even Serial Killers or mass-annihilators, and there is physical and mental torture in some episodes. Most episodes also feature the protagonists undergoing said body horror and mental torture.
  • Happy Sugar Life seems like a fluffy, pastel-colored yuri manga with an innocent-looking title...aside from that it's anything but. The girl-on-girl relationship is a possessive, abusive dynamic where a young girl locks a girl 7 years younger than her in her apartment and treats her like a pet instead of a person, and the setting is really not that great, with people attempting or committing rape just because they could get away with it if nobody tells the police about them.
  • The initial setup for I Want to Hold Aono-kun so Badly I Could Die makes the story seem like it's going be a simple story about a girl and her ghost boyfriend. Maybe a little bittersweet, but probably very Slice of Life, right? This lasts for most of the first chapter... until Aono demands that Yuri allow him to possess her toward the end of the first chapter. It starts to become clear that not only is something very wrong with Aono now that he's become a ghost but there are heavy hints that our protagonist has some psychological problems herself.
  • Made in Abyss appears, on the surface, to be a cute manga with adorable protagonists exploring a giant cave. Then we start learning more about the Curse of the Abyss... and then the cute little protagonist gets her arm poisoned and the resulting amputation botched. Once Bondrewd and the Ibulu Village get involved, all bets are off and the story takes a nosedive into some of the most horrifying instances of Body Horror and And I Must Scream ever illustrated.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica: The show initially appears to be, and was marketed as, just another cutesy Magical Girl Warrior series, to the point that the creators actively tried to hide the involvement of Gen Urobuchi (a writer famous for his grim and depressing stories) until the show's true, macabre nature became an open secret and Mr. Urobochi becomes credited in trailers. In the series, a Ridiculously Cute Weasel Mascot or whatever offers to make a deal to grant a young girl's wish and give her powers beyond imagination in return for fighting evil entities and saving the world. But the protagonists are fighting Witches that look like Eldritch Abominations and can Mind Rape innocent people until they're Driven to Suicide. Then one of them rips the head off one of the girls on camera, traumatizing the others, and from then on the show becomes a Genre Deconstruction that displays just how psychologically damaging their job actually is. And that's even before we learn that this Weasel Mascot is keeping some horrible secrets about being a Magical Girl from the girls.
  • The anime adaptation of School Days begins with the simple premise of a romantic comedy with protagonist Makoto Itou needing Sekai Saionji's help in wooing Kotonoha Katsura while Sekai is already crushing on him. While the visual novel had many good ends and only a few bad ones, the anime infamously made a series that was much more bleak and horrific than the original visual novel, depicting Makoto as The Sociopath and his love interests as two yanderes broken psychologically by his seeing them only as sex objects.
  • School-Live! is an excessively saccharine Slice of Life high school anime for almost all of the first episode. There are hints here and there that it won't stay that way, but everything still seems relatively normal... until the very end of the episode, where it's revealed that there's a Zombie Apocalypse afoot. Only then does the true nature of the series become apparent, and it doesn't get any better from there. It's disturbing not just because of what's going on, but also because of why it was so sweet and cutesy until then: one of the central protagonists lost her grip on reality and is imagining everything as it was, rather than as it is.
  • Shimeji Simulation is what you would expect for every single Slice of Life story: a story about a girl who leaves a two-year reclusion and tries to find friends played out in a traditional comedy format. Until the next few chapters start to peel that disguise away: it is an Existential Horror, surrealism story about Shijima, despite her friendships with Majime and the rest of Hole-Digging Club members, struggling from her inner crisis after her reclusion, giving away from her apathetic and quiet nature. There's the fact that the town, West Yomogi, is extremely empty and unusual, which is a Thriving Ghost Town, a product of the world being a simulated reality, which is only one-half of what this trope embodies. Then, after the story introduces the Knight of Cerebus, Big Sis, the story takes a very dramatic, if not permanent turn when Big Sis battles the Gardener, reads through the minds of humanity with a machine and it doesn't even taking account with how she altered reality in the first place by giving humanity Reality Warping powers to give them the freedom to warp everything to their own imaginations. And cue to another ten chapters, the rogue clone of Big Sis carbon-copied the same thing as what her prime did, except this time she wanted humanity to use the same power to change themselves, destroying the world's natural order and freefalling it to chaos. After that, the fabric of reality takes a massive downturn and begins to collapse that it's barely recognisable and Shijima's attempt of kicking Majime out triggered another Darkest Hour, before putting her into an unforeseen dilemma where it echoes her reclusive past. And Yomikawa, the Plucky Comic Relief of the manga, is an Ambiguously Human who is no stranger to the simulation's mysteries, as she spouts a major reveal regarding how their world is just a byproduct of a simulation, meaning everything that happened through the entirety of it just happens inside a fusiform-shaped Cyberspace. And the reveal regarding Shijima and Big Sis being mere creations of it hits the nail hard, such as the fact that their orphaned life was not because of their missing parents, but because they were a creation in the first place, along with many others in this world.
  • Summer Time Rendering: The promotional materials for the anime, the cover of the first volume, and the prologue suggest a coming of age story with a hint of romance and intrigue on a sunny, rural island. While things take a sudden turn for the worse when three characters are murdered in cold blood by the end of the first chapter, the plot doesn't show its true colors as a horror thriller until the corpses pile up at the summer festival.

    Fan Works 
  • Cupcakes (Sergeant Sprinkles) is going for this, but nearly everybody in the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fandom already knows about the twist. It starts out innocently, with Pinkie Pie inviting Rainbow Dash over to bake cupcakes, but then Pinkie takes her to the basement to graphically slaughter her.
  • My House bills itself as a simple Doom map recreating the childhood home of the uploader's late friend, as was all the rage back in the early days of Doom mapping. The unfinished map was discovered on a floppy disk among the friend's belongings after his death and was finished by the uploader, touched up with some modern quality-of-life features that didn't exist back then, and released as a tribute. However, as the player begins to dig deeper into the house, enemies will mysteriously respawn, the music slowly becomes off-beat, starts skipping notes, and changing instruments, before outright devolving into static and synth drones, and the layout of the house becomes more and more surreal. This quickly gives way to increasingly strange set pieces that mimic a variety of liminal spaces and can similarly bend their own rules to unnerve the player. Performing the wrong actions can additionally send players into locations such as a burned-down version of the house and The Backrooms. The Google Drive where the map is downloaded from also contains an Apocalyptic Log written by the uploader, detailing how the map began to take on a life of its own as he worked on it, with new additions he definitely didn't remember adding mysteriously appearing overnight. It also describes a series of incredibly bizarre dreams he had (which are actually hints on how to get the true ending). Oh, and the word "house" is always written in blue. Because of course it is.
  • Regular Pasta seems to be more comedic despite being inserted into a creepypasta-themed contest. Mario is chilling in a pasta restaurant and decides to go find Peach, who went inside a painting to an alternate pasta dimension where all their pasta is from. At first, everything seems relatively fine. Then Mario finds Bowser's mutilated, dismembered corpse and learns that reality itself is being torn apart, and it gets darker from there culminating in a fight against the princess herself having turned into a Mechanical Abomination.
  • Ribbit: Starts out as a spiritual successor to the Games Repainted mod for Deltarune, with pretty much every single sprite and line of dialog replaced with a meme. It starts to go downhill when Susie and Lancer reveal the true nature of Prince Noyno. Then Susie kills Lancer and not a moment after that is played for anything but horror.
  • The My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fan game Story of the Blanks starts out as a nice, interesting little game starring cute little Apple Bloom finding a town full of blank flank ponies in the Everfree Forest. Then you find a skeleton in the fireplace. And that's just how the scary part STARTS.
    • In a similar vein, Luna Game was initially dispersed in copies throughout the internet as a My Little Pony Fan Game platformer. Playing through it reveals it to eventually be a Screamer Prank with plot.
  • Super Mario Dolor intentionally looks like a typical cheap, low-effort fan game like so many of them, with the same Excuse Plot of Mario rescuing Princess Peach from King Bowser. Then in the first stage, he reaches the exit only to abruptly run out of time and die, and when retrying the stage, it suddenly turns into a nightmarish world of blood, red textures, and eyes. The rest of the levels jump between typical Mario fare and Surreal Horror, with a subtle deeper plot in the background about Mario suffering from depression after the death of his brother Luigi.

    Films — Animation 
  • Alma has a cute art style, was directed by a former Pixar animator, and starts in a very innocent manner, before turning into a horror tale with the main character becoming trapped inside the body of a doll, alongside numerous other children who have met the same fate.
  • Felidae looks at first glance as another animated movie about talking animals made in the 90s, with a cute art style, giving the impression it might be a kid-friendly movie. The original German trailer was even labeled as a "Youtube Kids" video.The trailer in question does not reveal at all it's actually a horror movie featuring lots of death and violence. And also cat sex.
  • Momotaro's Divine Sea Warriors starts out as a cutesy film with adorable animals, but once the title character shows up it turns into disturbing war propaganda.
  • The film version of Watership Down starts out with a fun and interesting myth about the creation of the world by Frith and how the rabbits and other animals came to be. Then we flash to the main plot and get a group of animated rabbits, and it all looks like an enjoyable kid's movie about cute little bunnies until suddenly Fiver mentions something about the field being covered with blood. It quickly goes downhill from there.

    Films — Live Action 
  • From Dusk Till Dawn's now-famed Halfway Plot Switch plays with this trope in an interesting way. The supernatural horror elements, namely the vampires, don't show up until midway through the movie. On the other hand, many viewers find the first half—about a family held hostage by two criminals, one of whom (Richie) is a total psycho—to be the truly harrowing portion, with the Realism-Induced Horror even more disturbing than the subsequent over-the-top gore and monster effects.
  • The Neverending Story seems like your typical kids' fantasy movie, but it pretty rapidly takes a turn for the creepy, with a fair amount of bizarre and disturbing imagery.

  • The Last Dragon Chronicles start as a light-hearted story about clay dragons and squirrels. By the third book, the main character is speared through the heart, malevolent extra-dimensional beings with body-stealing powers are wrestling for control of the universe, and the stakes are going through the roof. This gets taken up to eleven in Dark Fire, the fifth book of the series, which includes a wildly gory sequence in which an innocent civilian has her organs pushed through her chest by dragon claws and another character is melted by a cascade of dragon urine. The sheer scale of the violence and horror compared to the innocence of the series’ start is staggering.
  • Ringing Bell, a children's book (and movie) about a cheerful, adorable lamb with a bell around his neck frolicking in the meadows and having a very warm relationship with his mother. That is, until around the halfway point, where the Wolf mentioned earlier bursts into the barn while his flock sleeps and kills some of the sheep, one of which is his mom, resulting in a heart-wrenching scene of him sobbing hysterically over her corpse. The lamb swears revenge and eventually gets groomed into a horrifying horned beast with a thirst for blood and a strong sense of nihilism. At the end, Chirin is driven away from his farm after killing the wolf. Not helping is that the story is based on Takashi Yanase's experiences in World War II.
  • The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle first presents itself as a whimsical story about a princess living in a marzipan castle who has lots of grand adventures with her beloved teddy bear, though a sharp-eyed reader might notice some signs that everything is not rainbows and unicorns, even before you get to the third ending (aptly named "The One With Teeth").

    Live-Action TV 
  • Inside No. 9 is an anthology series of many genres, though usually dark comedy, often horror, and occasionally goes out of its way to look like something else. Notable instances include:
    • The Devil Of Christmas is an interesting case, as the episode is presented as a so bad it's good horror movie about Krampus. Meant to look like it's from the 1970s, with director commentary and delighting in replicating the period tone. And then the real horror makes an appearance.
    • To Have And To Hold, is the story of a marriage slowly crumbling as a couple drift apart, due to the wife's past infidelity. Such quiet, personal tragedies and the grim comedy in them appears to be the episode's focus until we see what's happening in the basement...
    • Three By Three, an episode dressed up to look like a quiz show, complete with Lee Mack hosting as himself and a non-standard intro. Even if you realize it's Inside No. 9, it looks like one of their tragic stories of human failing. However, throughout the episode, subtle hints imply all is not as it seems but only the last 20 seconds is undeniably supernatural horror.
  • The first episode of WandaVision starts off as a simple sitcom made in the style of The Dick Van Dyke Show. However, during a dinner with Vision's boss and wife, Mr. Hart asks where Wanda and Vision came from, beginning the unsettling, true nature of the show as Wanda hesitates to answer, Mr. Hart nearly chokes to death on his food, and his wife repeats "stop it" to both her husband and soon Wanda like a broken record. While the tonal shift was brief, it doesn't last for long. The fact that Vision is suddenly alive again with no explanation after his death in Avengers: Infinity War is another early sign that nothing is as it seems.

  • "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" by The Beatles, a track off of Abbey Road. It starts out with Maxwell, a med student, asking science major Joan out on a date. It sounds a lot like "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" off The White Album, another cheerful McCartney ditty about young love. Then Maxwell bashes Joan's skull in with the hammer. We soon find out that he's a Serial Killer.
  • Pretty much every song by PEPOYO could be this. Her custom Vocaloid, Poyoloid, looks like an innocent, colorful and adorable robot alien (Like this), but looking closer shows a very dark undertone, with deceptively cheery songs about suicide and character biographies with allegorical references to many dark subjects.
  • "mo°lmo°l by sasakure.UK, specifically its accompanying animation. A bear-like creature travels on a flying saucer to a planet, and many love it. Soon after, it reveals its true form, brainwashes part of the population in horrifying fashion and has its brainwashed supporters hijack the media to brainwash the rest of the population. It then absorbs the population, becomes planet-sized, and eats the planet whole.

    Video Games 
  • Ai To Yuuki To Kashiwamochi, from the same creator as Irisu, is another puzzle game with a dark, dark secret. Ai-chan loves sweets and her boyfriend Yuki, and the game revolves around eating sweets. Then the sweets turn into pills, Ai turns out to be a seriously-ill patient, and Yuki is a shinigami Yandere who is trying to kill Ai.
  • Andy's Apple Farm: A game about a talking apple playing games with his friends sounds like it could be an ordinary kid's game... until all sorts of glitches start appearing and it becomes clear the game is haunted by an Eldritch Abomination who has trapped an entire family inside the game.
  • Arcaea is on the surface, an innocent, yet difficult rhythm game with an elegant aesthetic and a rather adorable Improbably Female Cast. But pay attention to the character story logs, and you'll find some rather depressing topics. For example, Hikari's side of the Main Story which starts with the innocent girl in white basking herself in pure happiness. It quickly degenerates into our cute little protagonist rendering herself catatonic with the happiness, and only gets infinitely worse when Tairitsu gets involved.
  • Baldi's Basics in Education and Learning may look like a 90's kid's edutainment game, but it's in fact a scary, action-packed survival horror title. That said, the surprise is mitigated by the game's opening screen which states outright that it's a horror game and not a real educational game.
  • Bevel's Painting actually starts out rather lighthearted, with the painting world looking like a Sugar Bowl where cute bears serve meals and some invisible guy plays piano. Then you end up killing said guy, and the world turns hostile.
  • Bonnie's Bakery is a cute Animesque game where you bake pastries for your Funny Animal customers. It then abruptly shifts to being a Survival Horror game, where you are imprisoned in Bonnie's basement and must escape before she uses your flesh to make meat pies.
  • Bubbaruka!, on the surface, is a Tamagotchi-style pet raising simulator where you pet, feed, and play with adorable creatures. For your first pet, you can play a skiing minigame where you collect coins in a snow world. If you collect 10, a side path opens to a cabin… which turns out to be a dark building where your pet's eerie footsteps can be heard. The game glitches and you are promptly booted out, but you can go back into the house, which is actually a Haunted House. From then on, the game becomes an Explorer Horror where you navigate various haunted areas, avoid the spirits haunting the game, and slowly piece together the mysterious disappearances of the game's developers through notes they left.
  • The Catto Boi series of games starts off in a bright and colorful setting with the titular feline protagonist performing mundane tasks such as collecting biscuits or retrieving pearls for Big Boi. Then the game starts to glitch which slowly turns into a horror genre as the player resets the game multiple times, and it is heavily implied that an unknown Entity is responsible for corrupting Catto Boi's world to begin with.
  • Cave Story has a Badass Adorable player character and his Action Girl partner, Ridiculously Cute Critter NPCs, and a Recurring Boss made of ham and soap, with a few sinister implications as to the plans of the Doctor. Then said Doctor reveals himself to be irredeemably evil in the worst way possible, the whole supporting cast is dead, captured or incapacitated, and in order to prevent a repeat of the war ten years ago the characters either have to destroy the whole island (Normal ending) or go to Hell and kill the island's prisoner (Best ending).
  • Confess My Love: The game is pretty innocent for a while until the player finds a knife, and "Liza" tries to murder them in the "Mutated Room".
  • The freeware game Dreaming Mary starts out, on the surface, in an adorable pastel-colored dream world where you play with a bunny, a penguin, a fox, and a boar, fulfilling certain tasks from the first three animals and eventually getting all four seeds necessary to join the boar behind the last door. You're told through the radio that there are only three doors in the hallway, and you shouldn't look for a fourth one. Obviously, there IS a hidden fourth door, and entering it will unlock an alternate version of the dream world that can be entered through the painting in your bedroom... It's a shadowy, Real Is Brown, blood-stained living room with the plushies that three of the dream animals represent (each getting torn up after receiving a seed) and the stuffed head of a boar, and it's all pivotal to unlocking the Golden Ending. Then you have to complete tasks to gain seeds; failing prompts the bunny and fox to make a horrifying Nightmare Face. The boar, Boaris, is extremely creepy throughout, making disturbing innuendos towards Mary, and in the fourth room, Mari gets chased by a giant, crude, shadowy figure who calls her a "sweet girl" in his deep, uncanny voice. Worst of all, Boris and the Yeti shadow represent Mari’s father, and the whole thing is heavily implied to be a metaphor for Parental Incest.
  • Duck Season initially presents itself as a lovely VR-based homage to the old 80s games, especially Duck Hunt. Antagonize the dog, however, and the weird stuff begins to happen. Namely, the game starts glitching out, the dog will manifest itself in the real world, threatening you, and after the Stage 8, your character's mother will be killed (outside the Game Within a Game), as the dog taunts you to "come face me", and depending on the ending, it either traps you inside the game forever or attempts to kill you, succeeding in one of the bad endings.
  • Digimon Survive: The title being Digimon Survive and not Digimon Story, and being billed as a Survival Horror entry in a more-or-less kid-friendly Mons series, speaks volumes, but it does start off with a relaxing extracurricular camping trip...which goes horribly wrong when several students and two locals get Trapped in Another World and were chased by deadly, hostile "not" Digimon (dubbed as "Kemonogami" or "monsters"). From that point on all hell breaks loose — human party members can actually go insane and die and there's (usually) nothing you can do about it even if the game sometimes gives you options that tell them to chill out. In the absolute worst-case, some major party members go insane out of seeing their loved ones die and turn into terrifying monsters that you must put down, and the Branch-and-Bottleneck Plot Structure and Multiple Endings system is set up so callously that there's no saving anyone whenever it happens. And that's not even getting into the supernatural twist the game pulls out near the end, with century-long grudges and (in the Golden Ending) the ghosts of long-dead people being involved in the mix.
  • In the first playthrough of Dream of Gluttony, everything seems innocent enough- Sissy is a cute girl who goes through Food Town, a Sugar Bowl full of a quirky Ragtag Bunch of Misfits who identify as humanoid foods and act friendly to her. Then Sissy goes off on her own and encounters Chili, a Serial Killer who devours her victims, and she eats Sissy. The New Game Plus has Sissy admit to being a human, and then all hell breaks loose as the inhabitants reveal themselves as misanthropic humans who try to kill her for fear that she will expose them to the world. Sissy ends up going through immense Sanity Slippage while running for her life.
  • Ecco the Dolphin - A game starring a cute dolphin who has lost his family to extremely hungry aliens. He must go back and forth through time, battling past sharks, jellyfish, enormous spiders, and trilobites, braving eerie music and disturbingly solemn, frightened fellow dolphins, to rescue them and the Earth. Later locales include a meat grinder scrolling level where you're continually molested by terrifying masses of chitin and blobs of acidic green goo and slime tubes in the sky that cause you to plummet five miles into roadpizza if you mess up and fall out. The final game in the series has you swim inside the body of a giant alien and attack its beating heart.
  • Eversion starts out as a brightly-colored relentlessly cheerful platformer and ends as a Cosmic Horror Story, with the player character either being or being eaten by an Eldritch Abomination. Although if you know who H. P. Lovecraft is, the opening screen serves as a warning about that, as the game starts off by quoting him.
  • The home page of the Fancy Island site makes it look like a typical, cutesy anime game, with a Moe Cat Girl going through the titular island and an also-cute cat spirit explaining the rules. But once you click on the image leading to the rest of the site (which has a disclaimer telling you that this is indeed a real horror game above it), you are immediately greeted with what looks like the entrance door to a haunted house, and entering greets you with the unnerving head of what appears to be a Stringy-Haired Ghost Girl (or, sometimes, a Creepy Doll head which cries blood and creepily laughs if you click on it). And it all goes downhill from there, with Nightmare Face after Nightmare Face and plenty of Surreal Horror.
  • The game Fantasy Maiden's Odd Hideout starts out cute and lighthearted, with young friends playing together in a house made of desserts, and fairies who live inside the house. Then the doorknob on the house's only exit is removed, and it and all the windows are boarded up, trapping them inside, and it all goes downhill from there. Subverted with Bernd's story, which is more sad and depressing than scary.
  • Generic Fishing Game looks like a minimalistic fishing game with only four fishes to catch, and Spacebar is the only button you can catch. But catching one of the fish with human faces is only a warning about the long nightmare coming next.
  • Go Go Hamster Chef (link) is an incredibly cute and cheerful game where you gather vegetables to cook meals and deliver them to friends. But why is that bear forbidding you from going in the only place where onions grow? It was made for a game jam with the theme of "Incompatible Genres", so if the first genre is a cooking game, the second is, you guessed it, horror.
  • Hungry Lamu is a game where you need to find fruit the feed to the titular llama. Things get a little weird as the fruit happens to be sentient, but at least it appears willing to be eaten. It then turns out that the "fruit friends" are humans, and as the final survivor you must escape from Lamu before he devours you too.
  • Hypnagogia and its sequel Boundless Dreams are both inspired by LSD: Dream Emulator, but start off pretty harmless; the first few mandatory worlds in both games are beautiful, happy, and populated with quirky inhabitants. The second game's fourth and fifth worlds are more somber, but still nothing scary. But the second half of the first game and the last third of the sequel (plus the second secret world) are when the game takes on the darker half of its inspiration, with dark and spooky locations like an Old School Building, a haunted mansion, an abandoned mall, and a surreal nightmare world.
  • Irisu Syndrome!. On the surface: a cutesy, if Nintendo Hard, Falling Blocks game, starring bunny girl Irisu. Who is a mentally unstable bunny girl who has to fight off her urge to kill her friends (which the block game symbolizes), an urge that her crush/boyfriend Uujima Satoshi tries to encourage, and in the bad endings, she gives in to her urges.
  • Jimmy and the Pulsating Mass starts out as a seemingly light-hearted EarthBound (1994)-inspired JRPG with a few unsettling elements here and there until the titular Pulsating Mass first strikes. Upon returning to the Bee Hive, you find it's transformed into a filthy, dilapidated hellhole inhabited by zombified worker bees with the boss being the Queen Bee, who has undergone severe Body Horror and suddenly has a murderous hatred for Jimmy. From here on out, the game shifts between light-hearted and whimsical and nightmarish, especially in the optional Nightmare Zones; side areas representing a specific phobia. The game's horror comes from the contrast between the childish fantasy and the visceral/psychological horror associated with the Pulsating Mass.
  • Let's Find Larry! initially appears as a harmless Hidden Object Game, but it gets darker as the game progresses. Larry thinks you're stalking him and wants you to leave him alone, your magnifying glass zooms into dark crime scenes, and some shady men try to have you close into Larry's whereabouts. Then you're given a .50 caliber sniper rifle to kill him, only for you to be pulled from the omniscient 3rd-person view and into the map to be stabbed to death.
  • Live A Live is an Ur-Example of the Disguised Horror Story in a video game. Around half of the chapters tend to masquerade themselves as something more-or-less innocent like their genre would suggest, so unless you chose the Distant Future chapter first, it's possible to stumble into a chapter where nothing out of the ordinary happens only for the facade to be suddenly pulled off without warning. Of course, the game itself also counts as an example once the true nature of its overall story arc is revealed in the Middle Ages Chapter.
    • The Imperial China chapter begins as a standard Wuxia setting where an old Shifu goes searching for new disciples to inherit his techniques on. It goes well until you beat up a local gang of bandits. Then a rival sect kills two of your pupils and wrecks your shack as retaliation, and the only inheritor who survived is the one you sparred with the most.
    • The Present Day chapter seems like a Lighter and Softer campaign akin to Punch-Out!! (especially when compared to the Near Future and Distant Future scenarios) where Masaru spars with martial arts masters all over the world and learns their fighting techniques...until you defeat all the opponents. The Demon King Odio BGM starts blaring in the background and the portraits of the martial arts masters you just fought fade to grey. Then, Odie O'bright approaches Masaru and tells the boy that he killed all of them.
    • The Near Future Chapter seems like a bog-standard Humongous Mecha 80's Cyberpunk anime with a Stock Shōnen Hero protagonist who beats up thugs for fun and helps a former local biker gang leader run a Taiyaki stand, complete with the resident friendly Absent-Minded Professor who creates strange inventions and takes care of said mecha. But reach the Tsukuba facility, and the story goes really dark. Not only do you find out that you're actually dealing with a political conspiracy where 2,000 people are sacrificed off by a group of madmen to awaken the wicked God Odeo, your orphanage gets burnt by the local thugs, your caretaker is not returning for another day, and those 2,000 people the conspiracy sacrificed won't come back to life.
    • Even the Distant Future chapter starts out fairly light-hearted, as the robot Cube gets a few moments to socialize with the crew of the spaceship he's on. As soon as the ship's communications system gets taken out, though, everything goes completely wrong. Soon enough you're running from a gigantic alien beast and trying to survive as even the game's interface starts trying to kill you.
    • The Middle Ages chapter takes everything about the stereotypical RPG fantasy that Square Enix is famous for, turns it upside-down and deconstructs it to oblivion. What appears to be a stereotypical "hero and mage saves princess" story takes a sudden dark turn when the hero Oersted accidentially kills the king, is instantly hated by all of his kingdom's citizens bar one kid and finds out his mage friend Streibough betrayed him to get princess Alethea for himself. And when he does kill Streibough and meet Alethea once again, she declares Streibough as her beloved and commits suicide. All which sets up poor Oersted to become the Demon King Odio who threatens the space-time continuum. And no, Oersted doesn't get a happy ending no matter what, the best you can do for him is to give him a sweet death and have him die as himself.
  • Mizuiro Blood, at a first glance, seems to be a plucky Minigame Game where a robot goes to school and participates in innocent activities with her classmates with characters drawn by the same artist behind the Taiko no Tatsujin line of rhythm games. Then a bunch of "aliens" invade Mizuiro's planet, the school Mizuiro goes to was revealed to be a military training camp, and the entire thing was implied to be a Stealth Sequel of the "United Galaxy Space Force" line of games (also made by Namco) from the alien's viewpoint where we are the invaders attacking them.
  • Mr. Elephant Goes to New York is about the titular flat-cap-wearing pachyderm on a two-week work placement at an office in a cartoony New York. The humor is slightly cynical and there are strange elements like a character who follows you when prompted and only stops when you get far away enough from them, but all seems silly and innocent. Day 2, however, begins with Mr. Elephant having a nightmare about a large hand, accompanied by discordant screeching in the background. As the fortnight progresses, the nightmares continue, music stops, the scenery becomes darker and less saturated, characters either disappear or taunt you, and even that aforementioned following character starts following you without you prompting them. All throughout the game, you may even get messages about a character named Tomas and how he was abused by his mother.
  • At first glance, Mr. TomatoS seems like a harmless-looking Expy of the "Hungry Pumpkin" Flash game, but should you anger the eponymous tomato enough times or feed him enough food with his anger meter below 10, the game, especially Mr. Tomatos himself, suddenly takes on a more sinister and creepy atmosphere.
  • NEEDY STREAMER OVERLOAD starts off as a colorful and peppy Raising Sim where you aim to turn a girl called Ame into an internet celebrity, with a fittingly cheerful theme song, "Internet Overdose". Once you go further in however, the game starts showing its true nature as a depressingly realistic portrayal of a mentally ill girl struggling to manage herself and how far people can go on the internet. Then you reach some of the endings, which feature nasty stuff among the lines of Ame committing suicide, losing her mind over haters and starting a conspiracy cult... and once you have the fortitude to unlock all the endings, you reach the true ending, which changes everything you know upside-down. Ame was actually a schizophrenic who invented your in-game identity "P-Chan" as the voice on your head and you are Ame all along. This automatically puts a darker and cynical twist to the meanings of many endings, including ones that are seemingly optimistic.
  • OMORI, despite being billed as a horror game and having an eerie beginning, is largely innocuous with the horror elements confined largely to the background or specific sections of the game. Headspace’s nature as a severely troubled teenager’s way of coping with the trauma of his sister’s death becomes more and more prevalent until exploding fully into horror with Black Space, a surreal nightmare scape representing the Awful Truth of Sunny’s repressed trauma.
  • Petals initially appears to be a rather serene First-Person Snapshooter where the main objective is to simply take pictures of plants in the wilderness. It's actually a tie-in/prequel for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (2023), and to drive the point home ends with the player being murdered by Leatherface.
  • PortaBoy+ starts off as a retro-flavored WarioWare-style collection of minigames, played on a handheld Game Boy Expy with appropriate graphics and music, and a geometric shape background behind. Then you notice the game gives you a shotgun when you reach 9 points. Then you see the games starting to glitch and distort when you reach 12 points. Then at 15 points the geometric shapes give way to a dimly lit hallway with monstrous Portaboy-zombies ambling toward you, and you now have to juggle killing the monsters with the shotgun and completing the increasingly glitchy minigames and uncovering a story about a MegaCorp hooking brains up to computers to mine crypto. The art was made by Lumpy Touch, who is very well known for blending retro video game aesthetics and Eldritch Abomination horror.
  • Content warning at the beginning of the game notwithstanding, Prom Dreams begins as a fairly typical harem dating sim, complete with upbeat music, comedic scenes, and many of the genre's standard tropes. In fact, the player can win their chosen love interest's heart and make it to prom night without experiencing a single horrific element, only for said love interest to be killed suddenly and brutally, without any way for the player to avoid it. From there, the game "resets" itself several times, sans the girl killed in each previous loop, with the atmosphere becoming more horrific as the dating sim plot gives way to a supernatural murder mystery.
  • At first glance, Radiant Silvergun appears to be a fairly by the numbers shooter and the opening cutscene reinforces this with its silly art-style and rampant slapstick. This serves to mask it as one of the bleakest story driven shooters ever made with it rather than being a power fantasy to succeed against impossible odds, it acts as a hopeless struggle for survival with no winners and ending with the death of the last of humanity and everything being trapped in a Stable Time Loop, doomed to repeat all of this in perpetuity.
  • Shipwrecked 64: If not for the warning at the start of the game, you might mistake this game for a typical mascot platformer... at least, until some of the "artifacts" like disturbing images of Bucky start popping up.
  • Lampshaded by the creator of Sofia? in the Developer's Room, who admits that the game was made on the concept of "cute exterior hiding dark horror interior". It starts out innocently enough, with Crow going to meet his cute boyfriend and them having a fun day together. Then a masked intruder breaks into the house at night and it turns into a horror game. Later on, the seemingly happy Jenkins household is revealed to have been one giant, horrific experiment in immortality through cloning.
  • Spec Ops: The Line appears to be, at first glance, a generic, dime-a-dozen Call of Duty-inspired modern war shooter, albeit with the somewhat unique premise of being set in a city that has been ravaged by sandstorms and seemingly abandoned. However, before long, the game reveals itself to be a Deconstruction Game that uses the lens of horror to examine war shooter tropes. The game employs Alien Geometries that don't seem to make any sort of sense, Mind Screw as the player character gradually loses his sanity because of his actions causing the agonizing death of dozens of innocent civilians, including several children, war crimes depicted with brutal realism, all topped off with the reveal that the main antagonist was Dead All Along, and the main character is the true antagonist who has committed war crimes, atrocities, and destroyed hundreds of lives in his desire to become a hero.
  • Spooky's Jump Scare Mansion presents itself as a Defanged Horrors parody of horror games, where you navigate the house of the titular Cute Ghost Girl, and at most you get startled by cute cardboard cutouts. That is until you progress further into the game, where you encounter the actual monsters and come across various notes left by previous travelers. Spooky herself is also heavily implied to be not what she seems.
  • In Super Surprise Party, the colors and visuals are all cute and sweet, from the smiling party-guests to the gumdrop rain. But the actual game is a Psychological Horror, with a creepy, short-tempered narrator and a location-tracking gimmick.
  • Inverted with The Typing of the Dead, which is just as gruesome-looking as any of the House of the Dead franchise but is at heart a typing teacher.
  • Yummy Breakfast starts out cute and simple, with a girl just trying to make herself a "yummy breakfast". It takes a turn for the creepy as she gets more and more desperate for food, resorting to eating live animals and a girl.

    Visual Novels 
  • Although Cooking Companions is openly advertised as a Horror story, it starts off rather cutesy with its Chompette mascots and bonding with your fellow hikers before the inevitable craving for fresh meat arises...
  • Doki Doki Literature Club!, ostensibly a cutesy Romance Game, starts with requiring you to accept a warning for disturbing content, but the game remains light-hearted and cheerful for most of Act 1. Things get a little darker when Sayori reveals she suffers from depression, but it's not unheard of for some romance games to have heroines with psychological issues that serve as character arcs, so it still comes as a massive shock when the player character finds Sayori's hanging corpse, and the game restarts. From that point onwards, the game starts getting very glitchy and bloody as the girls reveal their Dark And Troubled Pasts and deteriorate into Yanderes, only for it all to culminate in an elaborate use of The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You that explains the surreal plot but has seriously freaked out many people in its own right.
  • On the surface, Don't Toy With Me is a cute story about two adorable Living Toys learning to befriend each other in spite of their differences. Then the owner starts playing favorites and antagonizing the other toy, and it eventually leads to one of them snapping and murdering the other, with one of the routes revealing that the owner has previously killed other toys for not getting along with Dahlia.
  • From the Sun to the Moon starts out like your standard cute dating simulator, only to rapidly shift into themes of Body Horror, child abuse and Cosmic Horror as the plot progresses.
  • How To Date A Magical Girl!, A cute game about going to a school for magical girls and looking for love until it suddenly becomes a murder mystery game.
  • Higurashi: When They Cry has an ominous intro but otherwise starts off as a brightly colored visual novel about a teenage boy and his cute girlfriends in their early '80s rural village. But Higurashi is not a Coming of Age Story and is especially not a romance visual novel. It's a murder-mystery and Psychological Horror series, which becomes more obvious when Keiichi finds a newspaper talking about a murder that happened a few years ago and suddenly his friends turn Cute and Psycho, the town is said to be under a curse, and a nefarious conspiracy lurks in the background.
  • Penthos is an interesting example, as it doesn't attempt to pose as anything but a horror story, just a more traditional pastiche of familiar Slasher Movie tropes. It's in the game's Second Act that the story becomes more postmodern and allegorical, switching gears from a slasher to a cerebral Psychological Horror.

    Web Animation 

    Web Original 
  • BLUE_CHANNEL: THALASIN is an Analog Horror video that, at first glance, appears to just be an old-timey commercial advertising a fantasy product dubbed Thalasin, which forces you to have certain emotions, but when the second half of the video kicks in, it advertises Thalasin Plus, which supposedly adds new emotions to your brain... but these emotions happen to distort your face into eldritch horrors, if the implications of the video are to judge by.
  • Board James begins as a review series about board games the titular James played as a kid, with some friends cameoing to help the reviews along. It becomes a Surreal Horror series in which James is revealed to have been a Serial Killer who murdered Mike and Bootsy and is torturing their souls through a Recursive Reality.
  • Lesley the Pony Has an A+ Day! is pretty self-explanatory, detailing the pony happily prancing through the kingdom to see the duke. About a third of the way through, the music stops completely and the duke starts lecturing Lesley about being late. They're both portrayed through detailed illustrations with Synchro-Vox mouths and robotic voices, which is pretty eerie. But then the video spirals into horrifying as Lesley goes completely mad and self-destructive.
  • Natsumi STEP! On the surface, it's an adorable animation about a girl who goes to a magical world full of kittens and puppies. That is until you notice some uncanny visual cues such as "Natsumi Andou, arrived at 7/20 23:36"note  and a sign reading "59"note  where it's all but implied that said "magical place" is the underworld. When you click the second link, it shows Natsumi, our cheerful protagonist crying, and if you go back and observe the animation, as well as viewing the SWF file of that second link, you will learn the real story behind this seemingly cute film. It's actually about Natsumi going to hell after killing her boyfriend and committing suicide.
  • Petscop is a fictional Let's Play series wherein Paul plays what starts as a fun invoked (albeit unfinished) game about collecting pets and finding them homes, with a colorful pastel environment called the Gift Plane, happy music, and overall looking every bit like the kid-friendly time-waster that was so common in the PS1 era. There are a few hints of something off (like the fact that the pets are scared of the Player Character), but it seems harmless. Until, that is, Paul enters a cheat code in the room of one of the pets. The music suddenly stops, and Paul ventures outside Even Care to find not the peaceful-looking Gift Plane, but a darker, mysterious new world called the Newmaker Plane. From then on, Petscop moves to a dark and twisted story involving themes of child abuse/neglect and cryptic events that Paul himself is a key figure in.
  • Pokopokopikotan by nana825763 is at first an adorable stop-motion video of two little paper girls on a bright setting. Then the scene gets darker and a hand starts attacking them in what is strongly implied to be a metaphor for child abuse.
  • The entirety of the Don't Hug Me I'm Scared series is the infamous Trope Codifier of the Disgusied Horror Story along with Surprisingly Creepy Moment. Mostly because it starts out innocently enough, with Sesame Street style puppets discussing different themes in a really catchy song. By the end... well, let's just say things go a bit too far.
  • The Welcome Home (Clown Illustrations) website introduces itself as an archive of all things related to the production of the eponymous fictional puppet show. There is an expansive selection of concept art and character blurbs on display to help viewers learn about the show and its characters... But if some viewers dig deeper, they'll find that these puppets may be living a far less ideal life than what first impressions would imply, as a misclick on Wally's house might reveal, to name one example.
  • Masahiro Sakurai on Creating Games: Discussed and discouraged in the "Paint an Accurate Picture of Your Game" video. Sakurai argues that no matter how much you want to surprise people, it's more important to make sure people get an accurate impression of your game. He uses a horror game disguised as a cozy farm sim as an example of what not to do because it's likely to alienate players — people who appreciate horror will be turned off by the game's harmless appearanceinvoked, and people who buy it expecting a fun farm sim will be upset.
    Sakurai: Imagine buying a banana, only to have it taste like an apple. That's not right, now is it?
  • WHAT COLOR ARE YOU? starts off as a fairly normal personality quiz. Then the questions become increasingly disturbing until it eventually abandons all pretenses of being a quiz and becomes a rather disturbing rumination on free will, with frequent application of The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You.

    Western Animation 
  • Over the Garden Wall is a charming story of two brothers trying to get home, meeting a bunch of colorful characters while being periodically menaced by whatever creatures the forests can throw at them, but ends up being a Double Subversion. For the first half all the supposedly creepy things and people turn out to be either harmless or outright helpful, and most of the conflict comes from Wirt unintentionally making things harder for himself. Then a witch that tries to brainwash them is melted and an evil possessing spirit tries to eat them. Then the Beast takes center stage, and everything goes to hell very quickly.