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Nightmarish Nursery

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Childhood settings often invoke a sense of innocence and safety, and in fiction, places like nurseries, playgrounds, and other obviously childish locations maintain a similar atmosphere. Surely nothing bad could happen here, right? Right? I-Is anyone else hearing the sound of giggling children or is that just us...

The horror genre and its imitators takes these notions of carefree childhood and gleefully subverts them. Here, the nursery and the playground are played for terror and suspense; they may even be outright evil, especially if there are overtly supernatural elements involved. Expect the cutesy wallpaper, toys and other stereotypical features to deliberately contrast the horrific things going on.

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More idyllic examples may serve as a Crapsaccharine World.

A popular abode for the Creepy Child, the Enfant Terrible, and the Psychopathic Manchild. May be filled with evil toys such as the Balloon of Doom, Creepy Doll, Creepy Dollhouse, Demonic Dummy, Killer Teddy Bear, Perverse Puppet, Scary Jack-in-the-Box, Vengeful Abandoned Toy, or even worse, Faux Furby. At least one of the toys will likely be a Monster Clown as well. Don't be surprised if you hear Creepy Children Singing and/or Ominous Music Box Tune.

A Super-Trope to Abandoned Playground. Compare Orphanage of Fear and Daycare Nightmare.

Not to be confused with a plant nursery. For scary versions of those, see Garden of Evil.


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Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • In AKIRA, the Espers are housed in a gigantic nursery complete with elaborate fairy-tale scenery, for though all three of them are in their forties by now, they never truly grew up thanks to the experiments performed on them. In both the manga and the film, the complex has an unearthly, dreamlike atmosphere to it - one that quickly turns downright menacing when a frenzied Tetsuo invades while in search of answers and trashes the place.

    Comic Books 
  • Monica's Gang: In "The Reversed Tower", Monica gets lost in a hospital during a power shortage and ends up in the nursery, where she is confronted by three spirits: The first one is the ghost of Melissa, a goth girl who has ties with a Perverse Puppet that terrorized the heroes when they were children; the second one is the Lake Girl, a malevolent entity who eerily announces that she has escaped Hell; and the third one is the Horseman of Pestilence, who curses Monica by transforming her into a slug monster.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Dawn of the Dead (2004), Andre sets up a nursery for his heavily pregnant wife Luda in a deserted baby-needs shop, claiming one of the cribs and a mobile for his soon-to-be-born child. Unfortunately, Luda was bitten earlier and eventually transforms into a zombie about halfway through the film - then gives birth to a zombie baby. For added horror, a shootout occurs in the makeshift nursery when Norma discovers what's happened, resulting in the deaths of all four characters.
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1: When Harry and Hermione are visiting Godric's Hollow, Harry finds himself alone with Bathilda Bagshot (actually Nagini impersonating her); before long, the snake reveals herself and tackles Harry through a wall into a nursery. The bright ceiling light and colourful toys make a jarring contrast to the nightmarish snake trying to constrict the life out of Harry.
  • Running Scared (2006): Oleg is taken in by a kindly couple who show him their brightly-colored playroom loaded with toys and games. He soon becomes suspicious of them and calls Teresa, who is immediately disturbed by increasingly troubling details around the playroom: among other things, the couple have other children but no family photos, the floor is covered in plastic sheeting, and the couple seem insistent on filming the children. To her horror, she also finds a closet full of torture implements and snuff tapes. Teresa sends Oleg and the other children out, then coldly shoots the couple dead.
  • Saw II: The room with the Needle Pit appears to have been originally made as a bedroom for a baby or young child, given details like wall sketches of "ABC" and baby bottles with limbs, and a pair of dolls alongside a chair.
  • The Woman in Black: The nursery is one of the creepiest rooms in the whole house. At first it is locked, then the door is ajar, with all the toys inside neatly laid out. Later, the room is totally ransacked, with the furniture overturned and smashed.
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    Literature 
  • Ghostly Towers: In this gamebook, the creepy haunted mansion features a nursery with a music box which suddenly starts to play, and a jack-in-the-box which jumps out of its locked box with a note in its hand, warning you to leave Ghostly Towers this second, or your sanity will be at stake.
  • Nursery from Ward has Reality Warper powers that turn the area around her into a creepy nursery where no powers work and all enclosed spaces are filled with hostile fetal growths.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Addams Family: Played for Laughs with Wednesday and Pugsley's play room, which features torture racks, guillotines, an electric chair, and other gruesome decorations. This being the Addamses, this is all seen as quite normal and the children have great fun with their macabre toys. Other people visiting the house, not so much...
  • Dandy Mott of American Horror Story Freakshow is so coddled by his mother that his room at the Mott estate is essentially an adult-sized nursery where he plays with his toys. Already disconcerting on its own, it becomes steadily creepier when Gloria brings Twisty the clown home to entertain her son. Later, Dandy butchers Gloria and an unfortunate Avon lady, then sews them into a life-sized marionette and makes it perform for him in the nursery.
  • American Horror Story: Hotel:
    • The Countess keeps a hidden gamesroom at the Cortez for the vampire children she's adopted over the decades; stocked to the gills with video game consoles and candy dispensers, the kids can spend their days having as much fun as they like. The only downside of the place is that the kids are regularly siphoned for blood as a contribution to their "mother's" private stash, usually prompting them to get hungry and go hunting for guests who haven't locked their doors. Fortunately, it's not usually dangerous... up until John's daughter Scarlett pays a visit - and nearly gets eaten by one of the kids. Said kid is actually Holden, her long-lost brother.
    • Later in the season, the Countess is revealed to be concealing another, even more secluded nursery. In this case, it's an actual nursery for her biological son, complete with a crib - as he hasn't aged at all since his birth. It's even creepier than the gamesroom, especially since it's kept dark at all times and little Bartholomew isn't above attacking uninvited guests.
  • Chernobyl shows some volunteers in radiation suits conducting dosimeter sweeps of Pripyat to determine how much of the town is salvageable. One woman is sweeping a children's park while her dosimeter clicks in the middling range, until she approaches a little girl's bicycle. The bike's frame is steel, which absorbs radiation like a sponge, then releases it over time, making the dosimeter max out. The woman backs away from the bike, recognizing that it's too dangerous for anyone to be near, protection or no. The whole park will have to be buried under layers on concrete.
  • One of the rooms of the eponymous mansion in The Haunting of Hill House is the Toy Room, where young Nelly can most commonly be found. In the flashbacks, it appears perfectly innocent, complete with rows of toys and a warm colour palette... but in the season finale, it turns out that the Toy Room doesn't exist. It's just another facade worn by the Red Room in order to lull the family members into submission while the House digests them.
  • This is the visual aesthetic of the contest's isolated facility in Squid Game. Because the contest essentially consists of deadly versions of childhood games, most of the arenas mimic the kind of settings the games might have been played in, from parks to schoolyards. Even the bizarre, brightly-colored staircase between arenas looks like something out of a funhouse. The second game's arena hews the closest to this, featuring an indoor playground with walls painted to look like the outside, and giant climbing frames and swingsets clearly meant to make the adult players feel like children.

    Music 
  • The instrumental piece "Evil Playroom" by American Music Company is themed after this trope. It contains an Ominous Music Box Tune with ethereal vocals providing the melody.

    Video Games 
  • At the top of Mergo's Loft in Bloodborne is a circular open area styled like a nursery, complete with strollers, baby crying sounds, etc. This is because Mergo is a stillborn Eldritch Abomination whose whole theme is birth and infanthood. Luckily, you don't fight against a giant nightmare baby, but against Mergo's Wet Nurse — a frightening monster in her own right.
  • Call of Duty: Finest Hour: A secret Easter Egg features a creepy room located behind a stone wall, done up to look like a crude nursery. The room is lined with portraits of babies, has toys on the floor that move on their own, a giant rat in a cage, and a ghost child in a crib that will vanish if the player attempts to interact with it.
  • Titan Elementary of Dead Space 2, which appears to be both a school for older children and a daycare for kids in the infant-to-toddler range. By the time Isaac gets there, the only residents are a very specific group of Necromorphs: the Lurkers, the Crawlers, and the Pack - all of which used to be children attending the school. Needless to say, the brightly-coloured childish surroundings and motherly-sounding automated messages over the loudspeaker only make the place even more disturbing.
  • Fallout 4: Trinity Church has a nursery in the basement; it's long since abandoned by human occupants, with filthy furniture, an empty crib, and a hole in the ceiling. Given the fact that there are no humans in sight, and the only living beings in the church are Supermutants, one can only speculate about what happened to whoever lived there. All of your companions will comment about the place being sad or grim, with the young father MacCready even shedding a tear.
  • Five Nights at Freddy's: Security Breach: One of the first areas you explore in Freddy Fazbear's Mega PizzaPlex is the daycare. Just before going in you discover a message consisting of a parent's complaint that after spending time there, their child refuses to sleep with the lights off and wets the bed on top of that. The daycare itself looks like any other playplace. The issue is with its attendant, an animatronic with a sun-and-moon face. The Sun version of the Daycare Attendant is overly playful and has No Sense of Personal Space, but is otherwise harmless. Turning out the lights, which happens when you pick up a security badge you came for, unlocks the Moon persona, who insists on punishing bad children up past their bedtime and creepily pursues you as you try to restore the lights by activating generators that are, for reasons known only to Fazbear Entertainment, scattered throughout the playground equipment.
  • Ghostbusters: The Video Game: Both the Realistic and Stylized versions have Juvenile Curriculum, a section of the New York Public Library dedicated to children's literature. Despite the colorful decorations and child-friendly appearance, disembodied children's voices can be heard and objects move on their own.
  • Kingdom Hearts: In Halloween Town, the mischievous trick-or-treaters Lock, Shock, and Barrel have their own room in Oogie Boogie's Manor; the appropriately named Evil Playroom is a small round room full of weapons and machines, as well as a tube that leads down to Oogie's Torture Chamber.
  • The Last of Us: While exploring the sewers, Joel and Sam come across a place that used to be a nursery, as implied by the presence of toys and cribs. Said room is crawling with Infected of the Stalker variety, which employ hunting tactics that are designed to make the player feel paranoid.
  • The third level of Layers of Fear concerns the Artist's daughter. As such, the distorted corridors quickly become decorated with crayon scrawls as you progress deeper into the house, until an entire section of rooms is devoted to the many dolls that have been bought for the child - all of which come to life and menace the player. At the end of this maze is the Daughter's bedroom/nursery, which at first appears perfectly normal... right up until you activate the little carousel toy, plunging the room into another nightmarish showcase.
  • Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon has the Rumpus Room in Haunted Towers. It's a playroom containing a Creepy Doll that follows Luigi's gaze by rotating its head to any angle, some Scary Jack in the Boxes that do an Evil Laugh, and a Creepy Dollhouse that, when looked into, gives the player another third-person view of Luigi instead of the first-person view you usually get when looking into things.
  • Max Payne: In Max Payne's nightmares, which revolve around the murder of his wife and infant child, he ends up in the baby's nursery. The room is tinged red, the alphabet blocks spell the word "DEATH", and Max hallucinates the corpse of his baby and the screams of his family in the distance.
  • Pokémon Black and White: At the end of the game, it is possible to go into N's childhood room. The creepiness factor is played for all it's worth, with one of the trains on the train set moving on its own, an Ominous Music Box Tune version of N's theme is playing, and everything is either unfinished or covered in Pokemon claw marks. One member of the Shadow Triad even mentions how he doesn't know what to feel walking into the room. It gets even worse in the sequel, as it has sustained damage since then, which is reflected in the music going off-key.
  • In Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, several rooms of the Baker property have been converted into an extended bedroom/playroom for Evelyn, the resident Creepy Child. By the time you get there, it's totally unlit, the toys are crawling with black mould, and the atmosphere is nothing short of terrifying. Plus, Marguerite keeps her altar hidden behind the bed, using Evelyn's "gift" as a makeshift shrine. Turn around quick enough as you leave, and it becomes clear that Evelyn has been watching you for every second you've been in here.
  • Issue 7 of The Secret World features a visit to the recently-abandoned "Nursery", an Orochi Group laboratory dedicated to testing the world's most dangerous supernatural phenomena on children. Outside the bloody wreckage of the research wing, the test subjects are housed in brightly-coloured sleeping quarters and playrooms, complete with toys, blue sky wallpaper, and robotic "nannies" constantly playing "The Sleepless Lullaby" by Bright September to pacify the children. For added horror, one staff member can be found stabbed to death in the middle of a huge circle of porcelain dolls.
  • The indie horror game Slide in the Woods features a lone playground slide in the middle of a dense wood. Repeatedly going down the slide makes numerous creepy things occur, such as the sky going dark, a monster appearing, and finally the protagonist being teleported to an ancient temple to be sacrificed to the creature.
  • TimeSplitters: Future Perfect: The child's room, located in the attic of the Mansion of Madness, is a creepy playroom containing numerous offputting details, such as a rocking horse that moves on its own, blood on the walls, letter blocks that spell out the word "HAG", and a chalkboard with messages such as "HELP US" and "REDRUM".
  • Weird and Unfortunate Things Are Happening: The Playroom, aka the Best Place Ever, is a gigantic nursery-like pocket dimension in Vedim Space that Mayor Bryan Trautman created for his daughter Nancy, and Dottie winds up there when trying to escape his cult. It has giant disembodied doll heads, blocks that spell out LOVE and HATE, Creepy Doll NPCs who mindlessly repeat that this is the Best Place Ever and speak glowingly of it to the point of obsession (and are implied to have once been human beings transformed into dolls), and an unsettling soundtrack with an Ominous Music Box Tune. Also, it's tended to by a creepy Flying Face called the Fun Eater whose idea of a fun game is "How crunchy are you".
  • ZombiU: at one point, the player explores a zombie-infested nursery in search of medicine for Vikram's ill wife. As they investigate, they find an s.o.s. recorded by the manager, Gillian, about helping the children get to the basement in hopes of protecting them. Unfortunately, a look at said basement reveals that Gilliam became a zombie and ate all the children.

    Web Videos 
  • Played for Laughs in one of Sky Does Minecraft's "Do Not Laugh" episodes. Sky and RedVactor enter an ominous, candle-lined room where two babies (YourPalRoss and Mithzan) are playing on a seesaw in the middle of a seemingly blood-soaked nursery. The joke comes when the babies clarify its ketchup and they were just acting creepy for no reason.

    Western Animation 
  • In The Simpsons episode "A Streetcar Named Marge", Maggie is placed in a daycare that puts the kids in solitary confinement whenever they cause trouble, resulting in a homage to The Great Escape as Maggie tries to get her pacifier back. Most of this is Played for Laughs... up until Marge and Homer arrive to pick up Maggie, and find all the babies are sitting around, suckling on their pacifiers in unison and staring at the adults in a creepy homage to the final scene of The Birds.

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