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Played for Horror

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This is when tropes have their scary elements and/or possibilities brought up.

This can be done in several ways:

This might even be inspired by one of the writers finding Accidental Nightmare Fuel in a trope and then applying it deliberately.


Now it's very rare to see actual horror tropes done this way, since they are technically played for horror by default, but it's not unheard of. Perhaps the horror is exaggerated, or the work finds new horrific implications of the trope.

Furthermore, this in no way excludes horror works from having examples. In fact they can get plenty of scares by finding the scary elements in things that usually aren't.

Now keep in mind the absence of horrific elements doesn't count as Nothing Is Scarier, unless we're meant to be freaked out by something not happening.

A Sub-Trope of Playing with a Trope.

A Sister Trope to Played for Drama. Compare Fridge Horror, contrast Played for Laughs.



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    Anime & Manga 

  • Nemesis by Mark Millar basically turns the Batman mythos by showing what would happen if a character very similar to Bruce Wayne turned out to be more like Patrick Bateman instead of Batman.
  • And speaking of Batman, Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth turns many of the recurring villains of the franchise into pure Nightmare Fuel material, by stripping them of any kind of silliness and playing their most notorious traits for horror: For example, Dr. Destiny is no longer a creepy but somewhat cartoonish man in a cloak and a skull face, but an emaciated, withered man trapped in a wheelchair. It's implied that he still posseses his terrifying dream powers as well, the Mad Hatter is hinted at being a pedophile, etc.
  • The Unfunnies: Cuckold is played for horror. Pussywhisker loses both his testicles after being convinced by Dr. Despicable that he has testicular cancer. His wife Polly was outraged that they cannot have children and refusing to adopt, so she forces Pussywhisker to pick up men to get to sleep with her in order to get her pregnant. When she did not get pregnant from the first guy, Polly forced Pussywhisker to get more men. It's clearly damaging for Pussywhisker to do this. At the end of the issue, as Pussywhisker is forced to find another man for Polly, she reveals that she orchestrated her husband's castration so that she would be justified in her acts of adultery with copious partners, is on the pill, and enjoys that she has forced her husband to find these partners while she waits at home.

    Fan Works 
  • A famed example is the "Scary Mary" recut trailer for Mary Poppins, which plays the well-known scenes of wonder and childhood whimsy of the original film with jarring music, much like a horror film would.
  • A common trend in fanart is to make "realistic" versions of cartoonish characters, often portraying them in a grotesque and sometimes horrifying manner.
  • A common element from darkfics is upping the darker aspects from fictional works, usually for drama, but also for horror as well.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Jan Svankmajer's Alice is an interesting case of this, adapting Alice's Adventures in Wonderland into a dark, ominous film while at the same time being relatively faithful to the source material: The difference is that while in the original book the weirdness of the plot is used for Surreal Humor, in this movie the weirdness is played for Surreal Horror.
  • Similarly, the The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb turns the classic Tom Thumb fairytale into a Surreal Horror Urban Fantasy film with harsh, squalid environments; giant bugs and creatures crawling everywhere; violence, death and experimentation as major plot points and a dark Mind Screw ending involving a nuclear reactor exploding and killing everyone. Also, Tom Thumb himself looks like a fetus.
  • Fantastic Four (2015) depicts the titular characters' superpowers as Body Horror, given that in this version, they gained them through a Teleporter Accident not unlike that of The Fly (1986).
  • Unedited Footage of a Bear does this for Youtube Ads that interrupt a video: The short starts with the footage of a grizzly bear while the cameraman comments on the size of the bear's ears, then the video suddenly gets interrupted by a commercial for a fictional drug called "Claridryl." But then, instead of ending, the seemingly light-hearted commercial slowly turns into a horror story about how said drug has a very negative impact, causing addiction and personality disorders to the protagonist Donna. And it is also heavily implied that said drug ultimately drove her into a murderous insanity.
  • Brightburn makes it clear that it wants to do this to the Superman Substitute from the get-go by copying every possible beat from the trailers for Zack Snyder's Man of Steel up until the kid learns that he's an alien with superpowers... and then the rest of the trailer showcases James Gunn's idea of what really happens when a bullied, maladjusted kid finds out that he's potentially invincible.
  • The Banana Splits adapts the original The Banana Splits series, turning a comedy show for kids into a R-rated horror movie.
  • The Howling does this for Urban Fantasy, showing what it would be like for Muggles living in something like The World of Darkness. Within werewolf society, all manner of internal politics are hinted at, particularly a philosophical divide between those who wish to harmonize their human and animal instincts and those who wish to fully give in to the latter... none of which matters to the protagonists, ordinary humans hunted by werewolves who seek to either transform them (as in the case of Karen and Bill) or kill them to cover up the truth (as with Chris and Terri). A lot of attention is given to how werewolves would operate in modern society... which is used here to highlight how They Look Just Like Everyone Else!. There is a sexy female werewolf in Marsha who seduces one of the male heroes... but her temptations are portrayed as purely villainous, without any redeeming qualities. Werewolves can transform at will rather than waiting for the full moon as per the classic portrayal, a feature that, in urban fantasy stories, is often used to make werewolves more sympathetic and/or badass by letting them control their "monster" side (or, in games specifically, give players easier access to all the cool werewolf powers)... but is used here to make them more dangerous foes for the protagonists, who aren't safe even during the day. When the heroine Karen is turned, she transforms into a werewolf on live TV in an attempt to break the masquerade... and people are too apathetic and cynical to buy it as anything more than a special effects-driven publicity stunt.

  • The Stephen King short story "The Cat From Hell" goes Up to Eleven with Cats Are Mean with a cat that is out for revenge on a guy who got his fortune from a drug tested unsafely on cats. This cat doesn't just go after that guy, it kills his immediate family and anyone who gets in the way of its vengeance, including killing a hitman by jumping into his mouth, causing him choke to death, then crawling all the way inside his body.
  • 1984 does this to the usually comedic How Many Fingers?. In the infamous torture scene (but before Room 101), Inner Party member O'Brien holds up four fingers, then asks Winston how many he is holding up. When Winston answers four, he puts Winston through Electric Torture to force him to see five, and will not stop until Winston actually, truly believes that there are five fingers. The scene details Winston's incredible pain and the sheer horror of being coerced into accepting an obvious falsehood, and is one of the most chilling scenes in the story.
  • NOS4A2 by Joe Hill feels like a horror retelling of The Polar Express. Charlie Manx basically believes he's the train's conductor, taking children to the magical Christmas Land, only the train is a Rolls Royce Wraith. In fact, he's actually a deranged psychopath who uses the mystical properties of the car to drain the abducted children of their humanity and retain his youth. The story is told from the perspective of a parent who eventually has her child abducted by Manx.
  • "Snow, Glass and Apples" by Neil Gaiman is a very, very dark retelling of Snow White (The original fairy tale, not the Disney film), turning the titular character into a Creepy Child (which is eventually revealed to be a vampire) and adding the same amount of violence and disturbing sexual content that one would expect from stuff like Game of Thrones.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Guns are commonplace weapons and a familiar sight in virtually any action setting, but Season 3 of Daredevil is credited with making firearms scary in the person of Bullseye, who dispenses instant death to unsuspecting victims.
  • WandaVision works its way through a checklist of Sitcom Tropes — and any one of them can turn very wrong in a moment, as the audience learns to see this as a show about a Reality Warper having a nervous breakdown.
  • The X-Files did this to the typically-comedic Rubber Man trope, with the terrifying liver-eating mutant Eugene Victor Tooms.

    Video Games 

  • Knights of Buena Vista plays up some parts in Frozen (2013) as if it was horror (this is a Campaign Comic):
    • Weselton talks about how he heard people in the palace over the years said they sometimes felt rooms become as cold as the grave. Mary even compliments Walter on making Elsa's powers seem spooky. Then she's genuinely spooked out by Weselton further interrogating her.
      Walter: And he leans close, almost like he's trying to see the darkness in your pupils.
    • When darker ice appears within the ice of Elsa's palace after she finds out she cause Endless Winter in her kingdom, Dick describes the effect as something like a Japanese horror film. Mary has as much of a genuinely freaked out look as Anna, and says if anything starts coming out of the ice she's quitting the campaign.

    Web Original 
  • For a while, there was a copypasta/creepypasta floating around the internet about "the scariest video game ever". According to the story, you play as a madman with an insatiable appetite that compels him to devour everything he touches, and he is trapped in a dark labyrinth where he is hunted by terrifying spirits that graphically tear him apart if they catch him. The twist at the end (for readers who have not caught onto the joke yet) is that "the scariest game" is Pac-Man.
  • The CreepypastaMy Neighbor won’t stop singing Christmas carols” does this to the “annoying Christmas Carolers” trope. The titular neighbors- the wife and daughter specifically- sing carols for days on end, never stopping, and will not respond to anything, even as they are peeing and crying, making it clear that something is wrong. They are being forced to sing by a race of goblins resembling pine trees, and anyone caught in a specific radius from one is magically compelled to join in the caroling forever- eventually, nearly the entire town joins in, with hordes of people forced to sing against their will before being devoured by the pine goblins.
  • While in theory Happy Tree Friends tends to subvert the Amusing Injuries trope for Black Comedy, the incredibly gruesome deaths of the cute and cuddly cast in some episodes ends being more disturbing rather than comical in plenty of occasions, often indulging in Body Horror and Gorn.
  • This episode of Something About is a legitimately tense short with an engineer being pursued by horrifying, Necromorph-like ghosts...then you get a glimpse of the engineer and realise it’s a sci-fi horror take on Pac-Man. It even has a human version of Ms. Pac-Man, who happens to be a Ripley-esque Action Girl.

    Web Videos 

    Western Animation 
  • The mini-adaptation of The Mysterious Stranger included in The Adventures of Mark Twain does this for the source material: While the dark elements were also present in the book, there was also a major Mood Dissonance in the way in which the story was told, making it closer to a whimsical fairy tale than a Cosmic Horror Story. Satan himself was often described as attractive and charming, but in the animated film he is given a creepy, sinister appearance, and the adapted passage (Which is actually one of the most light-hearted moments from the original book) is given an eerie, nightmarish atmosphere which sharply contrasts with the the rest of the movie.
  • Rick and Morty uses many common fantasy/sci-fi tropes that tend to be played in a rather light-hearted manner in other works, taking their horrifying implications to the deep end: A Love Potion? It causes the entirety of humanity to be horribly mutated into monsters obsessed with Morty. An Expendable Alternate Universe? When he has to leave his dimension by the first time, Morty is clearly traumatized by the notion that his friends and family are all doomed and he will spend the rest of his life with identical strangers.
  • Star Trek: Lower Decks: Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence is played for horror. After lying about ascending all episode, O'Connor finally does so near the end. It results in terror and agony for him, and the episode is vague over whether he actually survived in any meaningful sense.
  • Star vs. the Forces of Evil has the Princess Classic played for horror. Rebellious princesses are sent to the St. Olga's Reform School for Wayward Princesses, where students are psychologically broken down and stripped of their identities, slowly being brainwashed into becoming perfect princesses.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


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