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Realism-Induced Horror

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"The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary; men alone are quite capable of every wickedness."

There's always going to be something terrifying in any media. Whether it's ghosts, invulnerable killers, or zombie outbreaks, people can at least tell themselves it's not real. Here? These horrors, which are probably terrifying on their own, can get extra-terrifying because you know it can happen in Real Life. To anyone, anywhere, anytime.

Maybe the Big Bad is trying to take over the world, but the main character's mother is considered more upsetting due to being realistically abusive. Maybe much of the story is exaggerated, surreal and, perhaps, even outright comedic, but there's a moment that portrays some jarringly realistic suffering. Maybe the creator has Shown Their Work as much as possible — or they even might've written what they've seen directly or experienced — and the result is uncomfortably close to reality. Whatever it is, some of the audience react to these scenes with horror, finding them uncomfortably close-to-home.

One genre that attempts to hit this mark every time is Found Footage, which portrays horrific, fantastical events through the lens of someone's camera, making everything feel just a bit more realistic.

This trope occurs from an an excess of external Consistency, and as such isn't always beneficial to the work, or even intended by the authors. In a work intended for escapism, having these moments will shock viewers back to the horrors of reality, not only breaking their immersion in the work but also their trust in the work being able to deliver on its intent. In horror stories where the main threat is a supernatural entity, having a more realistic Hate Sink as a minor villain runs the risk of distracting from the main threat. More generally, trying to invoke this trope as a calculated plot device — without seeking to explore the subject in-depth (and sometimes even then) — will come off in poor taste, especially to those that have personally dealt with these traumas in real life. This trope can still work in unexpected circumstances but requires the ability to not only address these issues with tact but also account for the impact this will have on the tone of the work.

It should also be noted that realistic horror is NOT inherently scarier than supernatural horror, as both simply represent different kinds of fears. The latter of which consists of forces that are beyond human comprehension and defy all natural laws. The fear of the unknown is a thing after all.

There are a few other tropes and reactions that can lead to this phenomenon. If there were disturbing implications turned into Ascended Fridge Horror, the result may be too darkly realistic for the audience to bear. This may happen long after a work was released thanks to Harsher in Hindsight, if the events of the work are too similar to something bad that'd happened weeks, months or even years later. If the work is normally lighthearted, this reaction can be caused by a Vile Villain, Saccharine Show scenario. It can overlap with Mundane Horror when some situation is shown in a mundane and lighthearted way but the audience knows from everyday experience that it has much darker implications. May also overlap with Mundanger if most of the villains are monsters/aliens/something else fictional, or Humans Are the Real Monsters if despite nonhuman dangers, the human villains are more disturbing. Compare Deconstruction, which shows the Real Life consequences of a trope, and may also contribute to this feeling.


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  • A series of workplace safety PSAs from Canada’s Workplace Safety and Insurance Board depict workers getting into gruesome "accidents" and then rising from the dead to explain how it could have been prevented if the working conditions were safer. However, the ad most people consider the scariest is the first one, where a sous-chef slips and pours boiling water all over her face. While the other ads are meant to be realistic, the workers rising from the dead and talking calmly about their accident despite being horribly disfigured makes it more fantastic, with some finding it too silly to take seriously. On the other hand, the chef ad doesn't have her come back from the dead, and puts a lot more focus on the chef's suffering while she's being horrifyingly disfigured, with a close up of her boiling skin. Comments on videos of the ads often note that the ads without the workers rising from the dead are much creepier.
  • The Meth Project PSAs. No wacky metaphors or cartoony monsters, just the horrible and very real effects of doing meth: tearing open your own skin, committing robberies for drug money, assaulting your loved ones, falling into prostitution, and so much more.
  • This is why Guy Cotten's interactive website Sortie en Mer, made to promote wearing life jackets while at sea, became viral: for providing a scarily realistic experience (if shortened; while the auto-fail time is around 7 minutes, the website gives out statistics that reveal that a person without a life jacket can last up to 79 minutes before drowning) of a man hallucinating in the middle of the ocean until he succumbs to hypothermia and fatigue and drowns with nobody aware of what happened or able to help him. Worse still is that all of this happens simply because due to an accident with the sails and him forgetting to wear a life jacket while on deck — which can easily happen in real life.
  • The infamous "The Day We Spilled The Paint" PSA about a kid relaying his experience with his Dirty Old Man neighbor, who sexually abused him. The experience is so chilling because of how convincing the actor is and how realistic it is for his character to indulge in his creepy fantasies while making it look innocuous. The kid views the neighbors as a cordial old couple who are happy to have the neighbors spend time at their place. The husband seemingly generously offers to take the kid to his workshop and show him how to work the tools. He proceeds to "accidentally" spill paint on the kid, convinces them to take their shirt off so he can wash it to take the burden off the parents, then takes a picture of them with their shirt off as a "reminder" not to make that mistake again. 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Belle (2021): Tomo and Kei's father, at first appearing to be a friendly family man who loves his sons on camera, is revealed to be an Abusive Parent whose mental health was ruined by the loss of his wife, leading him to hit and yell at his children many times under the justification that it will make them more disciplined and obedient. The effects of his abuse have taken a toll on the brothers' mental health, with Tomo becoming withdrawn and Kei taking his anger out in U as the Dragon due to having to shield his brother from his father's physical abuse almost every day. The abuse and the effects it has on the boys is horrifying because of how realistic it is, and the Department of Child Disservices is prevented by the law from taking action despite an urgent need to do so, so the abuse can go unchecked and only be addressed days after a report at best, which is very much an actual real-life issue in Japan.
  • Berserk: One of the things that make Griffith such a terrifying character is that he is a realistic and believable villain. He is not without any feeling whatsoever, yet he is able to handle himself with such dignity and intellect that you'd never presume that he's a ruthless, murderous rapist, much like many real people of his ilk.
  • Death Note: The most horrifying part of Light's character, far eclipsing his more absurd god complex and mass-murder, is the fact that he is 100% absolutely convinced at all times that he is in the right and morally justified despite plentiful evidence to the contrary, and is able to use that delusion in order to justify increasingly reprehensible and heinous crimes under the notion of creating an "ideal world". While few real-life dictators would engage in his excessive hamminess, they absolutely do this mindset that their ends justify their means no matter what, and that in order to secure this ideal future, they coincidentally have to solely hold onto power.
  • Dragon Ball hardly falls into this with its violence delving into the more fantastical and outlandish. But during the Buu Saga in Dragon Ball Z we get the fight between Spopovich and Videl. His magical Healing Factor surviving a broken neck aside, Spopovich's brutalizing of Videl— a 15-year-old girl— is startlingly realistic. No energy beams or crazy techniques, just the pure brute strength of someone loopholing what should be a friendly martial arts match into literal torture. In the manga Spopovich goes far enough that he manages to break some of Videl's teeth. In the anime Spopovich actually tries to STOP Videl from exiting the ring. To some, it can remind people of Domestic Abuse or something similar at home. There's a very good reason fans consider this one of the most brutal fights in the series beyond the fantasy elements: because it could realistically happen.
    • In the Buu Saga we have Van Zant and Smitty, two normal human bandits with no powers whatsoever thriving off the apocalyptic chaos Buu is causing to basically do whatever they want with no consequences. This includes gunning down anyone they choose; because in Van Zant's eyes? With Buu going around killing everyone, he reckons he will also die soon and wants to take as many people with him as possible. In comparison to the superpowered aliens, it is terrifyingly sobering to see a normal human villain using regular guns to do bad things in a series such as this and managing to be so effective. For emphasis at how effective? Their very first scene is gunning down an old woman while her husband watches, angusihing and lamenting the cruelty of her death as he's on the verge of tears before he too is silenced by a bullet. It makes the mere fact that these two are essentially the catalyst for Buu destroying the world that much more terrifying when they shoot Bee and Mr. Satan in the anime.
    • The anime version of the Piccolo Daimao arc expands upon the attack on the World King's castle giving it a deeper air of unnerving realism. We have things like the guards whispering about the oncoming attack trying to disarm the situation without causing a panic. There's also how Suno's brief appearance puts her at ground zero of Piccolo's attack on the World King's castle. Suno represents the average powerless person caught up in this supernatural horror attempting to have hope in the face of adversity and helping the wounded the best she can. This reaches its crux when Suno finds a dead soldier's rifle and attempts to assassinate King Piccolo. In what was already a Genre Turning Point for the franchise becoming Darker and Edgier, these are shockingly human moments that, demon alien king aside, could be placed in any bleak scenario and keep the same effect.
    • In Dragon Ball Super we have Zamasu. Compared to the many over-the-top Card-Carrying Villain antagonists who destroy and kill whatever they please because they can, Zamasu's villainy feels much more disturbingly realistic. Zamasu wishes to bring "justice" to the multiverse by wiping out all mortal life as he blames them as a collective for everything he deems wrong. Even when he is shown his actions are FAR WORSE than whatever damage mortals could cause, he believes he is wholly justified in his actions and responds to any who say otherwise by killing them, even the gods themselves. People in real life, particularly terrorists, tyrants and the like have this exact mindset. They believe they are justified no matter what atrocities or deplorable actions they may cause for the sake of their goals.
  • Elfen Lied:
    • Mayu's mother and stepfather are relatively mundane people who appear only briefly but are two of the most hated characters due to the damage they inflict on her. Her stepfather sexually abuses her, while her mother shows her no sympathy and blames Mayu for the abuse. Part of what makes them so disturbing is that people like them exist in real life, and children like Mayu do indeed suffer from their actions.
    • There's also Tomoo, the bully who torments Lucy. He works as a very effective Hate Sink simply because he is so good at bullying her, to the point where Lucy winds up killing him after he crosses the line — and even then, Lucy is still traumatized by him years after his death, reminding us all that trauma can exist in so many forms.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist: The main reason why Shou Tucker is such a disturbing and loathsome villain is this. While most villains in the series very much belong to a fantasy world, Shou Tucker is someone who could actually exist in real life. He looks and acts just like a normal person would and appears to be a loving family man to boot. Therefore, you would never suspect him to be a cold-hearted sociopath who's willing to sacrifice his own family just to keep his job. What's worse is that he doesn't even believe he's done anything wrong and believes anyone else would have done the same thing if they were in his position. Remove the use of alchemy from the story and you've got an Abusive Parent who hurts his family because he believes he's way more important than he actually is.
  • GaoGaiGar:
    • Mamoru's adoptive parents become worried once Galeon makes its reappearance eight years after it delivered Mamoru to them, and they adopted Mamoru. While the audience knows Galeon would never hurt Mamoru, Isamu and Ai fear that Galeon would take away their son from them.
    • In the first episode, disregarding the fact there is a supernatural attack, several school children, including Mamoru and Ushiyama's younger brother, become trapped on a boat where authorities couldn't get to them, and their loved ones could only helplessly watch as the television broadcasted the incident.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure:
    • Diamond is Unbreakable: Much of Yoshikage Kira's popularity stems from his trope. Unlike other villains, Kira isn't a supernatural being (though he does have a Stand) or exaggeratedly corrupt and delusional, instead being a (mostly) realistically portrayed Serial Killer. Like most real-life killers, Kira has no grand schemes and keeps a low, everyday profile, with his motives of self-gratification and modus operandi of isolation and evasion paralleling cases like Ted Bundy, Ed Gein, and Jeffery Dahmer, giving a chilling amount of realism to a character in a franchise that otherwise lives up to the "Bizarre" part of its name.
    • The protagonist of Golden Wind, Giorno Giovanna, in comparison to the other protagonists of the franchise has a disturbingly realistically tragic backstory. In comparison to the more outlandish and Stand using villains, one of the most vile people in this part is Giorno's own mother. She often left her son home alone when he was only four, because she didn't want to give up her life of partying. She then marries a man who seems nice on the surface, but he's really extremely abusive and would beat Giorno just for looking at him wrong.
    • Cioccolata is often considered one of the most terrifying villains in the entire franchise not merely for his Stand Green Day, but his backstory. Before he was in Passione he spent his youth in the medical field regularly abusing those in his care in very plausible, disturbing ways. He purposefully botched surgeries just to see what would happen, in addition to turning down their anesthesia so they’d wake up DURING surgery. When he was only 14 working as an orderly he would drug and starve the elderly to keep them weak while gaslighting them; telling them their families hated them and won't visit them. Nine people committed suicide from this psychological abuse, which he also videotaped.
    • Stone Ocean:
      • Part of what makes Stone Ocean one of the scariest sections of the franchise are the inhabitants within Green Dolphin State Prison. Many of them, beyond their Stand abilities are either Dirty Cop guards who abuse the inmates on a regular basis or have criminal records that wouldn't be out of place in real life; some directly referencing real convicts. the Stand User Kenzō in particular stands out. In 1969 he lead a suicide cult and was looked upon his followers as a messiah of sorts none too dissimilar to Jonestown or Heaven's Gate. His hippie-like appearance also gives him a vibe akin to Charles Manson whose family also followed a suicidal Messianic Archetype. Before his arrest? Kenzō managed to kill 34 people by drugging them and setting one of his compounds on fire and fully planned to restart his religion within the prison. The other prisoners, even the pedophiles, consider Kenzō scum and refuse to associate with him; hence his stay in solitary confinement. Kenzō is also one of the more mundane Stand Users, primarily utilizing his own marital arts skills, with Dragon's Dream mostly being his guidance system for the perfect direction to attack.
      • Miuccia "Miumiu" Miuller's Stand Jailhouse Lock is hardly realistic given its ability to force those afflicted to only remember 3 new things at a time. But the actual effects are essentially dementia. With enough time anyone afflicted basically loses their short-term memory, or worse the ability to think properly as a whole. Jolyne's entire experience has her come off as someone afflicted with dementia, to the point where she cannot even comprehend a 3-panel comic strip. This part can be very hard to read for those who have had to deal with anyone with similar mental conditions or afflictions.
    • Thus Spoke Kishibe Rohan delves into a lot of supernatural horror elements even beyond the usual standards of JoJo. Though Episode 9: The Run, much like Diamond Is Unbreakable, deals with a serial killer. While Yoma Hashimoto is the avatar of the Greek God Hermes, this alone isn't what makes him terrifying. Yoma's Hair-Trigger Temper over his training being impeded leads to the deaths of three people, his girlfriend, a mailman and the various gym patrons his trainer was training. He also takes to Constructive Body Disposal burying their corpses in cement, something akin to what real serial killers have done to dispose of their victims.
  • Monster: Aside from being the main source of the manga's horrors and being chillingly effective at that, this is the main reason why Johan Liebert is such a terrifying villain in the first place. In what's clearly a crime-ridden setting that's entirely grounded in reality where all sorts of extremely depraved and psychopathic criminals manage to perfectly blend in with other people, Johan stands out among them because unlike the other Ax-Crazy criminals of the series and despite the subtly implied supernatural elements of his character, he manages to perfectly capture all the elements of a real-life sociopath, keeping a low-profile when committing his crimes, never showing any emotion from the countless hideous casualties he inflicts For the Evulz, covering up the evidence of his acts and using his ungodly charisma and intellect to exploit people's naivety and successfully conceal his true nature while carrying out his twisted agenda, not unlike many serial killers of his ilk like Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer, which is why Johan is so incredibly successful in camouflaging with the rest of this society and giving many audiences the night terrors.
  • My Hero Academia: In the aftermath of the Herokiller Stain arc, Izuku "Deku" Midoriya and his classmates go to the mall in anticipation for a summer trip to a training camp. While there, Midoriya meets his future Arch-Enemy, Tomura Shigaraki. Shigaraki then proceeds to take the young hero hostage and makes it clear that if Izuku tries to struggle or attack him in any way, he won't just kill him. In a manner eerily reminiscent of a mass shooter, Tomura says that he could easily kill a few dozen civilians in the time it would take a Pro-Hero or even the police to show up and stop him. Take away the superpowers and you're left with essentially the same scene: A disturbed adult threatening the life of a child and a large number of bystanders, confident that he could do a lot of damage before being taken down.
  • Now and Then, Here and There: Despite all the sci-fi and fantastical elements present in the show, there's a very, very, VERY deep sense of realism in this series. This makes for a profoundly haunting and emotionally harrowing experience from the start, especially considering that it was inspired by the Rwandan Genocide (one of the most gruesome periods in human history). What with its portrayal of war, extraordinarily grimdark subject matter, horrific brutality, the straightforward depiction of psychological trauma that soldiers (especially the children ones) suffer, a main character who is completely powerless and must endure all the atrocious shit that goes on, concentration camps, child rape, widespread thirst, extreme starvation, ethnic cleansing, genocide, and a ruthless, horrifyingly insane dictator who would make The Joker look perfectly sane by comparison, this is one series that will traumatize you, and is hands down one of the bleakest and most depressing anime ever made, period.
  • While One Piece is well known for having a wide array of fantastical villains with strange powers and grand evil plans, the scenes showing the evils of slavery and the suffering of those who are enslaved are never played for anything but pure horror, and rightfully so. In a world full of many different kinds of terrifying monsters, villains, forces of nature and supernatural elements, the parts showing the dehumanizing and commodifying of sapient peoples is often when the story is at its darkest, with the Celestial Dragons being some of the worst sources of it. And of course, slavery is a very old and still-living horror in the real world.
    • Arlong and later on Hody Jones. While they are shark fishmen that’s not entirely what makes them terrifying. It’s their heavily racist views on humans and superiority complex being very reminiscent of the Nazis that makes them scary. Although monstrous, Arlong had a Freudian Excuse due to what happened to his former captain, as well as a personal bad experience with humans. Hody on the other hand? Never had any bad experiences with humans. He's a racist purely from the environment of the slums he was raised and being told humans were inferior. Many real-life racists gain similar viewpoints from being raised with nothing to oppose what they have been taught.
    • Additionally, at one-point Hody forces the people of Fishman Island to declare allegiance to him by forcing them to step on a picture of their Queen Otohime. This is similar to something done in Imperial Japan in the 1600s where Christians were forced to renounce their faith by stepping on a likeness of Christ.
    • Wapol's ploy of purging the doctors of Drum Island either by hoarding the 20 that gave in or leaving the rest to be exiled or executed has basis in reality reminiscent of the aptly named Doctors Plot done in 1950s Soviet Russia.
  • Pokémon: The Series: Pokémon Hunter J is one of the anime's best-received villains because of how frighteningly realistic she is. While the other villains tend to be over-the-top in both personality and goals, J is simply an Evil Poacher who only cares about money, and won't hesitate to kill anyone, adult or child, who gets in her way. Dawn lampshades this at the end of her debut appearance, saying it's shocking that people like this actually exist.
    • We also have the likes of Damian/Daisuke and Shamus/Suwama. Both abandoned their respective Fire Starters (Charmander and Tepig) leaving them to die because they no longer found value in them. When they get a taste of how they have since grown? They try to manipulate them into returning to their ownership. Both are considered among the most realistic one-shot villains because of how they're handled, albeit slightly over-the-top. There really are people like this who will abandon animals, even children and then turn around and try to coerce them back into their lives. And unfortunately, unlike Damian and Shamus? Sometimes they succeed.
  • The real horror of Remina by Junji Ito isn't the Eldritch Abomination seeking to consume Earth, but rather the violent mob that ruins the life of and subsequently attempts to kill a completely innocent girl, radicalized by a cult thinking that she is the avatar of said abomination simply because it happened to be named after her. With "cancel culture" and violence attributed to conspiracy theories becoming hot-button topics in The New '10s and The New '20s, Remina's portrayal of its human villains was chillingly prophetic.
  • Revolutionary Girl Utena: Despite the series being a surrealist Mind Screw series with a lot of surrealist imagery, Akio is still a disturbingly realistic villain. Unlike most fictional sexual predators, you wouldn't suspect much from the guy at first glance. He's handsome, sophisticated, charming and polite to such an extent that it's easy for him to make people let their guard down, he subtly emotionally manipulates them and serenades them with gifts and applause along with attempting to deflect blame onto them when he's called out for being a rapist, and his victims are generally people he knows and are close with, most horrifically extending to his own younger sister.
  • Who would expect a manga/anime named Romantic Killer to have this kind of horror? We have a girl named Anzu who's alone by herself with not much to protect herself with save for the later Ikemen that sleepover and Riri. There's also a guy who manipulates her friend Saki by pretending to be kind and thoughtful, then once she arrives to his house, he tries to molest her. And the reason Tsukasa Kazuki is such a loner is because he has severe trauma from a girl named Yukana Kishi, who stalks him everyday, sends random packages to his house, and even drugs him to sleep and uses his body for photos on the internet. What's so scary about these instances? They can (and probably did) happen at anywhere, at any time. And unlike the Anime, we don't have any magic love wizards or tough guys to protect us from these insane type of people.
  • The main reason A Silent Voice gets so much praise is how it demonstrates the authentic portrayal of trauma brought on by bullying. Even when Shouya genuinely tries to apologize to Shouko for mistreating her in grade school, she is still visibly traumatized and uncomfortable. It only takes a while for Shouko to feel comfortable around him again. Ueno's Psychological Projection and Blaming the Victim mentality (specifically in the ferris wheel and hospital scenes) are also common for people who are unrepentant about their actions.
  • The early chapters of Yu-Gi-Oh! occasionally dealt with more realistic threats compared to the more supernatural villains later on. The fourth chapter in particular deals with an escaped convict who holds up the restaurant Anzu/Tea works at. The fifth deals with a Phony Psychic who uses his position to get girls to like him, at one point he actually knocks Anzu out with chloroform and plans to rape her. Lastly, chapter 45 deals with an actual terrorist attack from a Mad Bomber. Other instances have Yugi, and his friends face gang members and bullies like in the first chapter with Ushio.
    • Arguably one of be most terrifying villains to come from the series is Marik and Odion/Rishid's father. Unlike many villains in the series he doesn’t have any magical powers and while not quite evil, is dogmatically loyal to the Tombkeeper traditions none too dissimilar to a cultist. What with his family having guarded the Pharaoh's tomb since ancient times and either being unawares or uncaring of modern world. These outdated values include raising Rishid to be the family's personal slave, whipping him to near-death when he disobeys their rules to let Marik go to the surface.
  • The Hentai manga Metamorphosis ended up becoming infamous for showing a disturbingly plausible and realistic process of a teenage girl being failed by everyone in her life and ending up addicted to drugs, abandoned and in the cusp of a very slow and painful Corrupt, Break, and Kill the Cutie process that ultimately concludes with her implicitly dying from an overdose. The manga's artist, ShindoL, drew upon his own troubled childhood and how people's lives were destroyed by drugs as part of the story's gradual descent into madness. It ended up disturbing viewers so much more than any kind of Naughty Tentacles story could, not because of the sheer horror of the content alone, but because of being so disturbingly plausible and realistic it ends up deconstructing typical hentai plots by showing how real people's lives are ruined by this sort of thing.
  • A hentai manga by Kawady MAX, Mii Inside the Box, obtained its cult notoriety not for its graphic lolicon content, but for touching on the very real issue of the commercial sexual exploitation of children. While Mii's current circumstances rely on Willing Suspension of Disbelief (as she would've most likely died of malnutrition, hypothermia, suffocation and/or her injuries long before 889 days had passed), many of its viewers noted that how she ended up in her predicament (her parents selling her off to a Loan Shark to clear their debts), and the effects it had on her (deluding herself into believing that she will be saved before eventually succumbing to the Despair Event Horizon) were far more plausible and disturbing.
  • Two of Quzilax's most infamous hentai works managed to obtain their notoriety because of how chillingly realistic the scenarios presented in them are:
    • Geiger Counter disturbed readers not just with how plausibly Saori's rape could happen (the child predator pretends to be a service worker so that Saori allows him in while she's home alone, granting him the opportunity to assault her), but with how realistically the aftermath is depicted. Saori is left an utter shell of the cheerful girl she used to be: dropping out of school, having traumatic flashbacks when hearing a doorbell, and moving away from her former friends, presumably for good — exactly like many real life survivors of sexual assault.
    • As for Utaite no Ballad, many reported on how shockingly realistic the premise of the rise and fall of a pedophilic musician was and how consistent his tactics used to draw in his many victims were with real life instances of grooming, amplified by the fact that musicians abusing their positions of authority and trust to leverage sex from their underage fanbase is not only possible in reality, but has happened many times already (e.g. R. Kelly, Dahvie Vanity, Gary Glitter, and Ian Watkins).

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    Comic Books 
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Promise Ozai teaches a lesson of governing to his son Zuko. He says that there are no right or wrong decisions, the decisions taken by the Firelord is always the right ones. Ozai is right because throughout mankind's turbulent history, mad-powered dictators with delusion of grandeur like him have always used this twisted mindset to rule over others.
  • Many fans find The Joker's horrible treatment of Harley Quinn to be his most despicable trait, as while him trying to, say, turn fish evil by putting poison in the water seems like your typical hokey comic villain plot, his abuse of Harley is all too much like real Domestic Abuse, and, even in the kid-friendly works, doesn't have any Amusing Injuries or the like as cartoon violence often does. Tellingly, the (now-defunct) YouTube channel Guitan had a video about why Harley Quinn is such a good character, and at one point he showed a list of clips (mainly from the animated series) of the Joker abusing her and put Content Warnings even though most of the clips are from a Y-7 rated show.
  • The Batman story "Venom" from the Legends of the Dark Knight anthology series is easily one of the darkest and most disturbing tales involving the Caped Crusader for this very reason. After Bruce fails to save the life of a young girl held for ransom, he falls into a depression and decides to try the titular synthetic drug. Once he tries it, he undergoes a disturbingly realistic transformation from a feared and well-respected night-dwelling vigilante to a deranged, shambling junkie that not only gets affected from the drug's effects (begging and pleading for more of the stuff and wallowing in himself inside, being weak, becoming more highly deranged with occasional roid rages, enjoying causing pain and suffering on his foes, etc.), but almost ends up destroying his kindled relationships with his trusted allies. In the end, when Bruce decides to overcome the addiction, he undergoes various craves and also suffers horrific hallucinations. It's a chillingly down-to-earth portrayal of the effects of drugs, pulling absolutely zero punches on every area imaginable when it comes to the subject of a very serious problem that's all too real to handle in an otherwise mostly fantastical setting like Gotham City.
  • The very premise of The Punisher MAX adds an undercurrent of this to every story, but the Slavers arc displays it most prominently. In that arc, Frank Castle battles against a disturbingly realistic group of sex slave traffickers from the former Yugoslavian territories. They kidnap young women from Eastern Europe, rape them repeatedly until they break their spirit, and then force them into prostitution. The arc ends when Frank Castle kills the leaders of the US part of the ring, knowing both that he can’t truly stop the operation since the true leaders lie far beyond his reach, and that he cannot help the women that he freed from them to remake their lives, with the last page depicting Viorica, the woman who alerted The Punisher about the ring and herself a victim of them, having a PTSD attack in her job as a waitress.
  • The Mask: I Pledge Allegiance to the Mask has a politician becoming Big Head, and using the resulting lack of inhibitions to spew wacky sociopathic outbursts that make himself endearing to the populace in a presidential run. As put by the author of said series:
    Big Head is actually kind of… normal against the backdrop of 2019. Hyperbole tinged with ignorance and fear is becoming more of the norm, and someone as crazy, amoral, and dangerous as Big Head can absolutely become the leader of the free world. And ultimately, that’s the real terror.
  • Stan Lee famously depicted the very real effects of drug addiction in a 1971 storyline of Spider-Man. In the first issue of the story, Spider-Man saves a young man who's stoned out of his mind from falling off a roof. In the next, it's revealed that Harry Osborne has started popping pills to get over his crush on Mary Jane. He eventually overdoses near-fatally, and Peter has to rush him to the hospital. The comic pulls no punches about what addictive drugs do, and the real terror comes from the fact that anyone could become hooked on the stuff—Peter even remarks that Harry has everything a man could want and still fell into addiction. Notably, Stan Lee had to defy the Comics Code Authority to do the story arc, but he was determined to depict a genuine social problem rather than supervillain antics.

    Fan Works 
  • All For Luz:Superpowers aside, being the victim of bigotry and hate crimes, instigated by people like the Wittebane Mega Church, being protected by free speech, are something to be legitimately concerned about. The story shows in many cases that people will take extreme measures to deal with what they believe is a problem and how even a child can be a victim of it, such as Luz and the summer camp kids. Just ask former victims and their family members.
  • Crimson and Noire: As a Miraculous Ladybug Role Swap AU, it has plenty of dangerous akumas and teenage drama just like the original show. However, what many readers find unsettling and terrifying is the story's version of Lila Rossi, whose goals have changed from just making herself popular with lies about celebrity connections to wanting Marinette all to herself. Lila would take up as much of the other girl's free time as possible and even rely on guilt trip tactics, try to get the girl to focus only on her and dress how she wants, and attempts to turn the girl against potential "obstacles" of her goal, such as Alya and Kagami. All of these are notable warning signs of Domestic Abuse. Doesn't help that Lila gets annoyed that Kagami asking Marinette to the school dance and immediately tries framing Kagami in connection for an earlier vandalization of Marinette's stuff, implying that Lila wants Marinette for herself romantically.
  • Jackie Chan Adventures: Olympian Journey: Eris' new fear vision powers gained from Phobos' essence is petty run of the mill supervillain stuff, especially when it causes Jackie and Tohru to see Shendu and Tarakudo. But then we get Uncle's vision, which is of going senile and being sent to a care home where no one ever visits. That is something that can and does happen to people in real life all the time, and Uncle reacts to the vision with a quite understandable amount of fear and grief.
  • While Never Had a Friend Like Me has the anti-fairies, pixies, and later Bob the Boil as villains, the most unpleasant characters are the Adams parents, for being a chillingly realistic depiction of neglectful and abusive parents.
  • In God of War (PS4), aside from the supernatural threat, in Misery, there is a group of men kidnapping children in the area that Kratos and Atreus are living in and ritualistically torturing them and leaving them as a sacrifice for a monster to eat. Atreus mistakes Kratos's desire to stay in their stave as indifference towards the other children but Mimir has to gently spell it out to Atreus that Kratos is worried that Atreus would be targeted next.
  • Ruby and Nora:
    • While Admah Keter, the villain of Ruby's Birthday is terrifying in his own right as a Serial Killer, he is Laughably Evil and ultimately still too over-the-top, allowing a degree of separation. The villain of Weiss and Pyrrha, Nurse Abigail Lemon, is a more realistic version of a serial killer. Everything about them barring her Semblance is uncannily similar to a type of serial killer found in real life. Her methods as an "angel of death" involve using poison and picking off already vulnerable people so that no one would notice. While a more banal threat, this person could actually exist in our world.
    • A lot about Raven's sociopathy is utterly chilling, but one thing that brings it down-to-earth is how she manipulated Summer and Tai by dating them both without telling either of them. The breach of trust makes it all the more heartbreaking when Raven shows Summer that she never cared about her. The whole time, the person she trusted and loved more than anything saw her as nothing but a way to get off and would have easily discarded her without a second thought. While it is far from the worst thing she has ever done, it shows just how cold Raven can be in a very real way.
  • The Sun Will Come Up And The Seasons Will Change
    • The fallout of Mary's disappearance into the Infinity Train is explored here, with Mary's family and friends freaking out and being worried sick about her.
    • At one point, Reagan's boyfriend Oliver suggests, with some hesitation, that Dana kidnapped Mary herself or hired somebody to do so just to get rid of her. While Reagan denies that out loud, she can't help but wonder if Dana really did have a direct hand in Mary’s disappearance. Edith and Mr. Bryant also suspect that Dana had a direct hand in her disappearance.
    • After Todd finds out about Dana wanting to sign up Mary for chelation therapy for another effort to "cure" her autism, he does some research on it and discovers that some autistic children have actually died from it.
    • Todd and Reagan get a huge dose of it in chapter 9 upon reading Dana's blog, which reveals to them just how much she has come to hate her own daughter and see her as nothing but a money-sucking leech as well as a potential school shooter in the making, culminating in the reveal that Dana has considered forcibly sterilizing Mary once she turns 18.
  • The Very Secret Diary (can be read here), being the story of what Tom Riddle's diary did to Ginny in the background of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, reads chillingly like a lonely and trusting girl falling prey to an internet predator. Both the "trust me, I'm your friend" stages and the later stages of openly abusive manipulation, threats and blackmail need very little magic to be horrific to read. The fact that child kidnappers and murderers exist in real life also makes the final chapter, as Ginny is dying in the Chamber before Harry arrives to save the day particularly gut-wrenching, as Riddle's sheer delight in pointlessly tormenting the 12 year old girl and mocking her terror and guilt purely for the sake of making her suffering worse before she dies anyway has far too much overlap with what can happen to real-life children who are unlucky enough to be targeted by truly evil people.
  • Tokimeki PokéLive! and TwinBee:
    • While most conflicts as well as some disasters that have happened across the series have more fantastical roots such as alien Pokémon causing the destruction of another world, including the deaths of alternate versions of Sonic, Tails and Eggman who are native to said world as a result, Mia using her Hydreigon as a means of helping Lanzhu disband the Nijigasaki High School Idol Club and this universe's Modern Eggman attempting to use a Kyurem to take over the world in the "Ideal Hero" Side Story arc, however, there is one disaster seen in certian Special Stories like "Prophecy of Failure?!" that is something that may well happen in Real Life should things go south in regards to Global Warming in the future, wars over dwindling resources, some of which could well go nuclear like how a war Aleena mentioned between India and Pakistan in said story did as well as people huddled around the Arctic/Antarctic areas and the surrounding tundras just to survive at a subsistence level and this is portrayed pretty realistically!
    • Not to mention, Yoko's biological parents dying in a train derailment accident, which is also portrayed realistically, though thankfully, without much mention of blood and gore, too!

    Films — Animated 
  • Gaston from Beauty and the Beast is just an ordinary human with no magical or supernatural abilities. What makes him a dangerous individual is how he uses his popularity to manipulate the villagers to commit heinous acts among Belle and her father. This makes him no different than a corrupt politician who would manipulate their loyal followers into committing acts that would normally be seen as morally questionable.
  • Cinderella: This is what makes Lady Tremaine so terrifying. She's not some over-the-top, magical being like most Disney villains; rather, she's just a regular older woman who milks her affluence and power over exactly one person, her stepdaughter, for all it's worth (she's only slightly kinder to her biological daughters, but she is quick to force them to replace Cinderella when she gets her happy ending in A Twist in Time). Due to Cinderella's young age when Tremaine took her in and the time period in which the story is set, Cinderella's abuse feels especially inescapable. Had Cinderella not been helped by her Fairy Godmother to assist her in going to the ball, or have refused to show her other slipper she hid out of fear to the duke when Tremaine destroyed the shoe, Cinderella may have been subject to this life forever.
  • Coco: For all the fantastical and bizarre imagery of the Land of the Dead. It is hardly terrifying. The realistic scares come from its villain. Ernesto de la Cruz is a fairly realistic portrayal of a celebrity who uses his fame and prestige to do horrible things. Particularly how he included a scene depicting how he murdered Héctor in one of his movies, none to dissimilar to how real murderers find clandestine ways to brag about what they have done.
    • Even moreso how the film averts Perfect Poison when Héctor drinks the spiked tequila. It takes a while for the poison to take effect, then he collapses in absolute agony and slowly fades away. This is how most poisons work in reality, making his death all the more terrifying and tragic.
  • Encanto is a fantasy movie, but nothing magical about it is terrifying or even dangerous. Instead, most of the true horrors come from these bits:
    • The film's main conflict centers around a relatable situation, the influence that Abuela Alma holds over the family. As their matriarch, she constantly demands that they strive to give back to the community to show they are worthy of the miracle they were given. This pressure has an effect on her children and grandchildren, nearly all of whom struggle with various crippling insecurities. The fact that Alma herself is oblivious to the damage she is causing only makes this worse, and her ignorance can hit very close to home for viewers that grew up with similarly strict parental figures.
    • "Surface Pressure" has the realistic fear of someone trying to live up to family expectations but faltering, and fearing the ones they love will suffer as a result of their failure. They risk burnout and are afraid to ask for help, because it's simply not done or encouraged. Speaking up means they get shut down, and have to suffer alone. Luisa tries to lie to Mirabel that she is fine, and don't worry about the cracks because it's not Mirabel's responsibility. When Mirabel notes that Luisa's eye is twitching, Luisa starts belting about how she has to be the strong older sister because it's been her only purpose since she was a kid. She asks who she is if she can't be strong anymore, and how it would be her fault if her family got hurt from her failures. The song shows her constantly protecting Mirabel from harm, while struggling with her many duties and how they are accumulating over time. She's devastated after La Casita collapses because Mirabel disappears, and she's frantic when searching for her little sister, with her worst fears coming to life.
    • Arguably the scariest part of "We Don't Talk About Bruno" is the unchecked character assassination of a decent person, all based around petty misunderstandings and rumors, which happens all too often in Real Life.
    • The flashback showing armed horsemen burning towns and (implicitly) killing people hits very close to home for viewers who are aware of Colombia's history of violent political conflicts and civilian displacements.
  • Freddie as F.R.O.7: El Supremo's theft of Britain's historical monuments, in order to use them to take over the UK is similar to people in real life, who use the destruction of historical landmarks and cultures to gain power, likely terrorist groups such as ISIS.
  • Grave of the Fireflies does not shy away from the horrors of World War II nor the consequences of war as a whole:
    • Seita and Setsuko's mother dies from the bomb raid of Kobe that burned down the town. She's burned practically beyond recognition and covered in bandages when Seita finds her. She doesn't survive much longer, including getting infested with maggots as a result of so much blood in one place.
    • Setsuko dies a slow death of malnutrition. By the time Seita finally takes her to a doctor, she's practically skin and bones, she's covered in rashes from seawater, and she mentions that she's been having diarrhea from not eating properly. Just before slipping off into death, she's hallucinating that marbles are candy and rocks are rice balls, a result of her brain on its last legs. Even though Seita does manage to feed her watermelon, she's too far gone to save.
  • Heidi's Song: The song "She's a Nothing" features surreal animation where Rottenheimer, Sebastian, and Schnoodle turn into monsters. However, at least one viewer has pointed out that the way Rottenheimer and Sebastian belittle Heidi by telling her she's small and "a nothing" is the most chilling part, because it feels similar to the tactics that bullies in real life use.
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Disney): Judge Claude Frollo is often considered one of Disney's most disturbing villains due to being a surprisingly realistic portrayal of fanaticism and xenophobia (and the political clout to make others carry out his evil agenda), in contrast to other Disney villains, who often have simpler (if not cartoonish) evil goals and personalities. Ironically, his own fears of hell and eternal punishment lend him even more humanlike qualities, although he eventually puts these fears aside to focus on his Knight Templar mission to eradicate the Roma.
    • The Hunchback of Notre Dame II: While nowhere NEAR the threat level of Frollo, Sarousch is a realistically vain, sadistic and abusive sociopath. His treatment of Madellaine in particular involves gaslighting and emotionally abusing her; making her believe she can be his "top star" if she assist in his theft. This is made even worse when he kidnaps Zephyr in the climax and Madellaine makes it VERY CLEAR he has no problem harming children, something she says as if she speaks from experience.
  • The Incredibles: Syndrome a.k.a. Buddy Pine is a former fan of Mr. Incredible that grew up feeling slighted by his hero after he supposedly turned him away, and has since declared war against all superheroes, wanting to destroy everything and everyone that/who Mr. Incredible in particular holds dear, out of sheer pettiness. He's frequently seen as a horrifying example of toxic fandom, an issue that's gotten more alarming thanks to social media making it easier for these fans to directly harass actors and other creators.
  • Hal Stewart a.k.a. Titan from Megamind is a shockingly realistic portrayal of people who feel like they're owed romantic affection. He pretends to be nice and flirts with Roxanne with every chance he gets, even when Metro Man supposedly died. When he gets powers, he believes that if he rescues Roxanne, she'll automatically fall in love with him. But when he finds out that's not how real life works, he goes on a temper tantrum and starts destroying Metro City, even trying to murder Roxanne for not returning his feelings.
  • NIMONA: This is the reason why the Director, and by extension, the societal values she holds steadfast to, are so frightening. In stark contrast to Nimona's fantastical shapeshifting powers, the Director's bigotry, manipulation, position of power, and persistent belief that they are in the right are chillingly realistic. Many people like the Director exist in real life. Not to mention, history has many, many examples of discrimination against minority groups, ranging from "mere" prejudice to outright genocide.
  • Oliver & Company: In a musical about talking animals, we have one of Disney's scariest villains in Sykes. What makes him so frightening is how many people there are like him in the real world. Violent, unforgiving, wealthy and powerful criminals who take advantage of the poor, trapping basically-decent people in debt, driving them to desperation as they sink even further into poverty and must take extreme measures to avoid being killed are absolutely out there, and much of what Sykes does isn't too far off.
  • Pachamama has fantastical elements from Inca Mythology, but they're all wonderful. Instead, the danger comes from the Spanish conquistodores openly murdering the indigenous people without remorse.
  • The Rescuers has Madame Medusa. While her plan of kidnapping Penny and using her to get the Devil's Eye diamond comes off as a little more grandiose, one of her most loathed moments among fans of the movie occurs when she mocks Penny as "homely" and claims no adoptive parent would want her. As horrible as her endangering Penny's life is, that kind of cruelty happens far more commonly.
    • The Rescuers Down Under takes things up a notch with McLeach, an Ax-Crazy Evil Poacher who has no qualms about hurting or even killing innocent animals, not to mention wielding a 12-gauge shotgun. All of this wouldn't be too bad...if people like McLeach didn't exist in real life. The chances of someone being menaced by typical Disney Villains such as an evil queen, a sorcerer, a sea witch, or a pirate are slim-to-none, but there are most certainly many sociopathic poachers out there who take delight in innocent animals getting hurt and/or killed.
  • Rugrats in Paris: While she is not without her comedic moments, Coco Labouche's plan to trap Chas in a loveless, and possibly abusive marriage being the mother of his child all for the sake of a promotion is incredibly disturbing. The fact that such underhanded people who marry only for the sake of power really do exist makes the stress both Chas and Chuckie feel about the entire affair that much more palpable.
  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: A large part of what makes Queen Grimhilde so terrifying is that there really are people like her in the world. Magical transformation into a hag and poison apple aside, Grimhilde is just a normal human being so jealous of Snow White for her beauty she wants to murder her. In comparison to the fairy tale she is far less outlandish and comes across as more like a Serial Killer.
  • The Super Mario Bros. Movie: Though Bowser is as Laughably Evil as ever, he is also a shockingly realistic portrayal of people with unhealthy obsessions and who are dangerously entitled to have romantic affection and who won't take no for an answer. Bowser believes that if he gets a powerful artifact in the Super Star, Peach will automatically fall in love with him. When he finds out that's not the case, he decides to use force to make her comply to his demands and when she rejects him a second time, he goes on a destructive rampage and tries to kill her for not returning his "love". Even his song "Peaches", while comedic, only goes to show how he is obsessed with the idea of her, not her as an actual person.
  • Tangled: Mother Gothel is a quite accurate depiction of real-life Abusive Parents in what is otherwise the adaptation of a classic fairytale; several of her actions wouldn't be out of place coming from a caring parent, but she also keeps Rapunzel inside the tower by making the world outside sound scary and discouraging her from thinking for herself. She's able to easily manipulate those around her by promising the Stabbingtons more money if they get Rapunzel, then turn them in for their crimes as soon as she gets Rapunzel back. The way she nearly kills Flynn is simply just by stabbing him with a knife while he's not looking.
  • Turning Red: The story makes no bare bones about the fact that although it comes from a place of love, Ming's obsessive overprotectiveness is causing a ton of strain to her relationship with Mei. She's also in denial of the fact that her relationship with her mother was indirectly responsible. Miriam recognizes the red flags and encourages Mei to realize that pleasing her mother all the time is not healthy. Any time Mei steps out of line, or even her sight for a few minutes, Ming overreacts. Ming has obvious anger management issues, and keeps insisting that she knows best. Her husband doesn't even get the opportunity to gently suggest that maybe she's going too far in not letting Mei attend a concert and trashing something that her daughter adores.
  • The Wild Thornberrys Movie has the villains Sloan and Bree Blackburn. A couple who at first appear to be animal loving zoologists, but reveal themselves to be Evil Poachers who will go to any lengths to make a buck, up to and including killing anyone who gets in their way and massacring animals en masse to get said profit. Compared to the recurring villains Kip O'Donnell and Neil Biederman who wouldn’t hurt Eliza and generally have comedic traits, the Blackburns are played completely seriously, and much like McLeach before them. Many real life poachers make it clear they don’t care who gets hurt or killed in their pursuit of profit, and will even kill children.

  • Isobelle Carmody's novel Alyzon Whitestarr has the subplot with Serenity, Alyzon's sister. Leaving aside the 'sentient supernatural sickness that wants to infect everyone and destroy happiness' part, Serenity's story resembles that of someone being groomed into becoming a suicide bomber: Serenity is a normal girl growing up in a happy and loving family until something happens that emotionally wounds her terriblynote . She draws away from her family and becomes unhappy and pessimistic, and the others fail to get her help. Then she meets a group who share her ideals and empathise with her, and she starts going to their meetings. They encourage her to keep blaming and pulling away from her family, change her name, and become even more pessimistic and nihilistic. Then they convince her to try to kill herself in front of a crowd, specifically to destroy her father emotionally. The group doesn't actually care about Serenity, they just want to use her to hurt her father, but she's so caught up in what she believes that she doesn't realise it.
  • Agatha Christie was a crime writer, not a horror writer, but that didn't mean she couldn't break out the horror when she felt like it. Curtain is one of the best examples- the killer, 'Mr X', doesn't actually kill people himself. Instead, he manipulates other people into killing without the people he's manipulating realising it. The majority of the people he manipulates never had any intention of killing anyone, but all it took was a few conversations with Mr X. There's no supernatural aspects, no blackmail, just a charismatic manipulator who knows exactly what to say to make people ready and willing to kill, and think it was all their idea.
  • Freak the Mighty: The main protagonist Max learns that his father, known commonly as Killer Kane for murdering his wife is out on parole and lives in fear of seeing him again. One night his dad sneaks into his grandparents house and kidnaps him, claiming that he didn’t kill Max’s mother even though Max witnessed him do it at the time. When one of Kenny’s friends tries to help Max escape he tries to kill her as well, when Max breaks free and confronts him about murdering his mom Kenny would have killed him too if not for Freak rescuing him. A child having a sociopathic criminal for a parent that would kidnap and possibly kill them is something that can only be described as adult fear incarnate.
  • Goosebumps:
    • In How I Learned to Fly, parents exploit the son for his ability to fly, and later the parents of the bully who later obtains his own ability to fly. The son is publicized, is used in science experiments, etc., and though it is clear his parents do love him, they still take advantage of his popularity. The boy eventually has to lie about losing their ability to fly just not to be commercialized in the view of the public.
    • The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb has a big case of this: the danger is not actually a mummy or curse, but Ahmed, who is basically a religious fanatic Serial Killer who's part of a long line of people who kill and mummify anyone who "desecrates" the tomb in the pyramid. At one point he tries to kidnap the protagonist and his cousin (likely planning to either kill them or take them hostage.) After they escape they tell Uncle Ben about Ahmed and the three of them go to the tomb to investigate, only to get ambushed by Ahmed who plans to kill and mummify all three of them. The only actual supernatural stuff happens in two pages near the end where some mummies come to life in order to save the heroes and scare off Ahmed. As The Pop Arena puts it in his review "The threat just seems too human and real for this kind of series."
    • In the same series, there are multiple books where the protagonist has a sibling who bullies or otherwise abuses them, often times causing them more suffering than the scary/supernatural thing in the book, with The Cuckoo Clock of Doom being the most extreme example. Disturbingly, it often seems like the parents are aware of this but don't do anything to stop it, which is also all too realistic. To make matters worse, his father especially emotionally put him down as far back as one years old, saying that he could recall at least one other child who could talk in full sentences, and when the protagonist was five, his father criticized him for not being able to tie his shoes. The mother was easier on her son, and disparaged the father for demanding too much from him at that early of an age, but considering how she and her husband allowed his younger sister to bully him, and even faulting their own son when another kid bullied him, neither were that reliable as parents. Thankfully, they both treated him better at the end.
    • Deep Trouble may feature sea monsters and mermaids, but the villain Alexander falls head on into this kind of horror. He isn't a monster, supervillain, or Mad Scientist, but rather an average, friendly young man who turns out to be a selfish, greedy coward willing to sit back and do nothing while his colleague and the children who trusted him are murdered.
    • In the Give Yourself Goosebumps book Tick Tock, You're Dead!. The main theme is time travel. One of the more realistic horrors, if not the most realistic horror, is when you end up one day into the future and watch as your family is killed by a hit-and-run semi-truck driver who blew a red light as they were crossing the street. Ask anybody who lives in a place with a lot of traffic, and you can get at least one story of a hit-and-run driver.
  • Harry Potter
    • Take out the magical diary part of the Ginny subplot in the second book and it's the story of an impressionable little girl falling prey to a manipulative older boy. Ginny is a kid who's grown up in a loving family with a whole heap of brothers to play with but goes to a boarding school and has a hard time adjusting to her new life. She's lonely and starts talking to a "new" friend, a handsome and charming older boy. He gaslights her and makes her do his dirty work. She can't remember what she's doing which calls to mind him drugging her. Every time she tries to tell one of her brothers something's gone wrong they tell her Not Now, Kiddo.
    • Umbridge is perhaps the most universally despised character in the series. Her authoritarianism, child abuse, and Sadist Teacher Villain with Good Publicity status make her hit home in a personal way. While people like the Big Bad Voldemort are unlikely to be encountered in real life, Umbridge represents a far more mundane, far more common kind of villainy. Stephen King, reviewing the book that introduced her, wrote:
      Stephen King: A great fantasy novel can't exist without a great villain, and while You-Know-Who (sure we do: Lord Voldemort) is a little too far out in the supernatural ozone to qualify, the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher at Hogwarts does just fine in this regard. The gently smiling Dolores Umbridge, with her girlish voice, toadlike face, and clutching, stubby fingers, is the greatest make-believe villain to come along since Hannibal Lecter. One needn't be a child to remember The Really Scary Teacher, the one who terrified us so badly that we dreaded the walk to school in the morning, and we turn the pages partly in fervent hopes that she will get her comeuppance... but also in growing fear of what she will get up to next. For surely a teacher capable of banning Harry Potter from playing Quidditch is capable of anything.
  • House of Leaves: While the house is scary enough in itself, the really disturbing parts of this book tend to revolve around painstakingly detailed portrayals of mental illness and interpersonal abuse.
  • What makes Lord of the Flies so chilling is that the great evil of the book is not anything supernatural or mythological, but how fear and hubris bring out man's capacity for depravity, brutality, and cruelty. While the book's message is often debated, people like Jack and Roger, who get a sick thrill from violence and power, do exist in Real Life. There is one supernatural element in the book: the eponymous Lord of the Flies, but he insists that he's only a representation of evil, not the source of it, and may only exist as a hallucination of Simon.
  • The Mercy Thompson book Iron Kissed has the Arc Villain, a seemingly ordinary man, give Mercy the magical equivalent of a roofie and rape her.
  • The Once and Future King adapts Morgause into a horrendously abusive mother, tracing many of the factors that will eventually bring down Camelot to her horrible treatment of her family. In a departure from earlier versions of her sleeping with her brother and siring Mordred its framing in this book clearly is meant to show it as assault. T. H. White suffered from an abusive mother and so really knew how to write such a character.
  • Requiem for a Dream: The story is about four people that undergo the negative consequences of their drug abuse. There's no real villain of the story and the horrors each of them go through are portrayed very realistically.
    • Harry is the one that causes the whole mess that his mother, Sara, his girlfriend, Marion, and his best friend Tyrone get into when Marion, Tyrone and him decide to try heroin. Throughout the movie, their lives begin to slowly decay. His left arm gets more infected as time passes due to his heroin abuse.
    • Sara's situation is even more unnerving as she becomes addicted to weight loss pills prescribed by her doctor to overcome her anxiety of being seen in her red dress on television.
    • The ending is one of the most realistically terrifying causes of all. All four end up having their lives destroyed with Tyrone being the only one who can get it all back. Sara ends up in a mental institution, Harry's left arm is amputated, Marion ends up in a prostitution ring, and Tyrone ends up in jail. The whole story can scare anyone from even considering the possibility of trying heroin since only one dose can cause severe addiction.
  • In the (now defunct) Star Wars Legends, the Yuuzhan Vong seem uncomfortably similar to real world terrorist groups in terms of mindset, in particular their weird religious rules and murderous hatred of unbelievers.
  • Stephen King:
    • While the telekinesis aspects of Carrie are firmly grounded in fantasy, the school bullying aspects are very much not, and people like Chris Hargensen exist in real life. If anything, with the attention on bullying in recent years, this aspect of the story has become scarier as time goes on.
    • In a similar vein to the above, some people find Henry Bowers (and by extension, his gang) more intimidating than It; after all, there's no such thing as a shapeshifting clown demon that preys on children and their fears, whilst there most certainly are bullies, psychopaths, racists and homophobes amidst us.
    • Whenever there's a major wave of sickness going around (such as SARS or the Coronavirus), the beginning part of The Stand with a disease killing 99% of the population starts seeming much scarier (and more plausible) than Randall Flagg's supernatural menace.
    • If you're a dog owner, or know a dog owner, the premise of Cujo, which centers around a rabid St. Bernard violently attacking its owners, comes off as extremely unsettling.
    • In a lot of ways, the scariest part of Pet Sematary isn't the titular corpse-reanimating graveyard. It's the scene where three-year-old Gage Creed gets run over by a truck while playing in the street. It's described in gruesome detail, and puts readers in the shoes of a parent watching their child die, unable to do anything about it. Making things worse is that it's based off a real occurrence where the same thing nearly happened to Stephen King's own child.
    • Take out the sentient car of Christine and you get the story of a shy, introverted nerd that is alienated and influenced into turning on his family and friends by his obsession for someone who is directly bringing out his darker side and encouraging him to become a misogynistic bully. In the wake of today, with white supremacists and "incels" infiltrating online geek culture to recruit disaffected young men like Arnie, it's easy to see Christine as a metaphor for the alt-right.
    • One of the most horrifying aspects of Apt Pupil from Different Seasons is that there are no supernatural elements at all, just the possibility that the old man living on your street could have been instrumental in one of the worst atrocities in human history while seeming like a charming, grandfatherly type. There's also the horror of how easily a teenager could become obsessed with and even sympathetic to those atrocities, which hits even closer to home in modern times with fears of teenagers and other young people becoming radicalized by extremists they may have encountered in entirely normal places.
    • Part of what makes Misery so effective is that the novel's basic premise — being abducted and held prisoner by an Ax-Crazy, sociopathic person like Annie Wilkes who will hurt you on a whim — is something that can and has happened in real life. For extra points, King notes that she was written as a representation of his personal struggle with cocaine addiction, and was inspired by an encounter he had with a man who claimed to be his "number one fan" note .
  • Pale is a dark Urban Fantasy with plenty of supernatural horror, but some of the most intense moments in the story come from the character's interpersonal relationships. Things like Verona's depression and strained relationship with her narcisistic and emotionally abusive father, Lucy's struggles with racism, and Avery's angst about her sexuality and coming out to her family are just as engaging and horrifying as the literal fear monsters and sadistic fae they have to deal with as teenage witches. Moreover, some of the supernatural threats themselves behave like real-life abusers and killers.
    • From a parent's perspective, Pale is also terrifying because it's about three young teenage girls who are approached by a group of strangers and inducted to a mysterious world where the rules are different and anyone there who comes to view them as prey or an enemy won't care that they're teenagers or give them any mercy. The girls are meeting all kinds of people, getting into fights and repeatedly getting hurt and nearly killed, and everyone is making an effort to make sure that their parents have no idea about any of it.
  • For a series about a talking skeleton detective, the Skulduggery Pleasant is no stranger to this. In contrast to Lord Vile and Melancolia St Clair, Ian Moore is a mere mortal criminal who manages to nearly kill Valkyrie Cain after the latter assaulted him in jail for trying to mug her parents. While Lord Vile is unlikely to happen, people like Ian Moore do exist.
  • Tolkien's Legendarium:
    • While The Silmarillion is not a horror story, Aredhel and Eöl's Destructive Romance is a rather disturbingly accurate portrayal of how some actual abusive relationships function. Eöl puts on a facade of being kind and helpful to draw Aredhel in, only starting to reveal his darker nature after they've married and had a child. He controls Aredhel by isolating her from the outside world and cutting her off from family and friends, forcing her to rely on him. When she does get the courage to leave he stalks her, tries to kill their son and ends up killing her (in the real world many victims of domestic abuse are at a higher risk of being killed by their partner when they're trying to leave).
    • The Fall of Gondolin: Despite featuring elves, orcs, dragons and a Dark Lord, the story is a disturbingly accurate depiction of the hell of war, written when WWI was still ongoing by someone who had just survived the Battle of Somme: a power-hungry tyrant sends his army to destroy the last city which defies his rule. His war machines -newly created and built expressly to ensure the success of the siege- burn the fields, forests and farms surrounding the city before smashing down its walls and gates. The tyrant's troops invade the city, slaughter or enslave its inhabitants, loot anything valuable and burn everything (buildings, parks, fountains, libraries, museums...) down, erasing its people's history and culture. As the city is being razed to the ground, some few hundreds manage to flee as being chased and harassed by the invading forces. After escaping from the valley, the survivors spend one year living like refugees, wandering around unknown lands, suffering from hunger and thirst and putting up with bad weather until they find one place where they can settle down.
    • The Children of Húrin: for all the dragons and stuff, the story derives most of its emotional kick from being, essentially, about an overally well-intentioned man whose masculine pride and bravado lead him to ruin the life of everyone around him over and over again.
  • Warrior Cats: Spottedleaf's Heart is one of the most "adult" and uncomfortable books in a children's series known for Family-Unfriendly Violence, war, religious issues, and other mature topics. In it, a full-grown warrior named Thistleclaw shows an interest in Spottedleaf starting from when he begins giving her gifts as a kit. When she becomes an apprentice (around the human equivalent of 10), he begins isolating her from her peers and encouraging her to keep his romantic intentions with her a secret from her parents and friends, despite Spottedpaw saying she's too young for him. The only thing that stops Spottedpaw from starting a relationship with Thistleclaw is his violent nature and brutality in battle. Moonkitti puts it best:
    Moonkitti: Spottedpaw should've told her leader or her mentor. Spottedpaw didn't know any better, she trusted Thistleclaw, and that's what makes this book so horrifying.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • In-Universe in the episode "Nightmares", when it's revealed that, despite all the vampires and demons they've faced, most of the gang's worst nightmares are just regular Anxiety Dreams.
    • The episode "Ted". Ted is a cruel, abusive, manipulative man, but the scariest thing about him is that he isn't scary unless he and Buffy are alone - he effortlessly charms Buffy's friends in ways that don't seem at all unrealistic, leaving Buffy unable to convince anyone what a bastard he really is. He becomes arguably less scary after the reveal that he's a robot.
    • In the episode "Earshot", Buffy finds out that someone is planning a mass-murder at Sunnydale High. Usually when that many people are in danger of being killed, it's because of the Hellmouth opening up, or some super powerful demon - but this time, it's just an ordinary teenager with a gun, who turns out to be a Red Herring for the actual perpetrator, who poisoned the cafeteria food.
    • Part of the reason why Warren is such a surprisingly terrifying antagonist in season six is that he's the closest thing the show has to a grounded Big Bad. Compared to the likes of the Mayor and Glory, Warren's just a nerd with a whole lot of mental issues, so you wouldn't expect him to be much of a threat - and yet, his severe entitlement complex leads to increasingly heinous actions as he racks up failures and spirals through a mental breakdown. This escalates to Attempted Rape and murder (of his ex-girlfriend, in itself a terrifyingly common target), with Warren almost managing to kill the Slayer herself just by grabbing a dime-a-dozen handgun. Especially as time has gone on and more light has been shed on the potential toxicity of the nerd culture that he embodies, reception to his character has gone from disappointment at his weakness to acknowledging the possibility that someone like him could actually exist, and that only makes him that much worse.
  • While the Diff'rent Strokes episode "The Bicycle Man" is controversial, what makes Mr. Hortons such an effective villain is how realistic his character was in reference to actual child groomers. He blended in well because of his high standing in the community as a congenial bicycle shop owner, which was a job that gave him ready access to children. He never drops his demeanor of being a nice guy, simply trying to help Arnold and Dudley earn some easy money while gradually making his true intentions clear, but getting off with it by playing it off as perfectly normal to the kids. He almost certainly would've succeeded if Arnold hadn't told his dad what happened.
  • One Tree Hill could get pretty over-the-top at times for a teen drama, but one plot which many found terrifyingly realistic was when someone pretending to be Peyton's long-lost brother Derek wormed his way into her life. At first the audience isn't aware that Psycho Derek(AKA Ian) is not who he says he is, as he seems like a pretty decent guy initially(if a bit weird at times)and he looks enough like Peyton that it's believable that he's her brother. It's only a few episodes later that we find out the truth when Peyton's actual brother gets arrested and that the guy who was pretending to be Derek was some dude who had been watching Peyton on her webcam and had become obsessed with her and then stalked her as a result. This episode really hit home for a lot of people with its overall message of "be careful how much of yourself you put online, because someone creepy might stalk you", what's more this episode came out BEFORE social media was really a thing and the problem of teenage girls being stalked online has only gotten worse since then.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • The Marvel Netflix shows have gained a reputation for featuring villains that are relatively grounded in reality.
      • Jessica Jones (2015): Kilgrave gains a lot of praise because, mind control abilities aside, he's like several different kinds of abusers rolled into one.
      • Daredevil (2015): Matt's biggest threat throughout the show is Wilson Fisk, a sociopathic and very powerful mobster. Fisk is responsible for the majority of the problems that Matt has to deal with. Season 3 takes this up a notch by adding Benjamin "Dex" Poindexter to the mix, who is slowly manipulated by Fisk into becoming a master assassin.
      • Luke Cage (2016): Luke's main threats in his show come from the Stokes crime family. This is played with in Season 2, as although the somewhat mystical Bushmaster is also a villain, Mariah is the main villain that both he and Luke are motivated to take down.
    • Moon Knight (2022): Many people felt this way towards Wendy and her Abusive Parent tendencies. To many, her willingness to go barging into Marc's bedroom to beat him up when he was just a kid is far more scarier than any of the Egyptian mythology supernaturalism going on.
    • WandaVision: Beneath the campy sitcom shenanigans and superhero weirdness, the show is fundamentally about how loneliness, depression and unresolved grief can lead to reckless, dangerous and self-destructive behaviour.
  • One of the most chilling Night Gallery villains was Logoda from the episode "Logoda's Heads". The episode starts out with anthropologists studying a region with a permit to. They find a native being sacrificed and save his life which the chief of a nearby village takes as an act of war. When casting a spell using his shrunken heads fails, he resorts to using his natives to round them up and kill them himself. Taking out the magic and spell casting there have been cases of tribes doing this or at least attempting to do this to harmless census takers and missionaries.
  • While the overall threat is very fantastical with the brutal anti-environmental Orgs as the primary antagonists, Power Rangers Wild Force brings a very dark and grounded aspect with it's main villain Master Org. More specifically, his original identity Dr. Viktor Adler, a former friend to the Red Ranger Cole Evans' parents. In his backstory, it's revealed that the reason he became Master Org was due to a combination of his bitter jealousy at losing the love of his life (Cole's mother) to his fellow scientist (Cole's father), on top of his accomplishments never being acknowledged. What only added to this was the fact that his flashback makes it clear that he had never revealed his love to Cole's mother, and thus she couldn't have known anything about it, and his accomplishments not being acknowledged was the result of the reporter overlooking him, not his friends, something he chose to ignore. When he and Cole's parents found the remains of Master Org, he chose to consume them and use their power to brutally murder the Evans family, with only Cole left alive. Afterwards, he would go on to cause immense destruction as Master Org, causing untold grief to humanity in the process. The fact that such a seemingly fantastical villain was ultimately motivated by such a grounded and horrifyingly petty motivation in the grand scheme of things makes Master Org one of the more realistically disturbing villains in Power Rangers history.
  • Scare Tactics features all kinds of frightening prank scenarios based on horror movies and the like, with convincing special effects to fool the victims, but the pranks that involve fake police arresting or questioning the victims in conjunction with deaths or strange events are scary on another level. It doesn’t take any suspension of disbelief to be scared of the idea of being arrested for a crime you didn’t commit.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: In the two-part episode "Chain Of Command", Captain Picard is captured by Cardassians and gets subjected to Cold-Blooded Torture. With the exception of the pain device, everything the Cardassians do to torture Picard was taken from Amnesty International archives in a terrifying case of Shown Their Work. Stripping for the purposes of humiliation? Check. Deliberately acting to dehumanize the prisoner and negate their identity and dignity? Check. "Stress positions", aka suspending the prisoner by their arms in such a way that their feet barely touch the floor, for long periods of time? Check. Idea that non-official combatants aka "terrorists" are not covered by conventions forbidding torture? Check. Objective of breaking the prisoner through distorting their perception of reality, successful to the point of producing hallucinations? Check. Patrick Stewart carefully studied the behavior of the victims to get the broken, defeated look just right and even insisted on being naked on set.
  • Superman & Lois: While season 2 has its typical beings from another world, the main horror Lois and Sam go through is losing their sister/daughter to a cult. Their attempts to help Lucy only drive her away further and it’s not until the leader Ally nearly kills Sam that Lucy even begins to snap out of it.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959) is known for its surreal stories and twist endings that swerve into fantastical horror or suspense. The episode "He's Alive" sets a very different precedent from others. The ghost of Adolf Hitler aside this is the story of a Neo-Nazi's rise to power and eventual fall as he attempts to spread the messages of the past war into the modern age. Many of Peter Vollmer's tactics including but not limited to claiming everyone who opposes him is a communist, framing his racism as merely "A different set of opinions" (without saying what those opinions are) are all tactics used by various real world hate groups, especially going into The New '10s. Take away Hitler's ghost and the episode is a disturbingly accurate portrayal of how hate groups continue to thrive after World War II.
    • "The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street" is so effectively scary because the aliens simply plant distrust into the heads of the humans and let them destroy themselves. Rod Serling even lampshades this trope at the end. The 2002 remake takes this a step further by changing the aliens to terrorists.
    • "The Jeopardy Room" stands out amongst the series as one of the few episodes to have absolutely no supernatural elements. Rather it is the tale of a Russian political prisoner attempting to escape to America, only to be impeded by a Wicked Cultured Commissar who intended to assassinate the man with style. The idea of something as simple as a telephone being turned into a bomb had basis in reality even back in 1964. Adding to the Paranoia Fuel that ANYTHING within a small confided space could have been turned into a deadly booby trap without your knowledge.
  • Beneath all the weirdness in Twin Peaks, BOB is the cycle of trauma (or the "evil that men do" as Albert puts it), including an abused as a child man sexually abusing his daughter.
  • The X-Files: Two of the scariest episodes of the show, as consistently ranked by online sources, are episodes that don't have any supernatural elements in them:
    • Season 2's "Irresistible" involves a fetishist who kidnaps women and dismembers them, keeping their body parts in his freezer. Nick Chinlund's performance sells him as inoffensive and exceedingly polite, but with an air of something "off." He uses his "normal" aesthetic to get women to trust him, a tactic that has been used by real serial killers like Ted Bundy.
    • Season 4's "Home" was banned from network television for years after its production, owing to its rather unsavory plotline of an interbreeding family in rural Pennsylvania. The Peacocks aren't aliens or ghosts or mutants, just human monsters created through centuries of seclusion and madness.


  • Amidst the fantastical horror of a man-eating plant in Little Shop of Horrors, one of the most effective scares is Orin's casual, callous abuse towards Audrey and her inability to escape the toxic relationship.
  • Iago in Othello is often lauded as one of Shakespeare's most terrifying antagonists, partly because he's one who could absolutely be encountered in real life - a man capable of driving everyone who trusts him to a tragic end via something so simple as his choice of words.

    Visual Novels 
  • Buried Stars relies on a combination of themes that are pretty understandable, and even expectable, on their own — buildings built too cheaply to endure, skeletons in the closets of reality show contestants, Manipulative Editing for the sake of drawing in viewers, and so on. Put them all together, and you get a very believable situation that easily conjures dread.
  • It's well-known that Doki Doki Literature Club! undergoes a sudden Genre Shift from romance to metafictional horror after the first act. But some players, including Yahtzee of Zero Punctuation, claim that the most disturbing part of the game can be found before the twist: Sayori's depression and eventual suicide are presented in a very realistic way, making them very relatable to anyone who has suffered from depression or knows someone who has died by suicide. The game itself is aware of this, giving content warnings for the realistically-portrayed depression, suicide, Self-Harm, and abusespoilers , while still keeping quiet about the other horror themes.
  • Fate/stay night largely deals in the fantastical, with ancient heroes and gods and wizards and whatnot fighting each other for the Holy Grail, and the first two routes are correspondingly relatively light-hearted. However, the Heaven's Feel route takes a hard left turn into horror, and the primary horror element is... the extremely realistic psychological breakdown of a young girl who's been repeatedly molested by her adoptive family for years.
  • Your Turn to Die's second chapter has a Ridiculously Human Robot looting human corpses who is overseeing a Deadly Game designed to turn everyone against each other. More players reported being uncomfortable with the brutal representation of Survivor Guilt that the protagonist is shown to be facing, or the revelations that at least two fathers had set up their children to be killed.

    Web Animation 
  • Hazbin Hotel: In a show set in Hell, Valentino is considered one of the vilest demons of all. This is because even though demons haven't been proven to objectively exist despite being a nigh-universal fear, Valentino feels very real due to what he is: a controlling pimp who abuses and exploits his employees. People like him absolutely exist in real life, and combined with him lacking the comedic quirks and over-the-top personalities of other demons, he comes off as all too realistic and hits disturbingly close to home.
  • Millennial Thinker:
  • Felix from Red vs. Blue is considered a terrifying villain but not because of his genocidal ambitions. Instead, he is marked by his comparitively mundane deceits and Exact Words that manipulate both the characters and the audience, successfully masking his character as a Jerk with a Heart of Gold instead of a Psychopathic Manchild. This is increased when it is revealed that he has been emotionally abusing his mercenary partner, Locus, into staying with him by using his PTSD against him.
  • RWBY: Adam Taurus is regarded as one of show's most awful antagonists by both the audience and the cast (including his own voice actor). This comes from the fact that he's a disturbingly realistic portrayal of a particular type of activist, where they use a well-intended ideology or movement as a means to their own selfish goals. Adam's actions are noted as being built on a very self-centered kind of bloodlust, using the suffering and humiliation he endured from Faunus discrimination as a justification for cruelly and violently lashing out at anyone he deems a threat to himself. What makes this truly scary is how he achieves this by deliberately undermining the overarching goals of the organization (true equality and respect for the Faunus), hiding behind a mask of a civil rights activist in order to curry favor with the White Fang's leaders, all the while building a Cult of Personality around himself to undermine those who dare to oppose him. This is only further topped by his abuse and gaslighting of the daughter of the organization's founders, Blake Belladonna, who was broken down into a shadow of her former self before finally managing to escape him. His terrifying response is try to violently destroy everything Blake has out of sheer spite, even if it means damaging his own goals in the process. The cherry on top of all this is how utterly unnecessary his actions were; he had the support of the White Fang and always had the choice to become the hero he pretended to be, but his cruelty, pettiness and delusions of grandeur ensured that he almost ended up destroying everything the White Fang had worked for, and ultimately brought his own demise.
  • Despite the show being out there, Salad Fingers can easily be interpreted as this. The titular character is an obviously mentally-disturbed but friendly man who doesn't mean harm to anyone. The issue is that his undiagnosed mental illness(es) often cloud his judgement and he ends up harming himself and almost everybody around him, including children. The only insight we get into the kind of person Salad Fingers was before is from the episodes "Cupboard" and "Glass Brother", and neither of which paint a happy picture.

  • Homestuck features a lot of murder, supernatural brainwashing, and godlike manipulation of the universe. Yet for many fans, the most horrifying scenes are those that evoke abusive dynamics, even though many of these cases (such as Bro constantly fighting Dave and Vriska's frequent torment of Tavros) were initially played for dark laughs. One standout case is Gamzee's emotional and physical abuse of Terezi when they were kismeses, which for many made Gamzee more terrifying than his unabashed murder attempts earlier in the comic.
  • Inverted Fate:
    • During The Definitely Final Dungeon, Frisk and Chara enter a golden cathedral which seems for more benign than the horrors present during the last few arcs. However the chapter is basically Asriel gaslighting the protagonists and the viewer into thinking he's this kind, noble all-loving god whose goals are born from benevolence and self-sacrifice despite it being a front for his self aggrandizing ego and hypocrisy. If anything, Asriel's portrayal of himself is consistent with cult leaders who try to convert new members via emotional manipulation and gaslighting. And that's before you compare Asriel's portrayal with how some interpret God as an abusive patriarch who gaslights people into reverent obedience and sees all of His actions as righteous and justified.
    • Rift 6 has Flowey's descent into villainy, causing him to become The Sociopath that he's best known as. While the time travel aspects are fantastical, Flowey's descent mirrors how years of bad experiences, derealization, dehumanization, isolation and emotional numbness can do a number on the psyche of some people, causing them to gradually become more sociopathic. Asriel was a child when he first become Flowey, and he's done enough playthroughs to conclude that he's seen everything there is to see in the Underground. That's more than enough time for Flowey to go over the edge, snap and decide that he no longer cares because he's got nothing to lose, a mentality that has caused some people to actually go off and start killing people, much like how Flowey eventually decided to do a Genocide run through the Underground.
  • Joe vs. Elan School has Joe repeatedly tell the audience that this actually happened, that he's left out a lot of worse things about Elan because he still find them too difficult to talk about, and that places like Elan still operate to this day, is absolutely horrifying. But at the same time, that's exactly the point.
  • Stand Still, Stay Silent:
    • Separate the segments of the Distant Prologue by weeks or months instead of days, and the Rash outbreak gets a narrative surprisingly close to how media coverage and public awareness of the seriousness of Covid-19 escalated between late 2019 and early 2020. On a more individual level, there is a young man getting his grandmother to come live with him before the disease hits their area, people losing their job because of the preventative measures, parents keeping their child out of school, discussion of where a pregnant woman will be giving birth and people self-isolating to various extents. The similarity breaks down when "turning into an Undead Abomination" joins the list of unforeseen complications of the disease in the main story.
    • In the backstory, a supernatural entity decimated an entire cluster of villages with an outbreak of the Rash. The entity's plan boiled down to smuggling an infected person into one of the villages, having the person be part of a large gathering during their Typhoid Mary phase (which is usually accounted for via putting new arrivals in quarantine), then having the people infected at the gathering continue the spread during their own Typhoid Mary phases. Avoiding an involuntary version of such a scenario with Covid-19 is the reason many countries put social distancing measures in place.

    Web Original 
  • SCP Foundation:
    • SCP-847, a sentient female mannequin created by Human Traffickers which acts submissive in the presence of men, breaks off parts of its body if it hears men making negative comments about them and leaves messages in its cell desperately begging for validation, is horrific largely because of its disturbing realistic portrayal of abuse and trafficking.
    • SCP-3512 ("The More You Know") satirizes pick-up artists and their misogynistic attitudes through monstrous beings brainwashing women into becoming sex dolls. Excerpts from a self-help book on becoming such monsters outright advise readers to stop thinking of hot women as people, and think of them as instruments. And in one of the logs, a SCP agent who is brainwashed by one of the monsters is just as quickly discarded once it's done with her. As noted in the discussion, the fact that some guys do think of women like sex toys to be used and disposed is what provides the entry with its horror as much as the Body Horror and descriptions of disgusting viscera.
    • The true horror of SCP-2190 ("Phone Calls from Mom") is not the supernatural elements of it, but rather the extent of cruelty that a spiteful and narcissistic old woman was willing to go to ruin her own daughter's life. While alive, POI-2190-1 would spread rumors about her daughter's family, accusing said daughter's husband of abusing her and their son, and even hiring thugs to assault her in order to make the rumors look plausible. Dying and becoming a ghost did not make her any better nor worse, merely allowing her to continue her cruel treatment of them from beyond the grave.
    • SCP-6140 ("The True Empire"), turns the Daevite Empire into a cautionary tale about the dangers of Orientalism; turns out, an entire innocent nation was erased from history because a Victorian man named Thomas Bruce was so prejudiced that he'd rather they be horrific monsters than a functioning civilization that just so happened to be Asian and matriarchal. The only real difference between Bruce and "anthropologists" who demonized non-European cultures was that he was able to anomalously affect said culture's actual history with his book.
  • The infamous Diary of a Wimpy Kid fanfic 25 Years Later has received acclaim from fans due to how disturbing it is (see the comments on this fandub for examples); not by being edgy or over-the-topnote  but due to its surprisingly accurate take on loss of innocence and crumbling dreams.
    • The cartoony artstyle and embarrassing situations from the books remain, but the childlike worldview and the inherent comedy in those embarassing situations has given way to the monotony of daily life, failure, attempts by Greg to build off his childhood (wanting to work at the company that made his favorite games and admitting his crush on his childhood friend) falling apart, horrible things that all people deal with later in life like the death of a family member (who was also a major character in the original series)note , with the embarrassing situations being treated seriously and all having serious knocks on Greg's will to live.
    • Parts of the original books like Fregley's "weirdness" or Frank's meanness and wish to "toughen up" Greg are brought up and recontextualized in extremely dark fashions (Fregley with having a highly abusive father, and Frank being revealed to be extremely homophobic), all of which further strengthens the idea that something like this could totally happen in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid-verse, despite the series being completely told through Greg's childlike viewpoint.

    Web Video 
  • alantutorial is already a horror series, and the second half is less realistic than the first, with things being exaggerated. However, the first real bit of horror is in the very beginning, when all the audience knows is that Alan is a mentally handicapped man living in an abusive, or at least neglectful, household. The horror at this stage comes from watching Alan do his tutorials alone, some of them dangerous, while we receive numerous hints about his bad home life. It makes the series start off in a very unsettling way that slowly becomes more exaggerated and blatantly horrific.
  • Don't Hug Me I'm Scared manages to be this Surreal Humor and Surreal Horror at the same time. Most of the "teachers" seem to represent a different form of harm that adult authority figures can inflict on the children they have power over and who patronize them if they refuse to submit to it. While Sketchbook stifling Yellow Guy's creativity by punishing him for making art "the wrong way" and the Healthy Band chastisizing Duck Guy by putting a subtle pressure on him before the infamous gory part following his breakdown are clear examples, Shrignold is more malicious: while they're not as graphically violent as the others (except if you believe in the rape theory), they're a cult leader who employ love bombing to gain followers, and like many love bombers, the line is vague between an interested scam and a sincere but twisted belief that love can solve anything.
  • Electronic Game Information: Alan and Robby's fighting in Season 2 is entirely scripted, as evidenced by the sheer fact that Alan had an entire post-credit scene talking to "Birdo" about it; but that doesn't make it feel any less real. With the entire show being portrayed as a live-streamed discussion about video games and video game conventions, having the co-hosts break into a major, on-screen argument seemed too genuine, especially with it being portrayed as a serious falling out. This genuine portrayal made the scenes a bit uncomfortable to watch.
  • The main reason why the Mario Party DS Anti Piracy videos are so effective is that they are actually convincing (the first ones are, at least; it becomes more questionable once Serial Escalation begins to set in), to the point that many people thought they were real.
  • The Nostalgia Critic: Most of the bit characters who torment Critic do it in a way too cartoonish to be scary, often with some sort of magic power. However, Hyper Fangirl (prior to her Character Development) is considered legitimately creepy to some, because while her antics are still usually Played for Laughs, her possessive behavior towards the Critic hits too close to home for some victims of stalking and sexual harassment.
  • The Painter: Compared to other Analog Horror series, this one's relatively normal. It's antagonist is not some alien, AI or monster, but just a deranged Serial Killer doing very, very sick things to others... at least, as far as the police know.
  • Smile Tapes: Despite some supernatural elements being implied, the root horror of the series comes from the simple and plausible central idea of an incredibly infectious, deadly, and mutable virus that results in horrific physical and mental effects on its victims.