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Surreal Horror

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... the hell?

"This is nine! Nine! This is nine! Nine! This is ten! Ten! We have killed your friends! Every friend is now dead! This is six! Six! Eighteen! This is now eighteen! Take cover when the siren sounds! This is four! Four! Five! This is five! Ignore the siren! Even if you leave this room, you can never leave this room!"
— "1408" by Stephen King

As much as they might scare some people, at least monsters, serial killers, and Primal Fears are scary in a comprehensible way.

This is where Surreal Horror comes in. It's not just nightmare-inducing; it's nightmarish in a literal way, by being surreal, disjointed, dreamlike, and filled with bizarre imagery, usually saying goodbye to all logic and sanity in the process. In some cases, though, it might not always work.

This is likely the main reason clowns can be scary, along with other creatures of the Uncanny Valley.

It's worth noting that not all Surreal Horror works may be considered "horror" in the genre sense, but they're horrifying all the same.

Often overlaps with Body Horror, Deranged Animation, Eldritch Abomination, Eldritch Location, Evil Is Visceral, Mind Screw, Mundane Horror, Our Monsters Are Weird, Silence Is Golden, Through the Eyes of Madness, and You Cannot Grasp the True Form.


Super-Trope to Word-Salad Horror.

Compare Accidental Nightmare Fuel and Psychological Horror. Contrast Nightmare Retardant. Compare and contrast Surreal Humor. See also Nothing Is Scarier.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • The Eclipse (which took place in a nightmare realm called the Nexus) and The Qlippoth in Berserk.
  • Black★Rock Shooter: Some of the Scenery Gorn has aspects of this.
  • Cat Soup is this combined with Grotesque Cute.
  • Cowboy Bebop, normally an upbeat, stylish Space Western, violently crashes straight into this trope for the episode "Pierrot Le Fou", where Spike is hunted by a bizarre, balloon-like, and apparently invincible assassin. Given how realistic and low-key the show usually is, the sudden shift in tones is even more jarringly horrifying than most examples as a result.
  • In Devilman, a demon disguises itself as the water in Miki's bathtub, and attempts to drown her.
  • The works of Junji Ito. Uzumaki and Gyo are what happens when he crosses it with Body Horror.
  • Jack and the Beanstalk (1974) runs on this, especially the Disney Acid Sequence during the wedding.
  • Pretty much every manga by Umezu Kazuo, notably Drifting Classroom in which an entire elementary school is transported to a nightmarish After the End world, and Fourteen, in which a humanoid chicken (named George) is leading Nature's revenge against the industrialized humanity.
  • Mononoke combines classic Japanese horror myths with a surreal art style and puzzle-like battles.
  • Mr. Arashi's Amazing Freak Show and all of the works of Suehiro Maruo, due to belonging in the "ero-guro", or erotic-grotesque movement.
  • The End of Evangelion: The second half, especially when the mass-production Evas become covered in bubbling, multiplying Rei-faces. The spectacle will likely leave you with the same look on your face as Shinji. There is a taste of it as early in the second episode, when Shinji sees the reflection of his Eva after a battle, half its skull showing through broken armor. A giant eyeball regenerates in the socket while he's watching, then it focuses on him. He passes out screaming. The reaction is understandable.
  • Paprika, especially later on in the movie. It is about the merging of dreams and the real world, so this is to be expected.
  • Paranoia Agent is about a serial assaulter who hits people of low sanity with a bent golden baseball bat. This increases when he begins exhibiting inhuman powers, and events are often shown from the mental perspectives of the characters.
  • The Witches' labyrinths in Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Most of which look like getting attacked by a cross between a Salvador Dalí painting and the opening theme song to Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei.
  • Requiem from the Darkness. Bizarre imagery abounds, characters and architecture are truly strange-looking, and the series' roots in Japanese horror folk tales are rife with surrealism.
  • Serial Experiments Lain physically represents the Internet as another layer of reality. Unlike other shows which would display a friendly, clean cyberworld, this one portrays it as disorienting and bizarre. Add in hallucinations and the blending of the real world and the Wired (Internet) and several scenes get quite intensely strange. Even the more mundane stuff has a surprisingly unsettling atmosphere.
  • Soul Eater: 90% of this can be attributed to Kishin Asura, he practically has Nightmare Fuel as a Battle Aura.
  • The Midnight Parasites, a 1972 Japanese animated short based on the paintings of Hieronymus Bosch with a weird psychedelic rock soundtrack.
  • The series version of Vampire Princess Miyu has several episodes that easily fall into the surreal horror category, but as for the last story arc, two words: Chicken. Heads. And it is terrifying.

  • Clinic is a short film about a series of bizarre, Medical Horror-themed nightmares had by an elderly patient in a hospital.

  • Louis Wain is a good example of mental deterioration affecting one's art in this way. Near the end of his life, he suffered from what is believed to be severe schizophrenia, so his comical drawings of cats in human situations transformed into increasingly abstract pictures that hardly resembled cats at all.

    Comic Books 
  • Dylan Dog: Rather than being a monster hunter type, Dylan more often than not investigates cases that are usually pretty Mind Screw-y, akin to some sort of mix between Terry Gilliam and Lucio Fulci. An excellent example of this is the issue "Golconda!" (#41) with a giant tentacular eye killing two teenagers before riding off on their tandem, and an army of Men with bowler hats straight out of a René Magritte painting descending from the sky and killing people in graphic and bizarre manners with their powers.
  • The Sandman (1989): The Corinthian has shades of this, where this trope meets the more reasonable horror trope of the Serial Killer. Guy who strips teenage boys to their underwear, ties them up, then cuts out their eyes to eat them? Freaky but not too out of place in a realistic setting. Immortal literal nightmare who's been doing this for about forty years running for his own amusement? Freakier. (And, of course, he has More Teeth than the Osmond Family in his eye sockets in lieu of eyes. Yet he can still see. And he can eat things with them, like people's fingers if they try to take his shades. And if he eats someone's eyes that way he can see things they've seen.)

    Comic Strips 
  • The week-long (Oct 23-28, 1989) Garfield Story Arc where he wakes up one morning and finds his home inexplicably empty and decrepit, as though no one has lived there for years, and images of the people he knows fade away into nothingness as he approaches them. Yeah, Jim Davis was really going for something else in those strips.
    "An imagination is a powerful tool. It can tint memories of the past, shade perceptions of the present, or paint a future so vivid that it can entice... or terrify, all depending upon how we conduct ourselves today.”
  • Liō often resembles a Victorian morality fable, but more random. Go fishing? The fish are fighting back, and ready to eat you! Ignore the warning not to go sledding on a particular hill? There's a monster hiding under the snow at the bottom! Naturally, the emphasis here tends to be on the brutal death awaiting those who make the wrong choice.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Un Chien Andalou. Watch out for razors. It also contains elements of Surreal Humour, which makes the atmosphere even more unsettling.
  • The content of the video tape in The Ring is clearly a homage to Un Chien Andalou.
  • The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari: One of the main reasons this founding work is so creepy. The plot itself generally makes sense, but the set designs, costumes, and overall mood are very dreamlike and strange, even for a silent movie.
  • Eraserhead is one of the weirdest of David Lynch's feature films, although his short film Rabbits (about 40 minutes long) is just as (if not more) surreal. Also, Inland Empire. Other David Lynch movies (especially Lost Highway) also show signs of this. A few scenes in Mulholland Dr. as well, particularly the Winkies scene and the scenes involving the old people. And practically all of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me.
  • Carnival of Souls is another classic example, following a young woman's disturbingly surreal visions of being stalked by a terrifying ghoul, and did the Dying Dream plot decades before Jacob's Ladder below.
  • Jacob's Ladder, which also turns out to be the protagonist's Dying Dream, slams back and forth between terrifying weirdness and mundane drama with the abruptness of getting hit over the back of the head with a brick.
  • The Machinist has many grotesquely surreal Mind Screw scenes, particularly the amusement park ride and all of the scenes with Ivan.
  • Tetsuo: The Iron Man is this combined with Body Horror, particularly of the bio-mechanical sort.
  • Berberian Sound Studio is a slightly meta take on the genre, but certainly shows shades of this when Toby Jones' sound engineer slowly starts losing his mind as the boundaries between the main plot and the Show Within a Show are increasingly blurred. The final act is incomprehensibly terrifying.
  • Begotten, a silent, high-contrast black-and-white experimental film that opens with God disembowelling Himself. It just gets weirder from there. The sequel, Din of Celestial Birds, is just as weird.
  • Several scenes from Angel Heart veer into this territory, most notably the infamous sex scene. You know you're not watching a normal horror movie when one of the most chilling scenes is Robert De Niro biting into a hard-boiled egg.
  • David Cronenberg has been known to create works featuring very disturbing visuals, particularly with Videodrome and eXistenZ.
  • The ending to the film Society. An incredibly bizarre exercise in Body Horror as the protagonist stumbles across the most disgusting orgy in cinema history. With legendary splatter-movie guru Screaming Mad George doing the effects, what else would you expect?
  • In the Mouth of Madness is pretty much a surreal Cosmic Horror Story, being full of Mind Screws, Cosmic Retcons, and Breaking the Fourth Wall sequences. But the tip of the iceberg is the ending: It turns out the movie you're watching is the one which is driving people insane and turning them into monsters.
  • The Lighthouse contains surrealistic elements, insofar as it's often unclear which of the disturbing and grotesque events are actually taking place as opposed to being nightmares or hallucinations of the main characters.
  • Don't Look Now has several scenes where the main character has recurring visions of his deceased daughter and of his own death and funeral as he wanders lost in abandoned plazas, courtyards, and palaces in Venice (which themselves are distorted and dreamlike due to the near-absence of other people).
  • Antichrist. Those animals? According to the talking fox, chaos reigns.
  • The Passion of the Christ is already a horribly gruesome movie before you bring in the weirder touches like a group of possibly demonic children tormenting Judas, shots of the rotting corpse of a donkey with an eerie grin on its face, and one of the weirdest depictions of Satan in cinema - as a bald, androgynous woman with an eerily deep voice, who is occasionally shown carrying a disturbingly ancient-looking baby.
  • Come and See uneasily swirls together the nightmare reality of war with the surreal weirdness of regular nightmares to very disturbing effect. Several sequences in the movie are implausible and downright surreal, and intentionally so.
  • Finnish director A J Annila's Sauna. Its main antagonist is the titular piece of Sinister Architecture that feels far more sentient and malevolent than an immobile building rightfully should.
  • Most of the '80s output from Lucio Fulci qualifies, with the copious Gorn mixed with bizarre dream-like happenings that really make very little sense. The Beyond is the one which likely takes the cake in the Mind Screw department, ending with the last two protagonists stuck in a kind of ontological maybe-symbolic post-apocalytic hellscape that is either Another Dimension they're now trapped in or what our world just turned into in the space of a few minutes.
  • Hausu. The premise - young group of protagonists enter a house in which bad scary stuff happens - is simple enough, but the "scary stuff" is much more bizarre than the film's Western peers.
  • The surrealistic elements of Michael and Mark Polish film Northfork are more absurd than horrifying, but some of his creations, from the porcelain hands and strange glasses of "Happy" to the Dali-esque horse on crutch-like stilts are certainly unsettling.
  • π. The Eraserhead-esque black and white atmospheric directing style certainly helps.
  • Donnie Darko is about a troubled teenager who has regular meetings with a six-foot tall anthropomorphic bunny rabbit who can see the future, and just gets weirder from there. Like, when a translucent wormhole comes out of his chest, or when a movie screen implodes.
  • Dario Argento's Suspiria (1977) is somewhat like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari in that the unsettling tone of the film owes much to its characters going about their business in some pretty bizarre interiors… apparently without ever noticing anything unusual. Suspiria's actual plot details are a little weirder, though.
  • All the films of Jan Švankmajer (Alice, Little Otik and Sileni, among others) may classify in this trope, due to heavy use of Medium Blending live-action with Deranged Animation.
  • In Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, the whole portion inside the factory is surreal and often creepy, but the ultimate example is the infamous Disney Acid Sequence during the boat ride. Even the cast had no idea Gene Wilder would be singing! It's so creepy that many modern showings leave it out, and Disney Channel put a content warning before their showings of the film (the only time they've used a content warning for anything below a PG-13 rating) mainly on the strength of this scene being included in its near-entirety.
  • Black Swan. It was inspired by Psychological Horror Perfect Blue, so no surprise there.
  • The 1981 porno Nightdreams was an attempt to make porn that worked as legitimate art. Along the way, something went horribly wrong, and the final product was a bizarre, nightmarish, sick movie that is very disturbing and not the slightest bit arousing. Totally worth checking out.
  • Event Horizon went in that direction, since it is about the thin line between our world and a dimension made entirely out of Chaotic Evil.
  • The Shining. In the book, a lot of the hotel's history is explained to us. In the movie, we see the ghosts and visions as the characters do — with little to no context or explanation as to what the hell is going on.
  • Death Bed: The Bed That Eats is a strange arthouse-horror-sexploitation movie about a demon possessed bed that eats people by melting them with a pee-like substance. It gets way weirder, nonsensical, and trippier from there. And there's a guy who lives behind a painting that constantly talks to the bed with no response. A must see!
  • Repulsion enters this territory once Carol's rape dreams start.
  • Hellraiser and Hellbound: Hellraiser II mixes this with ungodly amounts of Gorn and Body Horror.
  • Cube, for taking place in a bizarre yet definitely dangerous setting of the, well, cube.
  • The Woman Who Powders Herself, an insane black and white short from the '70s that features lots of animation effects and disfigurements.
  • Possession. A husband searches for his missing wife with her lover. They find out she's shacked up with a second lover, who turns out to be not a human. It all goes downhill from there.
  • In the film Being John Malkovich, being the original John Malkovich and not knowing when a hole in an office building could allow you to be controlled by someone else; then there's the time he tries to go through it himself.
  • Mandy (2018) is the rare place where this trope crosses over with the revenge thriller genre. The premise - An 80s period piece with Nicolas Cage taking vengeance on evil cultists - is fairly straightforward, but its bizarre, hypersaturated visuals and intensely ominous atmosphere (in addition to the cult's possibly demonic biker henchmen) make it much weirder than that plot description makes it sound, and it's ultimately unclear how much of what we're seeing is actually taking place and how much of it is the protagonist losing his mind. It's directed by the same guy who did Beyond the Black Rainbow, so no surprises there.
  • Mamoru Oshii dips into it on occasion with his live-action films. In particular, Talking Head is about as close to a David Lynch film as you can get without the man himself directing.
  • Apocalypse Now has an increasingly surreal and downright disturbing atmosphere throughout its duration.
  • mother! (2017) fits this trope like a glove, made by grandmaster of psychological-thriller surrealism Darren Aronofsky, featuring a tiny cast of nameless characters, a heavily allegorical plot featuring tons of sexual and violent unpleasantness, climaxing in literal baby eating.
  • The 1983 short film Possibly in Michigan won some notoriety on the forums of Reddit for its use of this trope. Its YouTube summary ("Two women are chased through a shopping mall by a cannibal") isn't necessarily inaccurate, but it only gives you the faintest idea of the movie's true scare potential. A cannibal is pretty standard fair for horror films. But... when the victims are a pair of Ambiguously Human women with eerie lilting voices who burst into rhyme at random moments, the cannibal is a mysterious tuxedoed stalker with a distorted rubber face who somehow no one can see, the shopping mall is an almost-empty building that hosts wild dance parties for people in animal masks, and the chase is punctuated by random bursts of Stock Footage? That's Surreal Horror.
  • The Phantasm series goes back and forth on this - the latter films were always at least rather weird, but the 1979 original truly fits this trope best.
  • The Mask 1961, billed as the first Canadian horror film (no relation to the 1997 movie with Jim Carrey), is mostly a pretty standard, even slow-moving scary movie about a haunted Aztec death mask that drives anyone who wears it to madness. The thing that makes the movie truly memorable, however, is that every time the Doomed Protagonist puts on the mask (three times, in total), we're treated to an elaborate and genuinely strange Nightmare Sequence in 3D.
  • May I Please Enter?: Throughout the short-film, it's clear that something isn't right in the house, and there are moments of very strange and nightmarish imagery alongside the otherwise mundane scenes of Amy and John giving the Cowboy a house-tour; for example, their doorbell ends up spooling-out on the ground like a noodle, they own a "weapon" that looks more like an ominous breathing sock, and have a room full of people "sleeping". Everything just leads to more questions, and nothing is resolved or explained by the end.
  • The amateurish B-movie The Item by Dan Clark goes into surreal horror territory when the mind-breaking, talking worm creature shows up.
  • Holidays:
    • St Patrick's Day, arguably, though that's more Surreal Humor, with a woman giving birth to a snake.
    • Father's Day has some strong elements of this. A woman is led by a tape her father left to her into a very strange place where she thinks she'll meet him again, while instead encountering... something bad.
  • Aguirre, the Wrath of God starts out as a straightforward journey through the jungle, and then numerous unexplained and/or bizarre events begin happening with the characters displaying little to no reaction. By the end, the audience ends up feeling in the same state of madness as the characters.

  • Thomas Ligotti, who has drawn on a lifetime of intricate and disturbing nightmares for much of his writing.
  • Stephen King's From a Buick 8 has as the theme that there are some things you just can't understand and sometimes you'll never have answers. Also, the things that come out of the Buick's trunk make you feel like you're being raped. They're not even malicious, but their bizarre nature horrifies everyone who sees them.
  • The Third Policeman is a nightmarishly surreal novel by Irish author Flann O Brien (think James Stephens meets House of Leaves while being dictated to by Salvador Dalí) and after reading you'll probably never look at a bicycle in the same way again.
  • The alien needle monsters in Eden Green take strange, absurd shapes, and the title character nicknames them things like 'herbivore' and 'giraffe'.
  • Lots of Neil Gaiman's works use this. For instance, American Gods has a scene in which a prostitute swallows a man through her vagina, and "The Problem of Susan" shows us a deranged version of The Chronicles of Narnia in which Aslan rapes the White Witch and gruesomely devours the Pevensie children. Hell, even his children books revel in this. Coraline is about a girl who crawls through a tunnel into another world full of puppets who want to stitch buttons onto her eyes, and The Graveyard Book has a scene in which two children enter a mausoleum inhabited by a naked, tattooed Celtic warrior (who, thankfully, isn't real) and an enormous, undead, snakelike monster.
  • Even the original Narnia series introduced this at one point, when the characters sail through a fog of nightmares in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Since Real Dreams are Weirder, some of these nightmares are pretty surreal — for example, Eustace's nightmare involves giant scissors, and we can only guess what that entails.note 
  • Goosebumps has its fair share of these in many books. However, none of them could match the bizarre and graphic horror this trope displays in I Live In Your Basement, which even has children turning inside out of its graphic, gory glory!
  • John Dies at the End. The crude humor might lead you to assume otherwise, but it's definitely horrific and strange.
  • The Torque in China Mieville's Bas-Lag Cycle. A cancerous force of mutation that is hard to describe in its effects. It blights the landscape turning them into constantly shifting and wrong geometries, it has startling effects on living things (one of the most prominent examples in the series is a train full of people, merged with the train car they were in turned into one enormous amoeba like mass which seems impervious to damage, or the researcher who slowly notices that small circular holes of herself are disappearing). Even the Mad Scientist main character of the first book views Torque as an uncontrollable and terrifying force.
  • The later stages of Lamplight. What starts off as a shadowy ghost story takes a full turn into reality-warping horror by the final third of the novel.
  • Naked Lunch is full of surreal Body Horror and Big Creepy-Crawlies, as are most of the books of William S. Burroughs.
  • Most of the stories and novels of Franz Kafka qualify as this trope.
  • Catch-22 starts out as a silly, absurdist parody... until about halfway through, where it starts veering into this trope by showing how horrifying it would really be to live in a world where things like loyalty oaths or turning a profit by selling eggs to yourself are treated as totally sensible and rational; many of the characters show absolutely no reaction to the utterly bizarre and horrific events occurring around them, culminating in Aarfy getting off totally scotfree after raping and murdering a woman. Why? Because nobody with the power to punish him cared enough to do so.
  • The Sister Verse and the Talons of Ruin reads like a fever dream. The world reflects the fears of all the characters in the most bizarre way possible, and things continue to unravel the further they go, typically ending in a forest made of liquid meat that surrounds a black hole shaped like a willow with teeth.
  • Unhallowed, a surreal horror Web Serial Novel about three sisters dealing with dark family secrets and witchcraft in a small New England town. Is this the story of a girl spiraling into madness? Or did a young witch really break the universe by invoking mystical forces? Influences include H. P. Lovecraft and David Lynch. It's not about the goat.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Various scenes from Twin Peaks (again by David Lynch), including the dream at the end of episode 2, the Black Lodge scenes in the finale, and every scene with Killer BOB. The Return also has plenty of this, Episode 8 of the Revival is almost an entire episode of nothing but weird nightmare imagery.
  • The Danish TV series The Kingdom (Riget), which is set in a hospital and involves such things as the birth of a fully-grown man with way too long legs, and a doctor having the cancerous liver of another man transplanted into his own body For Science! and as a trophy.
  • The British series Sapphire and Steel, while nominally SF, is also deeply unsettling in the fashion of a good ghost story — little or nothing is explained in any detail, which tends to enhance the dream-logic feel of the show.
  • The Prisoner (1967): Did he escape? Who captured him? What the hell is going on? Who is #1? Why do they care? Who are these people? WHY DOES THAT DOOR OPEN THE SAME WAY AS THE ONES IN THE VILLAGE?!
  • Garth Marenghis Darkplace has some comically absurd horrors, like Skipper the Eyechild.
  • The Eric Andre Show is basically what would happen if David Lynch hosted a daytime talk show. Most of the time, the surreal bits are humorous, but when they aren't, they're usually this. Especially if you're one of the guests.
  • Channel Zero: Each season so far has featured some very bizarre moments of horror, ranging from a monster made entirely out of teeth to zombies that consume memories to a chess-playing butler made entirely out of meat to a Monster Clown who brutally kills a man only to then perform a circus act (complete with jazz hands).
  • Doctor Who has dipped into this with some storylines:
    • "The Web Planet", which focuses on several races of Insectoid Aliens and uses lots of dreamlike imagery in the visuals, sound and deliberately nonsensical dialogue ("We must make mouths in the walls and then they will speak more light"). Not to mention the sheer dream-logic which the aliens run off — beeping ants with larvae that fire bolts of shrieking light controlled by a strange tentacled creature that speaks through web tunnels, makes the TARDIS console go spinning out of the TARDIS and away, and can control anyone wearing gold; giant bees with strange inhuman voices that can fly through space to the moon… The rather unrealistic costumes also enhance the weird atmosphere, perhaps unintentionally.
    • "The Mind Robber", which takes place in a kind of dream dimension, starts in a blank white void, and has things like Jamie's face getting turned into a 'puzzle' that the Doctor has to solve, but he does it wrong and ends up changing Jamie's appearance.
    • "The Deadly Assassin" involves the Doctor being sent into a computer nightmare based on common bad dreams strung together with no narrative coherence in a dreamlike manner — a surgeon with a giant syringe about to inject him full of blood while he's paralyzed, a soldier leading a horse wearing a gas mask, and sudden falling being just three things.
    • "The Doctor's Wife" has the characters landing on an extra-dimensional junkyard asteroid... that turns out to be an Eldritch Abomination that devours TARDISes. Among this entity's minions are a sinister Cthulhumanoid and a ragged man and woman made from dead Time Lord body parts woven together. Eventually, the Eldritch Abomination hijacks the Doctor's TARDIS and tries to escape into our dimension and wreak havoc.
    • Notably, this trope is why a number of fans, most notably Peter Capaldi, believe that the original cheap-looking Mondasian Cybermen are much scarier than the cosmetically superior Cybermen from the new series. The audience has seen plenty of scary killer robots, what they haven't seen are clearly-living humanoids with blank, cloth-covered faces, empty black voids for eyes, and mouths that just kind of hang open when they talk in bizarre singsong voices, and plummet like a boulder from a cliff, straight down into the Uncanny Valley. They're less a logical, realistic depiction of cybernetics and more like a child's nightmare version of what a Killer Robot would look like.
  • Tim & Eric's Bedtime Stories abandons the Surreal Humor of previous Tim & Eric creations for this, featuring a world where toes are removed by scissors as often as tonsils are taken out.
  • The infamous Max Headroom incident is a good example of this. On 22 November 1987, an unidentified prankster hijacked Chicago airwaves note  and broadcast eerie footage of a guy in a Max Headroom mask spouting gibberish (and briefly, at the end, being spanked by someone in a French Maid costume). Cracked has a good summary.
  • This House Has People in It is a short film from Alan Resnick that never explains itself. Nothing seems to make sense? Why is that girl sinking into the ground? Nobody knows! Why does this simple house need a surveillance system? Nobody knows! What the hell is Tom's deal? Nobody knows! Why is everyone sinking into the ground now? NOBODY KNOWS!
  • Legion (2017) runs off of this, given that it's the story of a man with both deadly mutant abilities and severe mental illness. It's the kind of show where the Big Bad can give the protagonist a chilling Breaking Speech comparing love to a disease spread by ants and then bust out into a spectacular James Bond-style dance solo set to a raucous cover of Nina Simone's "Feelin' Good". And it actually gets even weirder as the series progresses. Bonus points for most of the scenes with the Devil With the Yellow Eyes successfully conveying the "slow-moving, inescapable, irrational horror" feel of an actual nightmare.
  • Hannibal initially makes a half-hearted gesture at realism by having its protagonist suffer regular hallucinations, but eventually that explanation is dispensed with. And often the more horrifying things are literally happening, like a man whose skull was hollowed out to make room for a working apiary, the two separate "artworks" constructed from mutilated human corpses by unrelated "artists", the... everything involving horses or pigs, and a body flayed and manipulated to resemble an oversized, anatomically-correct human heart. The show draws inspiration directly and openly from David Lynch.
  • The House in Beyond the Walls has its merry way with the laws of physics in every conceivable way. The zombie-like creatures inhabiting it don't help either: you can't communicate with them, they vastly differ in intelligence and hostility and sometimes seem to wear boar heads for fun.
  • WandaVision, featuring two superheroes, one of whom is supposed to be dead, trapped in a Stepford Suburbia sitcom reality while the government tries to figure out from outside what the hell is going on; and it seems that one of the heroes may be somewhat responsible for this.

  • Neutral Milk Hotel's lyrics fall here pretty often. Especially "A Baby for Pree" and "Two-Headed Boy".
  • "Revolution #9" by The Beatles has this effect on some people. It's a mashup of strange sounds which bears little to no resemblance to what most people think of as "music."
  • Some of Pink Floyd's early instrumentals have this effect on some people, particularly "A Saucerful Of Secrets", "Main Theme", and "Sysyphus". You can definitely count also "Careful With That Axe, Eugene."
  • Rush's "Cygnus X-1", which also overlaps with Cosmic Horror Story.
  • The Residents. An avant-garde music group formed in the 1960's who have managed to stay anonymous throughout their whole career. Here's a taste. Besides the music itself, the music videos, video game and other creative output all serve to emphasize this.
  • Pretty much everything by Swans, an experimental industrial band from New York. One of the band's members, singer/songwriter/proverbial witch and keyboardist Jarboe, has solo material that delves so far into the realms of Surreal/Psychological Horror to the point that it becomes impossible to listen, although you can't help but wait it out in terror. The release of their 2012 album marked their 30th anniversary; it sounds as though they haven't missed a step nor do they plan on doing so.
  • Many modern Technical Death Metal bands that focus around using dissonance, disorientating time signatures and bizarre vocal styles to create an extremely dark and dreamy atmosphere fall into this. Examples include Pyrrhon, Portal, Artificial Brain and Ulcerate. This style can be traced back to Gorguts' album Obscura and the Finnish band Demilich; arguably the two most unsettling examples.
  • The Pixies were influenced by movies like Eraserhead and Un Chien Andalou. (Source)
  • The later works of Scott Walker are the stuff of nightmares, especially the album The Drift.
  • Antihoney, a mysterious Japanese musical project, features a unique dreamlike soundscape. Their songs are free, available to download on their official site. The music is already pretty weird on its own (some songs even completely reversed on release), the ethereal vocals only emphasizes the creepiness. It was brought to fame (among fans) largely by the sinister imagery created in the fan made music videos by Youtube animator nana825763 (best known for the famous Youtube video Username 666), and they fit suprisingly well with the music. It's very, very trippy.
  • The Mars Volta slips into this at times, with their odd Word Salad Lyrics and odd, Mind Screw music.
  • Queen's video for "I'm Going Slightly Mad" — well, what do you expect for a song with Reality Subtext about dementia brought on by the terminal stages of Freddie Mercury's AIDS?
  • Likewise, David Bowie's video for the song "Ashes to Ashes" on his album Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps). Again, the song itself has some dark Reality Subtext, this time about Bowie's drug addiction — though as with the aforementioned Queen song, the video is just a mishmash of freaky images. Even darker are Bowie's videos for "Blackstar" and "Lazarus", both released right before he died.
  • Much like the Technical Death Metal example above, many of the stranger bands in Black Metal are prone to doing this, often through use of Uncommon Time, bizarre vocals, dissonant guitar tunings, and unconventional song structures. Deathspell Omega and Blut aus Nord are the poster boys for this style. Some of the other bands who practice it include Oranssi Pazuzu, Jute Gyte, Spectral Lore, and arguably Liturgy.
  • Much of the work of Richard D. James, better known as Aphex Twin, falls in this category. Whether it's the often robotic vocal effects, out-of-tune melodies, or bizarre and often frightening lyrics, we guarantee that you won't be sleeping for days. Oh, and the music videos.
  • The music video of LeaF's MopeMope is infamous for its frequent Art Shift from adorable kids-themed animation to a creepy seizure-inducing Deranged Animation with botanical abominations with human arms for petals and realistic human lips, etc.

  • Welcome to Night Vale straddles the line between Surreal Humor and this, focusing on news broadcasts from a small town with a terrible and unknowable dog park (where dogs are not allowed), a faceless old woman who lives in your house (yes, yours), a Boy Scout troop with ranks that go up to "Eternal Scout" and whose initiation ceremonies result in dark-eyed children coming to town, and the sheer carnage of Street Cleaning Day.
  • The Magnus Archives can venture into this on occasion, especially whenever the Victim of the Week finds themselves dealing with The Other Circus. Including the protagonists, at the end of season 3. You know things are bad when the violin music in the intro is replaced by circus noise.

    Tabletop Games  
  • Warhammer 40,000: Try leafing through the descriptions of Chaos mutations sometime. And good luck catching a peaceful night's rest if you do. Oh, and Chaos imagery and architecture also counts. Explicitly described is the alphabet of Chaos as "sanity blasting sigils".
  • Normality embodies this trope, as it lacks a dice mechanic and largely consists of furious ranting at a world gone wrong.
  • In Deadlands, players may have to run through a session or two of this if they die and come back harrowed or travel through the Hunting Grounds.
  • Changeling: The Lost has Arcadia, comprised of the domains of The Others. The other Dark Worlds in the New World of Darkness pale compared to it, simply due to its sheer variety and absurdity.
  • Exalted: The entirety of the Wyld. Mortals entering it will be unmade, but the Exalts might have a slight chance of surviving with both their mind and body intact.
  • In JAGS Wonderland, Chessboard One has elements of this. The Chessboards below it are this.
  • The Hastur Mythos in Delta Green are made of this, because Hastur personifies the breaking of the laws of reality and logic. They are modelled after The King in Yellow.
    It’s horrific when an unnatural tome reveals the secrets of the universe; it’s surreal horror when that book written in 1611 contains a description of you down to the smallest details, including the fact that you’re reading that book right now.
    • The campaign Impossible Landscapes starts fairly mundane, but as the players get exposed to Hastur's corruption and inadvertedly start entering deeper into Carcosa reality starts to break down more and more. The Handler is recommended to throw in completely mundane scenes to contrast with all the insanity going on.
  • In Don't Rest Your Head, the player characters are people with abnormal insomnia that gain strange powers (which work with dream logic) and are driven to a place called Mad City, a city that is a total mess full with Anachronism Stew and Bizarrchitecture where all the missing things and people from our world go. Also, the city is ruled by strange beings that prey on humans and have dream logic powers as the protagonists.
  • Invisible Sun has players as magic-users called vislae who have discovered the Actuality, a dream-like dimension of magic and imagination. With its fantastical nature, the imagery can quickly go from semi-normal to nightmarish when spells are used, leaving characters covered in screaming mouths, having eyeballs for fingertips, or any other kind of twisted deformations that they can use to hurt others... or as an advantage for themselves. The horror comes especially when the story involves a horrific war of magic that happened in the past and caused many vislae to flee the Actuality in the first place.

    Video Games 
  • Rule of Rose. A cruel caste system ruled by little girls is weird enough, but then there's the monsters...
  • The Silent Hill series sometimes drifts into this:
    • Silent Hill 2 contains several examples:
      • Pyramid Head's appearance in Silent Hill 2 is also a visual example of Surreal Horror, with his massive, rusted polygonal head that could never be supported by the rest of his body. It's even deconstructed; it's shown that he hates the big heavy helmet but has long since given up on trying to get it off.
      • The Alien Geometries of several locations are very disorienting.
      • Maria's repeated deaths and sudden reappearances are very disquieting.
    • The nightmare hospital from Silent Hill 3 and its infamous mirror room that shows various mismatched reflections.
    • Silent Hill 4 has an infamous hospital room.
    • Silent Hills' playable teaser has you looping through a slowly degrading suburban home over and over again, finding Eraserhead-esque babies in a decrepit bathroom and talking to a mutated paper bag, among other strange things.
  • American McGee's Alice: Alice in Wonderland was pretty surreal already, so of course a darker version of it is going to evoke this.
  • Yume Nikki: Sure, it's a dream, and dreams are weird, but how many people have whole worlds in their head full of bloody eyeballs?
  • In Eternal Darkness, the Surreal Horror angle runs rampant, especially once your sanity meter runs low. The whole thing is just one big screwed up wide awake nightmare.
  • Mondo Medicals and its sequel, Mondo Agency. The atmosphere is very oppressive and your goals vague — even the gameplay evokes this trope through the bizarre perspective tricks.
  • While much of Earthbound is surreal and trippy, its endgame heads straight into this trope. Mother 3's famous removed unused enemy backgrounds even more so.
  • The Path, which is the story of Little Red Riding Hood as a series of nonsensical (or possibly allegorical) scenes and vignettes.
  • Baroque, especially the original release due to a heavy atmosphere created by the limitations of the system.
  • The Orz from Star Control II are your friendly neighborhood aliens, who look a bit like large parrotfish, and, due to their language being too alien for the Translator Microbes to manage, they also speak in broken English. And remember: never, EVER ask them what happened to the Androsynth.
  • When it isn't a tactical shooter, F.E.A.R. goes for this. One of the highlights of the first game was an extended sequence where you couldn't be sure if the man taunting you was a hallucination or in the room with you, and doors you were trying to flee through seemed to move away from you. It ended with a dive into a pool of blood that left you standing beneath a gore-soaked ceiling. In the first expansion to F.E.A.R, there was a very memorable sequence where the player tries to open a door at the end of a hallway. Finding it locked, you turn around to see that the hallway you had just came down had transformed into the entrance way to an asylum.
    • Entering one room and finding it empty, save for an operating chair and a door on the end. Go through that, and find TWO operating chairs. Repeat until blood starts appearing and the increasingly large volume of chairs start getting attached to the walls and the ceiling, as the walls start to progressively cave in. Hmm.
  • Survival Crisis Z looks like a standard Zombie Apocalypse at first, but the observant player will notice something... odd about these undead. (For instance, they giggle as they attack.) The farther you get, the crazier it gets.
  • The Penumbra series. Starts off as a fairly normal horror scenario of the PC going into a abandoned mine full of savage wildlife to find his father, then you end up in the Elaborate Underground Base of a ancient conspiracy, dodging sentient virus infected zombies, and in the final game you're solving puzzles in a weird mash of all the locations in the first two games, while the PA system begs you not to finish the game so that she won't be alone, and dead supporting characters rant inanely at you.
  • Killer7, a technicolor acid nightmare of a video game.
  • Drakengard sneaks up on the player, beginning as a dark Medieval European Fantasy that just happens to have weird references to "the Watchers" sprinkled in. The standard ending mostly avoids the trope, but each unlockable alternate ending gets successively more unhinged, till by the fourth there are giant demonic babies falling from the sky.
  • Catherine. Never have the consequences of infidelity looked quite so nightmarish.
  • Eversion is a very happy example of this. Enjoy your blood.
  • All of Our Friends Are Dead's nightmarish imagery is a particularly hellish example of this. Being a Run-and-Gun, it has been described as "Contra on a really bad acid trip."
  • Shadows of the Damned drifts toward this frequently, with content that's as disturbing as it is nonsensical. Somewhere between goats being a source of light and finding out strawberries are made of ground-up tongues, you either learn to just roll with it, or give up.
  • Sentinel Returns has been described as "the most terrifying E-rated game ever made". It is set in a surreal, dark, chequered landscape where you play as a robot with the mission to absorb monstrous creatures of flesh and metal called Sentinels before they absorb you, by teleporting to gradually higher altitudes. The landscapes feature trees that look like spermatozoa and breathing boulders with a sphincter on the top. This is the introduction. And the soundtrack has been composed by John Carpenter. By the way, if you're expecting explanation for anything about the game to come from anywhere, you're going to be disappointed.
  • A recurring element in games by Edmund McMillen:
    • The Binding of Isaac, a deranged tale of a little boy, whose brutally abusive mother intends to sacrifice him to God. Filled with Body Horror, Big Creepy-Crawlies, disturbingly Freudian imagery, and Toilet Humor.
    • Time Fcuk, a deranged tale of a young man, whose future self throws him into a very strange box in which time and physics make little sense. Most of the horror here is psychological, as the protagonist slowly goes completely insane navigating the physics-breaking puzzles, dying repeatedly with no consequence, talking to both past and future versions of himself, and talking to the growing lump/clone on his head (which he names "Steven").
    • Meat Boy is tame compared to the other examples here, but it still contains Hell, sawblades, zombies, copious amounts of blood, sawblades, ruined landscapes, and a psychotic fetus. And lots of sawblades.
    • Coil, for providing little context for the events within, yet seeming very sinister even in ambiguity. Most people interpret it as a story about rape, but Edmund's personal interpretation is about somebody meeting with Death.
    • Grey Matter uses motifs based around mental illness and the brain in general.
  • Maxis's User Created Content game SPORE has a subculture among the creators known as UBD, which lives for surreal Body Horror, making bizarre, twisted versions of just about any animal, plant, body part, or object you can imagine, as well as a few you thankfully can't imagine. The morbid puns they use for names don't help. Neither does the fact that all of SPORE's hardcoded character animations are goofily exaggerated.
  • LSD: Dream Emulator is a cult PlayStation game in which you explore colorful and quirky dreams, with a lot of randomly generated content. The more dreams you play through, the stranger and more deranged things get.
  • The Half-Life mod Cry of Fear features this to some extent throughout but a few "nightmare sequences" use this to even greater effect, the start of one is signified by Alien Geometries and/or hallways and rooms coated in blood.
    • In the subway behind the brick wall is an excellent example, after some hallways using Alien Geometry you drop down into a maze covered in blood and full of impossibly tall people bound up in bags with twitching heads that look like they've had their grey-matter squeezed out. All of them are hanging from the ceiling like cattle in a butcher factory and constantly moving around. Touching one results in instant death and the soundtrack does not make things any more pleasant.
  • Much like Cry of Fear, Afraid of Monstersnote  is incredibly surreal. The protagonist, David Leatherhoff, goes through several nightmare sequences in his own mind, where the world is a deep, matte black. Twitching, growling things lurk in the walls, which seem to be drawn out of white ink.
  • Ao Oni would just be normal horror, if it weren't for the fact that the monster is a bizarre invocation of the Uncanny Valley that manages to look simultaneously humorous and horrifying.
  • UIN is the story of a boy, lost in a cupboard filled with Eldritch Abominations.
  • the white chamber, thanks to its shifts to a Dark World.
  • The Chzo Mythos also has a Dark World like the above in its later entries. A bit of Serial Escalation in that the first two games are mostly about supernatural but still comprehensible killers, and the latter two have transcended into full-on Cosmic Horror Story.
  • Lone Survivor is this and Survival Horror. The monsters are fleshy, twitchy things, walls are covered in gore, half the dialogue makes no sense, and mirrors teleport you to your apartment.
  • Limbo is set in a grainy, monochrome world mixed with forested and industrial terrain. There are dead bodies in the early part of the game and almost everyone and everything are there to kill you. And when they do, the deaths are quite gruesome. There is one part where you have to use the husk of a giant spider as a makeshift bridge across a pit of spikes. And that is not the end of it.
  • Among most Zelda games, The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask uses this trope to the largest extent, which inspired the creation of Ben Drowned. The titular mask of Majora is shaped like a heart but with eyes on it and it's being worn by a demented scarecrow. Meanwhile, the moon has an evil leering face that constantly stares down at the people it's about to crush. Just to name a few points. Other games show surreal moments at specific times, such as the Fused Shadow backstory in Twilight Princess.
  • Spec Ops: The Line starts veering into this territory as the main character's grip on reality becomes more fragile. It doesn't help that the setting, Dubai in ruins and constantly wracked by sandstorms, makes for a vicious, victory-less battle on ever-shifting ground amidst collapsing infrastructure with basic supplies dwindling... set among some of the most beautiful and opulent displays of wealth on Earth, all rendered worthless in the struggle. Say, a shoot-out in a glitzy night-club between dusty, screaming soldiers, bullets ripping into the artwork on the walls and cover provided by life-size jewel-studded giraffes, while a floor-installed aquarium of live fish flits beneath their feet and burning hot sand spills in through the windows. Hallucination? Nope. It's just what warfare in Dubai would look like.
  • Ib has some pretty decent mind screwing. Like stairs that meow, walls that give applause, hallways that never end unless you walk through it a certain way, paintings that come alive, roses that determine your value of life, marble statues that can walk, and crayon drawn books whose pictures move and depict preschooler murder. Fun times...
  • The normally comic MMORPG Kingdom of Loathing descends into this in its more serious zones, such as fighting an Eldritch Abomination resembling Mr. Peanut in the Caliginous Abyss, or having the embodiment of the Crackpot Mystic's fears, doubts, regrets, and anger be old-school video game characters.
  • OFF eventually turns into one during Zone 3. Even earlier than that if you return to one of the purified Zones and discover that the Batter's mission isn't as good as you thought it was.
  • Harvester has absolutely copious amounts of blood and guts, but a lot of the creepy factor comes from just how utterly wrong the entire town is. Then in the end-game, you break into the headquarters of the Lodge of the Harvest Moon, and things get really weird.
  • The Last Door is chock full of this. Everything feels a little unhinged from reality and each person seems to be at least a little insane. The closer Jeremiah gets to solving the mystery of what's going on, the more warped and bizarre everything gets.
  • The Hedge Maze from Castle Red a sprawling labyrinth fool of bizarre and random imagery meant to disorient the player. The rest of the game features strange happenings and inexplicable events as well, but the Hedge Maze is perhaps the point of maximum surreality. No other section of the game features a garden of human heads, for example.
  • Paracentric, in the vein of games such as Yume Nikki and OFF that are mentioned above.
  • LISA seems fairly tame at first glance, up to the point where the people around the protagonists begin to horrifically transform into savage and contorted monsters, and their hallucinations gradually worsen.
  • South of Real starts in a rather bog-standard haunted mansion, albeit one the player character grew up in. True to the title, though, the reality of the game goes completely south by the end of the game as the main character realizes the depths of depravity their own parental figure sunk to in an effort to save the world.
  • The Cube Escape series. Its room escape puzzles include slicing open a fish and watching a fully grown tree sprout out of it, descending into Van Gogh's severed ear to his bedroom in Arles, and cutting open an old man's sewn-shut mouth to let his human head be replaced by a crow's. Oh, and terrifying Humanoid Abominations created from the unpleasant memories extracted from the bodies of dead humans.
  • Undertale has Photoshop Flowey, often known by the Fan Nicknames God Flowey and Omega Flowey, in the Neutral/Pacifist Route climaxes. It appears a horrific fleshy pronged skull with eyes that appear to be crudely cut out from video footage, connected to a series of tubes and a TV screen showing a 2-bit photorealistic human face that looks like it's in intense pain. Endlessly looping thorny vines stream from its face and two clawed cactus-arms appear to be connected to the tubes. Its attacks include rains of nuclear bombs with normal Flowey sprites drawn on them, huge bush-worms with human teeth, finger guns connected to plants that fire pairs of sunflowers, and laser-guided vines aimed at the player. During the fight, horrific "music" plays and Photoshop Flowey will repeatedly use the power of the human souls to attack with crudely drawn knives, star/ballet shoe combos, and abusive words among other things. The horror is taken further if you're on a pacifist route as you're forced to take on multiple nightmarish abominations in the hellish True Lab. Both must be seen to be believed.
  • Sonic Dreams Collection uses this in conjunction with Surreal Humor. Every game except Make My Sonic (which is almost entirely surreal humor) has some degree of disturbingly bizarre content:
    • Eggman Origins, after going through the hidden process of making it available, turns out to be a game where the player's custom Sonic character feeds an egg/bird-like Eggman worms in an empty white void. Eventually, a tower rises with Eggman in the middle, and he seemingly turns the character into the original Sonic. This is noted as the player having "One ascension."
    • Sonic Movie Maker features one-eyed egg people that ask for bizarre things, a noisy eye inside of the moon, a hidden glitchy blue ball that can deform structures and blares out static if one moves too far away from it, Sonic eating Tails, and a section set in Rouge's womb (which is also like a stomach) where the player eventually falls into a crib.
    • My Roommate Sonic is a first-person "Dating Sim" where a spying Eggman sends the player text messages explaining what to do. Eventually, Sonic's eyes merge into one, which becomes a portal that sucks the player into an alternate landscape where they become a Sonic-like creature. While the phone appears in the background, giant, giving one final message.
  • World of Warcraft occasionally veers into Surreal Horror when the players encounter something truly mindbending. Certain locations like the top of Karazhan and the depths of Ahn'Qiraj seem to be in endless voids, when they're both tangible places you access in the real world, and certain bossfights, notably Yogg-Saron's, screw with the player's perception of the world, forcing them to kill illusions of friends and heroes.
  • This trope pretty much describes most of The Evil Within. It starts off with the main character investigating a mass murder, but then you encounter monsters that reek of Body Horror, Facial Horror, and occasional Uncanny Valley, locations that just randomly appear and disappear, various enemies (namely the Big Bad) that can warp reality, and a really creepy hospital that you can go to to upgrade and save your progress. All justified once you discover exactly where you are.
  • During Here They Lie the main character takes a journey through a muted dreamlike apocalyptic landscape encountering impossibly vast industrial cityscapes, insane people with animal heads, boat journeys through kaleidoscopes, an abandoned train station filling up with blood deep underground, sinister giant business men on fire and a theater filled with people attempting suicide among other bizarre events along the way.
  • Hideo Kojima's Death Stranding is full of it. The reveal trailer alone is one long parade of bizarre, inexplicable happenings, with such sights as a man suddenly acquiring a bloated, glowing, translucent, pregnant belly, revealing the fully-grown infant inside, a titanic Mechanical Abomination, and a man being saved from drowning... by the aforementioned baby... which appears inside his windpipe... giving a thumbs-up. Okay.
  • Close Your Eyes is a bizarre and surreal adventure through unreal worlds as your murderous marshmallow protagonist attempts to escape their execution by hanging, their journey narrated by the voice of a hammy gameshow host who encourages them to "Close... your... eyes...".
  • Baldi's Basics in Education and Learning is a game with the general aesthetic of one of these really terrible edutainment games from the 90's, except it takes a horrific turn a few minutes in.
    Baldi: Great! You're doing fantastic! Problem three! *loud static noise* plus *loud static noise* times *loud static noise* equals... [player inevitably gives a wrong answer] I GET ANGRIER FOR EVERY PROBLEM YOU GET WRONG.
  • Fallen London and its spinoffs Sunless Sea and Sunless Skies are full of nightmarish imagery, which particularly spikes up when your Sanity Meter gets low. Sunless Skies takes the cake for taking place in a world where the laws of reality are literally dying off.
  • BoxxyQuest: The Gathering Storm drifts deeper into this the further you stray from the main plot. /x/, which is mandatory, has several optional areas filled with unexplainable monsters, especially the house with the doll which loops over and over again and has things like faceless copies of your party members. The Deep Web is filled with nightmarish enemies, like huge skeletal mantises and the giant floating head of a little girl that's unraveling into a mass of eyes. Then there's the many hidden rooms sprinkled throughout the game, like Ny'agai Street and the haunted subway platform, that seem to exist purely for the sake of being utterly weird. And the secret "PC Ending" calls the game's entire setting into question in the freakiest way possible. In short, if you follow the plot and don't get lost, then you'll mostly have a grand old time; but if you wander off the path, you might end up in a totally different, much creepier type of game.
  • DARQ, being set in a series of nested nightmares, is packed with this, from the bizarre enemies to the way the protagonist can walk on walls and ceilings and rotate the world around him like a puzzle box to the unnaturally-connected areas.
  • The horror in Pity Party relies on things being nightmarish and strange, such as the two creepy guests, the protagonist being alone, and the guests casually eating poison and thumbtacks.
  • The visuals of Pilgrim (RPG Maker) are very Yume Nikki-esque, and involve strange logic in order to get past the floors of the strange building in the Other World. For example, each Storey except the first and last is guarded by a living, sentient door with a realstic human-looking face, and the way to unlock them is to put a fake eye in their empty eye socket. Other phenomena include two Womb Levels, various faces melted into the walls but still alive, Giant Spiders and Creepy Cockroaches, and odd NPCs like a giant talking cat who wants to eat an also talking mouse.
  • Everything in Mother Chef: The Musical! is quite dreamlike and strange, such as the moving backgrounds, the odd looking "food babies", and the giant arrows pointing toward the demon customer's mouth. It gives the whole game an off-putting and unsettling nature.
  • Little Nightmares takes place in a world of twisted humanoid monsters, where diminutive children are captured and butchered to be served to the gluttonous Guests of the Maw, a floating restaurant that surfaces once a year. Its owner is a mysterious woman known only as the Lady who feeds on her Guests' life force, and she employs two monstrous Twin Chefs and a creepy long-armed Janitor, all of whom appear to be wearing masks made of skin over their true visage.
  • Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots has a lot of very weird, disturbing imagery, such as unmanned biomechanical robots that moo like cows and can rotate their legs on 360-degree joints to climb buildings, a very sexy woman in a skintight suit wearing Snake's face while murdering people with huge robotic tentacles and laughing, and the 'white room' segments after defeating the bosses in which you hear a distorted soundtrack of women moaning in orgasm and crying/screaming/snarling/laughing, and so on.
  • Milya[broken] takes place in a nightmarish world where Body Horror lies at every corner. In addition, little of the story makes sense at first, thanks partially to an intentionally shoddy machine translation.
  • Tamashii is inspired by Japanese horror games, and takes after them with bizarre Satanic imagery. The levels are filled with fleshy, J-horror-esque monsters, the bosses are fleshy monsters with their brains visible, much of the dialogue is cryptic, and there are many creepy secrets and Easter Eggs with no explanation (for example, in the Hub Level, a Jump Scare will sometimes randomly play and turn the whole area into a Womb Level for a brief time), and Ominous Visual Glitches appear as well to break the fourth wall and make everything even more surreal.

    Visual Novels 

    Web Animation 
  • "Ben Wheele" Is a lesser known example of this, but their videos are on par with, if not surpassing those of David Firth and Cyriak. He is most known for Henry Eats.

    Web Comics 
  • June uses this and creepy art to its advantage. Talking Communist dogs, Stan's repeating deaths, the obsession with faces (or lack of), no inner fourth wall with a TV that can control space...
  • Unsounded has one where Sette falls through a shadow and into the Khert, or fabric of reality itself, which is created from the memories of the dead. It's as bizarre as it sounds.
  • Astray3 is plenty surreal from the first strip, but the oven-head monster is even worse than the carnivorous umbrellas. At least the killer whale guy seems friendly...

    Web Original 

    Web Videos 
  • Lasagna Cat, while obstinately driven by Surreal Humor, is not afraid to play into this at times, especially in second "season" which overall is markedly darker than the first. Just check out the ending of "Sex Survey Results".
  • Hbomberguy's video, Serious Lore Analysis 3, an analysis of Ctrl+Alt+Del and its animated series, and The Room that has Hbomb getting hunted by a masked man trying to stop Hbomb from creating lore analysis videos.
  • Mad God is an ongoing Stop Motion series that runs on this. There's not much of a story, so it's hard to describe the series, but it seems to be about an unnamed figure in a gas mask and trenchcoat traveling through a World Gone Mad for an unclear reason, and seeing some very strange things along the way. It's also unclear who the Mad God of the title is, but the obvious interpretation is that it's the show's creator himself, animation legend and neglectful dinosaur supervisor Phil Tippett.

    Western Animation 
  • Superjail! is known for this, in particular the episodes "Dream Machine" (with Jailbot's dream of being the Warden's human(oid) son resulting in Uncanny Valley animation part, and the part where the Warden dreams of his crotch morphing into Jared's head and face, while his dream version of Alice quickly rots into an angered zombie that shouts "I need my BEAUTY SLEEP!") and "Don't Be A Negaton" (the hallucination scene at the end, especially with the rotting dog and D.L. Diamond's actual face without his wig or makeup is exposed as sore-infested and decaying). Adult Swim shows in general could probably qualify.
  • Aqua Teen Hunger Force. It's usually Surreal Humor but occasionally it crosses the line into whacked out nightmares.
  • Ren & Stimpy delves into this on occasion, in particular "Hermit Ren" and the Commander Hoek and Cadet Stimpy episodes. Lots of Deranged Animation too.
  • Courage the Cowardly Dog tends towards this sort of style to keep its Defanged Horrors scary: on top of the creator's overall outlook (claiming heavy influence by Salvador Dali), the show often uses Medium Blending for when a villain really needs to stand out, like, say, the Spirit of the Harvest Moon, King Ramses, or that cute violin girl.note 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender:
    • In "Nightmares and Daydreams", most of Aang's nightmares (and later, hallucinations) are merely funny. However, his last nightmare before he decides to avoid sleep altogether (leading to the hallucinations) is downright terrifying, even making Momo (Aang's pet lemur) creepy.
    • Zuko's Nightmare Sequence in "The Earth King."
  • The paraphernalia wagon sequence from Halloween Is Grinch Night. It's very easily comparable to Yume Nikki, being basically the protagonist walking through a series of strange, nightmarish visuals.
  • On the topic of Dr. Seuss cartoons, The Butter Battle Book features a similarly creepy Disney Acid Sequence about building weapons of mass destruction. The Butter Battle Book is way darker than Seuss's other material for kids, and Ralph Bakshi directed the Animated Adaptation, so no surprise there.
  • The collective animation project Hopital Brut (French for "Gross Hospital") has something to do with horrific experiments at the eponymous hospital, including lobotomies that entail the complete obliteration of the rest of the head. It's best not viewed by the faint of heart or the sound of mind.
  • Adventure Time drifts into this sometimes:
    • The episode "No One Can Hear You" features Finn waking up alone in a hospital, finding the Candy Kingdom abandoned except for a delirious and concussed Jake, who has convinced himself everyone is off preparing for a surprise party. Then Finn finds out everyone was abducted by a bipedal deer with human hands.
    • Marceline's father turns out to be a demon lord who rules over "the Nightosphere" which, as seen in "Return to the Nightosphere" and "Daddy's Little Monster", is more or less a cute, animated version of Bosch's hell.
  • The Powerpuff Girls exhibits this whenever Him (a crossdresser Humanoid Abomination) shows up.
  • Gravity Falls has Bill Cipher, living embodiment of all that is both hilariously deranged... and just plain deranged, when his interests are against yours.
  • Of all places, this shows up to surprisingly chilling effect in Thomas & Friends in "Rusty and the Boulder". It concerns a new quarry that's being dug in the mountains of Sodor, but the mountain they dig into happens to have a gigantic, unnaturally spherical boulder sitting on the cliff face high above, threatening to fall down at any moment. To make matters worse, the boulder is heavily implied to be sentient, with Rusty feeling like he's Being Watched whenever he's near it, and when rock fragments start falling onto the railway below, he observes "The boulder is telling us to go away." When it inevitably falls off the cliff onto the rail line, it seems to actively pursue the engines in ways that should not be physically possible and completely defy the laws of physics (moving absurdly fast, not losing any speed when going uphill, and even appearing behind Rusty and his driver at one point) before eventually destroying a shed and almost several of the engines. Oh, and it has a weirdly realistic face that we see twice, once when it's staring at Rusty on the clifftop and at the end when the Fat Controller moves it to another mountain very far away like he's trying to exorcise a demon.
  • The Simpsons:
    • Don Hertzfeldt directed this Couch Gag. Yes, it's a satire of a Franchise Zombie. Doesn't make it any less surreal/disturbing (it looks like something Starfish Aliens could make when trying to imitate The Simpsons; it even mentions viewers' flippers. And whoever made it is ruled by a self-styled "dark lord" who seems to want to remark that all animals can scream and that "amusement is control").
    • The show also parodied Twin Peaks in the second part of "Who Shot Mr. Burns?" Chief Wiggum falls asleep on the job and finds himself in a strange building (which looks just like the Black Lodge), where Lisa makes odd, cryptic references ("THIS... SUIT... BURNS... BETTER") in a stilted voice and reality changes at a moment's notice. The trouble is that Wiggum is too stupid to figure out what the heck is happening, and Dream!Lisa is eventually forced to drop the mysterious act and outright tell him her message ("LOOK AT BURNS'S SUIT! Yeesh!"). When the Chief awakens, he happily talks about the "weird backwards-talking dream" he just had, prompting concern from the other cops.
  • Some of the post-movie episodes of SpongeBob SquarePants qualify, possibly unintentionally. The most obvious case is the Season 7 episode "Squidward in Clarinetland": it starts with two nausea-inducing scenes of Krabs completely breaking out in hives, and SpongeBob getting the flesh of his right arm eaten off by a cloud of insect-like creatures... and then Squidward enters the safe. The poor guy first navigates a labyrinth of filing cabinets that could not possibly fit in there, while following SpongeBob, whose laugh is unusually creepy in this episode. Then he opens a door, and winds up in a field that is empty except for the giant clarinets growing out of the ground and a buried, talking eagle head, which eats him. In its stomach, we see that the eagle has multiple esophagi despite only having one beak. Then Squidward gets flushed out of the eagle's stomach, somehow winding up inside a pinball machine which turns out to be a giant SpongeBob, with a giant Patrick there to torment him as well. Even the Encyclopedia SpongeBobia admits that "this episode scares children." They would hardly be the only ones.
  • The Real Ghostbusters; especially episodes happening in Another Dimension or those that involve poltergeists, goblins and the like.
  • The Shivering Truth is essentially just a series of short nightmares directly transcribed into a television format, and in the creepiest possible stop-motion animation, with all the horrifying strangeness that implies. It's done by the same people who did The Heart She Holler and Xavier: Renegade Angel, so if you've seen any of those shows, you know what you're getting into.
  • The OK K.O.! Let's Be Heroes episode "Plaza Alone" leans into this during its climax. After wandering the mysteriously empty plaza all day, KO, Rad, and Enid accidentally get locked in the bodega's break room. They then suddenly begin to hallucinate. Rad turns into a hot dog, Enid fails to stop KO from eating Rad and then explodes, KO turns into a horse, and they all panic about both their actual situation and their bizarre hallucinations.

    Real Life 
  • Nightmares, as the opening description implies. They have inspired more than one example of this trope. Who knows what your subconscious have in store for you?
  • Hallucinogenic drugs. Some are renowned for causing nightmarish trips, but even the nicer ones can cause bad trips if poorly prepared or spiked, or if the imbiber is unlucky enough to have a negative reaction. Notable examples include:
    • K-2 is synthetic marijuana that has been banned from Michigan. The drug seems to slow time like regular marijuana, but it gives an extreme high that lasts a short period. It can react poorly in some people and cause them to be confused and dangerous to themselves and the people around them. People who take it can still move freely (if they don't faint) and can become easily frightened by the strange sensations they are experiencing. Non-violent people will suddenly assault seven people in half an hour. The experience messes with time perception and memory so badly, it can feel like a person has been trapped in some kind of prison for years. It can also cause a user to have periods of what feels like a panic attack months after use.
    • There's also Salvia divinorum, which takes the horror to even more horrifying degrees than K-2.
  • Step 1: Cut a ping pong ball in half. Step 2: Tape the halves over your eyes. Step 3: Turn on white noise and listen to it through headphones. Step 4: Have a red light flashing above your head. Step 5: Hallucinate.
  • Google Deep Dream: Using AI to generate (or rather “dream”) examples of faces, animals, eyes, etc. on top of an image. The results are cool, but also disturbing in every sense of the word.
  • Both hypnagogic and hypnompic hallucinations may lead to this.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Dada Horror



Set in the aftermath of Avengers: Endgame, Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) finds herself in an alternate reality in which her lover Vision (Paul Bettany) is inexplicably alive once more. The two are soon Happily Married as they adjust to a new life seemingly devoid of superheroics in the idyllic, sitcom-esque town of Westview, New Jersey... but something's not right. It quickly becomes apparent that things are not as they seem in their Stepford Suburbia, and as new problems arise while S.W.O.R.D. agents attempt to make their way into the neighborhood, the two eventually discover something disturbing at the heart of their new life...

How well does it match the trope?

5 (11 votes)

Example of:

Main / SurrealHorror

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