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Town with a Dark Secret

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Something fishy going on...

"It's beginning to look a lot like fish-men
Everywhere I go;
From the minute I got to town
And started to look around
I thought these ill-bred people's gill-slits showed."

Everybody in a small town is in on a secret. A terrible secret that nobody outside the town must know. The visiting protagonist slowly begins to suspect that something is wrong.

Such towns are often located in Lovecraft Country. If the terrible secret is covered up with a sweet veneer, see Stepford Suburbia and Uncanny Village. If it's big enough — say, a country or more — then you have yourself an Empire with a Dark Secret. Also note that the secret doesn't have to be supernatural; it can be something as mundane as a murder coverup.

A Wrong Genre Savvy character may take it for a Close-Knit Community, or vice versa, while a Subverted Sitcom set in a small town might do the same for the audience. Sister Trope of Small Town, Big Hell, which is this trope but Played for Drama instead of for Horror.

See also Small-Town Tyrant, A Fête Worse than Death, Supernatural Hotspot Town and Crapsaccharine World. Contrast Arcadia.

As can be expected from a trope like this, spoilers may be unmarked. (And that is far more warning than most visitors to these towns get.)


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    Anime and Manga 
  • 7 Seeds has the Ryugu Shelter and the Fuji Ship arcs.
    • The Ryugu Shelter is a gorgeous amusement park that appeals to the people in it and entertains them in any way they can, while actually functioning as a safety bunker. It looks great, but behind the scenes, things quickly fall apart as an accident lowers their food rations a lot and the higher-ups decide to send half of the people to a different shelter, but are actually killing them off so that the other half can continue to live... not to mention that a deadly parasite breaks out.
    • The Fuji Ship is an armoury and filled to the brim with guns, rifles and any other kind of shooting weapon. It's also filled with mummified corpses and full of bacteria and rust, so you know something terrible happened. The worst part is that it contains a built-in kill-everyone function that sets the ship vertically and will launch a bunch of missiles, including a nuclear bomb, all over Japan to kill every person, if ever a situation arose where it seemed that all hope was lost... and the countdown is set!
  • Assassination Classroom has Fukuma Island, a tropical paradise home to several gorgeous beach resorts. The lone hotel on its mountaintop is a luxurious getaway for influential mafias, businessmen, politicians, and assassins who are after Koro-sensei and the students of Class 3-E.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist has Lior, one of the first towns the brothers Elric visits in their quest for the Philosopher's Stone. The leader of the town, Father Cornello, appears to be capable of performing miracles with no effort, but Ed and Al quickly deduce that his "miracles" are actually alchemy that flies in the face of Equivalent Exchange, making him their strongest lead on the Philosopher's Stone at that point.
  • In Monster one of the towns mentioned was used for child psychological experiments.
  • The town that Kirika wanders into in Noir was founded for the sole purpose of guarding the entrance to Altena's manor, and the villagers will kill anyone who interferes with their instructions.
  • One Piece:
    • Whiskey Peak is the definition of this trope - cheerful and welcoming at first sight, turns out to be giant trap for pirates, entirely populated by bounty hunters. Oh, and that giant cacti hills near the town - actually it's regular hills, covered in gravestones,which appears as needles from afar.
    • One Piece's sixth movie has an island with a dark secret.
    • We also have Water 7, though that's a very minor case. On the surface, it seems like a happy, Venice-like city where its premier ship-building company makes ships for people all over the world, and they have a railroad that runs on the ocean. We later learn that the island it's on is sinking, not helped by a Giant Wall of Watery Doom that hits once a year. Oh, and the president of said ship-builders holds the blueprints for a world-destroying battleship, currently being set up for an assassination from the Government. But, by the arc's end, one of those problems has been resolved, and the other is in the process of being resolved.
    • Even Luffy's home island has this; the Goa Kingdom seems like a perfect and beautiful place...but only because the kingdoms rulers throw everything that would make it look bad, people included, into a giant landfill that has become a district unto itself. And when some World Nobles are scheduled to visit, the rulers decide to have everything, people included, burned to the ground.
    • In the Dressrosa arc, the port town of Acacia appears to be peaceful and pleasant, despite being ruled by Doflamingo; a place where people and toys live together, and gladiators fight in the Colosseum. But the Straw Hats soon find out that the numerous living toys on the island are actually humans changed by a Devil Fruit user, and all memories of the transformed humans are erased aside from those of the toys themselves. Those who lose in the Colosseum are fated to become toys...some of which are prisoners for rebelling against the Donquixote family. Oh, and also, Doflamingo is only in charge because he framed the last ruling family and won the public's heart with Engineered Heroics.
  • Kurôzu-cho from Uzumaki seems normal enough... for about five minutes. Then people start going insane, turning into giant snails, whirlpools start sinking any boats that come near... you know, all the normal risks of building your town on top of some kind of crazy Cosmic Horror Story spiral shrine that is both alive and seems to just really, really hate people. All people. A lot.

    Comic Books 
  • Riverdale is revealed to have one in Afterlife with Archie. In order to save the town during World War 2 the three original founding families made a deal with the witches of Greendale to protect the town and everyone in it. This however was in exchange for a child from each of the founding families over the next three generations.
  • Downplayed in Alias: the "dark secret" of the small town visited in the "Rebecca, Come Home" arc is run-of-the-mill right-wing fundie idiocy, complete with a Sinister Minister preaching Fantastic Racism from the pulpit. Jessica goes to investigate a teenage girl's disappearance and finds that she just ran away to be with her girlfriend in the next town over and get away from her drunken father and ultra-conservative mother and aunt. The place is set up to seem idyllic but proves to be no more or less screwed-up than anywhere else.
  • Merksay, one of the Orkney islands, in And Then Emily Was Gone. Children tend to go missing and people say they've just run away. Plus, there's a meatpacking plant that seems to be putting parasites into people.
  • The Jack Chick Crusaders comic Broken Cross features a town dominated by Hollywood Satanism.
  • Daredevil:
    • Matt Murdock finds himself run afoul of one of these in Daredevil: Reborn — there's an old quarry filled with corpses, and he almost gets added to the pile after the sheriff discovers who he is.
    • During the Frank Miller run, he also had a quick stay at Broken Cross, a Wretched Hive in Joisey that's pretty much a miniature Sin City.
  • Eat the Rich (2021): Crestfall Bluffs is a pretty seaside town full of wealthy people who also ritualistically murder and eat their staff. Everyone knows it except for Joey, who wasn't told beforehand.
  • The Fantastic Four, at the beginning of their superhero career defeated a group of Skrull spies. Reed Richards brainwashed them into becoming cows and retaining that form for life. The milk from these cows affected a small dairy town named King's Crossing, causing the inhabitants to develop shapeshifting powers and become paranoid and insular. The Fantastic Four, via a girl Johnny Storm was dating, ended up investigating the town and neutralizing the threat.
  • Played with in The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones #33-34. Indy travels to a village on one the remote Orkney Islands, and is greeted by the locals who give him an extremely cold shoulder. The longer he stays there, the less subtle the attempts to get him to leave become; eventually escalating to outright threats and physical violence. Indy thinks the whole town is in league with Evil Sorcerer he is chasing (who is the local lighthouse keeper). However, it turns out that the villagers know nothing about the keeper's evil schemes. They believe that the treasure of a Viking king is buried somewhere on the island and are tying to locate it, and are scared that an archaeologist like Indy will beat them to it, and whisk the treasure off to a museum.
  • Nightwing once encountered a town where every inhabitant was in the witness protection program, and the inhabitants were prepared to kill to ensure that no one from their old lives find out where they were.
  • This is essentially the entire premise of Out There. El Dorado, California is a prosperous community — because of a Deal with the Devil. Four local teenagers find out. Hilarity, as you can imagine, ensues.
  • Robin (1993): Tim discovers that a quiet now almost empty town in the Appalachian Mountains is trying to hide the fact that they unknowingly survived off on human meat for an untold period of time while a Humanoid Abomination they thought was human was running a survivalist compound in town.
  • According to Runaways, the reason that the Los Angeles of the Marvel Universe isn't crawling with supervillains in the same manner as New York City is because for years all the criminal activity in L.A. was controlled by the Pride, who were so evil and vicious that no sane criminal or supervillain dared to cross them.
  • Scooby Apocalypse has the Mystery Gang stumble on the town of Halcyon, Montana, which is somehow completely unaffected by the nanite plague and the monsters, which naturally raises a few red flags. It eventually turns out that the town is actually empty except for one little girl who became a powerful psychic capable of creating lifelike illusions.
  • Sullivan's Sluggers: Malice, the town Casey Sullivan and his team are invited to play a baseball game in is inhabited by people who become flesh-eating monsters after the sun goes down because they were cursed by the local Preacher for murdering a large number of black people, and then staging a Kangaroo Court to escape punishment.
  • In Supergirl: Woman of Tomorrow #3, Maypole looks like an alien version of Everytown, America, but we're immediately told by Ruthye's narration that this description will be baffling to anyone who's heard of it since their visit. Supergirl quickly realises people are lying to her, and there's some evidence the blue-skinned natives have Fantastic Racism against "purples", but then again, there aren't any purples. She eventually discovers that when a bunch of sadistic raiders held the town for ransom, the townsfolk managed to negotiate a discount by deliberately sacrificing the Fantastic Ghetto of Purpletown.
  • Wildstorm's comic book sequel to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) remake reveals that the residents of the town are completely aware of Leatherface and his family's murderous and cannibalistic tendencies, but don't do anything out of fear of retribution. At one point, after the heroine escapes from the Hewitt family lair and makes it into a bar in town, the patrons stop her from calling for help and bring her to the pursuing Leatherface.
    Bar Patron: We don't want no Hewitt trouble.
  • Wonder Woman (1987): The humble little island of Cephalonia is in reality Circe's private fiefdom. Few who try to share this with outsiders live for long.

    Fan Works 
  • Beyond the Wall: The forest village is a lovely, friendly place where everypony has everything they need, and everypony is happy and cares for one another...but there's a giant wall surrounding the village, which prevents anypony from entering or leaving it. Because Gaea doesn't love anything or anypony outside the wall, intruders are killed on sight, and any villager that tries to leave is killed and buried within the village grounds so Gaea will still love them.
  • Fallout: Equestria: Arbu advertises itself as the "friendliest town in the wasteland". Many of the ponies have strange brands on their flanks, which they get for eating their first hearts. Since the town's economy revolves around hunting, this does not seem unusual. Those hearts they eat are pony hearts—the town is a nest of cannibals.
  • In the Firefly fanfic Forward, the unnamed village in the "Charity" story is being attacked by mercenaries/slavers for unspecified reasons. As the story progresses, things become a lot clearer. The village had been infiltrated by an "Inducer" psychic, who could control people's emotions. Being a product of the Academy, she is less than stable. The Blue Sun corporation tracked her down after she murdered an entire Blue Sun facility using mind-controlled villagers, and sent the mercenaries to recapture her.
  • "Gloomy Town" in the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic Filk Song of the same name is a town hidden in the Everfree Forest that started as a leper colony for ponies with Cutie Pox, and is aeons old because the inhabitants "don't know how to die". This would be a Wham Line and spoilered out if the title card wasn't a zombie-pony standing bold-as-brass in the middle of town, cocktail in hoof.
  • A Great and Powerful Heart: Trixie wanders into a remote community called Promise, which to her misfortune, is a town founded by Filli Terram, an earth pony supremacist group. They are so hateful, they left two unicorn foals to die in a dangerous forest .
  • RainbowDoubleDash's Lunaverse: The town of Oaton, in The Hero of Oaton, initially seems like a small, isolated little village that just happens to have been left off the map. Eventually, Trixie, Raindrops and Cheerilee learn that it's isolated because the founders were Tirek worshippers, and there's a shrine to him in the nearby forest.
  • Believe it or not, Cloudsdale becomes one of these in Rainbow Factory. Its secret is that those who fail their flight exam are sent to the titular Factory to be brutally murdered, all for the sake of producing rainbows.
  • In the AU Ah! My Goddess fanfic, Scapegoat, the main setting is Omelas, which is this kind of town.
  • Doubling as a Shout-Out, Soul Eater: Troubled Souls features none other than the town of Innsmouth as the setting for a mission. The Deep Ones are the targets and are responsible the decayed state of the town. They are also a an enigmatic clan of Kishin cultists who wait Asura's return and gather souls for him. Who is sent out on this mission? Ox Ford and Crona.
  • Story of the Blanks starts out as a seemingly bright and cheerful My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic flash game where Applebloom wanders off into the Everfree Forest and finds a small village called Sunny Town. Then, after talking to the ponies who live there, she goes into a strange house away from the rest of the town and finds a corpse in the fireplace. As it turns out, the ponies in that town think Cutie Marks are a curse rather than a representation of whatever's unique about the pony they belong to, and kill anypony who finds their special talent. Poor Applebloom ends up fleeing a cursed village while its undead inhabitants chase her down.
    This is our everlasting punishment - what we deserve. Now run. Run for your life.
  • In The Terrible Secret of Animal Crossing, the protagonist finds himself on a bus to a camp under strange circumstances, and bit by bit, the secrets of the camp's much-too-happy exterior finally come to light. Even the final chapter is aptly named, "All's Well That Ends."
  • The Mountain and the Wolf: Arya and Beric investigate a village that's managed to repel several attacks by Chaos marauders, thanks to a man known as the Warrior who organized them into a competent fighting force. Beric decides to eavesdrop on him before going to meet him... and immediately tries to leave when it turns out he did so by converting the villagers to the worship of Khorne.

    Films — Animated 
  • Atlantis: Milo's Return has an effectively creepy and chilling version of this which could come straight out of Lovecraft Country: the first tale in the arc consists of a constantly foggy, frigid Norwegian town where all the townsfolk seem to be hypnotized, brainwashed, or under a spell. If the constantly bulging eyes, monotonous voices, and deathly pale skin doesn't scare you enough, the so-called leader of the town is secretly in league with a Kraken, linked to it through some form of telepathic connection which grants him eternal life and power, as long as he continues to sacrifice hapless travelers to his master/slave. (The...relationship is never quite pinned down as to who really controls whom.) And in what may be a clear homage to, or at least an echo, of Shadow over Innsmouth, after the villain and the Kraken are eliminated and peace, sunshine, and happiness return to the townsfolk, a deleted alternate ending shows the innkeeper with her baby...which extends a Chthulu-like tentacle out of its blanket to caress her cheek, while she lovingly coos and starts talking about it 'growing up big and strong'. Whether this implies Face Full of Alien Wing-Wong or simple Body Horror is up to the viewer to decide.
  • Western Animation/Paranorman: The small town of Blithe Hollow (which is based on Salem) is infamous for being founded by a puritan community that killed an evil witch 300 years prior the events of the movie, who in retaliation seemingly cursed the city by raising the dead on her death’s anniversary. However, it turns out that this is an over-exaggeration of the true story: it’s revealed that “the evil witch” was actually an 11 years old girl, named Agatha Prenderghast, who was taken away from her mother, put on a trial, and finally executed by hanging for the sole crime of having the ability to interact with the dead (much like her distant descendants Norman and his uncle) by 6 frightened puritans. Furthermore, we learn that she didn’t curse the town, but only her killers by turning them into zombies so they would be subjected to discrimination by the townsfolk as punishment.
  • In Toy Story 3, Woody and the gang wind up in a day care that looks like paradise. The toys (led by a fluffy stuffed animal named Lotso Huggin Bear) are all friendly, there are always lots of kids to play with them so that none of the toys ever get outgrown, and there's a repair ward that keeps the playthings in tiptop shape. However, their dark secret is that, in order to stay in the older kids' playroom, the ruling toys regularly sacrifice new toys to the toddler's playroom, where too-young children bash and beat toys until they are destroyed and thrown out.
  • Wreck-It Ralph: Sugar Rush has one dark secret that is so dark and secret that nobody even remembers it because King Candy/Turbo locked everyone's memories away.
    Ralph: What's going on in this candy-coated heart of darkness?

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Herschell Gordon Lewis' splatter epic Two Thousand Maniacs!, the inhabitants of the mysterious Southern town turn out to be the ghosts of civilians who were slaughtered by corrupt Union soldiers during the Civil War. The town reappears every one-hundred years so that the residents of it can take their revenge on any Yanks who stumble upon it.
  • In John Landis's An American Werewolf in London, the small English town of East Proctor's Dark Secret is, unsurprisingly, a werewolf.
  • The townspeople in The Amityville Terror lure unsuspecting people to the Sapient House so that it can "feed" on them and remain content enough to leave the rest of Amityville alone.
  • The 1955 film Bad Day at Black Rock is one of the codifiers of this trope. It concerns a veteran of World War II heading to the town of Black Rock to pay a visit to Komoko, the father of a Japanese war buddy who died trying to save his life, only to find that the entire town has something to hide — namely, that Komoko was murdered by Reno Smith, the most powerful man in town, a racist landowner who tried to cheat Komoko by selling him some arid farmland with no water only for Komoko to make the farm prosperous by digging a sixty-foot-deep well. Soon after Pearl Harbor went down, Smith got drunk with a handful of others, harassed Komoko, burned his farmstead down and shot him.
  • Beautifully subverted in the movie Big Fish with the mysterious town of Specter: the idyllic small town exuding a weird feeling of wrongness appears to be a textbook version of this trope (complete with hints that no one ever leaves, a woman with a Stepford Smiler-esque grin, and all its residents inexplicably going barefoot all the time), but The Reveal never comes; it's simply a Quirky Town.
    • It's never explicitly stated, but Specter is supposed to be heaven. No-one leaves, everything is perfect, and there's the talk and surprise of people stumbling in before their time.
    • There's also the fact that the version of Specter we see in the film isn't quite the real thing- Ed Bloom is exaggerating the story. It's more likely he found a very nice, idyllic town as a young man, but simply felt like he didn't fit in, or that he deserved more challenge in his life so he left. Everyone being barefoot and that business about expecting his arrival might've been minor occurrences he blew out of the water or simply made up entirely. No Reveal was made about the town's secret because there wasn't one.
  • In the film In Broad Daylight the fictional town of Darby, Missouri becomes this after one or more individuals murder town bully Len Rowan, and those who did see the shooters tell cops they didn't see anything. The movie was loosely based on the real life murder of Ken McElroy and the town of Skidmore, Missouri (see below).
  • Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy:
    • In the movie Hot Fuzz, all the members of the town of Sandford's Neighborhood Watch secretly murder everyone in the town that is "unpleasant", so that nothing stands in their way of winning "Village of the Year". All murders are disguised (sometimes poorly) as accidents.
    • In The World's End, all of Newton Haven has been replaced by robots that aren't robots.
  • In Cannibal Girls, Farnhamville is a seemingly ordinary Ontario town that is in fact completely under the thumb of a Sinister Minister and his cannibal cult.
  • The Cars That Ate Paris. Paris is a small rural Australian town with winding roads where a lot of car accidents occur. The Reveal is that the townsfolk cause the accidents deliberately, then plunder the cars and personal belongings of the victims.
  • In Children of the Corn 666: Isaac's Return, the citizens of former Ghost Town Gatlin act normally, but gradually drop it until it's time for the final prophecy.
  • Copland is the nickname for Garrison, New Jersey, where a number of Dirty Cops live as a safe haven from investigations by Internal Affairs police. As it turns out, the cops are also in league with The Mafia. Freddy Heflin, the deaf sheriff of the town, has tended to look the other way when it comes to what's going on, and the film is partly about how he slowly decides to take a stand against the corrupt cops in the town.
  • In Dagon, based loosely on H. P. Lovecraft's The Shadow Over Innsmouth, the people of Spain will not speak of or visit Imboca for good reason: the city was taken over by an pagan god when its desperate people turned to him for help.
  • In the horror film Dead & Buried, the town of Potter's Bluff offers another riff on the "double-hidden" secret: The town's entire population, including the sheriff protagonist, are unknowingly reanimated corpses, brought back to life in some unexplained fashion by the local coroner. Who may very well be dead himself.
  • In Aussie slasher Dying Breed, the townsfolk are the inbred Cannibal Clan descendants of 1820s Serial Killer Alexander Pearce.
  • In Eye of the Devil David Niven (as a French count) must return to his home to be sacrificed for a better crop or something. The entire town are Satanists posing as Catholics, including their priest.
  • Evolution (2015) is set on an unnamed island village whose population, strangely, consists only of adult women and their young sons, with no signs of any young girls or adult men. It turns out that the "women" are some kind of mutant sea-life who are using the boys as surrogate mothers against their will, a process that they don't always survive.
  • First Blood: Hope, Washington. This quiet and boring little town's dark secret is that the entire police force are Dirty Cops who are prejudiced against Vietnam war veterans and drifters, and abuse them under custody. John Rambo, a former Green Beret and sole survivor of his unit who endured torture at the hands of the Vietcong is their latest victim. While trying to shave him, he snaps and becomes a One-Man Army.
  • In Freddy vs. Jason, many adults in Springwood know of Freddy's dream-killings, but have conspired to conceal this from the town's youth to starve him of the fear that gives him power over dreams. Jason comes to Elm Street at Freddy's instigation, so his killings will revive old stories about the Springwood Slasher and restore Freddy's powers.
  • Implied in the Friday the 13th (2009) remake, where at least one resident was shown to be aware of Jason living and killing in the old campgrounds. This is markedly different from the originals, where the residents of Crystal Lake didn't seem to know exactly what was going on at the camp, but were pretty clear in their warnings to outsiders.
  • The secluded suburb where Get Out (2017) takes place, where a number of young African American people have gone missing. The locals are members of the Coaguala, with the Armitage family as their leaders. The Armitage's run a secret business where they will kidnap a young African American person, scoop out most of their brain, and implant the brain of an old white person.
  • Grim Prairie Tales: The town where Arthur and his family chose to set up their homestead is populated by Southerners who moved west after The American Civil War. They now murder any black families who attempt to homestead in the region. Arthur is immediately dragged into their murderous activities.
  • Hallowed Ground is about a small farming town who kills visiting families and tries to make one visitor give birth to their messiah.
  • In Headless Horseman, Wormwood Ridge is populated entirely by the descendants of a child-murdering Satan worshipper. Every seven years they lure in sacrifices for the Headless Horseman to keep the bargain with Hell intact.
  • High Plains Drifter. Clint Eastwood's character is a gunslinger who's promised anything he wants as long as he defends the town from some ex-cons who are coming for revenge. Turns out the ex-cons were hired by the townspeople to kill the last sheriff, then framed to put them in prison. Turns out Clint has his own agenda, and may even be the ghost of the sheriff they killed.
  • Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom features a Princedom with a Dark Secret tucked away in a remote corner of The Raj. The secret in question is that a Religion of Evil has bewitched the local rulers and enslaved children from a nearby village to mine for the film's MacGuffin.
  • The John Carpenter film In the Mouth of Madness features the surreal, warped town of Hobb's End, which may or may not be the fictional creation of horror writer Sutter Cane. Features of the town change and rearrange themselves, the residents are monsters in disguise, and the Only Sane Man ends up taking shelter in a movie theater where the events of the film are playing out on the screen, as the world burns down around him.
  • Johnny Reno: The town of Stone Junction is very keen to see that nobody looks too deeply into the death of Ed Sitting Bear.
  • Kill, Baby, Kill!: Karmingam is a small gloomy village, somewhere in the Carpathians, which is terrorised by a Creepy Child ghost. It turns out that twenty years ago during a drunken festival, little Melissa Graps was trampled by horses, and though there were many witnesses, nobody helped her as she bled to death. Now her angry mother uses her spirit to exact revenge on the villagers, forcing them to commit suicide.
  • Cragwich from Lesbian Vampire Killers where the villagers ensure a continuing steam of sacrifices for the lesbian vampires in exchange for sparing their lives.
  • The Lost Boys: Santa Carla, California, where the local bullies sleep all day, party all night, never grow old, and never die. The wonderful final line of the film, supplied by Grandpa:
    Grandpa: One thing about livin' in Santa Carla I never could stomach... All the damn vampires.
  • In Mississippi Burning, two FBI agents come to a small town in Deep South in order to investigate the murder of three civil rights activists. Turns out half the townspeople were involved in the killing.
  • Inverted in Purgatory. All the townsfolk of Refuge are Famed in Story dead outlaws, murderers, or prostitutes who must live virtuously - no violence despite abundant weapons, little swearing, no theft despite the well-stocked general store, no drinking despite the saloon - for ten years before they can go to Heaven; one wrong move and they're taken right to Hell. Living people can sometimes reach the town, so all of its residents take a Meaningful Rename and perform a Masquerade of simplicity and normalcy for them, hoping to be left alone to serve their sentences. It's a dark secret for them, because they believe they have to either let themselves be killed or go to Hell if they fight visitors, but harmless enough to keep - they're even willing to let someone more peaceable who finds out leave.
  • In 1975's Race with the Devil two vacationing couples discover the hard way that apparently everyone in rural Texas is a murderous Satanist worshipping the Aztec gods.
  • In Satan's Cheerleaders, everybody in the town of Nether is a member of a Satanic cult led by the Sheriff.
  • The nameless village in the middle of the swamp in Sauna. Their dark secret is the eponymous sauna, and they would be really glad if no-one ever came in or paid attention to it. They're not bad people in any sense, more like reluctant guardians of an evil secret the world is better not knowing.
  • The Stepford Wives concerns a small community where every woman acts like the perfect wife. Only it turns out that the "wives" are actually robots who are programmed to act this way, and they are replacements for the real wives of Stepford who are murdered by their husbands.
  • Storm Warning: The sleepy town of Rocky Point has a local chapter of the KKK which has engaged in several murders. A wall of silence driven by fear has frustrated every effort of DA Rainey to file charges.
  • The unnamed town in the horror anthology film Terror Tract is an example of this. Consisting of nothing but strange deaths, and bizarre incidents that a realtor tries to hide from a couple who wants to buy a house in the area....except he can't keep the secret and tells the buyers about each house's sordid grisly background.
  • Nilbog from Troll 2. Its entire population consists of vegetarian goblins who turn people into plant mush and then eat them.
  • The Truman Show. In this case, everyone's in on the secret except one of the residents... Truman is, unbeknownst to himself, the star of a reality tv show and has been since his birth and the show's producer has no intent of every letting him leave the set or tell him the truth. All of the other people in town are actually actors.
  • In addition to the town of Twin Peaks (which carries over from the show), Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me also has Deer Meadows, where the policemen are secretly in league with drug dealers and the local trailer park contains a portal to Another Dimension that people keep disappearing to.
  • The Village: The film is seemingly set in the 19th century, but then it turns out that it's actually set in the present; the rich founders created an isolated community where they could live in peace and away from the troubles of the modern world. Their descendants are kept in line by tales of monsters that supposedly inhabit the surrounding woods.
  • In We Are Still Here, The town must sacrifice a family to the ancient evil hidden underground every 30 years or be destroyed.
  • The 2009 German thriller, The White Ribbon, about strange events occurring in a small German village in the years before World War I, certainly counts.
  • In The Wicker Man, the dark secret is a pagan cult that practices Human Sacrifice, at least according to the police officer protagonist. It turns out they weren't, as last year was the first year they even sacrificed an animal and luring a Fool (in this case, a virginal cop) to be sacrificed is a first for the islanders, who are desperate to cure a blight on their crops via magic.
  • Winter's Bone: Everyone is connected in some way with the meth business, and just about everyone knows who killed the main character's father.
  • Wolves: Lupine Ridge is secretly run by werewolves. Naturally. Oh, and the head werewolf is Ax-Crazy.
  • A truly bizarre example with the town of Santa Mira, California, which due to serial Shout Outs has become a stock location for otherwise totally unrelated horror films. It's been the site of a covert alien invasion, bizarre pagan cult rituals, and many more.

Stephen King
  • Author Stephen King calls this "The Peculiar Little Town" and has confessed that he has a weakness for writing stories of this type (among them "Children of the Corn", "Rainy Season" and "You Know They Got a Hell of a Band").
    • His best known peculiar little towns are Derry (IT) and Castle Rock (good number of stories), both in Maine, which tend to redline the weird-shit-o-meter on a regular basis. In the end, Derry is destroyed, which is probably for the best. Castle Rock is destroyed by a visiting evil that took advantage of the secrets and flaws of many of the townspeople so that it could take their souls.
    • Haven, which is near Derry, in The Tommyknockers. It starts off as a normal town, but becomes this trope when the alien spaceship is first unearthed and slowly makes everyone crazy and obsessed with it.
    • Jerusalem's Lot from 'Salem's Lot. It's had a family of gangsters that worshiped demons and consorted with vampires. One of these vampires comes to town and then it really has a dark secret. By the end, the whole town is undead except for the protagonists, who burn the town down and leave. A couple of later short stories by King reveal that burning the Lot down only temporarily halted the vampires. And it's hinted throughout both the novel and the prequel story that we still don't know the worst of its secrets.
    • Willow's inhabitants in Rainy Season try to warn people about their annual "bad weather problem," because warning the newcomers is part of the tradition. As is the inevitable death of the newcomers — always a young man and woman.
    • Ludlow has the secret of the real Pet Sematary, the Wendigo, and what lies beyond the deadfall...
    • Little Tall Island has a couple. In Dolores Claiborne, it's the decades-long mystery following the death of Dolores' husband. In Storm of the Century it's the fact that the entire town surrendered one of their children (the police chief's son, no less) to a visiting demon to save themselves.

Other works

  • In The Altruistic Personality by Samuel P Olinger, the author says that there were a few small hamlets during World War II where rescuing hapless fugitives was almost the town's chief industry.
  • Lakeside in American Gods, which also seems to be Lake Wobegon with the Serial Numbers Filed Off. Though the only living resident who knows the secret is one old man (Hinzelman) who's actually a Germanic tribal deity who made a deal with the town's founders. In exchange for ensuring Laketown's prosperity he kills one child every winter. The other residents weren't told by their ancestors who made the pact and chalk the disappearances up to runaways or custodial disputes. It turns out the Hinzelman kills anyone who figures it out, including one of the father of one of the residents. When the chief of police figures it out, he is horrified and promptly kills Hinzelman to stop the cycle.
  • Another, the secret is not with the town itself but contained entirely in Class 3-3. Each school year, the class has one extra person in it - someone who has died. Nobody, not even the "extra" themself, remembers their death or that they shouldn't be on the class roster, but since their presence means there is one too many people in the class, the universe tries to balance things out by killing members of the class (and their family and friends) in increasingly improbable and gruesome accidents. The class in turn try to stave off the calamity by selecting one member of the class and pretending they don't exist for the duration of the school year, a countermeasure which is dubiously effective at best.
  • The eponymous town of Lori Roy's Bent Road.
  • Played with in W. D. Valgardson's short story Bloodflowers; what was originally a Quirky Town only became a TWADS after the narrator accidentally gives the superstitious townsfolk the idea to sacrifice him.
  • Denke, Kansas, a town of cannibals in S.K. Epperson's Borderlands.
  • In Brotherhood Of The Rose by David Morrell, the intelligence services of the world have set up several luxury "retirement" communities, each regarded as neutral ground where no-one is allowed to be harmed. Only the men running them know that the residents (ambitious men who've fallen from grace, cooped up in a Gilded Cage which eventually palls) are frequently Driven to Suicide.
  • Silverdale, Colorado in John Saul's Creature is a quaint company town where the school has a high-tech sports clinic...which seems to be turning the kids in the town into 'roid raged monsters...
  • Cthulhu Mythos examples:
    • The eponymous town in H. P. Lovecraft's short story The Shadow Over Innsmouth is a decaying seaside town where everyone has the distinctive "Innsmouth look". Eventually the narrator discovers that the residents are half-man / half-fish and worship the Deep Ones.
    • Kingsport in "The Festival". Or, rather, the "dream version" of Kingsport. The "dream version" can't have been entirely imaginary though, since in the later Lovecraft story, "The Silver Key" the protagonist is casually mentioned to have read about excavations under Kingsport's church that revealed a hidden system of tunnels mentioned in "The Festival".
    • Possibly every town in Lovecraft's imaginary New England. Naturally, the most prominent of these towns is Arkham, Massachusetts, where a house isn't considered complete if it doesn't have five or six different dark secrets worked into its construction.
    • The Tcho-Tcho people are a Tribe with a Dark Secret. In T.E.D. Klein's "Black Man with a Horn," a missionary goes to investigate the people, who turn out to be very vile. However, the missionary still doesn't know what the tribe is doing, and is sure they want it that way. In other stories in the Cthulhu Mythos, their dark secret is established as cannibalism.
    • August Derleth had a town that secretly worshiped Ithaqua.
    • Ramsey Campbell sets his tales in the Severn Valley. Almost every town has some dark evil lurking somewhere, in various degrees. Some are hidden and the inhabitants ignorant, other evils are trapped, and then there's the whole towns in on the secret.
  • In Norman Partridge's Dark Harvest, all the teenage boys of a small Midwestern town are entered into a Deadly Game with a murderous pumpkinheaded scarecrow named the October Boy. But wait, that's not the secret.
    • The real secret is that every winner of the game is actually set to be killed by their father in order to become the new October Boy, and the father is then expected to help put the boy together when the next game begins. The protagonist ends up helping the latest October Boy when he learns the truth.
  • Taveye in the webnovel DO NOT TAKE THE SHELLS has a sign on the beach with the eponymous phrase on it. Ask one of the residents why, and they'll just say you really shouldn't take the shells. And that's not even getting into the strange weather, or the mysterious disappearance that took place there in the past.
  • Dragonlance: The New Adventures: Arngrim, the titular Dying Kingdom in the second book, turns out to be an undead city cursed by Asvoria, with the ruling family draining life force from their subjects to survive, and the knights reduced to Animated Armor. The Scarlet Brethren try to break the curse by sacrificing either Catriona or Nearra, but the heroes thwart them.
  • The town of Ellende in the Gregory Frost short story of the same name appears abandoned when the narrator Jessie and her abusive husband come across it. They follow signs leading to a Circus of Fear which is also abandoned but has a grotesque sculpture made of the bones of all the animals from the carnival. They finally find the townsfolk performing a bizarre and horrifying ritual at the lakeshore, where they are "baptized" by hooded figures and come up covered in giant leeches. The people's features imply that they're Inbred and Evil, and when Jessie finally escapes, it's implied the whole town exists in a Pocket Dimension.
  • The town of Shadyside in R.L. Stine's Fear Street series. Teens dying horribly, being possessed by evil — and it's all going on for centuries. This is subverted to a degree, as it's readily acknowledged by the majority of the town that Fear Street is cursed and it's not exactly something people are trying to keep secret. Whether or not anyone believes Fear Street is cursed is another thing.
  • Sodom in the Book of Genesis habitually gang-raped anyone who visited the town in a horrible inversion of Sacred Hospitality. Except for one family, every single adult in town was in on this, and it's implied that nearby towns were just as bad. God eventually gets sufficiently offended by this to decide that nuking it from orbit is the Only Way to Be Sure.
  • The town of Golgotha, from The Golgotha Series has many, many dark secrets, from the vampire in the unmarked grave to the head in a jar upstairs of the general store. And that's leaving aside the Cosmic Horror from beyond time and space buried in the old silver mine.
  • Inverted in Good Omens. Lower Tadfield has a secret, but it's hardly dark. Superficially it's a quaint little Quirky Town complete with pristine cottages, white picket fences and apple trees, but it hasn't changed for ten years: Urban development bypasses it completely, the weather is always perfect (and it always snows on Christmas), and the area is rich in ley lines. This is because it's the home of the ten-year-old Anti-Anti-Christ, whose latent Reality Warper powers are preserving it for his perfectly normal childhood amusement.
  • The Goosebumps series:
    • The protagonist in Welcome to Dead House discovers that her family has just moved into the "Dead House" in a community of vampire-like monsters. Every year, the undead townsfolk invite a new family to the house to consume the newcomers' blood and assimilate them into the populace.
    • A dark secret is also afoot in My Hairiest Adventure, which you might remember as "the one where it turns out they're all dogs or something" if you've read Blogger Beware. Throughout a good chunk of the book, the fear of a conspiracy actually plays second fiddle to the Body Horror of the narrator Larry sprouting monstrous hair everywhere. This trope eventually comes into play when Larry's friends start disappearing and the local adults act as if those kids never existed. The secret turns out to be less dark than one might expect, but it's still pretty damn weird. The local paediatrician Dr Murkin is a mad scientist who employs the other adults in town. All the kids are actually dogs; Murkin turned them human, and his workers adopted them as part of the experiment. The injections that Murkin gives Larry twice a month? All the kids get those injections to keep them human. Larry's friends went missing because the treatment stopped working — which is happening to poor Larry too, hence all that hair. Yes, really.
  • Graystone Bay in the anthology series edited by Charles L. Grant. A sinister foundation, and jam packed with weirdness, until it literally disappears in the fog.
  • In The Halfblood Chronicles, the treatment of humans by the elves that run things generally ranges from chattel to cattle. The third book, Elvenborn, introduces the estates of House Prastaran... which handles things in a manner far closer to unusually egalitarian/idealized English squiresnote  and have to put considerable effort into stage-managing the visits of outsiders.
  • Haven: A Novel of Anxiety has the titular town in Idaho, which seems nice at first, but is full of racists who massacred Chinese miners in its early days and harbored Nazis after WWII.
  • Harvest Home by Thomas Tryon features a quaint little New England town called Cornwall Coombe that celebrates a harvest festival involving fun activities that will insure the life of the corn crop. Attending this particular festival uninvited carries a pretty steep penalty.
  • Heart of Darkness features a native tribe in Darkest Africa, ruled by a European ivory trader turned depraved cult leader.
  • Black Spring from HEX, which is haunted by a witch. The author has a lot of fun working out how a town might hide a dark secret in the modern world of mass media and social media.
  • In the Inheritance Cycle, the townsfolk of Dras-Leona worship man-eating monsters known as the Ra'zac and Lethrblaka, honouring them through self-mutilation and Human Sacrifice. Their High Priest(ess?) has undergone such extensive ritual disfigurement that they're missing all four limbs and a chunk of tongue.
  • Jakub Wędrowycz stories feature a secluded village inhabited entirely by Neanderthals whose progeny has somehow survived until modern times. To the outside world, they seem just to be a bunch of very ugly humans who hate strangers and don't pay much attention at the church (assuming that there is currently a priest there after the previous one has died in mysterious circumstances). In reality, they're half-animalistic, still worship their pagan deities and indulge into cannibalism, eating their dead.
  • Venice, Florida, in the Jason Wood series, finds itself overrun with werewolves who have replaced key inhabitants, once the titular protagonist drives them into hiding. They take the opportunity to replace all the 'Crywolf' devices with ones which don't work to reveal them. It also manages to attract a Mirrorkiller.
  • Many of the towns that Kino visits in Kino's Journey have a dark secret somewhere along the line. Sometimes it isn't an actual secret, but just something that casual travelers won't notice at the first sight, while at other times it's played dead straight.
  • "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson, though the dark secret isn't kept secret from anyone in the story, only from the reader.
  • Tower Valley in Magnus is revealed to be the testing ground for the Mark of the Beast.
  • In Masterminds, it's increasingly obvious that Serenity is this. Everyone has a place to work and live, the kids always get whatever they ask for, and there's no crime, violence, or even dishonesty—but over time things just don't add up, and the kids catch their parents in lies. The secret turns out to be that Eli and 10 other kids are clones of notorious criminals, raised in a safe environment to determine what made someone bad.
  • Moonlight Cove, California in Dean Koontz's Midnight. It appears to be a quiet coastal village until you notice the ominously overprepared police force and hear about all the violent deaths in recent weeks. Turns out, Moonlight Cove is under the control of a megalomaniacal Mad Scientist trying to create a race of cold, efficient New People, and the remaining normal citizens are all scheduled for "conversion." Unfortunately, some of the New People have been . . . regressing.
    • Another Koontz example is Moonlight Bay in his Christopher Snow books, where the authorities are cooperating with the military to hide a massive, civilization-destroying secret.
  • Linked: Many Chokecherry residents deny that their town hosted a massive KKK rally known as The Night of a Thousand Flames in the 1970s, even though many people accept it as true (such as Pouncey, whose abusive father attended it as a boy). The deniers are silenced after the paleontologists looking for dinosaur bones discover many of the discarded crosses that the Klansmen burned.
  • The company town of Despair, CO. in Lee Child's Nothing To Lose. Its dark secret isn't (really) that the giant metal recycling plant is recycling munitions ("the government's dirty laundry"), bombed-out cars from Iraq, or even that they're helping deserting soldiers flee to Canada but its religious fanatic owner is stockpiling the salvaged uranium to set off a dirty bomb and jumpstart Armageddon by causing (even more) fighting in the Middle East. Their mistake is trying to run the Determinator protagonist out of town and leaving a deserter-turned-informer to die in the desert to be found by said protagonist.
  • Dashiell Hammett's short story "Nightmare Town" (in a collection of the same name) seems like a weird town where people act strange, there seem to be more houses than people, and the guy running the town is openly threatened by his son. The secret is that it's run by, and for, murderers and thieves, and the protagonist happens to get there a few days before the place is burned down for the insurance money. It's one of the few examples where the secret isn't supernatural, and yet still manages to be just as much Nightmare Fuel. Only a handful of people don't know the secret.
  • Hyde River in The Oath by Frank Peretti. The residents are unfriendly, "town father" Harold Bly publicly beats his wife with impunity, and it has the highest rate of bear assaults per capita in the region. The bears aren't responsible for all those deaths.
  • The town of Omelas, from "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" by Ursula K. Le Guin, must always keep a mentally handicapped child locked in a dark basement, given only the barest amount of food to survive, without any kindness or affection given to that child for any reason whatsoever, for the moment anyone gives that child any sort of comfort at all, their entire "Utopian" society will collapse in that instant. The story is unclear whether the child was born handicapped or has just broken from malnutrition, fear, and only a few moments of cruel human contact a day. The Trope is ultimately played with in a meta context because the narrator, who had been singing the praises of Omelas as a utopia so far, is Genre Savvy enough to know that the reader is so used to this trope that they cannot believe Omelas can be so perfect without a catch, so he drops the description of the child and the unspeakable atrocities that are done to it, and thus the reason why the titular people walk away (they are the ones who cannot stomach such a horrible thing being done for the sake of the town being perfect, and prefer to take their chances finding happiness elsewhere) with a "here you go, the trope you were waiting for! A horrible flaw in the system! Are you happy now!? do you believe this town to be 'realistic' enough now?" flair, and leaving it unclear whether the tortured child even actually exists or was made up by the narrator to just appease the audience's expectation for Omelas to have something wrong with it.
  • Peyton Place. Basically, the entire novel is author Grace Metalious's way of saying that every idyllic American small town has at least one dark secret hidden in its depths.
  • Lesser Malling in the first book of The Power of Five series. The secret is that all the villagers are working to open a gate which will let the Old Ones, and the protagonist is one of the five tasked with making sure that such things don't happen.
    • There's also a village of cannibals in the last book.
  • Personville (known as "Poisonville") in the novel Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett. It is a small town where Elihu Willsson, a local industrialist, has found his control of the city threatened by several competing gangs. Elihu had originally invited those gangs into Personville to help him impose and then enforce the end of a labor dispute.
  • In The Santaroga Barrier by Frank Herbert, the residents of the town are secretly addicted to an Applied Phlebotinum drug called Jaspers.
  • In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story "Shadows In Zamboula", cannibal slaves roam Zamboula at night. Their masters hide away and let them eat strangers, to prevent a slave revolt.
  • The town of Wind Gap in Gillian Flynn's Sharp Objects.
  • In The Silver Codex the town of Centerville has a lot of dark secrets going on.
  • Scrote in Terry Pratchett's Soul Music, probably. We never actually get it confirmed that there's anything sinister about their traditional barbeque near the rockery, because The Power of Rock protects our heroes.
  • The eponymous town in the Spooksville series is actually called Springville but earned the nickname due to being a hotbed for all kinds of weird/supernatural occurrences. It's strongly hinted that the killing of local witch Madeline Templeton hundreds of years ago is when it all started.
  • In Sunday Without God, Ai feels like her village is keeping some kind of secret from her, but she isn't sure what. So instead she performs her gravekeeper duties by digging graves for when the villagers eventually die. She later learns that every villager was actually already dead, meaning she was the only living person in the whole village.
  • The Survivalist series by Jerry Ahern is set in a post-World War III United States. In "The Web", the title character John Rourke comes across a peaceful town in the mountains where no-one even mentions the war. It turns out that everyone made an agreement to use up all available resources to keep things going as before, but when the supplies run out they plan to commit mass suicide by blowing up the town. Unfortunately by the time Rourke finds out the truth, the lonely woman he's staying with has drugged and tied him up so she won't die alone.
  • Sword Art Online has the game Alfheim Online, which was released during the time that thousands of players were trapped in SAO. The game quickly proved popular for being a VRMMO that was not dangerous to the players. Little do the players know, the game is actually being used to conduct illegal experiments in how to use VR to rewrite memories.
  • Warhammer 40,000 novel:
    • In Dan Abnett's Brothers of the Snake, Space Marines go to sort out which farmships have a Khorne cult. Some do, some don't, and one manages to pretend it doesn't for some time. They kidnapped and nearly managed to sacrifice one of the Marines, by torturing him to death.
    • This also occurs in Mitchell Scanlon's Horus Heresy novel Descent of Angels. A planet has been delaying their full compliance with the Imperium for years now, all the while hiding the presence of their xenos overlords. Ultimately, they've been buying time to summon an Eldritch Abomination to defeat the Imperial forces.
    • The settlers in The Damnation of Pythos are one big cult of Chaos. It's not hard to infer this, however, given that a) the planet is home to creepy old structures, b) the settlers are devoutly religious (uncommon in M31 humans, given that the Emperor's forces have been enforcing secularism at gunpoint across the galaxy for two hundred years at this point), and c) the book is called The Damnation of Pythos, indicating that some damning may be going on at some stage.
  • In Watership Down, the bucks arrive at a warren where everything seems abundant, though the residents act rather strange (for instance, there's a strong taboo against asking where anyone is). Later they discover that the warren is, in fact, a free-range rabbit farm, and it's common and widely accepted knowledge that rabbits are dying in snares. (The reason for this quiet acceptance is the tradeoff: free vegetables and complete immunity from all of Rabbitdom's non-human enemies, enforced at the end of a gun barrel.)
  • In The Wheel of Time, Mat and the Band run across the town Hinderstap, where the people are kind-of either zombies and/or save-scumming loopers who go apeshit every night, precede to kill each other and then wake up safely in their beds the next morning, regardless. However, two things set them apart from most of the other entries on this list:-
    • The townsfolk don't actually know what is going on, exactly. Nor did any of them instigate this state of affairs: it's perhaps one of the creepiest "bubbles of evil" on record. They know they all seem to black out at the same time every night, then experience horrific nightmares, then wake up in their beds. When going out their doors, they then have to fix whatever damage has been done to the town (although not all of it sticks, so it's very weird). This happens regardless of whether they leave the town, commit suicide or die by accident trying to e.g. fix a roof or whatever. They always, always wake up in their beds the next day; and, anyone who stays the night in the town (or dies there) will suffer the same fate (and, will have to find accommodation to wake in every day). The villagers do have a fairly good idea of what is going on, but don't exactly know all of the details. They simply try to soldier on as best they can.
    • The villagers actively try to prevent the fate from happening to anyone else by keeping people from staying in the town's limits overnight. They are not remotely malicious, just basically trapped in a "Groundhog Day" Loop, and bitter about it. Funnily enough, they wind up using their indestructability against the Dark One's forces in the Final Battle as the ultimate Zerg Rush. Ha: way to use what he basically did to you to screw him over, Hinderstap. Kudos.
  • In R.S Belcher's King of the Road, everyone in Valentine's Trailer Park knows to never go to the train car graveyard and to stay away from the southeast of the park because "that's where all the drug dealers and... Calvin live". The inhabitants know that the park has a long history of murders by clowns and other weird happenings, with local urban legends like "Emmett the ghost clown" based on these. The reality is worse, the trailer park was started by alchemist Nicholas Flammel as a hunting ground for his "Harlequin" cult of serial killing clowns (with the train graveyard as one of their bases) and the friendly hippie manager of the park is actually an almost 2000 year old Roman alchemist. Calvin is a sorcerer-priest for the cult of Hastur.
  • James A. Moore, writer of The Blasted Lands Series, wrote the horror trilogy of Serenity Falls. An old man Simon MacGruder used to live in the dying town and he's gone back to research and write its history before the town fades into obscurity. Turns out Serenity Falls had been cursed 300 years ago by the husband of a woman who was wrongly accused of being a witch and then burnt. After the curse many horrible events, supernatural and mundane happen to doom the town over time.
  • Discussed in The Events at Poroth Farm, where the main character Jeremy, who is a PhD student in literature, brings up the trope in his first-person narration and lays out why he considers it it a hackneyed, unrealistic cliché:
    Among the silliest literary conventions is the "town that won't talk" — the Bavarian village where peasants turn away from tourists' queries about "the castle" and cross themselves, the New England harbor town where fishermen feign ignorance and cast "furtive glances" at the traveler. In actuality, I have found, country people love to talk to the stranger, provided he shows a sincere interest in their anecdotes. Storekeepers will interrupt their activity at the cash register to tell you their theories on a recent murder; farmers will readily spin tales of buried bones and of a haunted house. Rural townspeople are not so reticent as the writers would have us believe.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The 100 has three:
    • Mount Weather initially seems like the safest, friendliest, and most luxurious community on post-apocalyptic Earth, but Clarke can't help feeling like they're hiding something from her. Then she discovers where their medical "treatments" are coming from ...
    • Sanctum appears like a mountaintop community with a pagan/medieval vibe, with a radiation dome forcefield that protects the residents from the carnivorous swarms of alien insects. This time around, the characters don't fall for it as easily, but are traumatized refugees desperate enough to not initially ask too much about "The Primes".
    • Wonkru's bunker also qualifies, as the members of Wonkru do not talk about the Dark Year.
  • American Horror Story: Double Feature: It's implied that everyone who lives in Provincetown is aware of what people on the Muse get up to, namely killing people to feed on their blood, and look the other way as long as no one native to town is targeted. "Winter Kills" confirms that the town council, at least, is completely informed of the situation and not just allow it to happen but cover the extent of things up so that the town can profit from the reputation of being an artists' retreat.
  • In "Murdersville", an episode of The Avengers (1960s), an entire town conspires to offer outsiders the opportunity to stage a murder. The townsfolk will serve as alibis and help dispose of the remains afterwards, in return for a sizable sum of money. (The villagers who refuse to participate are kept locked up in ancient torture devices in the town museum.)
    • The New Avengers had "The Eagle's Nest" where a remote Scottish island was harbouring a dark secret. The island had been secretly taken over by Nazis at the end of World War II, and the monastery was being used to house the cryogenically frozen body of Adolf Hitler until such time as they could revive him.
  • One of the central themes/plot lines of Bates Motel is how the town of White Pines Bay is full of people with secrets. For starters, the town's economy is based on illegal marijuana farming, and the shady business of that means no one looks for other things, like prostitution and gun running. It makes the Bates' activities easy to fly under the radar.
  • Black Saddle: In "Client: Starkey", Clay discovers that no one in Latigo will talk when he starts asking questions about Ben Starkey. When he attempts to dig deeper, he finds two months worth of papers missing from the newspaper morgue. And then he and Scott find a body in an unmarked grave in Boot Hill...
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Subverted with Sunnydale. It's a sizable city instead of a small town. Instead of everyone being in on the dark secrets (the portal to Hell, the various demons and vampires that treat the place like a buffet and the buried [sometimes magical] treasures hidden in the right mausoleum), most of Sunnydale's citizens are hilariously oblivious/in denial about the many, many mysterious deaths that occur there. The only humans in on it are various characters who tap into the dark powers of the place for their own ends, such as the Big Bad of Season Three. The secret government lab under the college is the least exciting secret there was.
  • Cannon: In "Fool's Gold", Cannon tracks a pair of armored car robbers to a small town in New Mexico. Cannon is greeted with suspicion and harassment from the moment he arrives. It turns out the robbers have used the loot from the heist to effectively buy the town to give them a place to hole up while they recuperate.
  • The suburbs in Chuck vs. the Suburbs. It turns out that everyone in their cul-de-sac is an agent of Fulcrum, a criminal organization.
  • Creepshow: The animated special The Thing In Oakwood's Past, which takes place in the picturesque little Maine town of Oakwood, which has a famous mystery in it's past; in 1821, two centuries ago almost to the day, every single man, woman and child in the town vanished without a trace. The only clues are a series of journals belonging to a local historian who had lived in the town, and a massive time capsule found buried beneath the town. As revealed in the climax, the "time capsule" is actually a gateway to Hell, and has been opened twice before, unleashing Hell on Earth and wiping out every single living thing within the town. It happens again at the end, with only one survivor.
  • The Criminal Minds episode "House On Fire", has an entire town flip out on an orphaned boy due to rumors of Brother–Sister Incest. His Roaring Rampage of Revenge takes the form of Kill It with Fire.
  • Jon Stewart on The Daily Show mocked the "this town holds a Dark Secret" advertising for Wolf Lake by saying "Let's ask the werewolves! Maybe they know what the Dark Secret is."
  • Dark (2017): The town of Winden is home to a nuclear power plant, but it has a big secret: there is a wormhole in the underground caves that allows one to travel in time. Various characters try to keep mysterious disappearances, murders and strange events secret to avoid people interfering with the timeline and sabotaging the universe.
  • Doctor Who: In "The Beast Below", the Doctor realizes Starship UK is this when he sees a girl sitting on a bench silently crying but none of the adults passing by are stopping to console her, suggesting that they know why she's crying and don't want to acknowledge the cause.
  • This is the essential plot of Eureka, where the eponymous town is the site of a top-secret government research facility. The tagline for the first season was "Small town. Big Secrets." (Though it's portrayed as more of a Quirky Town despite the Death Ray, runaway Nanomachines and other Phlebotinum Overload that happens on a regular basis.)
  • Happy Town tried very hard to be this to the point that they ended up making it fit the title while advertising heavily to be certain absolutely everyone knew it was a Sarcastic Title.
  • Haven, Maine: A small town that hosts various cursed individuals. The mysterious 'Troubles' have recently returned, causing the deadly powers of some citizens to reactivate with horrible consequences. Loosely based on (well, uses some names from) a novella by Stephen King. Subverted in the first few seasons, however, since everyone believes the Troubles are tall tales, and the citizens' brusque and insular nature is lampshaded as them being New Englanders, who are naturaly wary of outsiders and slow to accept them. It fits the trope straight by season five, however, when evidence of the Troubles has grown beyond Haven PD's capacity to contain it.
  • The Heart, She Holler: All the weird things that happen can be traced back to Meemaw, because the Secret is that she can't die. But the real Secret is that she can die, but only from ...
  • K-9 and Company: Moreton Harwood. Well, if cheerfully explaining to visiting reporters "They're a bit sensitive about that [devil-worship] around here. It's traditional, you see." counts as a secret...
  • In case you were wondering about LazyTown, it has a dark secret of its own. In the old days before the active warriors came, LazyTown was lazy. No fitness, no healthy things, NO NOTHING. Every mayor until the active warriors came were part of the family of the "evil dude" (who was the last of his family to be mayor of LazyTown) before the warriors put him in a prison & buried him deep underground.
  • The League of Gentlemen. Royston Vasey has enough secrets to go around. The main one would probably be the "special stuff" sold by town butcher Hilary Briss.
  • The Magician: In "Lightning on a Dry Day", Blake visits the small town of Elm Ridge, North Carolina after meeting a young man who was rendered catatonic by something he saw near there. The locals make various attempts to run him out of town before he eventually discovers that the town matriarch is manufacturing illegal rejuvenation drugs, and the young man witnessed a Treasury agent who got too close to the truth being burned alive.
  • The town of Maiden Creek in the Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries episode "Death on the Vine" has a secret regarding the death of a German farmer at the end of World War I. Phyrne Fisher steps into the middle of the secret when the farmer's son calls her in to investigate, only for her to find that he has been murdered by the time she arrives. Owes a great deal to Bad Day at Black Rock.
  • The Mission: Impossible episode "The Town" features a town full of Soviet spies.
  • Storybrooke in Once Upon a Time, in which nearly everyone is a Fairy Tale character brought into our world through a magic curse, though none of them remember. Though most of the inhabitants are decent people, the mayor is the Evil Queen from "Snow White" who frequently abuses her power through both mundane and magical means. Even after the curse is lifted, everyone gets their memories back, and the Queen is deposed, Storybrooke still fits the trope as the citizens work together to keep outsiders from finding out who they are.
  • Once Upon a Time in Saengchori: The village head actually isn't the real village head. He was the youth director, and he, and several other citizens of the town, conspired to murder the real village head, so they could take possession of his land, which will soon be sold off for a huge sum when the area is developed.
  • In Requiem, the Welsh town of Penllynth falls into this, when Matilda visits the town after finding her mother may have a connection to a local child who went missing two decades ago. By the end of the season the only thing we know for sure is that Matilda is probably the missing child.
  • Played for Laughs in the Ripping Yarns episode "Whinfrey's Last Case". It turns out that all the inhabitants of the Cornish fishing village where agent Whinfrey takes his holiday in 1913 are in fact German spies. What's more, this turns out to be part of a conspiracy between the British and German Governments.
  • The eponymous town in Riverdale is described has having "shadows underneath" its innocent facade. The maple syrup business that the town is founded upon is a front for a drug ring, the authorities are secretly crooked, the powerful Blossom family is connected to a history of familicide and incest, and frequent attacks and murders occur throughout the town. Unraveling the town's dark secrets is the premise of the show and is what kickstarts the plot of the first season.
  • One episode of The Rockford Files features the town of Pastoria, which traps wealthy travelers in the town, frames them for an absurd number of crimes, then convinces them to plea bargain and pay a large fine to the city instead of going to jail.
  • In the Roswell episode "Harvest" (2nd season) the main characters travel to the suspicious town of Copper Summit, Arizona — which turns out to be filled with their alien enemies.
  • Smallville. The charming little town is plagued by a million and one various threats, but the wave of psychotic meteor freaks brought about by the first meteor shower is closest to this trope. Most people know that there is something wrong with the meteor rocks and many witnessed its effects on people, but a lot of them seem to live in denial or blame it on the LuthorCorp experiments. However, the biggest secret of the town is actually quite benevolent: There is basically a Physical God in the form of local teenager Clark, who is doing his damnedest to protect the town from the other secrets overrunning it. He stays incognito, because, well, he's really insecure.
    • In the episode "Harvest", Clark and Lois find themselves in a small farming town when their car breaks down. It turns out that the townspeople owe their unnaturally good health to deposits of blue Kryptonite in their ground water, and plan to sacrifice Lois to insure a bountiful harvest.
  • Stargate-verse series:
  • Stranger Things: Hawkins is the home of a government lab that performs paranormal experiments, and the town is a gateway to the Upside Down.
  • The sleepy English village of Little Stempington from Suburban Shootout seems unbelievably clean, genteel and old-fashioned- until you find out that it stays that way because of gun-toting housewives threatening anyone who affronts their middle class values.
  • Pretty much every small town the Winchesters visit in Supernatural. For some reason, it seems that you can't become a person of respect in your town without having committed some horrific act in the past.
  • In Tales from the Crypt, Stueksville (pronounced "Sticksville"), where the episode "Let the Punishment Fit the Crime" takes place, is this... for the outsiders who are here, as residents with the place seem to know well enough about how the rules and regulations work to stay out of trouble, whereas the outsiders who end up here (and stuck here) find themselves in a Fate Worse than Death, having to work in a court system that is rigged against defendants over and over.note 
  • Tidelands (Netflix): Orphelin Bay hides a population of sirens, and fishermen who work in the drug trade.
  • The village in the Brecon Beacons in the Torchwood episode "Countrycide". They're cannibals.
  • The Twilight Zone (1985): In "The Beacon", Dr. Dennis Barrows stumbles into a small town called Mellweather which is protected by an enigmatic lighthouse that demands a Human Sacrifice for its services.
  • Twin Peaks: The titular town is a quaint and charming town with an outsized number of dark secrets including an international drug and prostitution ring involving the town's high schoolers, a series of suspicious deaths, some extremely shady plots among the town's business leaders, and, best of all, in the the forest outside of town, a portal to Another Dimension occupied by demons who possess people.
  • The Vampire Diaries: The lovely Virginian town of Mystic Falls is a wonderful place to live, with frequent town festivals and friendly locals. The only danger is the frequent "animal attacks", which certainly aren't excuses contrived by its Council and the town's founding families to conceal its recurring vampire problem.
  • The X-Files: The Arkansas town of Dudley from the episode "Our Town" is entirely made up of cannibals who kidnap, kill and eat human beings in order to maintain their youth. They accidentally eat a victim who has Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease and become infected with that syndrome.


  • In The Hidden Almanac, weird things can happen anywhere, but all the really weird things happen in Echo Harbor, which seems to be a hotbed of cult activity and ritual sacrifice. Many evil things are underground there.
  • The Magnus Archives episode "The Sick Village": everyone is infected with a rotting fungus, but no one will admit they are, concealing their spore-contaminated flesh under heavy robes and masks. Everyone agrees the fungus must have been brought by "outsiders" and continually spies on their neighbours for signs of it. Anyone "convicted" of being infected is burned at the maypole.
  • Malevolent gives us the quiet town of Leerie, which conceals a cult devoted to The King In Yellow, operating out of a vast underground city hidden beneath an abandoned hotel. Later in season 3 we arrive in the (former) mining town of Addison, which is the home of an invisible Eldritch Abomination who controls the townsfolk, as well as some sort of cult compound underneath the Larson estate.
  • Mayfair Watchers Society is set in Mayfair, which appears to be just like any other town, except that for it tends to draw in all sorts of bizarre creatures like moths to a flame. While they are usually treated as harmless animals, a lot of them can still be extremely dangerous. Each episode chronicles the interactions the townsfolk have with the various creatures that they share a town with.
  • Mt. Absalom, Ohio, from HartLife NFP's Unwell Podcast. Besides the whole atmosphere of the place, there's an old man living in the woods with his two monster-dogs, an abandoned observatory built on top of another buried building, a few deceased citizens who have come back healthy, a 24-hour diner that appears out of nowhere with no health code compliance to speak of, and a horribly skewed local history pageant.
  • Welcome to Night Vale: Not Night Vale itself (it's not a secret that the City Council is a bizarre gestalt entity and there are hooded figures in the dog park, after all) but their rival town of Desert Bluffs, which appears to be Night Vale's opposite in every way. It's always sunny! Everything is wonderful! And everyone worships a Smiling God...

    Tabletop Games 
  • The board game Arkham Horror takes place in Lovecraft Country and each board represents a different town from the Cthulhu Mythos.
  • Call of Cthulhu supplement Dreamlands, adventure "To Sleep, Perchance to Dream". Everyone in the small Vermont town of Bensamin is a Cthulhu Mythos cultist. After the PC Investigators are lured there, they're captured by the townsfolk and kept as future Human Sacrifices.
  • In Crimestrikers, this is the subject of the episode seed "A Friendly Little Town". Outrage (an international crime syndicate) takes over the rural village of Pleasant Valley because it's the only source of a material they need. They maintain a facade of normality for people who are passing through, but most of the residents live in fear of their conquerors—at least until two Crimestrikers show up to help the local resistance.
  • In Dogs in the Vineyard, the PCs are sent by an Expy of the 19th-century Mormon church to visit a series of towns. They have some simple duties, like healing people and delivering the mail, but the interesting ones (i.e. the ones you actually have game sessions for) are either headed for this trope or already there, and the PCs have to fix it by any means necessary before it falls into full-blown demon-fueled Hate and Murder.
  • Dungeons & Dragons horror-themed campaign setting Ravenloft is full of these, naturally.
    • The quevari appear as normal, pacifistic human beings most of the time, seemingly untouched by the evil that surrounds them. Until the three nights of the full moon that is, when every man, woman and child turns into a bloodthirsty killer. They've learned to block out what they do when they change, and never speak of it (even to travelers).
    • The Folk Horror realm of Tepest is a classic version of this, with a seemingly-idyllic countryside community practicing strange rites in service of "Mother", a nature godess who is actually a powerful hag.
    • In the Hungry Jungle realm of Valachan, the village of Oselo appears as a friendly, laid-back little settlement. Until nightfall, that is, when the townsfolk reveal themselves to be werepanthers.
  • Naktamun from Magic: The Gathering is a city-sized version of this. It at first appears to be a bright, sunny, and peaceful Egypt-like city... that just so happens to be ruled by Nicol Bolas. Every single man, woman, and child is expected to eventually throw themselves into the Trials, dying by the hundreds to presumably prove themselves worthy of a good afterlife. As the storyline continued, it was eventually revealed that Bolas mind raped the gods of Amonkhet into doing his bidding, and all of the people who succeeded in the Trials were meant to be brought back as Bolas's zombie army.
  • New World of Darkness:
    • The core rulebook features a story about a town where every year, several people die without any explanation, and they encourage the new-in-town priest to quietly accept it. He doesn't get the hint until Death himself shows up to tell him to shut up and sit down. However, it is implied that it's actually a vampire using Dominate. The way he looks and how he manages to "freeze" the poor priest in place does look like something a vampire could do...
    • The Boston Unveiled supplement for Mage: The Awakening has the fishing community of Howard's End (probably inspired by or in homage to H.P. Lovecraft, though the name comes from a non-horror novel by E.M. Forster), where all of the residents are cannibals who are members of the Red Word cult, a group who worship an alternate history so abhorrent that it was aborted from reality into the Abyss, where it became sentient. A wharf along the coast of the town contains a portal into the Spirit World, wherein lies the cult's sacred temple, which the cult devours people in for the purpose of wiping them from history.
    • Leviathan: The Tempest: A Leviathan's Cult will sometimes form one of these, grouping together to form a community in which almost everyone is a part of the Cult. Exact degrees of isolation from the outside world can vary, all the way from an isolated island in the middle of the ocean which hasn't seen vistors since the 1800s to a couple of blocks in a suburban neighborhood in which every house holds a cultist family and there are a few extra elements at the neighborhood potluck.
  • In Pathfinder, Illmarsh is pretty much Innsmouth with worse relations between humans and monsters. A colony of skum live at the bottom of the nearby lake and force the town to give them its women to reproduce.
  • The Flying Frog board game Touch Of Evil is all about one of these, though the actual secret depends on which version of the game you're playing, anything from vampires to a Headless Horseman to an Eldritch Abomination.
  • Warhammer 40,000 favors the Planet With A Dark Secret approach instead, with roughly even odds of Chaos, Eldar, Genestealers, and/or Necrons being said secret. Since we're talking about planets here, there's plenty of room for multiple dark secrets to be hiding out, all of them unaware of one another.

  • The musical Brigadoon (first produced in 1947). Although Brigadoon is more of a Lotus-Eater Machine that happens to be real, depending on how one looks at it.

    Video Games 
  • The village on the island with Balduran's ship in Baldur's Gate. Which is not so secret anymore, since anyone simply refers to it as The Werewolf Village.
  • The sleepy village of /x/ in BoxxyQuest: The Gathering Storm is more like a pile of dark secrets with a town hastily thrown on top. Without exception, every home in /x/ is hiding some kind of Nightmare Fuel, totally unrelated to whatever nightmares the neighbors are hiding in their own homes. Examples include an inn run by trapped ghosts, a school where students frequently go missing, an empty house with corpses behind the walls, and a basement that twists itself into a mind-screwing labyrinth once you enter. And naturally, many of these are just sidequests and Easter Eggs that go fully untouched by the main plot.
  • Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth uses the town of Innsmouth from the Cthulhu Mythos (see the Literature folder).
  • In survival horror title Camp Sunshine, whatever town is nearest the titular camp seems to hide fairly well the fact that there was a violent mass murder committed in the camp that used to be where Camp Sunshine now stands, even though this incident only happened a couple of years before the game begins. There is no hint that the protagonist, or anyone else he meets over the course of the game, was remotely aware of this.
  • In The Council of Hanwell, the town of Hanwell is home to many monsters designated as "anomalies". It turns out that many of the creatures were either created by or captured by the Council for the supposed purpose of furthering mankind, but it's really so the Doctor can create an army and give himself powers.
  • Played with in Dark Elf Historia, where Terma Village's deep, dark secret isn't that they're sacrificing young women - they're completely open about that. The actual secret is that the town elders are, in fact, gang-raping the young women, and the "sacrifices" are just an excuse to kill them afterwards so that they don't talk.
  • In Darklands, the events take place in medieval Germany. The protagonists begin the main quest by finding out, which of the many villages has a Dark Secret of being populated by devil worshippers. Attending the mass there is particularly creepy...
    • That and as has been pointed out in reviews. Just when you think you can recuperate from your injuries in a small village you might well wake up in the middle of the night to find them trying to sacrifice you to demons.
  • Deadly Premonition takes place in the town of Greenvale, the site of a murder that brings in FBI agent Francis York Morgan. Morgan eventually discovers two important things about Greenvale: several decades ago Greenvale was used in a government experiment involving a drug that made people insane, and the current sheriff runs a tiny S&M cult and forced several of the women in the town to be his sex slaves.
  • Dead Rising introduces us to the cozy mountainous small town of Willamette, Colorado, with a population of 53,594, which at first appears to be entirely innocent in its recent involvement in a zombie outbreak possibly induced by violent Mexican-American terrorist Carlito Keyes, but seems to be more related to the incident than before upon closer investigation. It is revealed that the town was only founded recently after the massacre of a small Mexican village left over from the Mexican-American Wars, which was wrongly accused of being involved with drug cartels, and was experimented on by violent bio-weapon wasps born out of a failed illegal livestock research, which were in turn released on the city later by said violent Mexican-American terrorist, a survivor of the genocide.
  • Devil May Cry 5: Red Grave City seems to be a normal town, until Mission 12 where you find a rather large statue and shrine to Sparda, complete with blood fountains that had to have been built before the demon invasion. The implication seems to be that the city's primary or hidden religion was demon worship with Sparda as a patron deity.
  • Nevesk, the town you first arrive in in Diablo IV, seems at first to be your average town fallen on hard times in the desolation that Sanctuary has become. Up until you clear out a ruin for them and they celebrate by throwing you a small party during which you're drugged and hauled off to be sacrificed. As it turns out, these townsfolk are demon cultists who worship Lilith, the Big Bad, and you're only saved when one of the people they slated for sacrifice kills the guy who tries to sacrifice you, and you have to kill the rest of the town when they show up en masse to finish you off. Tristram this ain't. Needless to say, this immediately sets a much darker tone for the game in general in comparison to previous Diablo fare.
  • Haven in Dragon Age: Origins is a little mountain town where the locals are suspiciously tight-lipped and uunwelcoming of outsiders, and the main characters are greeted by a Creepy Child reciting an ambiguously ominous nursery rhyme. Everyone who lives in Haven is a member of the Disciples of Andraste, a cult which has turned to worshiping a dragon and practicing a form of blood magic.
    Zevran: Just once I'd like to walk into one of these places and discover a lively dance, or a drinking festival. Or an orgy. But alas, no.
  • Dragon Quest VII has present-day Labres: the town features a monument boasting about the heroic villagers protecting one of their own from some terrible travelers who tried to slay the transformed man. But this version of events is a complete lie — the truth is that they lynched the poor man, and threw a child and the travelers who tried to stop them to the real monsters. The monument was originally meant to remind them of their greatest failure, but corrupted and turned into a feel-good lie to drum up tourism. Ultimately, you discover the real monument, only for the mayor to destroy it — but not before their children all get a chance to read the true version of events and swear to spread that version instead, even against their parents' wishes.
  • In Eiyuden Chronicle: Rising, New Naveah's elders have hid the secret of the Barrow's Blessing, a phenomenom where periodically a child is born with blue hair and the ability to use magic without a Lens, only to die at a young age. The heroes are shocked on learning the truth as Isha herself has the Blessing.
  • Elden Ring: Dominula, Windmill Village. At first glance, a small farming town celebrating a festival. Then, you might notice the lack of non-celebrants, find the spirit desperately pleading for someone not to skin him, aggro the celebrants and get their drops of bloodstained dresses and weapons made of human bone, and figure out that something is very, very wrong here. The references to flaying and the presence of a Godskin Apostle field boss nearby hints that the Dominulans are Godskin Cultists and use their festival to flay demigods and men alike to turn into clothing for the Godskin Apostles and Nobles.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • In The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, there's the minor town of Hackdirt, where you have to visit after a merchant's daughter disappears there. The Church has a book dedicated to "the Deep Ones", and people say things like "the Brethren don't take kindly to strangers. I'd leave before they find out you're here." If you spend the night in the inn after asking questions, you wake up in the middle of the night to find yourself under attack by some cultist, then can find your way into the underground to discover that the shopkeeper's daughter is about to be sacrificed for an unknown reason. Not even unknown daedric reasons - the "Deep Ones" are something else entirely.
    • Meanwhile, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim has the hold of Markarth, which has not one, but two dark secrets: A good number of people in town are Forsworn infiltrators and most of the rest are cannibals who worship the Daedric Prince Namira. Since many of the citizens who fall into the second secret are people with whom you can have perfectly normal interactions outside of this quest chain, it makes the whole town seem even creepier once you know.
      • Not to mention the haunted house with a shrine to Molag Bal in the basement.
  • Enigmatis:
    • The eponymous Maple Creek of The Ghosts of Maple Creek. Some people who visited previously said it was nice, but the locals tended to act rather strangely. Of course, it's more the local preacher you have to watch out for...
    • The Detective visits Maple Creek again in the third installment... and finds out that the town has been completely abandoned by the residents in the meantime, with them having burned down the church before leaving for good measure. One of them even carved "BURN IN HELL, PREACHER" into the doorframe.
  • The Excavation of Hob's Barrow takes place in the idyllic, rustic village of Bewlay, deep in the British moors. Of course, Bewlay is also home to the titular landmark, which is shrouded in mystery and the locals really don't like to talk about it, as they consider it to be a cursed place.
  • Fallout 3 has Andale, the nicest little town in America, complete with Mom's apple pie and swearing allegience to the flag. The residents even dress and act like the Great War didn't happen. There's a reason for why even Raiders steer clear of the "town", which is really just two families. They're part of an incestous Cannibal Clan who descended from an original surviving group of four families after the War, who survived through inbreeding and cannibalism. The basement of one house and the backyard shed of the other is stuffed to the ceiling with human flesh.
  • The town of Covenant in Fallout 4 will set off alarm bells in player's head almost immediately, whether it's due to the concrete walls and guard towers on the outside or the clean pre-war houses and overly friendly people on the inside. They're actually a bunch of paranoid psychos who have been kidnapping random passers-by and performing gruesome torture experiments on them to see if they're synths. You can travel into the tunnels under the town and bring their cruel and insane operation to a close, but it will piss off everyone living in the town so you'll have to clear it out by force to resettle it, and as a final twist, if the girl you rescue from their clutches, Amelia Stockton, dies, you find a synth component on her body. There is a Railroad runner named Old Man Stockton, but whether Amelia is an innocent synth who was freed and adopted as his daughter, or an Institute plant to get information on the Railroad, is left ambiguous.
    • Inverted by the Institute. For their shadowy and sinister reputation, it certainly doesn't prepare the Sole Survivor to see a sleek, shiny Star Trek-esque utopia on the other side of the teleporter. Though this becomes ZigZagged when you see the shocking slave-like conditions the Synths live under plus the scientists' mental gymnastics to convince themselves that their creations aren't sentient when the Synths are based on your son's DNA. And then there's the fact that they're the ones creating all the Super Mutants roaming around on the surface...
  • Fallout: New Vegas has the Ultra-Luxe Casino, one of the swankiest casinos in New Vegas run by the high-class White Glove Society. ...who also happen to be a group of reformed cannibals. If the Courier so chooses, they can convince the White Glove Society to serve their patrons again.
  • Fatal Frame II. Minakami Village is quiet village by the mountains that was considered old-fashioned even by the standards of the 19th century. [[spoiler]]It's built on top of a gateway to Hell, and human sacrifices must be offered to it in order to prevent its darkness from spilling out[[/spoiler]].
  • Final Fantasy:
    • Final Fantasy VII's Nibelheim. After the town burned to the ground as a result of the Super-Soldier Sephiroth going off the deep end, Shinra, Inc. had the whole place rebuilt and populated by hired actors in an effort to hide the fact that the entire incident ever happened.
    • Early in Final Fantasy IX, the characters enter the town of Dali, where they're secretly making Black Mage constructs for Queen Brahne that bear a strong resemblance to one of your characters.
    • Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers has Eulmore, one of the two remaining major city-states in the world of The First. From the start, not all seems right with Eulmore, as its citizenry consists of nobles idling away their time while The End of the World as We Know It looms, and their ruler, King Vauthry, is highly invested in making sure no one even tries to save the world. The full magnitude of Eulmore's dangers become apparent later on when it is revealed that "Meol", the mysteriously addictive foodstuff that Eulmore's elite feed themselves and the people of the surrounding ghettos, is made from sin eters. Worse still, Lord Vauthry is not only a sin eater himself, but a Lightwarden, one of the most powerful sin eaters in existence. The Meol he feeds to his people allow him to exert his will over them and force them to do his bidding. Also given his culture of ascending Bonded who can no longer serve for some reason into Sin Eaters, he's effectively made indirect cannibals of every Eulmore citizen.
  • The town of Doolin in Folklore is known as a place "where the living can meet the dead." This is only kind of true, but in the course of trying to get to the bottom of what really does go on in Doolin, protagonists Ellen and Keats uncover a few other nasty secrets revolving around a series of deaths and disappearances which took place seventeen years previously on the night of Samhain.
  • Golden Sun:
  • Grim Dawn has the town of Barrowholm in Act 5. The town looks a lot nicer than the surrounding Ugdenbog and seems incongruously prosperous and well-maintained. Explore the town a bit and you might find some interesting things; a cellar with a locked door and strange noises coming out, a cookbook that uses some alarming turns of phrase, an altar of bones and dark wood tucked away in a corner of the village ... The inhabitants are wendigoes that have managed to stay sane and appear human. They're also cultists of the Ravager, a spirit of predation and cannibalism influencing the area
  • Harvester: The town of Harvest. It is clear from the get-go that Harvest is not a nice place to live, and nobody even tries to hide that. Despite this, it does contain a Dark Secret like you would not believe. The town of Harvest does not exist. It is just a virtual reality program that Steve and Stephanie were hooked up to. The entire program is a murder simulator and it is supposed to slowly and surely turn Steve into a Serial Killer. He can get out of the program... if he murders Stephanie and makes her Killed Off for Real.
  • Ionia from League of Legends. An idyllic land of art and nature, a borderline paradise. But Ionia has many a dark secret. Such as their ruling council setting crazed Serial Killer Jhin on the loose, and their secret imprisonment of a Darkin.
  • Mass Effect:
    • Zhu's Hope in Mass Effect. The colonists are all mind-controlled by the ancient plant creature that lives beneath the city.
    • In Mass Effect 2 Samara mentions another example of this trope in her backstory: a small asari colony that had been seduced by an Ardat-Yakshi, an asari with a rare genetic mutation that causes her kill anybody she has sex with, who feature prominently in their mythology as evil gods and anti-heroes. She had convinced the entire colony to worship her as goddess, and sacrifice their young Maidens to her, and when Samara came the entire colony save for the youngest children threw themselves at her to give the Ardat-Yakshi a chance to escape.
    • Mass Effect 3 has Sanctuary. Supposedly, it's one of the last safe places in the galaxy in the face of the Reaper invasion. In reality, it's a Cerberus facility, run by Miranda Lawson's evil psychotic dad. All the hapless refugees are getting experimented on. And then the Reapers show up...
      • Also from Mass Effect 3 is Mahavid, an asteroid that plays a part in the Leviathan DLC. The entire population is under Leviathan's mind control, and have been for a decade. The Creepy Monotone and multiple people saying "you should leave" or "you don't belong here" give it away.
  • Nelson Tethers: Puzzle Agent: Scoggins, MN, seems like an ordinary small town in the Great Lakes area, but Agent Tethers quickly discovers a deeper (and weirder) mystery behind the mysterious closure of the local eraser factory. Across both games Tethers gets involved in a string of unsolved missing person cases, a mysterious local fraternal order who worship the cryptic "Hidden People", and a government cover-up involving murderous astronauts and a lunar-powered insanity-inducing ray gun.
  • It looks like Charwood is one of these in Neverwinter Nights. It's actually only the noblemen who have the secret, and the townspeople have just been screwed over by it. And then you find out that the nobles themselves were screwed over by Belial. Essentially, the demon tricked one of the brothers into a massacre, the latter tricking his sibling into luring and actually killing the children involved, before figuring it out and tossing his brother's phylactery into a shrine to Lysander, who just stuck the whole place into a "Groundhog Day" Loop until a third party could come by and sort everything out. It did a number on everyone's minds.
  • Possom Springs from Night in the Woods. It's a Dying Town full of depressed people who would love nothing more than to pack up and leave. Its dark secret is the cult of people who sacrifice drifters and "degenerates" of society to an Eldritch Abomination in hopes that it can bring prosperity back to the town.
  • Octopath Traveler has several of these among the many towns of Orsterra:
    • Sunshade: A city in the Sunlands known as the "city of a thousand pleasures", is home to a famous tavern run by Helgenish, a secretly abusive man who goes so far as to treat the dancers working for him like Sex Slaves.
    • Stillsnow: A small mountain village just north of Flamesgrace, where the Order of the Sacred Flame was founded, is home to a brothel of Sex Slaves run by assassins and is frequented by at least one corrupt member of the Order of the Sacred Flame.
    • Northreach: The northernmost city in the game is being run by a gang of thieves who have either killed or corrupted the guards to their side.
    • Noblecourt: A Flatlands city which was once a place of high ideals and moral men and is a base for one of the leaders of the Obsidians. They have corrupted the guards, and crime is rampant now.
    • Wispermill: Despite looking like an ordinary farming town at first glance, its inhabitants are under the thrall of an evil, Galdera-worshipping cult and are hostile to members of the Order of the Sacred Flame.
  • Professor Layton:
    • Saint Mystère has a secret, though it isn't dark - nearly all the inhabitants are robots, and the village itself is designed to keep Baron Reinhold's daughter Flora safe until a suitable caretaker appears for her.
    • The second game has a town with a secret too: the village of Folsense (and maybe the townspeople) is one giant hallucination.
    • The trend continues into the third game: Future London isn't London from the future at all, it's a city in the present located underground the actual London.
    • Even crossovers that feature Layton aren't exempt; Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney features the quaint little town of Labyrinthia, which turns out to be a government project to test a hypnotic solution that brainwashes its denizens to think magic and witches exist. It's practically tradition by now for this trope to be applied to the Layton franchise.
  • Rift has Lakeside, a low level town in Freemarch that serves as one big Shout-Out to The Shadow Over Innsmouth, with Abyssal cultists instead of the Cult of Dagon. Same difference.
  • The Secret of Monkey Island. The island seems pretty peaceful (even the cannibals eventually bargain with you). That is, until you discover the hellish labyrinth beneath the giant monkey head.
  • In The Secret World there is an entire three-part zone that is basically a huge Lovecraft Shout-Out (complete with the Ur-Draug, a Cthulhu Ersatz as a dungeon boss). One of the zone parts is Kingsmouth - a small, cozy town that's currently under a zombie and draug attack. There are lots of quests that let you dive into the town's history - and while there is apparently not one, huge secret, there has been a LOT of creepy things going on through the years. This is also lampshaded by several NPCs.
  • The first Shadow Hearts:
    • The first town you come to is mostly abandoned except for demons and tormented souls. The town fits this trope all the better considering that they, you know, are the bitter souls of abused domestic animals who want to eat you. That certainly puts a damper on things. Funny thing: Yuri and Alice know this going in, but they don't care, because they knows they can deal with it.
    • Bistritz is another one — but the secret isn't the vampire up in the castle (he's a Friendly Neighborhood Vampire), it's the experiments being conducted by the mayor, which are waking up monsters.
  • The small New England town of Innsmouth Illsmouth in The Call of Cthulhu PC adventure Shadow of the Comet.
  • Out of the entire Crapsack World that is Tokyo in Shin Megami Tensei IV, there's this one shelter, Tennozu, in which people are still splendidly fed, where investigators keep disappearing, and where an old cult's making its bid for revival...
  • Silent Hill, a small town founded by cultists and harboring a very twisted Dark World. Silent Hill: Homecoming introduces another TWADS, Shepherd's Glen, this time with extra child sacrifices.

    Ironically, Silent Hill in the film adaptation is inspired by the Real Life small town of Centralia, Pennsylvania, whose citizens accidentally set a coal seam on fire by burning trash and never bothered to tell anyone about it until a child nearly fell through the ground and into the fires below. It's nothing more than a smoldering Ghost Town now.
  • Sonic Adventure 2: the Space Colony ARK was an advanced orbital research facility created by the government for scientific and technological development. Little did most people know, it was also the birthplace of Shadow, who was originally created as part of Professor Gerald Robotnik's efforts to find a cure to a deadly disease afflicting his granddaughter Maria. As part of this research, Professor Gerald made contact with a race of aliens known as the Black Arms to provide genetic material for Shadow's creation in exchange for the Chaos Emeralds. Fearing that the Black Arms would be a danger to Earth, Gerald then created the Eclipse Cannon as a countermeasure against them (which would later be used by his grandson Ivo Robotnik, AKA: Eggman, in a plot for world conquest). The development of a weapon of mass destruction led to the government raiding the ARK and shutting it down, killing Maria in the process and driving Gerald to plot revenge against mankind. Even after the colony was shut down, a dangerous Flawed Prototype of Shadow still lingered in the colony's core...
  • In Sunless Sea, given that you run into multiple islands with secret cannibal cults on them and at least two involved in a plan by a faction within the London government to take over the entire Neath with an artificial star-god, it's honestly kind of a relief to arrive at places like the Isle of Cats or Kingeater's Castle where stuff is at least sinister when you get there.
  • In Tears to Tiara 2, a level takes place in the unnamed village. The village priest's description of it sounds like Benedictine Monasticism. Turns out the priest is a Giant Spider, the village full of monsters, the inhabitants are brainwashed and forced to pray to Watos, and it's all a test for a bigger project by the Holy Empire.
  • Around the start of Chapter 3 in Terranigma, you go to Louran, a nice little desert town with nice people and a lot of ambitions. Until you find out that Louran's been destroyed for quite a few years now and all its inhabitants are actually zombies. The nice town you saw was an illusion by a girl who used to live there.
    • All of the zombies themselves are also illusions by the girl (who can somehow hurt and even kill you) that disappear forever once you find her, and nobody actually lives there at all.
    • There's also Crysta, which is a copy of Storkholm in the Light World complete with copies of its original inhabitants. Near the end of the game, the villagers and chickens turn into spirits and attack you if you talk to them (doing no damage). You can kill them by throwing things at them, but they regenerate. They also drop massive amounts of gold which is completely useless by this point of the game, as there's nobody to buy anything from (Crysta's shopkeepers aren't exactly eager to help).
  • The eponymous Town of Salem has members of the mafia, psychotic serial killers, werewolves, vampires, witches, and the incarnation of one of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse hidden among its population.
  • World of Warcraft:
    • The town of Pyrewood is home to Alliance-friendly NPCs during the day, who turn into bloodthirsty Worgen that attack anyone on sight at night.
    • Silverbrook in Northrend: The town inhabitants are actually Worgen who act friendly towards you, in hopes of turning you into one too, but you get better, and they get hostile. After this every trapper settlement is hostile to player.
  • Wellington Wells, the fictional English town which is the setting for We Happy Few. Whatever the Very Bad Thing was that happened during World War II in this world's timeline, it was so awful everyone tried to forget it through a combination of Orwellian tyranny and censorship and abuse of a Fantastic Drug called Joy to keep up everyone's spirits. Unfortunately, now Wellington Wells has two dark secrets: the Very Bad Thing, and the fact that their seemingly-perfect civilization is on the verge of collapse. If you're curious, the Very Bad Thing was the Germans coercing the people of Wellington Wells into giving up every child over the age of 13 in exchange for their safety. And to make matters worse, Arthur's storyline reveals the tanks Wellington Wells was threatened with weren't even real.
  • The First Town of The Witcher, the outskirts village of Vizima, apparently plagued by beastlike ghosts possessing dogs. Though they blame the local witch, she simply sold them the implements the corrupt people demanded to curse themselves with. The town elders are collaborating with and selling their children to a vicious mob who casually murder the citizens. There are definitely ghost-dogs and the like, but the dark secret is WHY they are there.
  • A large part of Yakuza 6's plot is centered on the Secret of Onomichi and why the Yomei Alliance is going so far to protect it.

    Visual Novels 
  • Choices: Stories You Play has Westchester, the primary setting of one of its stories titled It Lives In The Woods. It has a history of cults, witch trials, massacres, and unexplained coma cases attributed to a local supernatural entity named Redfield.
  • Not a town exactly, but the Chateau de l'Hiver from Fleuret Blanc qualifies. It's the seemingly-normal headquarters of the protagonist's employers, but it's full of weird stuff that doesn't seem to add up. The employers are also very cagey about their true goals and how they got the castle. Other inhabitants who aren't in on the secret (or are they?) harbor many suspicions and theories about their employers. It turns out the FOIL judges swindled the castle from its former owners, but more pressingly, they're using it to store the prized possessions of the FOIL members — who are murdered when their tenure is up.
  • Hatoful Boyfriend: The Holiday Star seems like a lovely dream of a fairytale land with a little town where everyone's friendly and accommodating. ...but it wouldn't be on this page if that was all there was to it. It's ruled by a spirit who traps visitors there, forcing dreamers to starve to death and be absorbed into him, then sort of puppet them around to greet and talk to the newest batch of visitors.
    • St Pigeonation's itself is a school with a dark secret: if you're invited to the school, rather than applying, then you have some kind of physical oddity which the Hawk Party is planning to use as a weapon to wipe out humanity. The school was the centre of a biological weapons program whose main test subject burnt himself to death in an effort to shut it down. If the sole human student dies on-campus, then twelve hours later, the war between humans and birds will begin again.
  • Higurashi: When They Cry has Hinamizawa. A dark secret? Try about a dozen. The Curse of the Cotton Drifting Festival is only the first we learn about.
  • Sucker for Love: Sacramen-Cho, the hometown of the protagonist of Date To Die For, is hit by a plague of people going missing. It's soon revealed that they've either been getting sacrificed by the ruthless cultists controlling the town, or getting consumed by the cursed woods surrounding it.

    Web Animation 
  • Spooky Month is set in an unnamed small town somewhere in the United States, which (despite looking like an average suburban city) isn't really a normal or pleasant place to live in. In addition to the surprisingly high level of crime (for such a small town) with robbers, kidnappers, and murderers running around at night, it's also a Weirdness Magnet for occult and supernatural activity; with various monsters suddenly appearing with little or no explanation (like the dancing zombies in the hospital morgue), along with being the home base of a mysterious evil cult that worships an Eldritch Abomination lurking under the town's surface, plotting sinister schemes for their unknown agenda in the background.

  • Charby the Vampirate: Subverted with the human city of Kellwood which has a magically enhanced Weirdness Censor and a city-wide Glamour to prevent the humans from noticing anything off with their monster infested city which rests on the edge of an Enchanted Forest that is much, much Bigger on the Inside and filled with kingdoms of demons and The Fair Folk. It doesn't work on everyone and seeing something shocking enough can break the glamour for an individual permanently. The city's Animal Control is actually a city funded Creature-Hunter Organization.
  • In Crossed Claws, it turns out that before moving above ground, the Hollow's government was responsible for a lot of shady dealings, including cruel experiments performed on its prisoners. Even now with the government no longer holding influence, some are hell bent on making sure its history remains buried forever.
  • Dear Children's Hearthbrook certainly seems to have one, if the hooded figures running around in the graveyard are any indication.
  • Girl Genius:
    • Sturmhalten. Everyone may not be in on it, but except for the ruling family, and apparently a few nobles, the town's entire population is made up of revenants. And the Prince is trying to resurrect the Big Bad. By abducting every female Spark he can get his hands on to try to give her a new body. Including his own daughter. Who has her own plans to wrest control of said revenants and the Big Bad's other minions. It may be easier to just list the things that weren't Dark and Secret about the place: it's a town, it's in a mountain pass.
    • Mechanicsburg; Not only is it populated entirely by minions waiting for their masters to return, but it's a Genius Loci built on top of a holy spring known for causing insanity and death.
  • Kit N Kay Boodle's Yiffburg is one, though their method of "secrecy" is simply being too ridiculous for anyone to take seriously as a threat. The comic is drawn in a cutesy, cuddly, cartoony art style, but when the candy coating is washed off, the end result is that the main protagonists are out to conquer the world and convert it to mindless sexual hedonism in the name of their gods; however, they don't tell that to anyone outside their Sugar Bowl town, because the rest of the world won't openly oppose them as long as they're only complaining about what lazy perverts they are instead of actively trying to stop the spread of their cult.
  • The citizen's of Richard's village in Looking for Group are all ravenous undead capable of slaughtering common mortals with ease. Even the little girls can rip out a man's heart.
    "We call it Pretty Pretty Unicorn. It's a work in progress."
  • In Lovecraft Is Missing, Tough Luck, Oklahoma is revealed to have its own Cthulhu cult that meets secretly in an old barn.
  • Memoria They all wear masks and it's run by a Creepy Childit gets worse.
  • In No Rest for the Wicked, the protagonists come upon an unnamed village where the villagers believe that there is a witch in the forest who has abducted and murdered huge numbers of their children. They're right, but the thing is that the children weren't entranced into the forest by the witch's magic, the villagers have been abandoning their children in the forest to die (in some cases) or they've intentionally not done anything to prevent their children going in of their own volition. Once November, Perrault and Red kill the witch and bring the only living children back, they leave the villagers with their guilt.
  • Shadowgirls: The original Innsmouth, an early example of this trope, was a decaying hovel of mutants and secret cults. In Shadowgirls, however, its modern-day incarnation appears to be a perfectly ordinary coastal town. But don't let appearances fool you: the Esoteric Order of Dagon still controls most of the government and Deep Ones lurk off the coast.
  • Silent Hill: Promise having inherited the setting from Silent Hill proper.
  • Stagtown has series of strange events happen in titular city. It begins with cameras appearing everywhere, including inside people's houses and rather quickly gets worse. Worse, it actively prevents you from leaving with memory wipes and brute force if necessary.
  • The Strange Tales of Oscar Zahn introduces the town of Witch Lake whose only pride is a strange little island in the middle of the lake that resembles a witch’s hat. Said island is also the death site of a girl named Madeleine Hepburn who suddenly shed her mortal coil while out camping with her dad, Ken. And it's not just her that still walks among the living as countless other, more mindless ghosts appear at night. The local authorities have suppressed the story involving Maddy and the sheriff is well-aware of the supernatural activity going on over there.
  • Podunkton from the Sluggy Freelance arc "Phoenix Rising" is secretive to the point of parody about its past as a mafia controlled town, or the current state of its vigilante based peacekeeping.
  • Zebra Girl: Both subverted and played with: just like with Sunnydale, most people seem to ignore that their town became a monster den. However, some humans (or, rather, some former humans in the case of Mike, who is now a vampire) are aware of the situation and of the return of Sandra.

    Web Original 
  • Borrasca: The town of Drisking, Missouri, which has an abnormally high rate of people disappearing, along with anyone who starts trying to figure out why. There's also a mysterious noise coming from the mountains every now and then. The majority of the towns population is sterile due to iron ore from the mines leaking into the town's water table after they were blown up about sixty years earlier. To survive, the men of the Prescott family began kidnapping women and girls and turn them into baby factories in the old mines, and then either gave them out to the infertile townspeople or sold them to human traffickers. Once the women become infertile, they're disposed of in an old ore refinery, which is the noise coming from the mountains. This has been going on for decades by the time the story begins.
  • Kino Indiana: Kino is a small town, isolated in the middle of the Indiana Woods that plays home to Kid Detectives, Serial Killers, Eldritch Abominations, and budding spies.
  • Echo Rose: Nettlebrook may just be a small town, but Echo realizes that something is wrong as soon as she moves there, and decides to start an investigation. She's almost immediately proven right, with the town's rash of bullying and paranormal activity as just the tip of the iceberg.
  • Scarfolk Council is about the town of Scarfolk in North West England that did not progress beyond 1979. Instead, the entire decade of the 1970s loops ad infinitum. In Scarfolk, pagan rituals blend seamlessly with science, hauntology is a compulsory subject at school, and everyone must be in bed by 8pm because they are perpetually running a slight fever.
  • SCP Foundation
    • SCP-599 ("Uncharted City"). Exactly what the Dark Secret is is never directly stated, but it's implied that the town is a malevolent Genius Loci that lures people in, then kills them and integrates them into itself as citizens.
    • SCP-1948 ("Weather Bird"). SCP-1948 is a bird that creates nice weather to keep itself comfortable. The town sacrificed people to it whenever the weather got worse, not realizing that it was responding to El Niño and would return to normal once the system had passed.
  • Welcome to Night Vale: Night Vale is an Eldritch Location where time doesn't work properly and members of a shadowy, all-powerful government routinely practice their public speaking skills by denying the existence of things like cars and eggs, so as to more easily deny the existence of things like three-headed graffitist dog packs, the illegal use of public funds to raise the ghost of Syd Barrett for a private Pink Floyd concert, and angels. However, every citizen seems to be cheerily aware of these facts, so maybe it's not so secret after all. This trope may apply more to the neighboring town of Desert Bluffs, which is even more horrific than Night Vale, but the radio host there speaks so cheerily that we'd never know about the pulsing meat walls, smears of blood and handfuls of teeth that decorate his studio.
    • Both Towns seem to have Dark Open Secrets. Everything is expected to work like usual, except stated otherwise, by the audience, but... is it their usual our our usual?
  • In the Whateley Universe, Whateley Academy is literally in Lovecraft Country, since the closest town is the Dunwich. Only maybe half of Dunwich is in on the dark secrets, since the town has been gentrified.

    Western Animation 
  • The first episode of The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo has the gang enter a town where everyone turns into a werewolf at night as a result of a curse put on them by the demons of the chest. They try to get the gang to leave to keep them from finding out about it, then try to keep them from leaving once they find out. Luckily, Flim-Flam manages to cure everyone.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender:
    • "There is no war in Ba Sing Se." If the Earth Kingdom is the Fantasy Counterpart Culture of China, then Ba Sing Se, the capital, is more like the modern PROC or North Korea. It's a perfectly safe city, full of culture, divided into separate districts, where the guides smile all the time. Oh, and the poor and undesirable are walled in, people are forced to deny there's a one-hundred-year old war going on, and anyone who starts asking too many sensitive questions gets disappeared and brainwashed.
    • Jet's treetop village. "Oh, cool, a settlement of teenage rebels! Maybe they can help us fight the Fire Nation!" Only problem is, these Well Intentioned Extremists often take their rebellions a little too, oh, I don't know, when they beat and robbed a harmless Fire Nation civilian, or when they destroyed an entire Earth Kingdom town just because it was occupied by the Fire Nation army.
  • Courage the Cowardly Dog lives in the middle of Nowhere, Kansas, a rural Midwestern town that's infested with all kinds of criminals, villains, monsters, and general paranormal weirdness that tends to be drawn towards the isolated farmhouse of Courage's owners, Muriel and Eustace Bagge. According to the (uncertainly canon) crossover movie Straight Outta Nowhere: Scooby-Doo! meets Courage the Cowardly Dog, the source of all this supernatural strangeness affecting Nowhere comes from a magical meteorite that crashed millions of years ago in what's now the site of the Bagge farm, which seems to have reality-bending powers that just suddenly makes abnormal events happen.
  • The town of Gravity Falls, Oregon is home to everything from magical creatures to government conspiracies, which are slowly uncovered with the help of a journal the main characters found in the woods. It turns out there was a secret society erasing people's minds of the wonders they encountered, but with it gone, some of these secrets may come into the light sooner. On the other hand, Mayor Cutebiker passes the "Never Mind About All That" act after Weirdmageddon, which prevents anyone from talking about the events of Bill's reign over the town, so the town's citizens have begun self-censoring the weirder things of the town.
  • The town of Newbury in Hidden Side has been haunted for centuries thanks to Lady Evelina a.k.a. "Lady E", who steals the souls of the townsfolk in order to obtain eternal youth.
  • Justice League has Seaboard City, a town in an Alternate Universe that serves as an Affectionate Parody of The Golden Age of Comic Books. It's later revealed that the whole thing is secretly under the control of a tyrannical, reality-warping child named Ray Thompson. After a nuclear war devastated their planet, Ray went mad and used his powers to recreate Seaboard City as he remembered it, forcing the remaining survivors to play along with the illusion or be killed.
  • In an episode of King of the Hill, it's revealed that Arlen, Texas was originally a watering hole on the Chisholm Trail. A group of eleven enterprising women invested in a tent and a cot, and the site eventually formed into a town-wide brothel dubbed Harlottown until the prostitutes decided to make the brothel into a prospering town and start their own legitimate businesses and even get involved in politics. The name of the town used to be called "Harlen" in the past, which came from the even further back name "Harlottown", which Peggy discovers from old newspapers. Apparently "People were in such a hurry to get to Harlottown that they didn't have enough time to call it such." The many visitors to Harlen included President Garfield, the Terry's Texas Rangers, the 1884 University of Notre Dame football team, and Mark Twain. Hank, being a closed-minded conservative, thinks it's this trope since he doesn't like the idea that his hometown started out as a brothel. However, he soon learns to respect the town's "founding mothers" since they eventually became legitimate, honest people.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic:
    • The episode "Cutie Map", the gang finds a strange town in the middle of nowhere, where all the ponies have an "=" as their cutie mark, everyone acts disturbingly happy, and everyone has The Un-Smile. Pinkie Pie is noticeably creeped out. Turns out she had a reason to be, because the Big Bad of the episode had literally stolen everypony's cutie marks and magic (and hence personalities).
    • Season 7 finale "Shadow Play" introduces an abandoned town called Hollow Shades, built on top of an ancient worship temple called the Well of Shade. In that place, over a thousand years ago, the Big Bad found an Eldritch Abomination and made a Deal with the Devil in exchange for power.
  • In The New Adventures of Speed Racer, the group finds themselves in Pleasantville where they eventually discover that robots have kidnapped and impersonated the locals.
  • In Over the Garden Wall, the pumpkin-headed citizens of the village of Pottsfield turn out to be dead people reanimated as skeletons. Fitting, as a potter's field was a popular colloquialism for a mass grave of unknown, unclaimed, and/or indigent people.
  • In one episode of The Real Ghostbusters, the heroes were unlucky enough to encounter a town called Lupusville, which had three dark secrets. The first one was, the inhabitants were vampires. The second one was, the vampires inhabiting the town were feuding with another clan of vampires (not that the other clan was any better, mind you). The third secret was, both clans of vampires had taken over the town from the original residents, who were werewolves, and imprisoned them under the town. After the heroes released the werewolves who were dead set on taking their town back, the heroes were smart enough to high-tail it out of there.
  • Crystal Cove in Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated, the town hides a dark secret to which is connected to the Planespheric Disks. To which the old Mystery Inc would kill over for.

Alternative Title(s): Small Towns Are Evil