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Nightmare Fuel / Invader Zim

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Keef always had his eyes on Zim.
Invader Zim is widely agreed to be one of the darkest animated series Nickelodeon has ever created. Rivaling the likes of The Ren & Stimpy Show, Hey Arnold!, and Avatar: The Last Airbender, many episodes are so horrifying that it's a miracle that they even aired at all. What do you expect when you get the creator of an incredibly violent and disturbing comic in which the protagonist is a serial killer to make a kids' cartoon?

As a Moments subpage, all spoilers are unmarked as per policy. You Have Been Warned.

  • Pretty much the entire show, really. It's odd to think that the only real difference between this universe and the Warhammer 40,000 universe is that in this one, Earth isn't strong or competent enough to repel an invasion, let alone smart enough to even realize that one is happening.
  • The sheer level of stupidity of every single human except Dib, Gaz and Professor Membrane, and even Dib and Professor Membrane have their moments and Gaz is far too cold and apathetic to really do anything about it. "Door to Door" shows a few people who seem kind of normal, but basically everyone is Too Dumb to Live... incidentally, "Door to Door" also presents "candy" made of sawdust. It's far from the only indicator human society of the setting just seems to have gone completely insane.
  • Mrs. Bitters is good old-fashioned nightmare fuel on her own as she frequently belittles her students, revolves the lessons she teaches around fear and pessimism, and is frequently hinted to be an Eldritch Abomination. She sometimes punishes misbehaving students in exceedingly harsh ways like forcing Dib to use a tiny sponge to clean up a gargantuan mess at the end of "Rise of the Zitboy."
  • The infamous scene in "Bestest Friend," pictured above, in which Keef has his eyeballs violently ripped out of his skull by robotic arms. Fortunaely, it's shown in silhouette, but that doesn't make it any less frightening.
    • And then, as if this wasn't bad enough, they are replaced with artificial eyes which give Zim control over Keef.
  • "Bad, Bad Rubber Piggy," which features Zim systematically crippling Dib and almost killing him over the course of years, which doubles as both Nightmare Fuel and a Tear Jerker. Zim's response to the latter happening is to calmly walk away.
    • Zim throws rubber pigs into Dib's past, replacing seemingly random objects in ways that cause Dib to have horrible accidents, progressively crippling Dib and making him more grotesque in the present, until he experiences an honest-to-god NDE in the past and his father builds a super-powered robot body to protect him.
    • It's not really the worst behavior Zim's ever demonstrated, but the rapt, gleefully anticipatory look on his face as he watches the life go out of Dib's eyes — with accompanying flatline beep — is creepy on a personal level that he doesn't often reach.
    • While its Played for Laughs, Zim's nonchalant reaction to Dib's apparent death is unnervingly uncharacteristic. He doesn't laugh or shout or do his Large Ham schtick. He's just... quietly satisfied as he goes to grab a soda. As funny as we find him, it's a reminder that underneath Zim's hammy exterior is a violent and unstable sociopath.
      Zim: Foolish Earth creature.
    • Seeing a horribly scarred Dib (coupled with Hellish Pupils) in that robotic suit coming to horribly kill Zim. Is there any part of that that isn't scary?
    • At the end of that episode, Zim sends the final pig into the past to undo the events of the episode and save himself, only for the pig to replace his past self's BRAIN. Thank goodness for the Reset Button...
  • In the Halloween episode, that surprise shot of that hideous monster with those big eyes during Dib's "crazy house" bus ride? Not to mention that everything in Nightmare World is actually just a figment of Dib's imagination. How damaged do you have to be to come up with the abominations that lurk inside of Dib's mind? I mean, let's face it. If you were to ask the creator of a dark and nightmarish comic book to make a children's show and then ask him to Halloween episode for said children's show, to say the end result would be nightmare fuel unleaded is an understatement.
    • Nightmare Membrane and Nightmare Gaz are the worst of the bunch; Nightmare Membrane, while nearly identical to the real Professor Membrane, has a terrifying moment of capturing his "son" while his eyes pop out on stalks, and his hands are revealed to be spindly, metallic talons. And then there's Nightmare Gaz, who's hunched over, skeletal, has More Teeth than the Osmond Family, but no bottom jaw.
      • Doubles as Fridge Logic when you remember that he was constantly butting heads with the Nickelodeon executives over many original ideas that censors hadn't allowed.
      • There's also been sightings of a nightmare version of Nny.
  • The whole goddamn entirety of "Dark Harvest!" For context, Zim goes on an organ-stealing rampage at Skool to make himself seem more human so Dib won't expose him. The catch is that Zim doesn't just steal people's organs, he replaces them with random objects. Here's the list: a liver replaced with a technologically advanced necklace functioning as a hall pass that Miss Bitters has already specified will explode if the student leaves campus, a brain replaced with a can of soda so the poor receptionist can only foam at the mouth, and one boy has an unknown organ replaced with a motherfucking radiator that was used as an auxiliary hall pass. Other kids in the cafeteria have random objects in place of their other organs and bones. Gaz's beloved game console is implanted into her side and she's still playing it, and Dib has his lungs replaced with a cow sounder that made the school nurse think he isn't human from the mooing noises he makes.
    • Zim literally stuffs his own body with the stolen organs. Complete with a few of them spilling out. And instead of implanting the organs inside him or anything like that... Zim just swallows them.
      "Why, you're one of the healthiest little children I've ever seen! And such plentiful organs!"
    • Hell, just how bloated Zim looks from stuffing them all in looks freaking grotesque.
    • The sudden surprise shot of Zim's organs with the X-ray and Dibs Organ-vision, complete with Scare Chord.
    • In a dark room, after Dib leaves, it gives the room a 'window shutter opening' light effect, twice in a row. The first time, the huge bloated Zim sits there smiling, and half a second later, he's gone.
    • Dib's drawing of Zim being dissected. If that weren't bad enough, Zim's fully awake to see it all and his organs are pooling out of his body and onto the floor. Complete with what looks like blood! That's not to say Zim doesn't deserve this kind of fate should it ever happen to him.
    • Dib decides to stick to a boy named Torque Smacky who hasn't lost any organs yet to prevent Zim from stealing a pair of lungs. They enter a dark room where Dib turns around for one second and Torque disappears. We hear something drop and we see one of the dumbbells he was holding roll out from a corner. Cut to Dib yelling out the kid's name.
      • The scene carries on longer in the laboratory with Zim stalking Dib (only times we see Zim in person in the lab are the above-mentioned Stealth Hi/Bye and an X-Ray vision of him dropping into the room), and all he (and the audience) can hear is the pigeon on his head cooing as he goes mad from the revelation.
    • And let's not forget about the exploding hall pass. Since it was put inside that hall monitor's body, what'll happen to him when he has to go back home? Will the hall pass explode while it is inside him?
    • Most bone-chilling of all? A Real Life murderer named Scott Dyleski claimed at his trial that this episode inspired him to eviscerate his neighbor.
  • The scene in "Backseat Drivers" at the end when the brain parasite escapes, latches onto Zim's head and starts feeding on his brain. It's even worse when coupled with the fact that Zim explicitly stated that the parasite causes its host agonizing pain when attached. Sweet dreams, kids!
    • The Tallest's reaction pretty much says it all- "I think I'm gonna throw up!"
  • "Bolognius Maximus," where Zim and Dib slowly turn into bologna. Especially the scene in which the bologna is slowly mixed with Zim's skin. And the part where their bodies look swollen.
  • In "Walk For Your Lives", there's one instance where ZIM is talking to GIR, and the robot pulls something out of his head resembling A DEAD PUPPY, and shouts: "LOOK WHAT I FOUND! IT SMELLS REEEAL BAD!" and proceeds to wave it around manically, the puppy's eyes look lifeless... What the FUCK.
    • Judging by the barking noises, the puppy probably isn't dead.
  • NICK. Sweet jumping Jupiter, Nick. He was intended to be a humorous Take That! to Nickelodeon Studios, but he's just pure, hyper-concentrated nightmare fuel in child form. Zim kidnapped the poor kid and performed a number of experiments on his brain, and then inserted a large device into Nick's skull that forces him to exclusively feel happiness and nothing else - did we mention that he himself is fully aware of this? The kid has a perpetual, grimacing smile, but the look in his eyes is one of pure terror and panic.
  • In "Plague of Babies," a bunch of infants are beamed aboard an alien ship, never to be seen again. Aliens that LOOK like babies have their intelligence forcibly reduced to that of an infant, and they presumably live out the rest of their lives with the intelligence of babies.
  • Zim's eyes bubbling and burning as he stares at the sun. Presumably, only his contacts were burning, but from the sound of his dialogue and his pained screams...
  • The blobby alien experiment that Zim doesn't save, and leaves to cry miserably, alone in the spaceship... damn.
  • In "Planet Jackers," Zim crashes his ship into the Jackers' fake sky and one of his eyes pops out of its socket and remains connected by its optic nerve, and he calmly pushes it back in place.
  • All this and NO ONE mentioned the video from "Door To Door". Hell, the whole POINT of the video was even to scare humans into buying Zim's candy! When you consider the ruined city, the fiery, flabby monster who eats children's dollies, spider-cat, capture of humans, and Zim LICKING THE SCREEN WITH HIS did a damn good job.
    • Even worse, was that on the episode's debut (though the scene has been removed from all broadcasts and DVD releases since), the Statue of Liberty could be seen destroyed, only months after 9/11.
  • And let's not forget the scene from "The Most Horrible X-Mas Ever". Many people don't notice this, but when Zim is extracting the Santa knowledge from that mall Santa and he starts laughing, in the background you can hear what vaguely sounds like a chainsaw as well as the man screaming.
    • Let's not forget about the ending to that episode, where it turned out that millions of years from the episodes events, Zim's haywire Santa suit terrorizes the earth every Christmas and has to be placated with milk and cookies.
    • Also let's not forget the fact that Zim was able to easily convince everyone in town into beating Dib senseless, and right after Dib gave such a wholesome speech at that.
  • In the episode "Vindicated!", Dib goes to the new counselor Mr. Dwicky and asks what happened to the old counselor. Dwicky crouches behind his desk and says "Something... HORRIBLE!" Par the course for Zim humor so far, but then we pan up to the air vent right above his desk, and a raspy voice says "help... me!", complete with a POV shot from inside the grate! It's so freaky, it wouldn't be out of place in a horror movie.
  • Bloody GIR. A drawing of GIR covered in blood is subtly hidden, half-transparent in single frames of the show. That in itself might not be so bad if not for GIR being in his combat-mode and if he wasn't giving a Thousand-Yard Stare to the viewer.
  • Sometimes, the Malfunctioning Robot Parents are hilarious (Diarrhea, indeed). Other times, Zim has had to stop them from torturing a little kid so that they wouldn't blow his cover ("Come on over everyone, and help us EAT this little boy!"), and the dad's response is to give one of the most disjointed, disturbing versions of the "We don't spend enough quality time together" speech ever. And then they chase Zim through his own base, until he can bar them with a force-field. Even his computer calls them horrifying.
  • The ending of "Career Day" has to take the cake. Earlier in the episode, Zim begins to break out in a rash due to something slowly approaching called the Galactic Equinox, which causes all aliens off of their home planets to go into a hideous molt. While Zim is working at a fast food restaurant, his skin gets progressively worse, and once the planets and stars align as the Galactic Equinox finally takes place, Zim's body BURSTS OUTWARD INTO A GIANT GELATINOUS MASS and fills the capacity of the restaurant, squishing its customers as they cry out for help, not unlike Tetsuo. During this entire moment Zim can be heard making a weird gurgling noise and his molting body is heard pulsating as it grows to the point where it manages to squeeze and ooze out of every opening in the building. Granted, it only lasts for about a minute and he instantly reverts to normal once it ends, but still...
  • In "Bloaty's Pizza Hog", Gaz considers letting Zim turn Dib's body inside out before retrieving Dib for their family night, not to mention we are given a lovely shot of how that would of looked like. The fact that she really looked interested and only changed her mind because Membrane would have canceled their outing doesn't help.
    • At the end of the same episode, Zim tries to confront Dib one last time but is soon surrounded by the animatronic versions of the characters at Bloaty's. The uncanny designs, the unsettling noises they make and the constant shouting of "Bloaty's Pizza Hog!" is rather unnerving to watch. It's no surprise that Zim is terrified by this and he runs away screaming, giving Dib an unintentional victory.
  • "Gaz: Taster of Pork". When Dib confronts Gaz while she's in quarantine, she straight up becomes a demon. She begins to levitate while purple light shines down on her, red flames begins to encircle and trap Dib in, her body becomes a silhouette with nothing but her eyes glowing, and to top it all off she gives Dib this little message:
    "I've never missed a new pizza at Bloaty's. If this next one is ruined by your magical stupidity, I will make you wish you had rabid weasels teleported into your skull instead of having a sister. I'll wait until you sleep and stuff all of your paranormal junk into your big, giant, paranormal head and chew on your eyeballs after I pluck them out!"
    • Let's also not forget that Gaz programmed her security stuffed animals to eat human flesh and almost let them kill Dib. Not to mention Dib was so scared of her wrath that he tried asking Zim for assistance (who of course denied it while probably knowing what Gaz was capable of).
    • The cherry on top of this one goes to the very end where we only see the door to the Shadow Hog's bathroom while Dib is brokenly apologizing while gagging and crying. The fact that both Gaz and Membrane know where he is at that point, what is happening, and don't care at all just makes it worse.
    • There's the subtle creepiness of the fact that Dib is willingly wanted to give his sister for the spell so he could use it on himself, and she was left only being able to taste one kind of food. Worse, she was forced to undergo hours, if not days or weeks, of forced confinement and invasive experimentation by her scientist father in a futile effort to cure her. No wonder she subjected Dib to such a horrible punishment.
  • Moofy the Girly Ranger from the episode "The Girl Who Cried Gnome", is a combination of both Girl Scouts Are Evil and Cute and Psycho. If you refuse to buy her Ninja Star cookies, you are doomed.
  • There's a scene in "Invasion of the Idiot Dog Brain" where Zim is sitting in the living room with GIR playing multiple television programs around him. The scene itself is not disturbing, but the... soundtrack playing in the background, however, is possibly the most horrifying noise of any kind to ever be heard in a cartoon, and keep in mind said cartoon's target audience was CHILDREN. Listen to it yourself if you can manage having chills sent down your spine. Enjoy!
    • It can be a little unnerving to see the normally ultra-energetic GIR lifeless and blank-eyed after his brain gets transferred into the computer in "Invasion of the Idiot Dog Brain."
  • The ending of "Dib's Wonderful Life of Doom." Dib was given the acceptance and appreciation he'd always wanted, he'd managed to save the human race alongside various others from slavery and/or total destruction, he even had superpowers - and all of this went on for a simulated century. And then it turned out that none of it was real in the first place; Zim had just shoved Dib into a Lotus-Eater Machine so he could confirm that Dib had been the one to throw a muffin at his face, and get revenge.
    • The same simulation depicts a physically weakened but fully conscious Zim held captive in a giant test tube in a dark basement-like room for twenty years on end, with various tubes and protrusions sticking out of his head, including one attached to his tongue and another directly in his eye. At one point he tries to move and his arm snaps off, implying that he's rotting alive. Whether or not you think he'd deserve such a fate, it's a little much. On the plus side, he's at least given stuff to read.
    • As an added bonus, as Dib was never aware of the situation he was in it's safe to assume that Zim kidnapped Dib then hooked him up to the machine, most likely when he was asleep or knocked out.
  • "Germs" has a scene where Zim looks like he's cleaned the entire house... but then he sees a lone bacterium crawling between the tiles of his floor. He sprays it with the disinfectant, leading it to cough in the cutest high-pitched voice, and then he sprays it AGAIN, and it weakly cries out "Why?!" as it keels over and finally dies.
  • Not the darkest instance (at least to this show's standards) but still worth a mention, the premise of "Mortos Der Soulstealer" is Dib becoming so desperate that he enlists the help of a wish-giving demon in order to not just foil Zim's latest plan but to downright steal Zim's soul, even allowing Mortos at one point to drain him in order to recharge his power. Thankfully for Zim, Dib's wish was nonexistent in Mortos' list of priorities.
  • GIR going on a vicious rampage in "GIR Goes Crazy and Stuff". After Zim uses a behavioral modulator to make him behave like a proper SIR unit, he decides Zim is too stupid to carry out the mission and decides to take matters into his own hands. By that, we mean he invades a library to get information on all human knowledge and starts using a giant machine to suck out all the information from the humans' brains. When Zim tries to stop him, GIR decides that his master is a threat to the mission and has to be eliminated.
    GIR: You are no commander! You are a threat to the mission! Your methods are stupid! Your progress has been stupid! Your intelligence is stupid! For the sake of the mission, you must be terminated!
    • GIR starts ruthlessly hunting Zim throughout the library with every intent of killing him "for the good of the mission". He's only stopped when a police officer that Zim brainwashed into thinking that he's a squid manages to shoot out ink, blinding GIR and allowing Zim to gets the behavioral modulator out of GIR's head and turn the dial, restoring GIR to his normal self. Before GIR is reduced to his former self, however, Zim futilely attempts to pull an "I Know You're in There Somewhere" Fight to snap him out of it, only for GIR to really reveal how he feels about Zim underneath his idiotic exterior.
      Zim: GIR! You were my servant once, remember?
      GIR: Yes... I didn't like it.
  • Can also apply as Creepy Awesome Music, but the credits music at the end at every episode feels simultaneously fitting, as well as a juxtaposition to the entire tone of the show. The show's known for its gothic sense of Black Comedy, but the credits music sounds as if the entire universe has lost to the Irken Empire, with a grimly sci-fi imperial tone behind it.
  • The unaired episode "Ten Minutes Till Doom" is pretty darn unsettling, from the revelation that Irkens will die if they are disconnected from their PAKs for more than ten minutes (complete with Zim's body starting to shut down throughout the episode) to Zim's PAK corrupting Dib's mind into believing he himself is Zim. Even worse is that this episode was originally pitched as the series finale with BOTH Zim and Dib dying until Executive Meddling stepped in.