Follow TV Tropes

This is based on opinion. Please don't list it on a work's trope example list.


Nightmare Fuel / Invader Zim

Go To
Invader Zim, despite not lasting that long, managed to create an incredible amount of horrific moments for a children's show, and as such, is easily among the darkest cartoons in the Nicktoons lineup. 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 scary comic book to make a kids show?

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

    open/close all folders 

     The Show 
  • 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 enough to repel an invasion.
  • The sheer level of stupidity of every single human except Dib and Gaz, and even Dib has his moments. "Door to Door" shows a few people who seem kind of normal, but basically everyone is Too Dumb to Live... incidentially, "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.
  • The infamous scene in "Bestest Friend," pictured above, in which Keef has his eyes plucked out by robotic arms in a gruesome manner. The fact that it's shown in silhouette makes it EVEN MORE TERRIFYING!!
    • And then, as if this wasn't bad enough, they are replaced with robot eyes which give Zim control over Keef.
  • "Bad, Bad Rubber Piggy," which features Zim crippling and then murdering Dib as a child over the course of years, doubles as both Nightmare Fuel and Tearjerker worthy. Zim's response is to calmly walk away sipping a drink.
    • 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 almost dies 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.
    • The episode was originally planned for Dib to die, as in Killed Off for Real dead. Executive Meddling basically saved his life.
    • 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 piggy into the past, only for it to replace his past self's BRAIN. Thank goodness for the Reset Button...
  • In the Halloween episode, that surprise screamer 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 spawn of Dib's imagination. Nightmare Membrane and Nightmare Gaz are the worst of the bunch; Nightmare Membrane, while kinda cool looking, has a terrifying moment of capturing his son while his goggle eyes pop out of his skull, and his hands are replaced with metal claws. And then there's Nightmare Gaz, who's hunched over, skeletal, has More Teeth than the Osmond Family, but no bottom jaw.
    • Pretty much everything in that episode, really. To the point that Jhonen has said that he has no idea how any of this managed to get on the air.
      • 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.
  • "Dark Harvest" is one of the more infamous episodes. Zim goes on an organ-stealing rampage at Skool to make him seem more human so Dib wouldn't expose him. That catch is that Zim doesn't just steal people's organs, he replaces them with other objects. Here's the list: a liver replaced with 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. Other kids in the cafeteria have random objects in place of their other organs, including a hall pass which is actually a radiator. Gaz's beloved game console is implanted into her side and is still playing it, and Dib has his lungs replaced with a cow sounder that made the nurse think he isn't human with 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 eats them.
    "Yes, you're a very healthy child! And such plentiful organs!"
    • The sudden surprise shot of Zim's organs with the X-ray and Dibs Organ-vision, complete with Scare Chord and the nurse's screams.
    • 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 conscious and his organs are pooling out of his body and onto the floor. Complete with what looks like blood!
    • 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 cooing as he goes mad from the revelation.
  • The moment in "Backseat Drivers" at the end when the brain parasite escapes and latches onto Zim's brain. It's even worse when coupled with the fact that Zim explicitly stated that the parasite was capable of causing agonizing pain unlike anything else as it feeds. 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 turned 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 basically inserted a large, screw-like device into Nick's skull, forcing him to feel nothing but happiness all the time - 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.
  • Plague of Babies. A bunch of babies are shot into space, presumably to die. 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.
  • ALL of the head tumors in this show.
  • "Oh, yeah... We used to have a puppy, didn't we?"
    • Doubles as Fridge Horror when you consider GIR finding the aforementioned nearly-dead dog!
  • "We'll have to confiscate your retinas!"
  • 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... *shudder*
  • The blobby alien experiment that Zim doesn't save, and leaves to cry miserably, alone in the spaceship... damn.
  • In 'Planet Snatchers' When Zim crashes his ship into the fake sky his eye pops out of its socket, yet is left attached by the optic nerve, which he calmly pushes back into the socket
  • 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 giant 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.
  • 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 sneaky Take That! to Nickelodeon. Invader Zim was denied the right to feature GIR covered in blood at some point in the series, and the concept was mostly scrapped, save for one piece of concept art. That concept art is subtly hidden, half-transparent in the single frames of the show. The art itself shows GIR covered in blood. 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 top 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 ran 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 screaming that he's sorry while gagging and possibly 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 willingly used his sister as a guinea pig for the spell, 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 fate.
  • 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 one meant for children, no less. 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 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: 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 by Dib in a giant test tube for years on end (well into Dib's adulthood), with various tubes and protrusions sticking out of his head, including one attached to his tongue. Whether or not you think he'd deserve such a fate, it's a little much.
  • "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 dies. Zim technically killed a baby. What the hell is wrong with you, Jhonen Vasquez.

     The Comics 
  • In the first issue, it's revealed that the reason why Prisoner 777 is cooperating with Zim is because Zim has his kids held hostage and threatens to "erase them" if Prisoner 777 withholds any vital information.
  • Issue 2 is actually kind of scary for the same reason that it's hilarious: just how far Zim will go to get at Dib, even in the most petty way. For once, we see a plan of Zim's go off perfectly (well, except for having no ride home, but he managed a way back by the next issue) and one can't help but imagine what he would be like if he managed to function like this all the time and not just when it was funny. Think about it: a normal Irken Invader is supposed to be able to conquer an entire planet of sentient, technologically advanced people all by themselves (albeit with the assistance of a SIR), and as we see with Skoodge they can accomplish that goal scary fast even against a formidable enemy like the Slaughtering Rat People. If Zim ever managed to keep himself on target long enough for a plan bigger than just thumbing his nose at his nemesis, humanity wouldn't stand a chance.
  • Issue 3's plot is pretty scary if you stop and think about it, as Zim's entire plan this time is to summon a Cosmic Horror to destroy the world and ultimately succeeds. Thank God for Negative Continuity.
  • In Issue 4, one of the Irken scientists has a PAK that is unlike one that was seen on the show... one that's filled with Vortian brains! This just raises all kinds of new Fridge Horror.
  • The cover of Issue 5, Gaz and Dib are on a couch in the middle of a destroyed city. Dib sits atop the couch screaming in horror while Gaz just sits staring at the reader while holding a controller, giving an unholy combination of a Death Glare and a Psychotic Smirk. No guesses for who's causing the destruction.
    • Then there's the actual story. Dib interrupted Gaz while she was playing a game (as in turning the game off) just so that she could look at Zim yelling at a cat. So Gaz asks Membrane to build an invention so she could search for a dimension where gamers rule the earth and put non gamers in mind simulations similar to The Matrix where they are forced into the role of player characters, controlled by random gamers and die violently over and over, and subjects Dib to it.
    • Gaz offhandedly implies that she killed this reality's leader as well as its versions of Dib and Gaz.
  • In Issue 6, Zim uses a Borrowed Biometric Bypass at the bank for a fingerprint scan. Worse, when you note how decayed the hand looks, indicating that Zim's been carrying around for a while - where did he get it, and why did he take it in the first place if it wasn't for this?
  • In Issue 9, we find out what Zim does in his spare time to blow off steam — he goes to the Tiny Galaxy (that is, an entire miniaturized galaxy), takes in the joy and wonder of it all... and then punches a planet or two, for fun.
    • Seeing Zim goad Dib/Derb into crushing a planet is also quite creepy.
    • Earlier Zim also mentions that his last human test subject exploded. Considering the only test human subject seen on screen in the show in more then one episode was a boy named Nick, having not appeared in the comics so far, it makes for speculation...
    • Dib actually takes a dark side in this issue by not only allowing Zim to capture a hostile commenter but actually leads Zim to the guy himself! It also looks like the guy is not going to escape and going by what Zim said earlier he's pretty much screwed.
      • The commenter is actually back on by the end of the comic, which suggests he either escaped on his own or Dib might have released him after besting Zim.
  • Issue 12 shows what would happen if Zim ruled the Earth. For one, he forces all humans to wear helmets (resembling his visage) that electrocute if they disobey his orders or insult him. Then there's the fact that despite being a more "grown-up" version of the character, he's no less insane as his ultimate plan for the planet is to cut it in half so he can gift it to the Tallest as a snack bowl. Next, he "upgraded" GIR by giving him three heads, adding a T to the end of his name, and robbing him of his free will. Dib is long dead, having been captured and left to slowly rot away in prison with only an insulting mural of himself for company until he was little more than a skeleton. Lastly, the guy he ordered seat covers from gave him sleeves made out of hobo flesh and the only reason he's miffed about this happenstance is that they weren't lizard-skin like he wanted.
    • The back-up story, INVASION, also features a future where Zim is triumphant. And here, his reign makes for a much darker and twisted epoch.
  • Issue 21 has another one for Gaz; after being body swapped with Zim she uses his resources to make herself into a Villain with Good Publicity and takes over the Earth, some of her tactics include removing every weapon from the human race (making them believe it was for peace) and then poisoning the masses into submission (under the guise that the poison would stop world hunger).
  • Issue 22 sees GIR infected with a virus, which makes him try to kill Zim. Seeing the usually lovable robot going on a rampage is just disturbing.
  • Issue 34 brings in Moo-Ping 10, a private space prison where, if you have the money to pay for the service, your enemies can be locked up indefinitely. And in Zim's case, his "enemies" include random people he doesn't like, or who happen to look like people he doesn't like. While this is played for laughs, it's a pretty horrifying setup.
    • And if you're unable to pay the prison's bill, they lock you up. When this happens to Zim, he's tossed in with the people he had locked up (who specifically stay even when offered freedom, so they can have this opportunity), leading to him being repeatedly beaten up so badly that Toon Physics go into effect and reduce him to a wadded up mass of flesh.
  • Issue 39 gives us a reminder of how dangerously insane GIR is, as the alien scout Inquisitous plugs him into a memory viewing machine, which promptly overloads, causing Inquisitous' whole ship to explode. And then his superiors recover GIR and examine his memories to discover what happened, which apparently destroys their whole planet.
  • In Issue 40, one of the alternate universes depicted is one where everyone is nice all the time. And while this isn't disturbing in itself, there's the matter of this world's version of Gaz. She's so obsessively friendly that she'll force her friends to attend tea parties and sleepovers with her, even if she has to tie them up, gag them, and electrocute them if they resist. One could argue that this is scarier than her normal personality.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: