The animated movie Mad God is bleak and haunting, and its stop-motion animation makes it into something that seems as if it sprang out of a nightmare. Indeed, the movie is a testament to the power of animation to not only express utopian desires – see many of the movies made by Disney – but also deep-seated fears and anxieties.
And, because animation is by definition non-realistic, it has an evocative power not often achieved by live-action. Thus, it’s worth taking a look at some other creepy animated movies that have been made, in order to gain a more rich and nuanced appreciation for what the medium can achieve.
10/10 The Secret Of NIMH (1982)
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Throughout the 1980s, Don Bluth was responsible for many noteworthy animated movies, many of which were not only quite beautiful but spectacularly creepy. This is particularly true of The Secret of NIMH, which focuses on a mouse, Mrs. Brisby, as she tries to move her family before the plow arrives.
It is filled with a number of notably creepy–and sometimes downright frightening images–particularly when it comes to the rats. The movie’s brilliance lies in its ability to combine its very unsettling images with a magic that was unique to Bluth’s oeuvre.
9/10 Watership Down (1978)
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Watership Down is one of the more extraordinary animated movies of the 1970s. Evocatively animated and richly told, it follows a group of rabbits as they try to find a new homeland. The film doesn’t shy away from some moments of genuinely disturbing violence, and there is a rather haunting otherworldliness to the story and how it’s told.
While this might be distressing for some younger viewers, it is precisely what makes it such an extraordinary achievement in animation. It demonstrates once again the extent to which animated movies can explore themes as weighty and meaningful as their live-action counterparts.
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Heavy Metal is one of those animated movies that is truly one of a kind. Told as a series of vignettes about a malevolent stone known as the Loc-Nar, each story focuses on the entity’s power and influence over various people.
Lusciously and strikingly animated, it also features an extremely talented cast, including the likes of John Candy and Eugene Levy. It is also the type of animated movie that sticks with the viewer long after it’s over, precisely because it so evocatively captures the malignant influence of evil.
7/10 The Black Cauldron (1985)
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The Black Cauldron is often regarded as one of Disney’s best and most underrated movies. It focuses on a boy named Taran and his companions as they set out to keep the malevolent Black Cauldron from falling into the hands of the evil Horned King.
It is a beautifully animated movie with some truly extraordinary sequences, particularly once the Horned King manages to bring an army of the dead back to life. Though Disney would ultimately eschew pursuing similarly dark-themed projects, the movie is nevertheless a fascinating look at the direction that the studio might have gone in.
6/10 Fantasia (1940)
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Widely considered one of Disney’s best and most ambitious movies, Fantasia is a testament to what Disney sought to achieve with animation. While some of the movie is light-hearted, it also has its fair share of creepy moments.
For one thing, the moments when the brooms come to life are, though seemingly light-hearted, also more than a little uncanny. Just as importantly, “Night On Bald Mountain” is a very dark and atmospheric sequence. Its demon is majestic and terrifying all at once, and the parade of horrors he summons is truly the stuff of which nightmares are made.
5/10 Pinocchio (1940)
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As one of Disney’s best movies, Pinocchio maintains a charm that is hard to match. However, beneath its fun surface there are quite a few creepy elements. To take just one example, the scene in which the various boys are turned into donkeys and then sold to the salt mines is genuinely horrifying.
Lampwick’s metamorphosis in particular is one of the most horrifying moments in the entire movie. His despairing cries as he realizes what is happening to him are haunting not just for Pinocchio, but also for the viewer, especially since there is no salvation for him.
4/10 The Plague Dogs (1982)
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Though many animated movies have been made about animals, none have had quite the bleak and nihilistic approach of Plague Dogs. As its title suggests, it focuses on a pair of lab dogs who break out of captivity, only to be pursued by the military.
It is haunting and beautiful in the way that animated movies can be. However, it also has its fair share of disturbing images. Most importantly, it also lacks the optimism that is so often a part of the animated ethos, and its ending is particularly ambiguous.
3/10 Scooby-Doo On Zombie Island (1998)
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Scooby-Doo is one of the most iconic and beloved animated characters. While many of the movies in which he appears are very light-hearted in nature, there have been a few which actually veer into the creepy and the horrifying. Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island, for example, manages to combine true horror with the franchise’s signature slapstick humor with some true horror elements.
Not only does it feature some truly creepy zombies, but its central villains–a trio of soul-sucking cat creatures–are very terrifying in their own right, a reminder that animation can be very frightening.
2/10 The Last Unicorn (1982)
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The Last Unicorn is one of the best animated movies of the 1980s. Telling the story of the title character, who sets out to rescue the others of her kind, it features both a poignant story and stunning animation from Rankin-Bass.
However, though it is a sweet and moving story, it also has its fair share of creepy moments. The movie’s two main villains, King Haggard and his monstrous red bull, are hauntingly rendered. The latter, in particular, is a beast sprung from a nightmare, and the fact that it has driven unicorns into the sea just makes it that much more chilling.
1/10 The Lord Of The Rings (1978)
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Though Peter Jackson’s movies have gone down as some of the best fantasy movies, Ralph Bakshi’s version of the story also deserves credit. Though it only adapts The Fellowship of the Ring and part of The Two Towers, it has a unique aesthetic.
The movie’s use of rotoscoping is itself more than a little creepy, as it superimposes animation onto actual live-action images. This is particularly striking with the Nazgul, who emerge from the movie as some truly unsettling beings, which is true to the way they are depicted in Tolkien.
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