The Dark Side of Cartoons

By: Jacob Walker

When people think of the horror genre their minds normally go straight to slasher or possession live action movies such as Halloween or The Exorcist. Additionally, when people think of animated movies their minds go to happy movies such as Cinderella or Toy Story. The horror genre and animated movie style do not cross over, the only exceptions to this are Tim Burton’s wonderful creations. It is puzzling why a style of movie making, where you can make anything happen because the laws of the world do not apply, chooses to not take up a darker side. Is it because animation is supposed to be funny, happy, and for kids. Could it also be that animators are scared to make a horror film because of the difficulties that are unique to horror? If that is the reason than I have three great examples of short animated clips, that take advantage of being animated, that are truly terrifying and have haunted me for days.

The first clip is called The Backwater Gospel. This clip takes place in a little town called Backwater. Within this town everyone but one guitar playing hobo faithfully goes to church and listens to whatever the pastor says. Instead of going to church the hobo sings of The Undertaker. The Undertaker is a mysterious devil like figure who only shows up when someone is about to die. This clip is truly terrifying not because of the plot but the art style the animator chooses to use. The animator chooses to use dark shades for everyone and everything. It gives a very shadowy effect. Another style the animator uses is making everything very rigid and sharp along with making everyone seem like zombies with the use of off colored skin tones, dark non-pupil  eyes, and the mindless way they walk with that disturbing humming noise. Many of these visual effects would be very difficult for a live action movie to reproduce on such a grand scale and it is all these effects that make this clip so terrifying.

The second short animated clip is called Memoria. This clip that follows a young man who visits his childhood home and all the horrors that went on there. This animated film uses a much more realistic animation style for the characters and setting. What does make this scary, which would be difficult for a live action movie to do, is the use of a red tint and cracking of setting whenever he encounters another memory. This red tint and cracking parallels with his own mental breakdown from being within the house. It also leads one on a high anticipation factor of what exactly happened since we only get bits and pieces until he, like the walls, finally breakdown. This parallel and style leads one to sympathizing with the main character even though he is a monster.

The third and final short animated clip is called Who’s Hungry. This clip is about a brother and sister duo who get kidnapped by the ice cream man after he gives them free ice cream. The animation style that made this clip terrifying is the use of size disproportions. The ice cream man is a giant while the two kids are small enough to fit on a coat rack. This size proportion installs the fear of how are two little kids going to escape from a giant. This type of size proportion would not be doable in a live action movie.

Animation and horror are two subjects that do not typically mix and it is a shame that they don’t. Horror is all about taking some fear and intensifying it to some unrealistic proportions. This level of intensity is very difficult to achieve using realistic proportions and people. It is more affective and allows more free rein to do unrealistic things if horror directors simply made it all animated. This would allow the spider to be twenty five feet tall or blood to seem much more realistic and not like corn syrup. I strongly encourage the directors of these three short clips to keep using animation because it allows one to bring out the best in horror.

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2 thoughts on “The Dark Side of Cartoons

  1. When I viewed this post on the main blog none of the videos were the right videos or were even there at all and when I went to comment on it now they are correct. Holy crap these were truly freaky. I’m not easily phased by horror but this unsettled be quite effectively. In the Backwater Gospel I like the glasses flare on The Undertaker’s glasses which I think made him really creepy, you could never really see his face. I also thought that the contrast of white skin with black eyes and just the emphasis on darkness especially within faces was really creepy; the people looked starved, depressed, and dead. The “hoard” was really quick to jump ship whenever something bad happened. First they’re blindly following the church, then as soon as The Undertaker is mentioned they abandon their faith and hide, then when they’re fed up with that they turn on the hobo. In the end everyone loses, except The Undertaker. This kind of blind faith and close-mindedness has caused an unfortunate amount of bloodshed in this world and it’s almost satisfying seeing it displayed so simply. I also thought that the similarity between the faces of the hoard in Backwater Gospel and the face of the main character in Memoria was interesting. They both appear to be dead inside but show it through different flaws. In the latter, it’s very difficult to see such lamentable creature struggle through life. You see what he’s been through and although you still think ill of him, you understand why is he is this way, and you pity him. In both this clip and the last one, Who’s Hungry, it’s a mixture of sadness and horror that make it effective. This last one may have bothered me the most because thinking of children being placed in such an incomprehensibly terrifying situation bothers me as a human being. Probably because this is a realistic scenario, except for obviously the distorted proportions and such. This sort of thing has happened to sweet, adorable, innocent children like this and it’s horrible and haunting to imagine. The innocence of kids is also a component of what makes animated horror so terrifying. Although animation is extremely present in video games, I think its largest category is children’s entertainment so when we see it so disturbing and gruesome it has an especially large impact. I really liked these videos.

  2. I feel like this post also supports the idea of how when things, that are meant to be for kids, become distorted they can become scary. Cartoons and anime are usually made intentionally to be comprehended by children; so usually there is a moral story behind them, as the protagonist tries to successfully accomplish his goals. This is what is expected of cartoons, so when it becomes something scary, part of the uneasiness we feel is because our view on what is supposed to be a cartoon changes. It’s out of the ordinary which in itself is scary.

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