It’s Halloween, and with the holiday comes the excuse to watch a bunch of really scary movies every year! Most people (including yours truly) has their personal favorites like “Halloween,” “Psycho,” and “Dracula” already set aside. And while these provide classic scares in their own right, I also enjoy pulling some classic animated films off the shelf for a few scares. Yes, there are actually quite a few animated films that provide lots of scares, gruesome images, and sometimes just downright dark storylines. But which animated films do I find to be some of the scariest? This is the “Top 10 scariest cartoons of all time” (or at least a decent guess). Just to let you know this list is limited to feature films and shorts will be tackled in a different list altogether.
Walt Disney’s “Fantasia” is not a true horror movie in any sense. In fact, most of the film is colorful and beautiful to look at. However most Disney films need to have a villain and a climax of some sort, but how do you pull that off in a movie that involves various different shorts? Well, you make the final about the Prince of Darkness itself and show his followers worshiping him. The images in this one ten minute sequence are so terrifying that you will never forget them. You’ll NEVER see Disney making a movie with such demonic images ever again! The good news is that to keep the film from ending on too much of a horrible note, God comes in and saves the day.
The Nightmare Before Christmas
This is another film that isn’t meant to be a straight up scary film as the main character is tired of scaring kids and wants to celebrate the more joyful Christmas holiday. Yet he is still from the town of Halloween, and when the time to drop off the presents comes around the results are more horror than they are joyful.
Tim Burton’s ode to classic monster movies follows the classic formula to perfection. A boy uses science to bring his dead dog back to life. While this is innocent enough, circumstances eventually lead to town’s people with pitchforks, giant monsters run amuck, and an uncertainty if everyone will be able to survive. To top it all off the movie is made in black and white, giving it the feel of a classic monster film!
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
Long before Christopher Nolan came along, the best Batman movie was actually an animated film named “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm” that did poorly in theaters. The animation captures the noir look of the classic Batman comics while the caped crusader faces off against two foes: The Joker and the mysterious Phantasm. What makes this even scarier is that the film is a mystery first and foremost, making it a question if Phantasm is a supernatural spirit or a common murderer with smoke and mirrors. By the end of the movie there is a body count that rivals an old gangster film and an ending that is about as far from triumphant as you can get.
The Black Cauldron
Way back in the day when the PG rating actually meant something, Disney decided to take a chance on adapting a fantasy series into their first PG-rated animated film called “The Black Cauldron.” While it’s still debatable on whether or not their experiment was a total success or not, there is no denying that we had never seen an animated Disney film with such scary images and violent content before. It’s so intense that the villainous The Horned King has left a lasting impression on viewers even though he does little in the film outside of talking scary and walking. Now it seems that every Disney film gets a PG for juvenile reasons, but “The Black Cauldron” still remains their most ambitious attempt to make an adult animated film (followed by the G-rated “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”). As you’ll see with our top five choices though, even though the PG-rating is used too liberally these days, there are still times when you need to heed it carefully.
When Disney released “Bambi” all those years ago nature was this joyous place where the biggest threats to life were fire and “man.” In the eighties there was a serious attempt by Warner Bros. Pictures to make an adult animated film based off the critically acclaimed book “Watership Down.” The results were outstanding. In this film nature is a savage beast that will just as quickly end your life as it will provide a nice place to live. The amount of violence, blood, and deranged rabbits gave people who saw this film nightmare years afterwards. Thankfully the journey was also life affirming and memorable, making this all worth it.
Though marketed at kids, “ParaNorman” was actually the best zombie movie multiplexes had received in a long time. The idea of a boy who can see dead people isn’t even all that original. But when the dead come to tell you that zombies, monsters, and a witch is on the way to destroy the world…well, let’s just say even most people who’ve seen movies with these elements are going to be shocked at the emotional roller coaster this film ends up being. Once word got out that this wasn’t the children’s film it was advertised to be the film faded pretty quickly. Thankfully “ParaNorman” now exists and is a scary treasure waiting to be rediscovered.
While “Coraline” begins as a charming (if not slightly weird) family film, once the climax came around there was barely a kid in the theater that wasn’t screaming. The film gets its scares from colorless visuals, intense set up, and a battle with a spider-woman that can be truly terrifying to watch at times. Amazingly this film was actually a pretty big hit, so regardless of the amount of people it scared apparently those people weren’t scared enough to not recommend it.
While the last few films were strong but still worthwhile PG-rated films, “Monster House” is a movie that is so scary, so intense, and so relentless in its horror, that it feels like it was lucky to miss getting a PG-13 rating. Produced by Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis, “Monster House” pulls no punches in what it wants to be. This is simply a straight up monster movie with lots of horror elements thrown into the mix. The fact that it’s animated does little to make the film more digestible, and event he somewhat happy ending it was given (mainly in order to avoid the PG-13) is of little comfort by the time the ordeal is over. Most animated movies end with a feeling of victory. “Monster House” ends with a feeling of great relief.
Ending our list is an R-rated animated film that isn’t well known to most people, but for those who’ve seen it the film has never been forgotten. Following the life of a former pop star who decides she wants to be an actress, the movie only starts out a little mysterious and not too scary. By the end of the film it’s as scary as a Wes Craven film and as suspenseful as something Alfred Hitchcock would direct. There are images in this movie that are so scary that some grown adults have claimed to only being able to watch it once in their life. Strangely enough the biggest knock against the film at the time is that it seemed like a movie that should have been filmed in live action. Several years later a live action version was made, but people then found this version to be lacking and *gasp* not very scary at all. I guess there are some things that only imagined images can properly convey.