OCT26 – 2014


Animated Halloween specials such as It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and Bugs Bunny’s Howl-o-ween Special have been part of Americans’ childhoods for almost 50 years. More sophisticated fare has taken over the airwaves as Halloween has grown in popularity as a family holiday, and a new generation of horror fans is surely tuning in to the Simpsons Treehouse of Horror marathon even as I’m writing this blog. However, family-friendly films, even Halloween-themed ones, don’t often tackle truly disturbing themes. While some of the stories may be creepy, the tales never rise to the level of true horror.

Animation presents filmmakers with unique storytelling tools; you can often find just as much terror in a three-minute short as you can in a ninety-minute (or more!) feature film. The films presented here are a sampler of some of the darkest, most disturbing, and funniest horror animations around. You can find tons more at Vimeo and on The Animation Blog. This isn’t intended to be a history of dark animation– these are just films that I enjoyed, or that freaked me the hell out. They’re ranked more or less in order of how horrifying I found them. I hope they make you smile (and maybe scare you half to death) too. (EDITOR’S NOTE: #1 on this list is a repeat from earlier in the month, but it’s SO GOOD that it’s worth posting twice.)

10. Classic Caper-Slash-Haunting-Slash-Slasher ‘Toon
First up is a nice little 2D cartoon from student animator Sam Shaw. In Dead & Breakfast, our leading duck has had a long day of backpacking and is just looking for a nice place to rest his head. He begins to worry about B&B’s bill when it becomes clear that the manager is eyeing his.

9. Creature Feature
No Halloween film fest would be complete without a few BEMs or Giant Creepy Crawlies. Danger Island takes us back to science fiction’s Golden Age, when unexplored landscapes were coughing up oversized insects and revealing lost pockets of saurian ecosystems all over the world. Animator Ryan Gillis used a combination of stop-motion animation and classical hand-drawn techniques along with some very cool special effects to create this engaging short film.

8. & 7. Dystopian Sci-Fi Horror
Oh sweet Jesus, there are literally thousands of these. They’re all horrifying, and they’re all fantastic. Each one delves deeper into a scary, unnerving, or just plain awful not-so-distant future than the last. Here are two of the best:

Smile! is one of the earliest films by veteran Polish animator Alek Wasilewski.  Although his more recent work shows a higher level of technical skill, Smile! remains one of Alek’s most disturbing visions. He knows it, too: he’s still putting that creepy smileyface into many of his creepiest films…at least I hope he’s putting it there. It’s entirely possible that it just grows on his animations like a fungus.
Fans of the RPG game Paranoia may have “Happiness is MANDATORY” flashbacks. These flashbacks have been known to lead to inappropriate laughter, grins stretched to the point of agony, and compulsive cheering during sad movies.

You’ve been warned.

In Everything I Can See From Here, a completely different terrible future is imagined by the London collective known as The Line. The horror builds slowly in this subtle animation. From the well-realized characters to the professional production quality of the film, you’d never know it was done on a budget of zero dollars by a group of folks who knocked it out by squeezing in an hour here and there. Enough with the gushing, I’ll let you just watch the thing:

…I KNOW, RIGHT? So. Very. Cool. And so very creepy. Their other work is also top of the line; bookmark their page and pop over now and then when you’re supposed to be working on other things. You won’t regret it. Well, except during the yelling when those other things don’t get done.

6. Fungal Follies
Mold? Blechhh. Does anyone not automatically shudder when they come across fruit covered with those fine, spore-coated filaments?

The animators behind Homunculus are part of Hydra, Humble TV’s in-house collaborative team. Hydra is a space for these production professionals to let their imaginations run wild; it’s only fitting, then, that their first project is this dark vision of creatures composed of, in their words, “untrammeled id”. Id, and fungus. Lots and lots of little mold dudes are running around in this one. Pro Tip: if you’re eating any kind of fruit, you may want to finish it before pressing Play.

5. Gimme That Old Time Horror
Denmark’s The Animation Workshop – Centre for Animation began teaching students in 2007 and rapidly gained a reputation as a training ground for some of the world’s most dedicated and innovative animators. The bachelor program student project The Backwater Gospel is a nine-minute one-film horror festival all on its own. The stylized artwork and the juxtaposition of traditional narrative and the chorus blend seamlessly with wonderful writing and the brutal climactic scene. Even the credits are cool. Check it out:

4. It Could Happen To You
Some of the most terrifying stories have nothing to do with bogies or beasties or bumps in the night. Cantonese animator Wong Ping’s Stop Peeping is a deeply disturbing tale of very human horror. If you live in an apartment, brownstone, or other building with a shared wall you’re going to want to check for holes after watching this one. Trigger warning for stalking.

3. It Ain’t The House Next Door…
…but there is a girl inside Where Mary Lives… who is in desperate need of help.
Shibabrata Chakraborty (aka Shako) has only been working as an animator for a few years, but his cute and terrifying short films have already established him as an artist to watch. Where Mary Lives… is our second animation featuring a horror that’s made worse because it could be happening somewhere right now. If you don’t find it truly appalling at first, just wait until bedtime, when that pink bunny with the stubble shows up to tuck you in. Trigger warning for pedophilia and incest.

2. Draw Your Own Damn Ketchup Picture, Kid
In preparation for this blog post, I sat through almost 50 hours of short films. Fifty. Hours. Of films that average around three to four minutes apiece. At around Hour Forty-Eight, I happened across Takena Nagao’s fairly large catalog of one- to six-minute films. Instead of following my first instinct and blowing them off to spend time in the sun for once, I decided to watch just one film. And then another, and another, until I’d exhausted his catalog. It was full dark by then, but that was okay because I wanted to watch one of the films again. And another, and another…
Nagao is the director of our next horror short, Maid of the Dead. He has a grasp of the grindhouse horror film genre that you almost never see in stop-motion animation. His films are lurid, gross, hilarious, and utterly addictive. His website’s another one you’ll want to bookmark even if, like the rest of us, you think you’ve had enough of f*cking zombies already.

(spoilers after the film) (so watch first) (don’t read ahead) (seriously)

0. ONE. JOB.
All you had to do was dance. Dance, and not plunge the world into a vortex of increasingly surreal devastation and death. If you were still alive, we’d fire you — if we were still sane. You’re the worst popcorn ever, Popcorn, and we’re counting that self-basting buttered bimbo Popcornette.
This film wins saving-the-best-for-last place because it made my eyes bleed. In fact, the title of this segment was going to be IT WILL MAKE YOUR EYES BLEED but Popcorn’s dead body needed to be called out on a few things.
This tiny slice of WTF is called Follow the Sun! If you missed the foreshadowing in the soundtrack on the first go-around, play the video again (close your eyes this time, because: blood). There’s a lot of subtle nastiness happening there. Done with the second viewing? Good. Now visit the website–THERE’S A WEBSITE JUST FOR THIS FILM OHEMGEE–but maybe you shouldn’t go there after all because it has lyrics and other unholy things that will melt your brain. Or make you a gibbering fan. Six eyes of one, half a brain of the other.
MK12 , an animators’ collective out of Kansas City, MO, is obviously in league with the Old Ones. They’ve collaborated to create a brainworm that will burrow in and eat and eat until all you can think about is Popcorn and Hot Dog and those little family dolls going aroundaroundaround, and all you can do is stare up at the open skies and wait for the mad blood sun to rise.
Happy Halloween.

* * *

Dora Badger is a writer and comedian living in Detroit.  She was the organizer of a Detroit-area writers’ group for several years, and served as one of the fiction editors for the (sadly) now-defunct Third Reader e-zine.  She was also was one of the copyeditors for Sonar4 E-zine and has been published in Jennifer Miller’s Ladies and Gentlemen of Horror 2009, Feathertale Press, A cappella Zoo, Mirror Dance Magazine, and MicroHorror.  You can find out more at her blog, Menace & Whimsy.

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