The 13 Scariest Animated Movies

9. The Secret of Nimh

Nobody does melancholy animated flicks quite like Don Bluth, and The Secret of Nimh is the animation legend at the top of his game. The No. 1 entry under the TV Tropes’ Nightmare Fuel page, The Secret of Nimh was the source of many childhood nightmares because of its grim and bloody adventure story as well as the sheer feeling of dread that the film instills. The first feature under Bluth’s  Don Bluth Productions, which the animator founded after becoming disillusioned with his former employer Disney, The Secret of Nimh is a curious animated film. It straddles the line between children’s adventure and and alarmingly dark drama — a balance that Bluth would return to time and again with each of his future films. But The Secret of Nimh is still his finest, or at least most frightening, work.

The Secret of Nimh follows a widowed field mouse, Mrs. Brisby, as she attempts to shield her children from the oncoming destruction of a tractor. The life-and-death stakes are upped when Mrs. Brisby’s child Timmy is deemed too sick to leave his bed, which forces the timid field mouse to find other means to save her family, leading her to discover the titular “secret” of the farm. The simple premise conceals a complex backstory that delves into animal experimentation, political infighting, and a really gross-looking owl. The combination of traditional 2D animation and rotoscoping adds to the movie’s uncanny atmosphere, making the random bits of blood and violence more distressing. An owl crushing a spider never looked so gruesome.

8. Coraline

Here’s where we start to move past childhood trauma and into real adult fears. Coraline is ostensibly a children’s movie, but oddly, it’s adults who find this dark fantasy horror film the most disturbing. That discrepancy comes write out of the mouth of Neil Gaiman, the author of the 2002 novel upon which the Henry Selick film is based, who discovered that “adults get scared” by Coraline while “children react to the story fundamentally as an adventure.” Gaiman continued, “Adults get disturbed, and I think one reason for that is because it’s a story about a child in danger and I think we’re hardwired to worry about children in danger.”

And it’s easy to see why. Those button eyes! That creepy element introduced in the latter half of Coraline, which follows a bored young girl who stumbles upon an idealized parallel world through a portal in her bedroom, is enough to send shivers down anyone’s spine. The film unfolds like a horror film, with the mood steadily growing more sinister as the titular Coraline is faced with cryptic warnings and frightening dangers. The formerly bright alternate worlds peels away to reveal a tightly controlled illusion, complete with hapless doppelgangers controlled like puppets and a great big scary spider villain.

7. Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust

Anime horror maestro Yoshiaki Kawajiri directs this gorgeous entry in the Vampire Hunter D saga, based on Hideyuki Kikuchi’s series of fantasy sci-fi novels. Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust has a rather clunky name, but this handsomely animated is anything but. Part spaghetti western, part Gothic vampire story, part star-crossed romance, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust is a ridiculously stylish anime film that doesn’t let up on the gore and bloodshed. Set in a post-apocalyptic future where humans rule the day and vampires reign supreme in the night, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust centers around the titular human-vampire hybrid D, who is kind of like a really pretty Blade: a vampire hunter who is treated as an outcast by both races. Hired by a millionaire to find his daughter who had been kidnapped by vampires, D sets off into the vast wastelands where he is attacked by bloodthirsty vampires and rival bounty hunters with a grudge against him.

Despite the convoluted-sounding mythology, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust is a pretty simple road movie that Kawajiri packs with visual flourishes and inhumanly beautiful characters. The film can sometimes veer more toward style than substance but boy, is it great to look at. Plus there are the grisly horror elements, which could be over-the-top for some, but are perfect for genre fans looking to get into anime.

6. Fear(s) of the Dark

You’d expect a few scares from a horror anthology film titled Fear(s) of the Dark, but what you probably wouldn’t expect from this 2007 French black-and-white animated experiment is just how unsettling it is. There are no jump scares, no sudden outbursts of bloodshed. Instead, Fear(s) of the Dark burrows under your skin and lays mutant insect eggs that eventually transform into anthropomorphic monsters that consume you body and soul. Yes, that is the plot of one of the five stories that comprise this film — written and directed by Black Hole author Charles Burns with his signature dose of body horror — and yes, it shook me to my core.

There is a segment that is merely a few minutes of ponderous narration set to computer-animated shapes, and another where a young girl is tortured inside and outside of her nightmares. The five stories are each written and directed by notable comic book creators and graphic designers including Burns, Italian comics artist Lorenzo MattottiHere author Richard McGuire, and French graphic artist Marie Caillou. They range from bone-chilling to flat-out horrifying, with some animated by hand and others by computer, but all sharing the same black-and-white palette. This stark color scheme (or lack thereof) makes Fear(s) of the Dark sometimes feel more like an experimental exercise cobbled together by a group of graphic novelists, but that’s what sets Fear(s) of the Dark stand apart from other horror anthologies.

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