The 13 Scariest Animated Movies

5. Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter

One of the difficulties of adapting a dense tome like Watchmen are some of the nuances lost in the process. One of those nuances lost in Zack Snyder‘s otherwise suffocatingly loyal feature adaptation of Alan Moore‘s seminal graphic novel was a whole narrative unto itself: a side story in which a young boy reads a disturbing pulp pirate novel at a news stand. And thanks to the joy of special features, that side story got repackaged into an animated short film titled Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter. A comic within a comic, Tales of the Black Freighter was initially interspersed with the main narrative of Watchmen, with Moore using this nihilistic pirate’s tale to build the graphic novel’s bleak overall atmosphere.

As a result, the 30-minute short film for Tales of the Black Freighter feels a little half-baked, but it’s still just as effectively sinister. The film follows the lone survivor (Gerard Butler) of a pirate attack, who floats to a deserted island on the wreckage of his ship and his fellow sailors’ dead bodies. Driven mad by isolation and the paranoia that the pirates were heading to his hometown, the unnamed Sea Captain desperately builds a raft out of spare bits of wood and corpses. He sets sail on his grotesque vessel, along the way slowly transforming into something just as horrific. The short film has the clever addition of a sort of monstrous Wilson from Castaway, in the form of the mottled corpse of the Sea Captain’s first mate Ridley. Voiced by Jared Harris in nightmarish dream sequences, Ridley tips the scales for Tales of the Black Freighter from being simply an accomplished adaptation of a Watchmen side story into a harrowing short film that stands on its own.

4. Watership Down

By now you’ve probably heard countless anecdotes and or read the hilarious Amazon reviews in which an unsuspecting parent buys Watership Down for their kids expecting a cute film with rabbits only to discover quite the opposite. Relentlessly grim and shockingly violent, Watership Down is a bedtime story turned nightmare. Director-writer Martin Rosen adapts Richard Adams’ classic novel of the same name in this 1978 animated adventure about a group of rabbits who flee their warren in fear of an apocalyptic vision. This list’s favorite voice actor John Hurt stars again as Hazel, the protagonist who reluctantly takes on the role of the group’s new chief, and leads them to a prophesied utopia with the help of his seer younger brother, Fiver (Richard Briers). But in a world where rabbits are cursed to be the most vulnerable creatures, the scrappy group is besieged by all sorts of vicious dangers that threaten their lives and our mental well-being.

This is a stressful movie, folks. The dangers never abate for these rabbits, and despite Watership Down‘s epic narrative, the film feels painfully tactile. Even when the film descends into a gratuitous gore-fest with the showdown with the cruel chief, General Woundwort (whose battered and bloody face is the iconic disturbing image slapped onto every YouTube reaction video to this film), the rabbits never feel anything less than human. Watership Down is the evolution of the fable — an animal-led parable meant to evoke sympathy and provoke thought. Even if most of the thoughts it provokes are, “Oh god, make it stop.”

3. Seoul Station

Train to Busan is a pitch-perfect zombie movie that transformed a barebones premise into a goddamned genre masterpiece. Did it need a prequel? No. But are fans going to watch the hell out of one? Oh yeah. Train to Busan director Yeon Sang-ho somehow found the time to direct an animated prequel to his 2016 zombie hit that astonishingly manages to throw even more twists and social satire into the standard zombie narrative. Titled Seoul Station (in keeping with the train theme), this animated feature film follows the outbreak of the zombie virus that soon overtakes all of South Korea, evidently tracing the virus to a homeless man bleeding to death near the titular station. The movie then picks up with various characters — a young runaway woman, her hapless boyfriend, a father searching for his daughter — who soon are forced to run for their lives from the mysterious ravenous zombies. Seoul Station is more sprawling than Train to Busan, which both helps and hinders it.

It takes its time to set up its various plot threads and introduce some pretty unsympathetic characters, but once it gets going, Seoul Station barrels relentlessly toward its doomed conclusion. The suspenseful set pieces and emotional narrative are on par with Train to Busan, culminating in a fantastic jaw-dropping twist.

2. The Plague Dogs

Plague Dogs completes the John Hurt trifecta of animated movies that make us feel really bad. But this Martin Rosen film, also adapting another Richard Adams novel of the same name, is a special kind of miserable. Plague Dogs opens with an appalling scene of a dog being drowned and resuscitated at a laboratory experimenting on animals. It’s the kind of bald-faced horror that sets the tone for the rest of the film: harrowing and disquieting, but worst of all, overwhelmingly hopeless. The 1982 film follows two dogs, a Labrador-mix named Rowf and a smooth fox terrier named Snitter, who escape the animal research facility where they had been tortuously experimented on, fleeing through a merciless countryside where they’re bombarded by the elements and later, hunted down by the military following the facility’s dispensing of rumors that they carried the bubonic plague.

The majority of the film is essentially watching these two poor dogs starve to death, despite their best efforts to live by hunting grazing sheep and ransacking village trash cans. Plague Dogs is perhaps the greatest testament to nihilism there is, apart from the equally depressing Grave of the Fireflies (if I wrote a column on most despairing animated movies, those two would top the list). Plague Dogs doesn’t fall under the traditional definition of “scary” per se — you’ll find precious few jump scares or pulse-pounding scenes — but makes it to the near-top of this list because of its oppressive, abject misery.

1. Perfect Blue

You aren’t really reading this entry about Perfect Blue. You imagined that you read it, in a dream, or maybe you’re an actress playing the writer who wrote this entry. And maybe your producer is trying to kill you. Satoshi Kon‘s directorial feature debut is a bona fide masterpiece in a filmography full of masterpieces (this is the anime legend behind the the famous Paprika), but Perfect Blue is the one that manages to sit with you for the longest.

The 1997 psychological thriller seamlessly blends fantasy and reality in a story about a pop star, Mima Kirigoe, who retires from her J-pop girl group to attempt a career as an actress. But Mima’s bright new career move is disrupted upon her discovery of a website that catalogues her every move, as well as the appearance of a stalker unhappy with her shedding her teen idol image. Kon is a director obsessed with the duality of humans, and he interrogates that at full force in Perfect Blue. The film is a paranoid descent into the madness of a girl who struggles to reconcile her image as a pop idol and with her image as a serious actress, until her personas themselves manifest into real, dangerous beings. Or so you think. Perfect Blue is a breathlessly disorienting film, embedding the viewer so deeply in the mind of Mima that it’s impossible to tell what is real, even when a camera is pointed at her. But, of course, that shaky grasp on reality isn’t the scariest thing about this movie.

Perfect Blue is deeply violent, both physically and emotionally. There’s way more bloodshed than you’d expect in a film about an actress losing her grasp on reality, and the film contains one of the most explicit rape scenes ever put to celluloid. This is a film that will leave you with profound psychological scars, and the feeling that you want to take a long, long shower.

Pages: Previous page 1 2 3

Cool Posts From Around the Web: