Over the last century, animated horror movies have left lasting impressions on their viewers at nearly every stage of life—and there’s no sign of this genre slowing down anytime soon. From lighthearted features like Hotel Transylvania to the creepy 1929 Disney cartoon The Skeleton Dance, children often experience their first brush with terror through animated horror movies. These films pique childhood curiosity, and can pave the way for a lifelong love of the genre. From movies that can spook at any age to terrifying films that are decidedly adult, the following animated horror movies are guaranteed to haunt you for many years to come.
The Nightmare Before Christmas
While there has been some debate on whether Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas should be relegated to the category of holiday movies, its unsettling contents say otherwise. When Jack Skellington of Halloween Town discovers that there are other worlds beyond the one he’s always known, he decides to take Christmas Town for himself. With bizarre claymation characters such as the hanging tree and its crew of skeletons, the truth of Halloween Town’s residents and their deaths are nothing short of disturbing.
Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride is relentless in its sorrow, dark imagery, and horrific tale of deceit. When Victor accidentally marries Emily, a corpse bride, he is flung into the world of the dead, where the truth of how his new wife died is revealed by a skeleton band. Throughout its entirety, the threat of death looms over everyone in the land of the living. Whether by starvation or poisoning, the Grim Reaper is always lurking right around the corner...
Many children have questioned what life would be like if their parents acquiesced to their every request, but when blue-haired Coraline Jones meets her accommodating yet sinister Other Mother and Other Father, nightmares ensue. It is one of the most haunting depictions of a child’s fear of losing their parents. In the case of Coraline, that threat comes in the form of the Beldam, who wants nothing more than to sew buttons into the girl’s eyes to keep her in the Other World forever.
After a series of unnerving events, a woman named Hye-sun is faced with the reality that South Korea has become overrun with zombies. Seoul Station explores both toxic relationships and the living dead, who strive to feast on the flesh of the living. While these reanimated corpses may be enough to qualify the film as one of the most horrific animated movies out there, it is also touching in its inclusion of the everyday struggles of the poor and working class of South Korea. As the characters attempt to survive the apocalypse, they are also faced with the horrors of human existence.
The Black Cauldron
Disney’s The Black Cauldron underwent several edits to remove some of its more disturbing scenes, but its primary characters and situations are just as unnerving as what was taken out. With an undead army and haunting curses, it is undoubtedly a disturbing watch for adults and children alike. The Black Cauldron was the first Disney movie to receive a PG rating, creating a haunting tale that has inevitably left a dark impression on millions of viewers.
Watership Down has tricked many a well-meaning parent with its promise of a pleasant story about rabbits. Much to everyone’s surprise, it is actually a deeply unsettling tale about the brutality of humanity, as told by the animal kingdom. The rabbit protagonist experiences seizures, visions, and run-ins with its biggest predators. At its core, Watership Down is an unforgettable animated movie that promises to haunt its viewers for decades.
The Plague Dogs
In a similar vein to Watership Down, The Plague Dogs calls attention to the harm that dogs and other animals experience at the hands of what society has deemed their best friends. As the story unfolds, it grows more disturbing in its depiction of humanity’s propensity for violence.
Monster House begins as a lighthearted tale about two friends who fear the neighborhood home of Mr. Nebbercracker. The closer they get to the house, the more it seems to transform into a horrific face etched with anger and resentment. It turns out that Mr. Nebbercracker has a secret hidden in his basement, a reveal that’s sure to dwell in the minds of the unsuspecting children who watch this PG-rated movie.
Set in Blithe Hollow, Massachusetts, ParaNorman tells the story of an outcast kid who can see the dead. Immediately, the audience is made aware that Norman is bullied and discredited by his own family, making him constantly feel unwelcome and weird. As the deeply sad story continues to unfold, zombies rise from their graves to wreak havoc on the town in hopes of stopping a young girl who was wrongfully convicted and executed for witchcraft. This movie contains child murder and zombies, making it one of Laika’s scariest animated movies.
The Last Unicorn
While The Last Unicorn is not considered outright horror, it does contain several scary elements that could categorize it as such. The film includes witches and skeletons, but nothing beats the haunting figure of the Red Bull. Many people who have watched the movie consider the scenes with the Red Bull to be absolutely disturbing on several levels.
Perfect Blue focuses on real-life horrors rather than the supernatural or the monstrous. When a young woman gives up her dreams of becoming a pop star in favor of becoming an actress, she starts to believe she may have gained a stalker along the way. As the movie progresses, she realizes that her stalker has documented her every move. This anime movie is undoubtedly one of the most disturbing ones available for streaming, due to the very real possibility of being stalked by a predator.
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The Secret of NIMH
After surviving scientific experimentation, the animals in The Secret of NIMH are nothing short of bizarre and grotesque. Whether they are eating fellow animals or glaring at each other with piercing eyes, the story is an unforgettable nightmare. The style used for this film is similar to several happy and joyful animated movies, but don’t let this one fool you—it is not an easy watch.
What happens when a young boy loses his dog in a tragic accident? Normally he mourns the loss and, as time goes on, he begins to heal. This is not the case for Victor Frankenstein, who takes his dog’s death into his own hands and reanimates Sparky. As the town begins to realize what Victor has done, their mob mentality surfaces, and they go after the boy. In spite of its silly title, Frankenweenie evokes real feelings of loneliness, despair, fear, and horror.
Featured still from "The Nightmare Before Christmas" via Touchstone Pictures