Ironic Nursery Tune

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"If I die before you wake
Don't you cry, don't you ache
Nothing's ever yours to keep

Close your eyes, go to sleep"
Tom Waits, "Lullaby"

A Nursery Rhyme used to convey an underlying sadness and/or creepiness, sometimes made into a theme tune that sounds like a music box that's slightly off key. It's mainly used to indicate someone with a Squicky past, a child molester or other psychosis. Ironically, due to this trope, it's very uncommon for anyone to use nursery music to indicate anything positive anymore, making it a common theme of Grimmification.

Occasionally the writers want to be more poetic with it, and a character will sing the lyrics to some bedtime song. This is sometimes handwaved as being learned from a nanny or grandmother, since they tend to be rhymes no one has used in the last century.

"Ring Around the Rosey" (or "Ring-a-Ring-of-Roses" as it's known in some parts of the world) is especially prone to this, due to the popular belief that a cute little children's song was written about The Black Plague. There's no evidence that this is true, and much evidence that it isn't, but the belief has well and truly cemented itself in popular culture. 

Oldtime songs like the works of Frank Sinatra are quickly becoming part of this trope. If you enter an ancient dilapidated mansion and a song whose original listeners are either senile or dead from old age plays over and over and over, you're in trouble. Also the famous "Hush Little Baby" (also called "Mockingbird") lullaby seems to be the top icon of this trope, it's simple enough for parents (or some creepy unseen killer) to ad-lib further verses as required. 

Overlaps with the Ominous Music Box Tune. Often goes with the Creepy Child and Ambiguous Innocence. See also Soundtrack Dissonance. The opposite, where the music box is used positively, is Nostalgic Music Box. Compare and contrast Fractured Fairy Tale. Compare Creepy Circus Music. Compare and contrast Creepy Children Singing, where creepy songs and nursery rhymes are played in the background to add tension and fear to a scene.

Examples of Ironic Nursery Tune include:


Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Any anime or manga which quotes the ancient Japanese poem "Tooryanse"; the melody is known for being used at a lot of intersections, but the lyrics either talk about getting blessings for your child when it turns seven—first stanza—or burying it on its seventh birthday—second stanza.
  • Black Butler: During an arc in the anime, a serial killer named Drocel keeps grinding his organ and sings a very creepy version of "London Bridge is Falling Down". His prey is young, beautiful girls that he turns into living dolls; the song is used to control said dolls and determine what materials to construct them from. Despite being male, he's kind enough to make an exception for Ciel.

Drocel: "Make it out of gold and silver, gold and silver, gold and silver. Make it out of gold and silver, my fair lady."

    • And in the manga we have "Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son". But only the first verse. Over and over.
      • Fans of Black Butler are able to be picked out of a crowd because of the looks they give when someone in the vicinity sings "Tom The Piper's Son".
  • Akira: The movie has the jingling toy bells and squeaking as the killer toys attack.
  • Higanbana no Saku Yoru Ni has the protagonist's teacher strangling her while singing Aogeba Tōtoshi, a song sung at graduation ceremonies in Japan.
  • Elfen Lied has tunes like Neji, "Yureai", and "Uso Sora", among others. Some of which are played during the flashbacks of Lucy's terrible childhood.
  • Alyssa from My-HiME sings one of these in English early on in the anime.

Who are those little girls in pain just trapped in castle of dark side of moon
Twelve of them shining bright in vain like flowers that blossom just once in years?
They're dancing in the shadow like whispers of love just dreaming of a place where they're free as dove
They've never been allowed to love in this cursed cage
It's only the fairy tale they believe

    • It's only a little creepy when you realize that the lyrics symbolize the basic plot of the show. But other than that it's mostly a sad tune. Particularly when Alyssa dies.
  • Margery Daw from Shakugan no Shana was also named after one of these; in fact her spells use rather obscure and creepy ones as incantations.
  • Many chapters of Kaori Yuki's Count Cain were inspired by Mother Goose rhymes, even some of those that were an integral part of the larger arc. Based on Agatha Christie's technique, these chapters usually start with the nursery rhyme, which gradually turns out to frame a ghastly crime.
  • The first thirty-odd seconds of Melodie from Noir are of the music box variety. The song then swells into a more rock-ish theme with the music box chimes heard heavily in the background. 
    • Chloe's theme, Secret Game is of the rhyme variant.
  • A creepy, detuned chime features heavily in "The Doll House" from the Innocence soundtrack (released in North America as Ghost in the Shell 2). 
  • In Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, the Tachikomas sing a children's song as they're being packed up and sent to the laboratory for formatting and disassembly. They think it's a happy song, and tell Batou as much. Problem is, the song is actually about a calf being taken to slaughter, who wonders why he can't grow wings like a bird and escape his impending doom. 
    • It was also implied that, to the tachikomas, death was an exciting adventure that they were looking forward to, especially because to experience death was something reserved for those with ghosts.
    • It can be interpreted as the Tachikomas slinging some guilt on Batou for letting it happen. Just previously Batou had decieved them by pretending that everything was OK, when he knew about their impending fate, and their farewells were rather sharp and subdued compared to their usually cheerful personality. Considering their earlier worries, they weren't eager to die. 
    • And how can we forget the episode where an insane serial killer skins women alive, and sells their recorded experiences as snuff films at a flea market, all while humming "Mary Had a Little Lamb"?
  • The manga Judas uses this traditional prayer to creepy effect: "Now I lay me down to sleep/I pray the Lord my soul to keep/And if I die before I wake/I pray the Lord my soul to take"
  • In a recent chapter of One Piece as the battle of the World Government and Whitebeard draws close and reactions of people around the world are shown, small children on the Grand Line sing a nursery rhyme-style song about how fearsome Whitebeard is as they play and the woman watching them comments that even they know what's going on.
  • One of Kafuka's Nightmare Fuel Station Attendant moments in Sayonara, Zetsubou-sensei involves her singing an extraordinarily creepy nursery tune which she seems to think is a cheerful song.
  • One episode of Death Note has Misa taking over the role of Kira and singing a nursery song in the "I'm watching you" vein while ocassionally killing those around her.
  • Not quite this, but in Darker than Black, one Contractor, Mai, was formerly a normal schoolgirl, and after she uses her powers, she has the Renumeration of whistling. Said powers involve Kill It with Fire, and she whistles a dissonant melody as her victims scream in agony.
  • Friend sings one a few times in 20th Century Boys to taunt the heroes.

Friend: Kenji-kun, come and play with me.

  • Hansel and Gretel from Black Lagoon can be heard singing one of these while changing after "playing" with one of Balalaika's men until he died from it and then with his dead body, which still twitched every time they hammered nails into his head.

"My mother's killed me
My father's eating me
My brothers and sisters sit under the table
Picking at my bones
They will bury them
Under the cold
Marble Stones"

    • Or, as the creepy German folktale that is most likely the original, would have it:

"It was my mother who murdered me
It was my father who ate me
It was my sister Marjorie
Who all my bones in pieces found
Them in a handkerchief she bound
And laid them under the aspen tree
Kywitt, kywitt, kywitt I cry;
Oh, what a beautiful bird am I!"

  • Hellsing courts this trope in the episode with the two vampire serial killers when there were scenes of the aftermath of a horrific, gruesome murder of a family is shown with a happy television show tune is playing in the background.
  • In the Sailor Moon Super S movie, the villains use a cheerful song called Three O'Clock Fairy to hypnotize children.
  • There's the Road's Song from D.Gray-man both Japanese and English are deliciously creepy.
  • Quite some examples of the Vocaloids' songs could apply, but the more straight example would be this one which is a Ring-Around-The-Rosie-like song about immortal children playing endlessly and the horrible way they died. The video doesn't help.
  • Deadman Wonderland features the Lullaby, a sad and disturbing song about a cursed woodpecker. As revealed later, the song acts to calm the Wretched Egg, allowing her to exist as Shiro. When she and Ganta were children, they would often sing the song together while Ganta's mother played the tune and cried.


Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • Scarecrow, the Batman villain, also frequently sings "The Mockingbird Song". When written by Jeph Loeb, anyway.
  • The name of Solomon Grundy, Super Zombie of The DCU, was based on a nursery rhyme of a man "born on a Monday" and "died on a Saturday."
  • In The Invisibles, the demon Orlando leaves a recording of "Pop Goes the Weasel" playing in the house of a family he has butchered.
  • In Thunderbolts #120, Norman Osborn finally goes completely insane, puts on his old Goblin costume and starts killing people.In between cackling and declaring that he's God, he joyfully sings John Barleycorn, a traditional folk/Drinking song that personifies wheat and barley and describes the harvesting process in the most violent way possible. Though the song was originally meant to be disturbing, having the Green Goblin sing it during a massacre makes it even worse. 
    • "They hired men with scythes so sharp to cut him off at the knee. Bound him about the waist and served him most barbarously."
  • Partial example with the use of the Guy Fawkes rhyme ("Remember, remember...") in V for Vendetta - while it is obviously dark in tone and based on real events, most modern British people don't stop to think about the lyrics, much like most nursery rhymes.
  • In the Batman relaunch by Scott Snyder, the Court of Owls have an old nursery rhyme about them:

"The Court of Owls watches,
Watches all the time.
Ruling Gotham from a shadowed perch,
Behind granite and lime.
They see you at your hearth.
And they see you in your bed.
Speak not a whispered word about them...
...or they'll send The Talon for your head!"

Commercials[edit | hide]

  • In a commercial for Heinz Green Ketchup that was released at the same time as the movie version of How The Grinch Stole Christmas a man is at someplace fancy and there are three bottles: A ketchup bottle, mustard, and a green ketchup one. He pours the green ketchup on his hotdog and eats it, he then transforms into an anthro grinch (this is a real ad, it's not a fake one) resembling the Jim Carrey version from the film. In the background elf-like puppets sing warped versions of Christmas carols.
  • This Australian road safety advertisement uses "Happy Christmas" to absolutely soul-crushing effect. 
  • An old Public Service Announcement started with a closeup of a black mother singing Mockingbird to her toddler... and the camera slowly panning back to reveal she is kneeling in the middle of the street where her baby had just been caught in the crossfire.
  • This Scottish ad for Friends of the Earth uses "All Things Bright and Beautiful"—with a slight alteration to the words...
  • There is a safety advertisement about overhead powerlines that used to be on the radio in Calgary, Alberta. It started out with the tune from Rock a Bye Baby, with the song slowing down and slowly becoming more sinister-sounding. It doesn't seem ironic, but considering that one of the ways you can come in contact (and one the ways they like to remind people about) is backing up while in a cherry picker, and the cherry picker can resemble a cradle in a way, and the lyrics for the end of the nursey rhyme are, "And down will come baby, cradle and all," well, it just brings up some fairly disturbing images.


Film[edit | hide]

  • Creepshow has a relentlessly ominous example in the short "Something to Tide You Over". While the hero is enduring his drowning death, the soundtrack uses the chords from "Camptown Races" to make his wait for death almost unendurable. 
  • Josh Peck's character in Mean Creek tells a rhyme about a man whose brains got splattered all over the wall.
  • In Profondo Rosso the killer plays a creepy children's song before committing the murders.
  • Linda, in The Evil Dead, sings a creepy little song to the tune of "Ring Around the Rosie" while in Deadite form. "We're gonna get you, we're gonna get you / Not another peep, time to go to sleep."
    • Annie's mother-turned-Deadite from Evil Dead 2 sings "The Mockingbird Song" to try and lull her daughter into a trap. Later, Annie distracts her possessed mother long enough for Ash to get the edge over her by singing the same song.
    • And in Army of Darkness, Ash sings London Bridge while killing miniature versions of himself. Definitely played for laughs though, especially when he steps on a nail and the tiny Ashes finish the verse for him as he gasps in pain. 
  • Black Christmas (the original) has the deranged 'Billy' singing 'Daddy's gone a-huntin' while rocking a chair in which he has placed the corpse of a girl he murdered.
  • In Minority Report, the Swedish nurse Greta sings Små grodorna before Anderton's eye transplantation. The original text is Ej öron, ej öron, ej svansar hava de ("no ears, no ears, no tails they have") but it is sung Ej ögon, ej ögon ("no eyes") instead.
  • In Chakushin Ari (the original version of One Missed Call) there's the Ringtone which announces the you're gonna die this day, at this hour, in this way message, which is then revealed to be a theme tune from an old children's program.
    • And in the American version, it's revealed to be the song that a certain bear plushie played when it was squeezed.
  • The Nightmare On Elm Street series has a fairly well-known rhyme associated with its dream killer, Freddy Krueger: "One two, Freddy's coming for you..."
  • The Woman in Black has a HELL of a one in the trailer:

During afternoon tea, there's a shift in the air,
A bone trembling chill that tells you she's there,
There are those who believe the whole town is cursed,
But the house in the marsh is by far the worst,
What she wants is unknown, but she always comes back,
The specter of darkness, The woman in black.

  • Rosemary's Baby has a standard creepy wordless lullaby.
  • The Pirates of the Caribbean films use the original Disney song, "Yo Ho (A Pirate's Life For Me)," to creepy effect; primarily by having a young girl sing it slowly and in a minor key, instead of a pack of pirates singing upbeat and in major. This is then inverted in the After the Credits scene in At World's End, with Will Turner, Jr. singing it in its original major key.
    • Another POTC example is "Hoist the Colors", first sung by a young boy and his fellow probably-not-all pirates on their way to the gallows.
    • A half-example: Davy Jones frequently plays a quiet, sad little song from a music box on his pipe organ, where it is much louder and more bombastic. The tune and the music box are both from Tia Dalma, the woman he once loved. The same song also functions as a Leitmotif for the two characters.
    • In On Stranger Tides, the mermaids' version of "My Jolly Sailor Bold" is particularly creepy due to the monotone way it's sung, and what almost happens next...
  • The scene in The Birds where the children are singing in the school as the crows gather is a perfect example.
  • Before the infamous "Here's Johnny!" scene in The Shining, Jack Nicholson's character goes through a bit from "The Three Little Pigs" before hacking at the door with his axe. "Little pigs, little pigs, let me come in.... Not by the hair on your chinny chin chin? Then I'll huff, and I'll puff, and blow your house in!" And let's not forget his Madness Mantra, "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy."
  • In Open Season, a hunter that barely seems competent during other scenes suddenly appears very menacing when quietly singing "Teddy Bears' Picnic" as he stalks the protagonist, a domesticated bear who'd been released into the wild and snuck into the cabin not knowing who the owner was. That the bear's former owner had used this song as a lullabye earlier in the film doesn't help.
  • Manhunter introduced Hannibal Lecter with some tinkly music box-type soundtrack. He then starts talking about Graham's family ("That aftershave is something a child would select.")
    • Likewise, its remake Red Dragon involves similiar music when Graham is looking at photos of a kid's bedroom, where the kids in question have been brutally murdered.
    • And in Hannibal Rising, he forces an ex-Nazi to sing a German children's song before he kills him. A song that had also been used in Hansel and Gretel, just to make the point.
  • The Nightmare Before Christmas features the three musicians (one of whom is Greg Proops) playing an off-key, really creepy version of "Jingle Bells." However, since this is Halloween Town, where everything is supposed to be scary and creepy, Jack Skellington congratulates them instead of sending them off. Later, they give the same treatment to "Here Comes Santa Claus".
  • The Quatermass Conclusion featured a children's nursery rhyme containing seemingly innocent lyrics that indicate that the terrible inexplicable events occurring in the film have happened before.
  • Halloween III features a recurring advertising jingle for Silver Shamrock novelties sung to the tune of 'London Bridge is Falling Down'. This becomes increasingly sinister as we learn of Silver Shamrock's actual purpose.
  • Inversion: Despite being an unbelievably creepy film, Pan's Labyrinth managed to mostly dodge this, as the lullaby hummed by Mercedes is mostly used to genuinely comforting effect, as well as being a meditation on how sad everything is.
  • A genuinely creepy nursery rhyme dictates the killer's murders in Non Ho Sonno .
  • Samara Morgan, the Creepy Child of The Ring, sings the following, nightmarish nursery rhyme to herself instants before being suffocated and tossed in a well to die by her adoptive mother:

"Round we go, the world is spinning.
When it stops, it's just beginning.
Sun comes up, we laugh and we cry.
Sun goes down, and then we all die."

    • The melody was already the movie's theme long before the rhyme itself was revealed, and was made even creepier after the fact.
    • In the original Japanese version, Ringu, the nursery rhyme was about staying away from the ocean, or else monsters would get you, an allusion to the fact that Sadako is likely an oceanic demigoddess.
  • The toy piano music playing over the opening and closing credits in the Puppet Master movies falls into this trope.
  • A scene in Ice Age 2 has the main characters encounter some vultures and the vultures start singing "Food, Glorious Food" from Oliver!. It's more silly than creepy.
  • The Night of the Hunter includes a creepy children's skipping song about a hanging, and multiple creepy lullabies. The Serial Killer is also seen belting out the hymn "Leaning On The Everlasting Arms" to very creepy effect. Lillian Gish later defeats the Hunter at the end by singing counterpoint to the hymn.
  • A B-horror movie called Sleepstalker, in which the monster is an executed killer into a twisted, demonic version of the sandman, features a creep nursery rhyme about a child going to sleep.
  • This scene from O Brother, Where Art Thou? which is meant to echo the sirens of The Odyssey, manages to combine creepy and seductive into one rhyme. (Given the lyrics, some creepiness is guaranteed).
  • Jeepers Creepers turned the title tune into a horrifying premonition.
  • "Mairzy Doats" is sung during a torture scene in The Cell.
  • In The Crow: City of Angels, a drug dealer precedes shooting a small child with "Hush little baby, don't you cry, Kali's going to give you eternal life."
    • And later in the movie, when the Crow breaks Kali's back he gives this line: "Hush little baby, shh, don't say a word. Daddy's gonna buy you a big black bird!" Just as he throws out of a window.
  • In the '80s remake of The Fly a doomed Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) sings "I known an old lady who swallowed a fly...perhaps she'll die".
  • The opening sequence of Suspiria has a metallic toy piano playing over the heroines journey to her new job at a ballet school, to creepy effect.
    • The infamously confusing trailer starts with a variation on "Roses are red, violets are blue."
    • And then there's the creepy song used throughout Deep Red. If you hear it, you're wormfood.
  • In Absolute Beginners, hooligan Ed the Ted sings "The Teddy Bear Picnic" in a menacing tone on his way to a rumble.
  • The use of "Au Claire de la Lune" in The Bad Seed.
  • The opening theme to |Poltergeist.
  • Silent Night Deadly Night, being about an Ax Crazy in a Santa suit with a traumatic childhood, naturally features a few ironic Christmas carols generally heard before, or while, something particularly nasty happens. These are mostly things written specifically for the film rather than real Christmas standards, the most prominently featured being the Paranoia Fuel that is "Santa's Watching":

Santa's watching, Santa's creeping
Now you're nodding, now you're sleeping
Were you good for Mom and Dad?
Santa knows when you've been bad...

  • The German song Mamatschi will forever be remembered by most people as the song that played as children were taken away by Nazis to be killed as their mothers ran after the trucks, screaming. Thanks, Schindler's List!
  • In the opening seconds of The Lost Boys, before the footage starts rolling, a little child's voice can be hears singing the first two lines of "Cry Little Sister". Although this song is also used with full vocal chorus and music at the beginning of the film, and has since been covered by several bands as a Gothic rock anthem, that first soft-voiced a capella rendition sounds eerily like a children's nursery song.
  • Not actually a nursery rhyme, but Marla Singer in Fight Club as she leaves the Paper Street house. "Gotta get off...gotta get off...gotta get off this merry-go-round..."
    • Marla Singer is quoting from "(Theme from) Valley of the Dolls"—not strictly an ironic nursery rhyme but considering what happens to the women of the film, appropriate.
  • Repo! The Genetic Opera has a couple of songs that evoked this feel through clever use of repetition and call-and-response, especially 'Zydrate Anatomy.' As the creator described it, "Gather round kids! We're gonna teach you how to shoot up!"

Grave-Robber:Zydrate comes in a little glass vial.
Shilo: A little glass vial?
Scalpel sluts: A little glass vial!

    • There's also the song where Pavi and Luigi prance around the Opera stage, singing about how Shilo's mother died.
  • The protagonist of Tetsuo 3: The Bullet Man sings "Hush, Little Baby" to himself during various disturbing scenes, to calm himself down. It apparently helps in keeping him from transforming.
  • In The Haunting In Connecticut, the main central tune is Two Dead Boys.

One bright day in the middle of the night 
Two dead boys got up to fight 
Back to back they faced each other 
Drew their swords and shot each other 
A deaf policeman heard the noise 
He came and killed those two dead boys 
One bright day in the middle of the night

  • In Midnight Cowboy, Joe Buck flashes back to scenes of his childhood while riding the Greyhound bus in the middle of the night and staring out the window; the voice of his grandmother singing "Hush, Little Baby" accompanies the scene.
  • In the movie Changeling, a serial killer sings "Silent Night" to make himself feel better immediately before he gets executed by hanging.
  • M starts with children skipping while singing "Just you wait a little while/ Soon the man in black will come/ And with his little chopper/ He will chop you up! - You're out!"]
    • The rhyme itself was a sarcastic subversion of a popular operetta tune by Walther Kollo, with a bunch of violets ("Veilchen") turned into 1920s serial killer Fritz Haarmann's (possibly an inspiration behind the film) weapon of choice, an axe ("Beilchen").
    • For that matter, Lorre's whistling of "Hall Of The Mountain King" counts. Not exactly a nursery song, but still.
  • Hide and Seek: David, after Charlie takes over is searching for his daughter while slowly sing "Hush, Little Baby" in a creepy way. While holding a knife.
    • If you listen through the credits, a little girl starts singing a creepy song- "Who's playing hide and seek? Won't you come play with me? Who's hiding in the dark? Come out, come out, let's play again..." The words aren't much until you hear the tune.
  • Early in The Deaths of Ian Stone, the main character's secondary love interest sings "Cross my heart and hope to die / Stick a needle in your eye" when he makes a promise to her. Much later, she matter-of-factly recites the first line while sticking an actual needle in his eye. 
  • The Tower of Terror movie uses "It's raining, it's pouring," while Buzzy and his niece walk down a deserted hallway.
  • "The itsy, bitsy spider went up the water spout..."
    • Face Palm moment: An electronic Spider-Man toy sings that as well. And it is aimed at toddlers (a case of Misaimed Marketing, perhaps?).
  • In Turbulence, after the serial killer breaks loose and (supposedly) kills everyone on the plane except the flight attendant heroine, he stalks after her while gently singing "Buffalo Sally, won'tcha come out tonight, come out tonight, ..."
  • In the 1993 Disney film Hocus Pocus, the youngest of the three witches, Sarah, sings a magical nursery rhyme to lure young children to the witches' home, where they will be sacrificed to preserve the witches' youth. 

Come, little children, I'll take thee away
Into a land of enchantment.
Come, little children, the time's come to play,
Here in my garden of magic.

    • The song she sings is actually a shortened version of a poem that may or may not have ever had a nursery tune attached to it:

Come little children I'll take thee away
into a land of Enchantment

Come little children the time's come to play
here in my garden of Shadows

Follow sweet children I'll show thee the way 
through all the pain and the Sorrows

Weep not poor children for life is this way
murdering beauty and Passions

Hush now dear children it must be this way
to weary of life and Deceptions

Rest now my children for soon we'll away
into the calm and the Quiet

Come little children I'll take thee away
into a land of Enchantment

Come little children the time's come to play
here in my garden of Shadows

  • In the Disney Channel movie Smart House, as Pat goes crazy and tries to show that she can be a mother to the kids, she starts singing "Hush Little Baby". It gets kinda creepy, especially because as she's doing this, she's summoning a giant hurricane in the house and terrorizing the family.
  • Jaws: Sean Brody makes sand castles and sings "The Muffin Man" immediately before Alex Kintner is delivered to Bruce on a plate -- er, raft...
  • Percival McLeach's version of "Home on the Range." 

Home, home on the range
Where them critters are tied up in chains
I cut through their sides
And tear off their hides
And the next day I do it again!
Everybody!

  • the titular theme song to the 1981 horror flick Happy Birthday to Me. It sounds like it's sung by a 10 year old girl and has plenty of slow creepy music.
  • In the Marx Brothers' Duck Soup, newly installed president Groucho lays down the law in a peppy tune:

I will not stand for anything that's crooked or unfair,
I'm strictly on the up-and-up, so everyone beware!
If anyone's caught taking graft - and I don't get my share,
We stand him up against the wall and Pop Goes the Weasel!

  • Super Size Me uses a variant of this. The opening shows a group of young children repeating several lines of Product Placement as a group chant. This is intended to be off-putting and slightly disturbing.
  • The Haunting (the original): Eleanor hums a wordless tune twice in the film, both times while dancing with Hugh Crain's statue. The effect is creepy.
    • Even the remake has something similar: first while driving to Hill House in her car, then in the garden while she looks at the statues of the woman and children, Eleanor is humming a wordless tune. This same tune is played later on as an Ominous Music Box Tune on a hand-cranked phonograph she finds in the nursery...which only adds to the implication that Hill House is her home.
  • Cat People and The Curse of the Cat People: Irena hums a wordless lullaby that is both soothing and slightly creepy.
  • The Innocents: Flora has a music box which plays the tune O Willow Waly frequently throughout the movie, but it's only at the very beginning that the lyrics are heard (sung by Flora):

We lay my love and I
beneath the weeping willow.
But now alone I lie and weep beside the tree.
Singing O Willow Waly by the tree that weeps with me.
Singing O Willow Waly till my lover returns to me.
We lay my love and I
beneath the weeping willow.
But now alone I lie.
Oh willow I die.
Oh willow I die.

  • In the Alfred Hitchcock movie Sabotage, after Mrs. Verloc's little brother Stevie is killed by a bomb planted by her husband, she wanders into the movie theater she and her husband run. A cartoon version of Who Killed Cock Robin? is playing, complete with song. 
  • In The Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy and her friends are cornered by the royal guards of the castle:

Wicked Witch of the West: Ring around the roses, a pocket-full of spears!

  • During the closing credits of the 2011 horror-short "Hellion", a babysitter who is turning into a zombie sings (to an already zombified small boy she is tending) altered lyrics to the tune of "Brahms' Lullaby." The altered lyrics "Lullaby, sweet baby mine / Soon we'll rise and soon we'll dine") lovingly promise the zombie child that, if he goes to sleep, he will awaken to a meal of his favorite foods: "Newborn cheeks and infant lips, /Toddler toes and fingertips, / Now you're of the living dead, / Go to sleep and rest your head."
  • The Fritz Lang movie M opens with children singing a nursery rhyme about the Serial Killer who's stalking the city.

Two, four, six, eight
The nasty man in black will come
With his little chopper
He's going to chop you up.


Literature[edit | hide]

  • The climax of the Discworld novel Thud! features a variant on this. Sam Vimes is lost in a cave, addled with pain, despair, and rage, and fighting off a pack of dwarfs not to mention possession by the Summoning Dark, a diabolical "entity of pure vengeance" brought about by a dwarf curse, when out of pure force of habit he starts to shout the words to his infant son's favorite book, "Where's My Cow?" (since it's six o'clock, and he always reads "Where's My Cow?" to Young Sam at six o'clock). Understandably, the dwarfs aren't sure at first how to react to the threat of a man with an axe and a sword shouting things like "It goes 'baa!' It is a sheep! That! Is!! Not!!! My!!!! COW!!!!!"
  • Agatha Christie's novel And Then There Were None features a rhyme about Indian boys being killed one by one, which many of the characters recognized from their nursery days. Said characters are killed in the same manner as the Indians in the song. There are even Indian dolls in the living room that disappear as the characters are bumped off.
    • This is an arguably benign and harmless bowdlerisation of the original. Both rhyme and book were originally entitled "Ten little Niggers", one paperback actually featured a hanged golliwog (a kind of Gonk doll based on a blackface minstrel figure) on the cover. It was later further bowdlerized as "Ten Little Soldier Boys". Acceptable Targets keep moving...
    • Christie uses a lot of titles like this: Hickory Dickory Death, A Pocket Full of Rye, Five Little Pigs, One, Two, Buckle my Shoe, and Three Blind Mice (the story on which the play The Mousetrap is based). There's even a Lampshade Hanging in one book where Poirot chides himself for thinking about nursery rhymes so much. The Mousetrap also has a lampshade hanging, where one character likes to recite the creepy nursery rhyme of the title and another, noting the lyrics, wonders why children like to say such horrible things.
  • S.S. Van Dine outdid Christie in his novel The Bishop Murder Case, which features a series of murders each related to a different nursery rhyme. For example, the first victim is a guy nicknamed "Cock Robin", who gets shot with an arrow.
  • In Stephen King's novel Insomnia, the Big Bad, (who is essentially one of the three Fates, normally invisible "little bald doctors", who are Death) repeatedly sings a skipping song, while skipping with a skipping rope that he stole:

Three, six, nine
The goose drank wine...

  • Midway through the Star Wars Expanded Universe New Jedi Order series, Mara Jade (former assassin for the Emperor) is told that she can probably be creepy even singing a nursery rhyme. She's amused, says that's easy, and sings the following fragment in a minor key: "Sleep, child, the night is mild, and slumber smiles upon you," making it sound as if "Slumber" is a grinning monster. Not only is it appropriate to the character, shortly thereafter a dark Jedi named "Lord Nyax" after a monster in a children's story appears.
  • "Who Killed Cock Robin?" is also used this way in the last Wyrd Museum book.
  • In Rebel Angels, the second book of Libba Bray's Gemma Doyle trilogy, Nell, a Bedlam patient, sings the old nursery tune Jack and Jill in a creepy manner every time we see her. Also, when the Bedlam patients have a little performance in front of their benefactors, she makes up a creepy little song about various vaguely ridiculous-sounding evils and how to defend them. Everyone thinks it's funny, but it later turns out it was a message for the heroines because every thing she said was true...
  • In Tim Lott's Fearless, the Whistler, X-17, never speaks, she only whistles nursery rhymes. Quite creepy.
  • In the YA novel The Children of Green Knowe, there's a fictional kids' song about a tree that's possessed by an evil spirit:

Green Noah, demon tree
Evil fingers can't catch me...

Ba ba Barak, come see thee tarry!
Slow not, wait not come and harry.
Ba ba Barak come and sup,
And eat the world and sky right up!

  • Nursery rhymes play a role several times in Barry Hughart's Bridge of Birds and sequels. The rhymes themselves tend to be quite harmless-sounding until you realize what they actually mean. As Kao Li points out, most real children's rhymes don't directly speak of the topic they're about, so if there's a nursery rhyme that actually talks about fighting and death and the apocalypse, it was probably made up by adults; whereas if it talks about goats and grass and wall-jumping, it's probably about virgins getting murdered by evil dictators or something similar.
    • In Bridge of Birds, the children's rhyme and the game that went with it was part of a generations-spanning Gambit Roulette, where the players knew that all the documentation of what the Big Bad did to become the Big Bad would be purged, and eventually fade from living memory. However, oral tradition is not so easily lost, so they coded the whole story and the means to bring down the Big Bad into the children's game.
  • Robert Cormier's I Am the Cheese uses "The Farmer in the Dell". The song's last stanzas has a rat taking the cheese, and then the cheese stands alone. As one might guess from the title of the book, the cheese refers to the protagonist.
  • Like Agatha Christie, James Patterson's "Alex Cross" serial-killer mysteries used or adapted lines from nursery rhymes as the titles (omtting the few that bucked the trend):

Along Came a Spider
Kiss the Girls
Jack & Jill
Pop Goes the Weasel
Roses are Red
Violets Are Blue
Four Blind Mice
The Big Bad Wolf
London Bridges
Mary, Mary

  • An early villain in Abarat has realized the power of this trope, and sings tunes like these whenever he really wants to scare someone. They're not songs from our world, however, but openly sinister tunes apparently devised by Card Carrying Villains for Enfant Terribles. "Forget the future, forget the past. Your life is over. Breathe your last." 
  • The Teenage Worrier 's Panick Diary mentioned that part of Letty's movie about war was a montage of child soldiers which she planned to set to a creepy distorted nursery rhyme soundtrack, but couldn't choose between "Humpty Dumpty" or "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star"
  • The Underland Chronicles features a nursery rhyme that turns out to be a prophecy detailing the Holocaust-esque genocide of a group of innocent mice.
    • Also, the nursery rhyme features the line, "Some will slice and some will pour." This sounds like an innocent tea party, but turns out to be a description of the medieval-style warfare used in the Underland. "Slicing" refers to the use of swords, and "pouring" refers to the pouring of boiling oil over the walls of a fortress or castle to stop a siege.
  • The first few lines of the last stanza of T. S. Eliot's The Hollow Men:

Here we go round the prickly pear
Prickly pear prickly pear
Here we go round the prickly pear
At five o’clock in the morning.

  • The nursery rhyme takes on a different sort of irony than the classical version of this trope in Stardust. The hairy little man Tristran Thorn meets asks if he knows how to get to Babylon, seemingly offhandedly, and Tristran recites a nursery rhyme about it. The little man, being a native of Faerie, where knowledge can be just as viable a form of payment as anything tangible, is flabbergasted that they would throw away such valuable information as a means of entertaining children.
  • Swan Song: "Here we go 'round the mulberry bush, the mulberry bush, the mulberry bush..."
  • More Information Than You Require parodies the legends about "Ring-Around-the-Rosie" by providing a series of nursery rhymes that are unsubtly describing horrific events, such as "Ring-Around-the-Rosie" verses that are about the Bubonic Plague and other rhymes about the 1918 influenza epidemic, the Jonestown mass suicide (referencing the Kool-Aid Man), and the Teapot Dome Scandal (though the historical Teapot Dome Scandal didn't involve an undead President Harding devouring children's bones).
  • In the Austrian novel (and Film of the Book) Schlafes Bruder by Robert Schneider, the protagonist's friend Peter says one when he burns down his father's house on Christmas, and subsequently half of the village because the fire spreads.

Peter: "Eins, zwei drei, vier, fünf, sechs, sieben, (one, two, three, four, five, six, seven,)
in der Schule wird geschrieben (in the school, they're writing)
in der Schule wird gelacht (in the school, they're laughing)
bis der Lehrer bitsch-batsch macht!" (till the teacher will slip-slap them!)


Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Oz: Beecher's Madness Mantra in Season 2 was an especially creepy version of this, considering that he had gone insane by that time.
  • The first Sapphire and Steel storyline had the malevolent Time using a nursery rhyme from a child's storybook to enter this universe. As does the fourth serial.
    • And in the third serial, the Leitmotif for the changeling is a creepified version of the lullaby his mother sang him when he was a baby.
    • And, though not technically a nursery rhyme, the second serial uses the usually upbeat "Pack up your Troubles in your Old Kit Bag" to much the same effect, with a vengeful soldier's ghost whistling it constantly.
    • Conversely, however, both the first and second serials use rhymes in a deliberately upbeat way. In the first, "What shall we do with the Drunken Sailor?" is used to keep in contact with a boy who's been sent back in time, and in the second, the aforementioned "Pack up your Troubles..." is sung cheerfully to lure the ghost out.
  • The Sopranos in Season 1 had Chris being abducted and mock executed by Russians while Meadow sang "All Through The Night" in the school choir
  • MST3K parodied this trope with the movie/episode Squirm, which has a child singing a lullaby over the opening credits. Servo chimes in and starts substituting the lullaby lyrics with the words "Evil little kid music...."
  • Are You Afraid of the Dark? used this a few times, I think.
  • The Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Hush" opens with a rhyme describing the Monster of the Week.

Can't even shout, can't even cry
The Gentlemen are coming by
Looking in windows, knocking on doors
They need to take seven, and they might take yours
Can't call to Mom, can't say a word
You're gonna die screaming, but you won't be heard.

    • Another Buffyverse example- when Drusilla is torturing Angel in the episode "What's My Line: Part 2" she sings "Run and catch, run and catch; the lamb is trapped in the blackberry patch". Dru did this in multiple episodes...
    • Subverted in a later episode, "All the Way", in which an old man who hums "Pop Goes the Weasel" in a creepy fashion while seemingly suggesting he's going to do something horrible for Halloween. But we never find out exactly what it was, due to him getting killed by vampires.
  • The seventh season finale of CSI includes a serial killer reciting a silly rhyme in a definitively scary manner.
  • Happens as well in the eighth season finale of CSI: Miami: ring around the rosie; a pocket full of posies... Ashes, ashes, we all fall DOWN.
  • Storm of the Century has "I'm a little teapot..."
    • Its memorable "Born in sin, come on in/Born in lust, turn to dust/Born in vice, say it twice..." doesn't really count, though—they're rhymes, but clearly not of the nursery variant.
    • This also appears in Rose Red. Stephen King certainly seems to love this rhyme.
  • Subverted in the Doctor Who episode "The Empty Child," where a girl uses "Rock-a-Bye-Baby" to actually put a Creepy Child to sleep. 
    • Other examples from this series include the use of "There's a Doctor at the gate" to represent a Creepy Child in "Remembrance of the Daleks", and a soon-to-be-Creepy Child in "Human Nature".
    • Used once again in the Season 6 episode Night Terrors where a child is plagued by all his nightmares, including freakish dolls. A creepy tune serves as the soundtrack for much of the episode, and the last lines of the episode are freakish children singing this;

Tick-tock, goes the clock, 
we laughed at fate and mourned her,
Tick-tock, goes the clock, 
even for the Doctor...

    • The same nursery rhyme is reprised in Closing Time, but with new verses:

Tick tock goes the clock
And all the years they fly
Tick tock and all too soon
 Your love will surely die
Tick tock goes the clock
He cradled and he rocked her
Tick tock goes the clock
 'Till River kills the Doctor...

    • It's also reprised again in the prequel for The Wedding of River Song:

Doctor, brave and good, he turned away from violence
When he understood the falling of the Silence.

    • And yet again in the episode itself.

Tick tock goes the clock
He gave all he could give her
Tick tock goes the clock
 Now prison waits for River.

    • There's also the unidentified Creepy Child from "The Beast Below." "A horse and a man, above, below/One has a plan, but both must go/Mile after mile, above, beneath/One has a smile, and one has teeth/Though the man above might say 'hello'/Expect no love from the beast below."
    • There's also one at the end of the episode: In bed above, we're deep asleep/while greater love lies further deep/This dream must end, this world must know/We all depend on the beast below
    • A mid-Gallifreyan nursery rhyme from the Expanded Universe Virgin New Adventures novel Cat's Cradle: Time's Crucible

"Isn't it dark? Isn't it cold? Seek out the future before you get old. Once there were children. This is their doom. Now all the people are born from the loom."

    • That creepy Zagreus rhyme in the audio adventures (Eighth Doctor). Turns into "extremely scary" when Zagreus possesses the Doctor. "Zagreus sits inside your head/Zagreus lives among the dead/Zagreus sees you in your bed/And eats you when you're sleeping." Sleep tight, Time Lord kids!
    • The God Complex uses a real-life nursery rhyme ("Oranges and Lemons") which goes like this: "Here comes a candle to light you to bed. Here comes a chopper to chop off your head. Chop. Chop. Chop. Chop." ...The last—man -- dead.
  • It doesn't appear in the actual series, but the ads for Torchwood: Children of Earth used the melody of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star".
  • The Angel season 4 episode "Soulless" has Angelus sitting in a cage creepily singing "Teddy Bear's Picnic" to himself.
    • The episode "Lullaby" prominently features Holtz singing "All Through the Night" creepily to himself. This is because he sang it to his daughter, who Angelus and Darla turned into a vampire.
  • Jekyll uses "Boys and Girls, Come Out to Play" as a leitmotif for Hyde.
  • In a second season episode of Alias Olivia D'Abo is forced to sing "Pop Goes The Weasel". As she gets to the "pop", she's blown to smithereens by the explosive vest she's wearing.
  • In a fifth season episode of Rebus, a man has had his wife and two children killed when his house was firebombed and has been reciting nursery rhymes on occasion since then. After shooting the two dirty cops responsible (killing one and causing the other serious brain damage), he recites "Pop Goes The Weasel" and then eats a bullet.
  • WWE wrestler The Boogeyman speaks almost exclusively in Ironic Nursery Tunes.
  • A skit on Late Night with Conan O'Brien involves Conan pulling out a guitar and playing a soothing nursery tune, while scenes of horrific natural disasters show on the screen and Conan sings about horrible things. (after the Michael Jackson trial: "Watch out, kiddies, Jacko's free!")
  • In The Wire, Omar Little is fond of whistling "The Farmer's In His Den" when he robs drug dealers.
    • In the US, this is known as "The Farmer in the Dell."
  • Life On Mars includes nursery rhymes spoken by the Test Card F girl.
  • There was a Howie Mandel skit where Little Bobby's mother was singing him to sleep with the Mockingbird Song, over Little Bobby's panic-stricken pleas to please stop.
  • In Firefly, the first episode (well, chronologically, anyway) has River rocking back and forth repeating, "Two by two, hands of blue." We don't find out until several episodes later what it means. Not a traditional nursery rhyme, but it definitely counts.
  • The X-Files
    • Used the haunted mansion variation with "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" in the episode "How the Ghosts Stole Christmas". While adding a very creepy/ironic air, the song was also strangely appropriate for a tongue-in-cheek episode revolving around holiday-inspired murder-suicide.
    • Also, in the episode "Chinga," the evil doll kills to the tune of the Hokey Pokey.
  • The Friday the 13 th parodying episode of Psych uses the theme song of the fictional Camp Tikihama when it goes under the lake to reveal Shawn's Rick Astley pinata.
  • Tenaya7, The Dragon most commonly used in Power Rangers RPM, has a habit of whistling The Farmer In The Dell when she wants to be extra creepy.
  • In Carnivale, the Billie Holiday song "Love Me Or Leave Me" is heard in the background on occasion, usually when something freaky is going on.
  • An episode of Lost has Sayid and Shannon trying to translate maps that they've found from the French woman. Shannon recognizes the lyrics as a song she heard while in France, and starts singing a French translation of Bobby Darin's "Beyond The Sea". It's pretty creepy considering where they are, contrasting with the jovial tune of the song.
    • Beyond the Sea was * originally* written in French, so no, not a translation but the original. 
    • That would explain why she referred to it as a French song, then. Viewers only familiar with the American version of the song might have been confused by this.
    • In an episode during the final season, this trope was used once again. This time, we hear an imprisoned and psychotic Claire singing "Catch a falling star." And if you thought the snippets you heard the first time were creepy, boy, were you in for a surprise. After the smoke monster massacres those in the temple who chose not to follow it as Locke, we hear the full version of Claire singing it. While we see bodies of those slaughtered and Sayid and Claire bearing satisfied smirks.
  • In one episode of Cold Case, the killer repetitively listened to John Denver's Sunshine on My Shoulders.
  • In the Brigadoom episode of Lexx, the main musical motif for Kai and the eventual destruction of the Brunnen-g (The time prophet, It will be a good way to die) is a note-for-note rendition of an Armenian lullaby, Babuska Bay-oh (Sleep my little one)
  • Battlestar Galactica Reimagined: "Taking a Break From All Your Worries" opens with Baltar and Virtual Six singing a variation of the tune from the page quote.
  • Currently on Singapore TV, the Chinese series Together is a hard-hitting historical drama focusing on the difficult times of the post-WWII period. The Chinese-language title, though, is actually the name of the Chinese version of "The More We Get Together", and the theme song samples this tune for its opening bars.
  • Ashes to Ashes: In the sixth episode of season three, resident Big Bad Jim Keats whistles the West Ham fight song, "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles". It gets sinister when he whistles it while slowly approaching a dying Viv James, refusing to call for help or comfort Viv.
  • Parodied by Colin Mochrie here.
  • FlashForward has an episode that opens with US version of "Ring-a-Ring-of-Roses" sung/whispered by a group of children, it's amazingly creepy.
  • Criminal Minds
    • The UnSub from "Hanley Waters" likes to sing "This Little Light of Mine" as that's what she and her child were singing in the car when he died.
    • In the season seven finale, the UnSub sang "Ring Around the Rosey" in a creepy voice to a young child. A crayon was also used to acted out the song, with the spinning in circles and carefully laying down the crayon made it that much creepier, never mind that the child was JJ's son, Henry and that the UnSub was inside JJ and Will's home at the time as well and that poor Henry didn't know that the UnSub was a bad guy.
  • Not exactly a nursery tune, but definitely ironic, in the first episode of American Gothic Sheriff Buck whistles the theme tune to the Andy Griffith show.
  • In the NCIS episode "Chimera," Team Gibbs is investigating a seemingly abandoned and downright eerie ship where some unknown black op mission was being conducted. Tony, who had earlier been bantering with Ziva about the difference between a black ship and a black sheep, quietly sings a revised "Baa Baa Black Sheep" as he searches one of the rooms. It loses its creepiness when he rapidly shoehorns a line about not having the security clearance to even know what they're looking for into the song.

Tony: Baa, baa, black sheep, have you any wool? Yes sir, yes sir... but if you want to see it you'll need top secret government clearance.

  •  The Babylon 5 episode Ceremonies of Light and Dark, The Dragon of the episode, after explaining in detail how he spent seven days killing a prisoner, proceeds to go into a flat rendition of Dem Bones.
  • General Hospital. Laura Spencer sings "Brahm's Lullaby" to her baby girl as mobsters take their revenge on her husband and his business partner. We get scenes of said partner's errand boy and his girlfriend huddling behind a car to avoid the gunfire, said partner's girlfriend diving to the floor of her shower as the hitmen spray the bathroom with bullets, and finally, the Spencer house being pelted—all with Laura's soothing voice playing over everything.


Music[edit | hide]

  • Counting Crows use this a few times, first in the song A Murder Of One with the "one for sorrow, two for joy" rhyme used in a song about an abusive partner, and then later in I'm Not Sleeping we get "I said rain rain go away\ Come again some other day,\ Cause I got all this shit to say\ But I've gone back to find my way", which is very powerful in context.
  • In the third movement of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 1, Mahler represents the funeral of a huntsman by a creepy minor-key version of "Frère Jacques," starting in the double basses and then expanding to the entire orchestra. You know what that means.
  • Lordi's "Blood Red Sandman" uses the off-key music box and an eerie nursery rhyme couplet to add to the theme of the song's subject/singer as a sort of bogeyman.
  • Evanescence's song "Lose Control" has this: "Mary had a lamb, his eyes black as coals. If we play very quiet, my lamb, Mary never has to know."
  • Siouxsie and the Banshees' 'Mother' on their 1979 'Join Hands' album. The eerily decelerating music box plays 'Oh Mein Papa' while the dual lyric details a love/hate relationship with the narrator's mother.
  • Alice Cooper's "Wind-Up Toy" uses the broken music box by itself to introduce the song's themes of childishness and madness/horror.
  • The use of "Camptown Races" in Squirrel Nut Zippers's "Ghost of Stephen Foster" seems intended solely to evoke this.
  • "Out Comes The Evil" by Lords of Acid starts off by repeating the chorus of "Pop Goes the Weasel" twice. As the music slowly ramps up, the verse becomes a bit more... adult ("Half a pound of heroin/half a pound of treacle/that's the way the story goes/out comes the evil") and the song goes into full industrial techno mode. 
  • Singer/guitarist/songwriter Morten Veland (ex-Tristania, Sirenia) seems fond of using these and Ominous Latin Chanting together.
  • Jonathon Coulton's aptly-named song "Creepy Doll" uses this in its verses. 
  • The song "Mr Ouija" by the rap group Bone Thugs-N-Harmony has the group chanting a nursery rhyme like tune asking the Ouija board to tell them their future, and asking it will they die of murder, a bloody murder. All the while distorted demonic vocal are heard in the background. 
  • Nox Arcana is fond of this trope:
    • The band's debut album, Darklore Manor, contains a track entitled "Nursery Rhyme," in which a little girl recites a version of the archetypal bedtime prayer (cited below) but changes it to address the Sandman. Close listening reveals an accompanying grown woman's voice in the background.
    • The aforementioned track is followed by one entitled "Music Box," in which the same little girl sings meaningless syllables over the melody.
    • Carnival of Lost Souls includes the self-explanatory "Calliope," "Haunted Carousel," "Living Dolls," and "Pandora's Music Box." "Spellbound" is made to sound as though it is an old love song played on a phonograph, though its much longer reprise at the album's end is done in the style of heavy metal.
    • Shadow of the Raven's "Annabel Lee" is played on a music box, though the result is more melancholy than scary.
      • Given the album's source of inspiration, and the song's namesake in particular, that's probably done quite purposely. And for the record, reading the poem to the song is surrealistic, almost scary.
    • Grimm Tales [dead link] makes use of this trope throughout. Strangely, there seems to be an unusual focus on dramatic orchestrations rather than music-box sounds.
  • Metallica's "Enter Sandman" makes verbatim use of a common rhyme-ish prayer in the middle:

Now I lay me down to sleep
Pray the lord my soul to keep
If I die before I wake
Pray the lord my soul to take

    • It does so in a distinctly creepy way. Listen to the song. Directly after comes another rhymish segment, this one original and more overtly sinister:

Hush, little baby, don't say a word
And never mind that noise you heard
It's just the beast under your bed
In your closet, in your head

      • The prayer can take on a distinctly creepy tone all by itself if you think about it the wrong way-in the Discworld novel Hogfather Susan notes that it was taught to Twyla and Gawain by their previous governess and the impression she got was that it carried the rider that the second half was the preferred result. At the time it was played for laughs, but now think about a child saying it with the same intent.
    • Enter Sandman was inspired by and actually samples Robert Schumann's Der Sandmann (itself from the German short story) which is just as creepy.
  • Tom Waits' song "Midnight Lullaby" makes liberal, and ironic, use of "Song of Sixpence", but not to creepy effect. Just ironic as in "I'm lonely and impoverished." He uses this trope to more standardly nightmarish effect in "Everything You Can Think Of Is True" and "Misery Is the River of the World."
  • Pink Martini's cover of "Que Sera, Sera", reportedly inspired by the Hitchcock classic The Man Who Knew Too Much, starts off very slowly with a waltzing chime reminiscent of the circus in the background. Combine with China Forbes singing softly about how the future is not ours to see, and it becomes like a chilling little music box that you wish someone would close, except that it's so enchanting...
  • Martika's song "Toy Soldiers" has this as its chorus.

Step by step, heart to heart
Left right left, we all fall down
Like toy soldiers
Beat by beat, torn apart
We never win, but the battle wages on
For toy soldiers...

    • And Eminem's partial cover/sampling of the same title uses the chorus to surprisingly effective melancholy effect.
      • "Mockingbird", from the same CD as "Toy Soldiers", was Eminem's own particularly twisted take on "Hush Little Baby".
  • Rammstein has the song Spieluhr ("Music Box"), which is about a child who gets buried alive. The chorus includes Richard Kruspe's daughter singing a ghastly variant of the German nursery rhyme "Hoppe, hoppe Reiter" (which is in parts somewhat creepy even in its normal form) through a vocoder.
    • Let's not forget Hilf Mir, and its original inspiration : "Die gar traurige Geschichte mit dem Feuerzeug". Refined scariness, and in a child's story book too...
  • Mylene Farmer has the song Chloe, which is performed in a light, sing-song-y voice like a child reciting a rhyme. The background music is creepy enough on its own, and the "la-la"s in the chorus don't help at all. Then you actually start paying attention to the lyrics instead of the overall tone and realize it's about a girl hitting her head and drowning in a stream.
  • To quote The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster's song "Puppy Dog Snails"...

What do we do with a puppy dog's tail?
What do we do with a bucket of snails?
What do we do with a boy like you?
We put them in a pot and we throw them on the fire!

  • Tom Lehrer's "MLF Lullaby" and "The Old Dope Peddler".
  • Mika's Toy Boy
  • The Genesis song The Musical Box is a ghost story about a dead child whose ghost is summoned by his musical box. About halfway through, it quotes Old King Cole. The album is called Nursery Cryme
    • Don't forget the nursery-rhyme bit at the end of the "Guaranteed Eternal Sanctuary Man" segment of "Supper's Ready."
  • Korn's Shoots And Ladders is a whole song about nursery rhymes, mentioning how many of them are not quite so innocent as they seem. And then goes into full-on creepy, weaving several rhymes into a rant.

Nursery rhymes are said
Verses in my head
Into our childhood they're spoonfed
Hidden violence revealed
Darkness that seems real
Look at the pages that cause all this evil

  • The live version of the instrumental Rush song "La Villa Strangiato" from the album "Exit... Stage Left" featured Geddy Lee singing the lyrics to a Yiddish children's song during a very odd sounding guitar solo.
  • The majority of Rose Berlin's song "Coraline" is creepy, which is fitting when you consider the book it's based on. Then there's

"We are small, but we are many
We are many, we are small
But we were here before you were
So we will be here when you fall."

    • For added creep factor, this part is actually from the book. It's one of the various eerie little rhymes that the rats in the Other Mother's world chant, as are the other "in betweens" in the song. 
  • Naturally, the Dresden Dolls and/or Amanda Palmer love this trope, or variations thereupon. In the album No, Virginia a song includes this verse "

Counting sheep
I lay me down to sleep
But I see
A sheep that will not leave
From the back
They catch him in a trap
Hit his head
and send him off to bed.

    • And who could forget "Missed Me"? It's a song about a young woman/little girl who badgers and badgers an older man for a kiss, and gets him thrown into prison for it... which starts out, "Missed me, missed me, now you've gotta kiss me" and continues in that style.
  • And how about Emilie Autumn's "Miss Lucy Had Some Leeches"?
  • "Creep Show," by Kerli. Before the last chorus, she sings an Estonian children's song in a whispery voice.
  • Emilie Simon's "Ice Girl" uses a music box-like sound to both invoke the sound of ice and a creepy fairytale sound.
  • Experimental Industrial and Neofolk groups adore this trope. See Current 93's "All the Pretty Little Horses" and Death in June's "Rocking Horse Night."
    • Current 93 also did "Hey Ho the Noddy Oh", a thoroughly disturbing little song putting Rape as Drama to a tune reminiscent of "The Farmer in the Dell".
  • "Augen Auf" by the band Oomph takes phrases from the German version of "Hide-and-seek". "Augen Auf, Ich komme" can be translated as "Ready or not, here I come!"
  • From the intro of "Eat The Children" by Otep:

Hush little baby, don't make a sound
Hush little baby, don't make a move
This is going to hurt me more than you

  • Marilyn Manson's "Cryptorchid" is made up almost entirely of these.

Each time I make my mother cry an angel dies and falls from Heaven...

  • The Boondox's song 'Seven', about a serial killer, has the chorus run as such:

A tisket, a tasket
The Scarecrow's out his casket
Turn out the light and lock the doors
Praying that he passes.

  • Heather Dale's song "Mordred's Lullaby." Morgause is crooning to her infant son about how she's going to shape his very soul to utterly loathe his father, all so he can die enacting her vengeance against him. Talk about your Evil Matriarchs...
  • Regina Spektor's "Mockingbird"

Hush little baby, here comes the Sandman
Papa's going to buy you a medical plan.
And if that medical plan don't cover your ass,
Papa's going to buy you a pregnancy test.
And if that pregnancy test comes out positive,
Then, girl, I don't know how the hell we're going to live.
Maybe on your bright ideas.

  • Dream Theater have a song called Lie which plays with this trope.

Mother Mary, quite contrary
Kissed the boys and made them wary,
Things are getting just a little bit scary
It's a wonder I can still breathe

  • George Clinton likes to take nursery rhymes and turn them into drug references, and it's all Played for Laughs instead of scary. For instance, Funkadelic's "Let's Take it to the Stage" offers us this warped take:

Little Miss Muffet sat on her tuffet snorting some THC
Along came a spider, slid down beside her
Said, "What's in the bag, bitch?"

    • And Parliament's "Sir Nose D'Voidoffunk" has:

Baa baa black sheep, have you any wool?
Yes sir, yes sir, a nickel-bag full (that's drug slang for... something)

  • "Dirty Nursery Rhymes" by 2 Live Crew.
  • The Genitorturers end the song "Lecher Bitch" on a creepy version of Ring Around the Rosie.
  • When The Stars Begin To Fall by Tomahawk goes from creepy crooning to disjointed yelping to... whispering One For Sorrow?
  • Queen's Seven Seas of Rhye is a surreal, apocalyptic A God Am I rant by Freddie Mercury including such lyrics as "I'll defy the laws of nature and come out alive/and then I'll get you." It ends by fading into a sample of the old music-hall tune "I Do Like To Be Beside the Seaside".
  • Nightwish's "Dead Boy's Poem" is made creepy not so much for the fact that this little boy is talking so calmly about suicide and being forgotten but because he's begging to be forgotten so that he doesn't have to feel the pain of his broken heart anymore.
  • Rob Zombie, on the first Hellbilly Deluxe album, begins with a track called "Call of the Zombie" that certainly fits this trope.

And out of the Darkness the Zombie did call,
True pain and suffering he brought to them all,
Away went the children to hide in their beds,
For fear that the devil would chop off their heads.

  • Kevin MacLeod made this version of "Pop Goes the Weasel" that gets creepier with each verse. Good luck watching a toddler play with a jack-in-the-box without fear ever again.
    • By the way that is royalty free.
  •  Abendlied by the German band Subway To Sally. It starts with the refrain played by a music box and seems at first like a nice lullaby, but it becomes clearer and clearer that the song is actually about a father molesting his daughter.
    • Also one of their older songs "Julia und die Räuber" starts with a little girl cheerfully singing "Blut, Blut - Räuber saufen Blut! Raub und Mord und Überfall ist gut! Hoch vom Galgen klingt es, hoch vom Galgen klingt es: Raub und Mord und Überfall ist gut! ("Blood, blood - Robbers drink blood! Robbery and Murder and Mugging is fine! [The song] resounds from the gallows, [the song] resounds from the gallows! Robbery and murder and mugging is fine!") 
      • Those are also alternate lyrics to a common canon ("Hey Ho! Spann den Wagen an.")
  • German punk rock band Die Ärzte has a song called "Schlaflied" ("Lullaby"). Starting in the style of a typical lullaby, the first verse is very innocently telling the child to go to sleep. The second verse mentions the monster in the closet. The remainder of the song goes on in graphic detail about how that monster will kill and eat the child. The song is also a Bolero, as distorted guitars and creepy sound effects are added to the initial music box theme. The last verse goes back to the original instruments and tells the child to fall asleep quickly, or else the monster can't come in.


Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

"It doesn't think. It doesn't feel.
It doesn't laugh or cry.
All it does from dusk till dawn

Is make the soldiers die."
—Onean children's rhyme
  • One Pathfinder Adeventure path, The Haunting of Harrowstone[1] has a skipping song listing the murderers who burned to death in the Harrowstone Prison fire and now haunt the ruin.
    • Pathfinder seems rather fond of these actually. There are three in the Rise of the Runelords Adventure path as well. One about a murderous scarecrow that each children. the second is about about a monster called an "Attic Whisperer" an undead creature that preys on children and their families, created when a neglected child dies and made up of the dead kid's spirit animating abandoned toys. And finally the last one is sung by Goblins about how they want to eat you. It's surprisingly catchy.


Theatre[edit | hide]

  • In the musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Tobias chants "Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker's man" in an eerie voice as he picks up Sweeney's razor and slits Sweeney's throat.
    • And let's not forget Mrs. Lovett singing "Nothing's gonna hurt you" while hunting Tobias through the sewers in the film version.
    • Many of the songs from Sweeney Todd are disturbingly dissonant. Like when Sweeney has a beautiful round of "Pretty Women" with the guy he plans to kill. Or the cheerful song about how great the meat pies are. You know, those meat pies.
    • The film may also contain an inversion: "Johanna", when sung in the movie, is a sweet and romantic song about love overcoming every obstacle. When heard on its own, the lyrics are very creepy.
      • A bit of Values Dissonance there, in that for vegans/vegetarians, it'd be a Subversion with the meat pies song, since even the more... traditional meat pies are disturbing enough.
    • "The Barber and His Wife".
  • In Benjamin Britten's operatic version of The Turn of the Screw, the children are singing "Lavender's Blue," while the adults look on, unmoved by this show of innocence ("It is all a wicked lie"). This is mostly foreshadowing, as the plot hasn't gotten too creepy yet.
  • In the opera Street Scene, two nurses are reading a tabloid feature about the double murder of Mrs. Maurrant and Sankey, and sing about it to calm a crying baby. The second verse of this lullaby contains additional soothing thoughts about adultery and Domestic Abuse:

Your parents are a loving pair;
He smacks her face, she pulls his hair;
Their shrieks and curses fill the air.
She smashes plates, and he tears her clothes;
She lands a left right on his nose,
Until there's blood all over his mug!
Sleep, ladybug;
Sleep sweet and snug;
Sleep my lady bug-bug.

  • Howie Mandell's version of "The Mockingbird Song" in one standup routine takes a horrifying turn for the worse (for the bird, anyway) very early on.
  • And, of course, who could forget And Then There Were None?
  • In theLlondon play of Susan Hill's novel The Woman in Black, whenever Arthur Kipps goes into the mandonded nursery, the musical box wil start playing Brahms Lullaby. Cue audience screaming and hugging of complete strangers.
  • "I Dreamed A Dance" from Next to Normal seems like a tune Diana would sing to her son (augmented by the music box tune in the background from the first item her husband ever gave her when she was pregnant). Yet, of course, said son is deceased, and she is singing of longing to be with him so much that she dreams of him every night. Oh, and this song does come right before he persuades her to attempt suicide to go with him to a "world where we can be free."


Video Games[edit | hide]

  • Epic Mickey features creepy versions of classic Disney songs mixed into the soundtrack: 
  • Alma's music box in First Encounter Assault Recon.
  • One rather memorable scene in Clock Tower 2 (Clock Tower in the US) involved ghostly children singing a creepy nursery rhyme about "Scissorman" and the children he has killed.
  • The Voodoo-themed game Shadow Man contained some genuinely creepy music and sound effects throughout, but none more so than the theme to the area called the "Playrooms". Here, a decidedly on-key music box plays along with the background noises of giggling children, horrified screams, and the bone-chilling sounds of someone being ripped apart with power tools. 
  • One of the Little Sisters you see early on in BioShock (series) can be heard singing a creepy little song to the tune of "Frère Jacques". You'll also hear music from the 1940s playing in the background in certain areas, and it continues playing as you fight off hordes of splicers.
    • Probably the most creepy is when you have to slaughter nearly 20 splicers to the tune of "How Much is that Doggy in the Window?" in the Little Sisters' Orphanage... which is secretly home to a conditioning lab that turns little girls into the ADAM-gathering Little Sisters.
      • It really doesn't help that, seeing as Rapture has, socially speaking, long since fallen apart at the seams, and is starting to do so literally as well, the jukeboxes aren't in working order any longer, so not only are you killing splicers to "How Much Is That Doggy In The Window?" you're actually killing them to "How Much Is That Doggy In Th- Doggy In Th- Doggy In Th-".
      • The orphanage isn't the worst use of that song, not by a long shot. The worst use comes in Fort Frolic, where it's playing when you enter the flooded wine cellar. Why is it the worst? Because you enter the cellar by passing through two rows of plaster statues that are scariness personified all by themselves—and because it's your first clue that those statues might not be all they seem...
    • Splicers are often heard singing "Jesus loves me, this I know..." when they are looking for you.
    • In Bioshock 2 the Little Sisters are sometimes singing to themselves when gathering ADAM. "Who watches over sleeping angels? I do, I do..."
  • Both versions of "Ashley's Theme" from Wario Ware use a music box tune combined with sweet singing from Ashley as an ironic counterpoint to the actual attitude of the character, who is a a sinister, near-emotionless, teenage witch who has tried to turn another character into potion ingredients, and who practices and researches dark magic to do things like turn plants into giant monsters.
    • Averted in Super Smash Bros.. Brawl, where it was arranged as a big band tune. Although Japanese Ashely's singing is still pretty creepy.
    • Ironically, the original Japanese lyrics boil down to "Ashley is awesome. Isn't Ashley awesome? She's a little bored and wants friends, though. But she's awesome."
  • American McGee's Alice. Several tracks utilize toy instruments; the "Pale Realm" level music includes the chorus of an old children's song. ("My Grandfather's Clock", according to The Other Wiki.) As if the demonic children with exposed brains weren't scary enough, right? 
    • That's pretty understandable, as the lyrics are about this clock stopping when the owner dies.
      • Said toy they used for sampling the chorus went back into production recently. Thank goodness they both target separate demographics.
    • In the sequel, one of the orphans that Dr. Bumby cares for can be found standing with her face to a wall as she sings an excerpt from a nursery rhyme called "The Sandman". What makes it creepy is that later on in the game, you discover that Bumby has been brainwashing the orphans and turning them into prostitutes. How that relates to the rhyme? He's also the Big Bad, and he's responsible for the Infernal Train that's destroying Wonderland.

The sandman's coming in his train of stars, with moonbeam windows, and wheels of stars.
So hush you little ones, and have no fear. The man in the moon, he is the engineer.

  • Blood made a frequent use of the music box in its soundtrack.
  • In Trapt, there is a tune known as 'The Man-Eating Music-Box', which is indeed often accompanied by the cracking of bones and the sound of flesh rended, as the titular music-box devours its latest victim. 
  • In Plants vs. Zombies, "Pop Goes The Weasel" plays whenever the creepy Jack-In-The-Box Zombie enters the scene.
    • And the fact that the Jack-In-The-Box is actually a bomb makes it all the more scary.
      • Though, the cute visuals and overall humor tends to make it feel more a Subversion than straight example.
  • One of the puzzles in Silent Hill 2 involves combining three music boxes in the lobby of an empty hotel. Together they produce a haunting, nursery-rhyme-like melody.
    • Also, in 'The Reverse Will' there is a vocal sample of Laura reciting the rhyme 'If I should die before I wake/I pray the Lord my soul to take'. But reversed.
      • Which you can also hear the children at Sharon's old orphanage saying before they go to bed, probably as a Shout-Out to the song.
    • Let's not forget the skipping rhyme about the hanged men.

Here's a lullaby to close you eyes. (Goodbye)
It was always you that I despised.

    • Origins uses the "Oranges and Lemons" rhyme, as mentioned above under 1984. In this case, however, it's not "a chopper" but "The Butcher" who has come to chop off your head. 
  •  The background music for Clock Town's Final Day in The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask is somewhat similar to, if a bit more frantic than, the music that plays during the First Day. Until you turn up the bass, that is, and can hear the creepy, dooming countermelody that is supplementing the happy normal music.
  • One of the bosses in Knuckles Chaotix takes place on a merry-go-round (that's rocketing through the stratosphere), and fittingly, the music sounds like a minor-key variation of something you'd hear at a carnival.
  • Meteos. Planet Jeljel (Magmor in Europe). Concentrated fearsome in an otherwise light-hearted game.
    • Yep, the light-hearted game about preventing planetary annihilation.
  • Thief: Deadly Shadows. The coming of the Big Bad is prophesized in a variety of nursery rhymes.
  • Another classic, from The 7th Guest:

Old man Stauf built a house
And filled it with his toys.
Six guests were invited one night
Their screams the only noise
Blood inside the library,
Blood right up the hall,
Dripping down the attic stairs...
Hey guests, try not to fall?
Nobody came out that night
Not one was ever seen
But old man Stauf is waiting there * evil chuckle*
Crazy, sick, and MEAN!

    • Don't lie. It scared you, too.
    • One scene in the game has a shorter version of the rhyme that has different lyrics, is sung by children, and is played backwards.
  • Dead Space. You won't see "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" in the same way ever again.
    • It appeared first in one of the trailers, along with flashes of gore and mutilated corpses, not to mention the player being mauled by monsters.
    • In the game it most prominently appears in one of the later levels in the waiting room of a train station that has been converted into a chapel, filled with lit candles and the corpses of a mass suicide of Unitologists awaiting their reincarnation. It's eerily silent, except for the voice that keeps forever singing. The creepiest part is you never find the woman who's singing.
    • It can also be heard while riding on an elevator in an earlier level, sounding like it's comming over the radio or the PA. Again, with no explanation.
      • As many things that Isaac sees on the Ishimura are hallucinations, there's a good chance it's the Hive Mind imitating the voice of Nicole in Isaac's head.
    • If you let the game run without pressing start it plays through the beginning bumper, too. The bumper is pretty much like the trailer.
    • There's also the little tune that plays in the baby lab aboard the Ishimura, which is hard to hear at first if you don't turn up the volume.
    • A recent trailer for the sequel gives "Ring Around the Rosie" the same treatment. For the curious, these are the lyrics to the song in the trailer.

Ring around the rosie / Pocket full of posies / Ashes, ashes / We all fall down.
Ring around the rosie / What do you suppose we / Can do to fight the darkness / In which we drown?
Ring around the rosie / This evil thing, it knows me / Lost ghosts surround me / I can't fall down...

  • Random snippets of children's songs among other things play during SHODAN's voice clips in System Shock 2: in this excerpt, one can clearly hear Shirley Temple's "Animal Crackers in My Soup" at 3:51.
  • In Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, according to the Dream Twister's associated quote, the final transmission from Assassin's Redoubt is "Mary Had A Little Lamb". Considering that Assassin's Redoubt belongs to the Spartan Federation (the Proud Warrior Faction Guys) and the Dream Twister boosts psychic attack power, this is likely the product of some very heavy-duty Mind Rape.
  • Tales of Hearts opens with this ditty:

Sleeping princess in the Forest of Thorns
Princess dreaming for a thousand years
Long is her hair of emerald
Like rose crystal are her cheeks
Sleeping princess in the Forest of Thorns
Never awakening from her slumber
Damned by the poisonous thoughts
of the devil with scarlet hair
Within the spines of the Forest of Thorns
Dream forever and ever as the world ends
Someday, the black moon will fall
And the white moon will crumble
Prayers for release wither
Consumed by the monsters that live in dreams
And pearly tears, too, shatter
Wrapped up in thorns, until the day the nightmares come to life...
Until the day the hero stops the nightmares.

    • Of course, at the end of the game when the day is saved, the heroes compose a new, more hopeful version of the fairy tale.
  • Starsiege (mech-combat precursor to the Starsiege: Tribes First-Person Shooter franchise) describes a conflict between humanity and Killer Robots that are Humongous Mecha. The manual and intro cutscene are filled with charming children's songs:

Teddy kicks some dusty
Cybrids are all rusty
Mommy's burning!
Mommy's burning!
All fall down!
Little old Peter
Missing his liter
While Herky plays in the red
Down came the glitches
And burn us in ditches
And we slept after eating our dead.

  • Killer7 does this, with Emir Parkreiner humming Greensleeves/What Child is This? as he murders the Smiths.
  • Mario & Luigi: Partners In Time does this with Christmas music in Hollijolli Village, with a very depressing rendition of typical Christmas music used as Mario and Luigi journey to a village being destroyed by the alien invader shroobs at Christmas.
  • Tales of Vesperia has a melancholy musicbox play during the Player Punch fight of Yuri VS Estelle.
  • In one of the last levels of The Suffering, you witness three mysterious Puritan girls singing "Ring Around The Rosie" while dancing around the ancient site of a witch-burning. Then they giggle insanely and transform into Infernas.
  • Lemmings. We All Fall Down. Nuff said.
  • The third Fatal Frame has this with the "Sleep Priestess" song sung by the four young handmaidens.
  • The trailer for indie horror game The Path, which is a surreal, modern retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, includes a recitation of this rhyme from the end of the original tale:

Little girls, this seems to say,
Never stop along the way.
Never trust a stranger friend,
No one knows how it will end.
As you're pretty, so be wise,
Wolves may lurk in every guise.
Now as then, 'tis simple truth,
Sweetest tongue has sharpest tooth!

  • The theme "Hashizoroe" from Kuon. Hashizoroe is a ceremony in which a child is fed with chopsticks for the first time. It doesn't help that it is sung by a pair of Creepy Twins.

Hashizoroe, hashizoroe 
Through the blinds I see a woman and a wicker basket, 
I hear the sound of a little drum,
Scattered blood colours the carpet red-hot,
Silk thread spins a trail of lies.
A wicker basket tied up with thread, trembling calmly,
Like a happy child before the hashizoroe cermony. 
A terrible ceremony that continues in earnest. 
Hashizoroe

  • Scratches uses it in combination with Ominous Music Box Tune once, and then we have this BGM on a hidden room.
  • The music from Bully has a lot of this.
  • Carn Evil is especially guilty of this. In the Rickety Town level, light-hearted and cheesy Christmas music is played while you're gunning down giant wasps and zombie elves wielding candy canes.
    • Perhaps one of the most disturbing bosses is the giant, mutant baby (and in the unlocked levels, a giant stitched-up teddy bear) in the Freak Show level. While trying to squash and mangle you, a music box version of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star is visibly heard with the baby occasionally humming along with it, making the whole thing pure scariness.
    • There's also the Big Bunyan Ride song: "Come on and ride, Big Bunyan Ride! No place to hide, Big Bunyan Ride! Come on inside, Big Bunyan Ride, We'll ride n' ride, into the night! You'll will scream and cry, And then you'll die! Then you'll die... Then you'll die... Then you'll die!
  • In Animamundi: Dark Alchemist, Georik's little sister has a habit of singing. "Hot Cross Buns" wasn't so bad, it was in fact pretty cute. But "Baa Baa Black Sheep", "Lizzie Borden Took an Axe" and "Solomon Grundy" were creepy. Notably, Georik tells her to stop singing because it was disturbing him. 
  • Resident Evil: Code Veronica: "There was a friendly but naive king, who wed a very nasty queen..."
  • Dragon Age Origins takes you to Haven, a small village that is definitely... off from the moment you arrive, to the point where your party will comment on it. Wandering around leads you to discover a boy, who starts rhyming.

Come, come, bonny Lynne; tell us, tell us where you’ve been
Were you up, were you down
Chasing rabbits ‘round the town
Come, come, bonny Lynne; tell us, tell us where you’ve been
Come, come, bonny Lynne; we’ve a bed to put you in
It is soft, it is warm
It will shelter from the storm
Come, come, bonny Lynne; we’ve a bed to put you in
Dear, dear bonny Lynne sleeps the peaceful crib within
A mossy stone, a finger bone
No one knows but Lynne alone
Dear, dear bonny Lynne sleeps the peaceful crib within\\ 

    • There's two others that play in the orphanage in Denerim. One is a little boy saying One, two, Maric's run through/Three four, the kingdom's at war/Eight nine and now you die! with laughter ending it. The other is a little girl saying Do you hear me Ser Wilhem, Ser Wilhem/I am falling Ser Wilhem, Ser Wilhem, today./I'm a maiden Ser Wilhem. Ser Wilhem/But I'm dying Ser Wilhem, Ser Wilhem. In paaain. 
    • And then there's the VERY CREEPY rhyme that Hespith recites in the Deep Roads.
  • A creepy one is sung by the Aristocrat Club in Rule of Rose at the conclusion of the Sir Peter-chapter: 

Monday's pea was a sight to see
Tuesdays pea almost made it free
Wednesday's pea didn't think to flee
Stray Dog will have his peas

  • After losing her mind in Sengoku Basara 3 and being consumed by darkness, Oichi sings an extremely creepy one that predicts Nobunaga's resurrection:

"Wander freely, wander far, off beneath the Devil's star
In the dark, the girl so bright, got up to see the day by night
Her fear in hand, her fear in heart, her fear did tear her soul apart
The white of flesh, the white of bone, the worms will leave your soul alone
On and on the road does go, down into the depths below
Off you went to call the king, you wish to hear the Devil sing..."

  • The Binding of Isaac uses this trope. If you manage to beat It Lives, a corrupted version of Jesus Loves Me will replace the regular credits theme.
  • The trailer of the upcoming Bethesda game, Dishonored features a very creepy nursery rhyme, "Drunken Whaler", a modified version of the classic song "Drunken Sailor", sung by a childrens' chorus:

What will we do with a drunken whaler
what shall we do with a drunken whaler
what shall we do with a drunken whaler
early in the morning?
Feed him to hungry rats for dinner
feed him to hungry rats for dinner
feed him to hungry rats for dinner
feed him to hungry rats for dinner
early in the morning
Slice his throat with a rusty cleaver
slice his throat with a rusty cleaver
slice his throat with a rusty cleaver
early in the morning


Webcomics[edit | hide]

Web Original[edit | hide]

  • In Kate Modern: Precious Blood, drugged-up serial killer Terrence calls "Little pigs! Little pi-igs!", probably referencing The Shining. He also uses the (already slightly creepy) Breeniverse chant "The Hymn of One is fun!" after describing carrying out a ritualistic murder.
  • Cillian Crowe in Survival of the Fittest singing 'happy birthday' to himself, while not exactly a nursery rhyme, embodies this trope perfectly. That is, if you consider that he was currently thinking about killing the person he was talking to at the time—insisting on showing him his 'present' (a meat cleaver).
  • Mockingbird by FEWDIO Horror. Extremely creepy.
  • Used extensively in the "French invasion of England" chapters of Look to the West. When the French steam fleet sails up the Thames to bombard London, we get interludes of "London's Burning" and, of course, when their rocket ship clears the only barrier before them:

London Bridge is falling down
My fair lady.

"Come to the window
My baby, with me,
And look at the stars
That shine on the sea!"

  • Noah's version of "hush little baby" goes as such:

"Hush little Mokuba, don't say a word,
Noah's going to keep you in the virtual world,
And if your brother tries to moan,
Noah's going to turn him into stone"

Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • In the flashback in Return of the Joker, Batman and Batgirl return to the condemned Arkham Asylum. As they walk through the dilapidated halls, they hear Harley Quinn singing "Hush, Little Baby." And it only gets worse from there.
  • In Daffy Duck's Quackbusters, Daffy finds himself in a parody of The Exorcist, and the possessed Sybil stand-in goes Jekyll & Hyde on a classic: "Mary had a little lamb... BUT I ATE IT!!"
  • The Mad Hatter, based as he is on the Alice in Wonderland character uses these as part of his schtick. In one scene in Batman the Animated Series, he's stalking Bats through a giant maze, taunting him with "Twinkle, Twinkle, little Bat! How I wonder what you're at!"
  • In The Simpsons, when Bart and Lisa believe Ned Flanders has killed Maude, we see him heading up to the attic, where Lisa's hiding, carrying an axe and singing "Mary had a little lamb". Even though the audience knows it must be a Mistaken for Murderer plot (even if they've seen it before, and know exactly what's going on), it's still very creepy.
    • As a toddler, Bart imagined his Evil Clown bed saying "If you should die before you wake...* Evil Laugh* "
    • In another episode Bart calmly strolls through an Abandoned Playground with an Ironic Nursery Tune playing in the background.
    • In one of the very first segments on the Tracy Ullman Show, the kids are each being put to bed with something said that keeps them awake and freaked out - Marge sings "Rock-a-bye Baby" to Maggie, who visualizes herself falling out of a tall tree on a windy day.
  • In Shrek Lord Farquaad taunts the Gingerbread man by holding his missing legs and saying "Run run run as fast as you can, you can't catch me I'm the gingerbread man!".
    • There's also a parody of "It's a Small World" in the Duloc welcome box that combines this with Lyrical Dissonance. It uses the cheery tune and smiling characters, but is actually giving quite a few clues as to how rigid and dystopian Duloc has become.
  • In the Justice League episode "Only A Dream", John Dee torments the heroes by trapping them in nightmares. Batman, being one of those who's managed to not fall asleep, attempts to block Dee's influence out of his brain by constantly humming "Frere Jacques". What makes it creepy is the end of the episode, when a wide-eyed Dee is humming the same song, having been trapped in a catatonic state by a power backfire.
  • Courage the Cowardly Dog. In the episode, "Perfect", a twisted, minor version of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star often is heard when preceding the appearance of the strict and cruel ghostly teacher http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFeEhHfbCl4 who proceeds to mentally dismantle the main character into a nervous wreck over his "imperfection". A few times it's accompanied by the original light and happy version, which makes it worse as it veers into a cracked negative key when something goes wrong. It's even heard in the beginning of the episode.
  • "The cradle will fall, and down...will...come...GWEN!" 
  • In Aeon Flux, when a former anarchist spy is implanted with a behaviour modifying... thing, she takes up a job writing nursery rhymes. Her recitation of one of her compositions, edited with an extreme close up of her face, is incredibly creepy.
  • Go to sleep, go to sleep, go to sleep or I'll choke you.

Real Life[edit | hide]

  • It's often said that "Ring Around the Rosey" is "actually about the Black Plague". The connection is purely apocryphal, but the Urban Legend has risen to such prominence in popular culture that the song is often cited or alluded to as a sinister Ironic Nursery Tune. Heavy metal band Brocas Helm even used this nursery rhyme as the chorus of their song "Black Death".
  • Brazilian nursery rhyme Nana Nenê (Sleep, Little Baby) that goes like this:

Sleep, little baby
So Cuca can catch you
Your father's on the field
Your mother went to work
Oh, Cuca? Is a monster. A baby-eating hag with the head of a caiman. Stand-up comedian Rafinha Bastos has a whole number about that.

  • After Snopes.com put out a "lost" legend that the rhyme Four and Twenty Bluebirds was about piracy I've never been able to look at it the same way again. Fake or not, it's an interesting connotation.
  • According to most scholarly interpretations, the English nursery rhyme 'Oranges and Lemons' is either about sex, or the execution of King Charles I (when all the bells of London rang), or both.
    • It's used for ironic effect in 1984: the Thought Police echo the creepy final lines as they crash in and arrest Winston.
    • For that matter, at least one horror story has made use of the final lines: "Here comes a candle to light you to bed/ Here comes a chopper to chop off your head."
    • The 1960 BBC miniseries An Age of Kings, based on Shakespeare's history plays, has the doomed Princes in the Tower sing it, with the last lines cueing Richard's remark on the fate of Lord Hastings: "Chop off his head! Something we will determine."
    • "Under the spreading chestnut tree... I sold you, you sold me..."
  • "Alouette" is a rather graphic description of the preparation of a bird for supper: it has to be plucked.
    • And they just had to use it in Tom and Jerry. To be exact, The Two Mouseketeers.
    • It was also used in the 1949 Pepe Le Pew cartoon "For Scentimental Reasons" (Pepe was singing part of it while the cat was trying to wash the paint—and possibly his stench—off her). Does not help that the song can also be warped into something sexual.
    • Near the end of Tales of Monkey Island Chapter 4: The Trial and Execution of Guybrush Threepwood, the Marquis De Singe sings a twisted version of the song while getting the Wind Control Device ready for pulverizing Elaine into a fine powder:

De Singe: Alouette, I will live forever, alouette, immortalité... Who will live forever? Moi... Who will conquer nature? Moi... Alouette, I will live forever, alouette, immortalité...

    • One episode of The Alvin Show has Alvin, Simon and Theodore singing it in French. Then this occurs:

Dave:I'm sorry, but I can't understand what you're saying. Can you please sing it in English?
Alvin, Simon and Theodore: Can we sing it in English?
"If you love me, tell me that you love me, if you don't please tell me that you do! Tell me that you love me true, tell me that you really do! Do do do, love me true, aaaah!"

  • Many tunes written by one Hans Baumann. He was a children's book writer eventually, and wrote in that style early on—however, the songs he wrote early on were for the Hitler Youth. Particularly unsettling is this one, which in a children's rhyming style contains the phrase "For today we rule Germany/Tomorrow, the world!"
    • While the linked version translates to "today Germany will hear us" both phrases were in use at the time. Just replace the words in bold with gehört to change the mood from hopeful/uplifting to creepy/sinister.
  • Another German one:

Fly Zeppelin,
Help us in the war,
Fly to England,
England will be destroyed by fire,
Fly Zeppelin.

  • The popular German (not nazi related) nursery rhyme Maikäfer flieg translates to:

Fly may bug, fly
Father is fighting in the war
Mother is in (gun)powder land 
(Gun)powder land burned down
Fly may bug, fly

  • "Rockaby Baby" is about a kid falling out of a tree.
  • Yankee Doodle is a fairly common nursery rhyme in the United States. The song dates back to the Revolutionary War, and in context calls the average American (Yankee Doodle) a backwards hick with no sense of fashion.
    • Already during the war it had been adopted by members of the American army, who sang it with an ironic pride. Now, the irony is largely forgotten, but the later verses are much more obvious in their deprecation of the Americans than the well-known first verse and chorus.
  • The German counting rhyme "Eins, Zwei, Polizei". Conjures up images of the Nazi Gestapo, IMO.
  • "Waltzing Matilda" is actually about a sheep poacher who commits suicide by drowning rather than be executed by hanging, which the title is slang for.
    • While the song is indeed about a sheep poacher committing suicide, that's not what the title is slang for. "Matilda" is what swagmen (basically drifters with no home thanks to the depression) called his bedroll and bundle of personal possessions, so "Waltzing Matilda" was the slang for "Wandering the country carrying my belongings".
      • And suddenly, its use in On the Beach (the 1959 film, at least) is all the more meaningful.
  • The traditional lullaby from the Southern United States, "All The Pretty Horses" (or "Hush-a-bye"), was sung by black slaves during the pre-Civil War period. The line "wee little lamby...cried for her mammy" refers to slaves forcibly separated from their own families in order to serve their owners.
  • Ah, Mary, how does your garden grow?
  • Serial killer, Mary Ann Cotton, killed 20 of her husbands and offspring in County Durham in the 1800s. She had her own nursery tune, sung after her hanging in 1873: 

"Mary Ann Cotton
She's dead and she's rotten
She lies in her bed,
With her eyes wide open
Sing, sing, oh, what can I sing,
Mary Ann Cotton is tied up with string
Where, where? Up in the air
Sellin' black puddings a penny a pair."

  • The Lizzie Borden jump-rope rhyme is similar. It should be noted, however, that Lizzie was acquitted of the double homicide.

"Lizzie Borden took an axe 
And gave her mother forty whacks. 
When she saw what she had done 
She gave her father forty-one."

  • There's a Dutch one that translates into English as:

"There were seven little frogs
in a farmer's pond.
The pond was covered in ice,
the frogs half-dead.
They didn't croak, they didn't croak
out of hunger and sadness.
There were seven little frogs
in a farmer's pond."

  • A bunch of Danish children's songs is about lovely events like crows and rabbits being shot by hunters, fish and crabs being cooked alive and eaten, royality being executed, and a lot of other deaths. 
  • The American folk song "Oh My Darling, Clementine" is about a clumsy girl tripping into a river and drowning. Her miner father then commits suicide in despair. The song is sung from the viewpoint of Clementine's lover, who wishes to join her.
    • Specificly, she dies because her lover can't swim, hence why he's "dreadful sorry."
    • Happy ending though: The guy hooks up with Clementine's little sister in the end.
      • I thought it was the father singing about his daughter, but in the end started kissing his other daughter instead. I guess my mind is twisted.
  • "Goodnight Irene" (as performed by Leadbelly):

I love Irene God knows I do
Love her till the seas run dry
And if Irene turns her back on me,
I’ll take morphine and die

  • Field Operation Manual for early Panzerfaust had a two-line stanza on every page, forming a short poem mimicking popular children's rhymes. It begins with: Der schwerste Panzer geht in Brand / Nimmst Du die Panzerfaust zur Hand (The heaviest armor goes up in flame / Once the Panzefaust in hand you take). May count for real-life example of Mood Dissonance.
    • Around that time there was another cheerful jingle written in the German language: Nach dem Arbeit, vor dem Essen, Haende waschen, nicht vergessen. ("After work, before eating, don't forget to wash your hands.") And where was this helpful reminder posted up? The synthetic rubber factory in Auschwitz!
  • It should be noted (as any camp counselor will verify) that kids love dark humour and slightly gory songs. Classic camp songs/rhymes as examples (notable lyrics in brackets) include Sgt. Billy Madison (he jumped from 40 000 ft, forgot to pull the chute. SPLAT!), Great green gobs of greasy grimy gopher guts (and I forgot my spoon!), The Titanic (All the husbands and wives, little children lost their lives, it was sad when the great ship went down), and The Shark Song (and all was red, 'cause they were dead). Also note that each one of those and others (and there are so many others) are sung with a happy, upbeat tune.
  • There's a song known as 'Tuuti Tuuti', which is sung like a lullaby but is literally about a peasant mother singing to her dead child, wishing it safe passage into the afterlife. Translated verses include speaking about 'children in hell' and that there will be a lot of room and food over in the hereafter.
  • We can't forget this little gem, which has been taught to kids as recent as the 80s. I remember reading it and wondering why we're supposed to dislike the subject character.

Tell Tale Tit,
Your tongue shall be slit.
And all the dogs in the town,
Shall have a little bit.

    • From the sound of things, you're not supposed to like the subject character because he's a squealer. When this troper was a kid being a tattletale Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves was tantamount to forfeiting your humanity. 
  • There's a Finnish children's rhyme that ends in these words: 

As black as soil, as white as foal, 
The one who comes last, he is Death

  • "Blood on the Saddle" is a catchy, never-ending ditty about falling off a horse and squishing one's brains out.
  • The traditional Jewish equivalent of "The House That Jack Built" ends with the ANGEL OF DEATH coming to kill the butcher who killed the ox who drank the water that quenched the fire that burned the stick that hit the dog that bit the cat that ate the goat that Daddy bought for two zuzim... (There may be another verse after that about the Angel of Death himself dying in the End of Days, but that just makes it weirder).
    • There is indeed another verse, and there comes the Lord (literally, "the Holy One, Blessed be He"), probably in the End of Days.
  • A Viennese song, "Heidschi Bumm-Beidschi", is often sung as a Christmas carol. Its origins lie in the Turk siege of Vienna, and "Heidschi Bumm-Beidschi" refers to Turk skirmishers who took children as slaves to be raised as soldiers. So it was a creepy nursery tune to begin with.



  1. Part one of the Carrion Crown campaign