Surprise Creepy

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Oh, this looks like fun...GAH!

You've just come across this frankly adorable-sounding piece of work. Flying dolphins frolic happily on the cover with pink monkeys, the back describes the thing in terms that would probably embarrass a five-year-old, and the premise sounds, in a word, ridiculous. You pick it up anyway - everyone can use a silly little romp now and then to balance out the darkness of the world. The first few levels or chapters may be kind of like this. Or they may not. The thing is, at some point, this cute little work suddenly turns on its head and becomes, if not outright scary, profoundly creepy.

In other words, when a cute game surprises you by being really hard, that's Surprise Difficulty; when a cute-seeming work surprises you with its lingering sense of unease, that's Surprise Creepy: Getting Crap Past the Radar which is just downright bizarre, creepy, is Nightmare Fuel, or has Unfortunate Implications, but which is made even worse by the fact you would never expect to see something like that in a work like this. It's often, but not always, a blink-and-you-miss-it sort of thing, and can require Fridge Logic to really notice. Like, is that what they were really trying to imply? But... it's not that kind of show. How could that be what that was supposed to be?

Not that this is a bad thing. Sometimes horror is that much more effective and that much more fun when you're not expecting it.

Kind of a combination of Mood Whiplash and What Do You Mean It's for Kids? / What Do You Mean It's Not for Kids? Often manifests itself in Vile Villain Saccharine Show. Often caused by lying covers, people trusting trailers, and thinking about things too hard. Compare Crap Saccharine World, which is (usually) more clearly intentional. Strongly related to Backstory Horror.

Examples of Surprise Creepy include:

Anime and Manga

  • Princess Tutu starts off looking like a sugary-sweet, very cute ballet-themed Magical Girl show in a very picturesque town that has Cat instructors, and a Penguin that plays piano - then the crows come, then let's not get into the Finale of Season One or all of Season Two
  • If all you know about Higurashi is the cover, you will be very surprised by the beginning of the first episode, and troubled by the vaguely sinister opening credits, but the bulk of the episode will seem like a typical Slice of Life comedy featuring a boy who has recently moved to a cheerful small town and befriended four female classmates... but before the first episode is over, the boy has realized he's living in a Town with a Dark Secret, and everything starts spinning out of control, and by the end of the fourth episode, half of the main characters have died gruesomely, including the Decoy Protagonist, and you realize the beginning of the first episode showed you that this was going to happen. And then the fifth episode begins with one of the younger main characters stabbing herself to death with a huge knife for no apparent reason, and after the opening credits, it's back to light-hearted comedy.
    • Not to mention that the head-stab suicide is accompanied by another cast member (who had been shown to be a good friend of hers) standing there, smiling and eventually laughing creepily.
  • Revolutionary Girl Utena, which poses so convincingly as a bog-standard Magical Girl series that the first company to try translating it marketed it as such ... then changed their mind hurriedly at the start of the second season.
  • Narutaru seems at first like a cute little story about a girl and her pet dragon-thingy. Then it starts going horribly wrong...
    • This seems to be typical of Mohiro Kitoh's work. Bokurano is an initially charming Humongous Mecha show with child protagonists. All of those kids are going down, and you'd need to use factorials to calculate how many universes get completely destroyed over the course of the series. And Wings of Vendemiaire is about charming little living puppets going through horrible, horrible things.
  • Ah, Pokémon Special. It's supposedly the closest adaption in terms of spirit, so it's probably a kid-friendly story about a ten-year old who roams the countryside to be a Pokémon mast- holy shit, is that a rotting Psyduck zombie?! Oh, God. Are the Elite Four planning to commit genocide in order to preserve the world for Pokémon?! And who's that creepy-as-hell masked guy?!
    • The other manga are just as bad. When they aren't plain out violent later on, they tend to involve plots that are Harmful to Minors.
  • Tenshi ni Narumon: Painfully sweet, cutesy, silly and looks like it was made for some toy store line. By the end of the series, the darkness, creepiness and mindfuckiness will make many cringe. And there's a pretty explicit yaoi innuendo going on there too.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Have we mentioned that the scriptwriter is the Urobuchi Gen of Nitro+ infamy?
  • Dai Mahou Touge (or Magical Witch Puni-chan) features a magical princess sent to a high school in the human world as part of her princess training. She has a cute talking animal side-kick, a magic wand, and the ability to animate vegetables into evil minions (or to jump into whatever she's cooking). Oh, and did we mention that this adorable little girl also wrestles opponents with the intention of breaking bones? Well, as Puni says, "submission is a princess's way!"
    • Also notable because her animal sidekick, who was forced to be her pet after she kicked the tar out of him, constantly wants to kill her. And within the magical kingdom not everything is so magical; for instance, an army of slaves is used to move trains. None of this is ever shocking to Puni, but her normal human companions are often either stunned or frightened.

Fan Works



  • The fantasy novel series Fablehaven. Despite its bright and cheerful kid-aimed covers, it gets smacked upside the head by our friend Cerebus remarkably quickly. Each book is darker than the last, but the covers remain cute and inviting.
  • Olivia Kidney has a title protagonist who appears on the cover as an adorable, cartoony little girl. She talks to ghosts all the time, including her beloved dead brother. It isn't quite Tideland, but brrrr.
    • And that's just the tip of the iceberg as far as all the creepy. On top of it, there's the ever-present implication that everything that's happening might just be a product of an extremely overactive imagination. Or maybe it's all real. They never really let you know for sure, and it's not clear which would actually be worse.
  • Redwall starts out seeming like a sweet little Low Fantasy series about cute fuzzy animals in a pretty woodland setting. Then some pretty damn horrifying things happen to them. It says quite a bit about this children's series that it was the first work of literature to get its own Complete Monster page.
  • Roald Dahl was one of the great masters at this.
  • There is an old children's book called Model a Monster. It teaches children to create papier-mache dinosaurs and the sort. The ending, however...
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Things get insanely creepy when Harry starts hearing whispering in the walls. You could also say this about the entire series, starting off as a whimsical children's series and then taking a very dark turn in book 4.

Video Games

  • Myst IV's Serenia - a lovely world of glowing butterflies, literal stone forests, and magic, memory storing lotuses. And then comes the Spirit Ceremony and the Big Bad's plan for Yeesha.
    • A lot of Myst has this. Special mention goes to the brothers' rooms in the first game.
  • In Psychonauts, Milla's brain seems to contain nothing but fun and parties. However, if you manage to find a slightly out-of-the-way area, you discover that she used to work at an Orphanage of Love... which was destroyed and all the orphans killed in a house fire and continue to haunt her nightmares, crying out things like, "Save us, Milla," and "Milla, why won't you help us?"
  • Ecco the Dolphin - A game starring a cute dolphin who has lost his family to extremely hungry aliens. He must go back and forth through time, battling past sharks, jellyfish, enormous spiders, and trilobites, braving eerie music and disturbingly solemn, frightened fellow dolphins, to rescue them and the Earth. Later locales include a meat grinder scrolling level where you're continually molested by terrifying masses of chitin and blobs of acidic green goo, and slime tubes in the sky that cause you to plummet five miles into roadpizza if you mess up and fall out. Rated K-A E for Everyone!
    • The final game in the series even has you swim inside the body of a giant alien and attack its beating heart.
  • Aquaria follows a similar premise as Ecco, only this time the protagonist is a fish girl. She finds herself utterly alone and starts to explore the ruined civilizations, and eventually meets their crazy gods and the Big Bad who made them. And yes, just like in Ecco, there are Womb Levels in Aquaria.
  • Indie game Eversion plays with this. And by "plays with this," we mean it's the premise of the whole game. Although if you know who H.P. Lovecraft is, the opening screen serves as a warning about that, as the game starts off by quoting him.
  • Irisu Syndrome. On the surface: a Nintendo Hard Falling Blocks game. Then there's the game's plot, as well as the bad endings.
  • Kingdom Hearts. Having the Disney Label on it and trailers featuring tons and tons of our beloved characters from Disney Animated Canon made it seem like this game was intended for children ages 6 and up. Then, the Final Fantasy elements showed up and the OTHER feeling Disney is famous for. Not only that, but the game added its own Nightmare Fuel in form of the Heartless; creatures who, contrary to what their names imply, don't lack hearts; they ARE hearts corrupted by the darkness. These little monsters have one goal in mind: To corrupt all hearts that there are, and the hearts of the worlds they haunt are especially sought after. You know that the cheerful game those trailers announced isn't that cheerful when you see an innocent NPC being turned into one of those monsters as his face freezes in a fearful expression, and that's literally toward the beginning of the whole game.
    • The sequel, Kingdom Hearts 2, introduced the Nobodies, monsters made from the body and soul that the darkness consumed heart leaves behind. The only thing these creatures strive for are to be whole again, to find their Heartless and reunite with it. That's a sympathetic cause, right? Well, the problem is that since a Nobody is, due to its lack of heart, beraved of emotions, they are by their very nature sociopaths that will stop at nothing to succeed. As if all of that wasn't creepy enough, due to being "hollow", the lower ranked Nobodies move as if they were husks of fabric or paper filled with air.
    • There's also TheVeryDefinitelyFinalDungeons of both the first and the second game... The final level of the first game is called "End of the World" [dead link], and is the remains of all worlds consumed by the heartless. The second game has "The World That Never Was" [dead link], which, just by its mere name, should tell you what kind of messed up place it is.
  • "Miss World '96 Nude" is infamous as a horror game posing as a porn game. The gameplay consists of removing the obstructions that block your view of pictures of scantily-clad women. Take too long, and the image "turns" - the woman turns into a hideous monster as the gameplay gets harder. It's pretty much the ultimate in Fetish Retardant, not to mention freaky as hell.
    • Should be noted that once the game turned into its horror side, it started to play a short loop of "YOUR BODY, MY BODY, EVERYBODY MOVE YOUR BODY!" You'd think that'd be narmy, but somehow, it can come off as even more unsettling due to Soundtrack Dissonance.
  • Forty Winks was intended to be a psuedo-nightmare played in a way that was positively adorable. Even though the "scary" aspects of the game were mild, the completely innocuous music and eerie simlish were complete Nightmare Fuel.
  • Okami: Most locations are vibrant with colorful characters, bright music, and thick-line artwork reminiscent of a Japanese scroll painting. The surprise comes mostly from two locations: the Sunken Ship and Yoshpet forest. They are creepy and quite jarring in contrast to the rest of the world. And there's also the Body Horror parts where you go inside someone's body, which is as nasty-looking as you'd expect (particularly the stomach acid dripping from the water dragon).
    • The cursed zones are pretty creepy, too. Two-layered, as well: the first impression you get when you see your first cursed zone is that it's made the land desolate and barren. Then when you actually try to walk directly across it, everything becomes dark, the music becomes incredibly ominous, and you die if you stay there too long.
    • Okamiden even more so. The rating is lower, the player character is painfully cute, and then you see tank-sized skeletons made of the bones of murder victims and a Player Punch to end all Player Punches.
  • Free Realms: Merry Vale, the 24-hour party place where everyone has fun! ...too much fun notice that their kids are getting abducted.
  • The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion has Camoran's Paradise. Upon arriving there, one might be wondering why a pocket dimension created by the Big Bad is a idyllic forest chock full of Scenery Porn, which would actually be relaxing if it wasn't full of tough enemies. Then you get to the caverns under the whole place, and find out that it's where Camoran tortures his own followers for all eternity (there's one section where you see someone locked in a gibbet hanging over a river of lava. And yes, you can lower it), since all of them have been made immortal so that the torture lasts forever. How calming do you find it now?
  • Given the game was Rated M, it was no surprise that Halo: Combat Evolved was going to be violent. But who, in 2001, could have expected The Flood? Their very presence changes the second half of the game from a standard A Space Marine Is You first-person-shooter into a Survival Horror game, and boy does it show.


These guys and their development teams may well be the reigning champions of this trope. They have a family-friendly, even kiddy image, but quite a few of their games are clearly intended for brave kids.

  • The Legend of Zelda - Primarily E-rated games. E-rated games that include, among other things, a temple dedicated to death, zombies that are either trying to eat or rape the protagonist, and the apocalypse. Probably the two most blatant examples are Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask. The ESRB seems to have caught on by the time of Twilight Princess, but even so... Twilight Princess's T rating was probably just because of the darker graphical style, since Skyward Sword has an E10+ rating despite not being too much more lighthearted.
    • And just when we thought Nintendo made The Wind Waker specifically to be absolutely and completely harmless, along comes Link stabbing Ganondorf in the brain. There are reports of players who dropped their controllers the moment this happened. Also, when you consider how incredibly dark the backstory of this game is, it suddenly seems like the game's happy atmosphere was taunting the past and the people of ancient Hyrule, much like how the happy music in Clock Town seemed to taunt the people who stayed oblivious to their impending doom, only more subtle.
    • Skyward Sword has its moments too, most notably in the Ancient Cistern. At first it seems a bright and pleasant place with lots of clear water and green and gold scenery. And then you descend into the lower parts... Which culminates in Link climbing a rope to escape only to find that a horde of zombies is also climbing that same rope... and then you learn that to continue, you have to go back down that same rope...
  • Pikmin - More E-rated goodness that involves sending adorable little carrot-creatures to near-certain doom against beasts thousands of times their size. Not to mention some of the more bizarre enemies in the game, including a frog-shaped embodiment of poison and the moaning intangible Eldritch Abomination known as the Waterwraith.
  • Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Time/Darkness/Sky - A game which starts out with cute little monsters, in particular the nervous partner character, learning how to be good explorers. Starts getting a little uncomfortable when a child is abducted by a criminal, gets out and out distressing when you get dragged into the future, and the game really doesn't let up on the creepy for the rest of the story. And don't forget about the fact that you and your partner are encouraged to commit suicide at one point! Yep, E-rated.
  • The mainline Pokémon games themselves have started to get in on the fun, especially with the creepier Pokedex entries - see entries like Yamask and Shedinja's just for starters. Then there's Pokémon Black and White... would you like a nice cup of horrific psychological abuse of a child with your cute monster battling?
  • EarthBound. 99% Cartoon-y goofiness, 1% incomprehensible cosmic horror. And it's the last 1%, too. Mother 3 gets worse.
  • Mario gives Link a run for his money throughout the Paper Mario games, which end up a lot like Earthbound with the subject of murder (Though he was actually just unconscious) dealt with in the first game; an Eldritch Abomination appearing as the final boss of the second; and the third's plot being explicitly that reality itself was being destroyed, later revealed that this includes The Afterlife. Also notable is Super Mario Galaxy which is hours of compressed sheer joy -- and then the universe is annihilated in a supermassive black hole.
  • The Kirby games feature a very cute eponymous protagonist, colorful and fanciful levels, and lots of frightening bosses. One of them is actually named Nightmare, and he's not even the scariest by the long shot! Perhaps most infamous among them are Marx Soul, especially his death sequence, and Zero, mostly for his Clipped-Wing Angel transformation. Kirby 64 continues the tradition; while Dark Matter and especially the possession scenes are at least unsettling, they still don't provide any good warning for the jarring final boss. No, the content ratings boards still haven't noticed, even during re-releases.
  • Magical Starsign. The game is saccharine and kid-friendly through-and-through until Semolina is eaten by a carnivorous flower before you get a chance to protest, and becomes one of your Cosmic Keystones. Later, you get to learn the fate of Applepie, and/or every human in the universe once the robots start to run out of fuel.

Web Comics

Web Original

"Now let's all agree, to never get creative again."

"Popcorn for eternity! Hell's on it's way!"

  • Quite a few series in the Slender Man Mythos use this trope. Several start out as ordinary video or web blogs that seem perfectly normal for the first few entries, only for things to go creepy when Tall Dark And Faceless pops up.

Western Animation

  • The My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "The Return of Harmony, Part 1" has one on a more psychological level: We're introduced to the villain Discord, a goofy-looking Mix and Match Critter trickster villain who, after being set free from the stone statue he was imprisoned in for over a millennium, starts causing chaos in Equestria by making a cotton-candy-and-chocolate storm. Hm, okay, he seems pretty goofy, don't know why the normally calm and patient Princess Celestia seems so worried about him. All right, now he just took away the Mane Six's horns and wings, split them up, and is making them play a game for control of the Elements of Harmony; dickish, yes, but — Wait, did he just gleefully break and Mind Rape everyone (except Twilight)? Did he just force Rainbow Dash to end the game by making her choose between abandoning her friends or letting her hometown be destroyed? Did... did this episode just end with him winning?! Oh Crap.
    • For that matter, the episode Lesson Zero qualifies. It seems at first to just be a slightly more meta episode than usual. Keep in mind, however, that this spent a brief amount of time as the only episode of any television series that had its own Nightmare Fuel page on this wiki.
      • Fans have speculated that Twilight's breakdown in that episode was caused by Discord's actions towards her. True or not, it arguably makes the episode and Discord just that much creepier.
    • In "Hearth's Warming Eve", the play starts out somewhat serious, but still not that bad. Cue Eldritch Abominations attempting to freeze the entire world. Yeah, it was part of the play and not real, but still!
    • "Baby Cakes": Aww, it's a babysitting episode, how kyuuute! Wait, where'd they go, and what's with the sinister music?
    • "A Canterlot Wedding:" Twilight Sparkle has apparently messed up big time, and she's sad, but it looks like Cadence and she will make up. Then HOLY HORSEAPPLES "Cadence" is evil!
      • Worth mentioning is that unlike with Discord, the previews gave absolutely no indication there'd even be a villain, let alone an absolutely terrifying and truly monstrous one at that.
  • Rango starts out as a fairly light-hearted Western for kids, with only a few sinister villains to occasionally darken the skies. Then Rattlesnake Jake shows up, and introduces us to a new meaning of fear.
  • Adventure Time. Such a fun- and childish-looking show would not be expected to have such creepy moments/episodes. And the episodes just keep getting creepier.
  • As the picture shows, a short called "The Snowman". Starts off really cutesy, with a human and his animal friends building a snowman and dancing around, but all hell breaks loose when the snowman comes to life and goes on a rampage.
  • The original My Little Pony pilot. Starts off with rainbow ponies playing around and a cute song, and then suddenly switches to ponies being kidnapped. It only gets worse after that with the ponies being turned into monsters, and the villain threatening to decapitate a child character.