Best Animated Horror Movies from Disney to Anime

Table of Contents ParaNorman The Nightmare Before Christmas Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island Monster House The…

Best Animated Horror Movies from Disney to Anime

Are you bored of the same old live-action horror movies you see making the rounds every Halloween? Don’t get me wrong, the classic horror icons and their multi-film franchises are great, but if you’re looking for something different this year, look to animation. Yeah, animation! The medium isn’t restricted to Scooby-Doo marathons or another helping of It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. These are great on their own and they have their place in your annual Halloween festivities, but if you’re aiming for something spooky that you may not have seen before, animated horror films are rife with possibilities.

So with that in mind, I’ve put together 20 of the scariest animated horror films you’re likely (and not so likely) to come across in your search. And since not everyone’s tastes are the same, nor are their experiences with horror movies identical, I’ve included a range of scares for all ages. I’ll start off with some age-appropriate suggestions for our younger viewers out there, including stop-motion classics, computer-generated fright-fests, an oft-overlooked Disney film, and, yes, even a Scooby-Doo feature. Then, once you’ve tucked the little ones into bed, I’ll pull out the big guns with animated films that feature more mature thematic material, increasingly brutal levels of gore and violence, and even some surprisingly sophisticated psychological humor that will haunt your dreams.

RELATED: The 50 Best Horror Movies of the 1990s, Ranked


scooby-doo-halloween-special
Image via Warner Bros

Fair warning: All of the films on this list will 100% be too scary/offensive for someone on the spooky spectrum out there, so be sure to do your due diligence before diving in; buyer beware, you’re in for a scare, as the Goosebumps shows say. And as this list nears its end with more mature themes and subject material, there will undoubtedly be people who are quite Mad Online about the movies in (or left off of) this list. So I ask you to check your inhibitions at the door while encouraging you to share your favorite scary animated film in the comments below!

ParaNorman


paranorman
Image via Focus Features

Directors: Chris Butler, Sam Fell

Writer: Chris Butler

We’re starting off easy here with a contemporary classic from stop-motion animation studio LAIKA. ParaNorman remains one of the studio’s best efforts and their scariest original feature to date. It’s got zombies, witches, ghosts, and a title character who feels alienated due to his ability to talk to the dead; lots of spooky stuff!

This one’s got some fun scares to it, and it takes a lot of inspiration from decades of horror movie culture and mythology that preceded it. But ParaNorman also flips a lot of those tropes on its head throughout the telling of the story. The obvious villains end up being misunderstood victims, and an ancient grudge that stems from another misunderstanding ends up being the cause of the town’s ills. But while the final battle between the two sides could be pretty frightening for the little ones out there, this is still the tamest entry on the list. ParaNorman is perfect for a family gathering this Halloween!

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The Nightmare Before Christmas


The Clown with the Tearaway Face in Nightmare Before Christmas

Director: Henry Selick

Writers: Tim Burton, Michael McDowell, Caroline Thompson

Here’s another holiday classic that skews much more closely to the Halloween side of town than it does the Christmas side. (You can still watch The Nightmare Before Christmas during either holiday, though the scary one’s more appropriate.) Look, even Jack Skellington, the “Pumpkin King” of Halloween Town, gets tired of the same old holiday festivities now and then. He just wants to shake things up a bit and bring his own peculiar sense of holiday cheer to Christmastime. But while Jack and his ilk may be scary by nature, there’s an even more terrifying terror that lurks beneath the surface to scare kids with his ghoulish glow.

Selick’s excellent stop-motion animation adds a creepy vibe to a world that’s suffused with a spooky, scary aesthetic. There’s a monstrous character around every corner of Halloween Town, and once that bleeds over into the Christmas festivities, the film’s humor really takes off. Jack Skellington may be the best there is at scaring the stuffing out of people, but The Nightmare Before Christmas is still gentle enough to work into your family’s regular Halloween movie rotation.

Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island


scooby-doo-zombie-island
Image via Hanna-Barbera Productions, Warner Bros. Animation, Cartoon Network

Directors: Hiroshi Aoyama, Kazumi Fukushima, Jim Stenstrum

Writers: Davis Doi, Glenn Leopold

I know, I took a shot at Scooby-Doo earlier, mostly because the show’s decades’ worth of content almost always ends with the spooky villain being unmasked and revealed as a very human ne’er-do-well. Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island is different because it pokes fun at this running gag and then subverts it in a very clever (and scary) way.

For the first time, Scoob and the gang find themselves face to face with a real supernatural threat thanks to the haunting presence of pirate ghost Morgan Moonscar. The tone of the direct-to-video film is rather darker than the toons that came before it thanks to the inclusion of “real monsters”, but the scares don’t stop with zombies. There’s voodoo, shape-shifters, angry alligators, and even a vengeful cat god out to make your viewing experience an unexpected one. Believe it or not, it’s been about 20 years since Scoob and the gang visited Zombie Island, so it’s well worth the time to revisit it yourself!

Monster House


monster-house
Image via Columbia Pictures

Director: Gil Kenan

Writers: Dan Harmon, Rob Schrab, Pamela Pettler

Okay, now we’ve started to get out of the basic scares and spooky stuff and into some more psychologically horrifying territory. While a haunted house is a classic setting for many a horror film over the years, rarely is this seen in the medium of animation. Enter Monster House, a computer-generated scare-fest that has some truly disturbing ghost stories haunting its foundation…

Without getting into spoiler territory, Monster House sees a crabby old man as caretaker of a creaky old house, but when health issues take him away, the house itself is revealed to be a source of terror for the neighborhood. A trio of kids risks their necks to explore the abandoned home and the secrets that lie buried within it. There’s enough comedy to keep the kids from getting too scared, but this is one haunted house story that actually improves with age.

The Last Unicorn


the-last-unicorn-skeleton
Image via Rankin/Bass Productions

Directors: Jules Bass, Arthur Rankin Jr.

Writer: Peter S. Beagle

The thing about horror is that it can infect just about any other genre and the film will work just the same. There are horror-comedies, action-horror films, and obvious sci-fi/horror flicks, but there’s also a special place for horror within fantasy films. The Last Unicorn is certainly more fantasy than horror, but boy does this thing have some spooky elements that still carry impact today, 25 years later.

Rankin and Bass are probably better known for their holiday classics, but this adaptation of Beagle’s novel about the titular unicorn is an absolute gem. The talking unicorn and the natural world around her that’s showcased during her quest are beautiful, though elements of that world are downright terrifying. There’s the evil witch Mommy Fortuna and her illusory magic, an honest-to-goodness harpy, a talking skeleton, and the granddaddy of all of this film’s horrors, the fiery Red Bull. There’s a lot of magic and wonder along the way, but like many great live-action fantasy films, the hero’s journey is fraught with terrors that make the ultimate victory all the sweeter.

The Black Cauldron


the-black-cauldron
Image via Walt Disney Pictures

Directors: Ted Berman, Richard Rich

Writers: Lloyd Alexander, David Jonas, and 17 others …

You can’t really talk about animated movies without mentioning Disney, the flying elephant in the room. And while Disney classics certainly have some terrifying moments scattered throughout their films, this much-maligned film is a horror show from beginning to end. The Black Cauldron‘s infamous deleted scenes were scrubbed away, removing the worst of the trauma-inducing moments, but what’s left is still pretty haunting.

The dark fantasy film, based very loosely on a book series, centers on the evil (and scary) Horned King who aims to conquer the world with the assistance of the mythical cauldron. Of course, he’s opposed in this quest by good-natured heroes, but boy do they have a lot of horrors standing in their way: There’s the king, of course, his undead army and creepy minions, a trio of witches in the Marshes of Morva, and the cauldron itself, which comes with a cruel curse that shapes the narrative in traumatic ways. The movie doesn’t end well for the Horned King either as he meets his ultimate fate in a nightmarish sequence that might be too intense for the little ones. (And just imagine if the film had included the scenes of the undead army being born from the cauldron, said soldiers brutally attacking people, and the king’s men having their flesh dissolved in a magical mist!)


Coraline


coraline
Image via Focus Features

Director: Henry Selick

Writers: Henry Selick, Neil Gaiman

On the surface, Coraline is a very silly story about a misunderstood girl who finds a hidden door to a secret world where the people are a little strange but otherwise perfect. That’s well and good for kids who find the button-eyed other-worlders funny, but the fun comes to an abrupt end when the parallel world’s dark secret is revealed.

Very little of Gaiman’s work comes out of a place of pure joy; there’s always an undercurrent of darkness or a twinge of the macabre about it. Coraline is no different, though it may take younger viewers a few times to pick up on the themes at play here. So if LAIKA’s ragdoll-like characters and their button-eyed cohorts aren’t enough to freak you out, I’d bet good money that once you find out about Other Mother’s propensity to sew buttons over people’s eyes and consume their souls, you’ll be sufficiently freaked out. If not, Other Mother’s spider form and the transformation of the ideal mirror world into a hellish, nightmare dimension should drive the point home. This thing is freaky.


The Secret of NIMH


the-secret-of-nimh
Image via MGM

Director: Don Bluth

Writers: Robert C. O’Brien, Don Bluth, John Pomeroy, Gary Goldman, Will Finn

One would think that animated movies featuring talking animals would be all sunshine and rainbows. There are dark parts of every great animated tale, but a precious few films choose to go way, way dark in order to tell more mature stories … and they do so through the mouths of cute, cuddly, forest creatures. One such tail tale is The Secret of NIMH, an adaptation of O’Brien’s children’s novel that features a dark undercurrent to the entirety of the story, punctuated with truly terrifying moments.

The critters referenced by the title are survivors of a series of scientific experiments, a plot point that’s laid out in a psychedelic scene featuring one of the film’s scariest characters. It’s not surprising that creatures like the rat-eating cat Dragon and the villainous rat Jenner are drawn to be scary, but it’s unusual to find that the protagonist’s mystical allies are every bit as terrifying. Nicodemus, a wizened old rat, has glowing eyes like coals and a long, flowing mane; The Great Owl is cut from the same cloth; both of these characters are ominous by design and the display of their powers make for some potent nightmare fuel.


Watership Down


watership-down
Image via Nepenthe Productions

Director: Martin Rosen

Writers: Richard Adams, Martin Rosen

If you barely managed to survive The Secret of NIMH, then I have some bad news for you regarding these next two installments. While the horrors of lab experimentation on animals take a back seat for a moment, the savagery of the animal kingdom (and the cruelty of man) takes center stage in this horror-fantasy classic, Watership Down.

This is one case where Richard Adams‘ book, brilliant as it is, benefits from a lean and mean animated adaptation. The movie gets to the heart of the rabbits’ plight, be it due to the dangers posed by snares; hawks, cats, and dogs; rival warrens; and the chemical and mechanical weapons of human beings. There’s a rabbit who experiences seizures when he sees visions, a near-death experience of another caught in a trap, and brutal battles against both friends and enemies alike. As for which creature is the most haunting, it might be a tie between the bloody General Woundwort and the Black Rabbit of Inlé, the rabbit’s version of the Grim Reaper. It’s fun for the kids!


The Plague Dogs


plague-dogs
Image via Nepenthe Productions

Director: Martin Rosen

Writers: Richard Adams, Martin Rosen

A lesser-known Adams tale is The Plague Dogs, a ruthless movie that does not shy away from man’s cruelty to animals in pursuit of scientific knowledge. Half of the film is overt criticism of such practices while the other half is a commentary on mankind’s same behavior carried out against his fellow man. The film’s PG-13 rating for violent imagery and thematic elements is well-earned, making it the last of the film’s on this list that might be okay for younger viewers to watch.

Then again, this thing starts off with the drowning of Rowf, a dog in a science lab, who is then resuscitated by siphoning the water out of his lungs. The “adventure” film goes on to criticize the cruelty of animal vivisection, tinkering with animals’ brains (as evidenced by the protagonist Snitter’s scar and dog-sized cap), and animal experimentation. It ain’t an easy watch. And it’s all the more heart-breaking once the title pups escape, only to find themselves hunted by their captors, local gunmen hired by the lab, and even soldiers. While the ending of The Plague Dogs is as emotional as Old Yeller‘s, it’s more ambiguous, but what’s clear is that this movie will mess you up for life.


Fire and Ice


fire-and-ice
Image via 20th Century Fox

Directors: Ralph Bakshi, Tom Tataranowicz

Writers: Ralph Bakshi, Frank Frazetta, Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway

All right, here’s your reminder to put the little ones to bed, because it’s time for some grown-up animated horror movies. Once again returning to the fantasy realm, we have the expertly Rotoscoped classic Fire and Ice. Following up on the delightfully insane 1977 film Wizards, Bakshi and Frazetta’s collaboration tells of a battle between the forces of Icepeak and Firekeep, and the souls caught in the crossfire.

While Fire and Ice is probably best known for the bikini-clad Princess Teegra running around nearly naked the entire film, there’s a lot of scary stuff going on here. From the outset, a brutal attack from the powerful magician Nekron sends glaciers sweeping down upon humanity, but it’s his primitive sub-humans and their violence that’s the more unsettling. They chase our protagonists through swamps full of nightmare creatures, into interactions with reanimated corpses, and into a final confrontation between fire and ice. There’s dread around every corner, a threat Fire and Ice paints very well.


Resident Evil: Degeneration


resident-evil-degeneration
Image via Capcom, Sony Pictures Entertainment

Director: Makoto Kamiya

Writer: Shotaro Suga

I couldn’t talk animated horror without mentioning Resident Evil. Though the more recent animated features have shifted to more of an action focus than a horror one, Resident Evil: Degeneration stayed true to its roots. First, the events of the movie are actually canon within the world of video games; the live-action films can’t claim that (nor would fans be happy if they tried). Secondly, if you love the antics of the zombie franchise and would prefer to watch them unfold without being behind the trigger for a change, the animated features are quite enjoyable.

Now one of the scariest features of Resident Evil: Degeneration might actually be the uncanny valley aspect of the human characters, but if you can get past that, then the T-Virus (etc) shenanigans, the infected zombies, and the final boss fight are pure delights. And it’s always fun seeing Leon S. Kennedy and Claire Redfield on an adventure. Just be ready for a jump scare here and there.


Seoul Station


seoul-station
Image via Shudder

Director: Sang-ho Yeon

Writer: Sang-ho Yeon

If you haven’t seen the relatively new live-action zombie film Train to Busan, you should remedy that immediately. And once you have, you’ll be better able to appreciate the animated prequel film, Seoul Station. While the medium may have changed, the terror-inducing hordes of rage zombies is still the same.

Taking place in the title station, it appears that a homeless man is Patient Zero of the impending zombie outbreak. Infection through bites may prove deadly in this film, but there’s an overarching social pressure that weighs down on the main characters of the film as well. While that’s not as scary as wave after wave of flesh-hungry monster running after you, it’s an important bit of characterization to keep in mind. It’s also worth mentioning that Seoul Station is a story set in a world beset by fiends who might just arrive when you least expect them …


Lily C.A.T.


lily-cat-movie
Image via Streamline Pictures, Discotek Media

Director: Hisayuki Toriumi

Writer: Hiroyuki Hoshiyama

All right, let’s get weird. If you ever wanted an animated horror movie that’s inspired by Alien, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and The Thing, then you’re going to want to check out Lily C.A.T. This 1987 anime production is decidedly less serious than many of the other entries on this list, but it’s so completely bonkers that you just kinda have to watch it to see what it’s all about.

Do you remember Jones the cat in Alien? Well, imagine that he’s now the protagonist of your picture and you follow his adventures throughout a spaceship populated with humans suspended in hypersleep. Cats can get up to an awful lot in that time, as the revived crew soon finds out. What follows is an insane “cat and mouse” game between the crew and a malevolent entity (or entities…) that’s causing havoc throughout the ship. The ultimate reveal of this monstrosity is not to be missed, though the gore factor significantly outweighs the scare factor in this one.


Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust


vampire-hunter-d-bloodlust
Image via Madhouse

Director: Yoshiaki Kawajiri

Writers: Hideyuki Kikuchi, Yoshiaki Kawajiri

Here’s a fine example of how the medium of animation allows a filmmaker to showcase their vision without the limitations imposed by live-action productions. Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust is an absolutely gorgeous film with a compelling protagonist and well-developed supporting cast, a damn fine story that’s among the best of Gothic dramas, and one of the best vampire stories ever seen on the big or small screen. It’s that good. And if it’s luscious visuals and a stunning soundtrack you’re looking for, you’ll find that right alongside the scary storytelling.

Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust follows the title bounty hunter, a half-human, half-vampire character known as a dhampir/dunpeal, who’s hired to retrieve a woman who’s been kidnapped by a vampire baron … or kill her in a humane manner if she’s been turned. This thing is up to its canines in vampire mythology but also features zombies, a unique take on a traditional werewolf, mutants, demons, shape-shifters, a master of shadow and illusion, and more, like the ghost of a vampire blood countess. The character and setting design in Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust are absolutely top-notch and they make the film a joy to watch, even when you’re keeping an eye out for yet another monstrosity creeping up on you from every angle imaginable.


Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter


tale-of-the-black-freighter
Image via Warner Bros.

Directors: Daniel DelPurgatorio, Mike Smith

Writers: Zack Snyder, Alex Tse

While this technically isn’t a feature-length production, the short animated film packed into the telling of Watchmen is too horrifying and psychologically damaging to leave off of the list. Pulled from the twisted minds of writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons, Tales of the Black Freighter is a comic book that appears within the story of Watchmen itself. It was originally intended to be produced in live-action to appear alongside the rest of the film, but the budget didn’t allow it, so this fantastic animated version was produced instead. And I’m glad it worked out this way; there’s a haunting quality to the storytelling style that works so much better in this medium.

Following the survivor of an attack by the dreaded pirate ship the Black Freighter, the tale watches as he attempts to race home in order to warn his wife and children of the pirates’ impending arrival. We see the lone survivor talking to his dead crewmates and eventually using their bloated bodies as floatation devices to keep his makeshift raft aloft in the sea. Whether it’s feasting on raw gull meat, surviving shark attacks, or his ultimate mental breakdown, every step along the survivor’s descent into madness becomes increasingly difficult to watch. The dread you feel is well-earned throughout the telling and the final reveal is one that will stick with you for a long time.

Berserk: The Golden Age Arc III – The Advent


berserk-golden-age-arc-advent
Image via Warner Bros.

Director: Toshiyuki Kubooka

Writers: Kentaro Miura, Ichiro Okochi

Here’s an example where the anime adaptation, excellent as it is, still pales in comparison with its source material. However, the animated telling of the tale of Guts, Griffith, Casca, and the Band of the Hawk is absolutely stunning in its execution and jaw-dropping in its insanity. This installment is the third and final chapter in the Golden Age Arc, so you might want to do your homework with the relatively tame first two chapters before diving in, but once you hit the third film, hold onto your butts.

Berserk: The Golden Age Arc III – The Advent finds the once unbeatable Griffith broken, emaciated, and without control of his limbs after a year of severe torture in a dungeon. His brutal, selfish decision to take his own life is tough enough to watch, but it’s just a shadow of what’s to come. Most of the Band of the Hawk is drawn into another dimension during a solar eclipse where they come face to face with powerful archdemons known as the God Hand. What follows is an epic sacrifice to these entities as lesser demons fall upon the fighters and Griffith himself is elevated to new heights of power and cruelty. The horrors that await the Band of the Hawk are only a fraction as vile as those perpetrated by Griffith against his former friends and allies, Guts and Casca. It’s a really, really difficult watch if you’ve been following along with the characters’ journeys, and one of the most nightmare-inducing sequences in all anime … which is saying something.


Fears of the Dark


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Image via Prima Linea Productions

Directors: Blutch, Charles Burns, Marie Caillou, Pierre Di Sciullo, Lorenzo Mattotti, Richard McGuire

Writers: Blutch, Charles Burns, Jerry Kramski, Richard McGuire, Michael Pirus, Romain Slocombe

This is one of my three absolute favorite entries on this list. The music will instantly grab you, followed by the unique and incredibly artistic visual styles that are on display. A French anthology film composed of five separate stories from visionary comic book creators and graphic designers, Fear(s) of the Dark is an incredible achievement in visual storytelling and the most impressive entry in this list in that regard, in my opinion. The black-and-white shorts are all centered around the concept of fear and they each conjure that raw, primitive emotion in stunning ways.

There’s the story of a sinister man (seen above) who unleashes his vicious dogs one by one on unsuspecting strangers. Then there’s the tale of a boy obsessed with insects who finds that his love life takes a rather curious intersection with his pastime, or the sad story of a young girl forced to experience her nightmares over and over again as a form of medical “treatment.” These tales explore the awful effects that fear has on people, both in an overt manner and in a deeply personal one. There’s something here to love (and fear) for everyone, and it’s very worth your time to seek it out.


Wicked City


wicked-city
Image via Mad House

Director: Yoshiaka Kawajiri

Writers: Hideyuki Kikuchi, Yoshiaki Kawajiri

This thing is borderline hentai at times, so fair warning. However, it’s in this list for its depiction of duality, the over-the-top depictions of sexualized trauma throughout, and its David Cronenberg-levels of body horror. Wicked City is not for everyone, and it’s a very disturbing telling of a rather unique tale, but the same can be said of the most provocative of scary films. Wicked City 100% could not be done in live-action without receiving an X rating, so it’s just another way that animation sets itself apart as a medium.

The story takes place at the intersection between our mundane human world and the demon-populated Black World that exists alongside it; special forces known as the Black Guard protect the border and agents from both sides cooperate to keep the peace. The Black Worlders may look human, but these doppelgangers can take many other forms, like the arachnoid creature that our protagonist has sex with early on in the telling. It’s a hell of an introduction to the horrors on display in Wicked City and it sets the stage for everything to come. It gets way, way worse as the story goes on: There are fanged vaginas, prostitutes whose bodies melt away and swallow up their clients, and absolutely brutal rape scenes and torture scenes throughout. I can’t post enough trigger warnings here, and ultimately it’ll be up to you to decide if the story’s message was worth all the sexual violence, but for fans of body horror, this is one of the most extreme cases ever produced.


Perfect Blue


perfect-blue
Image via MadHouse

Director: Satoshi Kon

Writers: Sadayuki Murai, Yoshikazu Takeuchi

My absolute favorite film on this list has to be Perfect Blue, a film so psychologically traumatizing and so wonderfully told that it’s on par with live-action equivalents like Black Swan and Misery. While it’s not a traditional horror film, in the sense that there are no monsters or supernatural entities at work harassing our protagonist, Perfect Blue is a textbook case in characterization and the tension derived from struggling to maintain a dual nature.

The film centers on Mima, an attractive J-pop star living in a world of realistically depicted people who have fallen in love with her celebrity self. However, Mima soon announces her retirement from pop stardom and transitions into a career as an actress. This decision is fraught with challenges: Her former fans turn against her, a dangerous superfan/stalker begins making his presence known, and Mima’s own sense of self and reality soon begins to crumble as her identity becomes uncertain. It’s an absolute mind-bender of a film that’s going to take repeat viewings in order to fully grasp it, but Perfect Blue is a case study in obsession, the price of fame, and the loss of a sense of who you are.

Perfect Blue is the rare anime film that becomes even scarier as time goes on since its message becomes more relevant. The jump scares, psychological tension, and shocking reveal will always be thrilling, but the idea that our avatar selves and our true selves are becoming more and more difficult to separate is an increasingly terrifying proposition, especially for those who are unable to distinguish between the two. Perfect Blue is simply a damn fine movie with a powerful message that just happens to be animated, so even if you’ve never seen an anime film in your life, this movie should be on your must-watch list.


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