The first-ever animation was a spooky one, showing the skeleton of a horse galloping through the darkness in 1881. Since then, animators have expanded the art form to previously inconceivable places. Some tales are so painful, you can only tell them through imaginary figures. Each of these films offers an intimate experience. A look into the soul of the filmmaker. No practicalities stand between them and their story, which is told through digital collages, paintings, and even sketches on lined paper.
This list showcases different styles of animation. Anime, hand-drawn, stop motion, and digital 2D. You may be surprised to find an animation that can scare you, but this form of filmmaking has the freedom to push past reality’s boundaries onto horrors you have never experienced and perhaps have never even imagined. Until now.
Here are the best animated horror films to watch.
Best Animated Horror Films
The final film of Mushi Production’s trilogy is a violent and beautiful anime. Vivid hand-painted frames display horrific realities such as rape and abuse. Erotic meets evil in the story of a peasant woman who makes a deal with the Devil after being gang-raped. You will be thankful for the psychedelic artwork onscreen. It distracts from the horrific heart of the film.
Do not let the bunnies in the meadow deceive you. Their meadow becomes blood-soaked when construction for a new estate for humans begins. As in real life, the story depicts nature as both charming and gory. Characters that are optimistic and savage. This hand-drawn film represents the smallest amongst us, yet the horror of capitalistic expansion affects all life forms in similar ways. For many people, Watership Down is the scariest animated movie ever, likely due to the fact that many people were blindsided by the disturbing nature of the movie when they were young.
Heavy Metal flies its audience across distant galaxies. The anthology film closely follows the steamy sci-fi horror magazine of the same name. Vintage sci-fi art illustrates the screen, perfectly reminiscent of 70’s comic strips. Crude humor along with a vivid soundtrack are our vehicles through screen space. So is the occasional shattered or dismembered body, making it a perfect fit for this list.
The animation style of this film is deceptively comforting. For a quick moment, you may think you are about to watch a fun adventure film. Then you watch as animals get tortured in a research lab. Two dogs escape the lab, and we follow the hounds as they battle the horrors of nature and humankind. They continue with the baggage of their traumatic past, which literally hunts them down. Like Watership Down, Plague Dogs is an adaptation of a Richard Adams novel. Clashing themes of hope and disparity play out onscreen in watercolor landscapes. Each brush stroke brings us closer to a gut-punch ending.
In this slipping-from-sanity film, we get to witness a woman face her stalker and her madness. Both become equal threats to her life. Darren Aronofsky was to direct a remake of the film but ultimately abandoned the project. He went on to direct Black Swan, a film with remarkably similar themes of striving for perfection to the detriment of one’s mental health.
Clay-animated characters both living and dead fall in love with each other in Tim Burton’s signature hue of blue. This causes some misunderstanding and misadventure in a romantic story veiled in darkness. This tale of a murdered bride teaches us that just because a film is suitable for kids does not make it exclusive to them.
Fairy tales have always been dark and foreboding stories. Blood Tea and Red String reminds us of this. The 13-year production yields beautifully strange results. A violent shade of blood red contrasts a pure white, giving the film a stunning bold palette. There is no dialogue in the film. Instead, the story unfolds through trippy imagery and textured characters. The details are so strong that your brain may itch from the feel of their fur.
A mariner travels across war-stricken seas on his voyage home. As a part of the Watchmen universe, this DC comic adaptation offers what we all crave from a pirate-ship tale. Ghosts and curses. The striking palette is as moody as the story itself. The filmmakers offer you space inside the sea captain’s head as he travels treacherous seas and faces ships that are navigated by the living dead.
Though the story follows a child’s life, this is not a film exclusive to children. Coraline’s life spirals into darkness when a hidden door leads her to another world, a world eerily like her own. The horror of the film lies in its false comforts. A warm home, a buffet of your favorite homemade food. As usual, a mother is behind all this magic. But this mother wants to steal your soul. The colorful and whimsical stop motion will leave you with horrific visions of sewing buttons where your eyes should be and mouths stapled into a smile. Created by the director of The Nightmare Before Christmas, expect equal parts charm and fright in this animation.
Dive into the universe of the Resident Evil video games in the biopunk horror film. The CGI animation perfectly resembles a video game. Unlike a video game, you now have no control over your fate as a deadly airborne virus begins to spread in New York. Plenty of gunshot blasts and brain debris will keep your heart racing. The nostalgia of the video-game-style animation will soothe it.
Messy clay and creepy papier-mâché figures make up this unsettling animation. Maria’s emotions control a house which is constantly changing in color and form. The true events that inspired this animation are even darker. The nightmarish house represents Colonia Dignidad, a colony in Chile during WWII where German dissidents were tortured and killed. The Wolf House is a passionate, heartfelt piece from a soul of trauma and darkness.
David Firth’s imagination explodes with nightmarish visions of birth, decay, and almost every weird moment in between. Thirteen years’ worth of short animations smush together into one feature. This makes for a truly surreal experience. As the story transitions, so does the animation style. Umbilical World gifts you with the creepiest versions of stop motion, cut-out, and digital animation. If you ever wanted to jump into David Firth’s subconscious, here is your chance.
Fully crowdfunded, this gory film is complex in game design and simple in animation. Killing contraptions reminiscent of Saw send offerings of blood to its audience. A gambling ring is betting on the life and death of the Dekalb family. What makes this film so sinister and unique is that the father of the family is behind the torment. He is on a revenge mission against his kids, who caused him to lose a political election by exposing his evil side. Narrated by William Shatner, the film welcomes you into a world of time travel, blood, and debauchery.
This Polish film wraps its grief-stricken character in a blanket of comfort that reaches the audience. Our protagonist escapes to a timeless land where he and his loved ones are all alive and safe. Delicately hand-drawn, the film is horrific to its core but so surreal and beautiful that it holds a painful truth. Eventually, our loved ones only exist in our imagination. “I don’t believe in death,” says filmmaker Wilczyński. “They didn’t die, but they live in my imagination.”
It turns out that cryptid creatures, though magical, are treated as poorly as the earthly ones. A group of crypto-zookeepers searches for the legendary dream-eating Baku. But does such a creature belong in the confines of a zoo? Premiering at Sundance Film Festival, Cryptozoo dazzles its audience with overstimulating psychedelic animation. The horror of the film shows in the bloody fights between creatures and the US military experimentation, all of it hidden beneath rainbows and unicorns.
Mad God seems psychotic. That isn’t accidental. This film points a nihilistic lens at societal behavior. “Repetition of media turned us into a psychotic culture. That’s really self-evident,” director Phil Tippet explains, adding that Mad God is an interpretation of our world. Slimy, monstrous creatures devour and destroy each other in decimated hellscapes. Humanity can see itself in the film’s violence, gore, and desensitized apathy. What is scarier than seeing yourself? Mad God holds up the mirror.
A tribute to Mother Earth herself. Like Earth, The Spine of Night is magnificent and dreadfully violent. It will make you want to look away while simultaneously craving more. Lucy Lawless, who plays Tzod, perfectly describes the animation as “ugly beautiful.” Crude character drawings battle between a beautiful night sky and gorgeous raging fires that destroy the Earth that shelters us, along with the few humans that fight to protect it. This film will leave you feeling small in a vastly expanding universe. You may find comfort or absolute despair amid the horror.
More Horror Animation Films
- Wicked City (1987) based on Black Guard, this film pushes us into a dark fantasy where our human world coexists with a demonic one. Only a secret police force stands guard between the two.
- The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) by Tim Burton is perhaps the most famous animated horror movie of all time, with a memorable and career-defining soundtrack by Danny Elfman.
- One Night in One City (2007) is a dialogue-free dreary stop motion from the Czech Republic. We follow clay-made characters through one night. This offers a strange voyeuristic view of what the most lonely of people get up to in a surreal environment.
- Berserk: Golden Age Arc (2013) an anime trilogy about a band of outlaws and mercenaries based on a manga by Kentaro Miura.