Cartoons from the first half of the 20th century are creepy for many reasons. For one thing, many of the lead animators in the film’s early days had a dark sense of humor. While cartoons were associated with children in the television age, these early animators weren’t necessarily making films that were family-friendly.
Modern filmmakers, game designers, and artists often borrow images from the early years of animation to make a work scarier. But long before that Bendy and the Ink Machine or Cuphead,Animators did well to creep their audiences on their own.
10/10 Wot A Night is Weird & Spooky
Fifteen years before Cat and Mouse hit the big screen, the animation team at Van Beuren Studios had a comedy duo called Tom and Jerry. Renamed “Dick and Larry” in the ’40s, the original Tom and Jerry were just a big man and a short man who got into trouble with every new job they took on.
her first movie What a night from 1931 is an uncomplicated tale about two taxi drivers who find themselves locked in a castle and haunted by ghosts. As cartoonish as the ghosts of the castle are, their eerie movements and staring eyes unnerve most modern viewers.
9/10 Devil’s Ball is a stop motion nightmare
Stop-motion animation always threatens to descend into spooky, eerie valleys, and the rudimentary stop-motion films of the 1930s are particularly unsettling. The 1933 cartoon The Devil’s Ball is a surreal collection of images in which tall, gossamer ghosts torment a little boy and throw a surreal party.
The Devil’s Ball is the creation of Ladislaw Starewicz, who essentially made the entire short film himself. Considering the equipment he would have used then and the immense amount of effort that still goes into creating a stop-motion cartoon today, Starewicz’s achievement is remarkable.
8/10 The Headless Horseman adapts a classic book
The legend of sleepy hollow is one of the best-known American horror stories, and its tale of a snooty schoolmaster being tormented by the Headless Horseman has been adapted for the screen many times. The short film from 1934 The Headless Horseman is a fairly straight-forward adaptation with some cartoonish antics thrown in for good measure.
The short doesn’t get scary until the Headless Horseman sequence, but the dark, fluid animation of the famous ghost is surprisingly effective. Of course, the whole thing turns out to be a joke, but that doesn’t make the sequence any less impressive.
7/10 Bimbo’s inauguration is like Midsommar 1931
The Max Fleischman character Bimbo has largely faded from public memory. Originally the humanized canine friend of Betty Boop, Bimbo’s status as the hero of his own cartoons declined as his girlfriend rose to superstardom. Bimbo disappeared completely around 1934.
However, a bimbo short will be remembered. Bimbo’s inauguration is a confusing tale of Bimbo being pushed into joining a cult until he finally succumbs, largely because Betty has already joined. The surreal torment that the Bimbo sect undergoes is nonsensical, yet reminiscent of a nightmare.
6/10 Balloon Land isn’t as cute as it sounds
The bizarre short film from 1935 balloon world by Ub Iwerks may or may not have been intentionally disturbing, but for a cartoon with such a childish premise, the short’s phallic imagery is impossible to ignore. Balloon Land’s residents are all made out of balloons and live in fear of the legendary Pincushion Man.
The pincushion man in question has a long pin sticking out of his crotch, which he tries to use on the two children who serve as the short’s protagonists. In comparison, the sequence in which the Pincushion man massacres loads of balloon people seems tame.
5/10 Spooks terrorized Oswald The Lucky Rabbit
Oswald the Lucky Rabbit is best known today as the character that Walt Disney created before Mickey Mouse. In fact, the creation of Mickey Mouse was Disney’s direct response to losing the rights to Oswald. Of course, Mickey is now a legend, while Oswald is mostly an unknown.
Still, the 1930 cartoon haunted is a solid spooky showcase for Oswald. Directed by Walter Lantz, the short film is far weirder and more mind-blowing than anything Disney would have done. Oswald is undergoing an adaptation of Phantom of the operabut with more scary owls and deaths from deflation.
4/10 The Telltale Heart brings Poe to life
Edgar Allan Poe’s stories are creepy enough, but Ted Parmelee’s animated adaptation is The Treacherous Heart, published in 1953, manages to make the original story even scarier. With shaded, painted frames and sinister tale by James Mason, The Treacherous Heart takes the unnerving story and runs with it.
Animator Paul Julian, best known for his work on backgrounds Crazy Melodies Shorts, adapted his painted backgrounds for horror purposes to great effect. The resulting film was so eerie that the British Board of Film Censors gave it an X.
3/10 The story of the priest was lost in a fire
Directed by the married couple Mikhail Tsekhanovsky and Vera Tsekhanovskaya The story of the priest and his worker Balda sometime in the 1930s, but the film was never finished. Mikhail edited the four completed parts into a whole film, but it was lost in a fire in 1941.
The only surviving part of the film is the four-minute Bazaar scene, which is enough to give a sense of how unsettling the entire film would have been. The tormented production, cancellation and loss of the film only reinforces the feeling that something very scary was going on The Story of the Priest.
2/10 Swing You Sinners is a spooky masterpiece
The Fleischer Brothers directed it Swing you sinners! and published it in 1930. The cartoon appears cute and harmless at first, and follows a no-good dog trying to steal a chicken. But then he stumbles into a graveyard and things get nasty.
Ghosts, monsters and living instruments torment the dog, telling him he must be punished for his sins. The dog begs for his life, but to no avail. The short ends with a parade of strange images and the dog being eaten by a skull in the last frame.
1/10 The Peanut Seller is an experimental terror
The Peanut Seller, a 1933 stop-motion animated film about a monkey selling peanuts, probably wasn’t meant to be scary, but it absolutely is. The monkey in question looks more like a skeletal demon with its long arms and large eyes.
Experimenting with animation techniques, directors Dave Fleischer and Seymour Kneitel accidentally stumbled upon a deeply frightening collection of images. The age of the film has only further blurred the image of the monkey, making it look more like a skeleton. The film may have been made with good intentions, but Fleischer and Kneitel unleashed a nightmare.
Next: 10 Movies That Use Horror Tropes Perfectly