What is it about the human psyche that insists we try and creep ourselves out? Whether it’s the gore-laden squick of the Saw movies or the creeping psychological horror of Ringu, it seems that there’s a taste for making ourselves squirm and squeal as much as possible with movies, books, TV… and, of course, anime.
Of course, creep factor is a very subjective thing, informed by our personalities and, well, what anime we’ve actually watched. So don’t take this list as a definitive top 5 Creepiest Anime of All Time. There’s plenty of scary anime out there I haven’t even watched yet (heck, two of the entries on the list are anime that I haven’t watched to completion!) This is simply my little list of Things That Make My Bladder Quiver With Fear. Feel free to share your favorite scary anime in the comments!
Vampire Hunter D. This is not a creepy anime per se, but it certainly deserves a mention close to Halloween, as it really captures a lot of the sumptuous gothic nature of vampires and the tragic balance between vampires as lovers and as monsters (no sparkles here!) The 80’s version was pretty good, but I really enjoyed the latest movie.
5. Demon City Shinjuku
This is, for me, a bit of creepy nostalgia (I’m actually afraid to watch it again because I worry that it won’t be nearly as creepy as I remember it). It was one of the first anime I watched that was a bit more “adult” (there was a rape scene, albeit not demonic) and it put its monster design and darker themes to good use. What I found interesting was how it used the non-demonic elements to heighten the creep factor; the heroine who just gets more and more unhinged, the darkness in a family house, the extremely skeezy elder brother, the imagery of a city on fire… from demonic intervention, yes, but it’s still a very real image informed by the fire bombings of Tokyo. I hesitate to endorse it fully as it’s been a long time since I’ve seen it, but if nothing else, it’s interesting to see as a time capsule of adult horror anime.
4. Serial Experiment Lain
Wait, you say, isn’t Serial Experiment Lain more cyberpunk than horror? Yes, but it also is extremely creepy, in spite of (or because of!) its heavy philosophical and symbolic content. Let’s be honest, who wasn’t creeped out by the dark, flooded room of wires and monitors that Lain’s room becomes? Or by what happens to Lain’s sister? Or by Lain herself, in her detached and strange behaviour, even her character design? Heck, the story begins as a ghost story, with a teenage suicide victim emailing her friends from inside the “Wired”. Whether it’s the hum of the telephone wires or the long, silent shots, Lain is just plain eerie.
Disclaimer: I haven’t seen much of Hellsing beyond the first four episodes and parts of the OAV, but you can tell just from a glance that it brings a nice one-two punch of both creepiness and badassery… which is a difficult feat. The danger with having a badass, trenchcoated hero with cool pistols and an Awesome McCoolname is that any sense of danger or darkness can feel somewhat muted; it’s difficult to build a creeping sense of one’s own helplessness when you can just shoot it in the head while flipping over ten cars and flying. Hellsing manages to maintain the muted terror factor with a combination of excellent dark visuals and making the hero himself into a well of squick. Alucard may be the protagonist, and a cool one at that, but that doesn’t cancel out the vague sense of unease whenever he’s around. What is he going to do next? How is he going to brutally decimate his opponents? OH MY GOD, is he shoving that gun barrel INTO her stomach? Creeeeeeepy.
2. TIE: Boogiepop Phantom and Perfect Blue
Boogiepop Phantom is another series I haven’t seen to completion, but while I stopped watching Hellsing due to RL getting in the way, I stopped watching Boogiepop Phantom because I was too creeped out by the first few episodes. The serial killer plot managed to scare me so badly that I refused to watch any more. That’s got to be worth a high spot on the list! Perfect Blue, on the other hand, wasn’t bad enough to make me stop watching, but it certainly stayed with me for a long time. There’s plenty of material scares to be had in Perfect Blue – the deformed stalker certainly creeped me the hell out – but the real terror is wrapped up in the theme of identity, and loss thereof. One of the scariest scenes, in my opinion, is the scene where the emotionally-broken heroine is reading the blog of her imposter saying that she want to this store or that event and saying, in a soft monotone, “I guess I must have done that.” It’s not exactly pants-wetting terror, but it’s the sort of thing to make you squirm in your seat and feel uncomfortable for at least a week.
Yes, I know, STOP LAUGHING. Akira is a sci-fi cyberpunk epic, a grand tale of modernity and isolation and the dangers of science. It has gangs and doctors and child psychics and strange blue-skinned dwarves and A GODDAMNED GIANT TEDDY BEAR THAT BLEEDS MILK WTF. I don’t care what anyone says, the scene where Tetsuo is hallucinating in his hospital room is one of the most terrifying things ever animated, and things only get worse from there. Like the bit where he, uh, paints the hallways, shall we say. Or the bit at the end where he turns into something that has quite frankly haunted my nightmares from the age of 17. I SAID STOP LAUGHING, DAMNIT. To some, Akira is a masterpiece of cyberpunk bleakness. To this writer, it’s one of the creepiest, most terrifying anime movies ever created.
What are your favorite scary, creepy or horrific anime titles?