There’s a reason Walt Disney worked primarily with cartoons. Since the birth of film, visual effects have been limited by the technology of it’s time. But with animation you could escape those limits, experimenting with what is not normally possible. But this came at a price. Many of the people attracted ti animation were too creative for their own good – and their works turned out surprisingly creepy. Because parents generally don’t want their children scared, those disturbing cartoons were largely unsuccessful. These days they are almost entirely forgotten. So I thought i’d make a video about that – because I’m a creep myself – and I have a feeling most of my viewers are creeps too. So here it is, five creepy old cartoons.
The Cobweb Hotel – 1936
One of the cartoons that scared children the most was cobweb hotel. Released in 1936, it tells the story spider who has an ingenius way of trapping flies. Opening a fake hotel, flies come willingly to stay the night – but once there, the spider traps them in his web. There’s something about the trapped flies screaming in fear that upset viewers. The spiders creepy voice didn’t help either. Or just the nightmarish nature of the cartoon in general. In the end the flies are able to escape the bloodthirsty spider – but that did little to stop it traumatizing viewers. Interestingly, the hotel is said to be on the desk of Dave Fleisher, the cartoon’s creator.
Ugokie Kori no Tatehiki – 1931
Also in the 1930s, creepy old cartoons were being produced in Japan. One of them tells the story of a shapeshifting fox, who takes on the form of a samurai. He then decided to visit a nearby temple, which turns out to be haunted by the ghost of a raccoon. None of it makes much sense, and the grainy sound and bleak animation have given a lot of people nightmares. I don’t really understand what’s going on most of the time. At one point the samurai has a gun, but as you’d expect, that doesn’t do much to a ghost. So in the end he’s killed. It’s very strange. But it is based on traditional folklore, so there’s that. And let’s be honest, it’s still less creepy than a lot of modern Japanese animation.
The Priest and His Workman
Yet another country to produce creepy cartoons in the 1930s was the Soviet Union. Many were based on old Russian folktales – like this one, which is called “The Tale of the Priest and of His Workman Balda”. It’s unclear when exactly it was made. The husband and wife animation team behind it had to keep stopping and starting, since the 1930s was not an easy time for media figures in the Soviet Union. In the end they somehow finished their dream project. But there was a major problem – everybody was terrified of it. Considering it tells the story of an evil priest who manipulates a poor worker, and then is beaten into a state of insanity, it was always going to be dark. But the animators went overboard and scared everyone.
And then a lucky disaster stuck. During world war 2 when Russia was heavily bombed, fire spread throughout the major cities. This film, like many others, were destroyed as archives burned. To this day it remains a lost film. What you’re seeing now is part of the 4 minutes that survived the fire. It is likely everyone who saw the full cartoon is now dead – and I feel weird saying that. So let’s move on.
Balloon Land – 1935
Balloon Land did not immediately strike me as creepy. At first I thought it was just weird – a place made entirely of balloons, including the people who live there. So many things in balloon land look like dicks, but that was probably inevitable. But then someboy shows up who not only is not made of balloon, he actually hates balloons. He is pincushion man, a pervert who goes around bursting balloons with giant pins.
Popping balloons might not sound that bad, but considering the inhabitants of this town are made of balloon, what he’s attempting is clearly genocide. In time, balloon police were able to run him out of town – but by that time pincushon man had commit terrible war crimes.
It’s unlikely balloon land ever recovered from the loss of population. Scenes from the cartoon have since been used in multiple horror movies. To me Balloon Land is more weird than creepy – but to be fair I’m not a young child – I never was and never will be.
Swing You Sinners
From the same 2 brothers who produced Cobweb Hotel, Swing You Sinners is 6 years older. It seems like the Fleisher brothers made a lot of creepy old cartoons. But anyway. Inspired by the popular song Sing You Sinners, it tells the story of a mischievous dog. First he tries to kidnap a chicken for some reason. But when a police officer turns up he finds refuge in a nearby graveyard. From here it morphs from a normal playful cartoon to a more sinister one. Trapped within the graveyard as if by magic, the tombstones begin to sing to him, threatening that he will never leave.
If you break down the lyrics to this little song, they actually threaten to pulverize him, and scatter his bones. It’s like the cemetery is one big ghost pulling him underground. At one point the cemetery walls grow smaller, until totally encircling the dog. And then it somehow gets even more surreal. Escaping the walls, he jumps inside some kind of barn. Basically everything inside it tries to kill him – and a strange disjointed chicken torments him. When ghosts arrive and literally pull a razor on the dog, he finally decided to leave the barn.
But by that time even the barn itself is angry, chasing him through the cemetery. It’s not long before an entire army of ghosts is chasing the dog – the situation getting ever more nightmarish. And just like that, the cartoon ended. Cartoons in those days were less geared towards children than they now are. Adults would regularly go and see them in theaters. But even adults found Swing you Sinners disturbing.