Entire television empires now exist thanks to cartoon characters cursing and taking on dark subject matter. Shock humor works best when it's coming out of a character from South Park or Family Guy because we still think of cartoons as wholesome kid stuff. After all, that's the way it was prior to, say, the 1990s. Right?
Not quite. And in fact, some of the most nightmarish cartoons predate your grandparents ...
5Bimbo's Initiation (1931) -- Torture, Sexual Insanity and Betty Boop
The only way to describe this 1931 cartoon by Fleischer Studios (Disney's biggest rival at the time, best known for stuff like Popeye and Superman) is "hell."
The story follows Bimbo the dog, a forgotten cartoon mascot of the '30s, who falls down a manhole and meets a strange race of black-faced candle-headed people, one of whom chants at Bimbo, "Wanna be a member? Wanna be a member?"
Horrified, Bimbo says "no" in what is quickly revealed to be the worst decision of his life. Bimbo gets subjected to multiple torture methods/assassination attempts, ranging from having a board of spikes slowly dropped on him as he's helplessly stuck to the floor ...
... to being forced to ride a bicycle connected to a spanking wheel that bashes his ass so hard that smoke starts emanating from it ...
... to being trapped in a spinning room, a la Inception, while a large knife coming out of the wall repeatedly pokes his butt. You know, the usual cartoon stuff.
After making it through a room where lines of axes come dangerously close to decapitating him, Bimbo is dropped into another room, where he comes face to face with the leader of the candle people, who reveals that he's actually ... Betty Boop?
Bimbo, sporting the most confused boner in history.
For a second it looks like the nightmare is finally over and the cartoon is going to have a happy ending ... but then all of the other members of the candle people reveal that they are also Betty Boop. All of them. Bimbo, beyond broken at this point, simply gives up and joins their degenerate butt-slapping ritual dance. Welcome to hell.
By the way, the guy who let Bimbo fall into this maze of horrors in the first place? You might recognize him:
4The Little Pest (1931) -- A Baby Gets Beaten and Drowned
This 1931 Columbia Pictures cartoon created by Dick Huemer (who also worked on Disney films like Fantasia and Dumbo) stars a young sociopath named Scrappy whose main hobby is punching babies, making him the second worst Scrappy in cartoon history.
The cartoon follows Scrappy as he tries to get rid of his baby brother, Oopy, so he can go on a fishing trip with his dog. The more Oopy insists on tagging along, the more violent Scrappy turns against him. It starts with some mild pushing and threatening:
But then it quickly escalates into Scrappy smacking the kid right in the face, hard enough to send him flying across several yards:
"It's not child abuse if a child does it, right?" -Dick Huemer
Scrappy abandons his brother in the forest and goes fishing, but then Oopy (clearly brain damaged at this point) catches up to him anyway. After managing to not beat up any babies for a record time of two minutes, things get violent again when Scrappy's fishing line gets tangled with Oopy's and he ends up pushing his brother into the water. Oopy obviously can't swim and starts screaming for help:
"It's the '30s, kid. Pull yourself up out of that lake by your bootstraps."
Scrappy pretends he doesn't hear him and actually starts walking off, whistling cheerfully as we hear the horrible infant drowning noises.
Suddenly, Scrappy decides to save his brother ... not because his conscience tells him to (he doesn't have one), but because he sees a vision of the electric chair. No, if he kills his brother, it has to be clean and without leaving behind any evidence.
The moral of the cartoon is: Never drown a baby in Texas.
He pulls Oopy out of the water and starts freaking out because he's not breathing.
After several panicked moments, Oopy is revived, and for a second Scrappy seems relieved, even emotional ... but then Oopy says, "I want a drink of water," causing Scrappy to fall right back into his old homicidal self and chuck the baby back into the water. The end.
Seriously, the last thing we see is the baby landing in the water and Scrappy walking away, knowing full well that his brother can't swim. Yet this is not the darkest ending on our list ...