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 ...
#5. Bimbo'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:
#4. The 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 ...
#3. Blue Cat Blues (1956) -- Tom and Jerry Get Depressed, Kill Themselves
Over the past 70 years, Tom from Tom and Jerry has survived so many face explosions, dog bites and mousetrap-related accidents that he's got to be used to the pain by now. That's why a cartoon from 1956 decided to take things to the next level by killing not his body, but his soul.
The cartoon starts with Tom sitting in the middle of a train track with the clear intention of letting the train run over him as Jerry's suave narration states that "in a few minutes it'll all be over" and that "it's better this way."
Pictured: Adele's cat.
We then flash back to reveal the reason of Tom's suicidal despair: a dame.
Tom instantly falls in love with her and they have some tender moments together (as far as we can tell, because her expression never changes), but the floozy ends up leaving him the moment she spots another cat with more money. Tom tries to win her back by using his life savings to buy her jewelry:
And giving himself up for slavery to buy a new car:
When people sign slavery contracts, it's usually less about new cars and more about really weird orgasms.
But nothing works. Devastated, he turns to drink:
Finally, we come back to the railroad tracks, with Tom waiting to die as Jerry reflects on how lucky he is to have a loving girlfriend -- however, Jerry's world quickly shatters as well when he happens to see his girl cheating on him with the guy she just married, and he joins Tom on the tracks, both of them waiting for death.
So ... this is where they hug and realize that they're not really alone as long as they have each other, right? Or, at the very least, when they remember that they're a cat and a mouse and start carrying out a whimsical chase sequence, united in their hate? Right?
And remember, kids: There's not enough food for everyone.
Nope. They just sit there as we hear a whistle indicating that the train approaches, and then ... it's over. Holy shit, was this the last episode of the series or something? Now we know where The Sopranos got the idea for the finale, except that at least they made it somewhat ambiguous and not totally soul-crushing.