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13 Chilling Horror Anime

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When leaves are on the ground and jack-o-lanterns flicker in the windows, it's time to load up the DVD player with anime titles that send a chill down the spine. Here are thirteen anime titles for Halloween (or any dark and stormy night!), each scary in their own creative way: vampires and bogeymen, urban legends and demons from beyond, ghosts and zombies and you-name-it.

Note that many of these are suggested for teens and up, and a few are definitely for mature audiences only.

1. Ayakashi: Samurai Horror Tales

Image courtesy Pricegrabber
A curious experiment, where an animation team brought to life a series of horror stories from Japanese folklore via character designs created by top-ranking Japanese illustrator Yoshitaka Amano, he who gave Vampire Hunter D his iconic signature look. Amano's designs don't translate to animation as well as they ought to, but the stories are fascinating and moody, redolent with period flavor, and the series is well worth sticking with as a whole. (Just ignore the ridiculous hip-hop-flavored opening theme music.)
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2. Boogiepop Phantom

Image courtesy Pricegrabber

A silly name that camouflages a disturbing and challenging series, about the various people connected -- however tentatively -- to a string of murders that took place five years ago. The show plays with chronology, expectations, emotional responses, you name it; it's one of those experiences that leaves a mark even when you can't say precisely what it's about. One of those shows that rewards rewatching, and close rewatching at that.

3. Shiki

© Fuyumi Ono · Ryu Fujisaki / Shueisha · SHI KI Committee. Image courtesy FUNimation.

When a clan of what appear to be vampires move into a bucolic little village in the country and begin feasting on the locals, the battle lines seem clear: humans good, vampires bad. But one of the many, many surprises of Shiki is in how it plays with, confounds, and ultimately sabotages your expectations for everyone and everything involved. A genuinely horrific story, and not at all for the reasons you might initially think.

4. Hell Girl

© ©Jigoku Shoujo Project/SKY Perfect Well Think • Aniplex. Image courtesy Pricegrabber.
Log into Hell Girl's website at midnight and she'll send one person of your choice straight to hell ... for the cost of your immortal soul. From this simple premise comes a remarkably complex story with any number of supernatural overtones and chilling twists, and with some intriguing roots in Japanese mythology. Its only real problem is that many of the same story beats tend to repeat themselves, but that's only a problem if you watch more than one episode at once.

5. Hellsing

© Kouta Hirano •Shonen Gahosha Co, Ltd. / Wild Geese. Image courtesy Pricegrabber.

Who's the best person to send after a vampire? Another vampire, of course. Based (somewhat loosely) on the manga of the same name, Hellsing follows the adventures of vampire (and now vampire hunter) Alucard and his female partner Seras Victoria as they comb England and points beyond to find and stop the plague of undead. A perennial fan favorite, the series exists both in a TV incarnation and an even better direct-to-video (OAV) version.

6. Higurashi: When They Cry

© 2006 Ryukishi07/Higurashi-P/SOTSU. Image courtesy Pricegrabber.
Five young friends living together in a small village in the Japanese countryside are confronted with the mystery of a series of murders that happens at the same time every year. The outward cuteness and humor of the show doesn't hint at the horrific turns it takes over time. It's also more about psychological horror and mystery than out-and-out gore, but that doesn't stop them from throwing in the occasional ax murder to make things interesting.
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7. Paranoia Agent

© Satoshi Kon • MADHOUSE / PARANOIA AGENT COMMITTEE. Image courtesy Pricegrabber.
When a young woman invents a story about being attacked by a shadowy urban-legend figure named "Shonen Bat", the legend takes on a life of its own and begins a rampage of destruction that might consume all of reality. Satoshi Kon (Perfect Blue) created this 13-episode series with a large cast of characters whose actions all influence each other peripherally, like a nightmare version of movies like Traffic or Crash. It's creepy in a cumulative way, and lingers with you long after it's over, in a way way many other more conventional "horror" stories don't.
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8. Perfect Blue

©1997 MADHOUSE INC. ©1997 REX ENTERTAINMENT CO., LTD. Image courtesy Pricegrabber.
A former member of a Japanese girl pop group dives headfirst into her new acting career -- which may simply be a front by persons unknown to drive her mad. A terrific homage to everyone from Alfred Hitchcock to Italian experimental horror director Dario Argento, which demands more than one viewing to make sense but is jolting from the git-go. This was Satoshi Kon's first feature-length effort -- which by itself says something: if his first movie was this mindblowing, what would be come up with next? (Tokyo Godfathers, Millennium Actress, Paprika...)
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9. Requiem from the Darkness

© Natsuhiko Kyogoku • TMS. Image courtesy Pricegrabber.
A would-be writer in premodern Japan wants to create an anthology of 100 horror stories, and ends up in the company of three wanderers who show him no end of terrible things as fodder for his storytelling. Adapted (very loosely) from a popular novel, Darkness merges a fantastic-looking animation style with the kind of old-school, Hammer-Horror-style chills that they don't make much of anymore.
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10. Tokyo Majin

When the dead start coming back to life, it's up to a gang of high-school kids with extraordinary powers to fend them off and discover who's pulling strings behind the scenes. The answer stretches back through their own pasts and even into previous lives. A show with style to burn, although it also tilts more towards straight-up action than horror as it goes further on. Great animation, too, which doesn't decay as markedly in later episodes as it does in other shows of the same ilk.
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