|“||I mean, really, what kind of a demonically evil scheme involves rollercoasters and cotton candy anyway?||„|
|~ Murray the Demonic Skull|
The Circus of Fear is an unimaginably popular common theme in dark fantasy which takes the traditional realm of circuses and fair-grounds then warps them into nightmarish dystopias - often changing the pleasant theme of such places into demonic parodies that frighten rather than amuse. This also applies carnival-like/clown-like villainous groups in media and literature such with their implied names and namesake lairs of such nature, such as the Dead Moon Circus from the Sailor Moon universe and Professor Screweyes' Eccentric Circus from the animated movie We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story.
The concept of a Circus of Fear is at least as old as fair-grounds themselves and although some class them as different scenarios for simplicity's sake it can be said a Circus of Fear can also be applied to amusement parks that are horrific and twisted. The Circus of Fear is often the home of the Monster Clowns.
Overnight, the circus came to town. But something is wrong — very wrong. The ringmaster is abusing the animals and performers, and the circus music, which should be cheerful, seems quite menacing. The attractions (especially the Freak Show) seem off, the cotton candy is a sickly shade of green, the knife thrower never miss, and the clowns,, the less said about the clowns the better.
And people are disappearing, either consumed by or turned into the circus denizens.
This trope is the brother to "The Little Shop That Wasn't There Yesterday", and often used in context with aberrations (or "freaks" as commonly referred to), providing instances of either "Red Right Hand" or "The Grotesque".
A common variation on the theme is a killer amusement park, with homicidal costumed mascots and a fun house that is anything but. If it is in a videogame, expect a roller coaster that acts an awful lot like a mine cart.
- CarnEvil (CarnEvil): The titular supernatural amusement park that features all horror-themed twists and psychopathic monsters on many familiar amusement park elements.
- HorrorLand (Goosebumps): A dystopian theme park that does very little to hide its terrible "secret" from the public.
- Dark Rides (real-world): Attractions such as the Dungeons, the Circus of Horrors and Hell Houses play on this theme, however unlike those found in fiction these attractions are perfectly safe for the public.
- Dead Moon Circus/Dark Moon Circus (Sailor Moon) - The evil alien organization of clown-like people and manic monsters residing in their seemingly "fun" namesake circus tent originated from Queen Nehelenia's namesake alien kingdom of the Dead Moon.
- Professor Screweyes' Eccentric Circus (We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story): A modern day traveling carnival run by the so-called "Master of Fear", Professor Screweyes.
- WESAYSO Land (Dinosaurs) - originally designed to be an amusement park in the style of Disney this way soon devolved into a totalitarian police-state run by the Wesayso Corporation and an outright antagonistic force for the duration of the episode.