WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Gravity Falls
Here’s something that I’ve been meaning to write for a very long time. And with it being the week of Halloween, now is the perfect time to remind you all that Gravity Falls was a damn scary cartoon when it wanted to be. While the show saw twins Dipper and Mabel regularly dealing with all manner of paranormal phenomena during their summer vacation, they were usually just kind of weird and occasionally more humorous than threatening, like the surprisingly sophisticated Multi-Bear or the living videogame character Rumble McSkirmish.
But every once in a while, viewers would be subjected to something surprisingly and effectively creepy and/or terrifying. I’m still baffled that Disney allowed creator Alex Hirsch and the rest of the staff to include some of these monsters.
I’ve already praised the show in my review of it but let’s go deeper into the strange woods of this quiet Oregon town and get a good look at what I consider to be the scariest beings in Gravity Falls.
1. The Summerween Trickster
While not the first legitimately scary creature to appear in the show, I feel like the Summerween Trickster was the first to almost lack any comedic elements. Even the likes of the convenience store ghosts and the living wax figures could be so funny, you’d forget to be scared of them. Not so much this guy.
For the uninitiated, Summerween is just an excuse for the residents of Gravity Falls to celebrate Halloween during the summer. But with that brings the Trickster, who targets those who lack the Summerween spirit. He already has an intimidating presence, resembling a gangling scarecrow and possessing a soft but chilling voice, and one of his first on-screen acts is eating a small child whole (don’t worry, they’re fine).
But near the episode’s conclusion, he becomes a screaming, rampaging monstrosity. Underneath the mask and clothes is a formless black sludge-looking thing (one that deliberately resembles No Face from Spirited Away), which is probably even more terrifying. Admittedly, he becomes a little less scary once it’s revealed that he’s made out of all of the candy that no one wants to eat (like, come on, that’s really funny) and Soos eats him alive; something the Trickster always wanted.
Despite this, the Trickster is, without a doubt, one of the scariest creatures Dipper and Mabel encountered in the first season and his episode never fails to send shivers down my spine. Maybe next time, think twice before you throw your candy away.
2. The Island Head Beast
If you’re a Gravity Falls fan and haven’t checked out the shorts they released in-between Seasons 1 and 2, I highly recommend you do. They may be only a couple minutes long but they are very entertaining and have some of my favourite jokes in them. Some of them, titled Dipper’s Guide to the Unexplained, shone the spotlight on some of Gravity Falls’ more bizarre creatures, like an omniscient mailbox and a man who never showed the right side of his body. They were quick, goofy antics but one in particular stood out for being bone-chillingly terrifying despite being on-screen for only a few seconds.
The short begins with Dipper finding a giant tooth on the shore, so he and Mabel get on a boat in the middle of the night to investigate and see bubbles in the water near a small island. Suddenly, the island rises out the lake, revealing it to actually be a giant, grotesque looking head that floats towards the two, screaming in an unintelligible dialect. These shorts are presented as if we’re watching camcorder footage so between that and the monster itself, this is easily the scariest short of the bunch.
Just the fact that this thing has been in the lake this whole time and is still there is scary enough but, just for added horror, if you play what it says backwards, it’s saying “You have awoken me from my slumber! Enter my mouth, children! Enter your destiny!” … Ominous.
It may have only been a few seconds but this monster definitely left its mark, with its hideous appearance and unknown origin. Though depending on who you ask, the actual horrifying part of this short was Mabel’s Bear-O puppet.
I think a lot of people are going to raise an eyebrow at this one but this mutated cow from another one of the shorts really unnerves me. Granted, it doesn’t get a lot of focus and, at first glance, is just a cow with some extra legs. In fact, the short is all about Mabel convincing her family to save Octavia from being eaten and release her into the wild.
But it’s what happens right at the end that freaks me out. As the family bid farewell to Octavia, she shoots lasers out of her eyes at a passing falcon, roasting it to a crisp. An elongated tongue shoots out of her mouth and wraps around the bird’s corpse, slowly dragging it into her mouth before she starts chewing on it; her once dead-looking eyes now glowing bright yellow. I think it’s the slow chewing that gets me, and what’s worse is that we see it.
There’re much scarier things on this list but Octavia deserves a special mention for being so damn freaky.
4. The Undead
It would’ve been weird if Gravity Falls never featured zombies at any point. And while the zombie concept has become rather tired and stale over the last several years, I feel like the show handled them perfectly. It constantly teased them throughout the first season before kicking off the second season with a full on horde of the things.
Admittedly, they’re not the most interesting of creatures, especially when compared to some of the town’s much weirder inhabitants, but they’re not meant to be. These things only exist to be scary, which they most definitely succeed in doing. The lack of personality only helps that, combined with their skeletal design and eerie green colour scheme. They’re classic zombies – forever shambling and unkillable, with their only instinct being to devour brains. And sometimes, the classics are what work best.
These things were not only effective but were a great way to open up the season and kind of set the tone for the rest of the show, as things were about to get a lot less whimsical.
5. The Shapeshifter
The Shapeshifter is another classic horror trope – a creature that could perfectly impersonate anything. The possibility of your relative, neighbour or pet actually being some hideous monster in disguise is perfect paranoia fuel. But this is a Disney show. Surely this concept would be toned down by the censors so it’d be less scary for children. Oh how naive you are to think that because the episode the Shapeshifter appears in is not only one of the series’ best, it’s also one of its scariest.
The Shapeshifter being able to… shape shift is bad enough but it’s also smart and capable of speech. It successfully tricks Dipper and Wendy into thinking it’s the Author of the Journals, allowing it to get a glimpse of Dipper’s journal so that it can transform into any of the other monsters that the book has info of. And considering how many powerful beasts there are, do I even need to explain why that’s a bad thing? Especially since it can combine forms if this Dipper/Mabel hybrid it turns into is any indication.
Yes, what you are seeing was aired in a Disney cartoon primarily aimed at children. This thing makes ME shit my pants, looking like something that should belong in John Carpenter’s The Thing. And even it’s default form is simply grotesque, with its milky-looking skin and uneven proportions. Oh, and it’s voiced by Mark Hamill, who can always deliver a creepy performance when needed to.
While it was defeated for good, the Shapeshifter successfully played on paranoia, is downright horrific to look at and the final form it took – a forever screaming Dipper – left a chilling mark that only spelled bad things for the future.
Or is it pronounced JIFfany? Regardless, GIFfany may certainly seem appealing at first glance. A cute, pink-haired anime/videogame girl who fawns over the player – I’m sure there are a lot of guys who’d fall for something like her, including Soos, whose own insecurities with talking to actual women drive him to the pixelated pixie girl. But once Soos finds himself being attracted to another woman who he can physically take to his cousin’s engagement party, GIFfany quickly displays her more manic tendencies, which voice actor Jessica DiCicco captures perfectly.
She’s simply obsessed – as far as she’s concerned, Soos is hers and he has to devote all his time to her. And when Soos turns the game off, she just snaps, jumping from electronic to electronic to stalk Soos and give him an ultimatum – be hers or die. And she isn’t bluffing; she casually admits that when the original developers caught on to her obsessiveness, they tried deleting her so she killed them first. And considering her game was returned a few times until Soos bought it, it only means this has happened before. It seemingly doesn’t matter who you are – the moment you play the game, GIFfany will make you hers.
In the episode, she also manages to possess a bunch of animatronics so that she has a physical form to kill Soos’ new girlfriend and Dipper and Mabel with (feel free to make your own Five Nights at Freddy’s comparison). And while Soos saves the day by destroying her game, she didn’t die, managing to escape into an arcade cabinet. Fortunately, she seems to have eyes for another game character now, leaving all us single gamer nerds safe and maybe less inclined to find romance with a fictional character.
7. The Lumberjack Ghost
When you hear the words “lumberjack ghost,” you’d probably think that this would be one of the sillier creatures our heroes encounter. You would be wrong. While this spectre certainly gets a couple of laughs, he is for the most part a vengeful and terrifying spirit who only wants to exact revenge against the entire Northwest family. And if you happen to be in his way, he’ll kill you too.
Everything about this guy only makes him scarier. His hulking frame, missing eye, kick-ass fire-beard, his axe, his initial (brief) appearance as a flaming skeleton and his booming voice (provided by Kevin Michael Richardson) all come together to help him live up to his status as a level ten ghost, with the only advice the usually trustworthy journal can give is “pray for mercy.” He even makes blood pour out of the mouths of the mounted animal heads. Again, this is a Disney cartoon!
Admittedly, had he simply targeted the current Northwests, he probably wouldn’t seem so bad since, let’s face it, the Northwests are terrible people. But the fact that he even targets Pacifica – a young girl who’s kind of blameless and who’s one crime is being a Northwest – shows how axe-crazy (HA!) he is. His most horrid act is turning all the innocent party guests into wood including Dipper, whose transformation is a pretty horrendous sight to behold.
Northwest Mansion Mystery is easily one of my favourite episodes and this hardcore ghoul is one major reason why.
If you’re arachnophobic, best look away now. Hell, I think even those who aren’t afraid of spiders would probably still be freaked out at the sight of Darlene – a giant spider-lady who preys on gullible men like Grunkle Stan. Sure, at first glance, she doesn’t seem too scary visually; her spider-half more disconcerting than anything. But then she transforms. Her spider form is overly ugly as it is but it’s the way she transforms that gets me, literally peeling the entire top half of the body back FROM THE MOUTH! (I’ve uploaded a GIF of it further down but be warned)
But what’s possibly much worse than her appearance are her actions. In her human form, she runs a tourist trap that has a Mummy Museum – one that gets “new mummies daily.” The episode doesn’t even attempt to shy away from the fact that those mummies were once men that Darlene seduced, wrapped up in her webs and then ate, leaving only their skeletons behind.
The show has had its villains concoct some pretty dastardly schemes but this is beyond messed up. Plus, she’s been doing this for years. And while our heroes were able to escape, she also survives the encounter and the last we see of her is her promising that she’ll keep her “business” going. Most monsters are either vanquished or harmless enough that they’re unlikely to cause any trouble. But Darlene isn’t foiled and is most likely still preying on unsuspecting victims right now. Suddenly, arachnophobia doesn’t seem as irrational now.
9. Lil’ Gideon
All the monsters I’ve written about so far share a common reason as to why they’re scary – they’re unrecognisable. We fear them because they’re nothing like anything we see in real life. They defy what we consider to be normal. Supposed child psychic Gideon Gleeful, on the other hand, is scary for the exact opposite reason – he’s human, and he embodies the very worst traits you can imagine; traits that we see plenty of in day-to-day life.
Anyone who’s not watched the show is probably looking at the picture of him and thinking “Really?” But I assure you, there’s a reason why this guy was the main villain of the first season. He puts on a very good act of being a sweet, little boy with legit telepathy – one the entire town, aside from the Pines family, falls for – but we get many peeks behind the metaphorical curtain at his true nature. He’s a vindictive, greedy, unstable child who, after discovering one of the journals, developed a lust for power seemingly for power’s sake.
He’s clearly emotionally abusive to his parents, with his dad doing anything to try and keep Gideon happy and constantly making excuses for his behaviour and his mum is just a jittering wreck who’s barely keeping it together. Almost everything he does throughout the show is motivated by a single desire to ruin the Pines family and make them suffer.
To be fair, this is mostly super-villain-esque stuff but what makes him recognisable to a lot of people are his actions in his debut episode. Gideon is clearly infatuated with Mabel, doing everything he can to woo her to the point where it makes her uncomfortable. She constantly tries to let him down gently but he keeps emotionally manipulating her, turning them into the town’s dream couple. So when Dipper tries to break-up with Gideon for her, he snaps and assumes Dipper’s getting in the way and tries to murder him.
Even after Mabel finally lets Gideon have it, calling him out on what a dirtbag he’s been, Gideon remains obsessed with her throughout the show, constantly threatening her to be his and even kidnapping her a couple of times. While it may be over-the-top a lot of the time, Gideon’s entitled “nice guy” routine is something that occurs in real life too and seeing Mabel being pressured to be with someone she doesn’t like in that way might strike a chord with a lot of people.
Gideon may not have been completely immune to being humiliated and was shown to be very pathetic at times but Season 1 always reminds me of how monstrous he was. Though he did ultimately seek redemption by the show’s end so maybe there’s some hope for him.
10. Bill Cipher
I don’t think words can effectively capture the true terror that is Bill Cipher. Similar to villains like DC’s Joker, he is capable of being both incredibly funny and frightening – sometimes at the same time. The dude was wrapped in mystery for so long, only ever appearing a handful of times, and each appearance served as a reminder that this goofy prankster was so much more than he seemed.
A demon from another dimension, Bill grew so bored of his own home that he destroyed it singlehandedly and made it his goal to turn our dimension into his personal playground – a never-ending apocalypse where he could do whatever he wanted. And he very nearly succeeded, for as silly as he acted, he was also smart, able to manipulate so many characters, even the really intelligent ones like Dipper and Ford just by taking advantage of their insecurities.
His reality warping powers certainly help too. Even when he’s still confined to the mindscape (essentially a dimension that exists in people’s heads), he’s capable of doing so much if his first fight with Dipper and Mabel was any indication. And when he’s able to break out into the real world, he’s borderline unstoppable, turning people into stone to create a makeshift throne for him and just causing untold and almost indescribable mayhem.
I still don’t think this section does him justice, so I’ll cap things off with this page from one of the Author’s journals that I think best highlights the kind of monster this twisted triangle really is.