Rick’s adventures with his grandson Morty lampoon any and all manner of sci-fi tropes and stories, but the show dips into the realm of straight-up horror almost just as frequently. Murder, destruction, gore, mayhem, precarious circumstances, and menacing villains abound in the nearly three full seasons of the show that have aired thus far.
When Rick and Morty borrows characters or plots from a horror franchise, it almost never aims for subtlety. Characters or scenarios sometimes get nearly identical replicas with just enough changes that co-creators Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland can avoid copyright infringement. More often than not, their treatment of such properties is a loving tribute, but that doesn’t mean the show can’t make fun of all manner of supposedly “scary” villains.
In fact, Rick and Morty often makes it hard to get scared when a punchline undercuts every gruesome scene or frightening enemy.
Here are the 13 times — in chronological order — that the terror felt real on Rick and Morty only to be subverted for laughs a moment later:
1. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Chases Rick and Morty in the Opening Credits
H.P. Lovecraft’s brand of horror involves the cosmic terror of the unknown amidst the incomprehensible vastness of the universe, which falls in line nicely with the nihilism of Rick and Morty. Nothing says Lovecraftian horror quite like the godly Cthulhu, a tentacled beast referenced throughout Lovecraft’s work that makes a cameo appearance in the Rick and Morty opening credits. Sadly, this is a plot that might never be really explored.
2. Scary Terry, a Freddy Krueger Knock-Off, Terrorizes Rick and Morty
Scary Terry chases Morty and Rick through Mr. Goldenfold’s dreams in “Lawnmower Dog,” and their whole misadventure is very Inception meets Nightmare on Elm Street, but the Freddy Krueger knock-off turns out to be a pretty nice guy.
Bonus points to the writers for having Rick say, “Looks like some sort of legally safe knock-off of an ‘80s horror character with miniature swords for fingers instead of knives.”
3. “Anatomy Park” Is Jurassic Park in a Human Body
There’s also a bit of Fantastic Voyage in “Anatomy Park” as Rick miniaturizes Morty to go inside the body of a hobo to check things out at an amusement park he’s building. While there, Morty encounters diseases intended to be attractions that take monstrous forms and wreak havoc. It makes for a strange but scary combination as men who worship science try to play god only to create violent monsters in the process.
4. Rick’s Love Potion “Cronenbergs” the Entire World
Rick makes a love potion for Morty that piggybacks onto the flu virus going around. It mutates the entire world into grotesque monsters that Rick calls “Cronenbergs.” It’s a reference to the work of filmmaker David Cronenberg and his films The Fly, Videodrome, and Naked Lunch that transformed characters into similar monstrosities. Here, things are taken to the extreme in a veritable apocalypse that forces Rick and Morty to migrate to a different universe.
5. Rick and Morty Bury Their Own Bodies
After the aforementioned apocalypse, Rick finds an alternate reality where he and Morty blow themselves up in gruesome fashion. All they have to do is bury their own bodies in the backyard, clean up the mess, and impersonate themselves for the rest of their lives.
6. Strawberry Smiggles
The “Interdimensional Cable” bit in Rick and Morty offers quite a few horrifying scenes, but nowhere is the show’s worship of consumerism scarier than in the commercial for “Strawberry Smiggles.” Fuse the marketing campaigns of Trix and Lucky Charms together with a hard-R rating and you get Strawberry Smiggles, in which the selfish Tophat Jones gobbles up all of the cereal only for children to murder him to devour the cereal out of his organs.
7. Rick Battles the Devil
When Summer gets a job at a local antique shop, Rick realizes that she’s working for the Devil — literally. Lucifer goes by “Mr. Needful” and sells cursed objects that fix something in a person’s life at a costly price. The general plot is nearly identical to Stephen King’s novel Needful Things (which serves as the name of the Devil’s shop in Rick and Morty).
8. The Demented A.I. in Rick’s Car Does Terrible Things to “Keep Summer Safe”
In “The Ricks Must Be Crazy” while Rick and Morty go inside the battery to Rick’s car, Summer has to wait inside the car. Rick gives the vehicle a single command: “Keep Summer safe.” As threats escalate in this subplot, the car goes from slicing up assailants like the defensive lasers in the first Resident Evil movie to manufacturing psychological trauma to manipulate soldiers.
9. Vampires Are Real
Fans love Tiny Rick for obvious reasons, but it’s easy to forget the whole reason that Rick put his consciousness into a teenage clone of himself was to investigate a vampire at the kids’ school. Sure enough, Coach Feratu (nice name) was a vampire that Rick took down offscreen. In the episode’s closing credits, a Nosferatu-looking king of the vampires is revealed as some sort of leader.
Vampires are real in Rick and Morty, so where’s our “Summer the Vampire Slayer” episode?
10. Jerry Perceives Beth as a Total Monster
When Rick dumps Jerry and Beth off at the best intergalactic couples’ counseling facility, a machine creates “mythologs” — physical manifestations of a person’s perception of another person — that represent what Beth thinks of Jerry and vice versa. Obviously, Jerry’s is a spineless slug. But Jerry’s perception of Beth looks like an Alien xenomorph and her ensuing rage gets tons of people killed in gruesom ways.
11. Morty Likes Purging a Little Too Much
Morty’s constantly struggling to do the right thing but gets screwed over for it, and he comes to the breaking point when he and Rick stay overnight during a planet’s annual Purge event. The main Purge film series has grown into a veritable franchise, and Rick and Morty’s take is no less gruesome — even if it is way more ridiculous. Rick and Morty use Iron Man-style armor to totally slaughter the locals, and Rick fires a rocket up some guy’s butt at one point.
12. Blackout Rick Becomes Jigsaw From Saw
Just when you thought the worst thing Rick could do is get blackout drunk and diarrhea all over the Vindicators’ command center, he takes things to a whole other level in “Vindicators 3: The Return of Worldender” by setting up an elaborate trap that transforms Drunk Rick into Jigsaw from Saw. Would you like to play a game? When it’s a maniac like Rick, the answer should always be no.
13. Toxic Rick and Morty Are Terrifying
Season 3’s “Rest and Ricklaxation” featured a horrifying machine that removed the “toxic” parts of Rick and Morty’s personalities and dumped their physical manifestations in a quagmire of toxicity. Toxic Rick cooks up a witchy-looking potion in what looks like a demonic ritual, and it’s able to transfer them to the real world.
Hilariously, “Nice” Rick and Morty are almost more unsettling without the toxic parts of their personalities.
Rick and Morty Season 3 airs on Adult Swim on Sundays at 11:30 p.m. Eastern.
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