It's hard to believe Gravity Falls debuted over three years ago. Perhaps due in part to a sporadic production schedule, it still feels like only months ago that we first met Dipper, Mabel, Soos, Wendy and Grunkle Stan in what seemed like little more than a cute, quirky, episodic children's comedy. Nearly forty episodes later, we find ourselved sucked into a multi-layer transdimensional conspiracy orchestrated in part by an all-seeing cosmic demon. Gravity Falls, in fact, has had some of the darkest moments under the Disney label since Frollo sang a musical number about eternal damnation, and at the time of this writing, it's left us on an end-of-the-world cliffhanger until the fortieth episode drops next month. There's no predicting where the series will be going from there, but while we wait, let's take a look back at some of its very loveliest spooks and mutants!
The Freezer Ghost
The Inconveniencing was mostly the story of an elderly couple haunting an abandoned convenience store, and for the most part, a pure-comedy episode typical of the early first season. All except for one glorious moment, one "jump scare" shot in which the ghost couple manifest this magnificently horrible form in an ice cabinet, probably our very first taste of how grisly this series could actually et. A brain with actual nerves for appendages is a rare monster design compared to just a brain with non-specific tentacles, and I love how the nerves here are entwined into a set of hands. More unique, and more disturbing, is that disembodied mouth, like you sliced out just the lips and jaws from a complete head. Surprisingly, I've never seen that done on a brain creature before. It's pretty striking.
Octavia, the Multi-Legged Cow
Isn't it nice to see a mutant animal in a cartoon portrayed realistically for once? That is, with its extra appendages jutting out at odd angles and uselessly malformed? The punchline comes when the kids set Octavia loose in the woods and she demonstrates how much more mutated she actually is. I'm just surprised a Disney Channel cartoon showed a bird getting killed.
While zombies continue to be rehashed ad nauseum in almost every form of media, you can always count on a children's cartoon to treat them right, by which I mean making them as grotesque and putrid as they always ought to be. Oozing slime, dangling eyeballs, exposed bone...these are some of the best looking cartoon zombies in a long time.
The best part of the zombie outbreak, however, was Soos getting infected, and far from turning into a mindless, groaning monster, remained his goofy, friendly self...and casually tried to devour his friend's brains. It's played for laughs, but how fascinating and terrifying would that honestly be? Nothing about who you are changes, except that you're going to kill and eat people you used to love and that's just all there is to it. A joke moment with Soos, of all characters, just made zombies ten times more frightening.
The Summerween Trickster
How do you have a Halloween special in a series that takes place over the course of a summer? Simple; the town of Gravity Falls just loves Halloween so much, they celebrate it twice a year, carving watermelons into "Summerween" Jack O' Lanterns and trick or treating in the middle of July. Besides rocketing Gravity Falls to the top ten on my list of fictional towns I'd retire to, Summerween also has its own supernatural mascot, The Summerween Trickster, said to eat people alive if they lack the Summerween spirit.
As the Trickster wolfs down one victim after another, he goes from an eerily masked humanoid to a blobbier, more toad-like beast in a pretty clear reference to Miyazaki's Spirited Away. Unlike Noh Face, however, we eventually learn that the trickster is a creature brought to life by toxic waste...and formed entirely out of candy. Specifically, unpopular candy that wound up in the town garbage, like black licorice, candy corn, all the little hard candies associated with decorative bowls in old people's houses. All the candy wants is to be a little more appreciated, and devours children as ironic vengeance for being snubbed.
The candy corn, I could probably help with. I don't know if I could stomach any smarties or tootsie rolls just for this guy's self esteem issues.
In the real world, the "hidebehind" is one of the "fearsome critters" from North American lumberjack folklore, and it's pretty cool to see a cartoon show dip into that particular well. It even makes logical sense for Gravity Falls, which takes place in the same surroundins these tall tales originated. The hidebehind was never formally described, but said to be a creature that hides behind trees and other objects as it stalks its victims.
In Gravity Falls, the hidebehind is given an excellently simple, creepy design, a black and gnarled humanoid with some subtly insectile features and a chattering, cicada-like call. Its comical poses are straight out of a Looney Tunes gag, but it might just be one of the scariest things in the series, and we know from the original tales that it's a flesh eater.
Correctly pronounced with a hard "g" sound, Gifanny is a self-aware, malevolent electronic entity inhabiting a dating game, something I've surprisingly never seen referenced in a cartoon show before. Surprisingly for a single, male gamer who lives with his grandma, Soos actually isn't content to be in a relationship with a simulated anime character, let alone one that quickly becomes murderously possessive of him.
The real fun begins with Gifanny feels really spurned, and begins to take over the electronics of an entire arcade - including the animatronic animal band. This episode coincided with the explosive popularity of Five Nights at Freddy's, but having been in production long before Freddy Fazbear was ever revealed to the public, it was really only a happy little accident. An impressive one, too, since up to that point, I'd almost never seen the creepiness of animatronic animal bands really milked for horror.
The Ghost of Northwest Manor
I think this might have been the point we really knew this show wasn't screwing around. The first episode of gravity falls brought us barfing gnomes, a robot dinosaur and dudebro minotaurs. The second season has a flaming skeleton crawl out of a fireplace while taxidermied animals bleed red wax from every orifice and repeatedly chant the words "ANCIENT SINS. ANCIENT SINS."
The ghost isn't as horrifying once he's finished manifesting, but we are treated to a hardcore origin story, where his only reward for having helped build Northwest manor is an axe lodged in his face. A freak accident nobody is really to blame for, but one that comes after the Northwest family treat their own workers like garbage - and we're told that the long, arduous construction of their mansion already cost the lives of several other blue-collar workers. It's hard to really call this ghost a villain.
In a fairly recent episode, Grunkle Stan sets off to "prank" (completely sabotage) his rival tourist traps, including one that boasts such attractions as local legends of spider people and "new mummies daily." These two things seem like one-off jokes when we're first told about them, but both turn out to be relevant to the story, and both are directly related to one another.
Darlene usually disguises herself as a human, and humors Stan's delusional pick-up-artist routine to add another shriveled corpse to her museum. When we finally see what she really looks like, it's one of the coolest and most adorable spider-people I can recall in quite some time, and she wears her fake (or is it?) human skin like a little belt! Aww!!
The Hand Witch
As a story told to us by Grunkle Stan, the Hand Witch isn't considered "canon" in the Gravity Falls universe, and she's played entirely for comedy from start to finish. These two facts may be the only way the series could have ever gotten by with something so, so monstrous, as the hand witch, however adorable, is by far one of the ghastliest ideas it's ever presented. The witch actually curses Grunkle Stan so his hands break off and leave, which is horrifying enough in any context, but she's apparently done that kind of a lot, since she lives alone in a cave positively crawling with hands she's presumably collected from hundreds of other victims over the centuries. This would be a terrifying concept in real life, it would be a terrifying concept in a live-action horror movie, and it's still a pretty terrifying concept in a hilarious cartoon show on the Disney channel. One of the most interesting things about the hand witch, besides the fact that there's a hand witch, is that she doesn't seem to have any legs, but walks around on another pair of hands, which probably also aren't her own, but appear to be bandaged onto her body.
That hand design on her robe is pretty killer, too.
"How do you like my true form? Come on, be honest, you like it" might be my single favorite line uttered in the series to date, and the answer to the shapeshifter's question, of course, is "lots." This guy is gorgeous, between the alien lamprey-horse face, the absurdly asymmetrical arms and that slimy, gelatinous white surface, he truly looks like the default state of something that can transform its shape, and he doesn't just use that ability to imitate humans or animals, either.
The shapeshifter takes on several forms resembling otherworldly monsters, and we have to wonder whether they come from his imagination or simply from the same alien environment he may have hailed from. One is more or less frog-like, but with three huge eyes and a long, slimy tongue more like that of a chameleon's.
Another form looks a lot like an isopod, but with soft, squishy little legs, weird lips and shingle-like armor plates. This form can roll into a wheel, like a pillbug, and again I have to wonder if he based it on an Earthly roly-poly or not.
By the time he takes on this configuration, the shifter is obviously just showboating. It's close enough to his true form that he shouldn't really need to be shifted at all, but he felt it necessary to have crab claws, a single eye, and a bulbous head clutched by giant fingers. It's his next transformation that really takes the cake, however.
What can I even say about Bill that you can't get out of a quick tumblr search? The all-knowing, all-powerful demonic entity is high among the cartoon world's most threatening and most entertaining villains, every moment he's on screen an absolute joy to watch from the first time he tried to give a child a big handful of deer teeth as a present. Of all the weird, twisted magical beings we've seen in entertainment, Bill is one of the funniest and still manages to be remarkably scary while he's at it, an entity of enormous power running on impenetrably inhuman logic and driven to bring about the end of our world for personal reasons we've either yet to learn or never will. Bill's online fanbase has almost far surpassed the fandom for the rest of the show, and you need only hear his melodious devil-voice to see why so many people want to jump his bones.
The best thing about Bill is, churchy media watchdogs have warned us for decades that pagan illuminati demons are subliminally hidden in children's cartoons, but here's one front and center as the main villain of a whole Disney channel series. Now what are they going to do? We haven't really heard much from them these past few years. Did most of them just finally throw in the towel before we even reached this milestone?
The Source of The Tooth.
Bill might be the big bad and a total dreamboat, but nothing on Gravity Falls - or a whole lot elsewhere, for that matter - is quite as startling, bizarre and nightmarish as what we see in this "Guide to the Unexplained" short, The Tooth. I can't say anything about it without spoiling it, but luckily, you've got an official upload to watch, right here, right now, and you're gonna damn well do it.
But if you're wondering what that godawful, wonderful thing is actually saying, playing its gibberish backwards reveals "You have awoken me from my slumber! Enter my mouth, children! Enter your destiny!"