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 Goin' down to Innsmouth, gonna have myself a time

Fishy faces everywhere, degenerate folk without ambitions

Goin' down to Innsmouth gonna leave my woes behind

Eldritch gibbering day and night, people shouting "Ia Cthulhu!"

Headin' on down to Innsmouth, gonna see if I can't unwind

N'gai, n'gha'ghaa, bugg-shoggog, y'hah: Yog-Sothoth, Yog-Sothoth!

So come on down to Innsmouth and meet some friends of mine!

Everybody in a small town is in on a secret. A terrible secret that nobody outside the town must know. The visiting protagonist slowly begins to suspect that something is wrong.

Such towns are often located in Lovecraft Country. If the terrible secret is covered up with a sweet veneer, see Stepford Suburbia and Uncanny Village. If it's big enough - say, a country or more - then you have yourself an Empire with a Dark Secret.

("The Secret" doesn't have to be a supernatural one; it can be something as mundane as a murder cover-up.)

A Wrong Genre Savvy character may take it for a Close Knit Community -- or vice versa.

See also Corrupt Hick, A Fete Worse Than Death.

Contrast Arcadia.

Examples of Town with a Dark Secret include:


Anime and Manga

  • Higurashi no Naku Koro ni has Hinamizawa. A dark secret? Try about a dozen. The Curse of the Cotton Drifting Festival is only the first we learn about.
  • Many of the towns that Kino visits in Kino's Jouney have a dark secret somewhere along the line. Sometimes it isn't an actual secret, but just something that casual travelers won't notice at the first sight, while at other times it's played dead straight.
  • The town that Kirika wanders into in Noir was founded for the sole purpose of guarding the entrance to Altena's manor, and the villagers will kill anyone who interferes with their instructions.
  • Kurôzu-cho from Uzumaki seems normal enough... for about five minutes. Then people start going insane, turning into giant snails, whirlpools start sinking any boats that come near... you know, all the normal risks of building your town on top of some kind of crazy Cosmic Horror Story spiral shrine that is both alive and seems to just really, really hate people. All people. A lot.
  • Mr. John Smith's town of actors in the Read or Die TV series.
  • In Monster one of the towns mentioned was used for child psychological experiments.
  • Another has definitely got a dark secret in Yomiyama. In fact, it's one of the series' main plot points.


Comic Books

  • Wildstorm's comic book sequel to the 2003 The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake reveals that the residents of the town are completely aware of Leatherface and his family's murderous and cannibalistic tendencies, but don't do anything out of fear of retribution. At one point, after the heroine escapes from the Hewitt family lair and makes it into a bar in town the patrons stop her from calling for help and bring her to the pursuing Leatherface.

  Bar Patron: "We don't want no Hewitt trouble."

  • While we're on the topic of Wildstorm, this is essentially the entire premise of Out There. El Dorado, California is a prosperous community -- because of a Deal with the Devil. Four local teenagers find out. Hilarity, as you can imagine, ensues.
  • Matt Murdock finds himself run afoul of one of these in Daredevil: Reborn -- there's an old quarry filled with corpses, and he almost gets added to the pile after the sheriff discovers who he is.
  • Nightwing once encountered a town where every inhabitant was in the witness protection program, and the inhabitants where prepared to kill to ensure that no one from their old lives find out where they were.
  • The Fantastic Four, at the beginning of their superhero career defeated a group of Skrull spies. Reed Richards brainwashed them into becoming cows and retaining that form for life. The milk from these cows affected a small dairy town named King's Crossing, causing the inhabitants to develop shapeshifting powers and become paranoid and insular. The Fantastic Four, via a girl Johnny Storm was dating, ended up investigating the town and neutralizing the threat.


Fanfic


Film

  • The classic 1955 film Bad Day At Black Rock which inspired many of the other examples on this list.
  • The Stepford Wives
  • Children of the Corn
  • High Plains Drifter
  • Hollowed Ground is about a small farming town who kills visiting families and tries to make one visitor give birth to their messiah.
  • The Canadian short film "There Are Monsters," combined with The Virus.
  • Beautifully subverted/averted in the movie Big Fish with the mysterious town of Specter: the idyllic small town exuding a weird feeling of wrongness appears to be a textbook version of this trope (complete with hints that no one ever leaves, a woman with a Stepford Smiler-esque grin, and all its residents inexplicably going barefoot all the time), but The Reveal never comes; it's simply a Quirky Town.
    • It's never explicitly stated, but Specter is supposed to be heaven. No-one leaves, everything is perfect, and there's the talk and surprise of people stumbling in before their time.
    • There's also the fact that the version of Specter we see in the film isn't quite the real thing- Ed Bloom is exaggerating the story. It's more likely he found a very nice, idyllic town as a young man, but simply felt like he didn't fit in, or that he deserved more challenge in his life so he left. Everyone being barefoot and that business about expecting his arrival might've been minor occurrences he blew out of the water or simply made up entirely. No Reveal was made about the town's secret because there wasn't one.
  • Population 436.
  • Summerisle from The Wicker Man.
  • The movie The Village.
  • In the movie Hot Fuzz, all the members of the town of Sandford's Neighborhood Watch secretly murder everyone in the town that is "unpleasant", so that nothing stands in their way of winning "Village of the Year". All murders are disguised (sometimes poorly) as accidents.
  • In the horror film Dead and Buried, the town of Potter's Bluff offers another riff on the "double-hidden" secret: The town's entire population, including the sheriff protagonist, areunknowingly reanimated corpses, brought back to life in some unexplained fashion by the local coroner. Who may very well be dead himself.
  • The John Carpenter film In the Mouth of Madness features the surreal, warped town of Hobb's End, which may or may not be the fictional creation of horror writer Sutter Cane. Features of the town change and rearrange themselves, the residents are monsters in disguise, and the Last Sane Man ends up taking shelter in a movie theater where the events of the film are playing out on the screen, as the world burns down around him.
  • Implicated in the Friday the 13 th remake, where at least one resident was shown to be aware of Jason living and killing in the old campgrounds.
    • Likewise, in Freddy vs. Jason, many adults in Springwood know of Freddy's dream-killings, but have conspired to conceal this from the town's youth to starve him of the fear that gives him power over dreams. Jason comes to Elm Street at Freddy's instigation, so his killings will revive old stories about the Springwood Slasher and restore Freddy's powers.
  • In Toy Story 3, Woody and the gang wind up in a day care that looks like paradise. The toys (led by a fluffy stuffed animal named Lotso Huggin Bear) are all friendly, there are always lots of kids to play with them so that none of the toys ever get outgrown, and there's a repair ward that keeps the playthings in tiptop shape. However, their dark secret is that, in order to stay in the older kids' playroom, the ruling toys regularly sacrifice new toys to the toddler's playroom, where too-young children bash and beat toys until they are destroyed and thrown out.
  • In John Landis's An American Werewolf in London, the small English town of East Proctor's Dark Secret is, unsurprisingly, a werewolf. Eventually it's not much of a secret anymore. (Especially after an American guy gets bitten and goes on a lycanthropic killing spree.)
  • Herschell Gordon Lewis' splatter epic Two Thousand Maniacs!! is a down-home, yee-haw! take on the trope.
  • Cragwich from Lesbian Vampire Killers where the villagers ensure a continuing steam of sacrifices for the lesbian vampires in exchange for sparing their lives.
  • Rivermouth in Cthulhu (2007).
  • The 2009 German thriller, The White Ribbon, about strange events occurring in a small German village in the years before World War I, certainly counts.
  • The nameless village in the middle of the swamp in Sauna. Their dark secret is the titular sauna, and they would be really glad if no-one ever came in or paid attention to it. They're not bad people in any sense, more like reluctant guardians of an evil secret the world is better not knowing.
  • In Dagon, based loosely on H.P. Lovecraft's The Shadow Over Innsmouth, the people of Spain will not speak of or visit Imboca for good reason: the city was taken over by an pagan god when its desperate people turned to him for help.
  • The entire town turns out to be in on Howard and Eli's Snuff Film making in Video Violence.
  • The small European town in the film The Shrine.


Literature

  • Author Stephen King calls this "The Peculiar Little Town" and has confessed that he has a weakness for writing stories of this type (among them Children of the Corn, Rainy Season and You Know They Got A Hell Of A Band).
    • His best known peculiar little towns are Derry (IT) and Castle Rock (good number of stories), both in Maine, which tend to redline the weird-shit-o-meter on a regular basis.
      • In the end, Castle Rock is destroyed, which is probably for the best. Castle Rock is destroyed by a visiting evil that took advantage of the secrets and flaws of many of the townspeople so that it could take their souls.
    • Haven--which is near Derry--also becomes this trope in The Tommyknockers.
    • The town Jerusalem's Lot from Salem's Lot. It's had a family of gangsters that worships demons and consorts with vampires. One of these vampires comes to town and then it really has a dark secret. By the end, the whole town is undead except for the protagonists who burn the town down and leave. A couple of later short stories by King reveal that burning down the town only temporarily halted the vampires.
      • And it's hinted throughout both the novel and the prequel story that we still don't know the worst of its secrets.
    • The townsfolk in Rainy Season try to warn people about their annual "bad weather problem," because warning the newcomers is part of the tradition. As is the inevitable death of the newcomers - always a young man and woman.
  • The eponymous town in H.P. Lovecraft's short story The Shadow Over Innsmouth.
    • Kingsport in "The Festival". Or, rather, the "dream version" of Kingsport. The "dream version" can't have been entirely imaginary though, since in the later Lovecraft story, "The Silver Key" the protagonist is casually mentioned to have read about excavations under Kingsport's church that revealed a hidden system of tunnels mentioned in "The Festival".
    • Possibly every town in Lovecraft's imaginary New England. Naturally, the most prominent of these towns is Arkham Massachusetts, where a house isn't considered complete if it doesn't have five or six different dark secrets worked into its construction.
  • Ramsey Campbell sets his Cthulhu Mythos tales in the Severn Valley. Almost every town has some dark evil lurking somewhere, in various degrees. Some are hidden and the inhabitants ignorant, other evils are trapped, and then there's the whole towns in on the secret.
  • The Tcho-tcho people in T.E.D. Klein's "Black Man with a Horn". A missionary goes to investigate the people, who turn out to be very vile. However, the Missionary still doesn't know what the tribe is doing, and is sure they want it that way.
  • August Derleth had a town that secretly worshiped Ithaqua.
  • Hyde River in The Oath, by Frank Peretti.
  • In Watership Down, the bucks arrive at a warren where everything seems abundant, though the residents act rather strange. Later they discover that the warren is, in fact, a rabbit farm, and it's common and widely accepted knowledge that rabbits are dying in snares.
  • Graystone Bay in the anthology series edited by Charles L. Grant. A sinister foundation, and jam packed with weirdness, until it literally disappears in the fog.
  • The Goosebumps novel Welcome to Dead House, about a teenage girl who discovers her new house is "The Dead House" to which a new victim is invited every year and devoured by the undead residents of the town.
    • My Hairiest Adventure, where the town is run by a scientist, and all the kids there are actually dogs.
  • The town of Shadyside in R.L. Stine's Fear Street series. Teens dying horribly, being possessed by evil--and it's all going on for centuries.
  • Lesser Malling in the first book of The Power of Five series. The secret is that all the villagers are working to open a gate which will let the Old Ones, and the protagonist is one of the five tasked with making sure that such things don't happen.
  • The company town of Despair, CO. in Lee Child's Nothing To Lose. It's dark secret isn't (really) that the giant metal recycling plant is recycling munitions ("the government's dirty laundry"), bombed-out cars from Iraq, or even that they're helping deserting soldiers flee to Canada but its religious fanatic owner is stockpiling the salvaged uranium to set off a dirty bomb and jumpstart Armageddon by causing (even more) fighting in the Middle East. Their mistake is trying to run the Determinator protagonist out of town and leaving a deserter-turned-informer to die in the desert to be found by said protagonist.
    • The Killing Floor as well.
  • Scrote in Terry Pratchett's Soul Music, probably. We never actually get it confirmed that there's anything sinister about their traditional barbeque near the rockery, because The Power of Rock protects our heroes.
  • In Brotherhood Of The Rose by David Morrell, the intelligence services of the world have set up several luxury "retirement" communities, each regarded as neutral ground where no-one is allowed to be harmed. Only the men running them know that the residents (ambitious men who've fallen from grace, cooped up in a gilded cage which eventually palls) are frequently Driven to Suicide.
  • Tower Valley in Magnus is revealed to be the testing ground for the Mark of the Beast.
  • The town of Omelas, from The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas by Ursula K. Le Guin, must always keep a mentally handicapped child locked in a dark basement, given only the barest amount of food to survive, without any kindness or affection given to that child for any reason whatsoever, for the moment anyone gives that child any sort of comfort at all, their entire "Utopian" society will collapse in that instant.
    • The story is unclear whether the child was born handicapped or has just broken from malnutrition, fear, and only a few moments of cruel human contact a day.
  • Harvest Home by Thomas Tryon features a quaint little New England town called Cornwall Coombe that celebrates a harvest festival involving fun activities that will insure the life of the corn crop. Attending this particular festival uninvited carries a pretty steep penalty.
  • Silverdale, Colorado in John Saul's Creature is a quaint company town where the school has a high-tech sports clinic...which seems to be turning the kids in the town into 'roid raged monsters...
  • Dashiell Hammett's short story Nightmare Town (in a collection of the same name) seems like a weird town where people act strange, there seem to be more houses than people, and the guy running the town is openly threatened by his son. The secret is that it's run by, and for, murderers and thieves, and the protagonist happens to get there a few days before the place is burned down for the insurance money. It's one of the few examples where the secret isn't supernatural, and yet still manages to be just as much Nightmare Fuel. Only a handful of people don't know the secret.
    • Also true of Poison--er, Personville in the novel Red Harvest.
  • Inverted in Good Omens. Lower Tadfield has a secret, but it's hardly dark. Superficially it's a quaint little Quirky Town complete with pristine cottages, white picket fences and apple trees, but it hasn't changed for ten years: Urban development bypasses it completely, the weather is always perfect, and the area is rich in ley lines. This is because it's the home of the ten-year-old Anti-Anti-Christ, who wants to keep it intact for his perfectly normal childhood amusement.
  • The Survivalist series by Jerry Ahern. In a post-World War III American the title character finds an apparently peaceful village where no-one even mentions the war. It turns out that everyone made an agreement to use up all available the resources to keep things going as before; when the supplies run out they plan to commit mass suicide by blowing up the town. Unfortunately by the time he finds out a woman whose husband has died has tied him up so they can die together.
  • Mat Cauthon ran into one of these in the latest Wheel of Time book, and it was a dark secret, but not the fault of anyone there.
  • Played with in W. D. Valgardson's short story Bloodflowers; what was originally a Quirky Town only became a TWADS after the narrator accidentally gives the superstitious townsfolk the idea to sacrifice him.
  • Peyton Place. Basically, the entire novel is author Grace Metalious's way of saying that every idyllic American small town has at least one dark secret hidden in it's depths.
  • Lakeside in American Gods, which also seems to be Lake Wobegon with the Serial Numbers Filed Off.
  • In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story "Shadows in Zamboula", cannibal slaves roam Zamboula at night. Their masters hide away and let them eat strangers, to prevent a slave revolt.
  • Harfang, from The Chronicles of Narnia, is a beautiful, luxurious city, home to the only "Gentle Giants" of the far north. Actually, these giants will eat any creature that isn't a giant, including their guests.
  • Dras-Leona from the Inheritance Cycle. Although their Religion of Evil isn't exactly a secret, it is dark, and everyone in the town belongs to the cult.
  • Coraline
  • The Giver
  • Jakub Wedrowycz stories feature a secluded village inhabited entirely by neanderthals whose progeny has somehow survived until modern times. To the outside world, they seem just to be a bunch of very ugly humans who hate strangers and don't pay much attention at the church (assuming that there is currently a priest there after the previous one has died in mysterious circumstances). In reality, they're half-animalistic, still worship their pagan deities and indulge into cannibalism, eating their dead.
  • Moonlight Cove, California in Dean Koontz's Midnight. It appears to be a quiet coastal village until you notice the ominously overprepared police force and hear about all the violent deaths in recent weeks. Turns out, Moonlight Cove is under the control of a megalomaniacal Mad Scientist trying to create a race of cold, efficient New People, and the remaining normal citizens are all scheduled for "conversion." Unfortunately, some of the New People have been . . . regressing.
    • Another Koontz example is Moonlight Bay in the Christopher Snow books, where the authorities are cooperating with the military to hiding a massive, civilization-destroying secret.
  • Denke, Kansas, a town of cannibals in S.K. Epperson's Borderlands.
  • Haven: A Novel of Anxiety has the titular town in Idaho, which seems nice at first, but is full of racists who massacred Chinese miners in its early days and harbored Nazis after WWII.
  • The Lottery by Shirley Jackson, though the dark secret isn't kept secret from anyone in the story, only from the reader.
  • Hedestad from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
  • In Kelley Armstrong's The Gathering, the medical research town of Salmon Creek on Vancouver Island seems to have a lot of secrets.
  • In Richard Matheson's "Children of Noah", a man gets arrested in a speed trap in a small town which displays a large banner "BBQ Tonight". Oh, yeah.
  • The Santaroga Barrier by Frank Herbert.


Live Action TV

  • Haven, Maine - A small town that hosts various cursed individuals. The mysterious 'Troubles' have recently returned,causing the deadly powers of some citizens to reactivate with horrible consequences. Loosely based on a novella by Steven King.
  • The made-for-TV-movie The Disappearances has, among other things, a ghost-town with a secret. The sheer volume of red herrings presented eliminates the ability to accurately figure out what that secret is, mind you, but it's most assuredly there.
  • This trope may have been first used on television in The Twilight Zone episode "Walking Distance" (1959).
    • If it wasn't, it certainly was made famous by The Twilight Zone. The original series has at least four episodes dealing with towns with dark secrets.
  • Carried on in numerous episodes of The X-Files.
  • Remington Steele used this trope in "Small Town Steele," which cited the 1955 movie Bad Day at Black Rock.
  • As did Knight Rider in the tellingly named "A Good Day at White Rock".
  • And The A-Team in the likewise tellingly named, "A Black Day At Bad Rock".
  • In the early 1990s, Twin Peaks pretty much embodied this trope. Well, everybody had a secret. There were plenty to go around.
  • The protagonists of Sliders find themselves in one repeatedly.
  • The reality show Murder in Small Town X used this to interesting effect.
  • This is the essential plot of Eureka, where the eponymous town is the site of a top-secret government research facility. The tagline for the first season was "Small town. Big Secrets." (Though it's portrayed as more of a Quirky Town despite the Death Ray, runaway Nanomachines and other Phlebotinum Overload that happens on a regular basis.)
  • In Stargate SG-1 episode "Nightwalkers", the team arrives in a mysterious town to investigate the disappearance of a scientist. The townspeople are alternatively friendly and hostile towards the protagonists and it is revealed that the whole town was taken as a host by Goa'uld symbiotes, including the scientist who had originally given the alarm. However, the townspeople themselves were not aware of this as the symbiotes take control only at night.
  • Jon Stewart on The Daily Show mocked the "this town holds a Dark Secret" advertising for Wolf Lake by saying "Let's ask the werewolves! Maybe they know what the Dark Secret is."
  • Subversion: American Gothic has Trinity, SC, a town whose dark secret is that its sheriff is the Devil Incarnate. But no one knows this fact at all (except Merlyn, it seems), while only the few who run afoul of Buck's wrath, dare to cross him, or refuse to obey him ever even discover what a Magnificent Bastard he truly is. On the other hand, there are quite a lot of people in town keeping their own secrets: Dr. Crower, Gail, the coroner, the priest, Ben, Selena...
    • Trinity, SC is a real place, as is Trinity, NC. The devil doesn't live there, so far as I know.
  • Subverted in the case of Sunnydale. It's a sizable city instead of a small town. Instead of everyone being in on the dark secrets (the portal to Hell and the various demons and vampires that treat the place like a buffet), most of Sunnydale's citizens are hilariously oblivious/in denial about the many, many mysterious deaths that occur there. The only humans in on it are various characters who tap into the dark powers of the place for their own ends, such as the Big Bad of Season Three.
  • Pretty much every small town the Winchesters visit in Supernatural. For some reason, it seems that you can't become a person of respect in your town without having committed some horrific act in the past.
  • Whenever any Latin American network decides to do a Soap Opera placed in a specially built little town as the only location, this trope eventually appears if the soapie last long enough. Rarely the secrets are supernatural, but that the people in the town is in something wrong is always confirmed.
  • The village in the Brecon Beacons in the Torchwood episode "Countrycide".
  • In the Roswell episode "Harvest" (2nd season) the main characters travel to the suspicious town of Copper Summit, Arizona -- which turns out to be filled with their alien enemies.
  • The suburbs in Chuck vs. the Suburbs.
  • The Criminal Minds episode "House On Fire", has an entire town flip out on an orphaned boy due to rumors of Brother-Sister Incest. His Roaring Rampage of Revenge takes the form of Kill It with Fire.
  • In "Murdersville", an episode of The Avengers, an entire town conspires to offer outsiders the opportunity to stage a murder. The townsfolk will serve as alibis and help dispose of the remains afterwards, in return for a sizable sum of money. (The villagers who refuse to participate are kept locked up in ancient torture devices in the town museum.)
  • Royston Vasey has enough secrets to go around. The main one would probably be the "special stuff" sold by town butcher Hilary Briss.
  • The Mission Impossible episode "The Town" features a town full of Soviet spies.
  • Played for Laughs in the Ripping Yarns episode "Whinfrey's Last Case". It turns out that all the inhabitants of the Cornish fishing village where agent Whinfrey takes his holiday in 1913 are in fact German spies. What's more, this turns out to be part of a conspiracy between the British and German Governments.
  • Happy Town tried very hard to be this to the point that they ended up making it fit the title while advertising heavily to be certain absolutely everyone knew it only meant this in Sarcasm Mode.
  • Morton Harwood in the Doctor Who spin-off K9 And Company. Well, if cheerfully explaining to visiting reporters "They're a bit sensitive about that [devil-worship] around here. It's traditional, you see." counts as a secret...
  • One episode of The Rockford Files features the town of Pastoria, which traps wealthy travelers in the town, frames them for an absurd number of crimes, then convinces them to plea bargain and pay a large fine to the city instead of going to jail.


Tabletop Games

  • Warhammer 40000 favors the Planet With A Dark Secret approach instead, with roughly even odds of Chaos, Eldar, Genestealers, and/or Necrons being said secret. Since we're talking about planets here, there's plenty of room for multiple dark secrets to be hiding out, all of them unaware of one another.
    • In Dan Abnett's Warhammer 40000 novel The Brothers of the Snake, Space Marines go to sort out which farmships have a Khorne cult. Some do, some don't, and one manages to pretend it doesn't for some time. They kidnapped and nearly managed to sacrifice one of the Marines, by torturing him to death.
    • This also occurs in Mitchell Scanlon's Horus Heresy novel Descent of Angels. A planet has been delaying their full compliance with the Imperium for years now, all the while hiding the presence of their xenos overlords. Ultimately, they've been buying time to summon an Eldritch Abomination to defeat the Imperial forces.
  • The New World of Darkness core rulebook features a story about a town where every year, several people die without any explanation, and they encourage the new-in-town priest to quietly accept it. He doesn't get the hint until Death himself shows up to tell him to shut up and sit down.
  • The quevari in Ravenloft appear as normal, pacifistic human beings most of the time, seemingly untouched by the evil that surrounds them. Until the three nights of the full moon that is, when every man, woman and child turns into a bloodthirsty killer. They've learned to block out what they do when they change, and never speak of it (even to travelers).
    • Considering its Gothic horror theme, it'd be hard to find a town in Ravenloft that doesn't have a dark secret.
  • The board game Arkham Horror takes place in Lovecraft Country and each board represents a different town from the Cthulhu Mythos.
  • In Dogs in the Vineyard, the PCs are sent by an Expy of the 19th-century Mormon church to visit a series of towns. They have some simple duties, like healing people and delivering the mail, but the interesting ones (i.e. the ones you actually have game sessions for) are either headed for this trope or already there, and the PCs have to fix it by any means necessary before it falls into full-blown demon-fueled Hate and Murder.


Theater


Video Games

  • Silent Hill, a small town founded by cultists and harboring a very twisted Dark World.
    • Silent Hill Homecoming introduces another TWADS, Shepherd's Glen, this time with extra child sacrifices.
    • Ironically, Silent Hill in the film adaptation is inspired by the Real Life small town of Centralia, Pennsylvania, whose citizens accidentally set a coal seam on fire by burning trash and never bothered to tell anyone about it until a child nearly fell through the ground and into the fires below. It's nothing more than a smoldering Ghost Town now.
  • The village on the island with Balduran's ship in Baldur's Gate. Which is not so secret anymore, since anyone simply refers to it as The Werewolf Village.
  • Call of Cthulhu Dark Corners of the Earth has the town of Innsmouth from the Cthulhu Mythos.
  • Haven in Dragon Age.

  Zevran: "Just once I'd like to walk into one of these places and discover a lively dance, or a drinking festival. Or an orgy. But alas, no."

  • Final Fantasy VII's Nibelheim. The entire town has been UnPersoned thanks to Shinra.
  • In The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, there's a minor town you have to visit after a merchant's daughter disappears there. The Church has a book dedicated to "the Deep Ones", and people say things like "the Brethren don't take kindly to strangers. I'd leave before they find out you're here."
    • That was a reference to The Shadow Over Innsmouth, mentioned above, and was indeed just as creepy as the story...minus the Tomato Surprise.
    • Though depending on how well armed or spell savvy your character is at that point the effect is a little spoiled. The townsfolk aren't nearly as creepy when you're able to effortlessly murder the hell out of all of them.
    • If you spend the night in the inn after asking questions, you wake up in the middle of the night to find yourself under attack by some cultist, then can find your way into the underground to discover that the shopkeepers daughter is about to be sacrificed for an unknown reason. A demonic summoning, perhaps?.
  • The first town you come to in the video game Shadow Hearts is mostly abandoned except for demons and tormented souls.
    • The town fits this trope all the better considering that they, you know, are the bitter souls of abused domestic animals who want to eat you. That certainly puts a damper on things. Funny thing: Yuri knows this going in, but he doesn't care, because he knows he can deal with it.
    • Bistritz is another one - but the secret isn't the vampire up in the castle (he's a Friendly Neighborhood Vampire), it's the experiments being conducted by the mayor, which are waking up monsters.
  • The eponymous village of Professor Layton and the Curious Village has a secret, though it isn't dark - nearly all the inhabitants are robots, and the village itself is designed to keep Baron Reinhold's daughter Flora safe until a suitable caretaker appears for her.
    • The second game had a town with a secret too: the village of Folsense (and maybe the townspeople) is one giant hallucination.
    • And the trend continues into the third game: Future London isn't London from the future at all, it's a city in the present located underground the actual London.
  • The town of Doolin in Folklore is known as a place "where the living can meet the dead." This is only kind of true, but in the course of trying to get to the bottom of what really does go on in Doolin, protagonists Ellen and Keats uncover a few other nasty secrets revolving around a series of deaths and disappearances which took place seventeen years previously on the night of Samhain.
  • The town of Pyrewood in World of Warcraft. It's home to alliance-friendly NPCs during the day, who turn into bloodthirsty Worgen that attack anyone on sight at night.
    • And Silverbrook in Northrend The town inhabitants are actually Worgen who act friendly towards you, in hopes of turning you into one too, but you get better, and they get hostile. After this every trapper settlement is hostile to player
  • Fallout 3's Andale. Best town in the (destroyed) US, fresh baked pie every morning, and cannibalism. And a long tradition of incest among the TWO families in the town.
  • The quaint little village of Hanuda in Siren.
  • It looks like Charwood is one of these in Neverwinter Nights. It's actually only the noblemen who have the secret, and the townspeople have just been screwed over by it. And then you find out that the nobles themselves were screwed over by Belial.
  • In Microprose's RPG Darklands, the events take place in medieval Germany. The protagonists begin the main quest by finding out, which of the many villages has a Dark Secret of being populated by devil worshippers. Attending the mass there is particularly creepy...

That and as has been pointed out in reviews. Just when you think you can recuperate from your injuries in a small village you might well wake up in the middle of the night to find them trying to sacrifice you to demons.

  • The small New England town of Innsmouth Illsmouth in the Call Of Cthulu pc adventure Shadow of the Comet.
  • Early in Final Fantasy IX, the characters enter the town of Dali, where they're secretly making Black Mage constructs for Queen Brahne that bear a strong resemblance to one of your characters.
  • Around the start of Chapter 3 in Terranigma, you go to Louran, a nice little desert town with nice people and a lot of ambitions. Until you find out that Louran's been destroyed for quite a few years now and all its inhabitants are actually zombies. The nice town you saw was an illusion by a girl who used to live there.
    • All of the zombies themselves are also illusions by the girl (who can somehow hurt and even kill you) that disappear forever once you find her, and nobody actually lives there at all.
    • There's also Crysta, which is a copy of Storkholm in the Light World complete with copies of its original inhabitants. Near the end of the game, the villagers and chickens turn into spirits and attack you if you talk to them (doing no damage). You can kill them by throwing things at them, but they regenerate. They also drop massive amounts of gold which is completely useless by this point of the game, as there's nobody to buy anything from (Crysta's shopkeepers aren't exactly eager to help).
  • The First Town of The Witcher, the outskirts village of Vizima, apparently plagued by beastlike ghosts possessing dogs. Though they blame the local witch, she simply sold them the implements the corrupt people demanded to curse themselves with. The town elders are collaborating with and selling their children to a vicious mob who casually murder the citizens.
    • To clarify, there are definitely ghost-dogs and the like. The dark secret is WHY they are there.
  • Zhu's Hope in Mass Effect. The colonists are all mind-controlled by the ancient plant creature that lives beneath the city.
    • In Mass Effect 2 Samara mentions another example of this trope in her backstory: a small asari colony that had been seduced by an Ardat-Yakshi, an asari with a rare genetic mutation that causes her kill anybody she has sex with, who feature prominently in their mythology as evil gods and anti-heroes. She had convinced the entire colony to worship her as goddess, and sacrifice their young Maidens to her, and when Samara came the entire colony save for the youngest children threw themselves at her to give the Ardat-Yakshi a chance to escape.
  • Fatal Frame. Some of the things that happened to outsiders were unpleasant, before and after the communities' imminent demises.
  • Alan Wake has a literal version of this trope.
  • Dragon Quest VII has present-day Labres: the town features a monument boasting about the heroic villagers protecting one of their own from some terrible travelers who tried to slay the transformed man. But this version of events is a complete lie -- the truth is that they lynched the poor man, and threw a child and the travelers who tried to stop them to the real monsters. The monument was originally meant to remind them of their greatest failure, but corrupted and turned into a feel-good lie to drum up tourism. Ultimately, you discover the real monument, only for the mayor to destroy it -- but not before their children all get a chance to read the true version of events and swear to spread that version instead, even against their parents' wishes.
  • Kakariko Village in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. The place is home to not one, not two, but THREE of the creepiest places in Hyrule, the Bottom of the Well, the Shadow Temple, and the House of Skulltulla. Unlike most examples, the town's inhabitants seem blissfully unaware of all the strangeness going on underneath them, but otherwise it fits the trope perfectly.
  • Harvester: The town of Harvest. It is clear from the get-go that Harvest is not a nice place to live, and nobody even tries to hide that. Despite this, it does contain a Dark Secret like you would not believe. The town of Harvest does not exist. It is just a virtual reality program that Steve and Stephanie were hooked up to. The entire program is a murder simulator and it is supposed to slowly and surely turn Steve into a Serial Killer. He can get out of the program...if he murders Stephanie and makes her Killed Off for Real.
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim has MARKARTH. The town has not one, but TWO dark secrets: A good number of people in town are Forsworn infiltrators and most of the rest are cannibals who worship the Daedric Prince Namira.
  • In the first Golden Sun game, Vale seems to be this in-universe, due to The Masquerade about Psynergy. This apparently gets dropped between The Lost Age and Dark Dawn, when Vale's destruction causes the people to move to Kalay and word gets out about Psynergy.


Webcomics

  • The original Innsmouth, an early example of this trope, was a decaying hovel of mutants and secret cults. In Shadowgirls, however, its modern-day incarnation appears to be a perfectly ordinary coastal town. But don't let appearances fool you: the Esoteric Order of Dagon still controls most of the government and Deep Ones lurk off the coast.
  • Sturmhalten, in Girl Genius. Everyone may not be in on it, but except for the ruling family, and apparently a few nobles, the town's entire population is made up of revenants. And the Prince is trying to resurrect the Big Bad. By abducting every female Spark he can get his hands on to try to give her a new body. Including his own daughter. Who has her own plans to wrest control of said revenants and the Big Bad's other minions. It may be easier to just list the things that weren't Dark and Secret about the place.
    • Also Mechanicsburg, Not only is it populated entirely by minions waiting for their masters to return, but it's a Genius Loci built on top of a holy spring known for causing insanity and death.
  • Podunkton from the Sluggy Freelance arc "Phoenix Rising" is secretive to the point of parody about its past as a mafia controlled town, or the current state of its vigilante based peacekeeping.
  • The citizen's of Richard's village in Looking for Group are all ravenous undead capable of slaughtering common mortals with ease. Even the little girls can rip out a man's heart.
    • "We call it Pretty Pretty Unicorn. It's a work in progress."
  • Subverted in Order of the Stick, where pre-occupation Azure City is a Town With A Bright Secret: its ruler is also the leader of a covert order of paladins, the Sapphire Guard. (Granted, not everyone in town is supposedly aware of their presence, but given that they walk around the city in their identical blue livery all the time, it's not much of a secret to the locals.)
    • Not entirely. The citizens know that the paladins live within the city, but are under the impression that they're more of a police force that protect the city, rather than an elite order of warriors sworn to guard a gate to the prison of an Eldritch Abomination that's capable of killing an entire pantheon of gods and then ending the world, all in half an hour.
  • Kit N Kay Boodle's Yiffburg is one, though their method of "secrecy" is simply being too ridiculous for anyone to take seriously as a threat. The comic is drawn in a cutesy, cuddly, cartoony art style, but when the candy coating is washed off, the end result is that the main protagonists are very dedicatedly out to conquer the world and convert it to mindless sexual hedonism in the name of their gods- however, they don't tell that to anyone outside their Sugar Bowl town, because the rest of the world won't openly oppose them as long as they're only complaining about what lazy perverts they are instead of actively trying to stop the spread of their cult.
  • Silent Hill: Promise having inherited the setting from Silent Hill proper.
  • Memoria They all wear masks and it's run by a Creepy Child -- it gets worse.
  • In Lovecraft Is Missing, Tough Luck, Oklahoma is revealed to have its own Cthulhu cult that meets secretly in an old barn.
  • In No Rest for The Wicked, in a village where children keep vanishing, Claire deduces how guilty they feel, but further investigations are needed to find out why.
  • In Our Little Adventure, one possibility offered for a village.


Web Original

  • In the Whateley Universe, Whateley Academy is literally in Lovecraft Country, since the closest town is the Dunwich. Only maybe half of Dunwich is in on the dark secrets, since the town has been gentrified.
  • In The Terrible Secret of Animal Crossing, the protagonist finds himself on a bus to a camp under strange circumstances, and bit by bit, the secrets of the camp's much-too-happy exterior finally come to light. Even the final chapter is aptly named, "All's Well That Ends."
  • SCP-599. Exactly what the Dark Secret is is never directly stated, but it's implied that the town is a malevolent Genius Loci that lures people in, then kills them and integrates them into itself as citizens.


Western Animation

  • For a fairly cheap, poorer quality sequel, Atlantis II: Milo's Return has an effectively creepy and chilling version of this which could come straight out of Lovecraft Country: the first tale in the arc consists of a constantly foggy, frigid Norwegian town where all the townsfolk seem to be hypnotized, brainwashed, or under a spell. If the constantly bulging eyes, monotonous voices, and deathly pale skin doesn't scare you enough, the so-called leader of the town is secretly in league with a Kraken, linked to it through some form of telepathic connection which grants him eternal life and power, as long as he continues to sacrifice hapless travelers to his master/slave. (The...relationship is never quite pinned down as to who really controls whom.) And in what may be a clear homage to, or at least an echo, of Shadow over Innsmouth, after the villain and the Kraken are eliminated and peace, sunshine, and happiness return to the townsfolk, a deleted alternate ending shows the innkeeper with her baby...which extends a Chthulu-like tentacle out of its blanket to caress her cheek, while she lovingly coos and starts talking about it 'growing up big and strong'. Whether this implies Face Full of Alien Wingwong or simple Body Horror is up to the viewer to decide.
  • "There is no war in Ba Sing Se." If the Earth Kingdom is the Fantasy Counterpart Culture of China, then Ba Sing Se, the capital, is more like the modern PROC or North Korea. It's a perfectly safe city, full of culture, divided into separate districts, where the guides smile all the time. Oh, and the poor and undesirable are walled in, people are forced to deny there's a one-hundred-year old war going on, and anyone who starts asking too many sensitive questions gets disappeared and Brainwashed.
    • Jet's treetop village, too. "Oh, cool, a settlement of teenage rebels! Maybe they can help us fight the Fire Nation!" Only problem is, these Well Intentioned Extremists often take their rebellions a little too far...like, oh, I don't know, when they beat and robbed a harmless Fire Nation civilian, or when they destroyed an entire Earth Kingdom town just because it was occupied by the Fire Nation army.


Real Life

  • Setauket, NY was a headquarters of the Continental Armies intelligence operations during the American Revolution and the home of several agents, including Benjamin Tallmedge, The Spymaster.
  • In The Altruistic Personality by Samuel P Olinger, the author says that there were a few small hamlets during World War II where rescuing hapless fugitives was almost the town's chief industry.
  • A small extremely rural county referred to as Oniontown almost seems like they're hiding something. While one could excuse their negative reaction to the several hipster-made youtube videos mocking their town, the fact that the town sheriff has essentially threatened all outsiders with death is only piquing more unwanted interest.
  • Taiji, a town located in Higashimuro District, Wakayama, Japan, conducts an ongoing dolphin hunt off its coast (as made well-known in the 2009 documentary film, The Cove). Mercury levels among its citizens are much higher than average as a result of the sale and consumption of dolphin meat in Taiji. The film depicts a cover-up orchestrated at all levels, from the fishermen themselves up to the town's mayor, revealing a town striving to hide its dark secret from the rest of the world.
  • Colorado City and the other compounds of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), at least until their polygamy, child weddings, and abandonment of teenage boys became public knowledge through several high-profile raids in 2009. Still, they tend to be very hostile to visitors, with news reports showing residents running from cameras and police officers attempting to arrest the reporters.
  • Glencoe, MD was originally a resort complex, reached by the North County Railroad from Baltimore. When the resort was connected to the main road running from Baltimore to York in the early 20th century, the railroad began shutting down, and with it the resort area - but all of the hotels were maintained as private homes. Or, at least, so it was thought, until it was revealed in the 1960s that the OSS and CIA had purchased several of the old hotels and had been using the area as a training ground since World War II. These days it really is private homes.
  • Saint Joseph and Benton Harbor, Michigan. The predominantly-white community of St. Joe and the predominantly black community of Benton Harbor are, for the most part, living down to each other's racist expectations.
  • Quimperlé, France. Mysterious tunnel between school and railway bridge? Check. Highest rate of suicide in France? Check. Babies' skeletons found buried in basement of former catholic school? Check. Pregnant women coming back to work one day claiming never to have had a child? Check.
  • A lot of the time when a town has a very small proportion of African-Americans relative to its population as a whole, it means that at one time, black people weren't allowed to live there and were forcibly driven out.
  • There are a number of small towns in very rural parts of America where the meth epidemic is so bad that they effectively become cut off from the rest of society. So many people are either meth addicts, meth dealers or related to someone who is that law enforcement receives no cooperation from anyone and any outsiders are viewed with suspicion.
  • At first glance,Skidmore Missouri seems like a quaint enough small town[the towns population is only 256 people]until you ask about the murder of Ken Mcelroy. In 1981,Ken known as a town bully who got off on attempted murder and multiple other felonies including rape,was gunned down in his truck in broad daylight in front of around 40 people.He was hit in the head and neck.No one called an ambulance,no witnesses came forward,no one was charged.The sheriff himself left town in his cruiser before the murder occurred.After leaving a town meeting about how to deal with the "Mcelroy Problem".The murder remains unsolved and to this day,most citizens of the town refuse to reveal any information they have about what really occurred.
  • Oswiecim,Poland was one of these during the 30s and 40s during the Nazi regime.The town was also the location of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp and many townspeople could see the camp from their homes,being within hearing distance of the Jewish men women and children being beaten and tortured and being able to see the fires of the crematorium.Although most knew about the horrors that occurred many were in a state of denial sitting in their homes in silence wit windows shut as tightly as possible.
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