Welcome to another Halloween-themed Cartoon Crackdown: where I regale you all with glorious tales of awesome horror-themed cartoons every week until the end of October.
Growing up, Cartoon Network’s Courage the Cowardly Dog was always one of my favorite shows and provided some of my earliest exposure to horror. The animation was quirky, the characters were hilarious, and there were some episodes that were legitimately creepy or frightening. It had great scares that kids could watch and had enough self-aware humor to keep things balanced and fun. Since it’s October (and especially since it’s on Netflix Instant), I thought I’d revisit this show and give a list of my personal favorite episodes in case you were interested in giving it a try.
4. “THE GREAT FUSILLI” (Season One Finale)
“The Great Fusilli” is an example of an episode that starts off a tad slow but quickly picks up towards an astounding final act. It involves an anthropomorphic alligator named the Great Fusilli: who sets up a mobile theater stage right in front of Muriel and Eustace’s house. Inviting them to perform while promising fame and fortune, we bear witness to a sinister aspect to Fusilli’s stage: its supernatural power to turn its performers into life-size wooden puppets. Once Eustace and Muriel fall prey to its seductive charms, it’s up to the affable and frightened Courage to out-smart Fusilli and rescue his owners.
While it’s not the most original episode, the stage itself is legitimately creepy, and Fusilli himself is brought to grandiose life by Jim Cummings: the current voice of Tigger and Winnie the Pooh. Not only that, but the ending to this episode is astoundingly creepy, and demonstrates how dark the series could be despite being a “children’s cartoon.” Yes it’s not the absolute best episode, but it’s a wonderful place to start for the uninitiated.
3. “THE DEMON IN THE MATTRESS” (Season One, Episode Four)
A perfect example of the show’s balance between comedy and horror, “The Demon in the Mattress” is an eleven-minute parody of The Exorcist that provided one of my first introductions to “demonic possession horror” as a kid. Sick and tired of their lumpy mattress, Muriel orders a new one from a hilariously obvious pair of evil rats, who deliver a new mattress that contains a demon. When Muriel takes a nap on it, she becomes possessed and Courage must grudgingly work with Eustace in order to exorcise the demon and save Muriel.
A lot of the fun of this episode comes from the demon itself, as it demonstrates all The Exorcist tropes with an entertainingly d***ish personality, constantly ribbing Courage’s failed attempts to dispatch it while languishing and enjoying itself. Added to that are the great confrontations themselves: coupling an intense thumb-wrestling match between Courage and the demon with a hysterical “exorcism” scene involving Eustace and Courage in shower-caps. It’s clever, funny, and such a memorable episode that it would be a crime if I didn’t include it here.
2. “KING RAMSES’ CURSE” (Season One, Episode Seven)
Providing nightmare fuel for kids everywhere, “King Ramses’ Curse” is one of the show’s scariest episodes, especially when one first sees its shambling titular figure (featured above). After a museum robbery drops an ancient slab in Eustace’s lap, he decides to hold on to the artifact in an attempt to sell it for a million dollars. They are consequently visited by the terrifying phantasm of King Ramses, who threatens to curse Eustace and Muriel unless the slab is returned to its resting place in the museum. When Eustace stubbornly refuses, the family suffers an assault from various plagues, and Courage must defend his family and find a way to appease the spectre.
Much like “The Demon in the Mattress,” this episode has some genuinely funny moments, particularly the second of the “plagues” involving torturing the family with terrible music. But what really sets this episode apart is just how scary it is, coupling the menacing form of King Ramses with the haunting atmosphere created from the eerie musical theme. This is one of those horror stories that stick with you, and manages to remain just as entertaining and fear-inducing regardless of whether you’re a child or a parent. It’s fun, scary, and an unforgettable story from the series.
1. FREAKY FRED (Season One, Episode Four)
Hands-down the creepiest and most intense episode of the series, “Freaky Fred” introduces the fan favorite titular villain with a looming, snickering menace. After escaping from an insane asylum, Fred journeys to visit his aunt, revealed to be Muriel. Through his own voice-over and an extended imprisonment with Courage inside of the family bathroom, we discover Fred’s privacy-shattering obsession with hair that leads to his attempting to shave all of Courage’s fur and becoming, as he describes it, “naughty.” With Muriel (as always) blissfully unaware of the impending danger, and Eustace’s preoccupation with procrastination, Courage must find a way to signal for help and escape the deranged barber while he still has some fur.
The high tension and creepy visuals aside, what makes this episode so memorable is Fred himself, who balances a near sadistic hair obsession with a whimsical glee towards everything he does. His voice-overs in particular go a long way towards generating a creepy mood, and the eerie music involving psychotic “la-la-las” stands up there with some of the great horror movie themes of yesteryear. It’s haunting, gripping, and sensational in its “Psycho meets Sweeney Todd” approach to the titular character, and for me stands as the absolute “must-see” episode out of any in the series.
So now that you’ve got some recommendations, head out and check out this show on Netflix. Whether you haven’t visited it in a long time, or have never seen the show before, Courage the Cowardly Dog is worth every hysterical and terrifying moment.