When you think of cartoons, you’re probably not picturing terrifying nightmare fuel, (unless you’re from Russia, where they’ve somehow managed to turn zero-budget animation into a legitimate art form). By their vary nature, cartoons are designed to be something you leave your kids in front of for a few hours, so you can sit in the kitchen; quietly drinking and contemplating all the different ways your life went wrong…I forget where I’m going with this.
Anyway, here are five cartoons that scared the life out of me as a child and still remain pretty dark, to me, now that I’m all grown up.
[Note: Watership Down will not feature on this list, because I haven’t seen it and honestly I don’t think ‘Bright Eyes’ is even that bad of a song; certainly not horrific.]
Batman – Feat of Clay
I recently went on record as claiming that Batman: The Animated Series is the greatest thing to ever air on television. For an early 90’s cartoon, the production values are absolutely insane, and I genuinely believe that nothing else has come close to it since. I don’t just mean in terms of Batman, either: I’m talking the entirety of television.
One of the reasons I feel so strongly about this is because of the clear artistic integrity the show’s creators clearly possessed when it came to creating a show they must have known would be primarily viewed by kids who would never appreciate their neo-gothic architecture choices or the sweeping orchestral scores that managed to surpass even the film soundtracks (Bat Dance notwithstanding, of course).
The other thing I admire about the creators is that they absolutely did not give a single solitary shit about scarring children for life. I could have easily filled this entire list with just episodes from Batman: TAS and still have plenty left over from a sequel. The main reason for this, I think, is that, whereas most cartoon villain’s plans and motivations don’t extend far beyond ‘have a big punch-up with the hero’ all of Batman’s enemies are more cerebral, with motivations that usually stem from extremely horrible things happening to them, first.
Clayface’s origin story, on the show, involves a disfigured actor, Matt Hagen, who becomes addicted to a rejuvenating skin cream that lets him re-shape his face to cover his scars and allow him to continue acting. Unfortunately, the substance is supplied by the mafia who in turn hold it to ransom unless he agrees to disguise himself as other people for criminal purposes. After ballsing up a crime and getting Batman on his case, the mob cut him off, prompting Matt to try and steal from the mob –always a good idea– and in turn prompting them to graphically force-feed him enough of the skin cream that his entire body falls apart and turns him into a shuffling abomination capable of re-arranging his entire body into various weapons and also irate, screeching women:
Quick, you have five seconds to tell me one other cartoon that talks about direct marketing and overdoses. That’s what I thought. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a clip of the fight scene slightly later in the episode where Batman forces Clayface to have a breakdown by making him see a wall of monitors highlighting all the roles from his acting career; causing his body to constantly, violently shift between forms until eventually he goes nuts and electrocutes himself.
Thankfully, Tumblr is always on hand to provide the necessary gifs:
Ren & Stimpy – A Visit to Anthony
Ren & Stimpy is already infamous for being pretty out there, with all the tales of banned episodes and the final, cancelled series being full of bouncing boobs, so imagine my surprise when, in spite of the constant censorship battles the creators faced, this episode still made it onto our televisions.
Similar to Batman: TAS, Ren & Stimpy benefited from an amazing soundtrack, (largely courtesy of a bunch of royalty-free tunes that some hero spent months compiling and placing online,) which gave many of the series’ more outrageous moments an added level of suffocating atmosphere. The scene with Anthony’s dad is probably the single greatest example of this.
While you’re watching this, try to bear in mind that this is a show about a chihuaha and the oddest looking cat in the world, usually getting into situations that involve one of them being sick on the other. Although, I suppose it is possible to do a terror-vomit, so maybe this isn’t that out of place, after all:
Honestly, put that in black and white and cast some real, live actors and I swear you would have a scene worthy of any Hitchcock or Kubrick venture. Watching it now, the amount of tension that builds up as the scene draws on for longer and longer just reminds me of Dennis Hopper’s performance in Blue Velvet. Although, admittedly David Lynch would probably never use a fart joke as a resolution, (even if it would have helped break up some of the more tedious slogs in Mulholland Drive).
The Real Ghostbusters – The Long, Long, Long, etc .Goodbye
Unlike Batman: TAS (yes, I will not stop bringing it up,) The Real Ghostbusters cartoon is often criticised for its hilariously low production values, with characters outfits frequently changing colour from scene to scene –because when you ship out your animation to Korean sweatshops, consistency is one of the many things you agree to be expendable– as well as the decision to give Slimer his own spin-off show, because if there’s one thing that’s guaranteed to succeed, it’s shifting the entire focus of a series onto a single, disposable comic relief character (which is why Joey is now in it’s tenth season, and that is definitely a true thing that I just said.)
That being said, The Real Ghostbusters is still one of my favourite cartoons of all time. Even when they rebooted the show into Extreme Ghostbusters and turned it into the most painfully transparent display of late-90’s political correctness by making the new ghostbusting team, in order, a Hispanic dude, a goth chick, a black guy and a guy in a wheelchair, I still enjoyed it because the new monster designs were awesome and the stories were all pretty inventive (see: the episode starring a fake Stephen King who is forced to write a series of increasingly contrived novels from a possessed typewriter because it brings the Cenobites who are controlling him to life.)
For my money, though, no episode was as creepy as The Long, Long, Long, etc. Goodbye in the original series. In retrospect, I’d be amazed if this hasn’t been made into a low-budget horror film at some point, because it has some pretty fantastic plot devices: The ghost of a 1940’s detective is tracking the ghost of his arch-enemy –a cat burglar who broke into a museum and was turned into a gigantic, screaming zombie-Pharaoh thing because he tried to steal from a sarcophagus and we all know how well that usually goes– and ends up having to recruit the Ghostbusters to go into an abandoned underground railway system to retrieve the sarcophagus that controls him.
I am super excited for this one because I actually managed to find the entire episode on Youtube, so excuse me while I go watch that, then we can get on with the rest of the article:
In all honesty, I don’t find the monster’s visual design as scary as I used to, but there is something weirdly unsettling about a ghost that does nothing but scream over and over again while wrecking shit up; it actually isn’t a million miles away from something you’d see in one of the better Silent Hills (the video games, I mean; not those ninety-minute sleeping aids starring an inexplicably always-alive Sean Bean).
Fantasia – Chernabog/Night on Bald Mountain
I don’t think I need to spend much time on this one, since you’ve probably all seen it at least once. I’m almost certain that it usually pops up in that 100 Scariest Moments show Channel 4 runs once every couple of weeks, and that’s certainly not without merit.
I think the main reason for it being so stand-out horrific is less to do with it being super-terrifying and more to do with the fact that, surprisingly violent axe-murder scene aside, the majority of Fantasia involves unicorns and cherubs mincing around in lovely colourful fields and just generally having a jolly old time; it was a total sucker punch, then, when Chernabog turned up, blasting Night on Bald Mountain and raising the dead, and it put the fear up me so much as a child that I actually had never watched the seen in its entirety until Christmas of last year.
Then again, I was so arseholed on mulled wine that I could have probably watched Dom Littlewood re-enact all the sex scenes from A Serbian Film and I’d still have been able to finish my turkey dinner.
Anyway, have at it, and happy nightmares: