This Halloween season, I want to spread appreciation for a rather underappreciated strain of the horror genre: Creepy cartoons.
Horror is so much more than blood and gore, violence and terror. Some of the best that horror has to offer is delivered in a much more subtle manner. And for my money, the best example of this is cartoons.
Whether it’s something mild like “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown“, or something a bit edgier like Beetlejuice, the truth is — kids love horror. They always have, they always will. And this Halloween, my inner child is just howling for something spooky and fun.
You had to know I’d kick off a “Creepy Cartoons” Halloween series with a post about the original creepy cartoon, Scooby Doo. After 9+ major series incarnations over the past 47 years, Mystery Inc. has faced some seriously spooky capers.
Considering this was a series meant for young children, there are some surprisingly scary episodes! Whether it was ghosts and ghouls in a castle, witches and werewolves in a swamp, or diabolical demons and desiccated corpses in a museum, Scooby and the gang were always ready with a nifty Freddy-trap and a box of Scooby Snax. Let the meddling begin!
Villains play a huge role in the scariness of a show, but the setting and story are equally important. That’s why instead of doing a list of scariest Scooby Doo villains, I decided that a list of the scariest episodes would be better. Though for all intents and purposes, the list would probably be the exact same for both, with the order being the only difference.
In the spirit of the show, let’s keep things suspenseful and go in descending order, all leading up to my #1 scariest Scooby Doo episode.
Any of these would make for spooktacular Halloween viewing, so don’t be shy. If you want scary that’s also fun? Something to give you chills but still let you sleep? Then look no further. Here are my Top 10 scariest Scooby Doo episodes.
10- Scared a Lot in Camelot
The Scooby Doo Show, S1E6
October 16, 1976
Villains: Merlin and the Black Knight (Zarko and Henchman)
“The Scooby Doo Show” premiered in 1976, coming after two seasons of “Scooby Doo, Where Are You?” and “The New Scooby-Doo Movies” (1972-74). I won’t lie. This is my favourite of all the Scooby series.
“Scared a Lot in Camelot” features the Scooby gang searching for Shaggy’s eccentric millionaire uncle who’s vanished from his castle — THE Camelot Castle which Uncle Shagworthy had shipped to America stone by stone. So naturally the castle is haunted by the ghosts of Merlin and his Black Knight.
The sound effects in this one are spooky, but it’s Merlin’s evil laugh that takes things over the top. Was the episode’s magic show opening scene just a fun prelude to another mystery? Or is Zarko the Magician hiding more than just a rabbit in his hat?
9- The Night Ghoul of Wonderworld
The Scooby Doo and Scrappy Show, S1E2
September 29, 1979
Villain: Night Ghoul (Mr. Marino)
The name “Night Ghoul” alone evokes an image of a pretty scary villain, and this episode of “Scooby Doo and Scrappy” doesn’t disappoint. The Night Ghoul is, to me, the second scariest Scooby Doo villain, and “The Night Ghoul of Wonderworld” is my second favourite Scooby Doo episode. And no, not just because my beloved Scrappy is in it.
The Mystery Inc. gang is taking a little vacation to what sounds like the coolest place on earth: Wonderworld. This is like a made to order adventure. Pick your destination, choose what you want to do there, and Mr. Marino will make it happen. “Welcome to Wonderworld. Where your fantasies become reality!”
Velma has always dreamed of solving a case with Sherlock Holmes, and her next stop is London World, where the famous detective (in robot form) is awaiting her arrival. The mystery? The theft of the crown jewels of England.
The gang solves the mystery pretty quickly… or do they? When the REAL Night Ghoul arrives on the scene and steals the Jewels, Scooby and the gang find themselves embroiled in a game of 19th century English intrigue. But they’d better be wary of trusting Robot Holmes. It would be a shame if someone were to tamper with his deductive wiring…
8- The Spooky Space Kook
Scooby Doo, Where Are You?, S1E15
December 20, 1969
Villain: Space Kook (Henry Bascombe)
If an alien spaceship lands in an abandoned airfield and leaves a trail of glowing footprints, are you really going to be surprised when reporters start banging on your door and the police are no help at all?
Fans of Doctor Who will no doubt see the similarities between the Spooky Space Kook and arguably one of THE scariest DW villains, the Vashta Nerada. Well, actually the Vashta Nerada themselves were swarming microscopic creatures, but in the episode “Silence in the Library”, when they infect their astronaut victims, they start looking just like Scooby’s Spooky Space Kook.
An abandoned airfield is a lot scarier than you might think, and paired with a glowing “Wooooooooo!”-ing skeleton astronaut/alien thing, it makes for one creepy cartoon episode.
7- The Creepy Case of Old Iron Face
The Scooby Doo Show, S3E7
October 21, 1978
Villain: Old Iron Face (Mama Mione)
“The Creepy Case of Old Iron Face” — man, one of the things I love most about Scooby Doo is these wonderful episode titles. The legend of Old Iron Face goes as follows: He was a prisoner who was so mean that the prison warden had an iron mask welded onto his face because he didn’t want to look at him. Now Old Iron Face’s ghost has returned to haunt Skull Island — where the prison is located.
Is it a coincidence that the ghost showed up right when the Island is about to become a tourist attraction? The whole reason the Scooby gang is here is to tour the prison. When their tour guide, Captain Morgan, doesn’t show up, the teens decide to investigate. They discover his torpedoed boat resting not-so-peacefully at the bottom of the sea, and the clues eventually lead them to discover a rather palatial secret setup underneath the prison — well stocked with food, provisions and all the amenities of a 5-star hotel.
What’s the real reason Old Iron Face is trying to keep people off the Island? Is he homesick for the good old days? Or is he just playing the… smuggler’s blues…?
6- The Warlock of Wimbledon
The Scooby Doo Show, S3E15
December 16, 1978
Villain: Warlock Anthos (Nick Thomas and John the Gatekeeper)
Initially, I had no idea that the Wimbledon Tennis Tournament was an actual thing. As a kid, I thought it was just a made-up place where scary warlocks and their devil hounds try to bully bespectacled British tennis stars into giving up their inherited estates. Go figure!
Also, who would have thought that the Scooby Gang were tennis fans? But apparently they are and they’ve traveled all the way to England to watch the exciting championship tournament. Then one night, they run headlong (almost literally) into tennis star Jimmy Pelton and his manager Nick Thomas who have just been attacked by… the Warlock Anthos. Velma explains to Scooby that a warlock is kind of like a magician. Now, that’s not how I would describe a warlock, but Scooby will never know the difference, right?
The soundtrack to this episode is very scary, pairing perfectly with all the late-night encounters our sleuths have with the Warlock and his frothing hound.
An underground work shop filled knee-deep with sawdust, a pair of boots with paw prints painted on the bottom, a spooky staff that seems to have nine lives, and some ominous tea leaves… it’s a recipe for terror, but luckily those meddling kids are on the case and Velma came equipped with a spare set of glasses. And a good thing too — Jimmy just might need ’em. Game, set and match!
5- Make a Beeline Away From that Feline
The Scooby Doo Show, S3E9
November 4, 1978
Villain: Cat Creature (Dr. Bell)
It’s a cat creature. A jewel-stealing cat creature. A jewel-stealing cat creature that’s super scary looking. A scary jewel-stealing cat creature that’s actually Daphne’s Aunt Olivia transformed by an ooky medallion. Wait, what?
Yep, in “Make a Beeline Away From That Feline” (also known as “Who Was That Cat Creature I Saw You With Last Night?”), the Scooby Sleuths are in New York visiting Daphne’s nervous, somewhat medicated aunt. And are they in for a surprise. Aunt Olivia exits her bedroom with a handful of expensive jewellery and proceeds to explain to her niece that every night since receiving a strange cat medallion in the mail, she transforms into a cat creature and slinks off into the night to commit robberies. Now, if the sheer thought of turning into a scary cat creature isn’t frightening, I don’t know what is.
Fred, Daphne and Velma investigate the freshly-robbed Bixby’s Jewellers while Shaggy and Scooby pay a visit to the return address on the medallion wrapper. Huh. Who knew that the pet cemetery had a courier service!
Meanwhile, just before her next transformation, Aunt Olivia accepts a prescription from her M.D. — the porn-stached Doctor Bell, voiced by a heavily-accented-up Casey Kasem. My, my, what unique handwriting he has. Gosh, it looks so familiar. Where have I seen it before…?
4- Hassle in the Castle
Scooby Doo, Where Are You?, S1E2
September 20, 1969
Villain: Ghost of Vasquez the Pirate (Bluestone the Great)
Season 1 of Scooby Doo is honestly pretty perfect. All 17 episodes possess a certain spooky quality that’s unique to the show’s premiere season. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it’s just scary, in the best kind of way. It comes across as very adult, but not too adult. The stories are complex and well thought out. The villains are clever and creepy. And we just get the perfect balance of humour, horror and mystery.
“Hassle in the Castle” opens with this great image of a stereotypical sheet ghost. And yet… damn, he’s kinda scary, isn’t he?? It’s just a sheet with the eye holes cut out, but they’re dead eyes, aren’t they? And in his opening scene, this creepy creeper is already spying on our teenage magnets of mystery.
Yet another episode which takes place in the middle of the ocean, the kids wind up marooned on the aptly named Haunted Isle and spend the next 20 TV-minutes chasing pirate treasure and ham sandwiches (with mustard, of course) through the old abandoned castle of Vasquez the Pirate.
Can the gang bolster Scooby’s confidence enough to coax him to act as bait? This is one time when it’s going to take more than just Scooby Snax to get the job done. Freddy calls in the big guns and appeals to Scooby’s ego and convinces this Dane that he’s a Duke.
3- A Night of Fright is No Delight
Scooby Doo, Where Are You?, S1E16
January 10, 1970
Villain: Phantom Shadows (Cosgoode Creeps and Cuthbert Crawls)
I have three words for you: Giggling. Green. Ghosts. Even now, I would think twice about watching “A Night of Fright is No Delight” alone after dark. The laughter of these phantoms is something you have to hear to believe.
So here we are, once again on a boat headed out to a creepy, remote island. This time, the gang has ventured out for the reading of a will. At night. Of course. Jinkies.
Kooky Colonel Beauregard Sanders has died, leaving behind a fortune. Attending the midnight reading are his relatives: Cousin Simple, Nephew Norble, sweet Cousin Maldahyde, and Cousin Slicker; and of course, his old friend, Scooby Doo. Our daring canine rescued the Colonel from a fish pond years before and now Scooby and the others are about to inherit equal portions of a million dollar fortune ….. provided they all spend the night in his haunted mansion.
This episode is just screaming for a Vincent Price cameo, isn’t it?
Mystery Inc. soon learns that a night of fright really is no delight, as they and the cousins are all tormented by two scary phantom shadows, which over the course of the episode, finally turn into terrifyingly substantive giggling green ghosts.
One half of the Colonel’s lawyers, Cosgood Creeps, has supposedly left the island, not to return until morning. But why couldn’t his partner, Mr. Crawls, make it to the reading of the will? Someone had a good sense of humour with this, as Creeps and Crawls seem the perfect names for a couple of crooked lawyers.
2- The Backstage Rage
Scooby Doo, Where Are You?, S1E9
November 8, 1969
Villain: Puppet Master (Mr. Pietro)
What’s the one thing that’s scarier than ghosts, witches, zombies, vampires or lawyers combined? Dolls. Especially ventriloquist dolls. Especially especially life-size ventriloquist dolls that are meant to scare the pants off of you.
The episode starts out innocently enough — Shaggy and Scooby are headed home with a pizza. Their third pizza of the night. When their stomachs demand that they stop and eat it on the spot, they see a violin case bounce out of an open car window as it passes by. The case is full of money. Lots and lots of money. While Shaggy goes to call the gang, Scooby becomes the victim of a pretty little poodle puppet who distracts him while the perpetrator steals back the case.
A puppet controller bearing the name “Pietro’s Puppets” leads the sleuths to the Strand Theater, where they meet an elderly doorman and his puppet, Johnny. The gang concludes that a counterfeiting operation is being run out of the theatre, and they must face a spooky phantom and a gaggle of life-sized puppets to find out just who’s pulling the strings of this mystery.
1- Vampire Bats and Scaredy Cats
The Scooby Doo Show, S2E2
September 17, 1977
Villain: Gramps the Vamp (Uncle Leon Vanoff)
And here we are! Finally at the end of my countdown. My #1 scariest Scooby Doo episode is also in my list of top 5 favourite SD episodes.
My usual readers know by now that Dracula is my favourite movie monster. I love anything to do with vampires. So here is an episode that has 1) Scooby Doo, 2) Is from my favourite third season, and 3) It’s got a vampire in it. A scary vampire. This is the trifecta right here. An episode of Scooby Doo that could have been made by me and for me. So, let’s break it down.
Okay, now don’t be shocked, but here’s the gang… on a boat… headed to a spooky island in the middle of the ocean. Shocker! :-o The destination? Great Skull Island. Not to be confused with the plain old Skull Island we visited in my #7 pick, “The Creepy Case of Old Iron Face”. I mean, when an island literally looks like an ugly old skull head, what else are you going to call it except Great Skull Island?
A special treat with this episode is Scooby Doo’s cousin, Scooby Dum. He’s not too bright, but what he lacks in intelligence, he makes up for with heart.
Daphne’s friend Lisa is about to turn 18 and inherit the family hotel. Her guardian, Uncle Leon, has raised Lisa as if she were his own daughter. As their luck would have it, Mystery Inc.’s arrival coincides with an undertaker’s convention that’s being held in the grand ballroom of the hotel. All the coffins help fuel poor Shaggy’s fear of the Island’s vampire legend. And soon enough, the teens discover that it’s not a legend at all.
There’s a vampire on the loose, and he wants Lisa. When Uncle Leon reveals that the vampire is actually Lisa’s grandfather, there to turn her into a vampire, the gang sets out to protect her from the vampire curse.
One of the scariest moments in the episode is when Lisa answers a strange telephone call and spontaneously turns into a vampire while locked in a room with Shaggy and the Doos. Make no mistake about it, this is scary business, with the vampire popping up in closets, coffins, and a ventilating duct. But what’s his real motive? He’s determined to have Lisa and will stop at nothing to get her.
No one’s quite sure what’s going on, but at least they have Uncle Leon’s unique wrist alarm to let them know when it’s time to get back to business.
It’s a shame that today there aren’t really any horror/mystery-based programs for children. I feel like children’s programming in general has been dumbed down to a truly pathetic level. Kids aren’t stupid. In fact, they’re like little sponges, soaking up every drop of what they see around them.
The beauty of a cartoon like Scooby Doo is that apart from its superb entertainment value, it also teaches children important life skills like observation, resourcefulness and patience. Decades ago, producers and writers recognized that you don’t have to sacrifice enjoyment for substance. With a little bit of effort, you can have both.
Scooby Doo and especially these, the scariest of all his episodes, teach another important lesson: No matter how scary a situation may seem, if you keep your head down, grit your teeth and persevere, you’ll find that maybe the scary thing wasn’t quite so scary after all. Sometimes the monster is really just a guy wearing a mask.
Until next time, unpleasant dreams . . .