If there's one thing in this world that always manages to make me smile, it's a little good, old-fashioned Nightmare Fuel. For those of you out there who are not complete hermits and haven't wasted what probably amounts to months of your life on TV Tropes, I'll explain. Nightmare Fuel is that magic element in media that scared the bejeebus out of you as a child, but was never meant to. Most of it wasn't intentional. The vast majority of stuff that ends up being Nightmare Fuel was supposed to be entertaining. But, sadly, someone goofed, and what was meant to be amusing turned into something ready to crawl into our young minds and haunt us well into adulthood.
That being said, I'd be lying if I said there wasn't anything out there that was meant to scare, but still be intended for young audiences. We've all seen plenty of these in our lives - Are You Afriad of the Dark?, several Disney movies, and even a few episodes of Care Bears and My Little Pony, to name only a few off the top of my head. But, amongst all this frightening stuffs, there is one show that stands out from all the others. One show that, on certain parts on the internet, the very title is synonymus with "fear".
That show? Courage the Cowardly Dog.
Those of you who grew up in the "Golden Age of Cartoons" know what I'm talking about. For you youngin's out there who aren't in the know, Courage the Cowardly Dog was a Cartoon Network show that ran from 1999 to 2002, with a total of four seasons and fifty-two episodes. The basic premise revolved around the titular cowardly dog, Courage, who lived with his two owners - the lovable old granny, Muriel Bagge, and her greedy bastard of a husband, Eustace - who live in the Middle of Nowhere (literally; they live in Nowhere, Kansas). To quote the opening narration "freaky stuff happens in Nowhere. It's up to Courage to save his new home!"
This show is considered something of a classic. It's fondly remembered by even casual fans for its clever writing, many a hiliarious scene, and, oh yeah, its OFF-THE-CHARTS FREAKY FACTOR!
Seriously, with the level of scary that went down in this show, people still wonder how on earth this series ran for so long without at least getting a threat to be pulled off the air (my guess is that the censors just really liked it, but whatever). Just go on TV Tropes and look up Nightmare Fuel, under Western Animation; this show has its own page. If that isn't some hardcore terror, I don't what is.
But what episodes were the scariest? Which episodes caused those most brick-shitting, the most pants-wetting, the most ear-spilitting shrieking ever brought on by a children's cartoon?
I don't know, but doesn't mean I can't make a countdown to pretend I do! So, here it is, the top ten scariest episodes of Courage the Cowardly Dog.
Reader beware: You're in for a scare (yes, I know this has nothing to do with Goosebumps, but it was too good to pass up).
10. Freaky Fred
This episode begins with a cheerful man on a bus, who says, through a rhyming (yes, rhyming) inner monologue, that his name is Fred and that he's been "naaaaaaugthy". We then join the Bagge's, who are preparing their home for the arrival of Muriel's nephew Fred, who just so happens to be the same Fred from the bus. While Muriel is excited to see her darling nephew, Eustace is less so, telling Courage all about "the freaky barber with his own freaky barber shop, where freaky things happen...freaky barber things", which puts Courage a bit on edge. Turns out his fear is in the right place when he accidentally gets locked in the bathroom with Fred, and we find out that Fred has a slight...obsession with shaving hair. And he simply loves Courage's...
Aside from this episode being an obvious homage to Sweeney Todd...
Always a fine choice for children's entertainment.
...the music is a huge contributing factor. For the most part, it's very slow and somber, but with a hint of childishness to it, almost like a worn-out music box. The whole thing comes to a head when, as he shaves Courage bald, the music turns from just instrumentals to a chorus of not-quite children chanting "la la la" in a slow, creepy manner. Makes me shiver just about every time I hear it.
Of course, as I grew older, I began to succumb to "Subtext Syndrome" - the dread disorder where you look for dark subtext where there hardly is to begin with and run with until you've pretty much ruined what you started with (it effects a lot of English teachers too, or so I'm told) - and found some pretty creepy stuff that makes it...quite interesting to watch this episode now. If I may distort a beloved cartoon for a moment: Fred shaves people bald, always without their consent, esentially "violating" them. So, Muriel's nephew is a rapist. Yeah. I did just screw with your mind. I'm evil that way.
A lot of people who discuss this episode describe it as one of the scarier ones, but I put it pretty high up on the list. Mostly, that has to do with Fred himself. While, yes, his constant manic grin is a bit unnerving and the aforementioned rape subtext that surrounds his obsession certainly makes for chilling thoughts in the deepest, most perverted corners of my brain, he's not so much "scary" as he is "a little disturbing". In fact, I find him more endearing than anything. His cheerful rhyming, the dry humor of his anecdotes, and the fact that, essentially, he's pretty harmless all make for one of the less threatening villains of the show, especially when you compare his episode to some of the others that are going to end up on this list. But I am willing to give credit where credit is due, and for all intents and purposes, Fred did do what he was created to do - cause dozens of children to fear getting their hair cut.
This episode begins with the lonely Dr. Gerhart Von Orbison using a record player he's invented to bring him some neighbors. Those neighbors turn out to be the Bagge's. Muriel hits it off with Gerhart instantly, but Courage begins to notice that the doctor's house keeps moving closer to theirs. When the house suddenly begins moaning and shrieking, Gerhart explains that, years ago, he brought his house to life so he could have someone to talk to. Unfortunately, his house is dreadful company. Oh, and "she" also happens to be homicidally jealous. She steals back Gerhart and launches a full-on assault on the farm house, determined to destory it. It's up to Courage to try and calm the raging house down.
What really makes this episode frightening is the fact that it uses the mundane in order to scare us.
Kind like how Stephen King makes most of his money.
The mundane in this episode being the house. You wouldn't ever expect a house to be something to be afraid of. And yet, here we are. The idea of a living house is pretty freaky in itself, but one that is murderously possessive and jealous? That's the icing on the terror cake. Coupled with the house's moaning and growling and the moment where it pulls itself up to the door of the farm house with that unearthly look of anger and...yeah, that house was messed up.
Still, this episode ended up ranking pretty high, mostly because around this time, we were in the fourth season, which weren't quite up to snuff with the earlier episodes. It's not that they weren't good, they just weren't as memorable as those that came before it. However, I can't let what season it was in dampen the obvious fear factor. "Housecalls" certainly made it a little more eerie to stay home alone.
8. Dome of Doom
When a drought wipes out Muriel's garden, the Bagge's food supply begins to dwindle. All their problems seem to be answered, however, when they find an ad in the paper for the Mega Dome, a geodesic dome that will supply them with food for the rest of their lives. The dome proves effective when it grows a lucious and bountiful garden, full of beautiful vegetables. Just as Muriel starts the harvest, though, Courage notices that these vegetables may not be all they seem. They seem sentient...and hungry.
Yeah, this episode is pretty much Little Shop of Horrors, except there's more than one evil plant, but none of them have the voice of Levi Stubbs.
Whether that's good or bad varies from person to person.
That's not to say that makes the episode any less frightening. This episode hits a particularly sensitive nerve with me for the very fact its an homage to Little Shop of Horrors. The cabbages bear a rather strong resemblance to Audrey 2, and that friggin' weed haunted many of my nightmares as a child. In fact, not having the plants speak was probably what made this episode scary; they seemed more animalistic than cunning, which I think, in the case of sentient, man-eating plants, is a lot creepier. If a giant weed started telling me to feed it blood, I think I'd been a little too busy reaching for the herbicide to get scared. But if a bunch of veggies randomly started snapping at my heels, I'd be much more inclined to scream bloody murder.
Again, this was one of the later episodes, which is why this one is up here while still being pants-wettingly scary. But the fact that it is so is what we're here to honor it for. So, with all the man eating-plants and feeling of dread you're probably feeling now while looking at that fruit bowl sitting in your kitchen, I have to say that, if Standards and Practices was trying to teach kids to eat their veggies, I'd really have to say this is a step backwards.
7. Everyone Wants to Direct
In this episode, the Bagge's meet "famous independent film director", Benton Tarentella, who wants to shot his next picture, "The Return of the Zombies from Under the Farm", at their farm. He offers parts to Muriel and Eustace, promising big bucks and stardom. Courage, however, is suspicious of Mr. Tarentella, especially after seeing several parts of his body fall off. The pooch does a little digging and finds out that Benton Tarentella and his former partner, Errol Von Volkheim, were murderers who lured their victims to their fates by recruiting them to film fake movies. Now that both are dead, Tarentella aims to resurrect his partner so that they can feast on Muriel.
So, what made this episode so scary? What didn't make this episode scary; that's the shorter answer! First, you have the fact Benton Tarentella and Errol Von Volkheim are incredibly detailed zombies. Decaying flesh, missing body parts, eyes bulging form their sockets, the whole nine undead yards.
Behold, the stuff of George Romaro's nightmares.
I actually rewatched this episode recently, after having not seen it in years, and the scene where Von Volkheim first pops out of his grave (which, coincidentally, is right under the Bagge farm house), sent me flying out of my chair. It's a great shock moment that you really need to see for all the effect.
The second thing about this episode that really made it scary is two words: "serial killers". That's right; Cartoon Network actually ran a show that had two serial killers in it. Sure, they're never actually shown killing anyone, but when Courage is researching them, he finds an article that says, before they were caught, they'd killed 12 people. Holy shit, writers! Just...holy shit!
Given all that, you're probably wondering why I put this episode so high up on the list. Well, remember when I asked you what didn't make this episode scary? Turns out the answer is the ending. Despite all the horribly frightening stuff that happens throughout the episode, it ends on a pretty goofy note, not at all like it probably should have. It sort of cancels all the other creepy factors of the episode out, and, because of this, the episode suffers. But, save for that last minute and a half, this episode does put together some really scary moments, and that is something to be admired.
6. Courage in the Big, Stinkin' City
In this particularly memorable episode, Muriel wins a sitar contest and is invited to play at the Radio City Music Hall in New York City. When they arrive at the Hall, they are greeted by an anthropomorphic cockroach (yep, you read that right) named Schwick. He offers to let them hang out in the green room, a run-down little hovel with a strange locked door in the corner. Schwick asks Courage to retrieve a package for him, threatening that, if he doesn't return before the curtain goes up, he will release whatever is behind the locked door and sic it on Muriel.
...where do I begin with this episode? Well, first off there's Schwick. And the fact he's kind of a giant, very realistic-looking cockroach. To someone who isn't a huge fan of bugs (like me), that's more than a little upsetting. Of course, this was remedied by the fact Schwick had some of the funniest lines in the episode. Then there's whatever is behind the door that Schwick threatens to let out. What really makes that moment scary is that we never figure out what it is. According to Schwick, it's what made the bones that litter the room, and from what we see and hear at the end of the episode, it's pretty damn big. But, as several horror mavericks know, it's not the monster that scares us, it's knowing there's a monster there.
And, of course, I have to mention that moment. Ask any Courage fan about this episode, and this one moment is bound to come up, whether you like it or not. The moment in question is when Courage arrives at the address where Schwick has told him to pick up the package, which is a seedy-looking apartment building. He goes through the halls of the building, opening various doors, each with a new horror for Courage to endure. Then, he opens up a door with a little girl playing violin. Just as he begins to relax...well, this happens.
*thud* Yeah, that was a brick, in case you're wondering. I mean, Jesus! Not only is that incredibly horrifying, but its accompanied by the worst scare chord ever! Just when you thought the big city had a bad reputation as it was, Courage the Cowardly Dog comes along and makes it worse.
5. The House of Discontent
It's the day of the Harvest Moon in Nowhere, but Eustace hasn't been able to grow a thing. The Spirit of the Harvest Moon, angered that Eustace disrespects his land and therefore can't grow anything, gives the family a choice: either grow something by midnight that night, or leave the farm. Courage has to race against time in order to protect his family from being destroyed thanks to Eustace's stubborness.
Alright, you're going to have to bear with me on this one, because I can't find a high quality video of this full episode, so I've only been able to get bits and pieces. But what I've seen is more than enough to get into the top five. First of all, you have the Spirit, which is litte more than a white, disembodied head with black abysses for eyes. Think the head from The Wizard of Oz if he had a really creepy brother that no one in the family likes to mention. It's voice is also a major eerieness factor. It doesn't really sound human; almost like what you'd think a dead body would sound like if they could talk - slow, ragged, and fading with age. All combined make for one nightmare-inducing image.
Then there's the climax of the episode. Time has run out for the Bagge's and Eustace, stupid, stubborn goat that he is, refuses to leave the house as the Spirit demands. So, the Spirit starts cranking up the temperature, little by little until it threatens to bake Eustace and Muriel alive. It's probably one of the most tension-filled moments in the entire series, and I salute it for that. Leave it to this show to make a worthless holiday into something that strikes fear into the hearts of children everywhere.
4. The Demon in the Mattress
Muriel simply can't take another night of sleeping on her lumpy mattress. Desperate for a new one, she sees an ad in the paper for a mattress sale and orders one up. Good for her, because the mattress salesmen were just waiting for her to call. When the new mattress arrives, Courage just knows something isn't right (that maybe because the mattress was delivered by two mutated rats). That proves to be true when Muriel takes a nap and is possessed by a demon.
That's right; sweet, old Muriel is possess by a freaking demon. And we get to watch it happen. Fun, huh, kids? Aside from that, this whole episode is just one long homage to The Exorcist. As in, the movie that terrified an entire generation of movie-goers. As in, the movie that had trailers banned from being shown in theatres because they were too frightening. As in The Fucking Exorcist!
You all remember this wholesome family film, right?
Seriously, everywhere you look in this episode, there's a shout out to this classic horror film. The room cold enough to were you can see your breath hanging in the air, the 360 head turn, the projectile vomiting - there's a slew of it. That, of course, only adds to the already high Holy Shit Quotient. Thtat doesn't stop it from being one of the funniest episodes in the entire series (especially when Eustace tries to exorcise the demon; go watch it, it's hilarious), but just the fact that this is a tribute to what Entertainment Weekly considers the scariest movie of all time, it certainly deserves a spot on this list for giving us all a fear of our beds.
3. Night at the Katz Motel
Returning home from a vacation late one night, the Bagge's decide to stay at the Katz Motel, run by an anthropomorphic cat named Katz. He offers them a room for the night, but forces them to leave Courage tied up outside. However, we soon find out that Katz has plans for the Bagge family. A plan that involves his army of huge pet spiders.
Aaaaand there's the first indication that this episode will scare you shitless: spiders. For all you arachnaphobes out there, this episode will be really fun to watch, considering the spiders in question are roughly the size of a small dog. As if regular spiders weren't bad enough, now we have these mofos to contend with. And these also happen to be incredibly sadistic spiders. Peachy, hmm?
And, of course, there's Katz himself. As any viewer of this show can attest, any episode starring Katz was most assuredly going to be a horrifying treat. A lot of that had to do with his personality.
And by "personalitiy" I refer to "psychosis".
In most shows aimed at children or teenagers, homicidal maniacs are just goofy enough to were they can commit horrific acts, but they're so outrageous that we laugh from the sheer audacity of it. Hell, even Joker could come across as just plain hilarious at times. Not so with Katz. He plays it eeriely straight, like a mix between Hannibal Lecter and Count Dracula. He likes to toy with you before just resorting to strangling you with his bare hands and that's not something you see in a lot of cartoons today. Katz was one of the more recurring villians in this show, but, in my opinion, none of his subsequent appearances were quite as frightening as his debut. Hats of to you Katz, for sending every arachnaphobe in the corner with a can of Raid, curled up in the fetal position, sucking their thumbs.
2. King Ramses' Curse
When Courage finds an ancient Egyptian slab buried on property, the Bagge's find out that the slab was stolen and is worth millions. When Eustace finds out that he won't get paid for return the slab, though, he refuses to give it back until he is given money for it. That night, a strange apparition, claiming to be King Ramses, appears outside their home, demanding they return the slab. When Eustace still refuses, the spirit sics three plagues on them, each worse than the last. Courage has to find a way to get the slab back to Ramses before the plagues destroy them all.
Anyone out there reading this who knows this show knows that this episode is probably one of the scariest. It has just about everything: creepy music, frightening situations, and possibly the most horrific 3-D rendering of a ghost ever.
Yeah, that's King Ramses, quite possibly the worst thing about this entire episode. Everything about this guy is creepy. Not just his design, which is bad enough. He moves in such a weird way, constantly swaying back and forth. But the worst thing about him is his freaky voice; it's almost like he wasn't voiced by a human, but by some sort of weird, other-earthly creature. Just sit down and watch this episode. I have no doubt you'll be freaked out, even just a little. Listening to this guy call, "Return the slaaaaaab..." makes for real horrorshow. Just a word from the wise: don't ever watch this episode at night, especially if you have something to do the next day. Sleep will not come easily to you.
After an entire day of Eustace yelling at him for not being doing anything right, an elderly school marm appears before Courage, in order to teach him how to be "perfect".
Really, that's all the introduction this episode needs, because everyone here who watched this episode knows exactly why this is at the number one spot. During the night, after failing many of his "perfection lessons", Courage has several graphic nightmares, that taunt him for not being perfect. The real kicker comes from this:
Oh, God! My retinas! It's burning into my sooooooul!
Wow. I mean, wow. What the hell is that even supposed to be? Seriously, this has absolutely no bearing on the rest of the episode, so was there really a need to create...that to haunt our nightmares? And if you think the picture alone is bad, try actually watching it. Go on. I dare you. Sit down and watch this episode. You will not go to bed a happy person. You were warned.
And that's my pick for the top ten scariest episodes of Courage the Cowardly Dog. Just remember, this is all my opinion, so don't get all bent out of shape if you don't think one of these episodes was scary. If you do, however, remember a particularly freaky episode that I managed to forget, don't hesitate to leave a comment about it. I hope you had as much fun reliving the trauma of yesteryear as I did unearthing it.