Best Cartoons Influenced by Horror, Including Courage the Cowardly Dog - VRGyani News and Media


Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Best Cartoons Influenced by Horror, Including Courage the Cowardly Dog

As a genre, horror is usually reserved for mature audiences, namely for the use of violence and feelings of terror it hopes to inspire. However, a format traditionally seen as being for children — animation — also offers quite a bit of violence and terror, albeit often with more levity. For every dismemberment in a horror movie, there’s no doubt someone getting smashed by a falling anvil in a cartoon; for every moment of tension as a killer stalks its prey, there’s the tension of Jerry the mouse about to inflict some kind of horrible pain on Tom the cat.

Naturally, given this overlap and the creative freedom found through animation, the genre of horror has inspired a fair share in the medium of animation. So, here are eight animated shows that embrace aspects of the horror genre in ways that are bound to entertain lovers of slashers, ghosts, terror, and fright (this list is by no means exhaustive, and merely highlights the shows this writer has seen and finds indebted to the horror genre in some way. Also, as I am not in any way an anime connoisseur, this list sticks to western animation).

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Gravity Falls

Twins Dipper and Mabel Pines are sent to spend the summer with their huckster grand-uncle, “Grunkle” Stan, who runs The Mystery Shack, a tourist trap in the northwestern town of Gravity Falls. However, nothing is as it seems in the small town, leading Dipper, Mabel, and plenty of zany townsfolk they befriend to solve mysteries, confront cryptids, battle with ghosts, and unravel a conspiracy involving their own Grunkle.

This Disney Channel cartoon, created by Alex Hirsch (who also voices numerous characters on the show), is filled to the brim with fun treats for horror fans. The show itself takes major inspiration from iconic horror-tinged series like Twin Peaks and Eerie, Indiana. Featuring episodic supernatural foes ranging from living wax statues to an evil child psychic to nefarious secret societies, plenty of entertaining horror tropes are turned on their head in this very clever and funny show. However, what makes Gravity Falls so special is, undoubtedly, the mystery that unfolds throughout its run, hidden via clues in the show such as backward messages, secret codes, and small background details. With two stellar seasons that end in an epic battle with a multidimensional foe, Gravity Falls is not only great for fans of horror, but for fans of hilarious and enthralling animated mysteries.

Over the Garden Wall

This 2014 Cartoon Network miniseries is the autumn season personified. Over the Garden Wall follows two step-brothers, the older, self-conscious Wirt and the lively, imaginative Greg, as they try to find their way through an “out of time" land called The Unknown. Along the way, they must battle a woodsman, help living pumpkins, meet talking animals, and try to discover the true nature of The Unknown and the terrible beast that lurks inside it.

Featuring voices of iconic actors like Elijah Wood, Christopher Lloyd, John Cleese, and Tim Curry, Over the Garden Wall is an enchanting miniseries dripping in the aesthetic of 19th century Americana folklore. The show has plenty of cheerful moments, such as singing songs with animal schoolchildren, while also not being afraid to get quite unnerving, mainly in its villain “the Beast,” a shadowy, deep-voiced creature out to get our heroes. With beautifully painted backgrounds of fall-tinged forests and fields, and a powerful ending you won’t soon forget, this short and sweet series is the perfect creation to get any horror fan into a cozy and creepy fall mood.

Batman: The Animated Series

Considered by many to be the screen’s greatest adaptation of the Batman comic universe, this classic '90s piece of animation stands out for its bold art style and thematically rich stories. Based on the classic Batman mythos and filled with the Dark Knight’s iconic rogues, Batman: The Animated Series stays true to the characters’ gothic roots. The series' visual aesthetic takes inspiration from classic film noir and German expressionism, employing high contrast lighting and shadows, bold angular character designs, an art-deco Gotham City, and the dark themes inherent to those genres. Menacing villains, like Scarecrow, the Ventriloquist, Man-Bat, and the Joker (here voiced in an iconic performance by Mark Hamill) feel right out of a horror movie, and the series isn’t afraid to shy away from heavy themes like failure, justice, and how much the human psyche can take. Batman: The Animated Series proves that Batman is the darkest of all classic superhero characters.

Invader Zim

Can this Nickelodeon series’ horror cred even be questioned when its merchandise basically kept Hot Topic in business throughout the early 2000s? Created by Jhonen Vasquez, a writer and cartoonist known for his independent black humor comic Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, Invader Zim follows arrogant would-be alien conqueror Zim and his idiotic robot servant, GIR, as they live secretly among the humans of Earth, Zim attending school in disguise as a child. As Zim attempts to gain intel that will help him try and conquer the planet, his classmate in school, Dib, seeks to expose Zim as the alien invader he is.

Invader Zim features Vasquez’s signature sense of dark humor, filled with pessimism, nihilism, and critiques of society. The show’s art style is angular and exaggerated, with characters made to look strange and unnatural. With a heavy electronic and industrial score, the show feels foreboding even in its comedic moments. Horror fans will find plenty to love in Invader Zim’s episodes, with plots about organ theft, hypnotic zits, bologna body horror, and an evil Santa robot. Winning both an Emmy and an Annie, this darkly sardonic series is considered a cult classic.

Courage the Cowardly Dog

Once boasting the highest-rated premiere in Cartoon Network history, Courage the Cowardly Dog shows the exploits of Courage, a dog living with elderly owners in “the middle of nowhere.” To protect his owners and home, Courage must use his wits against all manner of threats and monsters which find their way into Courage’s life. One of the best aspects of Courage is the show’s eerie, dreamlike atmosphere, aided in no small part by the desolate, creepy desert that is “nowhere.” With an endless dark horizon over sprawling, dusty earth only interrupted by the small farmhouse Courage and his owners live in, the middle of nowhere feels like a creepy setting right out of a David Lynch movie or Salvador Dalí painting. However, with Courage, it’s not just the atmosphere and settings that are creepy, as the show has a constant parade of monsters and foes, from a deranged barber to the infamous and cursed King Ramses to a demonic bed (leading to a great parody of The Exorcist) to a zombie film director. With wild and gross moments of cartoony exaggeration (Courage’s iconic “tooth with a hole in it” comes to mind), Courage the Cowardly Dog is a series that embraces the strange, bizarre, and creepy.

The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack

Set amongst a world of sailors, pirates, and the high seas, Cartoon Network’s The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack stars its creator, Thurop Van Orman, as the voice of the titular Flapjack, an optimistic but naive boy who lives with Bubby, a talking whale (Roz Ryan), and his crotchety mentor, Captain K'nuckles (Brian Doyle-Murray). The trio lives in the rickety, gruff sailors’ town of Stormalong Harbor and go on wild adventures in search of the legendary “Candied Island.” With lots of behind the scenes talent who would go on to create their own shows, such as Over the Garden Wall’s Patrick McHale, Gravity Falls’ Alex Hirsch, Adventure Time’s Pendleton Ward, and Regular Show’s J.G. Quintel, Flapjack is a show with a lot of artistic and creative skill on display.

The show takes major inspiration from classic literature such as Jules Verne and Robert Louis Stevenson, and folktales of sailors and pirates, with an art style reminiscent of old sea maps. With its gruff setting, Flapjack has plenty of darker moments fit for fans of the frightening, from sea monsters to angry pirates to grotesque close-up shots of scurvy and disease-ridden sailors to a high strung candy shop owner with a wife made of candy. However, the pièce de résistance of Flapjack's creepy aspects is the recurring side character of Doctor Barber. Playing on the classic trope of the town barber also functioning as a de-facto Surgeon, a tradition which continued up until the 1800s, Dr. Barber is Stormalong Harbor’s Doctor/Surgeon, obsessed with dishing out unnecessary surgery, seeming all too gleeful about his willingness to cut into and experiment with his patients. With its classic and tough maritime sensibilities, The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack is keen to provide horror fans with gross and unnerving moments to contrast the hero Flapjack’s childish positivity.

Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated

The eleventh incarnation of the classic Scooby-Doo franchise, Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated, which aired on Cartoon Network in the early 2010s, saw the classic mystery-solving gang of friends at an early point in their career, still living in their hometown of Crystal Cove, self-proclaimed as “the most haunted place on Earth.” As the gang foils the plots of costumed wrongdoers, subverts the tropes and themes of the original 1960s series, and runs into actual paranormal happenings, the show has a serialized, ongoing mystery at its heart. Mystery Incorporated keeps receiving strange clues and messages from a mysterious “Mr. E” about the origins of their apparently haunted town, as well as the long-ago disappearance of four teens and their pet bird — the original incarnation of Mystery Inc.

With its fun self-awareness of the classic Scooby-Doo tropes and format, as well as its ongoing, more serious storyline, Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated creates a more heightened and engaging form of the classic, ghost and ghoul-filled comedy cartoon. Even the main characters themselves are given more depth, as they struggle with relationships and dynamics among the group. The show is also unafraid to parody more adult horror media, with references to Twin Peaks, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Saw, and H.P. Lovecraft. Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated is by far the most creative, clever, and entertaining version of the iconic Mystery Machine gang out there, and is definitely worth a watch for fans of the horror genre.


“One thousand years ago, superstition and the sword ruled. It was a time of darkness. It was a world of fear. It was the age of gargoyles,” says the gargoyle Goliath in the opening narration. “Now, here in Manhattan, the spell is broken, and we live again! We are defenders of the night! We are Gargoyles!” It’s hard to believe that these opening lines come from a show produced by Disney and not an adult fantasy novel. Starting out in syndication for its first two seasons, and moving to ABC’s Saturday morning lineup for the third season, Gargoyles details the epic saga of ancient Scottish gargoyles — flying, nocturnal creatures sworn to protect mankind and who turn to stone in the daylight — who are transported to modern New York. Taking up the mantle of nighttime protectors of the city, the clan of creatures fights magic foes while confronting a world totally new to them.

Gargoyles is a cult favorite to many, especially those who grew up with it in the ’90s, and it’s not hard to see why. The show features action, a dark tone, complex characters with arcs, and deep lore. Taking inspiration from Shakespearean characters and themes (such as those from Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream), Mayan and Japanese folklore, and Arthurian myth, Gargoyles embraces its gothic fantasy roots, unafraid of building a complex world and history for its characters to inhabit. Along with an impressive voice cast including Keith David, Jonathan Frakes, and Ed Asner, Gargoyles featured striking animation that stood out compared to the other Disney-produced shows of its time. Filled with creatures, magic, battles, and a nighttime atmosphere, Gargoyles is a great blast from the past for horror fans who grew up with it, and even those who didn’t.

KEEP READING: Adult Swim's 'Uzumaki' Horror Anime Gets Delayed Until 2022, Shows Creepy First Clip

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