Ahhhhh the 90s, surely the best decade of any century? Who knows! But what I do know is, the 1990s were definitely the absolute best years of last century (back off 1960s!). The 90s had a little bit of a dip in quality of scary cartoons compared to the 80s, but creepiness was still to be had if you looked in the right places.
To make this list, the scary cartoons have to have some creepy moments that go beyond the now standard Halloween specials, and bonus points have been given for hidden adult humour! Honourable mention for Rocko’s Modern Life, that didn’t quite make the grade. Here are Top 5 Scary Cartoons From The 90s
5 – Tales from the Cryptkeeper (1993-2000)
You would be forgiven for saying; “Hey Chris, Cryptkeeper at number 5? You crazy!?” If that is you, allow me to tell you why. Yes Tales from the Cryptkeeper was a ghoulish children’s cartoon that was meant to give us some little frights.
The problem is, it just wasn’t that scary. Oh sure there was the occasional episode that I fondly remember; but overall it just wasn’t scary enough to move up higher than 5th spot.
Tales from the Cryptkeeper was essentially a children’s version of the brilliant and much missed Tales from the Crypt. Every week I used to look forward to staying up late to watch my favourite zombie puppet give an introduction to his gruesome tale. Much like it’s grown up version, the best bits of Tales from the Cryptkeeper, were the Cryptkeeper’s intros and outros.
Some highlights from the Cryptkeeper include the series 2 episode The Avenging Phantom where bullies are tormented by a ghostly apparition and my all time favourite episode from series 1; Hyde and go Shriek – where a mild mannered boy is transformed into a terrifying werewolf by drinking tea. Yes… tea.
4 – Mighty Max (1993-1994)
Mighty Max was a cartoon spin-off from another 90’s toy phenomenon Polly Pocket. Cartoons made specifically to sell toys!?… surely not!
Mighty Max was actually quite serious and followed the adventures of a boy called Max and his magic baseball cap, going through time and space battling monsters. Pretty standard cartoon action so far.
As you would expect, there were many episodes that attacked our most primal fears; including aliens, flying demon skulls and brain controlling parasites. My personal favourite episode was series 2’s Fly by Night, where Max and co (a barbarian named Norman and a sage-like chicken called Virgil) travel to London to battle wits with a vampire. Expect lots of fog-filled cobbled streets in this one.
The most shocking episode of Mighty Max, and I don’t think they ever topped this in terms of controversy, was the series 1 episode Let Sleeping Dragons Lie. In this episode a Norse sorcerer literally commits suicide with a knife after saying to Max “This is not for your eyes little one.” Nice wholesome family entertainment there kids!
3 – Hey Arnold! (1996-2004)
Hey Arnold! is a cartoon that’s still beloved. We follow football-headed Arnold (an American football, that is… otherwise that reference doesn’t make sense) as he has adventures revolving around the strange characters who inhabit his neighbourhood — including many that live in his grandparent’s guest house.
For me there are 3 episodes that stand out as frightening. Series 1’s Haunted Train and Series 2’s Four Eyed Jack both involved Arnold and his friends searching for a ghost — one of an old train conductor and the other as a former resident now haunting the guest house. In both cases, rational explanations were found for the hauntings, except, at the end of the episodes, the ghosts were shown to be real while remaining unknown to the children.
The scariest moment though comes from Series 3’s Part Time Friends. This was not an episode that was particularly frightening overall, but it had a moment that I still remember vividly. Arnold and his best friend Gerald have a fight and have a falling out. Arnold then dreams that they are both on a bus in the future as old men arguing.
The shocking bit comes when we see that Arnold’s grandpa is on the bus as a horrible zombified skeleton that speaks like he’s under water. It’s one of those images you can’t ever unsee… and here it is up there! You’re welcome.
2 – Rugrats (1991-2004)
I bet you’re wondering why Rugrats is number 2 on a list of scary cartoons. The programme with the cute little babies, struggling to make sense of the world around them? Nothing but harmless childlike fun? Hahaha WRONG!
Rugrats, absolutely designed for enjoyment by young children, had an astonishing amount of extremely scary episodes and dealt with, on occasion, with some quite adult themes. Seriously, you could go back over the first couple of series and you’d quickly find something that just isn’t quite right in their happy little world.
Rugrats follows main character Tommy Pickles and his friends Phil, Lil, Chucky and wicked cousin Angelica, as they navigate the daily trials of being a baby. There are scary occurrences often, such as when they mention the Jewish malevolent spirit the Dybbuk. No seriously, that actually happens in part of one episode.
Notable scary full episodes though, are series 2’s Chuckie Loses His Glasses, where ordinary objects look like hideous monsters to him, and series 3’s The Mysterious Mr Friend. In this one, a new toy called Mr Friend made by Tommy’s dad Stu, terrorises the babies. Some of the scenes in this are literally like those that you’d see in horror films, as a broken Mr Friend breaks out of his shallow grave. Again, that actually happens.
The scariest episode for me, however, is Series 1’s Real or Robot. This sci-fi / horror nightmare sees Tommy and Chucky watching a scary film about robots terrorising people, while their grandpa has fallen asleep in front of the TV. Tommy’s dad sleepwalks throughout this episode, moaning with his arms outstretched in front of him.
Convinced that he is a robot, Tommy and Chucky spend the episode hiding from him or trying to prove he’s a robot by opening his chest by unscrewing his nipples. Yes, for the last time, that actually happens.
1 – Ren & Stimpy (1991-1995)
Ren & Stimpy hands down belongs on any list of scary cartoons anywhere, being one of the downright weirdest cartoon of the 1990s.
Where to start this one? A loving, brain dead cat called Stimpy and his best friend, the selfish and psychotic chihuahua Ren, are our heroes. It’s violent, disgusting and at times very frightening.
How on Earth this ever made it to Children’s television is probably the question that Nickelodeon asked before they cancelled it. Series 1, before it got watered down, was the scariest and of course the best.
The scariest moments happened when Ren’s frequent anger tipped over into insanity. Yes, they animated a character (for children) who often got so angry, that he’d flip into a violent rage that any film serial killer would be impressed by.
Episodes such as Sven Hoek, Space Madness and the brilliant Stimpy’s Invention all show Ren succumbing to some severe issues that bubble under the surface throughout the series. Stimpy’s Invention particularly shows Ren in a fine murderous light, and also introduced us to the ‘Happy Happy Joy Joy’ song. But Ren, of course, is far from happy.
The scariest episode they ever produced is one innocently titled Stimpy’s Fan Club and is my all-time favourite. I’m still amazed it made it to television with what happens. In this semi-self-aware episode, Ren is distraught by the mountains of fan mail that Stimpy receives, while he gets nothing. So in order to make Ren feel better, Stimpy appoints him president of his fan club.
Soon enough though, the madness takes hold of Ren, as he reads letter after letter of admiration, for a cat who he thinks is far beneath him. As the episode progresses, the darkest moment comes in the middle of the night when a psychotic Ren is seen watching over a blissfully sleeping Stimpy.
Ren talks to himself about how quickly he could “end it all with these dirty hands”, as he fantasises about killing the sleeping cat. There is no reasonable excuse as to why this was aired for children, but my God am I’m glad it did. Find it, watch it (and the rest of these scary cartoons!) and chill your spine with the madness of Ren.
By Christopher Stagg (@CW_Stagg)
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