Horror shows for kids are a rarity and you’re very lucky to come across one of these gems. Horror shows are often to be thought of as “inappropriate” for kids. There are a couple of different reasons for this, but we can narrow it down to one fundamental reason: they’re just too scary.
But… Isn’t that what you want?
As a kid, and even as an adult, don’t we want the scary? Don’t we crave a fictional world of the weird, the wonderful, the horrible and the oh so strange? The campfire tales and the beautiful worlds that won’t let us shut our eyes when we sleep? Don’t we want the funny with the scary, too? Some that show that monsters aren’t really so scary after all? Don’t we like weird content that keeps you on the edge of your seat to find out what happens next? Our hungry thoughts fill with imagery as a kid and these scary things stay with us for a very long time, even when we become adults.
If you’re looking for some amazing March Break horror show madness to scare your kids with, you’re in luck.
Let some of the ladies of WWAC share with you some of their horror shows for kids. They remember the images, the storylines, the details, the magic and more of some of the great horror shows they grew up with. If and only if you dare, you should take the opportunity to watch some of them and pass them down to your little ones.
1. Are You Afraid of the Dark?
This show is the pinnacle of horror shows for kids, because it actually meant to scare them. Unlike the horror-comedy of most shows for kids, or the cheesy “scares” of Goosebumps, Are You Afraid of the Dark? seemed to take its audience seriously enough to actually attempt to unsettle. It was kid-friendly in the sense that its scares didn’t rely on gore or violence, but I think that really upped the ante on the story-telling.
That means there are a lot of ghosts, and possibly forgettable episodes of secret crushes who are also ghosts. The stories had to rely a lot on atmosphere and tension rather than gruesome effects, even if some of their effects have stuck with me. The series produced episodes with imagery that I can still remember clearly, and some excellent recurring characters that made all the spooky things in each episode linked. Sardo was a favorite of mine, and I can still remember the deaf girl trapped in a mirror in “The Tale of the Lonely Ghost.” The best thing, though, is that Are You Afraid of the Dark? is getting another chance at syndication on Nickelodeon’s new nostalgia network, The Splat, so you’ll soon be able to revisit all the things that lurked in you childhood nightmares (if you are approximately my age, of course).
— Kat Overland
Beetlejuice the cartoon was actually the Beetlejuice I knew before the movie. It ran for four seasons from 1989 to 1991, and then spent a lot of time in syndication on a variety of channels: FOX, ABC, Nickelodeon, and the Cartoon Network. Getting home in time from school to turn on Beetlejuice was my reward for putting up with school all day.
I loved the imagery of the cartoon, as well as the antics that Beetlejuice and Lydia frequently got into in the Netherworld which was inhabited with a variety of cartoonish monsters. It was less horror (outside of the imagery) and more adventure to me–but then again I was spoon-fed on horror growing up so maybe I’m not the best judge of horror?
Also, Lydia had the best wardrobe:
3. The Real Ghostbusters
In the long wait between Ghostbusters movies, this cartoon version kept us ghost hungry ’80s kids pretty well sated. The first Ghostbusters movie successfully pulls off the trick of appealing to adults and kids simultaneously. There are enough monsters, sight gags, and innocent one-liners to distract kids from the sexual innuendos and headier information about ancient civilizations and gods. Although the animation is primitive by today’s standards and the color palette often borders on typical ’80s eyeblast, The Real Ghostbusters cartoon does a lovely job of distilling the kid demanded components of the movie into a full blown ghostbusting universe. Not only does the viewer get to see about a thousand more proton pack busts, we get treated to recurring monster characters that develop over multi-episode arcs. The Boogeyman (essentially a severely distorted Ric Ocasek) and the Sandman (a horrifying cloaked potato creature with clam-like features plus dentures) are just two of the new ghostbuster adversaries. The best part of this expanded Ghostbusters universe–Slimer is a sidekick! From his surly cameo in the movie, Slimer develops into a mush mouthed, floating smart ass and then junior investigator. The cartoon makes all its small ghostbuster fan’s dreams come true! (Even after Ghostbusters II nearly strangled our love for the franchise.)
— Jennie Law
4. Courage the Cowardly Dog
Courage was one of my favorite shows growing up, despite being a huge weenie when it came to anything remotely scary. (Seriously, I wouldn’t even touch the Goosebumps books.) Maybe the fact that it was animated made it easier for me to handle, or that the predictable “save Muriel” set up of each episode kept the stakes low.
Despite all that, Courage was still a seriously messed up show. The creative team frequently mixed animation styles to disturb unsuspecting children, and followed up episodes like the misunderstood bigfoot with serial killer zombies. And I won’t even get into “King Ramses’ Curse” because it was one of the most unsettling memories of my childhood.
5. Over the Garden Wall
This show is a bit different because it’s so short, but what Patrick McHale has created is a beautiful and eerie animated miniseries that straddles the line between fantasy and horror. Each episode introduces some new monster, only to reveal that they are not as scary as they seem. But a vein of dark terror runs beneath each fun and cutesy episode as Wirt and Greg outrun a creature called the Beast to escape the Unknown.
This is one of those shows that I wish had been around when I was kid. Watching as an adult, I can only imagine what I would have taken from a show like this. But I am glad to be able to appreciate its artful storytelling, haunting musical numbers, and fantastic characters. (Greg is my favorite.) As far as the horror element goes, suffice it to say that the Beast still gives me the creeps.
6. Gravity Falls
There is no show as horrifying to me as Gravity Falls is. I grew up watching horror cartoons or at least trying to find ones that I liked. It took me until now to realize that Gravity Falls is something I wish I had as a kid and I’m happy I have now. I started watching it last year and I couldn’t believe the amount of stuff Alex Hirsch was able to get away with at Disney. It’s an incredible show with characters you can immediately relate to, but the horror around it is what makes it even more incredible. Mabel and Dipper have to deal with monsters, mean unicorns, gnomes, a psychic kid who’s an absolute dick and so much more.
One thing about Gravity Falls that makes the horror worthwhile is the antagonist of Gravity Falls, Bill Cipher. He’s the most cunning, clever and terrifying triangle to ever come from a cartoon. He can turn your face inside out, send you into another dimension, mess with your mind, make a messed up deal with you, have dimensional beings sent to destroy you and/or do it himself. He’s so mad with power, but he’s so lovely. I just have a lot of feelings about Bill Cipher. Another cool episode was “Soos and the Real Girls”, where Soos has to deal with a girlfriend who is a computer program and she gets obsessive. This show is MASSIVELY wild.
— Insha Fitzpatrick
7. Invader Zim
This show is kind of notorious for being a really bizarre and contentious chapter in Nickelodeon’s history, when it’s actually pretty typical. The show was the brainchild of Jhonen Vasquez, who at the time was best known for a cult comic called Johnny the Homicidal Maniac. It being 2001, there was an inordinate amount of concern about kids googling him and finding his other work. Mostly because Google had only become a verb about five minutes earlier and thus Vasquez was looked at as being the first significant firewall breach between the children oriented and adult work of artists like Gary Baseman, John Kricfalusi, and every prominent animator who ever participated in the Spike and Mike’s Sick and Twisted Festival of Animation. It wasn’t that big of a deal. Neither was an artist doing explicit violence in one arena doing stuff for kids in another, when seen outside the context of the emergence of internet hypervisibility.
Vasquez’s horror work was an obvious and key influence in Zim, the story of an ambitious and incompetent alien being sent to invade Earth by his superiors to keep him out of their way and his conspiracy theorist neighbour attempting to thwart him. The character designs are all very much in the same style of cartooning as JTHM, but mutated in clever ways. While Vasquez’s comics were always in black and white, the Zim color scheme breathed a fresh and engaging light into his work by making everything look like it was under a blacklight and replacing his penchant for gore with time honored Nickelodeon equivalents like slime, snot, and vomit. It played up all the key themes in Vasquez’s comic work in a child friendly way, which was also its achilles heel.
It was perfectly reasonable as a kids cartoon with an attractive aesthetic, engaging hybrid of 2D and 3D animation, and penchant for non sequiturs but the ties to Vasquez’s comic work as well as homages to anime, video games, and classic horror films drew a much older audience than intended, leading to a tug of war over the show’s timeslot that contributed to its untimely death. Basically, Nickelodeon insisted on airing it while most of the people who actually wanted to see it were still at school. What ultimately killed it was a war over creative direction when Nickelodeon reportedly wanted Zim to stop trying to take over the world in the wake of the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Despite all the various fights and controversies behind the scenes, the show remains a cult hit and is a fantastic experience for parents mining the depths of the pop culture references and early 00s scene kid aesthetics while their kids chortle at Zim’s robot sidekick Gir wearing the world’s most ineffectual dog costume. Invader Zim is basically the love child of Beetlejuice and Alf.
— Emma Houxbois