We interrupt this program to bring you our favorite episodes of Courage the Cowardly Dog.
This November 2022 makes it twenty years since the Courage the Cowardly Dog series officially ended. A staple in 90s kid memories, Courage the Cowardly Dog ran for four seasons on Cartoon Network from 1999-2002. Directed and created by John R. Dilworth, the series covered a wealth of nightmarish imagery and ideals, ranging from classic horror tropes such as alien abduction and demonic possession to unique frights such as a possessed gangster foot fungus and evil bananas. Only this show could simultaneously deliver some of the most unsettling cartoon frights alongside the silliest resolutions.
Through horror or heartbreak, these are the episodes that made a life-lasting impression through memorable monsters and are forever solidified as my favorite episodes of Courage the Cowardly Dog. In solidarity with every season consisting of 13 episodes, this list comprises 13 titles.
13. “The Chicken from Outerspace” (Pilot)
The one that started it all. 90s kids were acquainted with Courage long before the show first premiered in 1999, thanks to this episode. Three years earlier, in 1996, the Cartoon Network series What a Cartoon aired what would serve as the pilot episode of Courage the Cowardly Dog. The VHS release of Scooby-Doo and The Witch’s Ghost also featured this episode. The mental image of Eustace eating the red-spotted alien eggs and turning into a chicken himself still disturbs me today.
12. “The Magic Tree of Nowhere” (S2 Ep1)
One of the only episodes on the list where it is not the shudder-inducing factor that led to its inclusion. This heartfelt story showed that sometimes the regular people are the real monsters. Eustace stops at nothing to destroy the tree which has captured Muriel’s attention. In a fit of jealousy and much to his wife’s and Courage’s dismay, he chops the magic wishing tree down. The tragic tale and the tree’s human mouth (along with nostalgic parallels to Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree) made this episode memorable.
11. “Profiles in Courage” (S4 Ep6)
The carcass that remains after paper cameos with a mind of their own suck the essence from The Bagges is horrific enough alone to bear mention upon this list. The episode doesn’t stop the horror there, however, as Eustace and Muriel are transformed into paper versions of themselves and suffer numerous paper-related catastrophes, including blowing uncontrollably in the wind, a pin through the hand, and catching fire. The hesitant, robotic way in which the paper versions of Eustace and Muriel speak punctuates all the creepy visuals. From start to finish, the episode is shiver-inducing.
10. “Queen of the Black Puddle” (S1 Ep9)
Featuring a water spirit who can arise from any liquid surface, the icon status of this villain alone merits her inclusion. Known for taking on an attractive form for her intended victim, she first seduces them and then drags them to her watery lair. Once they arrive, the queen takes on a hideous shape. Her domain is revealed to be littered with the bones of all of her previous victims.
The Black Puddle Queen is believed to have the highest kill count versus any other villain in the Courage the Cowardly Dog universe, given the number of skeletons shown in her lair.
9. “Campsite Terror” (S3 Ep2)
As the opening credits and scenes play idyllic classical music (specifically Morning Mood by Edvard Grieg) and open to a shot of the Bagges happily camping in the wilderness, the episode is immediately unsettling. The other shoe will surely drop at any moment. Then night falls. By the time Eustace goes missing, the music has transformed into foreboding organ playing. Enter a robber raccoon duo who kidnaps Muriel and ties up Courage.
While the monsters themselves aren’t scary on their own, the episode’s score bouncing back and forth from peaceful to sinister creates memorable tension. The creepiest part is when Muriel is discovered, with the raccoons unharmed. They are watching something on TV that is scarier than most of the Courage monsters combined: John R Dilworth’s face with dead eyes plastered on old-school Godzilla footage. Nightmare fuel? Oh yes, sir.
8. “The Demon in the Mattress” (S1 Ep3)
After responding to an ad for a “life-changing” new bed, the mattress proves to have a life of its own. The episode quickly becomes reminiscent of The Exorcist as Muriel speaks in a deep voice, and her head begins to spin around. In lieu of Latin bible verses, the Dilworth treatment of the classic horror film sees Eustace performing an exorcism by reciting: “Hullaballoo and howdy do. Musty prawns and Timbuktu”
7. “Journey to the Center of Nowhere” (S1 Ep12)
Something is intriguing about plants wanting to level the playing field and fight back against their predators. Naturally, the episode where Courage discovers a herd of vengeance-seeking eggplants was bound to make this list. When Courage infiltrates the group donning an eggplant costume, we are treated to a taste of eggplant religion as they all begin to hail the Great Eggplant who has spoken.
They express their desire to get revenge on those who grow them just to eat them, which creates my favorite brand of dichotomy that causes us to ask: “Is the villain evil?”. Though the question would be answered by the end of the episode, as all the eggplants needed was some water to turn them into a bunch of peace-loving, tranquil eggplants once more. Dilworth put gardeners under advisement with this episode: ensure your eggplants get sufficient water.
6. “Everyone Wants to Direct” (S1 Ep9)
Featuring a zombified Benton Tarantella, who advertises himself as a horror director and shows up at the house in the middle of Nowhere. He tells the Bagge family he is there to film a horror movie, to which both Eustace and Muriel are delighted. The true horror of the episode comes into play when Courage asks his computer about the visitor. That’s when he learns the terrifying truth: Benton Tarantella and his partner Errol Von Volkheim used to pose as horror movie directors and enact actual violence.
Though they were both imprisoned and long since deceased, Tarantella rose from the grave to revive his former partner, buried beneath the Nowhere house. Between the deceit, resurrection scene, and the existence of hungry serial killer zombies, this episode had all of the trappings to give little me nightmares.
5. “Perfect” (S4 Ep13)
The episode that ended it all. The finale showed viewers that sometimes our brains are our own worst enemies. Following Courage’s quest to be perfect, he is put through stringent coaching lessons. He suffers a stream of anxiety-induced nightmares until the frightened dog looks arguably worse off than ever depicted in the series. Courage ends the episode with the lesson that no one is perfect, and the quest to be that way can squander opportunities for fun. Only once Courage ignores the rude words of others and marches to the beat of his own drum does he find happiness.
4. “King Ramses Curse” (S1 Ep7)
This episode has become the cult favorite of the series, as it has countless memes and mentions in remembrance. Following King Ramses’s apparition, anyone possessing the cursed slab finds themselves subjected to plagues of water, locusts, and deafening music. But the creepy, ethereal voice of King Ramses made the episode the fan favorite that it is today. “Return the slab or suffer my curse.”
3. “Freaky Fred” (S1 Ep3)
Speaking in rhymes reminiscent of a crossover between Dr. Seuss and Sweeney Todd, the titular Freaky Fred makes an ominous appearance at his cousin Muriel Bagge’s house, punctuating every rhyming stanza with Fred explaining that he’s been “naughty.” As the episode continues, it becomes clear that Fred’s brand of mischief involves shaving people and pets bald against their wishes. As Fred has Courage cornered in the bathroom and gives him a forced haircut, one thing is sure: Of all the episodes, this one is the most unsettling.
2. “Evil Weevil” (S2 Ep11)
The show begins innocently enough, in Courage terms. Eustace accidentally hits a bug while driving; a human-sized butler bug in a suit, tie, and top hat. Muriel invites the weevil home with them, and he proves to be a pleasant buggy butler. However, it isn’t long before one particularly nightmarish scene shows his hose nose retracting back into him, followed immediately by a shot of an emaciated Eustace. The weevil was evil and was sucking the life force from the Bagges. After Eustace withers to dust and Muriel is reduced to skin and bones, Courage turns the tables by using the weevil’s snout against it. Altogether entertaining, ick-inducing, and horrific. A fantastic episode.
1. “The Great Fusilli” (S1 Ep13)
From the creepy music starting at the title card to a mysterious vehicle that opens to a stage piloted by an Italian alligator telling Eustace and Muriel to “see the stage come alive,” it’s immediately clear that viewers are in for a ride with this one. For many of us 90’s kids, this episode served as our memorable introduction to the linguistic warm-up: “how now, brown cow.” By the end, the creepy images of clowns and freakish disembodied applause were at the back of everyone’s minds.
In my favorite and most remembered moment of the series, Courage stumbles across Fusilli’s room filled with former people-turned puppets. Then strings erupt from the mouths of comedy tragedy masks and turn Eustace and Muriel into marionettes themselves. While not every episode ends on a happy note, this marked a time when he could not save Muriel from the threat. Though he inhibited her from becoming a part of Fusilli’s collection, this did not change the fact that by the end of the episode, Fusilli had turned Courage’s family into lifeless puppets.
Through all these episodes, Courage the Cowardly Dog made a lasting impact on both my childhood and my memory. How many of your favorite episodes made the cut? Is there any you wish had been included? Sound off in the comments, and stream episodes of Courage the Cowardly Dog at HBO Max.
Revisiting the Incomprehensible Silent Night, Deadly Night Series: Which Is the Best, Which Is the Worst, and Are Any of Them Actually Good?
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!
Which means we need to bust out some relevant Christmas horror films to watch here. And it also means there will be many listicles that put Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 at the top of their rankings for Christmas horror films by default. But it got me thinking that maybe we need a bit more of a meditation on this series.
Have we really written them all off so quickly because one of them is the most meme-able? I like the first few films in the series as much as the next guy, but The Ricky Chapman Trilogy that kicks us off doesn’t go beyond the pale the way everything after does. 4 & 5 are Apocrypha to the Ricky Bible, but they introduce many weird, out-there concepts that make them enjoyable bad movies.
So today, I’ve taken the liberty of hitching up the man-eating reindeer to the sleigh to take a retrospective ride through the Silent Night, Deadly Night franchise and find out…well, you read the title, you can do the math. Starting with…
SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT
The one that started it all and got a bunch of people in hot water. It’s funny to think that outrage culture has pretty steadily assaulted our eyes and ears with the dumbest of controversies since time immemorial. Still, it’s even funnier knowing this movie contributed to that outrage. But beyond the controversy, this film is actually…kind of good?
It’s the best shot of all the movies, so big props to Scream Factory for remastering it and restoring it to its fullest. It’s only a little meanspirited, which is good since it doesn’t get too heavy for its absurd concept. On top of that, the kills in the movie are exceptionally creative (antler impalings, Christmas light hangings, and sled decapitations, oh my!). My only problem is that Billy Chapman is no Ricky, he’s more serious and isn’t as much of a goofball.
I would say this ranked high up when I first started my rewatch but may go closer to the bottom of the list. Not for any technical fault of its own—just because it gets much funnier from here in…
SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT, PART 2
Do I even have to say the line to know it’s the first thing that went through your head as you read the title? GARBAGE DAY!
Let anybody who told you Art the Clown is the best slasher villain to use a gun see this and watch them change their tune. Watching this is only enriched by not having seen the first movie, which makes it one of those sequels that is better than the first in the worst way possible. If you were unfortunate enough to watch both the first and second films in one sitting, like myself, you’d know that roughly half of the movie is flashbacks to Billy’s rampage. But that doesn’t stop it from being entertaining as all hell.
Ricky Chapman is an all-time great slasher villain and delivers some kills almost as good as the original. Eric Freeman may just be the best-worst actor of all time, which makes this movie one of the best-worst films of all time by proxy. Which makes the following film feel like a fall from grace, given its…
SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 3: BETTER WATCH OUT!
A.K.A. “The one with Bill Moseley in it,” because that’s the most remarkable thing about it. He’s not even a killer Santa in this one, but I guess mixing the motifs of “killer with exposed brain pan” and “Santa Claus with murder tools” might muddy the aesthetic waters. The final entry for our boy Ricky is kind of a sad whimper to go out on because this movie’s pacing is painfully slow.
It squanders a very fun concept (psychic girl is hunted by an evil Santa Claus she keeps having visions of) in favor of watching a lobotomized Ricky taking a road trip to his murder victim and killing people off-camera on the way. Worse, it squanders Bill Moseley, who doesn’t get to act outside of lumbering with a slack jaw. It’s the cinematic equivalent of dragging your sled up the hill again: tedious, no momentum, and no fun as you wait for the next weird ass thrill ride in the franchise.
SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 4: THE INITIATION
And the next weird ass thrill ride in the franchise is here! Why should this even qualify when it looks and feels like Springtime in Los Angeles, and people had just forgotten to take down their Christmas decorations for months? Well, three reasons:
- Spontaneous combustions caused by witches.
- Monstrously massive bugs everywhere, designed by Screaming Mad George.
- Clint Howard as the resident crazy homeless guy who walks in and out of the movie.
While Ricky may be gone and its status as a Christmas movie is dubious, it’s a trip of a film with one particularly hellish sequence involving a lot of slime-covered giant insects. Some complain about its ham-fisted thematic notes of gender inequality, sex, and exploitation…but are you actually going into Silent Night, Deadly Night 4 expecting strong themes? Just enjoy this one for what it is, which is a lot of classic ick-inducing Brian Yuzna filmmaking. If you liked the weird, psychosexual nightmare that was Society, you’ll like this.
SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT 5: THE TOYMAKER
I was going to do another A.K.A. joke here, but I realized that the twist of this movie is so weird that it outclasses even The Initiation and needs to be seen to be believed. Rewatching this, I had forgotten exactly what the deal was with our mystery killer in the film and was mouth agape when the movie jogged my memory.
The Toymaker gives some very gruesome deaths and puts the Yuletide feeling of the film at center stage with a plot about murderous toys (not Demonic Toys, we swear, please don’t sue us Charles Band!). In fact, I would argue that since the effects in this movie and the violent kills don’t feel like a rehash of Society, it’s actually a major improvement on what 4 had going on. While four is slower-paced as it tells a (somewhat) more tempered story, five is aware of how goofy the plot is, with faster and funnier editing and some truly hilariously bad performances.
SILENT NIGHT (2012)
The final entry in the series is as plain jane of a slasher as they come but does manage to get the holiday aesthetics down pat, so even though it isn’t as wacky as the others, I’m including it in the ranking.
This film isn’t the one that reinvents the wheel or brings any fire to mankind (outside of the literal flamethrower murders depicted in it), but it is a very solid slasher. It has a cast of fun character actors, particularly Donal Logue and Malcolm McDowell, with our lead Jaime King as a no-nonsense detective hunting down our slasher. I just wish it was as madcap and off the walls as some of its predecessors were.
Which is the best, which is the worst, and are there any good films in this series?
I would argue that all of them (except for 3) are great horror flicks in their own rights, since not a single one of them (except for 3) is boring (3 is getting the worst spot, sorry if I’m being redundant, but it sucks).
If I had to choose a best one, it would probably be our 5th spot on the list as The Toymaker is a diamond in the horror rough that, while lacking the bad acting of Part 2, has a genuinely insane script and all the best special effects of the series. So, from best to worst:
- Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker
- Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2
- Silent Night, Deadly Night
- Silent Night, Deadly Night 4: Initiation
- Silent Night (2012)
- Silent Night, Deadly Night 3: Better Watch Out!
When you’ve got those cookies baking in the oven, the house smelling of pine tree, and the lights twinkling, let this list from nice to naughty help you make the right decisions on which campy horror movies to watch this holiday season.
From all of us here at Horror Press, Happy Holidays, and a Happy New Year everyone!
In Memory of the Video Rental Store
Cinemas are for those who know where they’re going. But the video store? The video store is for the wanderers who are still looking. Or, were still looking.
From a very young age, I, like many people, was in the clutches of a business nobody even knew was doomed to collapse yet. At least, nobody I knew knew, and certainly, you didn’t know. We were children, and children rarely know much about themselves, let alone the intricacies of a market on the brink of an unknowing death at the hands of an unknowable, unfeeling force. A force that would take all the whimsy and love out of picking a film and replacing it with scrolling and idly zoning out as you watched the screen.
I learned quickly to love the video store. I hadn’t yet grown to love the comic books that would line the boxes in my room, or developed the skills to play with others, but I did have a video store on my block. It was a downright frigid spot in the sweltering heat of the summer, and that was all it needed to be.
The fatal weakness the store preyed on was that my eyes and heart were still perfectly big in proportion to my positively diminutive brain. I was enticed by every expertly crafted cover, every famous face I acquainted myself with. I ended up carrying names and voices belonging to the friends and enemies and loves and heroes I’d never meet.
And the terrors I’d never experience first-hand.
The eyes in paintings follow you sometimes, but the eyes on movie cases always follow you when you walk along the aisles. It’s the horror film cases that always seem to be watching you from between the shelves. Red eyes peering from the darkness. Monstrous eyes that seem particularly human and human eyes that call on the particularly deranged. The only lit spot on a face leering in shadow with wide eyes, wide maniacal stares and bloody hands and bloody weapons, bloody everything–
So scary that it would leave me rambling. And I’m a habitual rambler, always nervous, so you can only imagine how scared I was, even as a child, when my parents were there to assure me it’d be fine.
I can’t wash out how those images evoked a primal disgust and curiosity in me. I remember that the Saw movie covers did it to me quite a bit with their various severed limbs and torn-out teeth hanging by wires; the Texas Chainsaw remake had me standing in shock when I passed it in the store, the face of Thomas Hewitt staring back with void sunken features. Sepia-toned filth that leeched off the poster’s art and into my brain to leave stains so strong I can remember them as clear as day. Growing recognition that would turn into admiration.
And I kept running into these faces, even when I wasn’t in that video store. A man in the neighborhood who sold movies out of the trunk of his car frequented the same block as my grandmother’s apartment. He lured me over to browse the selection once, and there it was. My father took my hand and led me away, but that first glance at the stitched face would terrorize me for most of my childhood.
Cover after cover through flea markets, electronics retailers, and bargain bins in big box stores. Everywhere, that damned face. Good old Charles Lee Ray, Chucky. Killer dolls, which I only got glimpses of, were infinitely more terrifying than the films themselves. God forbid I saw one of the full-sized replica Chucky dolls in a store and froze up to have an asthma attack.
When I got older, eventually, I did what every idiot in a horror film does. I took the proverbial steps into the darkened basement to find out what was making that noise. I had to find out what I had been seeing glimpses of from the corner of my eye.
Far and away from the first video store that stole my heart, we had a Blockbuster in the town we moved to next. Twelve-year-old me snuck a copy of “Dawn of the Dead” in with some of the films we had rented, covering that pale, bloodstained half-face with a box of old candy off the shelf near the register, taking advantage of the fact that my parents were still browsing while I made my pick. The young cashier, whose face has melted into memory soup all these years later, still had one distinct feature on their face I could see: a smile. It could have been them being nice as usual, but part of me likes to think that they knew what I was doing and just wanted to give a little push to rebel.
I watched it a few days later in my room, nervously dancing around the fact we’d have to return it soon. And though I had to cover my eyes most of the time, and the volume had to be turned down low so that my parents couldn’t hear the carnage from the next room over, I made it through. And I wanted more now.
Now that I’m grown, I wish we had met earlier, horror; I wish I had gotten to know how fun the fear could be. How silly some of these things were. The joys of camp and goriness. The way you could put the laughter in slaughter and the sense of fun in fear. But that was the trajectory I had to be on, to feel equal parts “I’m scared, I want to go home” and “I’m scared, I need to know more.” I’m just glad that I caught those eyes watching between the shelves when I did.