By Matt Murray
Happy Halloween from your repressed childhood memories and fears! To celebrate, here’s a look back at some retro-‘toons (and a few of live-action monstrosities) that were certain to have given you the jitters on the Saturday Mornings of yore…
Venger, Dungeons and Dragons
Venger was one of the very few Saturday Morning super-villains that were actually scary. The lead baddie from Dungeons and Dragons was part Darth Vader and part Nazgul, with what looks like a pinch of “Evil Genius” from Time Bandits thrown in for +3 evil factor. Add in the fact that he’s asymmetrical - which is always disturbing on a subliminal level - and from a design perspective alone you can deduce that Venger was made to put a shiver up an 8 year-old’s spine. While re-watching Dungeons and Dragons, adult geeks may find themselves unsettled by Venger’s vocal performance, as the malevolent words are in a voice that we’ve come to associate with all that’s righteous and forthright in our world – Yup, it was Peter Cullen, in a pre-Optimus Prime villain role! Creeptastic!
Cha-Ka, Land of the Lost
Say what you will about the Sleestaks or even Grumpy the T-Rex, the most frightening character on Land of the Lost was Cha-ka. The brow, the teeth, the way every word in Pakuni sounded like an angry threat – there was nothing friendly or cute about this mis-played mash-up of Tarzan’s Boy and Cheetah. It wasn’t until he started playing drums for Nirvana that a generation of children was able to shake their unspoken, deep seeded, fear of Cha-Ka… Wait. What? No? Not Dave Grohl? Even worse.
Wade Duck, Garfield and Friends
A phobia-ridden duck wearing an inner-tube is a cute enough concept for a kid’s show… Now, take a swipe at the merchandizing and the marketers by putting a replica of the duck’s head on the floatie, and that’s clever… Make that replica duck have the same expressions and exhibit the inner-emotional life of the original character, and you’re about a backwards dance sequence away from a David Lynch concept. Let’s not even think about that baby chicken that walked around in its shell…
Rubik the Amazing Cube
Why did a Rubik’s Cube have a Smurf’s face? What was it doing travelling in an anachronistic magician’s stagecoach during the 1980’s? Why did its voice sound like Horschack from Welcome Back, Kotter had just sucked helium? Why did Menudo sing the theme song? Why?!? Because in 1983 Ruby-Spears Productions evidently had the power to peer into people’s nightmares. Oh, and because the actual Horshack – Ron Palillo – did, indeed, do Rubik’s voice.
Future Blob, Zack of All Trades
A giant fart cloud that chased tweens, trying to force them into important life decisions? No wonder why so many children of the 80s grew-up so disillusioned and mistrustful of our economic overlords. However, if more of us had taken Zack’s (Luther Vandross) advice and pursued useful interests, we’d probably have a lot more tailors and lot less freelance entertainment writers around with toxic memories of their childhood… RIP Luther, wish you were here to get the job market going again with your poot-trashing super powers.
Ed Grimley, The Completely Mental Misadventures of Ed Grimley
This character was pretty weird in live-action, when Martin Short would trot him out on SCTV and Saturday Night Live, I must say (forgotten SNL catchphrase, anyone?) Ed Grimley was a masterpiece of the creep-tastic: the hair, the triangle playing, the nipple-high pants, the lingo, the odd poses… the only disturbing aspect that wasn’t translated to the cartoon was Ed’s love of Pat Sajak and Wheel of Fortune, instead his TV geekdom was lavished upon the live-action awkward-fest that was “The Count Floyd Show” (which involved a bumbling Borscht-belt comedian pretending to be a vampire.) Ultimately, animating Ed freed him from the confines of the natural world to go on surreal adventures that involved homages to Psycho and The Wizard of Oz as well as an alien that sounded like Betty Davis. Reading all that could make someone believe that maybe David Lynch DID have something to do with this one…
Trollkins took the backwoods, hillbilly, car-chasing, concept of The Dukes of Hazzard and grafted it onto a tiny group of multi-colored elf-like, woodland creatures that based their language around the word “troll.” Imagine The Smurfs meets Deliverance. We’ll just let that sentence sink in and do its own work.