Horror and cartoons seem like complete opposite ends of the entertainment spectrum. But the truth is that they are and always have been deeply connected. Kids love monsters. From an early age, we identify with strange and unusual creatures. Every kid knows what it’s like to feel lonely and alienated, to feel like an outsider, and the best monsters embody those traits—especially the Universal classics. Kids can relate to these creatures in a way that adults can’t.
Because of this young fascination with the genre, studios and networks often try to create horror-themed content aimed at children. Sometimes they’ll be genuine horror films that happen to be made for kids, like Something Wicked This Way Comes, and sometimes they’ll be more horror-adjacent productions like Scooby Doo. Both are equally valid and both are crucial for sparking that interest at a young age.
Kids’ horror is important. When you’re younger, maybe before you’ve even begun to dip your toes into the genre, any monster you see might be enough to spark a lifelong interest. Even when you do want to start jumping into horror with both feet, you might not be able to. Some of us had very lenient parents when it came to this kind of thing, but some of us didn’t.
That sweet spot between finding out who the classic monsters are and when you first start trying to trick your parents into letting you watch Friday the 13th, that time is often spent with a lot of great material aimed at the young horror fan. Some of these kids’ horror shows become classics, like Are You Afraid of the Dark and Goosebumps. But a lot of them fall through the cracks, and those are the ones that I want to shine a light on.
The following are all horror cartoons that I loved, but ones that almost completely disappeared. Most of them aren’t even available on DVD. You might actually see something on this list that you recognize and that’s the whole point of doing in the first place. If I show you an insane cartoon you’ve never heard of and can’t believe actually exists, that’s great.
If I jog your memory for something you haven’t thought about in twenty years, that’s even better.
Imagine a superhero team like the Fantastic Four. Each one has their own individual strengths, each one serves a different purpose and has their own special power. Oh, and also they’ve been dead for 3,000 years. That’s the basic premise behind Mummies Alive, and it’s amazing. It’s amazing that a cartoon like this even got made considering that neither the Spider-Man or X-Men animated series could have any direct references to death.
Here, our mummies are all, well, mummies. They freely talk about living the mummy life and often mention that they were all once happy, living people. Even our child hero is the reincarnated version of the King they used to serve. There’s even a mummy cat thrown in to be the cute comic relief. That’s the cute mascot. A dead cat.
As a kid who loved The Mummy and thought it was a monster that never got its due, I was so happy when I first came across this incredibly short-lived show.
In case the title still leaves you with some confusion, yes, VAN-Pires is literally about vans that are also vampires. Imagine if the Transformers had an unquenchable thirst for gasoline that controlled their every decision and you’re on the right track. This combination live-action/animated show is actually named after its villains. Our heroes are the Motor-Vaters, teenagers with the ability to turn into robot cars, but who also need to chug gasoline and avoid sunlight at all costs.
The Van-Pires, stuck in their robotic forms, are led by the evil Tracula. And the heroes must get into the driver’s seat of their Carfins in order to transform. I swear I’m not making any of this up. Oh, and let’s not forget that the team’s mentor Van He’ll Sing is played by Gary Oldman!
Tales from the Cryptkeeper
This show is something of a mixed bag. Sometimes I bring it up to people and they immediately know what I’m talking about, sometimes they’re absolutely clueless. Tales from the Cryptkeeper was, just as the title suggests, an animated version of Tales from the Crypt that was toned down for younger audiences. As a kid who loved the Crypt Keeper and always wanted to watch the live action show, it was a great access point for me.
Like its parent series, this often adapted some of the original comic stories, as well as literary classics like “The Monkey’s Paw.” It also featured the Vault-Keeper and the Old Witch, two other horror hosts from the early days of EC Comics, which is a fun bit of continuity between those iconic titles.
Mighty Max was a show that I just couldn’t get enough of as a kid. Everything about it appealed to me. First, there was a boy at the center of it, constantly thrown into battle with the classic monsters, which reminded me of Monster Squad. But he did this by transporting himself into the world of each character, like Zach Galligan in Waxwork. In the most nineties move imaginable, Max’s power stemmed from his cool backwards baseball cap.
I ate this up as a kid. I had the toys—basically the boy version of Polly Pocket, in an era where everything needed to be specifically catered to boys and girls individually—and even had the game for Sega Genesis. I loved that a kid like me could go on all these adventures and fight all these different monsters. Plus, the cartoon featured Tim Curry as the overarching villain, Skullmaster.
My Pet Monster
If anything, people might remember the stuffed animal that the cartoon is based on. But I think this ‘80s cartoon is definitely worth another look. I’ll admit it might not be the most elaborately put together show. It kind of looks and feels like an off-brand Christmas special from the days when different animation companies would essentially put out the Asylum mockbuster versions of Rudolph and Frosty. Yet there’s something about it I’ve always loved. I would watch this cartoon whenever I got sick as a kid.
Something about the sheer lunacy of it still intrigues me to this day. Monster is, as the theme song notes, a monster of a friend. He’s a stuffed animal that comes to life and takes his owner on wacky adventures, thwarting the doubly monstrous Beastur at every turn.
Before Toy Story, and long before I stumbled onto Child’s Play and Puppet Master, I think this was the first thing I ever saw that depicted the idea of a toy coming to life when adults aren’t looking. That instantly hooked me as a child, and I’ve remained hooked by the idea ever since.
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