It’s a simple formula: take four or five teenagers, add a menacing villain, throw in several confrontations and top it all off with a chase climax where the bad guy is unmasked and/or defeated. That sums up pretty much every slasher movie from the last forty years. But long before the identities of the killers in Friday the 13th, Scream, Urban Legend, My Bloody Valentine, Sorority Row et al were revealed, one TV show was doing the same thing on a weekly basis.
On September 13, 1969, CBS broadcast the first episode of “Scooby Doo! Where Are You?,” in the process helping to create (along with the Italian Giallo films of the time) the blueprint for the modern slasher. The show’s main characters are horror movie archetypes through and through: there’s Fred Jones, the blandly handsome hero/leader; Daphne Blake, the tall, slender damsel in distress; and Velma Dinkley, the brainy nerd. And then there was of course Norville “Shaggy” Rogers and Scooby Doo, who provided the requisite comic relief. Sound familiar?
In this universe, scientists, mayors, college deans, police officers and every other person in a position of authority, right down to the parents, cannot be trusted. The local sheriff is unhelpful, corrupt or thoroughly evil, and probably has a dark secret. And the deputy is dumb enough to deny the bogeyman’s existence without first looking over his shoulder – though that’s no guarantee that he’s not the villain. Sound familiar?
Then there’s the dialogue, which consists of every single character stating the obvious. Whenever they enter a spooky house, they say, “This place is spooky!” When they find themselves trapped, they say, “We’re trapped!” When the No-Face Zombie turns out to be a robot, they say, “The No-Face Zombie was a robot!” Sound familiar?
And that brings us to the villains. For most of the running time of an episode, a “Scooby Doo” villain will appear where and when he damn well pleases, and to hell with logic. In his presence, power supplies will fail and cars refuse to start. And at the end, the villain will be unmasked, typically revealing him to be someone you wouldn’t have expected. Sound… familiar?
Not only did the modern slash film seemingly draw a whole lot of inspiration from “Scooby Doo,” but the entire sub-genre has some really interesting connections to the kid-friendly franchise.
The makers of Urban Legend (1998) in particular must’ve watched “Scooby Doo” for inspiration, because not only are Alicia Witt and Jared Leto dead ringers for Daphne and Fred but they spend the running time being surprised by a weird janitor, chased by a hooded figure and investigating suspects that have ‘red herring’ written all over them. There’s a dog named Hootie, all the adults are either incompetent or creepy, and when one character goes missing, the dean suggests he might be shacked up in a motel with a farmyard animal (see what I mean about unhelpful?). These motifs run through the entire franchise; in Urban Legends: Bloody Mary (2006), Kate Mara plays another Daphne clone whose friends include a nerd, a dog-loving jock, and a stoner who owns a van with flowers on the side.
Speaking of franchises, you will not find a series that has more in common with “Scooby Doo” than Scream. We all know that Sarah Michelle Gellar (Scream 2) and Matthew Lillard (one of Scream’s masked villains) played Daphne and Shaggy in the live action movies, but did you know that David Warner, Lewis Arquette (both Scream 2) and Hayden Panettiere (Scream 4) all lent their respective vocal talents to “What’s New Scooby Doo?,” “A Pup Named Scooby Doo” and Scooby Doo! And The Goblin King?
More telling is the casting of Patrick Warburton, who played Sheriff Bronson Stone in “Scooby Doo: Mystery Incorporated.” The name of his Scream 3 character is Steven Stone, which is surely a coincidence… until you realize that he’s appearing in a movie where a masked villain chases characters through a mansion with revolving walls and one-way mirrors. For all the film’s attempts at nudge-wink self-awareness, it still presents its audience with characters that split up in order to search a spooky house and a villain who, when unmasked, turns out to be some guy found dead earlier in the movie. He would’ve gotten away with it too, if it wasn’t for those meddling kids.
Instead of rebooting Scream as a TV series, MTV should’ve remade The Prowler (1981), which was scripted by Neal (son of Joseph) Barbera and Glenn Leopold, who between them worked on “The New Scooby Doo Mysteries,” “Scooby’s All-Star Laff-A-Lympics” and “The 13 Ghosts of Scooby Doo.” Needless to say, there’s a whiff of the day job as characters split up, search the local cemetery after dark and are chased down corridors by a masked assailant – although I don’t recall too many Scooby villains having their heads vaporized by a shotgun-wielding heroine. Also, if you can’t deduce that the sheriff is the killer before the end of the fourth reel, you should turn the Mystery Machine around and go home.
Even when a slasher movie doesn’t conclude with a climactic unmasking, Scooby still casts a shadow over the proceedings. It’s difficult to take Freddy Vs Jason (2003) seriously when one of the main characters is a stoner whose ride is referred to as a “Scooby van” and the local Sheriff (an incompetent goofball, obviously) is played by Garry Chalk, who was also the Vice Principal in Scooby Doo: The Mystery Begins (2009). Related side note, Chalk was also in The Fly II, where he played a character named Scorby – at one point someone actually shouts, “Scorby, where are you?”
Is this all just one big coincidence? You’d have a hard time convincing me of that!