In the previous post of this project, I wrote about a few episodes of Rugrats – so it’s only fitting that I keep marching onward with yet another Nickelodeon show I hold near and dear to my heart. Actually, probably even more so. I was probably way too young to be watching Invader Zim when it aired and I’m still totally baffled that it found its way on the network in the first place. Nonetheless, I adored its unflinching weirdness as a kid and continue to rewatch the show from time to time and lament over its cancellation as if I’m ten years old again.
So anyway, this episode is titled “Halloween Spectacular of Spooky Doom” (01×14), keeping consistent with the show’s inexplicable obsession with the word “doom”. It begins with the type of morbid humor I am all to familiar with seeing in this show – Ms. Bitters shutting down a young student’s innocent love of Halloween with a flashback that demonstrates her negative experience having been a “fairy princess” once. While Zim is perplexed over the concept of Halloween itself and terrified that his costumed classmates have transformed into even more grotesque versions of themselves, Dib runs into the class babbling nonsense about terrible visions of hideous creatures. Ms. Bitters reacts perfectly naturally and commits him to the “Crazy House For Boys”. At this point, we’re taken into Dib’s perspective and it is revealed that, due to his messing with one of his mad scientist father’s inventions, he is forcefully being teleported to an alternate nightmare universe full of scary creatures (many of which influenced by people from his own life) who desire traveling to and taking over the real world via a portal in Dib’s brain.
If this is your first experience with any form of style or substance from Invader Zim, while this particular episode’s concept is a bit higher than usual, yes it really is this bonkers all the time. This is highly augmented by its horror-based, steampunk-esque character and background design. Even though this episode was bound to be somewhat dark in nature due to its Halloween theme, its palette of grays, blues, and purples is not unlike most episodes of the series. And this episode also perfectly displays the show’s sick sense of humor as well. Early on, Dib describes “horrible nightmare visions” to his teacher, to which she immediately responds, “It’s called life”. There’s also a bit of a repeated joke where beasts of the nightmare world are condemned to a hell-like domain for failing their mission, which is accompanied by a few brief moments where they weep and slowly walk away, suitcase in hand – before being engulfed in torturous flames.
I should also once again emphasize that the creature designs in this episode are absolutely sick and effectively creepy. In particular, the design of Nightmare Bitters is pretty wicked, especially during one of the episode’s climaxes when she transforms into a grotesque spider-like monster. I was always creeped out by normal Ms. Bitters as a kid just by virtue of her dark witchiness, but this design just turned that up to a completely different level entirely Additionally, I thought the evil Gaz was just so cool – even though it is essentially just real-life Gaz with larger teeth and a whole lot more slobbering. In terms of the story, I generally prefer the episodes of Invader Zim that aren’t completely reliant on Zim’s perspective on the world, and especially the one’s that are untethered from earth itself. I really wish that the show was given more time to explore more of its universe, because what we were exposed to was usually the coolest shit. Once again, the fact that they were able to get away with airing this on Nickelodeon of all places is just a true testament to the show’s oft brilliance.
Anyway, as Halloween episodes involving monsters tend to go, the narrative soon begins to draw explicit parallels between the beasts of the nightmare world and the children in costumes on real-life Halloween. In particular, the trick or treating experience of the neighborhood kids is terrorized by GIR, who violently attacks each child and quickly gobbles up all their candy. By the end of the episode, GIR is but a giant candy-filled machine-blob surrounded by various kids strewn about the floor, alive but groaning and unable to move. Back in the nightmare realm, the monsters are able to successfully transport into the waking world by way of Dib’s giant head… only to be instantly terrified by the horrifying scene and revert back to the dark world, never to be heard from again. Though this punchline is pretty standard for episodes such as these, it still is kind of nifty nonetheless.
If you aren’t an Invader Zim viewer and certain parts of this write-up has got you confused… it’s alright. I can definitely see this episode being more for fans and viewers already at least somewhat familiar with the show’s concept – it takes the preexisting style, characters, and general plot and elevates it to something slightly more rooted in fantasy and supernatural elements. It’s not the best episode of the show and while it’s well-written, it’s probably not suitable for first-time viewers. For that, I’d gladly direct you to “NanoZim”, “Walk of Doom”, and/or “Dark Harvest”. Yeah, I’m definitely biased with how much I enjoy this one, but I think it’s worth watching for at least a taste of the dark, crazed weirdness that was Invader Zim.