Halloween TV Party: Bugs Bunny’s Howl-oween Special (1977)

It is has finally come – October, the spookiest month of the year! If you’ve been following along with my Halloween TV Party, you’ll know that I’ve already been on a head start since the start of last month. I know that most folks tend to marathon horror films around this time, but I’d also like to recommend that you give a play to at least one or two Halloween specials this year. They could be as classic and beloved as It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and Garfield’s Halloween Adventure – or something a bit more niche. I got a lot of the less classic stuff out of the way last month (with some exceptions), and I plan on making October mostly devoted to those that have been beloved and rewatched through the years.

I’ll like to start off this month with a particular special that I discovered last year and found so odd and interesting, certainly enough to revisit it this year. It made its premiere on CBS a few days before Halloween on 1977. I can’t find any information of whether or not it received the rerun treatment with following Halloween seasons, but there must have been some demand – not only did Warner Bros. release it on VHS it 1994, but it also got the DVD treatment in 2010! Not too unusual considering its content… which we’ll now get into.

Bug Bunny’s Howl-oween Special begins with a youngster dressed as a witch going trick or treating – only for the house he knocks on to be greeted by the dastardly, cackling Witch Hazel! This kid is soon revealed to be Daffy Duck’s nephew, who immediately runs to his uncle and tells him about the mean witch who answered the door. Always the cynic, Daffy refuses to believe him outright, so the youngster drags him along to the house to show her himself. This narrative arc immediately switches over to Bug Bunny – also dressed as a witch – also heading over to Witch Hazel’s adobe. Mistaking him for an actual witch, she invites him in; after Bugs’s mask is removed, he grows uncomfortable being around the presence of a witch. When she invites him to stay for tea (presumably with malicious intent), he remarks that he’s heading over to get some of his Doctor’s tea, which has more “pizzazz”.

And this transitions over to a section from the preexisting film Hyde and Hare. From this point on, this Halloween special kind of goes off the rails. The majority of its content consists of famous cartoon shorts from the Looney Tunes gang (most of them from between 1954-1960), bridged together by new animation and voice acting. This leads to a pretty surreal experience, where the overarching story only kind of makes sense, getting more and more confusing the closer you look at the smaller details. For example, when Bugs mentions his Doctor, we get a cool establishing scene where Dr. Jekyll drinks his potion and transforms into the nefarious Mr. Hyde. The next scene, however, shows Bugs playing piano in the Doctor’s lab – it makes sense in Hyde and Hare, but within the context of the Howl-oween Special, it’s just random. After Bugs’s encounter with Dr. Hyde, we then cut to a chase between Sylvester and Tweety – which is the first time this whole special we are ever introduced to them! I could imagine that for very little kids this wouldn’t be much of an issue, but the narrative inconsistencies are super jarring nonetheless.

And that’s not all that’s inconsistent. As I said, this half-hour special is mostly comprised of bits and pieces from a bunch of other Looney Tunes films. Most of them are ones directed by Chuck Jones, but shorts from Friz Freleng, Robert McKimson, and others are also present. I can’t seem to find out who was behind the character animation and backgrounds of the linking segments, but boy does the difference show. Even though the parts between Bugs and Hazel only take about 20% of the runtime, the shoddy look and pacing of these parts are definitely present. Even the backgrounds and certain character traits seem really lazily done, the most glaring being how Hazel’s skin is green in some scenes and beige in others.

By contrast, in the parts from the preexisting cartoons, the animation is noticeably cleaner, the jokes hit better, and the voice acting is just better. It’s true that Mel Blanc still voices the majority of the characters here, which is a feat in and of itself. However, the twenty-year gap between the old and new bits are sadly very apparent. The 1977 version of Bugs just sounds pretty tired and wore-down, especially compared to his vibrant youth. Additionally, there’s a part of the special where we are treated to the short Claws For Alarm. Awkwardly stuffed in the center of the action is an obviously new shot of Porky Pig reading a sign that says “Room and Board”. It mostly sounds like a bad impersonation of Porky than anything else, which is just disappointing. I am pretty impressed, though, with how June Foray’s voice acting remains totally consistent and seamless between the old bits and the new parts. She always knew how to channel Witch Hazel incredibly well over the course of several decades!

If you feel like I’m avoiding crucial elements of the plot – let’s just say, there’s a reason for it. Like I said,the experience of watching this is as surreal as they come, as the story takes on a number of different narrative threads without ever tying them up in a remotely satisfying way. There’s a part where Hazel casts a spell on Speedy Gonzales turning her into her double so she can leave for Hawaii – that goes nowhere. They attempt to tie in Sylvester and Porky Pig staying at her hotel only to be terrorized by a gang of mice (the first and only time they are ever mentioned) – that goes nowhere as well. And the introductory story involving Daffy Duck and his terrified little nephew? Well, Daffy does in fact meet Hazel… who turns him into the strange polka-dotted, four-legged, flower-headed creature as seen in Duck Amuck. A pretty clever throwback, I admit – but it’s as nonsensical as the rest of them.

Eventually, Bugs and Hazel’s shenanigans get tied up on their own time, with Bugs finding Hazel’s emergency supply of magic powder and casting his own spell on her. The solution? Hazel is now an attractive female rabbit, with whom Bugs is immediately and completely smitten. Weird. But Bugs explains this with one of his signature sign-offs: “Sure, I know, but after all, who wants to be alone on Halloween?”. It might not be the least awkward conclusion, but at least that final line is pretty sick. And it would have been a satisfying conclusion, if not for the additional scene with Bugs Bunny and Witch-turned-rabbit Hazel drink stew from her cauldron, upon which Bugs turns to the camera and gives us an absolutely horrifying final grin. Happy Halloween, all!

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Halloween TV Party: Glee – “The Rocky Horror Glee Show”

Buckle up folks – we’re talking about Glee today.

My experience with the hit TV phenomenon known as Glee pretty much extends to me listening to and sneering at any number of the cover songs the show’s producers and cast have put out through the years. While I’ve never heard many good thing about the show in general, it seems like their brand of jukebox musical follows the method of taking a pre-existing popular song and making it even worse (or at the very least, more boring). Their Halloween episode, titled “The Rocky Horror Glee Show” (o2x05) came out around my first year of college, coincidentally around the time I was starting to get pretty obsessed with The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I never watched it because… well, why would I when I have the presumably better original version to watch whenever I want?

This holiday season, though, my curiosity simply got the best of me. I decided to use this opportunity to actually watch a whole damn episode of the show for once – at the very least, the presence of Richard O’Brien’s original tunes would make this viewing somewhat worthy for me… right?

Okay, so in this episode, the glee club director decides that the club should put on a production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show for their upcoming musical. The reasoning for his decision? He learns that the pretty young guidance counselor for whom he has feelings went to a midnight screening of the film (with her current beau) and was immediately enamored. So he basically drags a bunch of these impressionable teens to perform a not-at-all-age-appropriate stage play in order to fulfill his own need to get close to the object of his desire, who is probably not at all available. This is already off to a good start. But at least it gets a tad more interesting with the sub-conflict of cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester (played by the wonderful Jane Lynch) attempting sabotage the project entirely by working undercover to bring the play to fruition, only to report on it unfavorably and win brownie points from the community. She is persuaded into this role by two news station managers, played by none other than Barry Bostwick and Meat Loaf! A couple of neat little cameos in a throwback to the original beloved movie.

Let’s just say that the worthwhile bits of this episodes end right about there, for the most part. I’ve always suspected that Glee had its share of really dull, unfunny humor, but I somehow never realized that it actually got this bad! So much of this show’s writing is incredibly tone-deaf, with jokes often made at the expense of the cast’s most marginalized characters. There’s a joke about how the character in a wheelchair would obviously be given the role of Dr. Scott, who is wheelchair-bound, but it’s fired off with a complete lack of self-awareness which results in the disabled kid being the butt of the joke itself. Now that I mention it, I’m pretty sure this was also the only line he spoke the entire episode. Additionally, the t-slur is uttered by a cis character/actor at one point which is just awful and unnecessary. Finally, a little girl with Down Syndrome is essentially used as a sort of deus ex machina in the final third, haphazardly thrown in to conveniently tie off the conflict. I say “finally”, but let it be known that this is far from the extent of terrible, downward-punching comedy that this show features.

In terms of the narrative content itself, much of it ranges from boring to appalling. There’s some drama involving a love triangle between the glee club director, the counselor, and her arrogant boyfriend (oh, hi, John Stamos)… but none of it is even remotely intereting enough to get into. Moreover, there’s a shoehorned side-plot involving a couple of male cast members dealing with body issues as they anticipate getting half-naked in front of a large audience. Snore. Most egregiously, though, as the cast shuffles around in determining who plays what character, what seems to be plainly glossed over is how strange it is for adults to cast themselves alongside teenagers in an explicitly sexual musical. Maybe I’m just uptight, but I really can’t see this going well in any scenario, especially not one when the organizing adult is doing so for selfish reasons. At least the show isn’t unaware of the preposterousness of this being a high school play – after all, the risqué nature of the play is the driving force for Sue wanting it dead. Nonetheless, the final stance of the episode isn’t actually made until the very end, after which it renders the preceding events completely pointless. I won’t spoil the end here, but just know that it isn’t at all as satisfying as it very well could have been.

But wait a minute – Glee is a musical show, so wouldn’t it be worthwhile that I talk about the musical numbers, all of which are direct covers of songs from the stage play and film?? Well, would it surprise you if I said that most of them were completely pointless and dull? Seriously, The Rocky Horror Picture has long been lauded for the campy, sleazy, over-the-top nature of its music, but the second that the giant lips came on screen for the sterilized Glee rendition of “Science Fiction Double Feature” with way too much vibrato, I knew that this wasn’t what I was going to get. I can appreciate that the singers on display here are legitimately talented and have some real vocal chops to work with, but I’m not at all convinced that they were suitable for Richard O’Brien’s songs. After all, it’s all about the performance for songs like “Hot Patootie – Bless My Soul”, “Touch-A, Touch-A, Touch-A, Touch Me”, and “Time Warp, but these performances were kind of lackluster. Some of the energy and nuanced humor was seen in their versions of “Dammit, Janet” and I definitely enjoyed Amber Riley as Dr. Frank-N-Furter singing “Sweet Tr*nsv*st*te”. Other than that, though… just no. It’s the same old lifeless Glee covers I’ve come to know and despise all these years, only with songs I actually give a damn about.

Essentially, I knew that I wasted my time when it was quoted near the end that, “Rocky Horror isn’t about pushing boundaries”, as if that’s a valid moral lesson to get from all this. I don’t know about anyone else, but if Rocky Horror isn’t actively working at pushing boundaries, I don’t want any part of it. And no, I don’t mean grown-ass adults engaging in erotic acts with non-adults, nor button-pushing “humor” that only serves to make punching bags out of the most easy targets in the whole damn show. In the end, all I can say is that I’m glad that I finally got the obligatory first Glee episode out of the way, and I doubt I’ll ever revisit this again.

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Halloween TV Party: Halloween episodes of Even Stevens, Beavis and Butt-Head, and others

As of my typing this, September will very soon be coming to a close. I cannot believe that Halloween month will already by underway very soon and I’m very proud of the work I have done on this project this season! Even though I’ve already written about quite a lot of Halloween specials, I still have a ton more sitting on the backburner, believe it or not. In an attempt to power through some of the lower priority stuff, I’ve decided to collect a handful of them in one post, saving longer reviews for

First up, Davey and Goliath. Yeah, yeah, I know – Halloween isn’t exactly the first thing to pop into mind when thinking about this innocuous 60s/70s stop-motion animated series funded by the Lutheran Church in America. Nonetheless, they did air one such special in 1967 titled “Halloween Who-Dun-It” – and to be honest, the show always sort of fascinated me! I was raised in a very Catholic environment, so religious-themed media (especially children’s media) is a source of fascination for me, to varying degrees. Davey and Goliath, in particular, has me conflicted between its beautiful sets and figures and the sterile, hokey life lessons embedded in its small-town premise.

Anyway, the bulk of the action in “Halloween Who-Dun-It” takes place on what the town of the show calls “Mischief Night”. After an innocent enough Halloween party, featuring an array of creative public domain costumes (including, unfortunately, a culturally appropriative Indian chief), Davey, his trusty dog Goliath, and their friend Sally embark on some mischief of their own. It’s all good-natured fun and games, until they fall under the delusion that they have become who their costumes represent (a man from Mars, a witch, and a tiger), thus removing any accountability for their actions. Their mischief soon dwells into full-on vandalism, destruction of property, and soon the dissolution of their friendship.

As these things tend to go, the problems get all nice and patched up in the final third, with a little help from their adult friends, specifically beekeeper Mr. Green. I’m actually pretty disturbed by the close relationship that these grown men have with these children, inviting them to hang out alone and presumably unsupervised by parents… but that’s neither here nor there here. The moral of this episode is that God always knows who you are, whether you wear a mask or not, so it’s important to strive to be the best person you could be at all times. All things considered, this isn’t the worst thing in the world to preach to young children (obviously the part with the higher deity can go) and with everything else kept in mind, this is a pretty successful Halloween episode. Still, I’ll undoubtedly save my lingering criticisms of Davey and Goliath for some other time.

Only running for one season back in 2004, I find Disney Channel’s Dave the Barbarian to be a totally underrated show and one that was never appreciated during its time. Sure, the animation wasn’t always the sharpest and the storylines always run on the formulaic, but the comedic writing was usually on point from episode to episode. A pretty good example of such is the show’s duet of Halloween episodes, “That Darn Ghost!” and “The Cow Says Moon” (01×16). The former plays around with the concept of a Medieval landscape wherein having a ghost in one’s abode is the “cool” thing in town. This is of interest to Dave’s sister Candy (whom I always get confused with Candace from Phineas and Ferb), and once the family nabs a ghost, their popularity inevitably arises. Unfortunately, this ghost is kind of a jerk, which causes complications. Eventually this culminates into a “really bad chase sequence”, doubling as a Scooby-Doo parody (with corny 70s style music and all!). The finale involves a really absurd gag involving the naming of this October 31st holiday. Despite this episode’s ten-minute runtime, there is enough space for the story to breathe and the jokes are pretty clever and topical. Also there’s a silly ghost party, which as we’ve seen from the post covering The Amazing World of Gumball, is always a plus!

“The Cow Says Moon” is very clearly the weaker one of the two, but it’s still pretty solid. With this one, Dave’s ex-girlfriend Princess Irmaplotz seeks revenge on Dave by summoning a cursed cow to bite him, causing him to transforming into a were-cow with the following full moon. This causes him to terrorize citizens in his town in several really ridiculous moments that consist of little more than Dave loudly yelling, “Moo!” at people. As a cure is attempted to be found for him, he transforms into various other silly creatures (as these things go), including a hamster, an eggbeater, and a gym teacher. Of course, eventually he goes back to normal and things just sort of tie up from there. The spooky angle of this episode is definitely played down, so I wouldn’t go racing recommend this for Halloweentime. Actually, the first one isn’t all that Halloweenish either, save for the ghosts and Scooby-Doo reference. In any case, this show should totally be watched nonetheless.

Next up is Even Stevens. Despite this now being the fourth Disney Channel property I’ve reviewed on this project, I actually never much cared for programs on the channel when I was growing up. I tended to find these shows a bit too vanilla for my liking and mostly stuck to Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network. Nonetheless, I had younger relatives who enjoyed Even Stevens a lot, and upon watching this particular Halloween episode (“A Very Scary Story” (02×13)), I was actually pleasantly surprised with how self-aware and smart the writing on the show it. While many kids’ shows often rely on the cheap joke to appeal to children, this particular show tends to stick to its guns and avoids watering down its sharp writing, opting instead for genuinely good storytelling.

“A Very Scary Story” is a good example of this smart storytelling. In this, our protagonist Louis Stevens (played by a young Shia LaBeouf) plans with his friends a schoolwide prank to be pulled off on Halloween. Coincidentally, this is also the day of the school’s annual eye exams, only every kid that exits the nurse’s office and receives their complimentary carton of milk seems to be acting… strange. As Louis tries to figure out what’s going on, things only get weirder and weirder – I won’t say too much else, because it’s honestly one of those episode you’ve just got to witness unfolding. It plays around with the popular horror trope of an increase in paranoia as friends start to act more and more like literal zombies… but in a kid-friendly way! It’s just as funny as it is genuinely tension-driven and has an ending that, while not completely satisfying, is probably the only logical way that something this bonkers could tie itself off. If Even Stevens as a whole is at all like this episode, I probably should be going back and watching some more of it!

Out of the Mike Judge vehicles, I definitely tend to lean toward King of the Hill over anything else. But anyway, we’ll talk about the King of the Hill Halloween special some other day. For now, let’s discuss the other animated show that has evolved into cult classicdom in recent years – Beavis and Butt-Head. Okay, this show’s sense of humor is famously juvenile, dated, and admittedly kind of unfunny – but at least you know what you’re getting into with each and every episode. This is totally true with the show’s Halloween episode, classily titled “Bungholio: Lord of the Harvest” (06×02) – or “Butt-O-Ween”, depending on who you ask – wherein the titular duo go on a trick or treating journey to disastrous results. After being turned down by numerous households, the boys conclude that they need a costume to ask for candy. So Beavis pulls his underwear over his head, calling himself a “‘nad”, while Butt-Head dumps gooey hot cheese all over himself, stating that he is dressed as nachos. Good ol’ classic MTV humor!

So immediately things take a turn for the insane. Beavis gets his hands on way too much candy, causing his personality to become immensely rabid and erratic (which reminds me a lot of the “Sugar Frosted Frights” episode of Rocko’s Modern Life). He transforms into his alter ego Cornholio and terrorizes the kids in the neighborhood for their candy. This particular schtick, already kind of grating, goes on for way too long and really weighs the whole episode down. Fortunately, interspersed into the action are familiar segments where the two poke fun at music videos by Alice Cooper, Paul Broucek, and King Diamond. I’ve always had a soft spot for these particular segments, as the humor tends to be relatively grounded and even sort of relatable (to an extent). Anyway, from this point forward the story tends to just derail itself; I don’t even think there’s very much of an ending, or at least not a satisfying one. Beavis and Butt-Head are an interesting little relic of the 90s, but one that I could only tolerate in small doses. For the most part, though, this episode just reminded me of a handful of other, better Halloween specials… so, probably just watch those instead.

I might as well end this post with yet another animated show from my childhood – specifically, one that I don’t look back on particularly fondly. I mean, there had to have been a reason why Cow & Chicken nabbed a spot amongst the prestigious Cartoon Network lineup known as Cartoon Cartoons, running for four whole seasons. Still, anyone I ask who even remembers this show only ever recalls it being the weirdest fucking show. And with its surreal narratives and wacky, jilted animation that rivals that of Ren and Stimpy, I don’t blame them.

Anyway, their sole Halloween episode, “Halloween With Dead Ghost, Coast to Coast” (02×02), has the titular brother-sister team going on a trick or treating adventure (a pretty common narrative for many of these specials, I’m finding out!). As implied by the title, there is a parody of Space Ghost Coast to Coast thrown in, with the frequent secondary character Red Guy donning the role of a TV host named Dead Ghost. He recommends to Cow and Chicken, via phone call, that they should dress up as humans this Halloween. Sadly, doing so brings them no candy as many folks in households confuse them for actual adults (yeah, yeah, I know… that’s just the logic this show runs with). Eventually they run into Dead Ghost, who kidnaps Chicken for some reason, after which Cow dresses up as the Spanish-speaking Supercow to get him back… for some reason.

Yeah, this show tends to run on this level on incomprehensibility for the most part. Even worse is that there are little to no aspects of the animation that make this worthwhile. The hand-drawn style, while admirable, still looks rather cheap and ugly, which only enhances the messiness of the plot as a whole. And even when setting aside complaints about the show itself, this doesn’t even work as a Halloween episode – I don’t get any sense of love for the holiday at all and it only uses the convenience of Halloween as window dressing. Anyway, I thought that maybe revisiting Cow & Chicken would enlighten me to something – anything – worthwhile about the show that may have slipped past me as a youngster. As I could see now, it has aged very poorly and probably wasn’t any good to begin with.

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Halloween TV Party: Claymation Comedy of Horrors (1991)

After visiting some stuff from my childhood, I’ve now decided to take it back a bit farther – specifically to the year I was born!

Will Vinton is a name that folks who love animation should know. He’s done a lot of influential directorial and production work throughout his illustrious career, but what he is probably most known for are his claymation works. Through his Vinton Sudios, he is primarily responsible for producing the immensely popular California Raisins commercials in the 80s and has brought this distinct animation style to works such as the feature The Adventures of Mark Twain, Michael Jackson’s “Speed Demon” music video, and numerous other projects. As you could probably guess, Vinton Studios also gave us some short TV subjects of their own creation, particularly ones of the Halloween theme. A Claymation Easter and A Claymation Christmas Celebration are among their filmography – but of course, today we’ll be talking about Claymation Comedy of Horrors.

So this fun little special starts off with a flashback over the beginning credits, wherein mad scientist Victor Frankenswine (Dr. Frankenstein in pig form, as predicted) is putting the finishing touches on his creature creation. Then we are treated to a flash-forward, on a Halloween that is still “a short time ago”, as the narrative dictates. Here we meet our protagonists, the bossy and arrogant Wilshire Pig and his meek companion Sheldon Snail. The two of them stumble across the lost diary of Dr. Frankenswine – which is actually a TV screen – stating through a psychedelic montage of images and a game show announcer voice that whoever reaches the abandoned castle by midnight will win the monster for their own possession. Luckily for the two, the map has been imprinted on Sheldon’s tongue… so off they go!

Now, already this sounds pretty crazy. Fortunately for us, the artistic animation style here is perfect for the unique brand of weirdness on display here. By virtue of its existence, claymation is already pretty awkward to the eye, with its jilted movements and blobby textures. And this particular special (animated by Teresa Drilling, who won an Emmy for her efforts) takes full advantage of the technique by crafting a series of idiosyncratic visuals through its slightly surreal storytelling. It doesn’t take long for the duo to get to the castle, and once they get there the majority of the program is punctuated by a collection of wacky moments and interactions with various undead creatures holding a Halloween party. I’m actually amazed at how many unique character designs are present throughout the short, from the green lipsticked monster who greets the two, to the long-chinned Dracula, and other multicolored, blobby monstrosities throughout.

So now the main conflict is for Wilshire and Sheldon to make their way to Frankenswine’s lab without being outed as mortals. Asking for directions results in a funny joke where they are mistakenly taken to the “lavatory”, probably one of the laugh-out-loud funniest moments in the special. Another humorous moment is when they bump into the three Horsemen of the Apocalypse, whom here are written as a trio of joking, heckling gangsters. In another scene, Sheldon and Wilshire are banished to Damnation Alley – which turns out to be a bowling alley where mummies like to spend their time. Not all of these corny gags work out but they’re all good-natured and creative, and the ones that do stick are definitely effective at getting a giggle out of me.

Still, there’s a definite sense that much of this special was simply cobbled together in an attempt to make a cheap counterpart to the success of A Claymation Christmas Celebration. The animation has so much potential to look cheap and ugly, especially in retrospect, but I think it has aged considerably well and there’s a lot here that is still so enjoyable to watch. As for the substance, though, it’s clear that the story is lacking in much cohesion and the structure is basically opened up to stuff in as many cool-looking characters with little to no connective tissue. Even our protagonists leave much to be desired – Wilshire’s personality never strays beyond his bossy New Yorker stereotype and Sheldon’s purpose is never fully realized either.

But anyway, as predicted, the two eventually find their way to the abandoned laboratory. They find the monster – but discover that it is only about two inches tall. Thankfully, with the help of some magical serum, they are able to grow it to the size of a skyscraper… wherein it begins a rousing performance of “Climb Ev’ry Mountain”, for some reason. Seriously, out of all the weird instances in this half-hour special, this particular resolution remains the most bizarre to me and it might be the bit of humor that has aged the worse. But where this program severely lacks in script coherence, it makes up for it somewhat through its interesting visuals and occasional bits of dark, spooky flavor. Yeah, this is one I’m relatively lukewarm on and probably won’t be revisiting much in future years. Can’t win them all!

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Halloween TV Party: Invader Zim – “Halloween Spectacular of Spooky Doom”

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.

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