For the 50th anniversary of the franchise, I've recently been rewatching The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo. Now that I've watched these episodes numerous times, it caused me to view the show from a more critical perspective. Taking it even a step further, I'd argue The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo could have been the perfect mature Scooby show some of us have been hoping for.
I'm sure this idea sounds crazy, so I want to give my reasoning behind this. Honestly, I don't think 13 Ghosts knew what it wanted to be. We get some creepy horror scenes and frightening villains (the Shadow Demon pictured above is one of my favorite Scooby villains ever!), but we also get cheesy sing-a-longs and jokes like Shaggy microwaving his popcorn at 8 million degrees.
Scooby had always previously been a very comedy-driven show, especially in the recent days (at the time) when we had just come out of those 7-minute comedy romp shorts. I don't think the writers quite knew what to do when a horror show was pitched to them. Given this, we get these zany comedy scenes mixed in with some legitimate supernatural premises.
I think this (and Scrappy and Flim Flam) caused people to be turned off by the show. They discounted the show's capabilities when they saw it was the same comedy (even a bit zanier than some of 7 minute shorts) as in the preceding Scrappy. I think most of these episodes have the foundation to be legitimately frightening and more mature, without all the quirky comedy mixed in.
Don't get me wrong here. I'm not trying to rant about 13 Ghosts, or saying it's crap, or anything to that degree. I'm just trying to analyze how the show could have been better and more horror-focused.
People definitely think of the show was more horror-focused, but in many places, it's really not. People are misremembering the more frightening scenes as being the only thing there, when we have very zany main character interactions and jokes tossed in.
How do we unpack all of this, and hypothetically, how could The 13 Ghosts be that creepy, supernatural show focusing on a serious occult threat of 13 of the most terrifying ghosts being released?
I already talked about removing the comedy, and I think this means removing Flim Flam and Scrappy. For those that love those characters, I apologize, and Scrappy definitely had his charm in this series. But these are the two characters who are consistently there for the purposes of comedy, and 90%+ percent of their lines are around making some sort of joke, or making the situation lighter. I think, for a horror-focused show, these two characters don't really fit unfortunately. Or, they would need to have a drastic change of personality.
Next, I'd like to analyze each episode from a critical horror perspective, and talk about what worked and what didn't.
To All The Ghouls I've Loved Before really worked as a premiere for a horror show, I think. It had some genuinely spooky stuff going on, between the curse the demons placed on the town where they turn into werewolves, to the creepy temple and Bogel and Weerd trying to trick the gang into opening the chest. Of course, there were a few minor comedy gags here that could be cut, but I think maybe just slightly amping up the intensity of this episode could make it into the perfect premiere!
Fright factor: 9/10
Scoobra Kadoobra had a good foundation, but didn't quite cut it when it came to making it creepy. Maldor was an awesomely designed ghost especially with the horns coming straight through his head (as you can see in the picture above) and the fact that he has no face is super spooky!
In execution, the episode really did pretty terribly. The comedy routines undermined the episode in every way. The cut away gag cause the episode to instantly become less spooky, the whole dragon thing doesn't work, and neither do the rat guards. Maldor also comes off as less spooky than he should, which by his appearance should be a larger-than-life, maniacally evil personality. Instead, we get him saying things like "Good doggy!" and making kissing noises when he wants the wand, and "Welcome to my slumber party!" which just seem like lame lines for such a supposedly malevolent character. The fact that he seems to forget who the gang is also wrecks the spook factor. At the beginning of the episode, his face appears in the van and taunts the gang to come and get him, which is pretty dang frightening. Then, a scene later, Scooby and Shaggy are eating lunch in the forest, and Maldor exclaims "There are mortals in my forest!" or something like that with surprise, which completely wrecks the spookiness of that scene.
I think this episode would have been better if we focused more on how Maldor took over the forest, then immediately putting Daphne under the "Sleep of the Centuries" spell, Scooby finding the Wonder Wand, and him chasing Scooby with some more horror-focused extensions on these scenes. In my opinion, we don't need any of the dragon bits, Scrappy and Flim Flam acting as lawyers, or Flim Flam tricking the rat guards. The only villains I think we really need are Maldor, who should be more of a smouldering, huge presence, and maybe some of the monster trees.
Fright factor: Maldor is a genuinely cool villain, and this episode is one of my favorites so I hate to do this. But, I'm going to rate it a 5/10. It has potential, but it was completely ruined by the overuse of comedy and of course the stupid singalong.
The villain in Me and My Shadow Demon has immense potential, and the way that the villain is used is amazing...until a point. The villain that I'm talking about is not, in fact, Queen Morbidia, but the Shadow Demon. The Shadow Demon (pictured above) is one of the coolest, creepiest looking villains in Scooby-Doo, and could have been THE best of the 13 ghosts. However, he was entirely wasted when it's said to just be "some guy's shadow," so they could use Morbidia instead. Morbidia is a pretty cool looking ghost, but she pales in comparison to the Shadow Demon. I wish they would have used Morbidia in a different episode as the stand-alone villain, and left the Shadow Demon to be the star of this one.
The sing-a-longs absolutely sucked, and "Goodnight Ghoulies" almost felt like I was being talked down to. The way the mine scene works out, to me, is a bit iffy. I think it would have been better if they just started out at Befuddle Hall, gotten trapped down in the basement maze somehow after wandering the house for a while, and they saw the Shadow Demon everywhere. Or like the shadows the gang casted could morph into the demon, making the gang believe they couldn't escape the Shadow Demon. Or maybe the Shadow Demon could have the power to stretch like a shadow, or something creepy like that. That would be a genuinely frightening scenario. Instead, we get Morbidia and a bunch of random monsters, a giant bug, plus a crappy sing-a-long ending. It just doesn't really work with the horror angle. I think Morbidia would be a good villain for another episode, but she pales in comparison to the Shadow Demon in this episode.
Fright factor: 7/10. Morbidia was a good villain, but the sing-a-longs and bad jokes is what bring this down for me. The Shadow Demon was also clearly the superior choice here, and they just waste him with a lame explanation that doesn't really make much sense.
Reflections in a Ghoulish Eye is a pretty cool title, but the episode itself is very average except for the last 4 or 5 minutes. I think the Mirror Demon was played up as too weak. This demon which is one of the 13 most powerful on the face of the Earth is trapped within a bedroom mirror, and has to be carried around for the first 15 minutes of the episode by Bogel and Weerd. It makes him seem like a not very powerful demon...that is, until the last five minutes, where he actually traps the gang in the mirror world. Now that was super cool, and very frightening! I think if we honed in on those five minutes of the episode and developed that more, it would be a perfect episode!
There's too much filler in this episode otherwise, and we don't need any of the convention narrative or songs about "Giving 'Em The Old Flim Flam." As an alternate idea, the Mirror Demon have the power to occupy every mirror, but he can't enter reality without someone getting close enough to the mirror. I think that would be a cool premise, and wouldn't make him seem as weak as being trapped in someone's bedroom mirror.
Fright factor: I'm going to be rough on this one and give it a 2.5/10, to represent the 25% of the episode we were in that cool mirror world. The rest of the episode just isn't scary, at all.
That's Monstertainment! gets us on the right path. This is the closest of any episode other the premiere so far, in my opinion, to be genuinely frightening and have a ton of potential that was used. Being trapped in the TV is pretty scary, and I love that the gang is actually innocently watching a horror host not realizing she was one of the 13 ghosts. Zomba also has the creepiest design of any of the 13 ghosts, hands down. I was actually a bit freaked out by her as a kid, with her bug eyes and strange-looking figure. There are a few things which sort of make this episode a little bit less scary.
First, the silly scenes of the gang acting in the movie make it feel a little less scary. The scene where Zomba is trying to find the demon chest seems like it's played up for comedy, but I don't think it should have been. In the rest of the episode, she's pretty scary and that comedy bit is a little confusing. I don't know how to explain it, but I feel like the very first part during Van Ghoul's monologue should have had the scenery be darker. It's colored strangely, and it makes it just seem like it's dusk, whereas if it's 2am it should be pitch black and that would amp up the scariness. I realize that last one is a very nitpicky criticism, but I think the horror parts we do get in this episode are sooo amazing that I want it to be perfect haha.
But enough about what wasn't good, let's talk about the amazing parts of this episode! As I said, the beginning scene where they're sucked in is great, Zomba zapping into the movie with such ease was terrifying, the part in the dungeon where she's holding a torch and searching for Shaggy and Scooby, where they're in this remote isolated room, is super creepy! As is her trapping them at the end on the windmill. The horror movie really gets the fright factor going as well.
One comment on her design, which is already near-perfect, is one animation glitch when she's at the top of the stairs and she looks even creepier, ironically. She looks almost deformed and demonic in that scene, and it's sooo cool. I wish they would have stayed more consistent with her design, as she's a bit all over the place. Her body is pretty similar other than that one glitch, but sometimes her face is drawn to look less creepy. I also think Zomba was powerful enough on her own, and the Frankenscoob Monster wasn't really needed here. It made her feel a little less scary when the monster was clearly more powerful than her.
Fright factor: 9 / 10. I think this is the closest we get to true creepiness in the show, and the 1 point I took off is for the minor criticisms outlined above. Overall, I think the series would have been a lot better if it would have been more like this one!
Ship of Ghouls has a lot of controversy surrounding whether Captain Ferguson counted as one of the 13 ghosts. Watching the episode again, I'm sort of inclined to believe he's not, even though Curse of the 13th Ghost said he was. This was quite similar to the Mirror Demon episode in the sense that it had great potential from what was there, but it took too long to get there. The first 15 minutes could easily be cut out, in my opinion. It's just Weerd and Bogel chasing Scooby around and him being scared. 15 minutes in, we finally get some genuinely creepy things going on. The gang is trapped on a ship, where all the passengers turn out to be ghosts, and there's literally nowhere to run. Even worse, the chest of demons open and we get this amalgamation of all the demons, which is super cool!
Fright factor: 6/10. I'll give the episode the fact that it did slowly build up to something, and wasn't just pure filler like the Mirror Demon episode was. But it took way too long to get there, sort of wasting the opportunity they had to make a genuinely scary scenario occur until the last minute.
A Spooky Little Ghoul Like You is a pretty fun episode, that I think has some seriously spooky potential. My two complaints about this one, besides the comedy bits, is how Nicara's power is too oddly specific. Why would she be one of the 13 most powerful demons if her powers only work on Friday the 13th? It just seemed like they were trying to cram in a "spooky" reference and it made her seem less powerful. But her powers getting increasingly large throughout the episode, like being able to rise ghouls from the grave is pretty dang terrifying, and makes for a great horror episode. Just maybe intensifying the darkness of the episode and cutting out the comedy bits would do this episode a lot of good! I like how not all of the demons were like deformed or ugly, like this was just a sexy lady demon who was trying to make a warlock fall in love with her to drain their powers.
The ending is a bit lackluster, where it just ends on "oh...it's midnight! Goodnight everyone!" I think the ending of this could have been made stronger. The animation quality also just drops off a cliff for the last 30 seconds, causing us to get some pretty horrifying scenes like this.
Fright factor: I'll give this an 8/10, one point taken away for the comedy bits and another one because her power is too oddly specific and it makes her much less intimidating.
When You Witch Upon a Star features a pretty cool looking witch, who's mad with power, but got trapped in the Zone of Eternal Evil. Everything about this premise is great, except...wait...there's also a bumbling group of Three Stooge witches on the loose? The Brewski Sisters are irritating to watch, and they are purely there for the comedy. The round-the-world trek feels like it goes too fast, and in general, the witches simply aren't funny. The plot with Vincent Van Ghoul and Marcella is what should have been focused on more heavily (with the gang there), as she was super powerful and had a pretty creepy design. But, instead, we get probably like 17 or 18 minutes of the Brewski Sisters, chanting "Nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah! Nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah!"
Fright factor: 2/10. If this episode were just Marcella, it would get 9 or 10/10 easily. But the episode almost exclusively focuses on the Brewski Sisters, to the point where we barely even see Marcella and she doesn't know who the gang are. It's disappointing, and I think there was a spark of potential in the plot with Vincent Van Ghoul and her, but it's completely wasted with those other witches.
It's A Wonderful Scoob lives up to its name, and is pretty wonderful. But it's not the best, in some places. The beginning bit with them in the weird time city, and the middle with Scooby's parents and Weerd and Bogel could be cut because it's mainly used for comedy. It does have good potential, though, and I think Scooby being forced to confront his terrifying past is a cool plot. I also thought Marcella looked better in the flashback than she did in the actual episode, lol. It was genuinely a bit saddening and heartfelt to see how bad the world had become with Time Slime free.
I know I've been pretty anti-comedy in this article, but I think Bernie Gumpshure could definitely be worked into this episode still. The horror aspect of this episode is how bad the world has become without Scooby, and Bernie's ineptness could serve as a comedy facet while also showing Scooby how bad his replacement is for the world. The meta-references, however, where Ronald Reagan gives his presidential address for Scooby to come back on the show just don't work at all, and need to be removed for it to be more horror-focused.
Fear factor: 7/10, it's not the most horrifying thing in the world, but it's a cool episode to watch. Time Slime is...an interesting looking villain, but isn't as creepy-looking as some of the past ones. I'd say he's the least creepy of any of the demons we've talked about so far.
Quack, quack, quack, I'm Platypus Duck! If you couldn't tell, we're on Scooby in Kwackyland now and Demondo, and he really isn't scary. This episode features the gang in a comic, and for a horror series, it just doesn't work. It's not scary at all, and all episodes at this point have had at least some fear factor. Honestly, to make this a more horror-focused series, there's really no saving this episode which is literally about comics. I think this would be the place we could fill in Morbidia and give her an episode individually.
Fear factor: 0/10
Does this demon not look pretty creepy? He does to me, but Coast to Ghost really does him no justice. The atmosphere of this episode is cool, but the gang traveling with Weerd and Bogel is too comedy-driven, and Rankor is a bumbling idiot in most of this episode. He literally willingly goes in the demon chest, saying "Thanks, you guys are real pals!" and it's just all-out lame. Worst scene I've seen in Scooby-Doo, probably. It's just so disappointing. Also, why is Rankor reporting to SAPS and why is he not in SAPS already? Why does he even want to be in SAPS? He's one of the most powerful demons in the world, it doesn't make sense that he'd be so submissive.
Fear factor: The atmosphere is strongly horror in this one, but it just lacks everything else. 1/10 for the one thing this episode had right.
The Ghouliest Show on Earth was an awesome horror episode. The ghost just looking like a normal person for most of the episode until he turned grotesque at the end (pictured above), the calliope music hypnotizing people into thinking everything was alright was all just perfect! One minor thing I'd say could be fixed, besides amping up the dark tone, is for it not to take place in Dooville. It seems like too much of coincidence that the ghost would go right to Scooby's hometown. Also, did any of us really need to see that guy who's married to a cow? Lol.
Fear factor: 9/10 for the great horror potential.
I'm not really sure what to say about Horror Scope Scoob. It's another TV station episode, and I don't think we particularly needed it with the Zomba episode. This episode sort of feels all over the place, with someone stealing the Demon Chest, Zimbulu going to the cemetery to enlist zombies to help him, it just was all over the place. The only really cool part about this episode was Telluluah turning into Zimbulu, that's a pretty creepy thought to have Zimbulu just possessing a human's body that whole time. But, other than this, the episode was just meh. I was pretty indifferent.
Fear factor: Let's just give it a 2/10 for effort. Nothing about it is really scary, but it wasn't a bad episode either.
So, that about wraps it for this article! I guess I was pretty hard on some of the episodes, but keep in mind that my opinion isn't that the episodes all sucked or were just 22 minutes of complain-worthy material. I was simply attempting to analyze each episode from a horror perspective, though I do enjoy the comedy bits sometimes. I think this series could have a lot of potential as an SDMI-level horror series, if it just took itself more seriously sometimes and wasn't so conflicted on the comedy bits.
I hope you enjoyed this article, and this 4-article series for the 50th anniversary!