As a child of the 1980s, I've come to regard Scooby-Doo as a horror primer for kids; a way to introduce overwhelming concepts like death and the supernatural in a nonthreatening way that won't keep impressionable tykes awake at night. And by the time you start crushing on Daphne or Velma (or suspecting that Shaggy and Scooby might be stoners) you're ready to move on to the harder stuff (or, at least, PG-13 rated horror movies). But while I wasn't a kid anymore be the time the 1990s were in full swing, it was clearly a golden era for horror movies, television shows, and literature aimed at younger audiences-and we're not talking about sterile Scooby-Doo scares either!
Zane Whitener is an artist whose affinity for creating prints and comics coincided with his discovery of children's horror in the 1990s. He recently launched a YouTube channel called In Praise of Shadows, and his most recent video delves deep into this arena. He explains how the Goosebumps series of books of by R.L. Stine paired with the arresting cover artwork of Tim Jacobus was impossible to ignore and immediately enthralling. Using his artistic awakenings as a springboard, Whitener puts the publication of Goosebumps into historical context before explaining how the series was part of what ignited a wave of children's horror that hit large and small screens throughout the 1990s.
He gives due attention to both the Goosebumps and Are You Afraid of the Dark television series, while also identifying other examples of horror aimed at pre-teen audiences. From Hocus Pocus (which is expected to get a reboot with the original cast) in 1993 to Courage the Cowardly Dog at the end of the decade, he makes an excellent case that this was a special time for children's horror. Courage the Cowardly Dog was cancelled in 2002, and Whitener marks this as the official end of the subgenre's prominence. Although he doesn't give a reason for the sudden and somewhat abrupt decline of children's horror, I don't think it's a stretch to place blame square at the feet of 9/11; the ways we processed fear, our ideas regarding what constitutes terrifying, changed quickly and permanently. In Courage the Cowardly Dog:
"Courage is a timid pink dog with paranoia problems. His owners are an old couple living on a farm full of bizarre adversaries. Courage must overcome his fear and help save his owners, Eustace and Muriel, from ghosts and paranormal spirits living on the farm. Although Muriel loves Courage, Eustace loves to tease him and scare him."
While Whitener notes the exceptions to the rule, specifically the film Coraline, the cartoons Adventure Time and Over the Garden Wall as examples of successful children's horror produced in the 21st Century, he aptly notes that each of these offerings was ultimately more popular with adults than kids. Still, the artist's autobiographical reflections offer some important insights, especially for yesterday's horror aficionados who may now have kids of their own. The point of children's horror is always to entertain first and scare second. And while the thrills go far beyond the caliber of Scooby-Doo, children's horror aims to motivate more than terrify. Rather than instill crippling fear in their audiences, practitioners of children's horror want youth to be both aware of the world's inherent dangers, and empowered enough to overcome them. This video comes from In Praise of Shadows.