by: Tristan Risk "Little Miss Risk"
I will admit, I am terribly guilty when it comes to my nostalgia. I have few heirlooms in my possession, so I cannot afford to have tons of sentimentality with regards to a vast collection of items, and space is an issue at home, so I tend to get kind of precious about things that bring me pleasurable memories from my past. I'm fairly certain, if I'm to rouse all my armchair self-analysis, that this is why I have an immediate 'NOPE!' reaction when I hear that a big budget Hollywood production is being made out of one of these gems in my mind. I've come to realize that this is silly and to let some childhood things go and let other people enjoy them, or being introduced to them, etc, etc. It's been a difficult task of which to divorce myself from that way of thinking. But there are quite a few of my very favourite animated series from the late eighties and early nineties that I'm confident will remain forever untouched by the hand of Big Studio Money.
Many of these cartoons I'm about to write about are for me, at best, distant and hazy memories from my childhood. In many cases, I'd have wondered if perhaps I had dreamed the whole thing. Little jagged fragments of shows I had watched had a way of drifting to the surface of my mind, but when I tried to call more of the memories up to get more information about them they remained wraith-like and beyond the grasp of my memory. Luckily, I live in the times of such technology that I was able to enter the ambiguous clues I held in my mind to a search engine (thanks, Google!) and get some answers. Thanks to others, too, who lived through a similar time and whom I can only imagine that must have been feeling the same thing too and rummaged through their old VHS tapes and uploaded what they had to the Collective Consciousness that is the Internet. These strange and odd cartoons likely have they champions, but with the horror culture and conventions I've experienced, I've yet to meet anyone retailing the merchandise from these shows, so I think it's safe to say that they have escaped detection and a level of over commodification that sometimes happens when something catches the fan frenzy. So, with that in mind, I'd like to invite you to my modest selection of late eighties/early nineties obscure nostalgia-inducing horror toons!
Mighty Max (1993 - 1994)
Mighty Max was borne out of a an ancient Egyptian prophecy that predicted him to become the 'cap-bearer' after he drops the statue with strange runes on it. I'm not really sure how the ancient Egyptian got any of there agriculture or art to even happen given all the curses and prophecies they were handing out to screw with people in the future. But aside from predicting the potential saviour to humanity is a tween, they clearly felt that by donning a red trucker cap with mystical properties was good enough to toss this kid into the mix with his sworn enemy Skullmaster. I'm sure some other folks remember this, and though the cartoon was created to support the Bluebird line of toys by the same name, if he has any fans, I've not seen them in great number, and I can count on less than my hand the numbers of CosPlayers I've seen doing a Virgil. Some great points on this show was that it was pretty dark in subject matter, to the point where concerned parents were concerned enough to get vocal about it. But it featured the voice talents of Richard Moll (Night Court and House, two guilty pleasures of mine) and Tim Curry who leant their voices to the characters. But despite the celebrity voice actors, this never seemed to catch on quite the same way as other 90s 'adventure' shows, potentially because of it's darker themes.
Mummies Alive! (1997)
And since we are on the topic of Ancient Egyptians and their love of dabbling in the contemporary world, I come to Mummies Alive! This show aired later in the nineties, in 1997 and was originally aimed for a more mature crowd, with more plot driven material, Not surprising, since the show's writers were Gargoyles alumni and were known for crafting more intricate plots and storylines for animates series. However, it got more traction and toe hold as a kid's show and found a place with a younger audience. The show revolved around a young boy in San Francisco who is the reincarnation of a boy pharaoh from - you guessed it - Ancient Egypt! To avoid the evil sorcerer who drained his life force in the first place, his guardians have returned as powerful mummies. Four archetypes with matching animals to boot and a complimentary weapon. I remember enjoying it for all the store tie-ins with the old legends and gods of Old Egypt, which was something one didn't see very often in mainstream cartoons. And when I see someone's squad at a convention all dressed as Ja-Kal, Rath, Armon, and Nerfer-Tina, then I will stop them for as much mad props as I can humanly muster.
Gravedale High (1990)
Of all of these, I have the softest of soft spots for Gravedale High. I'm talking velvet sandwiched in velour of soft spots. This show lasted only thirteen episodes, but featured some awesome crazy talent, least of all Rick Moranis, of Ghostbusters and Little Shop Of Horros fame as human teacher in a high school of monsters. I know the young whippersnappers in their Monster High heels are busy tripping over the sidewalk to hear that there were cool school ghouls back then. But all the high school monsters at Gravedale High were based on classic monster archetypes with classic high school archetypes. It was super under the radar, which was pretty crazy for NBC, who like all major television networks at that time, REALLY pushed the Saturday morning content. But I can only ever remember a single ad that was part of a greater add for the morning cartoon content listing what times all the shows aired in an old Marvel comic. Other than that the show is a distant ghost, but I wonder how something that starred Rick Moranis around the time Honey I Shunk The Kids was still fresh in folk's minds fly under so many people's radar. I'd have loved to see the kind of fun with exploring themes that I've seen watching Monster High, but I feel like the Gravedale crowd might have been a little more 'classic' cartoon humour where the modern stuff tends to like a healthy positive spin on things a la 'Friendship is magic'. This is good, to stop our kids from becoming self-absorbed assholes, but something about the 'Welcome Back Kotter' vibe of this show resonates with me more deeply.
Monster Tails (1990 - 1994)
This Hannah Barbara gem was part of a show that aired called Wake, Rattle, and Roll. The show featured two cartoons from the studios known for putting out Yogi, Scooby Doo, and The Jetsons. One being the Wacky Racers, and the other being Monster Tails. The show featured a collection of pets and their guardian living in a case, all variations of they masters monsterisims. For instance, Angel the Fish is a ghost who is the pet of the Creature from the Black Lagoon, but alas, she died eaten by a shark. Catula is the shape-sifting pet of Dracula and is voiced by Charlie Adler who also voiced Transformers' Starscream and so on. These creatures have adventures with the castle wall and I have to say had quite a bit of dark humour in it. I remember watching it and liking the Hannah Barbara take on the dead pets aspect, but was disappointed when the show disappeared from air since it was the right blend of a little spooky and a little hilarious and a dash of goofy. I'm not sure if they have been release din a collection or not, but they would definitely interest today's horror crowd with their classic HB humour.
Ghostbusters (Filmmation) (1986)
While I fondly remember The Real Ghostbusters, with their line of toys and their breakfast cereal, they were not the cartoon to which I am referring. This Ghostbusters is based off of a 1970s live-action television show that later was brought back from the dead via animation for the Saturday morning set. The show The two protagonists, Jake and Eddie, are the sons of the characters from the original 1975 show, and their simian companion, Tracey the gorilla, also worked with their late fathers. They deal with villain Prime Evil and his henchmen who come from the Fifth Dimension to attempt to take over our world. While I was more fond of the other Ghostbusters cartoon, Filmmation's version had some deliberately creepy pieces and tones to the show. The over all gum shoe feel with al of their office ephemera some form of anthropomorphic skulls that conversed with them gave it an interesting feel. It also gave young me unrealistic expectation about how one could talk TO a phone rather than on it. This was a precursor to Siri when, if you tried to talk to your phone like it was a person, you'd look like it was time for another shot of Thorazine. Again, if I ever saw anyone CosPlaying these Ghostbusters for any of the other GB's CosPlay events, I'd hope and pray for a dance off and to be there to witness it.