The Hey Arnold horror episodes were some of the best examples of spooky storytelling in western animation.
The Nickelodeon line of late 20th / early 21st century animation was unique, introducing audiences to cartoon characters like the cast of Sponge Bob SquarePants or crazy worlds like My sponsors are magic. A popular entry into this canon was the relatively down-to-earth Hi Arnold, who traded goofy antics for more character-based storytelling.
However, there was one genre that this series has nailed beyond its peers: horror. Although it is largely innocent and down-to-earth in its design, Hi Arnold was quietly a serious contender for the American animated show with the most effective spooky episodes.
Created by Craig Bartlett, Hi Arnold originally ran for eight years on Nickelodeon. The show was nominally centered on the titular Arnold, a well-meaning, soft-spoken young man living in the town of Hillwood alongside his best friend Gerald and local tyrant Helga. Growing up in his grandparents’ boarding house, Arnold spent the series trying to survive the first crushes in school, dealing with the problems of his friends and neighbors, and unknowingly being a romantic obsession with Helga.
It was a largely down-to-earth show, where the cartoonish elements were downplayed in exchange for more dramatic and realistic stakes. Threats were often the product of aggressive bullies, rumors that escalate into creepy misconceptions, and the occasional weird and frightening weirdo.
The exception to this rule throughout the series was its episodes of urban legend. Each of the episodes followed a similar general structure. Someone – usually Gerald or Grandpa – was telling a surprisingly dark and often supernatural story. Arnold and his friends would then find themselves trapped in a situation eerily similar to the one they have heard about.
The actors would barely escape their predicament and discover its benign reality, only for there to be final clues that the supernatural elements might not just be a story. These stories were often surprisingly dark for the young audience the series was aimed at, with topics like a murderous gangster named Wheezin ‘Ed or a ghost bride wielding an ax.
In a series often defined by its relatively human stakes, these horror episodes were genuinely unsettling, in part in the way that different they felt like the rest of the series. The other element was that Hi Arnold overall, they’ve always managed to convey a variety of tones well, with the quietly creepy atmosphere of these episodes elevating their sudden fears. The highlights – often hinting at their true validity – only added to that memorable feeling of unease at the end of the episode and no amount of schooling, friendship, or life lessons was going to fit you. help out if you found yourself aboard the legendary haunted train.
“The Headless Cabbie” could be the ultimate example of this style in the series. Gerald’s tells the story of a monstrous woman who tricked a carriage driver into getting killed, and then their spirits continue to haunt the cobbled park. It conveys a childish level of authenticity and creepy imagery, and its final moments end with the chilling implication that the boys escaped upon meeting the Spirit, only for her to seemingly arrive at the car unnoticed, ready. to take another life. Other similar episodes – “Ghost Train”, “Ghost Bride”, “Wheezin ‘Ed”, “Four-Eyed Jack”, “Sid the Vampire Slayer” and “Arnold’s Halloween” all add to the series having some of the movies. American animation the most effective horror episodes.
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