The '80s and '90s brought us some of the best cartoons ever made, but one thing that made '90s cartoons so special is how irreverent and pop-culture oriented they were. Suddenly we were inundated with shockingly adult innuendos and obscure movie references that flew over the heads of most children watching these cartoons. Horror films were no exception - these show-runners loved to drop references to everything from horror classics to '80s slashers. Here are ten of my favorites:
The Critic - "Miserable" (1994)
The Critic was short-lived but beloved by fans for its hilarious movie parodies that lampooned everything from Orson Welles to Ace Ventura. The most memorable horror spoof was entitled "Miserable" wherein titular critic Jay Sherman gets kidnapped by his biggest fan in an obvious parody of Misery (1990). Even the gruesome woodblock/sledgehammer scene makes an appearance.
Bobby's World - "Adventures in Bobby Sitting" (1990)
In this episode from season one, Bobby and Derek watch a scary movie while under the care of a babysitter and end up being chased by the movie's villain, a hockey-mask wearing killer named "Mason." "We've seen all 13 Mason movies," Derek tells the babysitter. Mason also wears a blue jumpsuit (presumably a reference to Michael Myers) and, like Jason, just won't die!
Tiny Toon Adventures - "Night Ghoulery" (1995) & "Love Disconnection" (1991)
Tiny Toons special "Night Ghoulery" was a parody of the series Night Gallery, with individual segments referencing a variety of horror films including Night of the Living Dead, An American Werewolf in London, and Spielberg's first film, Duel. For another funny horror parody, check out the episode "Love Disconnection" wherein Shirley the Loon gets fruit punch spilled on her and goes all Carrie in the "Amazing Three" segment.
Johnny Bravo - "The Man Who Cried Clown/Johnny Real Good/Little Talky Tabitha!" (1997)
Johnny Bravo enters the "Zone Where Normal Things Don't Happen Very Often," which of course is a parody of The Twilight Zone. All three segments reference famous TZ episodes including spoofs of "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" and "Living Doll" (with Talky Tina). [Fun Fact: "Johnny Real Good" was actually written by Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane.]
Pinky and The Brain - "The Pink Candidate" (1996)
One of the more subtle and random horror references came in this political episode of Pinky and the Brain, where a mysterious man offers his services to scandalize presidential candidate Pinky. It is of course a parody of Quint's first scene in Jaws, where he offers to kill the shark for money, right down to him getting everyone's attention by dragging his nails down a chalkboard.
The Simpsons - "Treehouse of Horror" (1990) & "Treehouse of Horror V" (1994)
Over the years, The Simpsons' "Treehouse of Horror" series has referenced many horror films, but my favorite parody segments are "Bad Dream House" from the original ToH and "The Shinning" from Treehouse of Horror V. The former is a spoof of Poltergeist (with a touch of The Amityville Horror) where the Simpsons' new house, built on an ancient Indian burial ground, possesses them. "The Shinning" is hardly a subtle parody - it is practically a scene-for-scene recreation of Stanley Kubrick's The Shining: "No TV and no beer make Homer go crazy."
Eek! the Cat - "The Eeksorcist" (1994)
Eek's dog/friend Sharky is possessed by a figurine and becomes unbearably adorable. The episode opens with an archeological dig in the Middle East; Sharky is tied to a bed and his head spins around, and tubular bells play throughout the episode. There is also a running gag where the exorcist is repeatedly splattered with pea soup (the infamous stand-in for Regan MacNeil's vomit). Sorry, no crucifix masturbation on this kid's show - what do you think this is, Ren & Stimpy?
Animaniacs - "The Boids" (1993)
Animaniacs' resident New York pigeons "The Goodfeathers" become stunt birds on Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds. They, along with a lot of crows, harass Tippi Hedren in some of the most famous scenes (like the phone booth scene). As a bonus Hitchcock gag, there is even a production assistant named Norman who looks a lot like Anthony Perkins, Psycho's Norman Bates.
Reboot - "To Mend and Defend" (1997)
This episode is loaded with references to Ash and Evil Dead 2 specifically. Inside the "Malicious Corpses" game, the user's avatar is a big-chinned hero with a white streak in his hair, a chainsaw in place of one hand, a shotgun in the other, and he only says, "Groovy." When he appears, he is surrounded by what looks like gnarled trees and the torn up bridge from ED2. There is a "Manual of Mortality" with missing pages, and a log cabin complete with tape recorder, talking deer, and cellar door. A deadite even floats above the ground and chants, "Undead before dawn!" The references could not be laid on any thicker here! There are also fun allusions to Elvira and Michael Jackson's Thriller.
Freakazoid - "Hero Boy" (1996)
Freakazoid, much like the other WB animated comedies, was full of pop culture references. This one in particular seemed to have even more obscure cult film references, like one episode where Freakazoid quotes Glen or Glenda/Ed Wood ("Pull ze string!"), or "The Cloud" which is entirely a parody of 1958's The Crawling Eye. But my favorite horror reference was in "Hero Boy" where cloaked villain Armondo Guitierrez puts his face and wig on, then plays the organ - a clear reference to Vincent Price in The Abominable Dr. Phibes.