For most of us, a description of our childhoods wouldn’t be complete without the mention of several classic Nickelodeon shows. Rugrats, Doug, Hey Arnold, Are You Afraid Of The Dark? and other 90s Nick programs provided great joy and quality entertainment throughout our younger years.
These shows didn’t merely entertain. They educated on morality and taught vital life lessons. On rare occasion they even horrified us. You can’t deny children’s programming did get quite frightening at times. Granted I myself wasn’t difficult to scare. All you had to do was turn off the lights or make me speak to an elderly person. Don’t allow this embarrassing fact to deter you from the idea that Nickelodeon could be outright petrifying.
In fact I’ll prove to you just how terrifying Nickelodeon was from time to time. The following scenarios constitute Nick’s most spine-chilling moments. Many of these are simply too creepy for kids, unless said kids suffered frequent exposure to dead bodies or their uncle’s ass hair. Regardless of age, these characters and scenes are certain to make your skin crawl.
10. Squid’s Day Off (Spongebob)
On the surface, Spongebob and his “friends” are far from frightful. In this particular episode, however, Squidward managed to unnerve the hell out of young audiences.
Cheapskate Mr. Krabs takes the day off from shortchanging his employees and leaves Spongebob in charge. Squid takes the liberty to walk away from flipping burgers and talking down to sea creatures who don’t happen to work in fast food. Evidently he can’t handle the time off.
Squidward begins hearing voices and eventually loses his mind completely. A schizophrenic Squidward in the midst of a breakdown? The very idea of that would leave any kid uneasy. It’s genuine horror gold. This episodes includes some of the scariest cartoon images ever on screen. How could you not appreciate a Jack Torrence-esque meltdown from a cartoon squid?
9. Ren’s Toothache (Ren & Stimpy)
Ren & Stimpy may have been hysterical, but it was incredibly eerie at all times. Most of the time, as a matter of fact. Some truly grotesque images on that program. The nature of the characters in combination with the show’s tense music created some genuinely unsettling children’s entertainment.
Ren was downright psychotic and responsible for most of the spooky happenings on the show. Although nothing he did ever matched the revolting terror of his teeth. One entire episode was dedicated to his filthy, rotting teeth causing him immense pain. A grueling situation for Ren, and plain disturbing for all child viewers. Ren desperately needed some Crest white strips and a 12-step program for his crack and chew addictions.
8. The Haunted Train (Hey Arnold)
Remember when Arnold’s grandpa encouraged a gang of children to check out the train station that was supposedly haunted by a dead conductor? What a wonderful guy! Grandpa wasn’t lying either. He kept it 100 as always.
You probably haven’t forgotten the horrifying conclusion to this episode, but I’ll recap it if you haven’t: Brainy, the socially inept loser who gets violently abused by classmates, sits on a fence as the haunted train rolls by. Riding atop the train is the dead conductor, or the ghost of him, just singing a tune. A man FROM HELL comes back to haunt and sing joyfully. This is on a cartoon program for young kids. Please keep that in mind.
7. The Ghastly Grinner (Are You Afraid of the Dark?)
Are You Afraid of the Dark? was without question one of the finest programs Nickelodeon had to offer. A fun watch, certainly, but it also produced some earnestly creepy stories and visuals.
The Ghastly Grinner was one of the most nightmare-fueling characters from the show. GAS BAG Grinner is more like it. The guy’s a total piece of shit. How dare he come out of a comic book and make people vomit blue goo? Last I checked, only my Aunt Mariam who practices witchcraft is permitted to do that. Regardless, he was very unpleasant to look at.
Also, yes, that was the plot of the episode. A nutjob jester-looking guy comes out of a comic book and causes people to puke up a blue gak-like substance. Concept-wise, not the most fascinating, but the execution is phenomenal. The Grinner looks straight out of a freak show, with a maniacal laugh to match. Not a real looker or charmer, The Ghastly Grinner. If he were on Tinder he’d match exclusively with those fake profiles that link you to webcam adult sites.
6. “I’m Not Stu.” (Rugrats)
Rugrats truly did pack a few hair-raising moments over the many seasons. The most horrifying, without competition, was the scene where Chaz walks into his kitchen to see Stu facing the wall. Stu was Tommy’s purple-haired mess of a father, for those who don’t remember.
“Stu, I didn’t know you were coming over,” Chaz excitedly claims. All elation is destroyed when Stu turns around to reveal his deformed face. The wild tongue, chipmunk voice and psycho laugh aren’t completely necessary, but I think we could all appreciate the unexpected horror. If Stu hadn’t been messed up on bath salts the Rugrats would have never given us sleep issues. This scene is like a horrific acid trip, except it’s for children.
5. Old Man Corcoran (Are You Afraid of the Dark?)
More brilliant horror from Are You Afraid of the Dark? This episode revolves around a group of mean kids who dare the new kid in town to spend a night in the cemetery. What could go wrong? It’s there he meets the infamous Old Man Corcoran.
Running into a guy like this shouldn’t come as a surprise when you’re chilling overnight in a graveyard. No pleasant, upstanding citizens are going to be around. Just the ghost of an old geezer.
Old Man Corcoran was the former caretaker of the cemetery. Now he’s dead and most certainly looks it. What makes a dead guy even more horrifying? Overalls. He’s rocking those bad boys, as if a hatchet wasn’t off-putting enough.
4. “What Did I Tell Ya, Short Man?” (Hey Arnold)
Although this was just a short clip, it was easily the most disturbing Hey Arnold moment. Many don’t remember this scene, or have rightfully blocked it from their minds. Here’s a friendly reminder of its hair-raising existence.
Arnold and Gerald are working at a flower shop, which is the overall synopsis of the episode. Unfortunately the two have a little fight, and choose to spend some time apart. Arnold has a daydream in which he envisions where him and Gerald will be 50 plus years into the future.
This is when viewers receive the pleasure of seeing zombie grandpa sitting in the back of a bus. He’s just posted up in the back, looking decrepit, being his wise-guy self. Grandpa’s undead presence was absolutely uncalled for. Nothing prior to this scene was even remotely creepy. There’s no eeriness or warning that things are about to take a terrifying turn. Then out of nowhere Arnold’s decaying grandfather makes an appearance.
3. The Tale of the Lonely Ghost (Are You Afraid of the Dark?)
Children’s show or not, this is pure horror/thriller greatness. Virtually every element of quality horror is encapsulated in The Tale of the Lonely Ghost.
The mute girl alone is daunting and worthy of waking up in cold sweats. She has the classic stringy black hair and lack of ability to speak that we see in a great deal of Japanese horror films. Blood-curdling, this young lady.
Mute girl aside, the episode is terrifying in its entirety. A child locked in a room forever. Cries for help written on walls. This one has everything (except people vomiting blue goo). The tale could have made history if that big jerk The Ghastly Grinner showed up in the mix. It’s still fairly legendary.
2. The Doll Girl Susan (Are You Afraid of the Dark?)
There’s a plethora of “Scariest Are You Afraid Of The Dark Episodes” articles out there and none of them list The Tale Of The Doll Maker as number one. That’s wrong. It’s a matter of opinion yet somehow incorrect.
Doll Girl Susan was hands-down the creepiest thing shown on Are You Afraid Of The Dark? Perhaps my view of creepy is biased because I grew up with sisters who owned American Girl dolls. I went to bed every night fearing those porcelain cretins would murder me in my sleep. Susan was essentially a human version of those American Girl dolls. Don’t take my word for how paralyzing the sight of her is. Watch the episode.
1. Zeke the Plumber (Salute Your Shorts)
Picking number one wasn’t a challenge. No frightening moment from early Nickelodeon has stayed with me quite like Zeke The Plumber. I’m sure my words speak for a lot of young 20-somethings.
Zeke’s a sickening man. The guy wears a skin mask and kills kids with a toilet plunger. Need I remind you this was children’s television. Salute Your Shorts was a delightful classic, and a damn-near perfect show. Zeke, however, isn’t even in the same ballpark as delightful.
No description could do the man justice. Both him and the whole scene simply get under your skin. Do yourself a huge favor and watch the clip. The early 90s camera quality almost brings about that “creepier with age” aura. If you’re so inclined, try getting horned up while the clip’s playing. Let me know if you manage. You will have earned my utmost respect.