I recently got Paramount+ and this is not a sponsor/ad but I mostly got it because of Nickelodeon. Specifically, older nicktoons/shows that I grew up watching were easily available now and I was very excited. Now, as 80s baby and 90s kid, Nickelodeon was one of the few networks I watched religiously as a kid. There was also Cartoon Network, Fox Kids and PBS. But we’re talking about Nick and their nicktoons back in the day. There was Doug, Ren & Stimpy, Rugrats, and one of my absolute favorites: Hey Arnold.
Hey Arnold! is an animated series, created by Craig Bartlett (who did work on The Simpsons and early seasons of Rugrats) following a young boy named Arnold and his weekly adventures. Whether we focus on him specifically or his grandparents, the boarding house’s…boarders, classmates, or the world/neighborhood he lives in. It’s got a wide variety of characters, locations, music (the music is still fire) and has 5 seasons (1996-2004) and 2 feature films. Now, one thing I noticed while watching Hey Arnold with new fresh horror eyes is that there are some hidden gems of episodes and references to the genre.
And we’re gonna explore that today.
Now what inspired this? An episode (one of my favorites) was playing and I went.. “huh” in a lightbulb went off kind of way. Said episode was “Da Subway” and “The Haunted Train”, and if you’ve seen them, you know where I’m going! The 90s themselves were a gateway for kids to get into horror with Goosebumps or Are You Afraid of the Dark or even Eerie, Indiana, these shows were THE vehicles to have kid friendly horror. And apparently that goes through the occasional animated series. The Simpsons has their annual Treehouse of Horror episodes so why not have other animated shows have similar vibes? Hey Arnold does, the more I looked into their episodes and remembered interesting horror content.
“The Haunted Train” is one of the more creepier ones. The plot is quite simple: Arnold and Gerald are bored and Grandpa tells them (and other neighborhood kids) a story about the haunted train and how the anniversary is that exact day they are at the present end. Helga, the non believer, says she doesn’t buy any of it and Arnold challenges her to be at the train station at midnight to see it. Gerald is also pulled into this as well. The rest of the episode segment is three kids figuring out what was real and what was made up by Grandpa but the ending is quite eerie, too.
I also noticed that a lot of the “scary” themed episodes are based off of myths and urban legends which are told by Gerald himself. Wheezin Ed, The Headless Cabbie, The Ghost Bride are full on meant to scare you. I mean, did we have to get the creepy laugh at the end of Wheezin Ed as in he may or may not be haunting Elk Island as a ghost? MAYBE WE NEED TO SEE HIM AS A GHOST! The Headless Cabbie ends with one of Arnold’s boarding residents picking up a woman looking for her dog and offering a scarf and The Ghost Bride ends with Curly may or may not be trapped with an actual ghost. Okay, maybe Hey Arnold has a thing for ghosts.
“Arnold’s Halloween” is in the same realm as Treehouse and if we wanna get technical, Pigeon Man, Stoop Kid and Monkey Man also have some sinister imagery attached. Yes, Gerald gets dramatic but it really didn’t have to go there. The snarls of Stoop Kid coming towards the screen a la The Grinch in the original television broadcast animation special, it’s all there. Those tall tales and urban legends are meant to scare just like how they are in our world. Here in Indianapolis, or Indiana in general, we do have our urban legends or “myths” or even “hauntings” where they’ve been circulated or even turned into books, television like Paranormal Witness on Syfy or a film like Demon House or documented heavily.
According to Wiki, urban legends are cautionary tales, meant to basically showcase that if you act bad, bad things can happen. Or a case of “wrong place, wrong time”, etc. For example in Indy, we have Diana of the Dunes, the very infamous creature The Green Clawed Beast in the Ohio River, Devil’s Road in Dubois County, 100 Steps Cemetery or Fox Hollow Farm (featured on Paranormal Witness) and so much more.
Basically, I’m saying that Hey Arnold as a whole has some hidden gems of episodes that are appropriate for the age demographic but also some nods to the genre. The animated series Doug kind of does that with bagging a nemotoad or Hamburger Boy (mostly as filler or a joke, kinda cheesy) but in my eyes, Hey Arnold does it way better. It’s realistic, grounded in some form of reality and more memorable. I remember the “spookier” episodes than some others and maybe it’s because of the writing, the animation style or the young voice actors but Hey Arnold deserves to be in the conversation if we’re gonna talk about kids horror.
It isn’t AYAOTD or Goosebumps or even Courage the Cowardly Dog, but it’s got a nice handful of episodes that can elevate it to that kind of standard.
What’s your favorite episode or character from Hey Arnold?