“We interrupt this program to bring you Courage the Cowardly Dog show,” and ten of its scariest episodes.
For those who have never seen Courage, the main premise of the show is this: A perpetually frightened pink lapdog faces his fears to protect his elderly owners, the sweet, Scottish Muriel and her stubborn husband Eustace Bagge. Muriel and Eustace live in the Middle of Nowhere, and find themselves imperiled by horrific, supernatural beings on the regular.
From the mind of John R. Dilworth, Courage the Cowardly Dog only aired on Cartoon Network from 1999-2002, but left quite the mark on us youngsters in the audience. So much so that we still talk about how scary some of its episodes were…and still are.
10. “King of Flan”
What’s scarier than a little subliminal advertising?
We begin with Eustace and Muriel in the living room watching TV late at night. Just after Courage falls asleep in Muriel’s lap, a literally hypnotizing commercial for Flan-tasy Flan comes on the screen. The citizens of Nowhere wind up going crazy for the flan, to the point of raiding grocery stores and stealing delivery trucks to eat the caramel dessert.
Seeing his engorged owners, both bursting at the seams with flan, Courage takes it upon himself to find the Flan-tasy Flan Co. headquarters and deal with the source. He witnesses a man getting hypnotized by the King of Flan. Courage also gets hypnotized himself, but is able to fight off the urge to stuff himself with flan.
The King rolls like a ball and chases Courage around his studio until he accidentally hypnotizes himself with his own broadcast. Courage records a new ad which breaks everyone else free from the hypnotic spell.
Hypnosis on its own is fairly creepy, but what’s truly terrifying about the “King of Flan” is the man himself. The King holds a rotund figure with a red combover, purple-lidded eyes, and a set of teeth only a jack-o-lantern would envy. He’s supposed to look like Peter Lorre, the Hungarian actor known for his sinister roles.
The most unsettling thing about the King of Flan is his demeanor. His eyes are lazily half-opened, his wide mouth is forever curled into a smile, and he never appears outwardly angry. Even as his whole production is about to be taken down by Courage, his sweet as caramel calmness remains, and we in the audience get a fresh layer of goosebumps.
9. “Queen of the Black Puddle”
After a storm passes over the Bagge household, Eustace pulls one of his classic pranks to scare Courage. The dog runs outside screaming and finds an ominous black puddle bubbling on their property. Looking into it, Courage’s reflection changes into a slender woman with purple hair and pink pupil-less eyes.
The Queen of the Black puddle keeps showing up inside the house in various forms of liquid. She tries to seduce Eustace into following her into her realm, but most of her attempts are thwarted.
Desperate for Eustace’s flesh, the Queen sneaks into the farmhouse at night and takes him. Muriel is devastated, so Courage dives into the puddle and seeks out his missing owner. He catches the Queen in her lair putting a special necklace on Eustace. Just then, Courage notices a pile of skeletons nearby, all wearing the same jewelry and realizes what Eustace’s fate will be if he doesn’t step in.
The Queen transforms into a terrifying beast with sharp claws and a huge mouth full of fangs. Enough to fuel our nightmares for days, right? But Courage is still able to rescue Eustace, leading to a harrowing chase scene. Courage and Eustace pop out of a puddle of Muriel’s tears, which Courage blow-dries just in time to keep the Queen out of their house.
And while most episodes end on a relatively happy note, this episode is a little different. Courage takes a bath and a new Puddle Queen shows up, this time as a seductive dog-like figure, implying that this whole scary ordeal is going to happen again.
8. “A Night at the Katz Motel”
Arachnophobia is one of the most common fears, so it should make perfect sense that this episode of Courage would scare us, right?
In the series’ very first episode, Eustace, Muriel, and Courage are traveling home from a vacation. They decide to stop for the night at the empty Katz Motel, which is perhaps a sneaky reference to the Bates Motel from Psycho? Anyway, here we are introduced to the series’ most iconic villain Katz, an anthropomorphic feline.
As per the No Dogs Allowed sign on the wall, Courage is tied up outside while Eustace and Muriel gain access to a room–#666 ½ to be exact. Eustace falls asleep almost immediately while Muriel takes a bath. Katz unleashes his huge pet spiders so they can eat the Bagges, even taking one outside to feed on Courage.
Courage manages to escape and finds Muriel fighting off her own spider. She tells Courage to wake up Eustace, which proves to be very difficult. Before Courage can make any headway, the zonked-out Eustace falls into a trap door. Courage finds him tied up in a spider's web and has to fight off the arachnid that’s about to eat him. After this, Courage gets cornered by Katz, who challenges him to a game of handball for their lives. Just as things start looking bad for Courage and Eustace, Muriel shows up to save the day and they go home, Eustace still dead asleep.
While staying in a seedy roadside motel is scary enough, the thought of being eaten by giant spiders is even scarier.
7. “The Quilt Club”
This creepy episode begins in an equally creepy location–a dilapidated antique quilt shop.
Muriel has dragged Courage and an allergy-ridden Eustace along with her on a stormy day to do a little shopping. As she heads to the register to buy her quilting supplies, Muriel notices a sign that says, “Join our quilt club.”
The owners of the store are two sisters sharing the same body, who dress like they should be part of the Addams Family. Elisa and Eliza Stitch discuss the Quilt Club with a lonely Muriel, and the Stitch Sisters invite her to show them some samples of her work.
Now, Courage, being a dog, sniffs at one of their rolled-up quilts, which growls back at him. Muriel doesn’t notice or heed his frantic babbling, as always. Instead, she shows the sisters a piece from the memory quilt she’s been working on, but they tell her they’re more interested in making new memories.
Muriel continues working on quilts in her basement, none of which are approved by either the sisters or their sentient quilt. In fact, none of them are satisfied until Muriel has worked herself so hard that she doesn’t even remember who Eustace is.
The sisters come to the farmhouse and start Muriel’s initiation, culminating in them sewing Muriel into the sentient quilt. The sisters are revealed to have been trapping women in the quilt since man existed.
Courage uses the memory quilt and his own fur to remind Muriel of her family, which unravels the mystical quilt and frees the other souls from it. The Stitch Sisters get trapped themselves and in a moment of poetic justice, Eustace uses their block to blow his nose.
This episode serves as a chilling reminder not to lose ourselves at the expense of wanting to belong.
Fear can come in many forms. Fear of spiders, fear of heights, fear of darkness. But no one really talks about the fear of failure, do they?
After a frankly relatable day where nothing Courage does is right and he keeps ruining things, Eustace has had enough. Then, as if on cue, a schoolmarm-looking woman armed with a ruler enters the farmhouse. She puts Courage through the ringer, trying to teach him to be perfect and dressing him down when he can’t perform up to her expectations.
The Perfectionist tells Courage to get a perfect night of sleep, so naturally Courage is plagued with nightmares. Each of these are manifestations of Courage’s perceived incompetence, but what’s really scary is that they’re each in a different art style to the show’s normal animation. The most frightening of all is one frequently talked about by fans of the show:
The Bugle Monster.
See, during the episode, Eustace had ordered a bugle in the mail, which arrived damaged. This broken bugle morphs into a blue, misshapen anthropomorphic CGI thing that murmurs, “You’re not perfect,” to Courage in a disturbing voice.
By the end of the episode, Courage has learned that perfection is a myth and that he is just fine the way he is. He defeats the Perfectionist and the episode ends on the most heartwarming note it could.
It’s a great lesson, especially for young viewers to learn, which was likely the point, and as a series finale, that’s a great takeaway.
But, honestly, we’re all just traumatized from the Bugle Monster, right?
#5. “The House of Discontent”
Just like with “Perfect,” this episode of Courage the Cowardly Dog features a jarringly different animation style that just doesn’t sit right with us.
After failing to grow a flower on their property, Muriel resorts to divine intervention. She prays to the harvest moon, but the flower stays wilted on the ground.
That night, a series of terrifying things happen around the Bagge farmhouse. The kitchen seems to come to life and attack Muriel, Eustace is almost drowned in a flooding bathroom, and an ominous voice keeps telling them to, “Get out!”
The Bagges find themselves in the basement, where they’re met with a nightmare-inducing figure: a gigantic floating live-action head. He’s bald and glows bright white onscreen, but his lips are painted dark and his eyes are blacked out. Horrifying, right?
The Spirit of the Harvest is angry with Eustace and Muriel for not producing any crops. He tells them to get out (again), but Eustace is as stubborn as ever and refuses to leave, actually try to grow something in the time given, or even admit that he’s not a real farmer.
Meanwhile Courage makes a last ditch effort to grow that flower from the beginning, but nothing works. The Spirit’s spell makes the house heat up to the point of everything melting and Courage uses Eustace’s sweat on the flower, which somehow makes it grow.
The Spirit congratulates Eustace, and we all ended up shaking in our boots.
#4. “The Mask”
What’s not to be scared about in this two-parter?
The episode starts out with Courage encountering a person dressed in a white robe with a terrifying white mask. She attacks Courage with a strong anti-dog sentiment, but Muriel thinks her pup has made a new friend and invites her to stay.
She introduces herself as Kitty and tells the Bagges about her best friend Bunny, who’s essentially trapped in a relationship with her abusive boyfriend Mad Dog. Lost without Bunny, Kitty has been wandering ever since.
After explaining that she wears her mask because she can’t face reality, Muriel tells Kitty that everyone needs to be able to do so. Kitty then calls Muriel and Eustace out on their shortcomings, and a couple haunting flashbacks show that Kitty has been watching the Bagges long enough to see these things.
That night, Courage spies on Kitty and sees her playing with a toy mouse before she goes to bed. He watches her take her mask off, revealing that she is, indeed, an anthropomorphic cat. Thinking Kitty’s up to no good, Courage locks her and his owners in their respective rooms before sneaking through Kitty’s window and taking the mouse as evidence for the police.
He travels to the other side of the tracks, where he finds Bunny being mistreated by Mad Dog and his snarling pack of lackeys. Courage uses the toy mouse to gain Bunny’s trust and helps her escape from her own locked room.
A chase scene ensues with Mad Dog, and Courage narrowly escapes getting hit by an oncoming train. Mad Dog? Not so much.
The episode ends on a high note. Bunny and Kitty reunite, while Eustace and Muriel also share a loving moment.
But, man, were there so many scary things in this episode. Kitty’s mask alone is chilling to see, what’s scarier is how realistic Mad Dog and Bunny’s abusive relationship is depicted.
#3. “Everyone Wants to Direct”
This episode is pure nightmare fuel.
Late one night, a decaying man pays the farmhouse a visit. He says his name is Benton Tarantella, a clear reference to Quentin Tarantino, and that he’s directing a movie and wishes to film at their house that night. Eustace is led to believe he will make a fortune off of this movie, so he agrees and signs a contract.
Benton follows his “script,” which has very strange instructions. Courage has a bad feeling about this and discovers that Benton once had a partner named Errol Van Volkheim. The two of them would seek out victims, claiming to be filmmakers before killing them. Tarantella died in prison, while Volkheim was released for good behavior. When the latter died, he was buried in a cemetery–one that the Bagges’ farmhouse was built over.
After having Eustace dig a hole in the basement and tie Muriel up, Benton waits for the planets to align. As the camera rolls, Errol rises from the grave as a zombie, just like his former partner.
But before they can eat Muriel, Courage makes some changes to the script. Fortunately the two zombies are foolish enough to follow the dog’s notes and get buried back in the ground without eating anyone.
The rotting design of the zombies is terrifying enough, but knowing of their past as serial killers adds an extra level of horror to this episode.
#2. “Freaky Fred”
There’s something extra creepy about an adult male who only speaks in rhyme, isn’t there?
Fred is a tall, skinny blonde man with an eerie smile. He comes to the farmhouse to visit his Aunt Muriel. Just before he arrives, Eustace tells Courage that Fred is a “freaky barber.” Fred is even shown to have a medical bracelet that implies he escaped from an institution that houses these types.
Fred and Courage get locked in the bathroom, where we learn about Fred’s checkered past. The barber has a fetish of sorts, not for hair, but for the act of shaving. Unable to control himself, Fred tries to shave Courage the way he shaved his old pet, his old girlfriend, and a particularly hairy patron at his barbershop.
While Eustace takes his sweet time getting the tools he needs to unlock the bathroom door, Courage manages to call the Home for Freaky Barbers and alert them to Fred’s location. They arrive just in time to save Courage’s tail from being sheared, and Fred is taken back to the hospital.
It’s hard to pinpoint what’s so scary about this episode. Fred doesn’t seem outwardly malicious or mean-spirited. But one could say he is even an allegory for a different sort of predator.
All in all, the way he speaks, the way he acts, and the way he says, “naughty,” all give him a chilling child-like affect that makes the hair on the back of our necks stand up.
#1. “King Ramses’ Curse”
What else could number one be on this list?
After a pair of thieves steal a slab from King Ramses’ tomb, they decide to bury it in the Middle of Nowhere and come back for it once the heat is off them. As they make their escape, a haunting apparition appears before them, warning them of a curse and then attacking their car with a swarm of locusts.
The next day Courage finds the slab which bears the image of a slender figure with three shapes marked on it. Eustace thinks it’s trash until he discovers that the slab is worth a million dollars.
That night he’s visited by the apparition himself.
King Ramses stands out on the property under a stormy sky, his eerie voice repeating his catchphrase, “Return the slab or suffer my curse.”
Each time Eustace refuses to heed him, a new plague hits the farmhouse, and it’s up to Courage to save them. First the Bagges nearly drown as the house floods, then their ears are assaulted by the loud phonograph playing Ramses’ obnoxious theme song, and finally another swarm of locusts descend on the farmhouse to eat away their property.
Courage throws the slab outside and Eustace goes running after it. More locusts appear and Eustace goes missing, appearing on the very slab in King Ramses’ tomb.
As we’ve established prior, any sort of out-of-place animation on this show makes things extra creepy, and the CGI King Ramses is no exception. His echoing calls for Eustace to return the slab are sure to haunt our dreams for an eternity.
Well, that’s our list of the ten scariest Courage the Cowardly Dog episodes. What episode scared you the most?