I’ve talked about horror-adjacent animated films on here before (Rock & Rule, When the Wind Blows, the Japanese Jack & the Beanstalk), but it was my recent post on Chuck Jones’s Rudyard Kipling adaptations that got my mind going back to childhood, and back to Saturday mornings and after-school sessions watching blocks of those classic Looney Tunes shorts. While I loved all of the golden-age cartoons, and in particular the ones directed by Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng, I would always get doubly excited when one of the spookier selections came on, like one of the shorts featuring Gossamer or Witch Hazel. So I got the idea to go back and revisit some of these treasured childhood memories, and happily for me, I easily found ten shorts that I wanted to feature; not only that, but almost all of them were available to watch uncut on HBO Max, and I’m thrilled to report that all of them were just as fun and hilarious as I remembered.
A small caveat, however. I know a couple of cartoons that you might be expecting to appear are not on this list, such as any short featuring Marvin the Martian, or the one with the Abominable Snowman. I did originally have these in the roster, but then I discovered that their inclusion would put me way past the ten-short limit (and this post is long enough as it is), and anyway, as much as I love the Marvin the Martian shorts, they’re more funny sci-fi than horror, and the one with the Abominable Snowman was also just played for laughs. I wanted to focus on shorts that were more specifically horror-influenced: witches, vampires, mad scientists, haunted houses, and devils. And even with all those provisos, I still forgot a couple. So without further delay, I’ll can the balloon juice and get into the list (in no particular order).
I had completely forgotten about this one until I went digging around, and then when I watched it, almost the entire thing came back to me in crystal clarity, a delightful experience that I found repeated with almost every one of these shorts. Released in 1954, directed by Friz Freleng, and running a little over seven minutes, “Satan’s Waitin'” begins with Sylvester chasing Tweety, as he does, only in the course of this pursuit, he ends up falling off a very tall building, smashing into the sidewalk, and dying. His spirit emerges from his body, and a set of partially transparent escalators appears in front of him: the celestial golden one clearly going up to Heaven, and the scary red one going down to Hell. The Heaven one is roped off, though, so hilariously, Sylvester just amiably rides down to damnation, instead of simply stepping over the velvet rope onto the Heaven escalator. Maybe deep down, Sylvester believed he deserved perdition.
Once he gets down to the netherworld, he discovers that this presumably cat-specific Hell is presided over by recurring character Hector the Bulldog, only he’s red and wearing a Satanic cape (and credited as Devil Dog, according to the Looney Tunes Wiki). I especially loved that the lake of fire that Sylvester peers into was also filled with red, snarling bulldogs. Anyway, since cats have nine lives, Sylvester actually gets sent back to Earth, and at first thinks he’s going to forgo racking up further lost lives by leaving Tweety alone, but the Devil Dog keeps popping up and convincing him to keep chasing Tweety (through an amusement park this time), and Sylvester keeps getting killed in humorously gruesome ways, like being scared to death in a funhouse, blasted in a shooting gallery, hit by a roller coaster, and flattened by a steamroller. Finally, when he only has one life remaining, he goes full prepper, stocking up on cans of cat food and sealing himself into a bank vault for safety. Unfortunately for him, though, two robbers try to breach the vault and use too much dynamite, sending all three of them (even the two humans) back down to Cat Hell, apparently to spend in eternal torment. Repeated cat death and infernal hellfire; it’s fun for the whole family!
By the way, when CBS aired this short, the parts showing Sylvester getting killed by the rollercoaster, and the whole entire ending with the bank robbers and the deadly explosion, was cut out, though the version I saw left all of that in.
Hyde and Go Tweet
Another Tweety and Sylvester short, this one from 1960, begins with Sylvester sleeping on the ledge of a building between two office windows marked “Dr. Jekyll.” As he sleeps, the small, mild-mannered Dr. Jekyll steps into the office and casually quaffs a glass of his “Hyde Formula,” which he’s left sitting on his desk for all the world to see. Maybe lock it up in a cabinet? Just a suggestion. Anyway, he then, not surprisingly, turns into a monster, whose cackling wakes up Sylvester, but by the time the cat looks through the window, Dr. Jekyll has turned back into his milquetoast self again. The most amusing part of this is that there’s absolutely no reason for Dr. Jekyll to have gone into his office, drank the formula, turned into Mr. Hyde for a few seconds, then turned back and left again. Like, why did he specifically go in the office just to do that? I’m not sure why that part was so randomly funny to me, but it was.
In a similar manner to “Satan’s Waitin’,” Sylvester sees Tweety and starts chasing him around an environment containing high buildings, and it even borrows the same gag from that earlier short, with Sylvester falling at one point and using Tweety’s ripped-out tail feathers to “fly” himself gently to the ground. But in this cartoon, Tweety flies into Dr. Jekyll’s office and hides in the bottle of Hyde Formula (nice little homophone joke there), which causes him to turn into a huge, terrifying beast with an evil laugh. The formula isn’t all that chemically stable, though, a fact which was established earlier, so Tweety keeps turning back and forth from his normal self into his monster version. And because Sylvester doesn’t realize that Tweety and the monster are the same, the chase keeps switching back and forth as pursuer becomes pursued.
At one stage, Sylvester threatens to jump out of the window—presumably to his death—to escape the monster, uttering the line, “I’ll jump,” then breaking the fourth wall by addressing the audience with, “I’ve got a choice?” Apparently this bit of dialogue was removed in some airings of the cartoon, as censors felt it might have had suicidal implications, but the version of the cartoon that I watched on HBO Max left it in, and I read that the line is still in there when it turns up on Boomerang or the Cartoon Network.
I think my favorite bit was during one of the times when Tweety was normal sized, Sylvester takes him into the office building break room and starts to make a sandwich with him, by sticking him between two slices of bread and telling him to stop squirming, putting a sugar bowl on top of the sandwich to keep Tweety from moving around. But then, of course, Tweety turns back into Monster Tweety as Sylvester is looking for some condiments, and Tweety Hyde eats Sylvester whole; just the cat’s tail is left sticking out of his beak.
The monster version of Tweety is actually pretty scary, or I remember thinking he was when I was little; especially the dark rings around his eyes and the way his arms almost drag the ground. Even though this short goes with the “it was all a dream” ending, it’s still a really delightful take on the Jekyll and Hyde story.
Incidentally, there was also a 1955 short featuring Bugs Bunny that was also based on Jekyll and Hyde (called “Hyde and Hare”), and it’s definitely worth watching too; the character designs of both Jekyll and his Hyde form look quite a bit different than the ones from the Sylvester and Tweety short, and they’re not quite as scary, but still really fun, and you get to see Bugs briefly turn into a monster at the end.
Released in 1954 and loosely based on the Hansel and Gretel story, “Bewitched Bunny” was the first of numerous appearances by Witch Hazel, a character that Chuck Jones originally based on a witch from a 1952 Disney cartoon called “Trick or Treat.” Witch Hazel would subsequently turn up in several Looney Tunes shorts, all of which will be making an appearance on this list; I always enjoyed her character, especially the way she always leaves a cloud of hairpins behind her when she dashes off somewhere.
At the start of this one, Bugs is walking along reading Hansel and Gretel and growing increasingly disgusted with the fictional witch and her propensity for child-eating, when the fairy tale begins to play out in real life before him. Witch Hazel is trying to lure the German-accented Hansel and Gretel into her house using promises of all kinds of sweet treats and also pickled herring, and apparently it works because the hapless tykes follow along behind the witch and allow themselves to be placed in a large cooking pot, which has an enormous ice cream sundae in it that the kids chow down on.
Of particular hilarity here is the page from the witch’s cookbook, showing a sort of table of contents of all the dishes therein, which include Waif Waffles, Moppet Muffins, Children Chops, and my personal favorite, Smorgas Boy.
Bugs decides to save the kids, so dresses up as a truant officer (as you do) and knocks on the door of Witch Hazel’s house. At first she denies having any children, but Bugs pushes past her and lifts the lid off the pot, where Hansel and Gretel are still merrily stuffing themselves with ice cream and exclaiming, “It’s good, ya?” The funniest bit here is the utter indignation in Bugs’s voice as he confronts Witch Hazel: “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself? Roasting children!” To which Hazel just shrugs and says, “Call it a weakness.”
After Bugs tells the kids what the witch is up to and they escape (taunting Hazel with “Your mother rides a vacuum cleaner”), Hazel decides she’s going to eat Bugs instead, so offers him a poisoned carrot, which Bugs duly eats. He either dies or passes out, but while Hazel is down in the cellar getting some relish, a prince from a neighboring fairy tale shows up and kisses Bugs’s hand, waking him up.
At the end of the short, Bugs gets chased to a dead end in the house, but luckily discovers a Witchcraft Ex Machina in the form of a “break glass in the case of emergency” situation that contains a magic powder that turns Hazel into a hot lady rabbit. In Canada, there was a bit of a kerfuffle about this last scene, as the lady rabbit still laughs like Hazel, and Bugs observes, “Aren’t they all witches inside?” Some censors thought this line was misogynistic, and it was replaced in one or two Canadian airings of the cartoon, but has remained intact everywhere else, and as far as I know, retains the line in Canada now as well.
This 1956 short marks the second appearance of Witch Hazel, and the first time she was voiced by the iconic June Foray; in the first short, “Bewitched Bunny,” Bea Benaderet provided the voice, though Chuck Jones had been set on June Foray from his first conception of the character.
Set on Halloween night, the cartoon follows Bugs as he goes trick-or-treating dressed as a witch, marveling over what a great racket trick or treating is and lamenting that he can’t do it all year.
Meanwhile, Witch Hazel is in her house, making up a brew as usual. This short features a really cute inversion of the Snow White Magic Mirror gag; instead of the queen asking the mirror if she’s the fairest one of all, Hazel actually wants to be the ugliest, and she even tells the audience that she fears she might get pretty as she gets older.
In short order, Bugs turns up at Hazel’s door, and Hazel thinks he’s a real (female) witch, though says she doesn’t remember her from any of the union meetings. Upon realizing that Bugs in his witch mask might actually be uglier than her—and having this confirmed by the magic mirror—Hazel pulls Bugs inside and tries to coax some ugly tips out of him, asking stuff like, “Who undoes your hair?” After encouraging the disguised Bugs to “Make yourself homely,” Hazel goes into the kitchen to make tea, which she spikes with a beautifying potion so she will again be the ugliest witch.
Once she serves the tea, Bugs takes off his mask so he can drink it, at which point Hazel realizes that her guest is a rabbit. And wouldn’t you know it, but her latest potion specifically needed a rabbit’s clavicle, so she hauls out the meat cleaver and gives chase to the terrified Bugs.
At one stage, all seems lost when Bugs is captured and tied from head to foot, but he manages to stay Hazel’s cleaving hand by making big, teary doe-eyes at her, which she says reminds her of her poor, deceased pet tarantula, Paul. While she’s bawling, Bugs hops over and brings her the beautifying tea, which turns Hazel into her worst nightmare: a foxy, voluptuous redhead (the drawing of whom was actually based on the voice actor, June Foray…hubba hubba). The man in the magic mirror, unable to resist her new feminine charms, flies out of the mirror on his magic carpet and chases the beautiful, broom-riding Hazel out of the house and seemingly into restricted airspace, as Bugs calls the local air raid headquarters to report the incident.
A Witch’s Tangled Hare
Witch Hazel’s third appearance in a Looney Tunes short, and the last match-up of Hazel and Bugs Bunny, this one was released in 1959, and makes several references to Shakespeare’s plays.
At the beginning, a character you assume is William Shakespeare comes across a castle with Macbeth written on the mailbox. Seemingly inspired, he starts writing, but then is startled by the cackling of a witch on a faraway hill.
On said hill, Hazel is making up another batch of brew, and this time out, she must have captured Bugs before the events of the cartoon began, because he’s already asleep under a covered dish. He wakes up and thinks the bubbling cauldron is a bath, so Hazel rolls with it, allowing him to ease his bunny behind down into the soup, even offering to scrub his back with a piece of celery.
Upon smelling something yummy and realizing that he’s on the menu, Bugs gets a bit huffy, asking Hazel if she doesn’t have anything better to do than cook rabbits. Hazel replies that she actually could be rinsing out a few things, now that he mentions it, but then she busts out her trusty cleaver again. Bugs runs off, and Hazel hops on her broom and chases him. The Shakespeare guy looks on, making notes the entire time.
Bugs and Hazel reconvene at the Macbeth castle and have something of a cackle-off, after which there’s an adorable re-enactment of the balcony scene from Romeo & Juliet (“Well, don’t just stand there like a ninny; come on up!”). I particularly laughed at little details like the way Hazel feels around behind the balcony curtains before she opens them, and the way she answers Bugs with “As you like it,” which of course is the title of another Shakespeare play.
When Bugs runs away this time, he runs into the Shakespeare character again, only now the guy is sobbing and lamenting that he’ll never be a writer. Bugs replies that of course he will, he’s William Shakespeare, but then comes the punchline: this isn’t actually William Shakespeare at all, but just some random dude named Sam Crubish. But when Hazel arrives on the scene, it transpires that she and Sam used to date, but lost touch after Sam didn’t show up for dinner to meet her parents. He tells her he went to the address she told him, apartment 2B, but she insists that wasn’t the right address, and they argue about it as they walk off into the sunset, allowing Bugs to close the short with a “To be or not to be” gag.
Like all the shorts featuring Witch Hazel, this one has a lot of funny lines (“Modesty is one of my girlish qualities;” talking about silly women drivers after she accidentally puts her broom into reverse and slams into a wall; giggling at Bugs calling her “Zsa Zsa”), and it’s a hoot picking out all the Shakespeare nods in the dialogue.
A-Haunting We Will Go
The fourth and final appearance of Witch Hazel in the classic shorts, this 1966 cartoon is actually similar to the earlier “Broom-Stick Bunny,” even featuring the same witch costume, though this time it’s worn not by Bugs Bunny, but by Daffy Duck’s nephew, who is out trick-or-treating. The nephew rings the bell at Hazel’s house, but is so frightened by her that he flees, and later we see Daffy telling him that there are no such things as witches, and he’s going to prove it by taking the nephew back to Hazel’s house to demonstrate that she’s just a harmless old lady.
Before they get there, though, Hazel is again mixing up some of her famous potion, complete with eel’s heels and diced spider, when she realizes that all she does all day is toil over a hot cauldron. She decides she needs a vacation, and lo and behold, who should randomly enter the cartoon but Speedy Gonzalez, who fortuitously pops out of his mouse hole to borrow a cup of cheese.
Hazel is cranky at first, but then is hit by an idea: she’ll turn Speedy into a clone of her so that she can go away on vacation and no one will notice she’s gone! This bit was hilarious to me, because it implied that Hazel had some kind of bustling witchery business whose customers would wonder where she was if she suddenly took off.
So Speedy turns into Hazel, though he still has his Speedy Gonzalez voice, and still races around all crazy like he did in his mouse form. Hazel is all, “Eh, close enough,” and leaves. Meanwhile, Daffy Duck shows up at Hazel’s house, and Speedy/Hazel pulls him inside, after which the scene plays out similarly to the tea scene in the earlier “Broom-Stick Bunny” short. This time, though, the tea turns Daffy into a weird, multicolored, four-legged creature with bird feet and a flower head and a flag with a screw and a ball on it coming out of his tail, which is also a flagpole.
Hazel gets back from vacation not long after, and Speedy tells Hazel about the duck: “I turned him into something. I do not know what.” Hazel is infuriated and turns Speedy back into a mouse, which is all he wanted to be in the first place. Then she turns Daffy back into a duck, but decides she wants to eat him, after which a brief chase ensues. Daffy eventually escapes and runs back into his nephew, telling him that the old lady wasn’t a witch at all, just an eccentric old woman who liked to scare people. But then Daffy turns back into the flower-head creature without the nephew noticing.
I liked that this story was sort of a bookend or sequel of the other short with Bugs Bunny, and I thought it was clever the way some shots were reused in a slightly different context. The addition of Speedy Gonzalez was admittedly out of left field, but it was still pretty entertaining hearing Speedy’s voice coming out of Witch Hazel, and for some reason him asking to borrow a cup of cheese made me laugh, even more so because Hazel actually gives him a regular slice of Swiss and not anything that would go in a cup. Little things like that are almost always funny to me; I’m not entirely sure why.
This 1946 short was the debut of the big, fuzzy, red monster that is now best known as Gossamer, but went unnamed this time out (although Bugs refers to him as Frankenstein and Dracula at various points). In it, Bugs is lured to a castle bearing a very obvious “Evil Scientist” neon sign by a mechanical female rabbit. Bugs’s horniness sure does get him into a lot of scrapes, doesn’t it? I do love the detail of the neon sign, though; it was little comedic flourishes like that that really endeared these cartoons to me as a child, and made them stick with me all these years later.
Anyway, the mechanical rabbit was sent out by a mad scientist who is not identified by name in the cartoon, but according to the Looney Tunes Wiki is named Dr. Lorre; this character is, obviously, a parody of Peter Lorre, a veteran of many golden-age crime films, including M, The Man Who Knew Too Much, The Maltese Falcon, and Casablanca. Dr. Lorre has been spying on Bugs through his Televisor and plans to feed Bugs to the monster.
Once Gossamer is unleashed, the rest of the short is an extended chase sequence that features many classic gags, such as Bugs packing a suitcase and grabbing a set of golf clubs to flee the castle, even though he obviously doesn’t live there; the monster seeing his reflection in a mirror and having the reflection run from him in terror; and the hilarious bit where Bugs becomes a manicurist and dips the monster’s hands in bowls of water that have mousetraps in them. There’s also some funny shit where both the monster and Bugs hide behind/inside paintings, and Gossamer gets poked in the eyes.
I think my favorite gag in the whole short, though, is the final sequence, when Gossamer has “hidden” in a suit of armor and is poised, ax raised, in a hallway for Bugs to come by. But of course his red fur is sticking out of the armor every which way, so Bugs is wise to him. Bugs then goes offscreen, and returns on horseback bearing a lance and his own suit of armor, though he’s actually sitting inside it like a train engineer rather than wearing it. He slams into Gossamer, who hits the wall and and is crushed into a tin can with a nice label on it reading “Canned Monster.” It even has Gossamer’s picture on it! I fucking love that.
Water, Water Every Hare
In 1952, Warner Brothers produced this cartoon, which was very similar to, and something of an improvement upon, the earlier “Hair-Raising Hare” short. I think this short is the one people remember most in regards to the character of Gossamer, even though the monster is specifically called Rudolph this time out. He didn’t actually get the official name Gossamer, incidentally, until 1980, in the also-fantastic short titled “Duck Dodgers and the Return of the 24½th Century.”
The interesting thing about “Water, Water Every Hare” is that whenever it came on when I was a kid, I always momentarily forgot it was one of the horror shorts, because it doesn’t have a creepy-sounding title, it starts out with the normal upbeat music, and the first bit of it just shows Bugs sleeping in his rabbit hole, unaware that his burrow is flooding because of the heavy rain. But once the rising water carries a still-snoozing Bugs out of his hole and toward a spooky castle, I would be enchanted anew as I realized which short I was watching.
The same “Evil Scientist” neon sign flashes on the castle’s face, doubtless as an advertisement for any passing truckers who might be in need of some evil sciencing on one of their cross-country hauls. Inside the castle, we find the mad scientist; it’s not Dr. Lorre this time, but a greenish, large-headed little guy with an awesome, very Boris Karloff-sounding voice (provided by John T. Smith). The scientist is not named here, but when he appeared in the later Webtoons series from the early 2000s, he was called Dr. Moron, and in various other shorts, he was referred to as Dr. Woe or Dr. Frankenbeans. He’s built a massive robot that just needs one final touch: a living brain. And it just so happens that Bugs floats by on his mattress at precisely that moment, so the mad scientist fishes him out of the moat.
Bugs freaks out when he realizes where he is, and a chase ensues when the mad scientist releases Gossamer/Rudolph into the castle to find the frightened rabbit, promising the monster some spider goulash if he completes the task.
Bugs is seemingly cornered by the monster when a pit of crocodiles opens before him, but thinking quickly, he sets up an impromptu salon and starts tsking at the monster about how stringy and messy his hair is. This is a similar gag to the earlier “manicurist” bit from “Hair-Raising Hare,” but here it’s expanded and even funnier, with Bugs really leaning into the chatty hairdresser stereotype, punctuating his monologue with several instances of “My stars,” and talking about all the interesting people and monsters he meets in his line of work. The pained faces the monster makes while Bugs is fixing his hair always make me laugh, as does Bugs’s “Bobby pins, please” aside, and then his disappointed, “Oh dear, that’ll never stay, we’ll just have to have a permanament.” He then ducks into a convenient nearby room with an obvious “High Explosives” sign, laces TNT into the monster’s hair like curlers, and blows up the top of Gossamer/Rudolph’s head.
I also love the next bit, where Bugs runs into the laboratory and finds a bottle of Vanishing Fluid, which of course makes him invisible when he pours it on himself; this joke, I admit, was kinda lost on me when I was little, because I didn’t realize that vanishing cream was a real thing (which doesn’t actually make you invisible, sadly). Upon the arrival of the monster, he pours a bottle of Reducing Oil on him, which of course makes the monster shrink down to an adorably teeny size. The monster, sick of this shit, puts on a teeny coat and hat and grabs his teeny suitcases (which he apparently had on standby for just such an emergency) and moves into a mousehole, kicking out the drunk mouse (and his whiskey bottle) who had been living there.
But of course, Bugs still has the mad scientist to contend with, who cramps Bugs’s style by dousing him with Hare Restorer (heh) and making him visible again. The scientist then has the wonderfully delivered line, “Now be a cooperative little bunny, and let me have your brain.” He chucks an axe at Bugs, but misses, and the axe instead busts open a big jar of ether, which makes both Bugs and the scientist sleepy and makes the ensuing chase proceed in slow motion, another hilarious gag.
Bugs makes his sluggish escape after the mad scientist falls asleep, and then he wakes up back in his flooded rabbit hole, thinking the whole incident was a nightmare until the teeny Gossamer monster rows by in a tiny little boat. Goddammit, I love this one; every single gag is funny, the mad scientist’s voice and dialogue are great, and the whole “hairdo” sequence is comedy gold all by itself.
One of the few horror-adjacent Looney Tunes shorts featuring Porky Pig (although I would argue that a case could be made for the 1951 short “The Wearing of the Grin,” which wasn’t overtly horror but featured a pair of mean leprechauns and always sort of creeped me out), this 1948 cartoon also stars Sylvester, here in a non-speaking role as Porky’s pet cat. Hey, a pig owning a pet cat is no weirder than a mouse owning a mute dog but also having a friend who’s a bipedal, talking dog, now is it? Incidentally, this is the first short where Sylvester was specifically given a name, so I guess Sylvester being a talking character was a later thing.
Also, Porky, who to be fair never wears pants anyway, is shown completely naked at one point in this short, as he’s changing into his nightshirt. I don’t know, that just struck me as funny.
So Porky has bought this big, old house which he perceives as quaint and quiet, but from the moment he and Sylvester arrive, the cat is spooked by the place. A bat flies in and terrifies him, but Porky just keeps scolding Sylvester for being a coward, and sends him to go sleep in the kitchen while be retires to bed upstairs. Sylvester is latched onto his master, though, and Porky doesn’t notice for a while until he finds the cat enshrined inside his nightshirt, at which point he kicks the poor feline downstairs.
Sylvester is then horrified to see a procession of mice carrying candles, followed up by a mouse pulling a tied-up cat in a cart, and then a mouse in an executioner’s hood, carrying an axe. Yep, the mice in this house are murderous, and this cat is presumably going to his execution. Sylvester rushes upstairs and attempts to mime the situation to Porky (remember, Sylvester can’t talk in this short), but of course, the pig isn’t having it. In an oft-censored scene (but there in all its glory in the HBO Max version), a distraught Sylvester then pulls a pistol from a drawer and puts it to his head, threatening to shoot himself, but Porky takes it away, chiding the cat for his “hist…histrion…histrion…ridiculous acting.”
The mice then pull out all the stops, deploying several booby traps they’ve evidently set up in the house, such as a bowling ball rolling down the staircase handrail, arrows and anvils emerging from unseen locations, and a laundry basket in the kitchen with a trapdoor underneath. Porky narrowly avoids falling into these traps due to Sylvester’s intervention, but he doesn’t realize what’s going on at first and thinks that Sylvester is just pushing him around and being a drama queen. At last, a fed-up Porky stomps into the kitchen to prove that Sylvester is just being “a yellow dog of a cowardly cat,” but moments later, the mouse execution procession comes by, this time with Porky tied up in the cart, holding up a sign that says, “You were right Sylvester.”
At this point, the terrified Sylvester flees the house, leaving Porky to his fate, but then a little blue angel version of Sylvester appears and gives him a presentation, complete with visual aids, about how he shouldn’t be a coward and reminding him how Porky has cared for him since he was a kitten. Sylvester, newly energized, pulls a whole tree out of the ground and races back to the house. After an epic battle which we only see from outside (with the entire structure being thrown around like a toy), hundreds of mice pour out of the house and into the countryside, never to behead another cat (or pig). There’s then a little coda where Porky is thanking a very proud Sylvester for returning and saving him, and it turns out that one mouse still remains, a mouse who is dressed like Napoleon under the executioner’s hood and does a variation of the Lew Lehr “craziest peoples” line before bonking Sylvester on the head with a mallet.
And I can’t believe I forgot all about this, but “Scaredy Cat” was actually one of a trilogy of shorts in which Sylvester was Porky’s cat and they ended up in some scary situation where Porky was oblivious to any danger he might be in. The other two in the series were 1954’s “Claws for Alarm” (which took place in a ghost town called Dry Gulch and also features killer mice), and 1955’s “Jumpin’ Jupiter” (which had more of a sci-fi flavor, with the antagonist being an alien called an Instant Jovian). Now that I think about it, at least “Claws for Alarm” would have been a great addition to this list, as it’s possibly scarier than “Scaredy Cat,” but I suppose I’ll have to save it for whenever I do a volume two of this topic.
My very favorite of the horror-themed Looney Tunes shorts, this one is from 1963 and was directed by Chuck Jones and Maurice Noble. It was the only appearance of the sadly under-used Count Bloodcount, at least in the classic cartoons, though the character would appear in some later media, such as a Bugs Bunny video game from 2000, an episode of Tiny Toon Adventures, and an episode of the 1990s series The Sylvester & Tweety Mysteries.
The title of this short, not to be confused with the terrible 1985 horror comedy starring Jeff Goldbum and Ed Begley, Jr., is actually a reference to “Pennsylvania 6-5000,” a song popularized by Glenn Miller. There is also a bit of geographical humor here—as there was in several Bugs Bunny cartoons, where he would often end up in the wrong place after taking a wrong turn at Albuquerque—because Bugs apparently was trying to go to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but ended up in “Pittsburghe, Transylvania” instead.
After asking directions from a two-headed vulture who refers to him as “crunchy,” Bugs decides to get some info from an imposing-looking castle in the distance, which he mistakenly thinks is a hotel. He pulls on a noose that serves as a doorbell (in a bit that was cut out of some airings), and a pair of sinister yellow eyes peer through a slit in the front door, with the pupils of the eyes traveling back and forth from one eye to the other, a detail which for some reason I still find hilarious.
Inside, the castle is filled to the brim with all kinds of fun little minutia, like a TV with bat wing antennae, a piano with fangs bearing a sign reading, “Music to Croak By,” family portraits of bats, “Ghoul Scouts,” and one that I’m pretty sure is supposed to be Lucrezia Borgia, and coffin-shaped doors and hallways. Bugs asks for a phone, and Count Bloodcount seems to oblige, but then leads Bugs to a bedroom instead. Bugs mildly protests, saying he just wanted a phone, but the Count takes Bugs’s whole head in his hand and tells him he can use the phone tomorrow, after he rests. “Rest is good for the blood,” he says, and I have to give a shoutout to the fantastic voice performance here, by Polish actor Ben Frommer as the vampire; I always loved the voice of this character, and again, it’s a shame he wasn’t in more classic Looney Tunes shorts. I still crack up when the Count is leaving Bugs in his room with a, “Goodbye, little friend. I mean, good night.” Then, a second later, he pops his head back through the door with an abrupt, “Asleep yet?”
Anyway, Bugs goes along with the plan, thinking maybe he could do with a good night’s sleep after all, but he has a bout of insomnia, and starts to read one of the books on the shelf, titled Magic Words and Phrases. Unbeknownst to him, the Count has snuck up behind his bed using a false wall and is just about to clamp down on Bugs and drink his blood, but just then, Bugs gets to the part about the word “abracadabra.” When he says the word out loud, the Count transforms into a little bat—complete with a smaller version of the top hat he wore in his vampire form—which Bugs then swats with a flyswatter, thinking it’s an unusually large mosquito.
From this point forward, the short goes into a sort of magic word duel, as the Count tries to attack Bugs, and Bugs keeps turning him back and forth from his bat form to his vampire form at the most inopportune times. Bugs turning himself into an umpire and bonking the bat-Count with an actual baseball bat (“You wouldn’t hit a bat with glasses on, would you?”) is a particular highlight, as is the bit where Bugs gets creative and starts to try out other “magic” words, like abraca-pocus, pocus-cadabra, Newport News (which turns the Count into that other classic Looney Tunes character, Witch Hazel), and Walla Walla Washington (which transforms the vampire into a male version of the female two-headed vulture from earlier).
“Transylvania 6-5000,” in my opinion, is easily the best of all the horror-adjacent Looney Tunes shorts; I love the design of the castle and the amusing little touches in the background, I love the way the Count talks and the way he moves around like a black shadow, and I love the comedic timing of the interactions between Bugs and the Count. This episode was so iconic for me growing up that I distinctly remember my brother and I often quoting the Count’s, “Hocus pocus! NOW I CRUSH YOU!” line at one another, and I also think it was this cartoon that introduced me to the (real) city names of Walla Walla and Newport News. Creepy, hilarious, and educational: that’s why these shorts are still fucking classics to this day.
Until next time, keep it creepy (and animated), my friends.
One thought on “Ten of the Best Spooky Looney Tunes Shorts”
I remember some of these! (Even with the fact that I mostly read books over TV. LOL!)
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