What Made Courage the Cowardly Dog so Scary?
It’s fairly clear that the creators of Courage the Cowardly Dog were heavily inspired by the horror genre, and possibly by a heavy dose of psychedelic drugs, because this show is as jarring and anxiety-inducing as you could possibly make a cartoon about a pink dog. It was no accident that Courage the Cowardly Dog was as scary as it was. In the creation of the show, the animation style, directing, and soundtrack all came together to form one pretty terrifying end product.
In designing the backgrounds of the cartoon, the animators deliberately avoided using scale or definition. The best example is their house, around which there appear to be endless expanses of nothing whatsoever, leaving it to the imagination of the viewer what could possibly be lurking behind the slow-rolling clouds. The inside of the house is no less sinister. Hallways that appear to be only a few feet long soon appear infinite once Courage turns a corner and starts running through it in fear. Every corner of the house could be hiding a nefarious demon, ghost, creeper, or even computer. There is a constant aura of fear, as the settings never offer a visible escape from imminent danger.
In the sound design for the show, John R. Dilworth, the mastermind behind this blood-curdling cartoon, wanted to use mostly original music. Most of the original compositions featured in the show were written by John Gray and Andy Ezrin, who wanted to create suspense and mystery with their music. The show also features some well-known classic compositions, such as Richard Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries. And, as we all know, classical music can be extremely creepy in the right contexts.
Courage, who was voiced by Martin Grabstein, rarely speaks throughout the show, but rather communicates with a series of whimpers and groans, which serves to heighten the viewers’ anxiety and fear. As we can’t help but sympathize with our lovable protagonist, viewers are given no choice but to share in the unease and franticness that Courage experiences in every episode.
The character design in Courage the Cowardly Dog is also a big contributor to the show’s overall creepiness. Villains like Fred from the “Freaky Fred” episode or The King of Flan from the episode of the same name wear haunting grins filled with crooked teeth that are nothing short of nightmare fuel.
While episodes like “Demon in the Mattress” and “Evil Weevil” were enough to make you keep your nightlight on, there’s one episode that stands out from the rest as the scariest Courage the Cowardly Dog episode of all time.
Airing on January 21, 2000, “King Ramses’ Curse” was the first part of the seventh episode of the debut season of Courage the Cowardly Dog. The episode begins with two cat-like characters driving at high speed away from the police. It appears that they’ve stolen an ancient slab from a pharaoh’s tomb. Fearing that they’ll be caught with the stolen relic, they bury it in the ground near a water fountain. The two cats are then confronted by an unseen figure who tells them, “Return the slab or suffer my curse.” The cats are then engulfed in a swarm of insects, and the camera pans over to Courage’s house.
The next morning, like the good dog he is, Courage digs up the slab and brings it to his owners. After first dismissing the slab as a piece of garbage, Eustace sees a news report on the TV claiming that the slab is worth one million dollars and immediately goes to retrieve it (and says that he plans to spend the money on new lawn chairs). Despite Muriel and Courage’s insistent warnings, Eustace refuses to give up the slab, dreaming of all the new things he could buy with the money.
Enter the ghost of King Ramses, who appears outside of their house, and again commands, “Return the slab or suffer my curse.” Ramses appears in a 3D animation style, in contrast to the 2D style of the other characters, with tattered garments flowing in the nighttime breeze and strange tentacle-like things coming out of his ears. He warns that if the slab is not returned, that they will be visited by three plagues, but Eustace, being the hard-headed curmudgeon that he is, refuses to concede.
First, the house floods, and Courage is forced to save the family by uncorking the drain in the basement of the house. Next, a gramophone appears and begins playing a song called The Man in Gauze, which is apparently unbearable to the ears of Courage and his keepers. Courage runs around the property to find the gramophone until he finally locates it and smashes it with a baseball bat. For the third plague, a swarm of locusts attacks the house and begins devouring the walls. Courage wrestles the slab away from Eustace and then hurls it out the window, and the locusts stop momentarily.
Eustace, who cannot give up his slab, goes and retrieves it, only for the locusts to return once he does. The episode ends with Muriel and Courage watching a news story about how the slab has been returned to the grave of King Ramses. All seems well, until Muriel asks about Eustace’s whereabouts. As the episode fades to black, the camera zooms in on King Ramses’ grave, which has an inscription of a picture of Eustace, implying that Eustace has been trapped inside the grave.
Ramses is the ghost of a pharaoh whose tomb is disturbed when two criminals looted a stone tablet. He first confronts the two grave robbers who hid the slab next to the Bagges water pump, sending a swarm of locusts to devour them. When Courage finds the relic, Eustace is initially uninterested, but immediately clings to the slab when he realizes its worth a million dollars. A researcher tells Eustace that he has come for the return of the stolen slab, but he declines and shuts the door when he offers no money. The same night, Eustace, now obsessed with his future fortune, babbles about what he will buy with the million dollars.
Loud noises are heard outside as an unbeknownst Eustace opens the door. King Ramses visits the farm and demands that the slab be returned. Even after being warned of suffering the mummys curse and the insistence of Muriel to give it back, Eustace refuses. King Ramses then unleashes a water plague, which is one of the three listed on the slab. He floods the house, but Courage opens a massive drain in the basement of the house. Once again, Eustace declined the second request of returning the slab.
King Ramses is a somewhat stern and calm person, but quickly irritated. He shows great disdain to anyone who is directly responsible of stealing his slab from his tomb, and will quickly punish him/her for doing so. However, he does gives his victims he sees as innocent a chance to give up the slab, and will warn them what will happen to them if they refuse to do so. He was also shown to get annoyed or irritated if the person still refuses to give up the slab by expressing the words “Oh, come on!“, implying that he does not like doing what he has to do in order to get what he needs back, possibly implying he may hate summoning his curses on those who steal his slab. It is also implied that he is able to use any of his plagues at will, even after using all of them in a short time, evidenced when Eustace, still refusing to give up the slab after surviving the 3 plagues, King Ramses uses the locust plague again to get the slab back, much to Eustace`s surprise and horror. He seems to be in neutral terms with Courage and Muriel as he does not show any disdain or irritation towards the two, even when Courage finds a way to undo most of his plagues. The most possible reason was that they were on the side that Eustace must in fact return the slab to his tomb, meaning most of the plagues were mostly targeted towards Eustace instead, noting Courage and Muriel were just unfortunate enough to be caught in the effects of his Curse in the episode.
King Ramses most prominent attire is his skull, a skull reminiscent of Egyptian burial masks, but far more dilapidated and skeletal. He has orange burnt flesh, Blue dark teal eyes with blue white iriss with a sickly yellowish-green sclera, and purple eyebags from egyptian eye-liner, and pale orange brow ridges. His eyes are permanently shown to be sunken to his rotting skull. He wears a dark green Egyptian pharaoh robe with yellowish green gauze around his shoulders. Burnt tangerine hair protrudes from his skull that always shows to moving in a inwards and outwards scrunch movement. His feet are covered in a ghostly zig-zagged shaped floating rag from his robe, indicating he floats instead of walking, it is unknown or not if he can even move towards the user of the slab or he just stays in place marking his curses onto the user, until they give up his slab. Marking these attributes to the fact he is an 3D CGI animated apparition of a decaying mummy, this design is far considered to be one of the most scariest entities from within the show.
The next plague is loud music on a phonograph. Courage locates the source and destroys it with a bat. Insisting on breaking the Bagges spirit, King Ramses for a final time requests the return of his slab. In the midst of the third plague, Eustace bribes Ramses about the slab, telling him that a million is as low as hell go. Eustace relents when they are about to be eaten by locusts and Courage throws it out the window, but changes his mind quickly and claims the slab again. King Ramses appears, displeased, and Eustace taunts him for using up all his plagues. An infuriated Ramses raises his arms and simply calls the third plague, the swarm of locusts, onto Eustace. Afterwards, when the slab is finally returned to King Ramses crypt as announced by an archaeologist on television, a hieroglyph depicting a screaming Eustace is visible on it.
King Ramses is a one-episode character in the TV show Courage the Cowardly Dog. The episode “King Ramses’ Curse” starts with two feline thieves as they are being pursued by the police at night after they stole a slab from the tomb of King Ramses. They pull over in their car and bury the slab at the Bagge’s water-pump. In the morning, Courage digs up the mound the two cats made the night before and finds the slab. The slab contains symbols of Ramses, water, a record player, and locusts. Courage gives it to his owners, but Eustace tosses the slab out the window claiming it’s “garbage”. However, Eustace takes it back after learning from the Nowhere Newsman that it’s worth a million dollars. Professor Frith arrives and tries to reclaim the slab, but Eustace refuses. That night, the ghost of King Ramses returns, and this time threatens the Bagges. He orders Eustace to return the slab or “suffer three plagues, each worse than the last”. Eustace, thinking the ghost is the professor in disguise, still refuses. The ghost uses the first curse by flooding the house with water, the second curse by playing really loud, bad, disco music, and the third by summoning locusts to eat them and their house. The episode ends with Courage and Muriel now in the destroyed house, where on the TV, Professor Frith explains that the slab has been returned to Ramses’ tomb and will remain protected for all times. The end of the episode shows the tomb of King Ramses, where Eustace has now apparently replaced Ramses on the slab, as punishment for his greed.