Latest posts by Erin Miskell (see all)
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Oh, Nickelodeon, you sexy, sexy beast. Back in the 1980s, you had so much going for you. You were airing my beloved Pinwheel, Double Dare, and such animated fare as Adventures of the Little Koala and David the Gnome. You also had Mr. Wizard as an additional feather in your cap, as well as the seminal classic You Can’t Do That On Television. It was a good time. You had so much going for you that everyone got some representation… even us budding horror hounds with a warped sense of storytelling. How so, you may ask? Dearest Nickelodeon, you gave us Count Duckula.
Count Duckula has some humble beginnings. In 1984, Nickelodeon obtained the rights to the British hit Danger Mouse, which went on to become a decent hit over here in the U.S. Eager to replicate the formula, the head honchos over at Nickelodeon set about asking film company Cosgrove Hall to show ‘em what else they had. Cosgrove Hall had originally developed the character as a spin-off from Danger Mouse; when Nickelodeon head Jenny Lebron set eyes on a picture hanging in Brian Cosgrove’s office of the character, she declared the search to be over.
Tongue firmly in cheek, the show had an interesting premise: for centuries, a vampire duck was raised through a ritual to return to life in a way that cheated the death he was dealt by vampire-hunters or sunlight. This past ranged everything from a knight to an artist to a scientist, but had one thing in common: a love of blood, and a prolific feeding frenzy. This time around, though, something happens during the ritual that throws off the entire plan: rather than using blood, ketchup is substituted, making for a vampire duck that’s vegetarian. Futhermore, Count Duckula doesn’t have aspirations of world domination or wealth – much like Prince Herbert in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, he’d much rather… sing. Yup, our vegetarian vampire duck wants to be an entertainer.
Each episode, we were treated to Count Duckula’s backstory in the main credits. We started off the same way each week: born with a mistake, we knew that he wasn’t what was desired, and that hilarity was going to ensue because he’s not what he’s supposed to be. Along the way, we watched him try things and fail, then fail again, then fail some more: one week, he’d want to play the blues, while the next, he’d try his hand at being a performing cowboy. He’d fail, someone would wind up disliking him despite his trying to be helpful, and his faithful servant Igor would moan and groan about how he wasn’t acting like a vampire.
This show is such a gateway drug for children’s horror. It presents the vampire character as something other than fearsome, which was easy for a kid to latch onto: it wasn’t scary, and could be laughed at. Count Duckula himself has enormous confidence, and while it’s disproportionate to his actual abilities, it’s nice to see someone get out there and try to do something that makes him happy. Igor doesn’t make his life any easier, constantly reminding him that he’s behaving in a manner unbefitting to a vampire, but our count doesn’t pay him any heed and just does it anyway. Growing up, that’s the kind of confidence that you want to foster – that strong sense of self and determination. After all, success comes from failure, even if it takes you 30 tries. Watching someone get it wrong meant that it was okay not only for us to fail, but to do it in a way that others said wasn’t correct. We didn’t have to act like everybody else, because we were being true to ourselves. You can’t change who you are to make someone else happy, and it’s lessons like that – that the world is not so scary after all, that you’ve got this – that makes children’s horror so grand.
One of the best parts of this show would have to be the end credits. A then-modern 80s pseudo-soul song layered over animated stills from black-and-white horror films made the experience fun and funky. Little did some of us realize that it was our first introduction into the Hammer style so many of us would grow to love and cherish. We just sat back and watched a duck savor a piece of broccoli.