This Scooby-Doo Halloween special aired once, then never again
Was "The Scooby-Doo Project" too scary for TV?
Image credit: Warner Bros. / Cartoon Network
These days, found-footage horror movies are a dime a dozen. Paranormal Activity, V/H/S, Unfriended, Creep... there's a solid chance that any time you turn on a scary flick that it will start with a character holding a camera and cheerfully recording their friends or family — of course, before everything goes wrong.
But let's time travel back to 1999. A new horror movie comes out, and something is different. It's called The Blair Witch Project, and it changes the landscape of the horror movie.
While only getting a lukewarm reception at the time of release, it became a massive sleeper hit and is credited with reviving the found-footage horror movie craze we still see today. It became such a pop culture phenomenon that it got spoofed by everything from Scary Movie to The Office. (Michael Scott makes a training video titled "The Scranton Witch Project" where he whispers into the camera about the importance of labeling food in the office fridge.)
The waves of The Blair Witch Project even reached the most unlikely place — a children's cartoon.
For Halloween of 1999, Cartoon Network aired a marathon of every episode of the original Scooby-Doo cartoon. Between the episodes, they played small clips of a bigger special —The Scooby-Doo Project.
The Scooby-Doo Project was a 19-minute special, when compiled, that parodied the then-famous horror movie. It opened much like Blair Witch did, with footage of an abandoned Mystery Machine roped off by police tape and a poster of the gang that labeled them as missing.
We're informed that while the gang remains missing, their camera was recovered, and this is the tape.
What follows is a mix of live-action and cartoon animation that mixes self-aware humor (Velma sighing that she "hates the part with the doors" before the monster does the classic chase between a series of doors; Fred snapping at Velma to get a glasses strap so she'll stop losing them all the time) and unsettling scenes where the special plays the horror aspects very straightforward (Daphne sobbing because they've been lost for a week and are out of food; Shaggy facing the wall in the basement of the Blair Witch house).
The special itself was very well received by the world of animation and critically was called one of the better Blair Witch parodies. So why has it never aired again, or even received a home release?
There are a few theories.
One is that some distribution issues remain that make it difficult to get the rights to re-air, or put out on DVD/Blu-ray. The most prevalent one, however, is that it was just plain too scary for a kid's network.
While the monster chasing them is pulled from the classic episodes, the blurry handheld camera footage and the dark lighting in a lot of scenes makes it feel very different in tone. And the ending — spoiler alert, if you want to watch it yourself — also follows Blair Witch in the sense that the gang doesn't win.
Yeah, that's right. They unmask a (live-action) villain, but it turns out there's a real monster, as well. It jumps at the camera, and then the footage stops. The ending informs us that while hundreds of Scooby Snacks have been found all over the woods, the gang is still missing. No happy ending here, kids.
It's an interesting piece of animation history, and especially fun to revisit during the fall season. While we can't watch this on home release yet, people have been kind enough to pull the segments from VHS copies of the airing and upload them. You can watch the special here.
What do you think of this creepy lesser-known Scooby-Doo special?