Witch No. 5: The Swamp Witch

“I think you meddlers must be taught a lesson in witchcraft!”

Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! is a really, really good cartoon. It’s funny and scary, with so many twists and turns in every episode that it can’t help but be entertaining. Over the course of the first season, the Scooby gang encountered ghosts, phantoms and evil robots – but it was in the thirteenth episode that Scooby and his friends met their very first witch.

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On their way home from a fishing trip, the Scooby gang – Scooby, Shaggy, Fred, Daphne and Velma – stop to ask for directions, only to discover a strange zombie shambling along the roadside. They flee, but later stop in the township of Swamp’s End to ask about the creature. The owner of the general store, Zeke, tells them the local legend of the swamp witch, who brought the zombie to life with her voodoo magic. He recounts the time he and his brother Zeb first saw the witch, repeating her wicked spell:

Smoke of darkness, demon of evil: take the form of the living, and come forth from the flame!

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And so the Scooby gang begin their search for clues, sniffing around a series of typically creepy locations. Zeb’s abandoned shack yields a pin-pricked voodoo doll; a boat ride into the swamp results in a sighting of the witch herself, flanked by her zombie henchman. When the gang sneak inside the witch’s house, the witch appears and casts a spell, causing Daphne to vanish; Velma and the boys track her to a decaying river boat, left rotting in the swamp.

What happens next? Well, I don’t want to spoil it for you. But I can only imagine how surprised you’ll be when you find out who the zombie and witch really are!

“Which Witch is Which?” first aired on December 6, 1969. It has all the classic ingredients for a great episode of Scooby-Doo: a Gothic setting, beautiful painted backdrops, a spooky local legend, meaningful clues, villainous jump-scares, and slightly naff animation. Perhaps the only disappointing feature is the design of the witch herself; the purple costume is adequate, but not as scary as most other early-season ghosts. (More suspects would also have been good.)

Because this is Scooby-Doo – original, no-nonsense, no-magic Scooby-Doo – the swamp witch doesn’t actually have any real powers. Daphne’s vanishing is carried out with smoke pellets and a trapdoor; the flying effect is achieved with a sheet and a balloon; the zombie is just a man in a mask. Some of the other details, however, are harder to explain. How much time went into the set-dressing for the witch’s house, given that it includes a self-portrait? Are those real skulls lining the path to the witch’s home? And who made the creepy warning signs that are spread throughout the swamp? I guess all hard-boiled criminals know that the devil is in the details.

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There’s a lot to love about Scooby-Doo, but I’ve always loved those painted backdrops the most. I mainly like the haunted houses (not seen in this episode), but the decaying River Queen is also a wonderfully unique setting. In my own writing, I’m always sending my characters into stereotypically spooky scenarios, and I suspect that I developed the knack for this from watching old Scooby episodes. Looking at the end credits, I think Walt Peregoy is the man chiefly responsible for the delightfully creepy background art. Thanks Walt!

Final Musings

Scooby-Doo has been running for a long time (from 1969 to the present day), but the only seasons I recommend are the original two runs of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!, which aired in 1969 and 1970. Don’t be fooled by the alleged “third” season – it’s from 1978, by which time the animation had already lost a lot of its warmth. Some people like Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated, which aired from 2010-2013, but that incarnation includes a lot of real magic, which in my opinion breaks a cardinal rule of the show. The most recent version of the show – Be Cool, Scooby-Doo! – has an ultra-modern animation style which I don’t entirely appreciate, but I have to admit that it’s made me laugh a few times. It’s actually really funny.

— Despite my aforementioned cardinal rule, I also really like Scooby-Doo Meets the Boo Brothers, a direct-to-video movie from 1987. Yes, it has some real ghosts in it, and yes, it also includes Scrappy-Doo, but none of the “mystery” ghosts are real, and the treasure hunt theme is really well executed. The bicycle-riding civil war general is probably my favourite Scooby villain of all time.

— There’s a big new Scooby-Doo film planned for 2018, but it’s going to be 3D animated, and they’re calling it S.C.O.O.B., so I’m not terribly optimistic. A Hanna-Barbera Cinematic Universe sounds fascinating though, even if it does turn out to be a train wreck.

— Whilst writing this, I Googled Walt Peregoy. Apparently Walt also did the backgrounds for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty – amazing! Further thanks go to Ron Dias, Daniela Bielecka, Gary Niblett and Rolly Oliva, who are the other background artists listed in the season one credits.

— Ah, I just realised there’s a witch in episode three of season one. Darn. Well, it’s too late now; I’m not changing my introduction. This witch lives in a lighthouse, although she isn’t the main ghost. The episode is called “A Clue for Scooby-Doo.”

— There’s another witch in the ersatz “season three” of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!, in the episode “To Switch a Witch.” The whole episode has a nice witchy theme – it’s set in Old Salem – but the design of the witch (below) does nothing for me whatsoever. But the mystery is okay, and the graveyard setting is adequate.

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— I have three young cousins who love all incarnations of Scooby-Doo. When I babysit them, we watch the classics. The correct way to watch Scooby-Doo with children is to sit behind them and wait for the monster to appear; when it does, grab them suddenly and scream. (The show comes pre-edited with helpful jump scares.) Keep doing this until they either beg you to stop, or get smart and sit behind you instead.

— My favourite haunted house episodes are “Hassle in the Castle” (season one, episode two) and “Haunted House Hang-Up” (season two, episode five). The latter is particularly good for jump-scaring young cousins.

Seriously, I could talk about Scooby-Doo all day. But I’ll stop now. Sorry.

Happy witching!

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