Mystery Incorporated and the Mythology of Horror

Mystery Incorporated functions like a kid’s version of Cabin of the Woods, reframing Mystery Inc. as players in an ur-myth, the latest in a variation of four humans and an animal who solve mysteries. Throughout the series, we learn about The Hunters of Secrets, a Mesoamerican quartet of teens and their pet jaguar, the four friars and pet donkey who made up the Fraternitas Mysterium, and the four members of the Darrow family, who searched for clues with their pet cat under the name, the Mystery Fellowship. Each group came together because of the influence of the Evil Entity, who drove them to search for clues until they could finally uncover the sarcophagus and set the Entity free. 

The show crafts a grand narrative from basic Scooby-Doo tropes. The mysteries and monsters who flock to Crystal Cove aren’t happenstance, but rather a result of the influence of the Evil Entity. The Scooby spin-offs aren’t the result of a company trying to milk a concept for all it’s worth, but variations of the mystery-solver gang failing to take shape. And Scooby isn’t just a random talking dog, but a reaction to a malevolent force making its way into the universe. For adults, this approach allows them to include all previous Scooby stories in a long continuity, accepting and reframing their memories of the characters. But for kids, the grand narrative has the opposite effect, giving cosmic importance to what seem like simple one-note characters.

The mythology opens up kids to the vast world of horror storytelling. Scooby-Doo has long been a gateway to horror, as many fans of the genre (myself included) first fell in love with ghouls and ghosts from watching them battle the Scooby gang. Mystery Incorporated embraces that tradition by bringing in a host of references to other spooky media. In addition to the aforementioned genre icon Udo Kier, Re-Animator star Jeffery Combs plays Professor H.P. Hatecraft, a loving (and less problematic) parody of the verbose author, alongside a cantankerous animated Harlan Ellison, voiced by himself. 

Lovecraft also inspires the look of the tentacled interdimensional Evil Entity, while other monsters draw from various sources, such as the Phantom of the Opera-inspired Phantom and Dreamweaver, who draws his look from the Goblin King from Labyrinth and Morpheus from The Sandman. The show even featured a Twin Peaks riff, complete with Michael J. Anderson reprising his role as the Man From Another Place. 

In many cases, these monsters follow the model set by previous Scooby stories, in which the creature is revealed to be a human in disguise, scaring people for money. But with its larger mythology, Mystery Incorporated reveals many of these humans to be manipulated in some way by the Evil Entity. In fact, it’s often hard to draw the line between humans acting out of their own greed and those being influenced by a cosmic force. 

Nowhere is that more clear than with Professor Pericles, the series’ primary villain. Pericles has a believable motive for threatening the Scooby gang, as he was once the pet mascot for Mystery Inc.’s predecessors, grown bitter by the group’s dissolution. However, the show also suggests that the Evil Entity has long driven Pericles’s obsessions, transforming him to the horrifying genius he’s become. In other words, Mystery Incorporated involves one of the oldest and most powerful horror tropes: the suggestion that the bad things people do may stem from a primordial evil, like the dark forces in Stephen King’s works, the parents’ guilt in A Nightmare on Elm Street, and more recently, the collective anger in Halloween Ends. The show does not allow kids to dismiss bad guys as random weirdos.

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