Now, from some of my earlier reviews, you might get the impression that I don’t like horror cartoons, and to that I say, quite the contrary. Some of the weirder and sillier elements in horror work better in animated format than live-action, and animation allows for crazier and more imaginative monster designs. And one of my favourite shows when I was a little ‘un was a horror-based cartoon, The Trap Door. The intro does a better job of introducing the show than I ever could:
So, yeah, basically Berk, the result of a one night stand between Cookie Monster and a lump of Blu-Tak, is a servant to an unseen Lovecraftian creature in a dark and spooky castle, and must make sure not to open the trap door…oh, I’m sorry, The Trap Door, which is like Pandora’s Box on a grand scale. Every time the Trap Door is opened, a monster pops out and causes a spot of bother before being imprisoned again.
The show is pretty fondly remembered by those who watched it as a kid. It even inspired someone to create an Amnesia: The Dark Descent custom story based on the show (play it if you can, it’s awesome). But does it hold up thirty years later? Well, let’s have a look then.
So we have Berk, we have Berk’s always-nagging skull friend Boni, we have Berk’s pet spider-frog thing Drutt and we have all the monsters down the Trap Door. All the characters – the ones that can talk, anyway – were voiced by the late William Rushton, co-founder of the satirical magazine Private Eye. Although all the voices are his, each is distinct and fits the character. Berk was given a cheerful Cornish accent, Boni’s voice was perfectly creaky and moany, the voice befitting a bodiless skull trapped in a haunted castle, and the Thing Upstairs’ voice was one of might and terror, even more so than that of Alan Sugar.
The series was a Claymation one, and that element actually still holds up pretty well. There are a few hiccups here and there – you can sometimes see the finger markings on the models – but the animation is mostly smooth, which is pretty impressive considering what most cartoons in the 80’s were like. For example, just look at the tentacles that come out of the tr…Trap Door in this episode:
They move naturally and I like the little wave one of them gives Berk before they disappear. Who’d have thought England would do tentacle animation better than Japan?
With the stop-motion, it took hours to do about a few seconds, so that means the stories are rather short, at about three minutes each. Then again, the stories don’t have really that much to them. Monster comes out, Berk stops monster, the end. Then again, kids didn’t watch for the stories. They watched for the monsters and The Trap Door certainly had some interesting ones.
Some monsters in the show were pretty generic – big round thing, green bat – but then we had creatures like a giant flying squeaking sponge and exploding slugs with strawberries in their mouths. My favourite is probably The Splund, a fat demon with a sinister voice and a laugh that sounds like a million childhoods dying. Most of the Trap Door monsters didn’t speak, but this one did, and what a voice.
And how was he defeated? Berk popped him with a sowing needle.
Yes, that’s something I noticed watching this show: when Berk isn’t putting monsters down the Trap Door, he’s more than happy to slaughter them. Twice he sends monsters to be devoured by Him Upstairs with a big stupid smile on his face, and even gleefully pops a sentient being like the Splund. Yeah, the Splund sounded like Satan, but still. It makes me wonder what Berk’s story is; for all we know, he could have ended up in this castle as punishment for some hideous murder. Maybe those are the rules of his race or something.
I guess the show’s also amusing if you have an immature sense of humour like me, because whenever Berk hits a monster, he refers to it as “bonking”, and in one episode where Boni got a body due to a magical creature, Berk said to him, ‘Hello, Boni, I like your body.’
So yeah, I think The Trap Door holds up quite well, even if it’s a wee bit too short. The Claymation is pretty good for its day, the voice acting is impressive considering it’s one guy and it has some nice monster designs too. It may not be appealing to a more serious, mature audience but it is still a nice little piece of nostalgia.