I have loved Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles since I was 12 years old with the release of Nickelodeon’s surprisingly quality 3D animated series. Not terribly long after that, I fell in love with horror. These two things are my bread and butter, and it may surprise you just how often they cross paths. Clearly, a multitude of people in the writers’ room for the 2012 Turtles had a soft spot for beloved horror classics like The Thing and Alien, as they don’t merely reference these titles (and more) but center entire episodes around similar plots.
While rewatching the series at the beginning of this year, I was absolutely tickled to find there were even more horror-movie-centric episodes than I remembered. So, I decided to compile this list of all the episodes I have seen thus far that are based on fan-favorite horror films.
This list contains spoilers for each individual episode as well as the series in general.
S2E2 “Invasion of the Squirrelanoids” and Alien
This episode, written by Todd Garfield, mainly follows Michelangelo, who becomes infatuated with a horror comic book series entailing a space crew’s encounter with “Squirrelanoids.” His brothers roll their eyes at him, as he has a reputation for reading things that only do good to keep him awake at night. He, of course, ignores their concern and continues reading as the four drive around in search of stray mutagen canisters. Once they come across some, they also happen upon a frightened man cowering from a squirrel. It seems like a perfectly normal animal at first before opening its wide mouth to lash around its long, worm-like tongue. The turtles watch in horror as the squirrel proceeds to crawl inside the man’s mouth and down his throat.
The squirrels have a drive to enter the stomach of any individual within the radius, wherein they duplicate themselves and emerge through regurgitation. While this certainly isn’t as gory, it’s hard to deny the correlation between this “monster of the week” and the chestburster scene in Ridley Scott’s Alien. The episode continues with Michelangelo trying to convince his brothers that the current events are mimicking the Alien-esque story in his comic book but is repeatedly brushed off.
Later in the episode, the turtles’ lair becomes infested with a growing number of the squirrels. At one point, the lair loses electricity, and the brothers and Master Splinter split up to search for the vermin. After Michelangelo runs into Raphael on his search, they are found by a large, purple-ish red, mutated squirrel with a glowing green mouth and eyes. The squirrels have completed their evolution into Squirrelanoids, and they look a lot like Xenomorphs, and they’re really cool.
S3E1 “Within the Woods” and the Friday the 13th Franchise
Season 3 is where things really kick off in the horror department. With the main characters having to hole up in a secluded farmhouse in the woods, there sprouts many opportunities to get spooky. In the first episode of the season, written by Brandon Auman, the turtles, April O’Neil, and Casey Jones start to adjust to their new environment. When Raphael decides to take a nighttime walk in the woods, he is surprised by a vine creature that captures him and takes him back to its hut. This vine creature just so happens to be wearing a pair of overalls with the name “Voorhees” written on a small patch on the front pocket—can’t get much more literal than that!
The other three turtles, April, and Casey notice his absence and go to search for him (all except for an injured Leonardo, who stays behind). Donatello and Michelangelo discover the vine creature’s shack, wherein they are attacked by Raphael, who has been turned into a vine creature himself. The pair escape but are shortly thereafter apprehended by the creature (later dubbed “The Creep” by Mikey), which has donned a burlap sack with an eye hole torn out, mimicking Jason Voorhees’ initial appearance before he gained his famous hockey mask. To make it even better, the iconic Friday the 13th “ch ch ha ha” whisper is played in the background. After that, The Creep finds April and Casey, and in their kerfuffle, manages to nab Casey’s hockey mask, and begins wearing it itself—Jason’s entire costume arc, compressed into 20 minutes.
Eventually, of course, Raph is cured, The Creep defeated and confined to a jar. But is a jar really enough to keep it contained? We all know these slashers have a habit of coming back, y’all! Do better!
S3E3: “Buried Secrets” and The Thing
This episode is one of the more grotesque ones of the show. Written by Mark Henry, it entails the team uncovering a Kraang ship in the basement of the farmhouse. Inside, they find April’s long-lost mother trapped in a deep freeze. Michelangelo accidentally hits the button to thaw her, and she is reunited with her daughter.
While the two ladies are bonding, Mikey senses something fishy. After unsuccessfully attempting to corner her, he eventually tails her into the nearby woods and unfortunately discovers he was right to be suspicious. “Mrs. O’Neil” is actually a Kraang creature with pink tentacles and a monstrous face who is capable of possessing other bodies. She gets Michelangelo, Donatello, and Leonardo under her control, and then chases Raphael outside the farmhouse towards April and Casey. At this point, she morphs further into a long-necked spider-like monster and chases the three remaining characters inside a barn.
The barn fight is just plain gory and horrific. “Mom’s” face splits down the middle, her innards clearly visible. Further, after capturing Raphael and Casey and leaving April alone, she reveals the faces of the other three turtles in her chest through, honestly, vaginal-looking holes (see the featured image of this article). They are blank-eyed, mindless heads, and the head of “Mom,” now returned to a normal human appearance, lowering down in front of them doesn’t make it less uncomfortable. Luckily for the imprisoned, April manages to free them all by exploding the creature, leaving its guts and goo splattered throughout the barn.
Now, don’t shoot me for never having seen The Thing, but I do know the basics: space creature who can look like anyone you know and can turn into an eldritch fleshbeast. Same deal here, right?
S3E5: “In Dreams,” A Nightmare on Elm Street, and The Evil Dead
We’ve got a two-in-one here! This episode, written by Doug Langdale, begins its story with a training session amongst the brothers, which Leonardo struggles with due to serious injuries he sustained at the end of Season 2. As a result, he gives up and re-enters the farmhouse to take a nap. He winds up having a dream wherein he feels fit as a fiddle and goes for a run in the woods. Unfortunately for him, this dream is actually a nightmare. He comes to face with Dire Beaver, a giant, monstrous, purple beaver with razor-sharp claws voiced by none other than Freddy Krueger himself, Robert Englund.
Eventually, Leonardo’s brothers succumb to the same sleepiness as though it is a virus and embark on peculiar nightmares of their own. Donatello is trapped in New York City with Dark Beaver (voiced by John Kassir, the Crypt Keeper); Raphael is surrounded by snakes and fire with Dread Beaver (also voiced by Englund); Michelangelo frolics through a Candyland with Dave Beaver (John Kassir again). These sequences are as dynamic and loony as the ones in the Nightmare films, perfectly executed by the episode’s animators and visual effects crew.
And as if that wasn’t enough stimulation for a horror fan, this episode goes the Evil Dead route, too. April and Casey, who luckily do not get trapped in beaver nightmare land, make a trip to a nearby gas station for food early on in the episode. Within, they meet its elderly owner, Bernie, who hasn’t slept for quite some time and has a strange book (Obturaculum Somniorum) in his possession. Casey tries to take a look, but Bernie is extremely adamant that no one touches it.
Eventually, Casey decides to go back for the book in search of a cure for the comatose turtles. The gas station clerk fends him off with a chainsaw (which reads “The Saw Is Family” across the blade, but that’s the only tie to Texas Chainsaw I could pick out), but Casey manages to subdue him, giving him a chance to explain himself. As it turns out, he is the one who discovered the Dream Beavers and uses the “book,” which is actually a mechanical device, to keep the beavers in their own dimension.
As always, the heroes find a way to win, in this case by releasing the beavers from their realm and…letting them go because it turns out they’re about the size of regular beavers in our world and therefore can’t really do much. Good stuff!
There are probably more that I’ve missed, as I haven’t seen or know of every popular horror movie out there, but these are definitely some highlights. I suspect the Season 3 episode “Race with the Demon” is in reference to some sort of car-themed horror movie, but I can’t be too sure, so I wanted to drop that title in case anybody wants to investigate.
Whether they are referencing famous horror films or not, this series in general isn’t afraid to get gnarly. From gigantic fleshbeasts to seeing The Shredder’s sword cut clean through Master Splinter’s chest, there is plenty here for violence and horror lovers like me to enjoy. If you want to find something to watch with younger kids or are looking for some gateway horror to introduce them to, this show and the episodes I discussed here are a great launching pad. Honestly, cartoons, in general, tend to lean into horrific concepts and imagery, be it Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack, or Gravity Falls. If you’re looking for something to watch with your family this Halloween season, cartoons are the perfect place to find something great.