Jim Henson’s Muppets have brought joy to countless millions across the globe. Yet in sticking with Topless Robot‘s ongoing commitment to pointing out the dark side of life whenever possible, today’s Daily List overlooks the happiness presented by Kermit and company and instead chooses to focus on the dark side of the Muppets. As any parent who had to tend to their children’s Skeksis-induced nightmares will tell you, not all of the Henson Creature Shop’s output is cute and cuddly. But let’s cast aside any night terrors caused by Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal or any other non-Muppet projects (whose scary creatures merit a list of their own) and today focus strictly on terrifying creations featured in Sesame Street and The Muppet Show. Be it based on appearance alone or something more sinister that lies just beneath the surface, each of these 15 entries is enough to fuel plenty of nightmares.
Just a quick note before we begin: because what people find scary is subjective and this list is based on my own experience, you may not agree with some of my picks. If that’s the case, be sure to name which Muppets scared the bejesus out of you in the comments. That said, let’s take a look at my picks for the 15 most nightmare-inducing Muppets ever seen.
15) The Yip Yip Martians
Let’s start things off easy with some Muppets that are less overtly scary and more nightmarish in a frustrating way, the so-called “Yip-Yip Martians.” Just like the co-worker who shares the same anecdote about meeting Adam West at Wizard World over and over again, the Yip-Yips drone on repetitively without end. There’s no way to be sure, but I’m guessing the reason that Sesame Street featured them so often was to prepare children for the constant bores they would encounter in their adult lives. A few minutes with these aliens and you’ll feel like you’re watching a production of Sartre’s No Exit produced by the Children’s Television Workshop.
Guess what kids? PUSHERS ARE EVERWHERE! Have fun trying to enjoy the rest of your childhood when danger lurks around every corner.
One of the new creations for The Jim Henson Hour, Digit was a creepy looking puppet fever dream who was supposed to be part robot. Jump to 1:50 in the above clip (taken from the appropriately titled The Cosby Show episode “Cliff’s Nightmare”) to see Digit in action. So this is what the offspring of Max Headroom and Miss Piggy would have been like. Shudder.
On the surface Janice seems to be a joyful hippie who is all about peace and love. But you know who else was? Squeaky Fromme. Look how that turned out.
11) Count von Count
Fact: exsanguination is an ‘E’ word. The only thing deadlier than a typical vampire is one with an untreated case of OCD. That’s one, two, three neck bites. Bwa ha ha.Fortunately, Liam Neeson snapped the Count’s neck shortly after the above video was filmed, so that’s one less puppet vampire on the loose.
10) Gonzo the Great
I’m as moved by “I’m Going to Go Back There Someday” as much as the next guy. But that song’s considerable pathos isn’t nearly enough to make me overlook the fact that Gonzo is a alien puppet character who wants nothing more from life than to have endless sex with chickens. Does anyone else think this is a questionable raison d’?tre for a character on a show largely geared towards children to have?
When Muppets Tonight brought back Pigs in Space, it introduced viewers to Craniac, a character who was little more than a talking brain–one that stirred up the exact type of body horror that the Snapping Turtle-Turks did in The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine decades earlier. 8) Dr. Bunsen Honeydew
As we traverse the perils of adolescence on our way to adulthood, one of the most difficult lessons we learn is that grown-ups don’t always have our best interests at heart. This painful bit of growing pains is represented on The Muppet Show by Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, the felt embodiment of how science is all too frequently debased by those in power–leaving us Beakers of the world to suffer the damage and carry on somehow. Say what you will about Crazy Harry, at least he wears his destructive tendencies like a badge of honor.
There’s only one thing creepier than full-body Muppets…
6) The Mutations
And that’s full-body Muppets that are way into choreography and reminiscent of the horrible mutants from Beneath thePlanet of the Apes.
The song above would have you believe that Muppet monster Frazzle “looks ferocious but he’s really fine.” That may be true, but with his sinister eyes and razor sharp teeth I’m too busy trying to maintain control of my bladder to find out what he’s really like.
4) Uncle Deadly
Uncle Deadly spends most of his appearances on The Muppet Show haunting the Muppet Theater. As such, he is a shoo-in to grace the top five of this list. Scary looks are one thing, but when you pair them with Uncle Deadly’s “ac-tor” persona you’ve got the making of a truly nightmarish character.
Yorick is a one-and-done Muppet whose sole appearance was in the episode of The Muppet Show that was hosted by Christopher Reeve. Jump to 3:58 in the above clip to witness how Reeve’s attempts to bring Hamlet to life are thwarted by the Muppets, including Shakespeare’s famous skull, rendered here as an awesome (from my 2013 perspective) and horrific (circa 1980 me) puppet.
2) Swedish Chef
At one point becoming popular enough to spawn his own breakfast cereal, the Swedish Chef is arguably the silliest of all the Muppets. (Certainly one of the most popular). Yet beyond all of the goofy faux-Swedish lies a strange element to the otherwise puppety character: his hands are those of a human. As a child, I became so fixated on this aspect of the Chef that I couldn’t focus on what dish he was trying to make whenever he appeared on The Muppet Show. Those hands…why? Was there a person trapped under his skin, trying to somehow cook his way to freedom? Or was I just an over-sensitive kid whose unblinking focus on those hands caused uneasiness? Such are the bizarre worries of adolescence. Those things still do kinda creep me out though.
1) Gary Cahuenga
Have we learned nothing from Magic? You know why Muppets Tonight character/living ventriloquist dummy Gary Cahuenga didn’t appear in The Muppets? Because he’s serving 25 to life for choking Robin to death.
Chris Cummins is a pop culture writer and Archie comics historian who has contributed to The Robot's Voice, Den of Geek US, Philebrity, Geekadelphia, Uproxx, and Unicorn Booty. He is the co-producer and co-host of Nerd Nite Philadelphia, and is regularly involved in producing and hosting New York Super Week events. In 2014, Chris began Sci-Fi Explosion, a mix of live performance, trivia and funny clips celebrating the weirdest in science fiction that regularly travels around the United States. He wrote the introductions to the compilations Archie's Favorite Comics From The Vault and (with Paul Castiglia) Archie's Favorite High School Stories. You can find Chris on Twitter at @bionicbigfoot and @scifiexplosion.