In “The Demon In The Mattress” episode of Courage The Cowardly Dog we have the full moon, the midnight ‘witching’ hour and a comic horror story about possession.
The idea of an evil mattress is of course horror fantasy, but comes from the real world mistrust we have about sleeping on other people’s beds. Here in Australia it’s not even legal to sell a secondhand mattress. (The word secondhand itself is out of fashion.)
When sleeping in cheap joints (and even sometimes in expensive ones) we worry about bed bugs. Horror stories are always making the most of our deepest anxieties. Comic horror stories tend to pick the more trivial ones… like fear of creepy crawlies inside mattresses.
Colour is used in this episode as the story changes in tone.
Demonic possession is the belief that individuals can be possessed by malevolent preternatural beings, commonly referred to as demons or devils. Obsessions and possessions of the devil are placed in the rank of apparitions of the evil spirit among men. It is obsession when the demon acts externally against the person whom it besets, and possession when he acts internally, agitates them, excites their ill humor, makes them utter blasphemy, speak tongues they have never learned, discovers to them unknown secrets, and inspires them with the knowledge of the obscurest things in philosophy or theology.Wikipedia
The oldest mention of possession is Sumerian, but modern horror stories tend to draw most heavily from Christian traditions. Traditionally it was believed that people possessed are possessed by the Devil. The Devil is a fallen angel.
STORY STRUCTURE OF “THE DEMON IN THE MATTRESS”
The episodes in which opponents come to the house, this farmhouse in the middle of Nowhere, are similar to a Robinsonnade, in which there is an island. The drama in a Robinsonnade comes from the characterisation and interpersonal conflict. There’s not much characterisation here, of course. Mainly gags and horror tropes. In any case, the Bagge family don’t even need to leave their house — like a police station in a crime show, trouble just walks in the door.
As usual, and this never changes, Courage is just a dog and no one believes him when things go wrong.
As for the inciting incident/need of Muriel, this is established right away when she points out that a whole lot of springs are poking out of their mattress.
When Courage listens to the other end of the phone, he realises the mattress vendors are no good. They’ve ‘been waiting for your call’. He wants to save Muriel from the baddies.
Muriel wants a new mattress.
We first see a shot of the opponents’ lair. A couple of small creatures scuttle past.
The mattress delivery guys turn up in a medieval chariot.
They appear to be some kind of rodent pair. They have special contempt for Courage, hissing at him as they walk into the house. They know Courage is the only one who suspects them of mal-intent.
As ever, Courage first tries to warn Muriel, then when the possession happens he tries to tell Eustace.
And, as ever, he checks things out thoroughly before diving in. Here he is peering inside the window.
It’s clear by now that the family computer is the domestic equivalent of a sage. Courage asks the ‘sage’ how to get rid of a demon and then Eustace is able to read the print out. The plan is for Eustace to dress up in a floaty gown and memorise a chant.
As is common in children’s comedy, it is funny that Eustace (a man) is demeaned by dressing him in female clothing.
The battle sequence turns the house into an ominous shade of chartreuse. A green mist comes out of the bed and takes hold of Muriel. She loses her head. She is talking in a deep male voice. But the possessed Muriel is not truly horrific. She conceals something beneath the covers and we find out it’s a tray of tea (rather than a dismembered body part, say.)
The writers of Courage The Cowardly Dog like to make use of childhood games in the big struggle sequence. We’ve already seen a game of handball/squash and a food fight. Here the possessed Muriel has a thumb wrestle with Courage to settle the score.
In the end only Courage can save Muriel. Eustace isn’t saying the magic spell correctly. Courage digs a hole in the yard until he comes across the floating gown, then puts it on himself and turns Muriel back into Muriel.
Unfortunately, in this ‘never-ending’ or ‘repeating’ story, Eustace ends up possessed though his own ineptitude. Muriel hits on on the head with a rolling pin which she seems to carry everywhere. (It breaks in two.) Courage rolls him firmly inside a mattress in a second short big struggle. Eustace, in this episode, is rather a tragic figure and we feel sorry for him.
“We don’t want your special mattress,” Muriel says angrily into the receiver. She tells the creatures to come and pick it up for a refund.
Eustace is taken away by the pissed off rats.
Muriel and Courage sleep together on the couch downstairs, which Muriel declares is very comfortable.
But we know Eustace will make it back in time for the next episode…