Despite their age, the humor and appeal of the characters arrived in the 1970s intact (save a few head-scratching references to things like castor oil or "mush"). Part of the appeal for me was the sheer anarchy on display in many of the episodes... a sharp contrast to the supervised and safety-conscious play environments I was accustomed to.
These kids often operated in an adult-free, child-ruled alternate reality, like an urbanized Lord of the Flies. Either that, or they were being antagonized by a borderline criminal adult authority (e.g. crooked orphanage, evil dog-catcher, etc.) that wholly justified any mayhem they might partake in. Either way, it was alluring stuff.
Occasionally The Little Rascal's adventures took a turn for the scary, and of course those are some of my best remembered episodes.
BOUNCING BABIES (1929)
Our first entry is the only Little Rascals short I'm aware of that is actually set on Halloween day. Not that this has any import to the plot, which revolves around Wheezer's (Robert Hutchins) attempt to return his toddler sister to the hospital in exchange for a goat. But it does provide an excuse for the other Rascals to give him and Farina (Allen Hoskins) a scare while in costume.
THE FIRST ROUND-UP (1934)
In this 1934 episode, Spanky (George MacFarland), Stymie (Matthew Beard), Scotty (Scotty Beckett) and others decide to go on a camping trip at Cherry Creek.
It isn't long after the campfire is lit when Spanky and Scotty, the youngest of the group, start speculating excitedly about the possible presence of ghosts.
SPANKY: I hope it gets good and dark!Ironically, its the older children that start to get spooked by this suggestion.
SCOTTY: Yea, maybe we'll see some ghosts!
When Spanky notices the lantern is projecting his own shadow on a bridge beam, he playfully strikes various lurking poses...
...which appear as a sinister figure to the other kids.
After the others have fled the campsite, Spanky and Scotty are in for a fright of their own when the lantern appears to move on its own (we can see its merely sitting on the back of a turtle).
As they scramble to escape, they become entangled in some bedding which makes them appear as some kind of unusual beast, causing further panic.
OUR GANG FOLLIES OF 1936 (1935)
Spanky, Alfalfa (Carl Switzer), Buckwheat (Billie Thomas) and the rest of the gang are putting on one of their famous variety shows.
One of the acts opens in a moonlit graveyard. A spirit whistles past overhead.
Skeletons rise up one-by-one from behind the tombstones.
A skeleton dance begins!
Porky (Eugene Lee) provides the sound effects of the rattling bones.
The terrified faces in the audience are priceless.
As the dance ends, the skeletons are lifted straight up into the rafters.
But the scares continue between acts after Spanky tosses off his skeleton mask...
...and it lands on his pet monkey...
...which proceeds to chase a frightened Buckwheat off-stage.
SPOOKY HOOKY (1936)
When the circus comes to town, Alfalfa, Spanky, Buckwheat and Porky hatch a plan to get out of school the following day so they can attend.
They forge a doctor's note claiming they're all sick with colds ("or maybe new monia") and leave it on the teacher's desk.
But when they later learn the teacher planned to take the entire class to the circus the following day anyway as a field trip, they sneak back to the school later that night to retrieve their letter.
Buckwheat, left out front alone to stand guard, is freaked out by a nearby owl...
...which is admittedly a little creepy, with only its glowing eyes visible.
Meanwhile, inside the school, a distracted Porky has donned a sheet...
...which interrupts Spanky's lecture to a frightened Alfalfa that there's no such thing as ghosts.
At this point, all the commotion has awakened the sleep-in janitor.
Buckwheat, attempting to hide, accidentally backs up into the bony grips of an anatomy skeleton...
...which continues to cling to his shoulders as he runs through the school.
The janitor flees in mortal fear of the classroom skeleton, even though he surely must have seen the thing every day he came to work...
HIDE AND SHRIEK (1938)
Our next spooky episode begins when Buckwheat and Porky visit Alfalfa's detective agency, which sports the coolest front-door peephole I've ever seen.
While looking for clues investigating a stolen box of candy, the gang ends up hiding in a crate on the back of a truck that, unknown to them, is headed to a haunted attraction at a Long Beach amusement park.
They overhear the workers talk about delivering a pair of headless bodies to the "murder house"...
...but the kids are unaware they're referring to decorations for a ride, and exit the crate terrified.
Alfalfa accidently activates the ride while trying to switch on the lights. A record player with a scary narrator is triggered.
"Many enter this evil house, but few depart alive! But I will give you a chance! There are two doors. If you choose the right one, you may escape. But if you choose the wrong one... Ha ha ha ha!"The first door they try opens to this jiggling figure.
The next door reveals this smoke-breathing monster. Porky and Alfalfa try to run, but the floor is a treadmill, and they merely run in place as the creature's arms stretch towards them.
Meanwhile Buckwheat, who stayed behind in another room, finds an aquarium populated by skeletal fish.
When he sits down on an organ bench, he is joined by two skeletons, which lower alongside him from above.
Soon Buckwheat joins Porky and Alfalfa. A trapdoor has opened at the end of the treadmill, and as each child tires and falls, they are dropped through the floor...
...and down a chute.
The exit is blocked by this devil-masked skeleton that swings towards them.
The narrator commands them to sit on the bench. When they comply, a safety bar lowers, trapping them as the bench lurches forward.
A massive buzzsaw, positioned right at their neck, blocks their path, but lifts at the last second.
The terrified kids are deposited at the ride's exit.
SPOOK SPOOFING (1928)
This final episode is also the oldest, a silent episode starring Farina, who plays a superstitious boy, afraid of ghosts.
Through a series of practical jokes, he is tricked into believing he's killed another boy, and carries him to the graveyard for burial. Of course the other Rascals are lying in wait with costumes and props to give him a good scare.
This creepy skeletal horse looks like something that escaped from a Survival Research Laboratories show.
The Little Rascals has been available in several different iterations on DVD and VHS, but just go for the 8-disc, 80-episode complete collection.