Given their love of surreal imagery and spooky settings, there’s no shortage of Halloween classics from the Fleischer Bros’ 1930s shorts. Bimbo’s Initiation, which runs Fleischer mascot Bimbo the dog through a secret society’s house of horrors, and Minnie the Moocher, where a rotoscoped Cab Calloway and a cadre of ghouls and ghosts electrocute themselves to a jump-blues classic, are both contenders for the crown. Even in that esteemed company, though, Swing You Sinners stands out.
The plot is pretty minimal, as is usually the case in early animated shorts. Bimbo (named back when that was slang for guys who got into too many fights) is trying to steal a chicken when he has a run-in with the law. He escapes through a graveyard, which probably seemed like a better option but turns out to be about the worst decision possible.
What follows is a string of increasingly imaginative and unhinged hauntings, ranging from your standard-issue singing ghosts to Bimbo’s own underwear turning into a knife-weilding spirit, to the giant, man-eating skull that abruptly ends the film. It’d be grisly if it wasn’t so delightfully well drawn, and its blend of cutesy rubber-hose animation with macabre madness has been inspiring animators for nearly a century—most recently, the video game Cuphead cited the film as its “magnetic north” for artistic inspiration, which means it’ll end up indirectly inspiring another generation of future artists.