Every October I do my best to hunker down and revisit some of my favorite Halloween specials as the month progresses. These Halloween specials are SO ESSENTIAL that to miss out on them could spoil the season entirely. Now say my name three times into a dark bathroom mirror and the list will appear after the jump!
Now, I know this list promised seven Halloween specials but October is a long month; if I’m being honest you could binge the entirety of this list in an afternoon. That being said, I have a couple of shows that can be used to pad things out a bit.
HONORABLE MENTION: The X-Files
As near as I can recall there never was a proper Halloween episode of the show that kept me home on either Friday or Sunday nights from 1993 to 2002. There was one episode (Season 1: “Ghost in the Machine”) that took place on Halloween and it wasn’t even the central plot point. But for Mulder and Scully every day was Halloween, right? There are a myriad of X-Files episodes you can watch that make for prime October viewing (Just nothing past season 7, okay?).
HALL OF FAME: The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror
Another staple of the season, “Treehouse of Horror” had to be included just by sheer volume alone. But which to choose? Even if you “haven’t watched since 1999” the show still churns out Halloween specials that are decent by even the most exacting standards (I will probably regret writing that). I’m sure if they were all averaged out you would come up with a “B” average and that’s not bad for a show that’s been around since time immemorial.
Now on to the list…
7) Are You Afraid of the Dark? – “The Tale of the Twisted Claw”
I can’t lie, when I was assembling this list I went right to the episode guide for this show and searched for “Halloween.”
Having watched the episode recently, I recall almost nothing about it other than it being a spin on the Monkey’s Paw trope but with Halloween and Trick or Treating as the backdrop. Bonus Points for actually airing on Halloween 1991. How did kids see it then?
6) Bob’s Burgers – “Full Bars”
In “Full Bars” the Belcher children strike out on their own, ditch their normal Trick or Treating route, and go to the rich neighborhood where they quickly discover that the houses there give out full-size candy bars. Of course this revelation comes with a price. The episode does a wonderful job of perpetuating the myth of the “town two towns over” that gives away exceptionally awesome candy.
5) Eerie, Indiana – “America’s Scariest Home Videos”
One of my favorite one-season wonders, this show capitalized on the early 1990s trend of kids wanting to be scared or otherwise presented with odd stuff. I’m sure there’s some correlation between these shows and the advent of Tim Burton’s work. Not to mention it was kind of a Twin Peaks for the grade-school set. A small, weird American town populated by lovable eccentrics.
The episode is kind of a let down because it’s a bottle show, insomuch that 90% of the action takes place in one location as the primary characters get stuck at home on Halloween night. I can only imagine what awesome specials the show may have presented had it made it past one season. Too beautiful to live.
4) Tales From The Darkside – “Trick or Treat”
Right out of the gate this show sets the bar high by starting off with an episode written by George Romero. It was also directed by Bob Balaban if that sweetens the deal for anybody.
Probably the best episode of the show’s four season run, it has made me long for an updated, syndicated, half-hour horror anthology show. The episode is a small (read: low budget) morality play about a miserly miser that torments the local townsfolk every Halloween. The miser will forgive your debts to him… if your child can make it though his haunted house.
3) Garfield’s Halloween Adventure
An absolute must for any Halloween list, the special starts off innocent enough with Garfield and Odie going out to Trick or Treat. Now, even as a child the animal/human dynamic puzzled me. People are okay with giving animals in costumes candy? Can Jon hear Garfield’s thoughts? The Trick of Treating is going smoothly, but then take a huge left turn by introducing a creepy house, a creepier old man, and PIRATE GHOSTS. This special hits the Halloween nail squarely on the head by nicely highlighting the relentless pursuit of candy, candy, candy.
2) The Adventures of Pete and Pete – “Halloweenie”
I’m sure to get endless amounts of grief for not having this as my number one pick. I can only respond by saying that the list is based solely on my preferences and your mileage may vary.
“Halloweenie” is great for so many reasons it’s hard to focus on just one.
First, there are two instances of, “There was a kid/kids who…” Little Pete is obsessed with breaking “The Record” which is for most houses visited in a single night. Big Pete is worried about being too old to Trick or Treat. These two plots spoke to me. They spoke to me hard.
I’d have to check the books, but when this episode aired in 1994 I may have already quit Trick or Treating. Probably under protest. The topic of being too old for something was still new and uncomfortable for me but I was still young enough to fully appreciate how cool “The Record” was.
Another bright point for the episode was the tone. It looked like it could have been filmed on Halloween in any suburb you’ve ever been to. Plus, it has Iggy Pop as one of the neighborhood parents. Iggy Pop!
1) Millennium – “The Curse of Frank Black”
Millennium was from the same people responsible for The X-Files and focused on retired criminal profiler Frank Black and not that guy from that band you like.
As a series, the show only lasted for three wildly uneven seasons and, ironically, didn’t make it to the actual millennium. There were some stand-out episodes and this is arguably the best.
The episode takes place on Halloween as Frank takes his daughter Trick or Treating. They do an excellent job of laying the feeling of creeping dread on pretty thick. During the episode patterns repeat, there are flashbacks to Frank’s Halloweens as a child, and half-seen demons around every corner.
Ultimately, it’s not a haunted place that brings about the best moments of the episode… it’s a haunted man. Millennium was never afraid to get freaky with the metaphysical stuff, considering the show’s lineage that’s a no-brainer, and this episode executes it flawlessly. “Why should it be thought incredible by you that God raises the dead?”
There you have it, a list of Halloween specials handpicked to terrify and delight!