Wednesday, October 30, 2013

What to Watch on Halloween?

If you're anything like me, when Halloween rolls around you don't wanna put on a slutty costume and get drunk at a party at the house of someone you barely know but you're there because your best friend insists that gay guys throw the best Halloween parties, or at least that's what Sex and the City told her. No, if you're like me you want to sit home maybe handing out candy to neighborhood children and watch scary movies alone or with family or a few friends and a pizza.

But maybe you've grown tired of watching The Exorcist, Halloween, The Omen, Psycho, and It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown year after year. Isn't it time for something else? Well, here are some more out-of-the-box suggestions that I like for Halloween viewing. This post will focus just on TV episodes or specials; I may do a follow-up post with movies tomorrow. Television shows are great though because you can marathon a bunch of episodes or try different things as your mood changes.

Halloween is Grinch Night

This is one of my favorite Dr. Seuss television specials because it's so weird and doesn't get the airplay that some others get. On video, this one has also gone under the titles Grinch Night and It's Grinch Night. Nothing in the special itself specifically mentions Halloween, but since it was the original title, I'm sure that was always Seuss' intent.
The plot is fairly straightforward. Once a year the Grinch descends from Mount Crumpet with a box full of scary stuff to terrorize the Whos down in Whoville for the night. Hence, Grinch Night. On his way this year, he encounters young Yucariah Who who insists he's not scared (though he totally is). But to prove it, the Grinch torments him with some weird imagery for the next 15 minutes. At the end, Max the dog runs off with him as I recall. Which means this has to take place after the Grinch's small heart grew three sizes and all that. I guess old habits die hard.
This was a favorite of mine whenever it would air on the Disney Channel but unfortunately it only came around in October.

Freaks and Geeks -- "Tricks and Treats"

This episode is the typical go-to for my Halloween viewing. It's the third episode of the short-lived NBC series. I remember watching it first-run. It's a nice slice of life '80s story with your typical "we're not too old to trick-or-treat... are we?" and "I'll vandalize things so I can be cool" stories. But what elevates it are some of the great comedic moments. Martin Starr as Jamie Summers, the Bionic Woman is hilarious. The only real detriment of the episode is that for some bizarre production reason, they couldn't shoot at night. So it's bizarre that everyone is trick-or-treating in the middle of the afternoon in broad daylight. Still, any excuse to watch Freaks and Geeks is worth it.

Punky Brewster -- "The Perils of Punky"

While not actually a Halloween episode, this two-part episode of the '80s sitcom Punky Brewster is uncharacteristically freaky. It's summer and Punky and the gang are on a camping trip. When the dog runs off, they go to look for him, get lost, and stop inside a cave (as you do). They find the cave populated with Indians who tell them the story of an evil spirit who haunts the cave, and that Punky has been sent to defeat it (of course). What follows is the creepy and bizarre descent into the cave where Punky fights a giant spider and is tormented with the grizzly deaths of her friends (the low-budget effects are awful, but it's still shocking, especially for impressionable children). Despite the creep factor,  the episode remains humorous, particularly when they meet Mr. Pieces, a man who was ripped apart by the evil spirt, and so all his still-living limbs hang from the rocks. The notion of a disembodied head longing to be put back together sounds macabre but is handled here with a fairy tale quality reminscent of L. Frank Baum. And then the whole thing turns out to just be a ghost story Punky was telling to pass the time while in the cave until Henry finds them. Of course. A fun, spooky take on scary story cliches.

Northern Exposure -- "Jules et Joel"

This is a very different choice, but for those who don't want a typical "Halloween" show, you can't do much better than Northern Exposure. "Jules et Joel" is essentially the Halloween episode of the series, only insofar as it takes place during Halloween night. But actually, the majority of the episode is a dream, allowing for a fun dabble in stories even Northern Exposure likely wouldn't do normally; in this case, Joel's got an evil twin brother who comes to town. Come to think of it, a lot of Northern Exposure episodes involve dreams.

Raggedy Ann and Andy: The Pumpkin Who Couldn't Smile

I have no idea when this originally aired, but they used to show it every year on The Disney Channel. It's a fairly innocuous story about a sentient Jack O'Lantern who is very sad. It's been so long now that I totally forget the particulars. I'm not sure how easy it is to find a copy, but if you can, check it out. Oh, and did I mention it's from legendary animation director Chuck Jones? This was back when animated adventures of Raggedy Ann and Andy were a thing. That reminds me, the creepy animated movie Raggedy Ann and Andy: A Musical Adventure is another great choice for Halloween. Maybe I'll watch that this year.

Millennium -- "A Room With No View"

The X-Files' darker cousin, Millennium concerned real world evil, apocalyptic cults, serial killers, doomsday fears and demonic forces. While the series was inconsistent season to season due to the different show-runners, it's definitely creepy and there are a handful of fantastic episodes that could have made this list. "The Curse of Frank Black" is the most obvious Halloween episode, though I find it a little slow. It's more of a character piece, and there are threads set up that pay off later in that year's Christmas episode. It's also not an episode for a newbie unfamiliar with the series. If you like Millennium, it's not a bad choice of episode (I think it's the one being advertised in the picture above). However, I chose "A Room With No View" because it is genuinely scary and very well-made. It concerns a character who is essentially evil personified. Her previous appearances also make for good episodes, but something about this one is more memorable. Essentially, it's a woman who traps young men in this isolated house playing mind-games with them while playing "Love is Blue" on a constant loop. And it features Christopher Masterson (Francis on Malcolm in the Middle). Rarely have I seen psychological torture handled so well on television.
For a Millennium with a lighter touch (though still dark), viewers can also try "Jose Chung's Doomsday Defense", a sort of sequel to the X-Files episode "Jose Chung's From Outer Space". It features Charles Nelson Reilly in a story that is a brilliant satire on Scientology and to a lesser extent the self-help movement, written by the incomparable Emmy-winning Darin Morgan.

The X-Files

Last year I had a marathon of favorite creepy X-Files episodes. There are many fan favorites and I couldn't choose just one so I'm going to suggest a few. Please note that "Home" is absent from this list. It's become ubiquitous and expected for scary episode lists, and the point of this post is to avoid the obvious. Plus I'm one of those who doesn't think the episode is as scary (or good) as it's hyped to be. While some of my choices here may also seem obvious, they are nice alternatives. I tried to choose ones that I actually liked, and not ones that were just violent or gross for the sake of it (here that, "Sanguinarium"?). Other obvious classics like "Squeeze" and "Ice" are also not on this list.

Genetic experiments have created seemingly innocent identical-looking girls who are actually very frightening sociopaths. The story starts with the exsanguination of their fathers and gets better from there. One of the best episodes of the first season.


The episode that ultimately inspired Millennium, "Irresistible" is about a monster who is all too human; a fetishistic serial killer. Often hailed as one of the scariest stories the show ever did. For a Halloween double feature, follow it up with the sequel episode "Orison" which is more supernatural in nature. Particularly if the "Squeeze"/"Tooms" double-feature is too obvious.

"Bad Blood"

Okay, this one's a fan favorite and is a bit of an obvious choice, but I had to include it. Told in flashback, it's a comical look at Mulder and Scully's relationship as they uncover the truth about a town of vampires. Luke Wilson guest stars.


"Let's have fun." The episode co-written by Stephen King. It obviously borrows heavily from the Twilight Zone episode "Living Doll", but has some amusing moments along with the genuine creepy factor. Evil dolls are just always scary, especially when accompanied by the Hokey Pokey. That's what it's all about.
There are a lot of good contenders in season 5, but I've got to be selective.


If you're suffering from Breaking Bad withdrawal, why not pop in this gem penned by Vince Gilligan and guest-starring Bryan Cranston? And if you're still in a Breaking Bad mood, you can try "Lord of the Flies" which is not nearly as good (and is from the Mulder-less final season), but does have Aaron Paul doing a great take-off of Johnny Knoxville.

"Signs and Wonders"

A personal favorite contrasting a seemingly reasonable church with some hillbilly snake handlers. When evil comes into town, guess which church it infiltrates?


A great single episode from the Doggett years, with Scully kidnapped by crazies who implant a giant worm in her. Also from the kooky mind of Vince Gilligan.

"Via Negativa"

One of the most genuinely frightening episode of the series for me, with some disturbing imagery and a truly heart-pounding climax.

"Scary Monsters"

A fairly simple story of a child's imagination becoming real. But I love the way it uses Doggett's character and I consider it among the best episodes of the lackluster final season. A character recurs here who previously appeared in the episode "Alone", which might also make for good double viewing.

Star Trek -- "Catspaw"

Yes, the original Star Trek series did a Halloween episode. That's not to say it's a good episode because it's not a particularly good episode, but it does make for fun Halloween viewing. The Enterprise is terrorized by magic, Kirk is put in a spooky dungeon, there's a giant cat, it's all designed to put horror tropes through the Star Trek lens. May also pair well with the animated Trek episode "The Magicks of Megas-Tu" in which the Enterprise encounters "Lucien", who may in fact be the devil himself (the show seems to sympathize with him in the end, which apart from any Miltonian undertones makes it one of the wierdest Star Trek episodes ever).

Star Trek: The Next Generation -- "Devil's Due"

Speaking of the devil, how about this story of Picard fighting a woman claiming to be the devil in a legal battle for the souls of an entire planet. Again, not a good episode (the script was actually left over from the aborted Star Trek: Phase II series of the '70s and rewritten) but amusing.

Star Trek: Voyager -- "The Haunting of Deck Twelve"

If Voyager is more your Trek of choice, how about this spooky tale Neelix tells of strange goings-on aboard the intrepid vessel (get it, Voyager is Intrepid-class!). I cannot recall a single appropriate DS9 episode; that series is too good to resort to cheap scares.

Boy Meets World -- "The Witches of Pennbrook"/"And Then There Was Shawn"

If wacky comedy is more your speed, how about this '90s cult favorite? Here I suggest a double-feature from the show's 5th season. The actual Halloween episode that year featured Candace Cameron as a witch who lives just down the hall from Jack and Eric. But the one everyone now remembers as the "Halloween" one is "And Then There Was Shawn", a send-up of slasher movies, particularly those en vogue in the late '90s, especially "Scream". Jennifer Love Hewitt makes an appearance. And if you still can't get enough Boy Meets World, I suggest "The Psychotic Episode" which is kind of like "And Then There Was Shawn" only with Cory instead of Shawn. Cory's being haunted by nightmares where he keeps killing Shawn.

DuckTales -- "Ducky Horror Picture Show"

Why not include some animation on this list? And while most people would cite the obvious Simpsons Treehouse of Horror episodes, I say what about DuckTales? In this one, Duckburg hosts a convention of monsters who are send-ups of classic Universal horror icons. Other fun DuckTales episodes for Halloween include "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. McDuck," and "Much Ado About Scrooge" which is a take on the Scottish play.

Lost in Space -- "The Astral Traveler"

Thinking of Scotland gets me thinking of this Lost in Space episode, which transports Will and Dr. Smith back to 19th Century Scotland where, among other things, "old Angus" has been haunting a lake for hundreds of years.
If you prefer your Lost in Space from the first season when things were less silly, may I suggest a couple ghost stories for your enjoyment? "Ghost in Space" has Smith trying to contact the spirit of his Uncle Thaddeus only to disturb an alien monster, and the first season ender "Follow the Leader" has John Robinson possessed by an evil spirit. The concept is pulpy, but Guy Williams gives it all he's got.

Sailor Moon -- "Natsuyo Umiyo Seishunyo! Omakeni yuureimoyo" (translated: "It's Summer! The Sea! Our Youth! Also, a Ghost")
This episode of Sailor Moon was never dubbed for America, so if you want to see it you'll have to watch it subtitled. It's episode 20 if that helps you hunt for it. Anyway, it's a light-hearted spooky excursion that has nothing to do with the main plot arc of the series. It's just Usagi and the girls spending summer vacation at a haunted mansion on the beach.
If you enjoy that, you may also enjoy an episode of Sailor Stars (this entire season was never dubbed for America either) which pays homage to the old lake monster haunting a summer camp concept. It's episode 183 for those seeking it online, and it's titled "Shiryou no Sakebi? Kyoufu Kyanpu no Kaijin" ("The Scream of Dead Souls? Terror of a Monster at Camp") Also, there's some fun parody of Power Rangers in this one.

The Twilight Zone -- "Nick of Time"

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't suggest a Twilight Zone episode. There have been three iterations of this series to date and a movie, but the first is still the best. While the William Shatner episode that everyone remembers is "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" ("There's a man on the wing!"), Shatner did two episodes of the series and I prefer the other. "Nick of Time" is a very simple but engaging story of a man who stops into a roadside diner only to become consumed by the fortune-telling device on the table. I highly recommend this episode.

I hope you've enjoyed this list; I found myself wanting to follow some of my own suggestions now! Whatever you do Thursday night, have fun and stay safe.