Halloween has provided us with some of the best themed episodes of television that networks have to offer. From spooky delights to comedy specials that poke fun at the quirky side of the holiday, here are some of our favourite TV episodes that are just the thing to watch this Halloween night.
Buffy The Vampire Slayer – Halloween & Fear Itself
For our first entry on this list, we’re going to cheat, just a little, by including two episodes of a series under a single heading. In truth, any episode of Joss Whedon’s show about a wise-cracking college student intent on ridding her town of evil would be an excellent choice of viewing on Halloween night, but those which are set on All Hallows’ Eve are particularly apt.
Buffy was a show that constantly challenged audience expectations, and although hijinks always occurred in Halloween episodes, what made them so special was how Whedon and the rest of his writing team subverted genre tropes. In the Buffy-verse, Halloween is a time of year in which monsters and demons take the night off rather than come out to play – as referenced in Season Two’s appropriately titled Halloween – so when shenanigans occur, the Scooby Gang are almost always caught off guard.
The aforementioned episode is a shining example of how Buffy could take something scary and intrusive (people becoming the costumes that they are wearing), and make the situation comedic, and it also served a number of narrative purposes further down the line. Halloween marked the first occasion in which Buffy and Angel went on a real date, as well as the start of a relationship between Oz and Willow (albeit through a brief phrase expressing Oz’s interest in Buffy’s resident witch).
Nevertheless, my personal favourite of Buffy’s Halloween episodes comes in the form of Season Four’s Fear Itself, in which a fear demon attempts to feed off the gang’s individual terrors in order to enter the human world. This premise leads to a number of genuinely frightening and atmospheric sequences. However, what tips the episode over the edge is that, upon being summoned, the demon is in fact minuscule and easily destroyed – once again demonstrating how the show ignored convention in service of humour and shock value.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine – Halloween IV
Brooklyn Nine-Nine is one of those television shows that a gushing endorsement simply can’t do justice, but if there’s any group of episodes which you could show to a friend to prove your point, it would be the Halloween specials.
Every season of Brooklyn Nine-Nine has a Halloween episode which revolves around a heist of some kind, kicking off in season one when Jake bets Captain Holt that he can steal his medal of valour. Each time these heists occur they become more elaborate and competitive, and they’re treated as an event within the precinct. As a viewer it’s easy to buy into what’s happening because every character is likeable and it’s up to you to decide who you want to win, but what makes them so entertaining is that the characters don’t have to act as they usually would.
Captain Holt is Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s straight man, keeping a level head and calm façade in almost every situation, but when Halloween comes around he’s reduced to the same level as everyone else.
It’s very difficult to pick a favourite when it comes to this series of genuinely excellent episodes, but Halloween IV does a great job of mixing up dynamics and surprising the audience. Captain Holt and Charles Boyle are always fun together and their relationship is particularly amusing here, and seeing Gina come out on top via sabotage is very satisfying. If you’re looking for a laugh on Halloween night then you could do a lot worse than scrolling through Netflix to find this episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
The Simpsons – Treehouse of Horror VI
As this list continues, it seems apparent that some of the best Halloween specials are those that use the holiday as an outlet for comedy rather than scares.
By now, if you haven’t seen a Simpsons’ Treehouse of Horror episode, then you’re probably living under a rock, and as such you’ve done well to access this list. With that said, there’s little need to explain exactly what these episodes entail or how they use established characters to parody famous films, novels, and television series.
The Treehouse of Horror episodes are still going strong today, and despite the steep decline in quality that The Simpsons has experienced over the last few years, they’re entertaining even through to Season Twenty-Two. However, the best that The Simpsons has to offer on this front does come from their earlier entries, with the first, second, and fifth Treehouse of Horror episodes coming dangerously close to making this list.
On this occasion, Treehouse of Horror VI makes the cut, primarily because of its first and last segment. The episode begins with a take on Stephen King’s The Shining, (hilariously titled, The Shinning), and it’s a wonderfully faithful riff on Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of the source material. The visual of Homer standing in a dark room with the words “NO TV AND NO BEER MAKE HOMER GO CRAZY” scratched onto the walls is as memorable as anything that the show has ever produced. To this day, I laugh when Groundskeeper Willie warns Bart not to directly plagiarise King’s shine concept.
The last segment, Nightmare Cafeteria, is less comedic in tone, as Bart and Lisa attempt to stave off Principal Skinner and his team of teachers turned cannibals. It’s a grim and thoroughly disconcerting splice of an episode, which until that point was primarily aimed towards humour, with even the laughs coming from places of real darkness. The ending, in which Bart and Lisa plummet towards a painful blender-based death, is shocking and oddly distressing – and the fact that it was all a dream does nothing to ease the tension.
Treehouse of Horror VI is a great Halloween-themed episode filled with both laughter and terror, and it makes this list despite the fact that none of the segments overtly reference the holiday.
Courage the Cowardly Dog – King Ramses’ Curse
This entry may seem to come from left field, particularly because this list has featured rather conventional shows thus far, but Courage the Cowardly Dog is a series that really gets under your skin and is actually perfect for Halloween viewing.
A quick caveat to make before delving into this skit is that King Ramses’ Curse is not about Halloween per se, but Courage was a show that presented horror to a younger audience, and thus any episode from its run works for the holiday.
King Ramses’ Curse is an unsettling and disconcerting tale that tackles the damaging effects of greed. Although it may not look as visually polished today as it did back in 1998, it’s still as effective when it comes to disturbing an audience. The episode revolves around a slab that belongs to the spirit of King Ramses. The said slab appears at the house of the show’s titular character following a commotion at the start of the story, and although King Ramses repeatedly commands the cantankerous Eustace to return it, he defiantly refuses.
Initially, this may seem like a simple and uneventful story, but the way that the spirit emotionlessly echoes the line “return the slab” is truly chilling. The end result is something that the target audience of the show will no doubt find extremely unnerving.
Courage the Cowardly Dog was a series that did an outstanding job of presenting simple stories with strong morals to a young audience, and any episode from its library is sure to give you shivers this Halloween.
American Dad – Best Little Horror House in Langley Falls
American Dad is a show that thrives on the absurd in order to shock and entertain its audience. As such, it should come as no surprise to learn that Seth MacFarlane and co. make the most of a Halloween setting in Best Little Horror House in Langley Falls, creating an episode full of memorable moments and one-off character appearances.
The premise of the episode is simple: Stan wants his haunted house to be the scariest in Langley Falls, but in order to do so he has to take things to the extreme. Things go awry when Stan drafts in real serial killers to add authenticity to proceedings, with the issue being that the criminals are let loose in the neighbourhood, chasing down citizens who believe them to be enthusiastic trick-or-treaters.
If this set-up doesn’t entice you to watch the episode then I don’t know what will. Suffice to say, it uses Halloween to its full potential and is a lot of fun from start to finish.
American Horror Story – Halloween Part 2
Taking a step away from animation for a moment, it’s easy to forget just how good American Horror Story was back in its first season. The show is still going strong today, with Apocalypse recently hitting the small screen, but when it was initially released it felt fresh and there was a novelty to it which has been lost in recent years.
This particular episode is one of the show’s earliest entries and thus the writers were doing their best to keep information sparse and let the intrigue grow. The opening episodes had fed the story to the audience slowly, allowing them to fill in the gaps along the way, and Halloween Part 2 carried on this trend until a vital plot point was revealed.
During a date between Violet and Tate, a group of teens began to hassle them. They were covered in bullet holes and appeared to be undead, but given the festivities the pair believed that the teens were in costume. However, as the tension began to mount it became clear that the teenagers were actually ghosts seeking retribution against Tate, proving to the audience that his dreams of a school shooting were fact, rather than fiction.
At the time this was a huge twist in a series which was beginning to find its feet, and although the show has had its ups and downs, Halloween Part 2 remains a highlight due to how it handled its biggest revelation. The performances of Taissa Farmiga and Evan Peters go some way to selling the shock and sorrow that both Violet and Tate are feeling, and if you haven’t seen the first season of AHS, this would be a very worthwhile watch as October nears its end.
Stranger Things – Trick or Treat, Freak
The second season of Stranger Things was a mixed bag. There was plenty to like about the 80s throwback feast, but duds like Episode Seven made it difficult to look at the show’s sophomore season in a solely positive light.
Still, there’s a lot to like within the season and a number of strong episodes, with one of the best centring on Halloween. The second episode, Trick or Treat, Freak, does a lot of the season’s leg-work by creating unrest in the relationship between Nancy and Steve, bringing Max into the show’s core group (despite Mike’s obvious disapproval), and introducing Dart in its final seconds.
Perhaps the most memorable aspect of Trick or Treat, Freak is the image of the show’s protagonists dressed as Ghostbusters with smiles on their faces. It’s a visual which represents exactly what Stranger Things is about and explains why people like it so much, showing that The Duffer Brothers know that they are capitalising on nostalgia but are more than willing to embrace it.
Like previous entries on this list, Trick or Treat, Freak requires prior knowledge of the series that it belongs to in order to be fully appreciated. However, if you’re looking for something to re-watch on October 31st then it will surely do the trick, and if you’re committed then you might just be able to binge your way through the first ten episodes before the witching hour on Halloween night!