The Zoomers’ Favourite Halloween Specials

Maybe it’s just me becoming an old man, but I feel like Halloween specials aren’t quite the big deal they used to be when I was growing up. As a kid, I felt like every relatively popular sitcom and television series had a Halloween episode. And they would be advertised and thrown in our face ad nauseam. Plus we had plenty of random Halloween specials that were just one-off events.

Now, I’m sure plenty of shows still do a Halloween episode on occasion. Some may even do so yearly. It’s very likely that I’m just out of touch and don’t hear about such things. But you know what I did hear about? It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown being removed from broadcast television for the first time in forever and over to a streaming network. Maybe it’s just me, but that seems like a pretty good indicator Halloween specials aren’t what they used to be. Of course, in reality, this is just another step in the shift to streaming. And to be fair, streaming services are doing Halloween pretty well. Shudder has been a great place to go for Halloween content ever since they launched. Disney+ actually has a really good Halloween collection that separates Halloween episodes out from their regular episodes — though they still lose points for their lack of Under Wraps. And Hulu does an excellent job with their Huluween lineup. Okay, so maybe Halloween specials live, but it’s mostly in streaming. That’s still cool, but I miss the broadcast specials!

In order to keep the tradition of Halloween specials alive, and to desperately hold onto our youth and cherish memories, those of us here at Council of Zoom have put together this wonderful list of some of our favourite Halloween specials. And all of these, with the exception of one, originally aired on broadcast TV. Happy haunting!

Are You Afraid of the Dark? – “The Tale of the Midnight Ride”

I’ve always been a huge fan of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow in all of its forms. When I was a kid, I had a great illustrated version that I’d picked up one October and I read it all the time, but it just seemed like an event to dig that out and read it around Halloween. In the years before the release of Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, I didn’t really have much to choose from in the way of adaptations. In fact, I think I only watched The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad once or twice throughout my childhood. But what I did have was this episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark? And it was great. This is one of a handful of episodes I saw when I was younger that is still burned into my brain, maybe coming in second right after “The Tale of the Midnight Madness.” But this one oozes Halloween, so for me, it’s the obvious choice for this list. “The Tale of the Midnight Ride” also has the benefit of actually being shot in Sleepy Hollow, which adds a lot to the atmosphere, despite its obviously low budget. While certain episodes are more obviously outright scary, there’s an impressive creepiness to this one overall. There’s town-wide disbelief, and disrespect to an extent, for local legends, that gets obviously flipped. I’ll never forget the sight of ghostly Ichabod Crane, nor, especially, the sight of the sinister, headless phantom, silhouetted on the bridge. (Nat Brehmer)

The Unexplained – “Witches, Werewolves & Vampires” 

This is an unconventional choice and a heck of a deep cut, but hear me out. When I first caught this on TV as a kid, I was absolutely enthralled. This was the first thing that had ever introduced me to real-life legends of vampires, werewolves, and witches, the first thing to make me think about the possibility (or, as I read into it when I was eight, the certainty) of their actual existence. This became the number one thing that I would scan the TV Guide for every single year. In years when it actually did air, I always took it as a sign that that Halloween season would be one for the books. Now that I’ve read dozens of books on these subjects, it’s a little outdated and it gets plenty wrong, but as an introduction, it would be perfect. And I’ll never forget watching it, probably while carving pumpkins, and looking out into the woods as I went to bed, thinking about real monsters lurking in the shadowy corners of the world. A child’s sense of wonder, indeed. (Nat Brehmer)

Tiny Toon Adventures – “Night Ghoulery”

Tiny Toon Adventures’ excellent Halloween special was intended to air in October of 1994, just in time for the holiday, but for some strange reason, it was held until May of the following year. Despite this unfortunate scheduling mishap, “Night Ghoulery” is still the perfect one-hour (44 minutes without commercials) Halloween special. As the title suggests, the overall premise is a parody of Night Gallery with Babs Bunny playing the role of Rod Serling’s host. This episode wonderfully riffs on Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart,” Casper, GhostbustersFrankensteinAn American Werewolf in London, and more. That’s right, a children’s cartoon makes a reference to An American Werewolf in London. Much like the series did throughout its standard episodes, references and parodies were made that the target audience surely wouldn’t pick up on, but that didn’t matter. The jokes and the humour worked without the reference points. When I first saw this special as a 9-year-old, I had no idea that the segment titled “Fuel,” in which Calamity Coyote is terrorized on the highway by Little Beeper driving a big-rig, was a direct parody of Steven Spielberg’s Duel. All I knew was that that wacky little roadrunner had found a new, funny way to make the coyote’s life miserable. And while “Fuel” is a highlight, the showstopper is the Tiny Toon’s rendition of the famous Twilight Zone episode, “Nightmare at 30,000 Feet.” Noticed I said rendition. This isn’t even parody. It’s just the same story told, albeit in a condensed version, and with Plucky Duck and Hamilton J. Pig as the leads. As a fun added layer, Plucky plays the role made famous by William Shatner while doing a Captain Kirk impression. Brilliant! (Chris Coffel)

Frasier – “Halloween”

Frasier has always been a favourite of mine, more so than the show it spun off from, Cheers. And their Halloween themed episode from the fifth season is a masterclass at the tried and true comedic trope of the “misunderstanding.” A literary-themed Halloween party at Niles’ place sounds like a fun time but also sprinkle in Roz possibly being pregnant and letting Frasier know and somehow it all gets mixed up with what sounds like double entendres all night between Frasier, Niles, and Daphne, who Niles thinks is the one that’s pregnant with Frasier’s baby. And to top it all off, their dad (dressed as Sherlock Holmes) thinks Roz is pregnant with Frasier’s child. It is hysterical and ultimately has a bit of heart thrown in there too. It’s actually the first part of a two-parter, but the second part is the day after the party so no Halloween fun in that one. (James McCormick)

Boy Meets World – “And Then There Was Shawn”

I love Boy Meets World. It came out at the perfect time for me, I was around the age of the main characters and understood the whole dynamic of the show for the most part. I even used to have a Shawn style ‘90s haircut around the same time (before I started losing all my hair in my 20’s). So there was a brief moment in time that I had, as my first girlfriend said, “Rider Strong” hair. But we aren’t here to talk about my hairstyles of the past. But instead about this particular spook infused episode of the show, one that you would assume would have aired during Halloween time but in actuality aired in February. So it’s kind of like what they would do with horror films in Hollywood. This episode is a great spoof on slasher films, has a locked-down school while the gang is in detention and quirky mayhem ensues, while also throwing in some spooky stuff. Well, as spooky as a TGIF show could muster. It’s an episode I’ve now brought into the fold during the holidays, along with the classic Roseanne episodes and the initial 10 or so Treehouse of Horrors. (James McCormick)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer – “Fear, Itself” 

While Buffy’s first Halloween episode back in season two, simply titled “Halloween,” had been great, there’s something especially charming about “Fear, Itself.” Season four tends to get overlooked in general, as the plot’s a little thinner and the stakes aren’t as high as previous seasons, but it’s an often hilarious season and this episode is a perfect example of that. Here, all the college anxieties come to ahead. Like the previous Halloween episode, each character’s insecurities get magnified, but only two years later, those fears are radically different. The haunted frat party packs a lot of fun seasonal scares, including a much appreciated creepy skeleton, Giles giggles over a dancing Frankenstein and gets to wield a chainsaw and, best of all, we get introduced to the long-running gag of Anya’s fear of bunnies when she dresses up in a big, fluffy bunny suit after being told to wear a scary costume. (Nat Brehmer)

South Park – “A Nightmare On Face Time”

The idea of the past reinstating itself on the present day is inherently haunting. This notion has been explored to great effect in countless horror movies, many of which feature ghosts. These spirits often represent a dark past that won’t go away. In other cases, they are the things we yearn for the most. Many of us movie aficionados still long for video stores to make a comeback, even though the world has moved in a more convenient direction in many ways. Randy Marsh is one of those people, which is why he decides to purchase a Blockbuster in “A Nightmare On Face Time.” However, Randy’s acquisition isn’t a wise one for reasons that go beyond making bad investments. It’s haunted and leads to him losing his marbles after encountering spirits. Basically, it’s The Shining, only better. Jack Torrance is no Randy Marsh, after all. Elsewhere, Stan and the gang are living their lives in front of a screen, as is the case with these gosh darn kids today. What makes the episode special is the way in which Matt Stone and Trey Parker comment on the disconnect between the age of Blockbuster and these digital-focused times we’re living in. (Kieran Fisher)

Bob’s Burgers – “Fort Night”

One of the best sitcoms on tv is Bob’s Burgers. And they do Halloween so well, and this, their second Halloween special, is a doozy. The Belcher kids and the Pesto twins are going to team up this year as a Chinese Dragon in order to collect double the candy. Before they go out on their journey, the 5 of them and their friend Darryl go to their cardboard fort to grab the dragon’s eyes when a truck backs up and traps them in there. Of course, they start screaming for help and the only person who hears their screams is Millie. She’s going to let them out but keeps talking and talking and talking and Louise can’t stand it and does a Louise type of thing and lashes out at her. And this is where the wicked Millie decides to torture them at first, letting in plastic spiders and ignoring their pleas for help. Every time they try to escape, Millie is there to thwart them and that’s because Darryl has betrayed them thinking he would get some candy and a bathroom break. But alas, he too has been betrayed. As the night progresses, they almost get killed because of a wrong button being pressed in the truck and luckily they use spare paint cans and bricks to hold up the fort and narrowly escape. But sadly there’s no more candy to be had because it’s too late. Luckily Bob and Linda went out as the dragon and got some candy for them to have. But what I love most about this episode is the ending when Millie goes to see the fort and sees its crushed remains and freaks out thinking she’s the cause of their death. Of course, the Belcher kids are in the truck and pretend to be ghosts and force Millie to leave her candy as a pittance. Absolutely hysterical. (James McCormick)

The Simpsons – “Halloween of Horror”

For more than thirty years now The Simpsons have been a regular fixture of Halloween thanks to their yearly Treehouse of Horror episodes. However, in 2015 the long-running show wasn’t satisfied with just one episode for the spooky season, so a week before the release of “Treehouse of Horror XXVI,” America’s favourite family presented us with “Halloween of Horror.” In this episode, the Simpsons are proud to be the scariest family on the block, celebrating Halloween in style by turning their home into Everscream Terrors. Unfortunately, this is also the year Lisa is finally old enough to attend Krustyland Horror Night, and though try as she might, she becomes too scared of the holiday, and the family is forced to abandon their usual decorations. Marge attempts to take a disappointed Bart to a nearby neighbourhood to get his spook on while Homer stays home to have a quiet night in with Lisa. Of course, that doesn’t happen and former employees of a Spirit-like Halloween popup shop that Homer got fired earlier in the day plan a home invasion on the Simpson house. The episode is overloaded with horror film and Halloween references that make it a must-watch every October, but it works because it’s a heartfelt Homer and Lisa story. Despite their massively different personalities, Homer and Lisa have a bond that cannot be topped. Series vet Carolyn Omine perfectly captures this bond with a sweet and spooky tale. Highlights include a meta-reference to “Treehouse of Horror” and Homer trying to calm Lisa by humming the theme to John Carpenter’s Halloween. (Chris Coffel)

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