Not a lot of television episodes or specials made for the Halloween season stand the test of time. Some are developed because the formula for network television requires it (especially for sit-coms). As for those unique one-offs, I ask where are they now? Only two films make this list as they were quite common when rebroadcasted. The rest make up part of what I traditionally loved seeing on either the big or small screen.
I include a complete television series since I recall key episodes taking place on All Hallow’s Eve. Instead of focussing in on one particular country, I hope to give this list an international flair with my choices:
Mad Monster Party (1967)
No list can be considered legit without a reference to this Rankin-Bass stop-motion classic. Along with Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, both shows rerun at their respective seasons. Sadly, this is no longer the case. What makes this production such a classic is that Boris Karloff led a monster mash of comedy and music. Its longevity faded because of time, and new audiences not familiar with the all-star lineup. Ask a young person now about who Phyllis Diller is and the response is likely, “Who?”
Star Trek (October 27, 1967)
Very rarely will I find a science fiction classic actually get under my skin. I recall hearing the background music and it absolutely gave me goosebumps as a kid! On repeat watching, however, the feeling is gone, but the memory still persisted. This episode was made for seasonal viewing. When all the hallmarks of eerie Halloween lore (skeletons and black cats) get realized for James T. Kirk to face. The Macbeth reference was absolutely dead on, and even now, I still wonder if Robert Bloch (screenwriter for this episode) took some inspiration from Rocky Horror.
The Devil and Daniel Mouse (1978)
This Canadian animated product holds a special place in this author’s heart as it is one of the earliest specials which captured my imagination. It also provided the inspiration for the later Nelvana Studio produced animated Rock & Rule.
A Faustian pact is made in this tale, and in what’s particularly engaging is with how the music wins out. Although the movie Crossroads (1986) with Ralph Macchio really rocked the house, I did not discover this live-action version until much later, when it was broadcasted on television.
The Real Ghostbusters (1986)
“When Halloween Was Forever”
This animated series often featured a monster of the week, but when Samhain came to represent the holiday, all bets were off! This episode is a fun watch, only because it gives the series a sense of continuity. Not many villains come back for a second or even third time, and when the heroes cannot destroy a tradition, just what else can they do? The other episodes he’s appeared in are “Halloween II 1/2” and “The Halloween Door.”
A Chinese Ghost Story (倩女幽魂, 1987)
A Chinese Ghost Story was a staple to many a 90’s independent theatre’s lists of treats and there has to be a reason as to why it’s fallen out of favour in recent years. One possible explanation is that the animation produced in 1997, the television series in 2003 and subsequent remake in 2011 holds no candle to the original.
Quite often, fans of horror simply forget what’s out there in the world stage. The world is aflutter with many an urban legend of ghost lore from other countries. It would be remiss to think that no other cultures are affected by the paranormal. Sometimes that’s because the populace at large is generally hesitant to talk about it.
Even in the original film, Ning-Choi (Leslie Cheung) is not willing to admit to villagers of his supernatural encounter with a spirit of a female courtesan, Nip Siu-sin (Joey Wong) that he’s taken a liking to. Through a series of misadventures they fall in love and that has become the basis of all three films, a Disney-esque animated feature and a television series (which is almost like China’s version of Dark Shadows, minus the vampires). The tale is circular, in the sense that their love for each other is timeless as Buddha. Through the belief of reincarnation, even their future selves find each other again in the subsequent sequels. Although that may seem sappy for an audience of horror fans, the terror comes from the vivid imagination that encompasses Chinese folklore. Demons exist throughout the land and they occupy the world in many shapes and forms. Medieval China is a dangerous place to live in and I for one am glad I did not live back then.
Friday the 13th: The Series (1987)
Everyday is Halloween in this series about three enterprising investigators. When Lewis Vendredi purposely sold cursed objects at his pawn shop and died because of trying to get out of the deal, his heirs sought to undo the evil. That meant going through ledgers and finding those people (assuming they were not dead already) to get those items back! This series is notable because the first episode showed the shenanigans happening on All Hallow’s Eve night, and Ryan Dallion (John D. LeMay) did not know any better by letting items sell below value. Every year, at this time, he and cousin Micki Foster (Louise Robey) have to worry about the thinned veil and whether they would see their uncle again. Or rather, be concerned if his soul is indeed black.
I loved this series because it pushed the envelope of what was acceptable storytelling (if not some of its graphic imagery) to broadcast. Canadian produced horror television content in this era proved to be far more entertaining than most of its American counterparts. Forever Knight is another memorable program which was not entirely based on the Halloween theme, but it did have their seasonal episodes since it allowed the Vampires to have their time to shine.
Quantum Leap, “The Boogieman” (1990)
Season 3, Episode 5
Not many network television programs can capture the imagination like Quantum Leap’s Season Three thriller, “The Boogieman.” When Samuel Beckett is a man of science, we see a string of supernatural events examined through his uniquely rational eye. When he leaps into the body of a horror fiction writer, there’s more than strange things afoot. The house is stuffed chock full of Halloween dressings and tropes to make even a candy lover’s tooth rot. There’s a mystery that Sam cannot altogether fathom, but he has to solve it if he’s to leap to his next adventure. If anything, this episode is worth watching even now to see how Al (Sam’s guide) freaks out at everything that’s in the home when he’s a “ghost” himself.
There’s also a bit of interesting folklore attached to the viewing of this episode. Believe it or not, supposedly quite a number of viewers have reported technology failures whenever The Boogieman is viewed. Broadcast or pre-recorded, the incidents tended to often happen, hence giving this episode the same air of cursed legacy that performers of Hamlet and Macbeth tend to fret about. Two other supernaturally charged episodes Leapers can consider watching in one night are “Blood Moon” and “The Curse of Ptah-Hotep.”
BBC’s Ghostwatch (1992)
Ghostwatch is one of those television programs that’s very deceptive, and it succeeds where many a mockumentary fails — by engaging the audience into believing the supernatural exists, it’s out there, and it has plans for the living. Like Orson Welle’s 1938 radio play The War of the Worlds, it was advertised at the start as a work of fiction, but some viewers tuning in late did in fact mistake it for a very real and very terrifying news report. The realism in both products has to be commended.
Michael Parkinson and Sarah Greene of BBC’s Screen One series introduced the broadcast as a “live” investigative report about a haunted house located in Northolt, Greater London. Through previously recorded footage and live on-air moments, the show builds a narrative of a poltergeist slowly gathering enough energy to cause a national panic. To say how this movie ends will give too much away, but please trust when I say that as a Halloween cinematic treat, Ghostwatch is a must. It was, in fact, first shown on Halloween, so seeing is believing in this night of trouble when the veil is thin to bring ghosts to life!
Disney’s Tower of Terror (1997)
I tend to find Disney’s made-for-television films far more entertaining than their films, and this movie based on their attraction certainly inspired me to go take on the ride multiple times!
The nostalgia of the 40’s was mixed into a modern tale. The flashbacks made for the best parts of this work, and to see it at the attraction made the scares feel a touch authentic. The story here focuses in on Buzzy Crocker (Steve Guttenberg) trying to solve a mysterious disappearance. Back in ’39, the hotel was a happening place; but on route to the Tip Top Club (located at the penthouse), five people disappeared! Since then, it was abandoned and left to rot. The ghosts needed freedom from their prison. In true Mickey Mouse fashion, the terror is light so kids can enjoy this work.
This product hardly gets notice now, especially when the attraction has been converted to a Guardians of a Galaxy ride. Thankfully I have my photo memories. I loved it, especially when the ride was given new life with Stitch being the cause of why the elevator “fell.”
Futurama: “The Honking” (2000)
Season 2, Episode 18
Technically, this episode on November 5th, after Halloween, but with it so close to the day, it still counts! Here, nobody could have guessed that a robot can get cursed, or rather transform into a haunted vehicle. Although the episode “Driven from the Brink” from Penguins of Madagascar was never as witty, the idea of a possessed car in an animated product has never been as surpassed. We can enjoy hilarious hijinks from a flightless bird or terror from a robot who is trying to get answers.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)
Season 5, Episodes 14 to 17
The turtles have been reinvented far too many times for television, and the one iteration I have come to love (in addition to the original series) was the computer-animated saga. Because of an all-new series, Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I sense the previous series will go by the wayside of being forgotten. It ranks decently in a list of memorable iterations of the show to follow, but as for keeping the faith of die-hard turtleheads, that’s another question.
The writers dared to “kill off” a certain character pivotal to the development of the lads to becoming heroes, and in seeing them carry on further adventures — which includes meeting Usagi Yojimbo — provides fans everything they loved from the comics (the Mirage days or IDW) realized into a motion picture quality piece of entertainment, but on television!
“The Curse of Savanti Romero” has the team meet a nefarious demon-like creature on Halloween night. He is out to remake the world, starting with New York City and recruits the greatest monsters from all of creation to his cause. From Dracula to The Mummy to Frankenstein’s Monster, no other creature from Universal’s catalogue of beasts is really needed. The story is engaging, and loyalties are tested when one of the turtles turns (not intentionally) on his fellow teammates.
An edited version of this arc in a movie format needs to be released! If not, the hope is that it will get repeats when the season arises. To have this only seen once feels like a crying shame.