The scariest day of the year is almost upon us and the Culturefly writers have been getting in the spooky spirit by reliving the TV episodes that made them scream, laugh and cry. From old favourite Sabrina the Teenage Witch to anthology spook-fest American Horror Story, we’ve picked 15 of our favourite Halloween episodes from TV past and present.
Curb Your Enthusiasm – ‘Trick or Treat’
‘Trick or Treat’ proves that even on a good day – a holiday – Curb Your Enthusiasm’s anti-everything Larry David is capable of the most cringe worthy acts of social singularity; ten minutes in, Larry and Cheryl are happily dishing out candy to a group of cute vampires and monsters. Larry follows that rare act of selfless generosity by refusing Halloween treats to a pair of teenagers – based on their complete lack of effort in the costume department – only to wake up to find his driveway plastered in toilet paper and unflattering graffiti spray-painted across his front door. His confounded reaction to all of this is part of a classic Curb exchange with the unsympathetic police and an even less sympathetic Cheryl.
‘Trick or Treat’ waxes in a uniquely Larry-lyrical way on the give to everyone at Halloween/do not give to anyone at all issue, the difference between ‘fashion baldness’ and alopecia, and the big question of costume merit that we all consider as we wait for (or ignore) knocks at the door. It remains one of Curb’s defining episodes – a primer on what to expect for first-time viewers. ‘Trick or Treat’ may not stand out as the purest Halloween-themed episode of all time, but one you could definitely be forgiven for watching from behind a pillow. That counts, right? DO
The Simpsons – ‘Treehouse of Horror V’
‘Treehouse of Horror V’ is the greatest of all the ‘Treehouse’ specials; from the opening salvo of Marge politely standing on stage to inform us all that the network had planned on replacing tonight’s’ episode with fictional afternoon snore-fest 200 Miles to Oregon, to the bloody all-singing all-dancing end credits, this episode felt like the writers had a big bloody chip on their shoulder, a point to prove, a point to potentially wield and fatally wound someone with. ‘Treehouse of Horror V’ falls appropriately in the middle of The Simpsons’ fully quotable glory days; it’s not only the best Halloween episode of TV – disturbing, funny, surreal – but one of the best animated episodes of all time.
It’s thirty minutes of free entry to the boundless, bodacious pop-cultural athenaeum – upon which The Simpsons is built – in full metal curator mode, and everything is on display: the surreal gags, slapstick, the delicious and rapid-fire movie references, cannibalism, murder, Peabody and Sherman (quiet, you!), sing-alongs with flesh-eating fog, and the most wonderfully loving Shining parody of all time; speaking of which, has this joke, that goes something like: “No TV and no beer Homer… something… something.” DO
Gossip Girl – ‘The Handmaiden’s Tale’
“On the Upper East Side, appearances are often deceiving. From friends to hair colour, there’s always more than meets the eye.” Is there anything more glamorous than a masquerade ball in New York City in the early days of Season 1 Gossip Girl? There’s drama, intrigue, and cases of mistaken identity, all whilst sporting spectacular bejewelled and feathered masks and gorgeous designer dresses. If Halloween is all about dressing up and pretending to be someone you’re not for a night – and causing a little bit of mischief in the process – ‘The Handmaiden’s Tale’ hits all the right notes, and in a fabulous fashion. MD
Supernatural – ‘It’s The Great Pumpkin, Sam Winchester’
Nothing says Halloween more than Supernatural – witches, hex bags, gruesome deaths and Dean Winchester stuffing his face with Halloween candy – but there’s a reason the Winchester boys aren’t the biggest fan of the occasion, and that reason can be summed up in three small words: zombie ghost orgy. This episode is classic Halloween viewing, factoring in everything from innocent sacrifices through to the raising of the demon Samhain, the original trick-or-treater, to take us all one step closer to Hell on earth. By season 4, Supernatural had established itself as a regular scare-fest with an emphasis on horror but for its Halloween special, they definitely pulled no punches. MD
Buffy The Vampire Slayer – ‘Fear Itself’
In the Buffyverse, Halloween isn’t supposed to be the scariest night of the year. Demons and vampires are meant to hide in the shadows on All Hallows Eve and wait for the celebrations to blow over. But, nevertheless, Buffy’s Halloween episodes always ended up being fun, creepy and delightfully wicked. None better than ‘Fear Itself’, as the Scooby Gang are trapped, literally, inside a college haunted house party gone awry following the accidental summoning of a Fear Demon. Forced to confront their own worst fears while separated from one another (invisibility/uselessness/unwanted werewolf transformations . . .), this episode packs in as many frightening moments as it does funny ones – remember, this episode gave us Anya’s greatest fear in costume form: the bunny outfit! Look everyone, it’s Giles, with a chainsaw! AS
Parks and Recreation – ‘Greg Pikitis’
Leslie Knope has always been a fantastically loveable character, even at her most extreme. This episode puts our favourite civil servant on a revenge mission: she is determined to catch the delinquent responsible for vandalising one of Pawnee’s monuments every Halloween. The twist here is that Knope knows who commits the crime each year – teenager Greg Pikitis – and it’s up to her and her trusty followers (. . . colleagues) to prevent it happening again and to make Pikitis confess. This episode also features Louis C. K. as Leslie’s romantic interest Dave the cop, who agrees to help Leslie on her mission, even sticking with Leslie during her uneventful ‘stake-out’.
The episode is a great example of how funny Parks is, how strong the ensemble are together (even in a pre-Ben and Leslie world) and how the show manages to make each joke work perfectly: Anne’s laughably boring Halloween house party, Andy’s FBI agent alter-ego and Leslie’s fierce resolve to stop Pikitis once and for all. AS
The Office – ‘Costume Contest’
Most storylines for this surprisingly successful US comedy have been exhausted by season 7, but we plough on regardless out of sheer love for the characters that have evolved over the course of six years. The ‘Costume Contest’ dabbles in some mild conflict but primarily allows the team to wear their hearts on the sleeves in a battle to win a hotly demanded book of coupons.
From the bizarre to the suggestive to the impossibly cute, the team embody just how seriously the holiday is taken, to the point of trouble. Bar Erin’s genuinely monstrous mask, this is in no way a scary homage to Halloween but a collection of thoughtful, if competitive, characters keen to impress. BW
Community – ‘Epidemiology’
With Dan Harmon’s comedy about a group of off kilter students well and truly in its stride by the second season, this Halloween special incorporates everything that we love about Community. Peppered with clever pop culture references, ‘Epidemiology’ follows the chiselled Jeff and his gang as they try to survive a zombie type outbreak at the Halloween social
Scored by The Dean’s iPod mix, which consists entirely of ABBA songs and personal voice memos (“Add Eat Pray Love soundtrack to work out mix,”) the episode blends the contained disaster with the group’s usual rifts. Troy shuns Abed’s nerdy costume in favour of “Sexy Dracula,” while Jeff’s ego takes a bashing from the painfully wholesome doctor Richard before things get apocalyptic. Harmon uses his movie fandom perfectly to recreate the best parts of a viral outbreak, resulting in some genuinely startling stuff and heroic self-awareness. In a moment of self-sacrifice, Abed implores Troy to go on, urging “Be the first black guy to make it” before recreating one of the best improvised lines in the history of cinema. It’s these little touches amongst the mayhem that make Epidemiology more sentimental than scary, but the episode is all the better for it. BW
The Vampire Diaries – ‘Ghost World’
Ah, the good ol’ days of TVD when Elena was still human, Stefan had reverted back to his Ripper status, and Damon was nothing but a thorn in everyone’s side. While season one’s ‘Haunted’ might be a more obvious pick, ‘Ghost World’ packs one hell of an emotional punch with its ghosts of Christmas Halloween past theme. On the night of the illumination a spell allows the ghosts of Mystic Falls to interact with the living, opening the gates for some angry ghost-vampires but also bringing a number of fan favourites back into the series for a single episode, chiefly Mason, Lexi and Grams.
There’s action, romance, danger and grief, all leading to a poignant ending with Greg Laswell’s version of This Woman’s Work playing in the background as the ghosts start disappearing again. Then there’s a tortured Stefan’s face when Elena tells him she won’t love a ghost for the rest of her life. It’s teary stuff, and proof that an emotionally charged Halloween episode is as good as any. NX
American Horror Story – ‘Halloween Part 1 & 2’
This is another episode about ghosts tormenting the living but in a much more grisly and disturbing fashion. There’s no series more perfect for Halloween than American Horror Story – the title says as much – but the two-part ‘Halloween’ episode takes the terror to another level. We’re talking ‘you won’t sleep for a week’ fear with this one.
Capitalizing on the two different timelines that made the first season such an instant hit, the two-parter exposes what happened to the ghosts that now haunt those living in the present day. Tate’s true identity is finally revealed when the students he murdered appear as disgruntled and mangled ghosts, the rubber man proceeds to cause not-so-merry mayhem in the Harmon house, and Addie meets a sad and violent end. From a pure scares point of view, this two-part episode is the epitome of Halloween TV. NX
Frasier – ‘Halloween’
What marked Frasier out as a superb sitcom was its aptitude for compounding a consistently humorous tone with dramatically relatable situations. This riotous episode for the show’s fifth season wonderfully epitomizes this ability. With Niles wrongly convinced that Frasier & Daphne are having a secret affair and Roz earnestly trying to keep her potentially very real pregnancy a secret, the scene is set for yet another lavish Crane party; this time on Halloween night.
As you would expect, the episode is crammed with comedy, with a steady stream of witty one-liners (Roz’s “even the best [pregnancy] protection is only effective ninety-nine out of a hundred times. I can’t beat those odds” being a personal favourite) complemented with the novelty of seeing our much-loved characters dressed as various literary incarnations – Nile’s nose is practically an eyesore. As ever though, the confirmation of Roz’s pregnancy at the end of the episode brings the growing lunacy back down to earth with a thump, and even changes the future of the show in the process. JM
It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia – ‘Who Got Dee Pregnant?’
Not a spooky special in your traditional sense, but this episode centres around a Halloween party and sees the gang faced with a situation so terrifying, that it more than qualifies; Dee is pregnant and one of them is the father. The characters desperately try to piece together their drunken memories of the night in question and the Rashomon style flashbacks offer an inspired look at the inner workings of their minds – Dennis becomes irresistible to women, Charlie finally seduces the waitress and Dee looks ever more bird-like, until Mac literally pictures her as an ostrich. It’s a wickedly fun episode and a cautionary tale about why you should never, ever, swap costumes at a Halloween party. RD
Futurama – ‘The Honking’
This gloriously irreverent tale sees Bender transformed into a were-car and compelled onto a murderous rampage that can only end when he kills his best friend, but the episode takes a fantastic twist when it’s Leela that Bender tries to kill first, not Fry (“He didn’t even try to second-degree murder me!”). It’s silly, yes, but brilliant fun. Futurama has always excelled at riffing on movies and this Halloween special is no exception, covering everything from The Shining and Christine, to Carmageddon and The Black Cat. It’s sure to please even the most seasoned horror aficionado. RD
Sabrina The Teenage Witch – ‘A Halloween Story’
Before Sabrina Spellman and her crush, Harvey Kinkle, began dating, it was a battle between her and Libby Chessler for Harvey’s affection. When Harvey asks Sabrina to help him set up for his Halloween party, Sabrina is unable to because she’s forced to attend an annual Halloween family gathering in the other realm. With the help of her trusty black cat, Salem, she devises a plan so that she is able to be in two places at once. How? After casting the “double, double, toil and trouble” spell, she clones herself and sends the clone off to the party. The catch is that the clone is only able to say three phrases that are chosen by Sabrina. But one of these phrases may have Sabrina end up in one of the most embarrassing scenes of her high school life.
Even after almost two decades since this episode aired, it is still so charming and witty. It’s a show that I look forward to watching with my daughter when she grows up. The jokes and romantic quirks never get old. That cat Salem is such a darling and is always a boatload of laughs. VP
Ghost Adventures – ‘Transylvania’
Ghost Adventures is without a doubt one of the best ghost hunting shows around, and they don’t fail to disappoint in this episode. Viewers are constantly kept on the edge of their seats as the trio, Zak, Aaron, and Nick, journey to Transylvania in this special two-hour Halloween special. Rich in historical context, it takes viewers back to the fifteenth century when Vlad Tepes (Vlad the Impaler or Vlad Dracula) ruled the country and was known for his gruesome war tactics with the Turks. Did you know that Dracula means “son of the devil” and Transylvania means “beyond the forest” in Romanian?
The three men experience some of the most terrifying encounters they’ve ever had, learning facts from people who had apparent ghost encounters, and speaking with a descendent of Vlad himself, where she reveals chilling messages through a Ouija board that are thought to be from the former ruler of Romania. This episode is fast-paced, memorable, and fascinating. I’m hoping that it’s aired again before Halloween rolls around. VP