Every horror fan is probably compiling together their list of the horror movies they have to watch in October to feel as though they’ve fully participated in the Halloween season. For most of us, Halloween helped to cement our love of horror when we were younger. Movies we wouldn’t be able to catch the rest of the year would be popping up on cable. We’d be able to catch classic Halloween specials like It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and The Halloween Tree.
But the best part of watching TV in October is that, suddenly, everything begins to embrace the season and the genre. You’ll start watching your favorite shows reference—even outright parody, in some cases—your favorite horror movies. Some of the best shows make a yearly event of it. The Simpsons’ annual “Treehouse of Horror” specials have gained a following of their own over the years.
We’re going to be taking a look at the best Halloween-themed TV episodes, the ones that really nail the holiday, have a great sense of fun and feel like a seasonal special in their own right. These are the ones you need to be watching this Halloween season.
“Freddy’s Tricks and Treats” – Freddy’s Nightmares
Freddy’s Nightmares wasn’t always a stellar show, but Englund was always having fun in character. Sadly, most episodes didn’t feature the manipulative dream stalker in anything other than a Rod Sterling-esque narrator role. This Halloween episode smartly thought better of that. It feels like a genuine Freddy Krueger Halloween Special…because that’s really what it is. And it’s great to see Freddy as played by Englund get up to spooky shenanigans on DVD.
Goosebumps was made for children and when you go back and watch it, that element really shows. It’s not nearly as scary as an adult when all you notice are the cheap effects and production values. But this episode? This one’s genuinely unnerving. The concept is so simple and it works so well. This is about a mask that latches itself onto a young girl. She can’t take it off and the longer she wears it the meaner it becomes. It’s a great two-parter to revisit this time of year.
“Fear Itself” – Buffy the Vampire Slayer
This fourth season episode of Buffy centers on a college frat party that becomes infected by a reality-manipulating fear demon. Everyone’s fears are coming to life around them. For Buffy and the gang, it plays on their insecurities, which are numerous in a season about starting college and wondering if it’s even possible to still keep the old high school gang together.
“Epidemiology” – Community
Community actually had several great Halloween episodes, but this one was really focused on sending up the whole zombie genre in one swoop. The Dean accidentally buys what he believes to be taco meat from a military surplus store for Greendale’s Halloween party. Naturally, the people who eat it begin turning into rabid zombies. All of this, mixed with ridiculous costumes, Troy’s insecurity about his own nerdiness, plus a soundtrack by ABBA make for a hilarious and surprisingly sweet Halloween treat.
“Halloween Candy” – Tales from the Darkside
Tales from the Darkside actually kicked off with a Halloween episode that was pretty great. But this one manages to be even greater and a lot scarier. The goblin that appears in this story scared the crap out of me when I first saw it, and I was older then than I’d like to admit. It’s about a mean old man who hates Halloween and is tormented by a monster. Not only is the creature unnerving, but it also bends the laws of time to make the night appear to stretch on forever.
“Halloween” – Buffy the Vampire Slayer
That’s right, another Buffy Halloween episode and this one is even better. It’s about Buffy and friends wanting to take the night off from themselves for a night so they pick outfits totally different from their own personalities—which is not a problem until the spell kicks in and they become their costumes. It also reveals that Halloween is a night that monsters and demons usually take off, but Spike, ever the rebellious one, has other plans. It’s great to see the role-reversals, changing dynamics, and it’s also one of the first times we see Willow be the one to step up to the plate and take charge when she sees things start going to hell.
“Treehouse of Horror IV” – The Simpsons
You could pick any of a large handful of “Treehouse of Horror” episodes and they would still probably make the top of the list. Yes, the next year would give us the classic “The Shinning,” but every segment in this episode is a winner. “The Devil and Homer Simpson,” “Terror at 5 ½ Feet” and “Bart Simpson’s Dracula” are some of the first episodes that come to mind when I look back on the “Treehouse of Horror” episodes I remember most growing up.