Halloween is the best holiday and I’ll fight anyone who says otherwise.
Halloween specials were some of the most exciting events as a kid leading into the spooky season. These specials were a chance for a show to really go off the rails and get nuts with concepts and stories. Sure, most of the time they either weren’t “canon” or ended up being just a wacky series of normal events, but that didn’t make them any less fun.
Somewhere along the way, TV shows decided holiday specials were lame or didn’t fit with their “serious” tones. I say balderdash. If there was a Halloween special for Breaking Bad it would be the best episode in the series.
Instead, we have to look back at the old reliable ‘90s for the best Halloween TV specials.
Are You Afraid of the Dark? — The Tale of the Twisted Claw (1991)
Who says a horror show can’t have a Halloween episode? In fact, this was the pilot episode for the entire scary story themed show, although it was the fourth one aired.
Man, what a note to drop on kids for Halloween. It’s your classic retelling of the Monkey’s Paw story, only ramping up to the point where one kid’s parents get killed in a car accident. All this because they broke an old woman’s vase. Harsh.
The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror Vol. 1 (1990)
If the fact that the first Treehouse of Horror debuted in 1990 wasn’t proof this was the peak decade for humanity, nothing is.
This episode has classic parody moments of The Amityville Horror, The Twilight Zone, and even The Raven. This first creepy anthology gave us all a reason to look forward to The Simpsons come October.
Rocko’s Modern Life — Sugar-Frosted Frights (1995)
Some of the best parts about Halloween are the ridiculous legends and myths, which this Rocko episode fully embraces.
The Hopping Hessian is a ghost who lost his leg in a war and comes back every Halloween looking for it — classic ghost story stuff — but adds in the real-life myth about poisoned candy. The gang are assaulted by the Hessian, though somehow make it out OK.
The episode ends a year later looking over the pictures of them and the ghost, only to wonder … who took the picture? For a kid, that kind of twist was terrifying.
Doug — Doug’s Halloween Adventure (1993)
Doug was the everyman cartoon. An awkward kid with an overactive imagination, crush on a girl, and wacky best friend. So, what happens during Halloween for a show about more mundane things?
This adventure has Doug and Skeeter go to a new amusement park ride called Blood Stone Manor. Doug would rather go trick-or-treating but is pressured into it to impress Patti, even after hearing the legend of two other dudes who went on the ride with only their shoes making it out.
They end up going onto the ride after the park closes, which is an already dangerous concept for a cartoon that probably scared parents more than kids.
SpongeBob SquarePants — Scaredy Pants (1999)
Early SpongeBob was right on the edge of that magical time when cartoons were rough and unafraid to show some seriously messed up stuff to kids. It’s no Ren and Stimpy by any means, but this sponge wasn’t afraid to get a little messy from time to time.
In the first season’s Halloween episode, after getting pranked Patrick shaves SpongeBob’s head to make it round so he can dress up as a ghost.
Makes sense … until we see under the sheet that his whole-ass brain is exposed.
Family Matters — Stevil (1996)
There, that’s all you need to say. I mean, you could just have one sit there doing nothing and still cause nightmares.
A ventriloquist dummy that looks like Urkel that comes to life and terrorizes the Winslows? Count me the hell out.
Saved by the Bell — Mystery Weekend (1991)
Like Doug, Saved by the Bell is a more grounded show for the most part — except for the fact that anyone put up with Zack’s crap for more than 20 seconds.
The Mystery Weekend episode starts out realistic enough: The crew go to a mansion for a murder mystery party. Being a Halloween episode, though, this turns out to be a ritual where the host is sacrificed to Malafisto who wants to erase the entire universe.
Who better to save the entire universe than a bunch of preppy California kids? Now that’s terrifying.
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air — Hex and the Single Guy (1993)
I bet none of you even knew Fresh Prince had a Halloween episode, let alone one full of some serious occult magic.
After Will taunts a psychic trying to do a seance so Hilary can talk to Trevor, he hexes the family with bad luck. And this hex isn’t messing around.
Phil is convicted of accepting bribes, Ashley breaks her ankle, Carlton gets his hair bleached, Geoffrey gets deported, and everyone gets so pissed at Will that they kick him out.
In the most cliché sitcom copout, it all turns out to be Will’s nightmare.
Boy Meets World — And Then There Was Shawn (1998)
Real talk: this episode personally traumatized me for one scene alone.
The setup is the gang are all locked in detention with a bloody message written on the wall. Things kick off when some jobber named Kenny is killed after the lights flicker with a freaking pencil stabbed through his head like the Joker got him!
For whatever reason, Corey’s “joke” after he falls, leaving a line on the wall where he fell, about always knowing how tall he was really messed with my head.
The Haunted Mask — Goosebumps (1995)
How could Goosebumps not close out this list? Again, you could say every episode was a Halloween episode, but I feel like they really pulled out the big guns for spooky season.
This episode focuses on a girl who buys the scariest mask she can find, and man does she find a doozy of a scary mask. As it turns out, this mask was haunted and attempts to take over her body with black magic and preying on her lust for revenge against some bullies.
In the end, the mask actually fuses to her head and she can’t take it off. That alone triggered my claustrophobia, let alone being afraid of some demon mask taking over my body, but she manages to get it off thanks to a symbol of love.
Cheesy, but appropriate.