Some of the Most Spooktacular Halloween TV Specials
It’s Halloween time and nothing gets me quite in the mood for ghouls and goblins like revisiting some of the best of the Halloween specials that aired on television when I was kid (oh so many years ago). Over time, new classics have entered into my yearly rotation. I thought it would be fun to share with my readers some of my favorites, hopefully prompting you to do a little exploring.
It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown
I figured I’d start here, since it’s everyone’s go-to in Halloween classics. Second only to A Charlie Brown Christmas, It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is the best of the animated special produced by cartoonist Charles Schultz whose weekly “Peanuts” column was once a staple of American newspapers. Made in 1966, it follows the Peanuts protagonist Charlie Brown as he suffers through his usual abuse and bullying, this time during Halloween season. His best friend Linus misses out on the festivities because he’d prefer to sleep in the pumpkin patch and wait for the elusive “Great Pumpkin” to come and bring him presents. The animation is atmospheric and the story a lesson on the lack-of-kindness in the world and why we sometimes need to believe in miracles.
A newer title for the list is 2010’s Scared Shrekless, based on the popular Dreamworks animated films about the ogre named Shrek. In Scared Shrekless, the green monster and his friends gather on Halloween and have a competition to see who can tell the scariest story. They tell their little tails inside the ruins of Lord Farquaad’s castle. All our favorite celebrity voices are here: Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, and Antonio Banderas among them. It’s innocuous Halloween fun and perfect for the little ones. If they love Shrek, they will go along for this spooky ride.
Who misses The Wonderful World of Disney and The Disney Sunday Movie on Sunday nights? I sure do. You could always count on a great weekly movie that was perfect for the whole family to enjoy. One of their best Halloween entries was the 1986 Mr. Boogedy. The basic plot features the Davis family relocating to a new home, an old house that has a tragic history. Along with its mysterious past, the house is also haunted by the ghost of one Mr. Boogedy (also known as “The Boogedy Man”). It’s a great spooky romp, just scary enough to get your heart-beating, but tame enough to be enjoyed by the whole family. Bonus: John Astin appears in the piece, giving a freakishly fun performance as the sinister Mr. Witherspoon. Give it a shot and find out the answers to the mystery that the Davis family is up against.
Garfield's Halloween Adventure
In 1985, Garfield the Cat was all the craze. His plump kitty frame could be seen suction-cupped to the rear window of almost every car. The creation of cartoonist Jim Davis, Garfield is a lazy and sarcastic feline who often finds himself in trouble when his schemes fall part. In Garfield’s Halloween Adventure, Garfield, who loves to eat, is excited about Halloween and convinces the family dog Odie that all dogs must trick-or-treat with cats and then give them all their candy. This is the impetus for Garfield and Odie to end up on a Halloween adventure that takes them to a haunted mansion where they must battle a band of ghost pirates. It’s silly, but spooky, fun.
Mad Monster Party?
This one was technically a movie, but Mad Monster Party? came from the production company of Rankin & Bass who brought us such perennial Christmas classics as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman. I cannot help but include Mad Monster Party? here since I have occasionally witnessed a carved-up version of this happy classic on television at Halloween time. Made in 1967 as a stop-motion animated musical comedy film, the story follows Baron Boris Von Frankenstein as he summons the monsters of the world to come together and help him annihilate earth. Soon, The Mummy, Dracula, the Wolf Man, Dr. Jekyll, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon (among others) converge and the haunted hilarity begins. Voices include Boris Karloff and Phyllis Diller, both adding a dash of that classic Hollywood panache to the proceedings.
Halloween is Grinch Night
The mean old Grinch may have hated Christmas, but Halloween is his reason to be. Halloween is Grinch Night (1977) continues the story of the beloved Dr. Seuss character, the sour puss attempting to unleash a wagon full of horrors on the denizens of Whoville. A gentle, young Who (this story’s Cindy-Lou) named Euchariah happens upon the Grinch (he is blown the Mount Crumpit) where he tries to convince the Grinch not to terroze his friends and neighbors. Of course, the Grinch’s plans are foiled in the end, but the Grinch vows he’ll return next Halloween. The piece is narrated by Hans Conreid, best-remembered as the voice of Captain Hook in Disney’s Peter Pan.
The Fat Albert Halloween Special
This may seem like an odd addition to the list, but The Fat Albert Halloween Special was one of my absolute favorites. For those who don’t remember the Saturday morning cartoon, Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids followed the title character, a jovial, rotund (not particularly politically correct nowadays) teenager who lives in a North Philadelphia neighborhood who pals around with a bunch of colorful characters including Rudy, Mushmouth, and several others. Each episode came with a morality lesson. The Fat Albert Halloween Special (1977) found the gang investigating what is perceived to be a haunted house in the neighborhood. Full of anticipation and old-fashioned fright inducing animation, the special includes a great moral about not judging a book by its cover.
The Halloween That Almost Wasn't
A live-action Halloween special starring Judd Hirsch and Mariette Hartley, The Halloween That Almost Wasn’t (1979) was a campy little piece of Halloween fun. Hirsch played Dracula, the fabled bloodsucker, in this instance finding out that Halloween may come to an end because people just aren’t frightened anymore. He gets his creepy friends together and demands that they put some effort into regaining their reputation for instilling fear. It’s wacky and definitely of its period, but it is so much corny fun you will want to give a try. It sometimes goes by the title The Night That Dracula Saved the World.
Winter of the Witch
Here is one that I wonder if any of you have ever seen or remember. Made in 1969, Winter of the Witch was initially released for schools and libraries to show, produced by Parents Magazine as an educational tool. The short film drew its inspiration from the popular Wende and Harry Devlin Old Black Witch book series. Starring stage and film star Hermione Gingold as a crotchety old witch who must make peace with the fact that a young mother and her little boy have moved into her creaky old house, Winter of the Witch explores how the child and the old crone become good friends. Eventually, the film got some television play. On a side note: if you ever get a chance to explore the Devlin books, you should. They are beautifully illustrated and the stories loads of fun. The best of the lot is the now out of print Old Witch Rescues Halloween, following the old witch as she takes on the cancellation of her favorite holiday.
Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman
Once again, this is extracted from a movie, but there wasn’t a year that didn’t go by that Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman (extracted from the 1949 The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad) wasn’t aired on network television. The piece is an iconic demonstration of the art of Disney animation, a horrific telling of Washington Irving’s story about a gangly schoolmaster who is haunted by the ghost of the Headless Horseman. It ranks among some of the spookiest animation that Disney has ever churned out and is guaranteed to give any viewer a heart-stopping scare.