When it comes to holiday themed television specials and films, Christmas leads the way with its countless amount. Coming in second is likely Halloween. Unlike Christmas, there usually isn’t some serious undercurrent to Halloween specials. It also feels less sinister when it comes to marketing, even though there’s certainly lots of money to be made off of Halloween by costume and candy suppliers. For the most part, Halloween is just fun and it’s emphasis on scares helps to distinguish it from other holidays. Like many people, I enjoy a good Halloween special whenever the season rolls around, but with so many out there it can be hard to make time for them all in what amounts to only a month. There are some modern ones out there, like the entertaining Toy Story of Terror, but for the most part I like to watch the specials I watched as a kid. Without further adieu, here’s The Nostalgia Spot’s Halloween viewing guide.
Mickey Mouse in “Lonesome Ghosts”
Here’s an oldie from way back in 1937, something that would have entertained my adolescent grandfather. Since I only discovered it a few years back, it’s not exactly something I remember from my childhood but certainly fits the theme of this blog. In this cartoon, professional ghost exterminators Mickey, Donald, and Goofy investigate paranormal activities in an old house. The twist is that the trio were hired by the ghosts themselves because no one ever enters their haunted house anymore and they’re just plain bored. Less creepy than it is humorous, it’s mostly a slapstick affair as the ghosts play tricks on their would-be exterminators. It’s an entertaining short, and one can’t help but wonder if it maybe partly inspired Ghostbuster, or at least the theme song, especially when Goofy declares, “I ain’t afraid of no ghosts!” The short has been shown on television numerous times over the years as part of Halloween specials. It was also re-released to theaters in the 1960’s and has been released on VHS and DVD as well. The easiest way to see it these days is probably youtube.
Donald Duck in “Trick or Treat”
By the late 40’s and into the 1950’s, Donald Duck was basically the only classic Disney character still receiving new short films. There just wasn’t much money in the format anymore and the budget for each short was scaled back considerably. For the 1952 short “Trick or Treat,” Disney decided to increase the budget to give Donald a proper Halloween special. It has its own theme song and the animation is quite nicely done in comparison with other shorts from around that time. In this one, Donald’s nephews Huey, Duey, and Louie are out trick or treating and come upon their uncle’s house. When the boys knock on his door and request their tricks or treats, Donald (not surprisingly) elects trick. A witch, Witch Hazel, passing by happens to see this and decides to help the boys get their treats out of Donald. Apparently, the Halloween spirit does not include the tricks portion of the ages old phrase. Hazel uses her magic on Donald and a lot of physical comedy follows. Like “Lonesome Ghosts,” this one has been released on VHS and DVD over the years either on Halloween compilations or as a bonus feature with certain films. There’s a chance it could pop up on one of the Disney channels this Halloween, but if you want to see it better head to youtube.
The Real Ghostbusters – “When Halloween Was Forever”
A cartoon that centers around four guys (and a ghost) who hunt down paranormal creatures naturally lends itself well to Halloween. Pretty much any episode could qualify for such a holiday, but the episode “When Halloween Was Forever” happens to deal with the holiday directly. This episode features the ghost Samhain, the spirit of Halloween, who decides to freeze time on Halloween night so that it lasts forever. Since Halloween is said to be derived from the Pagan holiday Samhain, it’s a nice touch to name the ghost after it. The Real Ghostbusters was a DIC production and if you’re familiar with any of their cartoons from the 80’s then you likely know what to expect out of the audio and animation. It’s standard for the era, with the soundtrack being appropriately spooky. While no episode of this cartoon can come close to matching the film it was based on, it’s actually not a bad show and time has been far kinder to it than it has the more popular Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Ren & Stimpy – “Haunted House”
The premise for this one is conventional, Ren and Stimpy stumble upon a creepy looking house and, in need of shelter for the night, decide to head inside. Unbeknownst to them, the house is haunted and a malicious ghost lurks inside who can’t wait to scare them. The twist here is that Ren and Stimpy are seemingly in on the joke as they break the fourth wall and end up impervious to the ghost’s efforts. This naturally frustrates the ghost, to the point that he becomes depressed and suicidal (apparently, ghosts can “die” in Ren and Stimpy’s world). Highlights of the episode include a Psycho shower-scene parody and the previously mentioned fourth-wall breaking remarks (“This looks like a good place to kill 12 minutes!”). There’s also the usual random humor found in a Ren and Stimpy short that people either find amusing or stupid. This one is unlikely to show up on television so anyone looking to watch it will either have to pick it up on DVD or turn to the internet. Be warned, the version found on the official Ren & Stimpy Volume 1 is censored with the Bloody Head Fairy bit removed completely. Apparently it was considered too gruesome after the fact.
Beavis and Butt-Head – “Bungholio: Lord of the Harvest”
Sometimes referred to as “Buttoween,” this episode features everyone’s favorite dim-witted duo as they go trick or treating in search of free candy. Since they weren’t even aware Halloween was coming until trick or treaters showed up at their house, the two do not have costumes so Butt-Head covers his head in cheese sauce (“I’m nachos.”) while Beavis wears his underwear on his head (“I’m a nad!”). Beavis eventually has too much sugar and his alter-ego, The Great Cornholio, shows itself. The two soon find themselves on a farm ripped right from a slasher film. Most of the humor comes from watching the two try and get some candy in the first part of the episode, while the second part puts the two in an obvious bad situation that they’re apparently oblivious to. The animation is pretty terrible, but anyone who has seen an episode of Beavis and Butt-Head before should already be aware of this. It’s stupid humor, but it is pretty funny. You either like it or you don’t.
South Park – “Pinkeye”
South Park is more known for its numerous Christmas specials, but early seasons often featured other holiday themed episodes. The first season episode, “Pinkeye,” remains the show’s top Halloween special. In this one, a mishap with worcestershire sauce causes a dead Kenny to turned into a zombie. Kenny, as patient zero, spreads a zombie plague all through-out South Park that a clueless doctor mistakes as a severe case of pinkeye. It’s up to Chef and the boys to put a stop to the zombie menace so they can go trick or treating and get some candy. The episode includes some notable gags such as Cartman’s mom on the cover of Crack Whore Magazine and a memorable parody of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.” It also features Cartman’s attempt to find a non-offensive Halloween costume.
The Simpsons – “Treehouse of Horror V”
The Simpsons Halloween special, Treehouse of Horror, has become an annual tradition. With 24 to choose from, some may consider it a daunting task to select only one. As is the case with most things “Simpsons,” the earlier episodes are usually considered the better, and for me, it came down to a choice between Treehouse of Horror II and V. V is just slightly stronger and a little more horror-themed than the more sci-fi II. Treehouse of Horror V features parodies of The Shining, The Sound of Thunder, and Soylent Green. In the first segment, “The Shinning,” the Simpsons are basically dropped into the plot of its source material and includes the memorable line “No beer and no TV make Homer go something, something.” The second segment, “Time and Punishment,” puts a time-traveling toaster in Homer’s hands resulting in Homer unintentionally creating a new present time ruled by Flanders. The third segment, “Nightmare Cafeteria,” has Principal Skinner resort to cannibalism of the student body to cope with budget cuts at Springfield Elementary. If a Treehouse of Horror is able to hit on two out of three, it’s generally considered a good iteration of the venerable television special, but Treehouse of Horror V is the rare one where all three are pretty entertaining. With The Simpsons now being featured on the FXX channel, hopefully a Treehouse of Horror marathon is in the near future. The 25th version of the special is set to air tonight.