Lots of people talk about horror movies during the Halloween season, and I understand that. Movies are still the biggest storytelling canvas at our disposal, and most of our best horror stories come from that medium. I talk about scary films during Halloween, and I don’t plan on stopping.
However, for me, no storytelling medium embodies the Halloween season more than television. Halloween has never just been about scares to me; there’s also an element of fun and cheesiness that needs to be in a story to feel Halloween-y. Most television shows used to have this feeling (before The Sopranos came along, making TV more prestigious).
Therefore, instead of giving you a great double feature to enjoy on Halloween night, I’m going to recommend a lineup of classic television episodes (along with a few runners-up to substitute as you see fit). It’s my hope that these four TV shows help get you into the Halloween spirit!
These episodes are organized by the years the TV series debuted. Initially, I was unsure about this method, but I discovered that it actually made for a nice balance of tone. We begin and end with comedic half-hour episodes, and in between we find two hour-long shows with more intense stories. I really like how this turned out!
And now, without further ado, away we go!
“Fright Night” – The Brady Bunch (Season 4/episode 6)
When I’m feeling stressed out, The Brady Bunch serves as my TV comfort food. I’m aware that it’s not the best show to hit the airwaves; a lot of the jokes try too hard, the show has an overall cheap look to it, and the plots are the hokey ones we’ve some to know from sitcoms before and after the Bradys. However, I don’t like The Brady Bunch despite that cheesiness; I like the show because of it. That cheesiness is also what makes “Fright Night” a prime candidate for inclusion in this lineup!
There are better Brady episodes that feature scary elements (“The Slumber Caper” and “To Move Or Not To Move,” for instance), but those episodes use scares as a small piece in a larger story, not as the centerpiece of the tale. “Fright Night” is all about an escalating scare-prank contest between the Brady boys and the Brady girls, building to a big one against Alice, the Bradys’ housekeeper. It’s mindless fun, and that’s perfect for Halloween!
“Go To The Head Of The Class” – Amazing Stories (Season 2/episode 8)
Amazing Stories was one of many anthology series that cropped up in the 1980s, hoping to tap into the nostalgia people felt for The Twilight Zone. The best of this bunch of shows was, appropriately, the 1985 Twilight Zone revival, but each of them gave us a handful of stories that burn themselves into the memory. The most star-studded of these series was probably Amazing Stories, largely due to the fact that Steven Spielberg was producing it. Spielberg’s name brought a bunch of A-list filmmakers to television, including Joe Dante, Martin Scorsese, Clint Eastwood, and Robert Zemeckis, who directed the episode we’ll be talking about today!
“Go To The Head Of The Class” tells the story of two high-schoolers (Scott Coffey and Mary Stuart Masterson) who have incurred the wrath of one of the strictest teachers in school (Christopher Lloyd). After being embarrassed by this teacher, our two students decide to get revenge, using occult methods to do so. However, things get out of hand when a spell goes wrong…
My plot synopsis is pretty simple, but it’s really the details that make “Go To The Head Of The Class” fun. Zemeckis and his writing partner, Bob Gale, use their hour-length time slot to construct a sophisticated story, with lots of plot points, black humor, and cool set pieces. The episode also has a level of production value that one usually doesn’t see in ’80s television, especially in the graveyard sequence. It’s a great-looking episode, and it has a solid story to go along with it!
“The Boogieman” – Quantum Leap (Season 3/episode 5)
I haven’t discussed Quantum Leap often, but it’s one of my all-time favorite TV shows. For those who haven’t seen the show, it tells the story of Dr. Sam Beckett (Scott Bakula) as he travels through time, jumping into people’s lives and righting things that once went wrong. Beckett is assisted in this time-traveling quest by Al Calavicci (Dean Stockwell), a U.S. Navy Rear Admiral in charge of the Quantum Leap Project, which is what’s causing Beckett to travel through time. With the help of a hologram version of Al and the supercomputer Ziggy, Beckett goes about putting things right – and striving to find a way home.
That basic framework allowed Quantum Leap to explore all kinds of stories, genres, and time periods, and that’s what I love most about the show. No two episodes are alike, and that variety makes the show both episodic and binge-able, a hallmark of great TV storytelling.
I should confess that I haven’t seen “The Boogieman” in a few years, so I can’t go into heavy detail about the plot. However, the colorful vibe of the episode’s haunted house sticks in my memory, as well as the surprising ending. I’m sorry I can’t reveal more, but the atmosphere in this episode is fun, and the buildup to the final twist is really impressive. Give it a try!
“The Haunting Of Taylor House” – Home Improvement (Season 2/episode 6)
No other actor says “holidays” to me more than Tim Allen. That’s probably because Christmas movies are the most prominent in the holiday cinematic pantheon, and Allen headlines one of my favorites: The Santa Clause. However, Allen made a big impression on Halloween, too, through his ’90s smash sitcom Home Improvement. The show isn’t really talked about today, but it’s still admired for its Halloween episodes. Almost every October, the Home Improvement crew would bring out their A-game, creating an episode that captured the scary-but-fun spirit of Halloween.
My favorite Home Improvement episode is “The Haunting Of Taylor House,” which aired in the show’s second season. The plot of the episode revolves around a Halloween party at the Taylor house, where the oldest Taylor son, Brad (Zachery Ty Bryan) experiences romantic troubles with his crush, Jennifer Sudarsky (Jessica Wesson). I’m not going to say anymore about the plot, though, because that’s not why I love this episode.
What do I love about this episode, then? Well, I love the Halloween party. I love the banter between the characters, and the array of fantastic costumes. I’m also a big fan of the haunted basement Tim Taylor builds, which serves as the background to a pretty funny finale. It’s definitely the atmosphere that makes “The Haunting Of Taylor House” worth watching!
…And, with the end of that episode, you’ve watched three hours of great Halloween television. As I said at the beginning of this article, I think the true Halloween spirit consists of a mixture of scares and cheesiness. It’s my hope that this lineup – or at least this article – brings a little of that mixture to your Halloween season!
Honorable Mentions (feel free to mix and match these into the above lineup, or any other episode you wish!): “The Beast In The Black” (The Greatest American Hero, season 6/episode 2); “Doug’s Halloween Adventure” (Doug, season 4/episode 4); “Welcome To My Nightmare” (Amazing Stories, season 2/episode 4); any episode of Beyond Belief: Fact Or Fiction? (1997-2002)