Friday, October 23, 2020

Horror at Home: Halloween Specials To Celebrate Indoors With


For many this year, Halloween may be limited to put it lightly: Amidst the seemingly never-ending COVID-19 pandemic, many places have cancelled trick or treating, discouraged seasonal parties or downright shut down any plans for public events related to the holiday. Simply put, a lot of people are going to have to celebrate Halloween indoors at home this year. Which is why I decided to come up with a handy list of Halloween specials for anyone reading this. Just because a lot of people can't go out on Halloween next week, doesn't mean they have to suffer bored at home on the holiday. And, if you're like me, sometimes you may not want to do a movie night for what feels like the millionth night in a row. So, without further ado, jump the cut and see which TV episodes I've decided to recommend for a fun Halloween night:

Community – Epidemiology

Community did a lot of holiday-themed episodes, including four for Halloween. "Epidemiology", the Halloween episode for season two, is the standout among the pack. The episode finds the core ensemble attending their community college's Halloween party when the tainted food served by the Dean causes an outbreak of a virus that causes the students to develop zombie-like symptoms. One by one, the members of the core group get infected by their peers as they race against time to find a solution to the predicament. What makes "Epidemiology" a hoot is the show doing its usual meta takedown of media genres (the zombie subgenre this time) while adding in offbeat little touches. Such as Shirley and Professor Chang bonding (and hooking up!) over nobody understanding their costumes (They're Glinda the good witch and Dorothy Hamill, respectively, but everybody thinks they're Miss Piggy and Michelle Kwan), and the entire episode's soundtrack consisting solely of Abba songs. None of Community's Halloween episodes are bad watches, but "Epidemiology" remains the GOAT.

King of the Hill - Pigmalion

This is a Halloween episode so controversial, it didn't air for two years after it was initially produced "Pigmalion" revolves around the main family's niece Luanne's relationship with a pork product mogul named Tripp Larson that quickly goes south when Larson is quickly revealed to quite the unhinged character. "Pigmalion" is definitely much darker and more bizarre than the typical King of the Hill episode, as Luanne really gets put through the ringer here. The bubbly young woman basically spends the entire episode getting entangled in an abusive relationship, and is really only saved because Peggy is proven right in her instincts that Larson was never good news for her niece. And speaking of Larson, the man seems normal at first, but is quickly revealed to be a psychologically scarred abuser, as well as a potential furry, that would be more at home in the film Peeping Tom than in an animated sitcom. I wasn't joking when I said this was bizarre, but it works in the episode's favor as it makes "Pigmalion" a particularly memorable Halloween installment.

Daria – Legends of the Mall

This is the first episode to not necessarily be a Halloween episode, but is one that remains perfect for the holiday regardless. "Legends of the Mall" is Daria's stab at an anthology episode with three stories about three different urban legends within the town of Lawndale shared by different characters. The wraparound plot follows Daria and Jane accompanying Daria's father Jake as he searches for her younger sister Quinn, who has gotten lost taking the bus home with her friends. As the search carries on, the characters kill time by sharing the urban legends with each other. The charm of "Legends of the Mall" comes largely from the creativity of the stories, as each one takes place in a different decade (The 70s, 80s and 50s respectively) and reimagines the cast in each one. It's also fun to see the characters in horror scenarios, such as the ever-furious teacher Mr. DeMartino hunting down teenagers with metal dentures as his weapon of choice, and Daria's ghost haunting teens moving into her home. The show never truly delved into horror territory before or after, so "Legends of the Mall" stands out as a fun foray into unfamiliar territory that lends itself to Halloween very well.

Tales from the Darkside – The Last Car

Tales from the Darkside was an episodic anthology series with a fair amount of creepy episodes, including the famously disturbing entry "Halloween Candy". But another that is equally as unsettling that doesn't get as much love is "The Last Car": The plot of this episode follows a young woman, Stacey, on her way to her family's home for Thanksgiving. She boards the last train of the night, and gradually discovers that there's something very wrong about this train and that her voyage may never end. While it's easy to predict what's going to happen, "The Last Car" remains a genuinely chilling episode just from watching the journey that Stacey embarks on as she slowly realizes exactly how wrong things are on the train. It's something that really makes you empathize with the woman, thanks to the splendid performance from actress Begonya Plaza. There's also several details that add to the surreality, such as the other passengers on the train having minor details about them altered repeatedly and the looming presence of the conductor and the tunnels. For those who want to see a mind screw during their holiday, "The Last Car" is the Darkside episode for you.

Gravity Falls – Summerween

Let's get this out of the way: I fucking love Gravity Falls. I think it's not only one of the best animated shows I've ever seen, but also one of the best overall shows of the last decade period. Despite the entire series being set during a single summer, the show still managed to find a way to cram in a Halloween special in the form of "Summerween." It's explained that the titular town loves Halloween so much that they created the holiday of Summerween, in which they celebrate Halloween a second time during the summer. "Summerween" displays the show's usual mix of supernatural hijinks with a coming of age plot for the show's protagonists, twins Dipper and Mabel. In this specific instance, Dipper contends with his conflicting feelings of wanting to spend the holiday with his sister or go to a party with his crush Wendy, all while the duo have to contend with a Slenderman-esque monster that demands an outrageous amount of Summerween candy from them before the lights go out. "Summerween" invokes the thrills of the Halloween holiday while mixing them in with the show's "Twin Peaks meets The Simpsons" sensibilities to create a very memorable special.

Buffy: The Vampire Slayer – Fear Itself

For one of the most beloved horror series of my generation, Buffy: The Vampire Slayer only actually did three proper Halloween episodes. The second of the trio is season four's "Fear Itself", which revolves around Buffy and her friends going to a haunted house event hosted by one of the local fraternities. In true Buffy fashion, the frat guys paints a symbol onto the floor that accidentally begins a conjuring spell for a demon named Gachnar that feeds off of the fears of others. Which of course means that when Buffy, Willow, Xander and Oz enter, the quartet each have to face their own personal fears and overcome them to save the day and stop the villain. "Fear Itself" is a good example of the show's trademark mix of horror and comedy, with tense moments when the characters separate within the haunted house and utterly hilarious bits including certain characters' costume choices and the true nature of Gachnar, which allows the episode to end on a very memorable punchline.

Family Guy – And Then There Were Fewer

Family Guy? On a horror recommendation list? It's more likely than you'd think! "And Then There Were Fewer" was the show's homage to murder mysteries of the Agatha Christie variety, played surprisingly straight for the most part. The extended episode follows the full ensemble as they are invited to a dinner party at a mansion hosted by James Woods (once again playing himself), whom supposedly wants to make amends with the characters for all of his past wrongdoings. That's when the bodies begin to pile up, and the familiar cast of characters have to deduce who among them is trying to kill them all. As I mentioned earlier, the episode is played, for the most part, very straight forward. As a result, many of the usual Family Guy tropes are toned down or done away with completely. What you're left with is a humorous yet dark and mature murder mystery that manages to be compelling and entertaining for its entire hourlong runtime.

Tales From The Crypt – Beauty Rest

Tales from the Crypt, like Tales from the Darkside, had a lot of hits, but none gave me the utter speechlessness that "Beauty Rest" did. "Beauty Rest" follows Helen, a struggling model whose career keeps stalling as her roommate Joyce's flourishes. After the two have an argument in which Helen repeatedly accuses Joyce of being a starfucker, the former learns that the latter is entering what is perceived to be a high class beauty pageant. This leads to Helen doing whatever it takes to not only enter and win this pageant, but to eliminate her competition along the way. "Beauty Rest" stands out to me for a couple of reasons: The first is the absolutely dedicated performance from the episode's star Mimi Rogers. Rogers is an actress who I hadn't seen do a leading role before, and she absolutely knocks Helen out of the park, giving her the right amount of desperation and frustration to really get you invested in her. The other reason is that the episode has one of the most genuinely shocking twists I have seen in a TV show. The plot is one of those that seems to be going in one direction, and then takes on not only a new direction with the twist, but one that illuminates everything before it in a completely different way that demands an immediate rewatch. If you like being shocked and impressed, "Beauty Rest" is the one for you.

Roseanne – Halloween IV

Yes, I'm aware the legacy of Roseanne is tainted by the titular star's IRL shittiness (something I will not defend), but if you separate the original run of the show from said shittiness, it still holds up give or take that legendarily lackluster last season. Most of Roseanne's Halloween episodes are great, but "Halloween IV" is particularly memorable: The episode follows Roseanne, who is unusually depressed this Halloween and lacking in her usual Halloween spirit. Despite her family and friends' best attempts, she decides to stay home and isolate herself. This leads to her being confronted by the ghosts of Halloween past, present and future, whom are determined to restore her Halloween spirit and get her seasonal groove back. The decision to parody A Christmas Carol in a Halloween setting puts a fresh spin on an old tale, and is elevated by the show's trademark sarcastic sense of humor mixed with Roseanne's love for practical jokes during Halloween. By the time the happy ending comes, you'll be laughing with Roseanne as she delivers her take on Scrooge's redemption by pranking an entire Halloween party all with her choice of accessories for her statue of liberty costume.

The Simpsons – Treehouse of Horror II

Finally, what list would be complete without mentioning the iconic "Treehouse of Horror" series of Halloween specials courtesy of long-running series The Simpsons? There's been much debate over the years as to which installment is the superior one, but I'm here to plug the second installment as I feel it's one that tends to get overlooked. In this special, we follow Lisa, Bart and Homer as, after overdoing it on the Halloween candy, and each has their own sugar-fueled nightmare riffing on a familiar tale. Lisa's is a retelling of The Monkey's Paw, albeit with the family drama replaced with meta humor about the show's popularity and an alien invasion courtesy of Kang and Kodos. Bart's homages the Twilight Zone episode "It's a Good Life", with Bart gaining godly powers that allow him to rule Springfield albeit at the cost of the safety of several. Finally, Homer's is an ode to Frankenstein, with Mr. Burns building a mechanical creation that requires the use of Homer's brain. "Treehouse of Horror II" does what the classic Halloween specials do best: Combining the generous humor of classic Simpsons with some genuinely macabre imagery (the less said about where Homer ends up at the end, the better).

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