It’s that time of year again- Halloween; ‘tis the season for ghouls and ghasts and spooks galore. There have been few true horror series, such as Tales from the Crypt and Masters of Horror, and for this admitted scaredy-cat, finding TV episodes to watch can be tough. Here are seven fun and spooky episodes to celebrate the holiday with, marathon-style. As a rule, Halloween-set episodes are excluded, as that’s a list for a different day, however, no Halloween TV marathon would be complete without It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and The Simpsons’ “Treehouse of Horror” (the first incarnation is a favorite, with the gang moving into a haunted house, the introduction of Kang and Kodos as The Simpsons does “To Serve Man”, and finally their fantastic rendition of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven); consider adding them to the ordered list below.
The marathon starts out breezily with this light-hearted episode from 1965. Rob is working into the wee hours at the office when he hears a strange noise and sees a mysterious flying saucer. Of course no one believes him, but is he going crazy, or is something spooky going on? Everyone knows that feeling- you’ve been up all night finishing a project or some homework, the end’s in sight, and you hear a strange noise in the house. Was it just the pipes creaking or the wind blowing, or…? “Uhny Uftz” captures this experience very well, the moments of doubt when you’re punchy from lack of sleep and your imagination starts running wild at every noise and shadow. Dick van Dyke is eminently watchable, and this is a great episode to set the tone with. (For those curious, it’s up on Hulu for free. Another great spooky episode is the classic, “It May Look Like a Walnut”, also on Hulu.)
From comedy to old school, cheeseball horror. This 1963 episode about man’s first contact with the alien Zanti, prompted when a prison ship lands on Earth, is incredibly effective. It may not be scary to some, with obvious low-end effects and claymation aliens, but the creepy sound design and several strong performances, particularly Bruce Dern’s, sell the threat and make it one of the very best Outer Limits episodes. As with each episode from this series, the story ends with a thought-provoking monologue, but the sheer creep factor of the Zanti, and how they’re used, put it on the list and prove that you don’t need whiz-bang special effects to tell a good hair-raiser. (This episode is also available for free on Hulu.)
Consistently named as one of the best episodes of the show’s nearly 50 year history, “Blink”, from 2007, is a completely stand-alone episode that features, rather than the Doctor and his then Companion, Martha, one-shot character Sally Sparrow, played excellently by a then-unknown (in the US, anyway) Carey Mulligan. After a series of odd occurrences, Sally is introduced to the statue-like Weeping Angels, an alien race of assassins who can only move when you can’t see them. Whenever they’re being watched, they petrify, but as soon as no one’s looking at them, they’ll kill you in the literal blink of an eye, making them darn near impossible to kill, let alone evade. This fantastic concept, buoyed by excellent performances and some timey-wimey fun, makes for an episode that newbies and Whovians alike can enjoy.
Before he was Captain Kirk, TJ Hooker, or Denny Crane, William Shatner starred in this classic Twilight Zone episode from 1963. The premise is simple- Bob Wilson, recently recovered from a mental breakdown, looks out of his airplane window mid-flight and sees something on the wing of the plane, tinkering with it and taking it apart. No one else can see the gremlin- is Bob crazy, or are they all in mortal peril? Shatner doesn’t exactly underplay here, but the episode is incredibly suspenseful and, though you may see several of the scares coming, they still work. The horror here comes not from the monster, but from the Cassandra syndrome (Bob’s inability to convince anyone of the danger he knows is real), and the fear of losing one’s mind, of not being able to trust one’s own reason and senses.
This acclaimed episode of Buffy from 1999 is a perfect follow-up to “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”. The Gentlemen come to Sunnydale, fairy tale villains who steal the voices of everyone in town, making it impossible to speak, call out for help, or even scream as you’re being attacked. There are many fantastic and scary Buffy episodes, but the thematic parallel between Bob’s struggle to communicate with the other passengers on his flight and Buffy and co.’s struggle to regain their voices, is what puts it over the top. While there are serial elements in the episode, for the most part this is a standalone episode, and you don’t need to have any other Buffy episodes to enjoy this one. Doug Jones is fantastic as the lead Gentleman, the picture of courteous menace, and Camden Toy, another of the Gentlemen, would appear again in the creepy seventh season episode “Same Time, Same Place”, as that episode’s villain, Gnarl. “Hush” has a terrifying premise, a few belly laughs, and a fantastic score, and is definitely a great Halloween pick.
This is quite possibly the most horrific episode of television. Aired in 1996, it follows Mulder and Scully’s investigation into the death of a mysteriously deformed infant. Their search leads them to the Peacocks, an inbred family of genetic mutants who love their mother far more than is advisable. This episode is one of the most memorable of the series’ run and is consistently ranked as one of their best. Due to its graphic nature, it is rarely rerun on TV and is one of two episodes in the series run to begin with a parental warning. If you’re squeamish, this may be an episode to skip. If you’re not though, this is a fantastic, creepy episode and is one that could easily become a Halloween viewing tradition.
After “Home”, a palate cleanser may be in order before bed, and this episode fits the bill. Aired in 2008 and shot in crisp black and white with dramatic lighting and camera angles, “Monster Movie” is a love letter to 1930’s horror movies (Dracula, Frankenstein, etc.). The story finds Sam and Dean investigating a string of bizarre deaths that witnesses are attributing to classic horror villains. Todd Stashwick gives a strong central performance as the villain of the piece and though there are a few significant character beats that fans of the series will pick up on, this is a mostly standalone episode that’s full of laughs and horror in-jokes. This is fun, campy episode hits all the right notes and is the perfect capper to an evening of Halloween-inspired viewing.
What is your favorite spooky TV episode? Post your thoughts in the comments below!
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