When it comes to television, Halloween isn’t quite what it used to be, especially from the late ‘70s to the early ‘90s. Halloween specials were a regular staple of fall television, and often offered Emmy Award worthy programming. While Disney reigned supreme when it came to releasing great Halloween specials, nearly every major studio tried their hand at releasing fun holiday-themed shows. Though you can find re-airings of classics like It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown annually on TV or revisit newly deemed classics like Ghostwatch and The Worst Witch on streaming services, there’s a number of forgotten Halloween specials worth revisiting. Here are 10 of the best forgotten favorites:
Once Upon a Midnight Scary
Made for the CBS Library TV series in 1979, this Halloween special features three abridged tales of terror based on popular novels all narrated by Vincent Price. The tales, “The Ghost Belonged to Me,” “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “The House With A Clock In Its Walls,” were told in a sort of cliff notes fashion- the goal of the special seemed to be to more interested in getting children to read, so segments end abruptly with Price telling kids if they want to know how it ends, they should read the book. More nostalgic than truly great, the real reason to watch this one is for Vincent Price, towing the line between ham and menace.
The Crown of Bogg
Before Paul Fusco created beloved ‘80s sitcom Alf, he created a Halloween special on par with Jim Henson levels of puppetry in 1981. The special was made for Showtime, featuring a cast of puppets and live-actors, and follows the kingdom of Bogg, where King Mildew plans to retire his crown to his son, Milo, until Mildew’s brothers issue a challenge for the crown. Full of one-liners and silly songs, The Crown of Bogg is a great Halloween-themed rival for The Muppets, but sparse screenings on Showtime and no proper home video release meant this one remains largely forgotten.
Halloween is Grinch Night
The lesser-known sequel to beloved Christmas special How the Grinch Stole Christmas sees the Seussian Grinch seeking to steal another holiday, this time Halloween aka Grinch Night. Instead of sweet Cindy Lou Who, its little Euchariah, blown into the Grinch’s path by the “sour-sweet wind,” that must save the holiday. Inside the Grinch’s wagon, Euchariah is confronted by a terrifying sequence that features monsters and surreal imagery and must gather courage, not heart, to win. More refined than its predecessor, this Grinch special is lost in the shadow of Christmas.
The Midnight Hour
An ABC television movie that was set on Halloween but actually aired the day after, in 1985, this special follows a group of teens as they break into the local witchcraft museum on Halloween night, and accidentally raise the dead; a witch bent on revenge and a ‘50s cheerleading ghost that helps the teens right their wrong. On paper, it sounds an awful lot like a popular Disney Halloween movie from the ‘90s. Yet, this special is much more rooted in its time period, with a fantastic soundtrack and a climax that’s one big high school dance party. It blends cheesy humor with actual moments of spookiness, like when the dead rise from their graves. The special includes just about every popular monster; ghosts, zombies, witches, vampires, and even a werewolf. Part self-aware zombie comedy and part sappy love story where a ghost only gets one night to find love, it’s a shame they don’t make Halloween specials like this anymore.
The Halloween that Almost Wasn’t
Also known as The Night that Dracula Saved the World, this Halloween special was a Disney channel staple since 1979 up until sometime in the ‘90s. On Halloween night, Count Dracula (Judd Hirsch) gathers together all of his mild-tempered monsters to deliver an ultimatum- either they get their acts together and become scary again or leave his Transylvanian castle permanently. It strangely ends in a disco, fitting of its time I suppose, but the performances and makeup were so fantastic that the special was actually nominated for four Emmy Awards and actually won one for its makeup.
Witch’s Night Out
A 1978 animated special with no existing ties to any other properties or toys, Witch’s Night Out follows a disgruntled witch who stirs up trouble all for the sake of getting people to take the holiday seriously again. This includes turning children into actual monsters. Distinctly ‘70s with its monochromatic characters with names like Tender and Rotten, its memorable aesthetic is bolstered by memorable voice-acting by SNL-cast members Gilda Radner and Catherine O’Hara. Clever writing and pacing make this one transcends its time period, but it’s increasingly hard to find.
Claymation Comedy of Horrors Show
From the studio of Will Vinton, the man responsible for coining the term “Claymation” and the iconic (and creepy) California Raisins, this Halloween special failed to capture the fan base that he previous works did. Perhaps one of the biggest reasons is that this obvious Halloween special was dumped on the air in May of 1991, not the Halloween season. The 30-minute special featured two original characters, Wilshire Pig and Sheldon Snail, who find a map to Dr. Frankenswine’s lab. They spend the runtime poking about the castle, building toward a climax featuring a giant monster. Visually amazing and intended to launch a series around the original characters, this special never quite gained the momentum needed.
The Last Halloween
Aired in 1991, when the popularity of televised Halloween specials had begun to wane, animation company Hanna-Barbera took a stab at it by creating a live-action special centered around space aliens, a rarity. Set in the classic small-town decked in Halloween décor, the plot follows four CGI-animated aliens who crash land on Earth in search of candy to bring back to their home planet. The visual effects and animation were provided by Industrial Light and Magic and Pacific Data Images, and won an Emmy Award. Funny and cute, though saddled with another “save Halloween” plot, this special marked the only time Hanna-Barbera departed from their trademark traditional animation.
Aired in 1986 as an episode of The Disney Sunday Movie, during a decade where Disney was king of great Halloween specials, Mr. Boogedy earns the rare distinction of being a Disney special that actually caused nightmares in the youth it was geared toward. Set in the New England town of Lucifer Falls, a novelty salesman moves his family into a house with supernatural incidents that grow increasingly troubling. At first, everyone thinks it’s the father’s pranks, but soon learns the house is haunted by The Boogedy Man. A great balance of silly and spooky, Mr. Boogedy has two major flaws; it wasn’t long enough and it’s out of print on DVD. It also was originally intended as a pilot but failed to catch on.
Cry Baby Lane
An obscure made-for-television Halloween film that aired once on Nickelodeon, on October 28, 2000, before being relegated to obscurity, Cry Baby Lane plays like a fantastic episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark? Featuring a surprisingly dark plot for a children’s Halloween movie, it follows two brothers who enjoy listening to ghost stories by an Undertaker (Frank Langella). One night he tells them of Siamese twins, one good and one evil, whose father cleaved them in two upon their death and buried them separately. The smart brothers hold a séance where they’re buried, and the elder brother becomes possessed by the evil twin, leaving it to the younger brother to save everyone in town. Deeply rooted in fears of puberty and sexual awakening, wrapped in a creepy ghost tale of possession, it’s no wonder Cry Baby Lane has the reputed reputation of being banned.