October may be the time of year for hard-R horror movies, but it’s also the month of pumpkin carving, superhero and clown costumes, trick or treating, and eating so much candy you get a stomachache. In short, Halloween is different for kids than adults. It’s a magical night when anything is possible, and kids are more aware of that than anyone. There is an overabundance of horror for adults, but what good scares are out there for the under 13? And what possible nightmares will they have?
In the past, I’ve reviewed kid-friendly flicks, but this year we’re going to shrink down for the small screen. This is the year of TV specials, Halloween episodes, scary themes and lessons, and more. Television has been around for decades, and, luckily, we’ve got the episodes to prove it. Maybe they frightened your parents or you and now you’re looking to pass them onto the next generation. After a persuasive essay from a past student, I’ve also decided to stop giving age recommendations. What is and isn’t appropriate or scary isn’t up to me; that’s for each family to decide and deal with. Below, please find twenty-five episodes for the whole family this season.
Scooby-Doo Where Are You? – “Scooby-Doo and a Mummy Too” – 1969. With various series and iterations to choose from, I could have picked any episode from this pop culture phenomenon’s fifty plus year run. Instead, I decided this episode seared into my brain from a two episode feature VHS deserved a shout-out. While helping at a museum, the Scooby gang discover the Mummy of Anka has come to life in search of an ancient coin, but is there more to this mystery? I’m fairly certain this is what gave me my fear of mummies. Perhaps I was at an impressionable age where the plodding mummy and its curse, its incoherent screams and repetitive request for the “Coin” would live forever in my psyche. If you love Scooby-Doo, the episode is classic in its chase sequences, jokes, and the relationships between the friends. Maybe there are other episodes (with ghouls, clowns, or creepy figures) that will spook your child more than this one, but you can’t go wrong with a mummy’s curse. It’s a great introduction, and may later lead to an Egyptology phase and obsession with the undead. In the end, though, we’re in it for a loveable canine mascot and his friends solving mysteries.
The Muppet Show – “Vincent Price” – 1977. Like Scooby-Doo, The Muppets are a classic franchise that has withstood the test of time and held up well with their enduring sense of good fun and humor. In 2021, Disney+ released Muppets Haunted Mansion, and if you’re still looking for some thrills and chills with our favorite puppets then this episode delivers. Also, I’m a sucker for Vincent Price and we all know it. Various segments of the show deliver playful puns about bats and body parts; we learn how Vincent Price transforms into his eerie characters; ghosts and monsters alike play and parade onscreen. Memorable skits include furniture becoming monsters and an ode to Vincent Price’s love of gastronomy with some ghastly results. This episode is good fun for the whole family, and could serve as a welcome introduction to this classic actor for younger generations. (Then, of course, you can later show them House on Haunted Hill or The Fly). Definitely an episode I’ll be returning to for some spooky ambiance and my favorite non-scary puppets.
Smurfs – “Smurfs’ Halloween Special” – 1983. Many kids of the 2010s may be more familiar with the CGI film adaptation of these characters. During their TV show, however, we do get a little Halloween special with a lot going on in only 24 minutes. The Smurfs gather to celebrate the harvest and Jokey Smurf’s birthday. While gathering supplies, Lazy Smurf is accidentally turned red by Mother Nature as she changes the season. Gargamel (who is having a terrible birthday) and Hogatha (who is delayed in scaring the village children) work together to catch a Smurf. It’s interesting to see Halloween transferred into a fantasy setting and then not heavily used? It’s more so the day itself, nature changing to autumn, and including a witch. Despite that, this is cute enough and I’m sure any Halloween babies can relate on some level to sharing their birthday with a holiday. Not overly scary and most of the danger is your usual chase sequences, but a classic.
The Jetsons – “Haunted Halloween” – 1985. A classic of the Hanna-Barbera era of cartoons, this episode follows our favorite spacetime family as they prepare for the holiday. I’m familiar with the show, but hadn’t seen this episode before and—to be honest—was more curious about how our modern customs would translate to such a future. They didn’t do too much with it, but it’s still good fun. Elroy and Orbitty attempt to find costumes at a special shop, but fear that the owner may be taking a nefarious interest in Orbitty. At the same time, George attempts to perfect his magic act for Spacely’s annual party and help his boss win a bet. The two plotlines come together in a sensical-enough way, but—other than the costumes, some campfire stories in the beginning, and homages to Frankenstein with a touch of Vincent Price—this feels more like the show dressing up rather than embedding the spookiness. Light on scares, but still entertaining.
Garfield’s Halloween Adventure – 1985. This Halloween special, perhaps more forgotten than It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, adapts the clever comic feline to the small screen for a spooky adventure. Garfield, excited for all the candy he’ll get, tricks and treats with Odie before discovering something more sinister. Written by creator Jim Davis, this special captures what audiences enjoy most about Garfield and wraps it in a spooky seasonal package. It also includes music, which is largely forgettable but not the worst. The first half of the special focuses on Garfield’s excitement for candy and picking out a costume, but the second half takes a darker turn with ghosts and scares. In the end, of course, Garfield learns that Halloween isn’t necessarily all about the candy and we’re all excited to be safe in our beds again. The frights will probably work on younger viewers, but kids and adults will be equally entertained by this fat cat and his night out.
The Magic School Bus – “In the Haunted House” – 1994. I’m sure many Millennials can relate to the memory of a TV being wheeled into their classrooms for an educational half hour of this cartoon. This episode, in particular, seemed to be popular around Halloween or in music class. Ms. Frizzle’s class is stranded on their way to an important concert, so they take refuge in a mysterious house that comes with lots of scary sounds. If you’re looking for something entertaining and educational then Magic School Bus is perfect, and kids will learn about sound, vibration, and music. There are a handful of ‘soft’ jump scares, mostly based around the possibility of what a sound could be, but it’s helpful to realize reality is often not as terrifying as our imaginations. Carol Channing is a guest and a delight. If you’re looking for a paranormal field trip, then tune into Ms. Frizzle’s class.
Goosebumps – “Say Cheese and Die” – 1995. Based on the beloved children’s books and featuring Ryan Gosling in his second acting credit, this episode takes the soul of the same book and translates it to the screen. Greg and his friends steal an odd camera from a warehouse and discover it may have the ability to predict disastrous futures. Okay, my one major complaint is that the camera would be creepier if it didn’t already look evil; like I understand it might not have been possible to use an actual Polaroid due to licensing or whatever, but it lost some of that “innocent yet evil object” allure for me. Gosling brings a certain kind of gravitas to the character and, as expected, acts well. This is a concept scare more so than including a monster or creature, and most of the events aren’t overly scary when you remove them from the evil camera context. However, it is effective and entertaining and captures the oomph I enjoyed from the book. While modern audiences may be more familiar with the comedic Jack Black escapades, valuable frights are still to be found in this older adaptation.
Sister Sister – “Halloween” – 1995. Since the theme song largely explains the circumstances that separated and brought twins Tia and Tamara back together, it might be okay for new viewers to just jump in. The twins sneak out to attend a rave with their friends and accidentally end up in Canada; their parents attend a party, and Ray learns the power of a costume. Although this episode shares its title and inspiration with the holiday, it’s lightly spattered throughout compared to other family-friendly sitcoms. Halloween is more so seen as an excuse to party or prank, and even though Tia and Tamara have hijinks they aren’t overly spooky. With the confidence of his disguise, Ray—as an adult—gets to have some of that Halloween magic we love as kids and become a different version of himself for a few hours. The two plotlines eventually converge. If you’re looking for something with a touch of rebellion, good humor, and less scares then this episode might be it.
Blues Clues – “What is Blue Afraid Of?” – 1997. Depending on the age of your child, they may be more familiar with a different host. However, in the first season, we have this cute mystery about what is scaring Blue. While the episode follows the familiar formula of the show, it’s also interesting to see how similar the steps are to investigative horror. Kids learn to analyze shadows, close-ups of photos, and sounds. These techniques allow kids to begin thinking through things realistically rather than emotionally and help rationalize fears they may be having. What’s that scary sound at night? A tree hitting the window! The songs and animation are classic and heartwarming, and I always have fun hanging out with Steve. I like how he relates to the fears and frights rather than talking down to kids. We also have a ghost so while it’s not Halloween-centered, it has all the hallmarks of a scary story that’s appropriate for younger viewers. Find some clues to find out what Blue is afraid of.
Boy Meets World – “And Then There Was Shawn” – 1998. The late-90s were full of teen slashers like Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and Urban Legend. Obviously, Disney couldn’t bring out the full horror treatment on the small screen, but this episode of Boy Meets World does its best to pay homage to the tropes and scares of its time. When Cory, Topanga, and Shawn end up in detention, they quickly discover a killer is slashing their way through the school. Shawn, as a horror fan, thinks he knows the formula and can figure it out, even questioning guest star Jennifer Love Hewitt, but the bodies continue to fall. This episode does depend a bit on the context from earlier plotlines, but can be enjoyed on its own. While the allusions and tributes may not work for younger viewers, it’s still appropriate enough and not that traumatizing. The episode uses suspense, mystery, and the unexpected to its advantage rather than relying on revulsion. It’s scary in the best of ways, and perfect for Halloween or year round watching.
Spongebob Squarepants – Scaredy Pants/I Was a Teenage Gary – 1999. Over its many seasons, Spongebob has done more than one Halloween episode, but I figured the first was a good place to start. I was tempted to use the segment “Rock Bottom” because that’s full of suspense and tension (even a Lewton Bus), but we’ll go with these two examples of body horror (for kids!). In the first part, Spongebob is determined to be the scarer instead of the scared this Halloween and dresses up as the Flying Dutchman—with unexpected consequences. In the second part, Squidward fails at snail-sitting and Spongebob and his neighbor face a shell of a time. Each segment is still kind-hearted and fun even with the addition of scares and holiday jokes. The homages to other horror are a nice touch to see too. As for that body horror, we’ll be thankful the show is animated because it’s definitely something to remember. At least a sponge can regenerate!
Courage the Cowardly Dog – “King Ramses’ Curse/The Clutching Foot” – 2000. Like Scooby-Doo, you could basically pick any episode of this show to terrify children and make adults reminiscence about their own fears. Let’s go with one of the best segments for that. While the second half of the episode—where Eustace is possessed by a 1920s-esque fungal infection—has its own bizarreness, the first half is where the real scares are. Courage discovers a stolen Egyptian slab, and, despite the mummy’s warnings, Eustace won’t let it go without proper reward. Mummies are often scary, and Courage does it well. While most of the show always works with the unusual and the uncanny, this episode hits new heights as the cartoon animation is juxtaposed against a nightmare made of 3D. The plot builds suspense toward this reveal and the voice work adds to the terror. May be a little too intense for youngest viewers, but everyone else is sure to fear the pharaoh.
Recess – “Terrifying Tales of Recess” – 2001. With the popularity of The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror and other anthology-style episodes, this classic series gave its own spin on playground stories. Narrated by Butch, the storyteller of the series, we receive three different tales of fright involving some of our favorite characters: “Children of the Cornchip”, “When Bikes Attack!”, and “Night of the Living Finsters”. Each one has a different flavor of terror to it, going from a Gothic mystery to sci-fi shocker to zombie teachers. Personally, “When Bikes Attack!” is my favorite because I’m a sucker for inanimate objects with grudges. Some of the animation is terrifying, and the episode is pretty reminiscent of the dramatic high stakes what-if games we’d play at recess. If you’re looking for something eerie that might inspire some tall tales at school then this episode works well.
The Proud Family – “A Hero for Halloween” – 2002. Part of the growing pains of childhood is that weird transitory period where you feel too old for Halloween, even when you’re not. This episode captures that well as Penny Proud opts out of a huge Halloween party with her friends because she’s not interested in dressing up anymore. When she’s forced into a costume by her family, though, she finds Halloween can still be super. There’s also a B-plot involving the Proud Family’s house being haunted and visited by a truly terrifying ghost. The animation style is still one of my favorites of its time, and the voice work captures many of the over-the-top emotions. The episode redeems a few Halloween tropes, and has a guest star in Lil Romeo. While not all of the characterizations have aged well, it’s still a show worth watching and good fun. Many kids, like Penny, need to realize they’re not too grown for Halloween, because this is an all age event.
The Fairly Odd Parents – “Scary Godparents” – 2002. A lot of kid’s Halloween media revolves around that childhood greed for more candy or the best costume, and this special is no exception. When Timmy, disappointed in his lackluster mummy costume and suffering with Vicky as his chaperone, wishes for everything to be ‘real and scary’ he gets more than he bargained for. Now he’s decaying, his fairy godparents have lost their magic, and the cool kids are about to end the world! Can Timmy save Halloween? While every episode of the show has the same moral, this one works well for the holiday and doesn’t quite feel like a repeat of Halloweentown II. The various costumes and their transformations are pretty cool, especially the Jack-o-Bot. While perhaps not as scary as it could be, the show keeps its usual tone consistent and the humor hits pretty well. In the end, of course, the most terrifying aspect is the dentist’s bill after eating too much candy. This action-packed special is sure to entertain and may provide a good lesson in humility and the power of creativity too.
Billy & Mandy’s Jacked-Up Halloween – 2003. If you prefer less treat and more trick then this episode from The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy is sure to delight. I was absolutely obsessed with the online game version of this episode (and mourn the loss of Adobe Shockwave every day). On Halloween, Billy and Mandy go trick-or-treating. Since Billy is dressed as the Grim Reaper, Grim loans the boy his scythe with specific instructions that it can lead to doom in the wrong hands. Of course, those hands belong to Jack O’Lantern, this cartoon’s version of the headless horseman archetype, who loves pulling pranks to excess. Can Billy, Mandy, and Grim save Endsville from the worst prank of all? I still love how distinctive this animation style is and how the colors jump off the screen. It has a mix of humor which is sure to hit somewhere, and the concept is executed wonderfully. There’s also a B-plot where Irwin keeps trying to impress Mandy with his scary costumes, but they’re always below the mark. Maybe a little too dark and spooky for youngest viewers, but everyone else can have fun.
Totally Spies – “Halloween Is, Like, So Pagan” – 2005. This was one of those Americanized anime-style cartoons that was all the rage in the early 00s. The show is a product of its times because, with “modern” teen girls as our heroes, a lot of the dialogue is dated. Kids today might not fully understand that, but they will be in for a good time when Sam, Alex, and Clover try to save a gated community from a Halloween curse. We get some good callbacks to late-90s horror and popular urban legends, but this puts its own spin on babysitters in peril. The girls are in costume for the entire episode, and each of their personalities shine in relation to the holiday. It has a touch of Scooby Doo on Zombie Island with more Charlie’s Angels that some kids may take a liking to. While it may not be the most famous or infamous Halloween special of its time, this episode definitely captures that zeitgeist. If you’re looking to share some spooky nostalgia with your kids this will open a portal to the past.
The Suite Life of Zack & Cody – “The Ghost of Suite 613” – 2005. Easily one of the most memorable episodes of the original run of this series, this Halloween-themed scare takes our favorite twins into the most haunted room at The Tipton. We all know rumors of haunted hotels, and, with the show’s setting, it only makes sense for them to tackle this in a terrifying episode with twists and turns. Zack won’t stop pranking Cody; Erwin tries to catch ghosts with his gadgets; Esteban communes with the dead during a séance. For older viewers, there is a certain nostalgia in seeing the Sprouse twins when they were younger, and while they’ve both tackled darker projects since then it’s good to see where the scares started. The suspense and effects build to some good frights which are sure to entertain and frighten unprepared viewers. It’s a classic plot with fun characters, and you can’t really go wrong with that.
Avatar: The Last Airbender – “The Puppet Master” – 2007. Compared to others on this list, this episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender can’t necessarily be watched without previous context. It is, after all, in the last season and a lot happens to build toward it, even if the events are mostly singular. That said, I had to include it because when an episode begins with campfire stories and ends with an epic battle and trauma then you basically have a horror movie. The Avatar gang, still hiding in the Fire Nation, are taken in by a kindly innkeeper who warns them of the recent disappearances during the full moon. As secrets are revealed, though, darkness of the past and present comes to a clash. Elements from this episode would play a larger part in the show’s sequel, The Legend of Korra, but their introduction here is notable for being creepy. Avatar is a show that doesn’t shy away from the darkness of war and its consequences, and “The Puppet Master” contains a storyline we hadn’t seen before and its effect on one of the main characters is harrowing. The episode still contains the show’s usual humor, beautiful animation, and wonder, but it’s worth a watch for the scares.
Jake and the Never Land Pirates – “Escape from Ghost Island/The Island of Doctor Undergear” – 2015. This show, aimed at younger viewers, has multiple spooky episodes to choose from, but I went with this one. Although the second segment is not as seasonal as the first, it still has a few thrills. In “Escape from Ghost Island”, Jake and his crew must work with Captain Hook and Smee (who have been turned into ghosts) to stop the evil Captain Wraith. The episode has a good sense of fun, and I liked that it brought together two ‘enemies’ under a common cause and the disembodied Hook and Smee were entertaining. “The Island of Doctor Undergear” sees Jake and his crew attempting to save Captain Gizmo after a replacement cog has turned him evil. (Despite the title, I’m not seeing direct allusions to The Island of Dr. Moreau). As far as preschool entertainment goes, Jake and the Never Land Pirates is thrilling with enough supernatural flair to celebrate the season.
Sesame Street – “Halloween” – 2016. Obviously aimed at younger viewers, this seasonal episode brings some of that Sesame Street magic and kindness to the holiday. Typical features like the letter and number of the day are backed by Elmo learning the power of imagination and what jealousy feels like as well as a Walking Dead parody with Cookie Monster. If you haven’t tuned into the show since it gained HBO-level production value, it’s worth the extra sparkle. The same loveable characters are here with songs and moments that encourage activity and interaction. The episode also perfectly captures “costume privilege” without ever calling it that and comes to a happy conclusion.
We Bare Bears – “Charlie’s Halloween Thing” – 2016. Prior to this, I had never seen an episode of this show but, upon watching, I was immediately charmed thanks to the voice work and structure. Therefore, this episode can stand on its own relatively well without any prior knowledge. Our titular Charlie sets up two spooky tales on Halloween: first, the Bear brothers discover their new plush dolls may be more dangerous than they appear; second, Chloe is accidentally bitten by Griz and becomes a werebear. Each segment had some genuine thrills and good suspense in its storytelling. This felt like it hit the perfect middle between something that could be more gruesome but chose not to be for its intended audience. We have some good humor, those classic storylines, and—overall—a Halloween plot that makes this a treat.
DuckTales – “Terror of the Terra-firmians” – 2017. This updated version of the classic cartoon has a slick animation style and more of a paranormal bent to its adventures. That said, this B-movie inspired episode holds up pretty well on its own, although some plot elements can be a bit confusing without prior knowledge. After seeing a scary movie about underground creatures, the children and Mrs. Beakley explore abandoned subway tunnels. The episode does a good job at showing how young imaginations can react to fictional situations in different ways: some require scientific proof of existence where others are ready for the unknown. The subway tunnels make for a creepy and claustrophobic setting, and the conflicts between various characters heighten that tension. The end result felt very 80s to me, but I’m sure it’s a happier (and more kid-friendly) way to go.
Hotel Transylvania: The Series – “The Legend of Pumpkin Guts” – 2017. Obviously, in a series that revolves around monsters you have to do a Halloween special. Here, Mavis and her friends discover why young monsters aren’t allowed out on Halloween and what dangers await. The show does have a slight tonal difference from the movies and isn’t computer animated in the same fashion, but it feels like its own thing. Mavis has a natural curiosity about the outside world and a rebellious nature that kids can relate to. The authority figure, Aunt Lydia, makes for a good foil against the fun, and it’s nice to see Dracula get in on the action too. Pumpkin Guts, as a villain and monster to monsters, is a touch humorous but excellent in his own right. We also have a flashback sequence with a young Dracula that may tug at a few heartstrings. While the episode isn’t inherently scary, it is full of Halloween fun and plenty of monsters to love.
Hilda – “The Ghost” – 2019. I’m surprised I’ve missed out on this paranormal fantasy series until now, but after watching “The Ghost” I’m excited to binge the rest of it. Hilda and her friends investigate what is causing Frida’s room to end up a mess every morning. The animation style for this show is gorgeous and the color palette makes everything feel distinct. While the conflict initially seems like it has low stakes, we can see friendships strain when characters’ desires go against each other. The climax—an epic ghost brawl in a graveyard—is a lot of fun. While the supernatural is still spooky here, there’s a certain level of respect and mysticism that comes with it, which feels cool to see in a kid’s show. I’m sure more than a few viewers will relate to the ongoing struggle to clean their rooms, but the deeper themes may go over younger audience’s heads. Overall, this episode sold me on the show, and I hope it might do the same for you.
Along with the newfound popularity in horror for adults, we’re also seeing a renaissance in horror-themed shows, movies, and books for younger audiences. The classics of my childhood may not be the favorites of future generations, but I’m glad they’ll have their own treats. So, grab some popcorn and a pre-allocated batch of candy, press play, and enjoy the goosebumps.
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