Watching scary movies is a tried-and-true Halloween activity. But for those of us (me) who shiver at even the thought of real jumpscares, we might be better suited to indulge the sillier side of the holiday, complete with a nostalgia boom. NBNtertainment took a trip down memory lane to round up the best Halloween specials from our childhoods.
Suite Life of Zack and Cody: “The Ghost of Suite 613” (S1, E19)
This episode is peak nostalgia for me. Zack and Cody always had great special episodes – think the superhero one or the episode about colonial Boston – but this episode takes the cake. I remember as a kid being terrified of the ghost haunting room 613, lashing out at any mention of pizza thanks to her husband’s infidelity in Italy. Bellboy Esteban “channeling” the ghost’s voice will always be iconic, and for good reason. Adrian R’Mante’s exaggerated facial expressions help to sell the over-the-top spookiness of it all. Rather than being laughable, the practical effects that reveal the show’s budget and the video quality are charmingly nostalgic. And I have to admit: the ending scene still spooked me even all these years later.
Avatar the Last Airbender: “The Puppetmaster” (S3, E8)
Okay, so technically this isn’t officially a Halloween episode, but since it originally aired a week after Halloween, I’m counting it. “The Puppetmaster” includes all the elements of a Halloween special: a mysterious woman who might be a witch; a bunch of horror-esque shots and jumpscares; an opening scene in which the main characters share ghost stories; and a villain, Hama, who, despite appearing in only one episode, might be Avatar’s creepiest antagonist to date. As a young woman, waterbender Hama was kidnapped and imprisoned because her skills posed a threat to the militaristic Fire Nation. In order to get out of her imprisonment, she learns to bloodbend – the manipulation of the blood inside living beings’ bodies in order to control them. Hama survives and lives as a refugee in the Fire Nation, but her PTSD leaves her a broken shell of a woman. She roams the countryside, bloodbending innocent villagers to feel like she has some control over the world, when she meets Katara, her new bloodbending disciple. It’s surprisingly jarring and emotionally-charged, considering it’s a 25-minute episode of a fantasy show meant for preteens. But “The Puppetmaster” is a perfect example of what Avatar does best: it explores the gray areas of morality and has fun with the premise.
Good Luck, Charlie: “Le Halloween” (S3, E18)
This is a pretty unconventional Halloween TV episode, but a very conventional Good Luck Charlie episode. You’re sure to feel good while watching even if you don’t get traditional spooky vibes. In the episode, everyone embarks on their own Halloween adventure. Matriarch Amy dresses up in a kangaroo costume with baby Toby and Charlie, forming the cutest kangaroo family, while Bob is set on wearing his exterminator uniform. Eventually he adds a cape and calls himself Captain Extermo for the rest of the episode. To add to Bob’s lack of awareness, he gets candy that is suspiciously named “Uncle Milton’s Honey Glops” to put out for trick or treating. Ah, Disney suburbia.
Mrs. Dabney and Gabe’s storyline revolves around trickery as per usual. She wants to call a truce and skip their annual pranks, but Gabe says he already bought eggs and shaving cream for his scheme. It’s times like these when I reminisce on my younger self smiling and laughing at the TV, and wonder how I could have possibly missed that dirty joke about Mrs. Dabney’s use of shaving cream. It’s very PG Halloween, but nonsensical fun all the same. Good Luck Charlie always does a good job of that.
Gravity Falls: Summerween (S1 EP12)
Even though “Summerween” takes place in July, something about Gravity Falls and its dreamy, mysterious Pacific Northwest setting just screams autumn to me. In the town of Gravity Falls, they celebrate Halloween twice a year, complete with jack-o-melons (watermelon jack-o-lanterns) and pop-up Summerween stores. The monster in this episode is the Summerween Trickster, a monster who challenges Dipper and the kids to collect 500 pieces of candy before the last jack-o-melon goes out. It’s full of heart, a classic childhood crush, witty humor, and Summerween spirit, not to mention the spooky-yet-hilarious reveal that the Trickster is actually (spoiler alert!) all the discarded, cheap, gross candy that nobody eats. As with every Gravity Falls episode, there’s humor all ages can enjoy, classic Grunkle Stan con jobs, and Soos’s innocent charm. To be completely honest, I might just be obsessed with the entire show.
Phineas and Ferb: “The Curse of Candace” (S2, E8)
Phineas and Ferb takes it up a notch with a Candace-centered Halloween episode. After all, Candace’s worst fear is… her brothers. Fittingly, “The Curse of Candace “ is the peak of her nightmare, fueled by her errant brothers’ inventions.
After watching a teen vampire film and then being subsequently attacked by bats, Candace begins to fear that she may be turning into a vampire herself. When she returns home, she finds not only her brothers’ usual array of mad creations – but a confirmation of her nagging fear. With anti-gravity contraptions, a mirror that fails to show the viewer’s reflection, and a super-bright light littering the scene, Candace becomes convinced that she has taken on all the traits of a vampire. For once, her fears become concrete – and with an actual, bodily threat to herself, she is even more unhinged than she usually is.
When Candace reveals her delusion to her brothers, they soon explain the origins of her symptoms – their creations. The episode even ends on a fun twist, as Candace removes her brothers contraptions, she freezes and turns to dust. Halloween episodes are always fun when they break canon, and these episode is no different.
Regular Show: “Terror Tales of the Park” (S3, E4)
Growing up, Regular Show’s “Terror Tales of the Park” series was always among my favorite parts of the Halloween season. They’re spooky and allow you to see these characters that you know and love in novel, holiday-appropriate settings. Each episode starts with a framing narrative of the characters gathering around to tell each other scary stories. This is crucial because it breaks the barrier between the reality of the show and the reality of these episodes. Regular Show is known for having very out-there plots, but severing the canon of these episodes truly allows the writers to unleash whatever ideas they may have, no matter how crazy or far from the rest of the show.
Picking just one favorite episode was incredibly hard because of all of the memorable plotlines from each episode, but I would have to choose where it all began, with the first “Terror Tales of the Park.” It may be nostalgia or it may be the effect of watching this one every year since, but either way, the scares of the three vignettes of this episode really have stuck with me. Mordecai and Rigby face off against a doll that just wants them to draw on his face, Muscle Man and High-5 Ghost face off against an evil death metal band and then Rigby gets cursed to turn into a house. The tone, crazy storylines and fun characters all combine to make this series a staple of my Halloween watchlist.
Thumbnail graphic by Jayna Kurlender.