Today is October 1st or, as we call it in my house, the 1st of Halloween. For many families like mine, this marks the true arrival of autumn and a solid 31 nights of decorations, costumes, seasonal music, and monster media.
For those with smaller children, though, this can be a tricky endeavor. Is, for example, your kid’s monster tolerance up to any of the recognized benchmarks?
If your answers are no, no, no, and hell no, then the order of the day for your timid tots is likely of the classic Halloween television special variety. While the gold standard for these is clearly the iconic 1966 animated masterwork It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, know that this old chestnut is not the be-all and end-all of family-friendly frights.
To that end, I have taken the liberty of spotlighting five of my very favorite old-school Halloween TV specials, including some brief background information, links for where to purchase or stream them, and a little preview of some of their most memorable moments.
Garfield’s Halloween Adventure
Originally aired: October 30, 1985 on CBS
Starring: Lorenzo Music and Gregg Berger (the only true Garfield and Odie)
Synopsis: Garfield and Odie get more than they bargained for when a night of trick-or-treating leads them to a ruined mansion on the eve of a ghostly pirate crew’s return from the grave.
Scene to watch for: The 110-year-old cabin boy recalling the pirates’ supernatural oath in ghastly detail—which horrified me as a child and still kinda gets me some 35 years later.
Halloween With the New Addams Family
Originally aired: October 30, 1977 on NBC
Starring: John Astin, Carolyn Jones, Jackie Coogan, Ted Cassidy, Lisa Loring, Ken Weatherwax (pretty much the entire Addams crew from the original 1964-1966 run save Blossom “Grandmama” Rock)
Synopsis: Some 11 years after its initial cancelation, The Addams Family returns with an exploration of their unique Halloween customs, which are somewhat hampered by the arrival of both Gomez’s brother Pancho and the obligatory grifters seeking to loot the Addams’ considerable fortune.
Find it on: Aside from a single 1989 VHS release, this one never saw a proper home video release. However, you can still find typically find uploads of variable quality (and dubious legality) on YouTube.
Scene to watch for: Though this full-color special lacks some of the charm of the original Addams Family series, its final moments, with the family reverently marching, candles in hand, up to the attic to open Halloween gifts beneath a decorated scarecrow helps return America’s first family of fright to its rightful place in our hearts.
Halloween Is Grinch Night
Originally aired: October 29, 1977 on ABC
Starring: Hans Conried (taking over the title role for the late, great Boris Karloff)
Synopsis: This prequel to holiday mainstay How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, plays out like a Seussified take on The Purge, as the citizens of Whoville barricade themselves indoors, ceding Halloween night to the diabolical Grinch.
Scene to watch for: The Grinch menacing the young Euchariah Who with his psychedelic spook’s tour.
The Halloween Tree
Originally aired: October 2, 1993 on ABC
Starring: Ray Bradbury, Leonard Nimoy, the guy from Phantom Planet that’s not Jason Schwartzman
Synopsis: Based on Ray Bradbury’s 1972 fantasy novel (and narrated by the author), The Halloween Tree tells the story of four kids and a creepy old man pursuing a ghost on a time-traveling adventure only to learn that the true Halloween treats are the friends they made along the way. Or something like that.
Scene to watch for: While that third act Faustian bargain is tough to beat, the actual introduction of the magical Halloween Tree is truly a thing of beauty.
Will Vinton’s Claymation Comedy of Horrors
Originally aired: May 29, 1991 on CBS
Starring: Tim Conner, Brian Cummings (AKA: G.I. Joe‘s Dr. Mindbender)
Synopsis: A pig and a snail infiltrate the Halloween Monster Convention in search of Dr. Frankenswine’s monster. Stop-motion hilarity ensues.
Find it on: While streaming options are limited, you can still find Claymation Comedy of Horrors on DVD (as part of Will Vinton’s Claymation Christmas Plus Halloween & Easter Celebrations) and watch it via YouTube.
Scene to watch for: When our protagonists ask for the laboratory only to instead be given directions to the lavatory.
What Halloween specials make up your family’s must-watch list? Sound off in the comments below, and keep an eye on GeekDad (and our sister site, GeekMom) for more spooky celebrations of the season throughout the month of October.