It’s October. Golden leaves cascade from the trees and crunch underfoot. The nights grow long and stretch ahead of us, as winter reaches out her icy tendrils and begins to slowly grasp at us…
But … perhaps the most poignant observation of the season is that Pumpkin Spiced Lattes are finally back at Starbucks and they are selling cheap plastic skeletons in most discount stores. The other awesome thing about October is, of course, Halloween! So, just in time for everyone’s favourite creepy pagan holiday, we round up some of TV’s scariest, weirdest, and eeriest episodes to set your nerves on edge this spooky season.
Courage The Cowardly Dog
Season 2 Episode 12 – The House Of Discontent
Courage The Cowardly Dog was a Cartoon Network show that aired in the late 90’s and had a 52 episode run. It was frequently bizarre and always creepy. Courage is a little pink dog who spends most of his life completely terrified of everything. He lives with an old farming couple, Muriel and Eustace. The farm is a hive of weird, bizarre and paranormal activity, and little Courage must overcome his fears in each episode to save his beloved Muriel from various terrors. In the episode The House Of Discontent, Eustace and Muriel have inadvertently allowed the last blooming flower on their farm to die. Because of this, a giant white head, (a live action head of a man with white and black face paint), appears in the house and threatens the trio. Angry at them for not harvesting any crops, the nightmarish floating head vows to haunt them until they ‘get out’ of the farm for good. Thankfully, Courage and Eustace manage to restore the flower, and the head disappears. Just like that, no explanation of what he was: he was there, he threatened them, and then he was gone. The stark on-screen contrast between animation and live action is unsettling, and the visuals in this episode are extremely unnerving. The whole idea of the death of their crop, and the idea that they would have to leave their home made for a very spooky episode indeed!
Season 1 Episode 10 – Night Of The Living Dummy II
Goosebumps was a 90’s television series aimed at the 11-14 demographic. It was a horror anthology series based on the popular books of the same name written by R.L Stein. By far their creepiest episode, featuring their most popular character, came in the form of Night Of The Living Dummy II. Middle child Amy has a passion for ventriloquism, and she is delighted when her father brings her home what she thinks is the perfect gift, a new dummy, ‘Slappy’. We quickly learn, however, that everything is far from perfect. Slappy comes to life and begins to cause mayhem for sweet little Amy. Dolls are creepy, and ones that come alive are definitely nightmare fuel. Slappy is one of the Goosebumps series best loved characters, and is the subject of 9 books, three TV episodes, and is heavily featured in both of the new Jack Black Goosebumps movies.
Season 1 Episode 1 – ForeverWare
Eerie Indiana is another 90’s gem. This one follows the adventures of Marshall, (played by Omri Catz, aka Max Dennison in everyone’s favourite Halloween movie, Hocus Pocus!), and all of the spooky goings on in his new home town of Eerie in Indiana, where the population is 16,661, and nothing is ever quite as it seems. A lot of these episodes were super creepy, but one of the stand out ones was the very first episode, Foreverware. In this episode, Marshall and his family are greeted by Betty Wilson, (played by the unendingly creepy Louan Gideon), their new next door neighbour. Betty encourages Marshall’s mother to buy ForeverWear: plastic containters that promise to keep anything fresh forever. The whole episode has a creepy Stepford Wives vibe about it, and we learn that Mrs Wilson’s twin boys have been sealed in two giant ForeverWear containers each night, for the last 30 years. It becomes Marshalls focus to free them from their permanent adolescence, and allow them to finally break free of their plastic existence. Literally.
Buffy The Vampire Slayer
Season 4 Episode 10 – Hush
Buffy The Vampire Slayer was every teenager’s complete obsession in the late 90’s / early 00’s. It centered around Buffy, who was, as the title suggests… a vampire slayer. Buffy, A high school student, and her band of merry misfits, would fight off the hordes of evil vampires, demons and monsters. There were plenty of enemies for her to fight because she lived in Sunnydale, which was built on top of a Hell Mouth, an actual gate to hell. While the show was mostly lighthearted, it had its fair share of serious episodes, hard hitting episodes, and scary episodes, and Hush is certainly one of the latter. By Season 4 Buffy had well established itself as high quality programming. Writer and producer Joss Whedon really knew how to get into the psyche of the American teenager. He created a show full of guts and heart, with characters that are still beloved to this day. In Hush we see Buffy fight against a group of demons known as ‘The Gentlemen’, who gained power by stealing peoples voices. They would glide, (literally glide, their feet never touched the ground), through the streets of Sunnydale, stealing peoples voices while they slept. As they did this, a terrifying tinkling tune played in the background and their weird, straight-jacket wearing minions, ran on chaotically ahead of them. This episode was the absolute stuff of nightmares, not just because of how utterly creepy the ‘Gentlemen’ looked, but also because throughout the entire episode, no one spoke. The whole cast were silent right up until the end of the episode, which really added to the eerie feel.
Season 3 Episode 10 – Blink
Doctor Who really needs very little explanation. It is the longest running Sci-Fi show ever. It aired its first episode in 1963, has had 13 different actors playing the title character, and has been responsible for some of the greatest TV episodes ever to air on national television. Generally more associated with science fiction than horror, Doctor Who has still managed to pack many a scary punch throughout its time on our screens. Blink is the tenth episode of the third season in the rebooted series. It features David Tenants’ Doctor, and saw the first appearance of the reboots scariest villains; ‘The Weeping Angels’. A young girl called Sally Sparrow receives cryptic messages from The Doctor. These messages are designed to help Sally along a journey to help The Doctor and his companion Martha, as they are trapped in 1969, but the thing is, there is something trying to stop her from doing this; ‘The Weeping Angels’. The ‘Angels’ are terrifying aliens who appear to look like cemetery statues of angels. As soon as you stop looking at them, they move in on you, you can’t look away, you can’t look up or down, you can’t even blink. This leads to some incredible jump scares during this episode, and as their faces change as the ‘Angels’ become active, the visuals get a hell of a lot scarier too. Blink is a great episode, not just for Doctor Who fans, but as a decent stand alone episode. A lot of Doctor Who episodes are convoluted and dependent on an involved, ongoing plot-line so, unless you follow the show, you would be lost. But Blink is great to watch on its own, whether you consider yourself a ‘Whovian’ or not.
Season 5 Episode 10 – Chinga
Ah, Mulder and Scully, the Ross and Rachel for Sci-Fi nerds. The X-Files, was, and still is, one of the greatest Sci-Fi TV shows ever made. It was intelligent, brilliantly paced, well scripted, well acted and the special effects were excellent for a TV series at the time. There are literally dozens of episodes that are straight up horrifying, but Chinga is one of the scariest. Written by horror author, and all round legend Stephen King, Chinga focuses on Scully, as she tries and fails, to take a vacation in Maine (Stephen Kings’ favourite setting!). While on vacation, she meets a little girl who seems to have the ability to make people injure themselves, and who carries around a creepy porcelain doll, never letting it leave her side. That’s right folks, its a haunted doll episode! There is literally nothing scarier than seeing childhood objects used as an emissary of evil. This episode has all the usual hallmarks of an X-Files episode, with Scully not believing what is literally in front of her eyes, and Mulder remaining cool in the face of sheer madness. But the haunted doll and the creepy kid make this one stand out from the crowd in terms of traditional X-Files fare. It also has that trade mark Stephen King small town weirdness added in, which makes for an altogether freaky viewing experience.
The Twilight Zone
Season 1 Episode 8 – Time Enough At Last
In this 1959 episode of the old favourite, we meet an acquiescent bank teller named Henry Beller. Henry’s favourite hobby is reading, but a domineering boss and an overbearing wife allow him little time to do this. All Henry wants is time to read. On a day like any other, Henry plucks up the courage to sneak away from his desk at work and hides himself in the vault in the basement of the bank, so that he can get some precious reading time in. Suddenly, there is a huge explosion over head. He emerges from his underground retreat to find that the world has been destroyed by a nuclear blast. He is the last man left alive. He roams through the rubble and shrapnel and finds his way to the library, which, miraculously, still has many books intact. Henry envisions many years ahead of him, where he can read to his heart’s desire, without any fear of interruption. However, to his horror, he breaks his glasses leaving him unable to see, now Henry is alone in the world without even the company of his beloved books. Perhaps one of the more frivolous on this list, but the idea of being left alone in a post-apocalyptic world, without being able to see properly, is pretty scary. This episode is notable by the stand-out performance by lead character actor, Burgess Meredith, and a wonderfully witty script. It also contains the famous line; “That’s not fair… that’s not fair at all… There was time now…. There was..all the time I needed!.. It’s not fair”, with the end scene being imitated in many movies and TV shows since. Matt Groening even did a small spoof of it in Futurama, in the third episode of season 2.
Tales From The Crypt
Series 2 Episode 9 – Four-Sided Triangle
Tales From The Crypt is a horror anthology series that is notoriously hosted by the wise cracking zombie known as ‘The Crypt Keeper’. It has had many brilliant episodes over the years, and some really good feature length ones too. But this one, while one of its lesser known episodes, is definitely one of its scariest, and more realistic offerings. In this episode we meet George and Luisa Yates, two farmers who have employed a young woman named Mary Jo as a live-in farmhand. However, we soon learn that Mary Jo is being kept there against her will. She is regularly beaten by the husband and wife, and it becomes very apparent that George lusts after her. After a terrifying attempted rape at the hands of George, Mary Jo tries to flee the farm unsuccessfully. The husband and wife team find her bleeding and hallucinating, and babbling about a talking scarecrow. From this point on, Mary Jo appears to have gone mad, raving about having a man somewhere, and wanting him to make love to her. The man she has been raving about turns out to be the scarecrow, (who for some insane reason is wearing a clown mask), and Mary Jo slips out of the farmhouse to meet it at night. One night George sneaks out to the cornfield where Mary Jo goes to talk to the scarecrow. When she gets there, she is shocked to find that the scarecrow can actually move, and they begin an amorous entanglement. When Luisa interrupts them with a pitchfork through the chest of the scarecrow, she is shocked to realise that the scarecrow is in fact George. He had dressed up as the scarecrow in order to take advantage of Mary Jo. As the devastated Luisa falls over her husbands body, Mary Jo picks up the pitchfork and impales her through the back. This episode stars a young Patricia Arquette as Mary Jo and is a terrifying tale of rape, imprisonment and madness.
Season 2 Episode 4 – And She Laughed
The Hunger was a horror anthology series written and directed by Tony and Ridley Scott. The first season is hosted by acting legend Terrence Stamp, and the second season featured David Bowie as the host. The show was loosely derived from themes featured in Tony Scott’s 1983 movie of the same name, about vampires, that starred David Bowie, Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon. In this episode we meet Jane, a school teacher beleaguered by nightmares about a stalker with piercing blue eyes. When Jane moves into a new apartment she begins to fear that her neighbour is the stalker she has seen in her dreams. She grows more and more paranoid about it over the course of the hour long episode, and even enlists the help of her friends, who come to stay with her so that she feels safe. The episode reaches a terrifying conclusion, when Jane takes matters into her own hands, and viciously slays her unsuspecting neighbour. This is a feverish nightmare that builds tension and paranoia from the outset. Jane is played by the inimitable and beautiful Jennifer Beals, (Flashdance, The L word, The Bride), and is one of the most unsettling episodes in the series.
Season 8 Episode 10 – The Lesson
Not typically synonymous with horror, Criminal Minds follows the exploits the FBI’s Behaviour Analysis Unit (BAU), as they travel around America, trying to stop the most psychologically disturbed criminals in the country. In this episode, when men begin turning up dead, and placed in wooden boxes with their joints dislocated, the BAU are called in to help with the investigation. They eventually hunt down the killer, who has been trying to recreate his father’s murder, using innocent victims as his own personal marionette dolls. This episode was directed by Matthew Gray Grubler, who plays main character ‘Spencer Reid’ in the show. It also stars Brad Dourif as the killer. Dourif is most famous for playing ‘Chucky’, the killer doll, in the Child’s Play movie franchise. This episode is absolutely chilling. Dourif’s character strings his victims up, and places ghoulish masks on their faces, as he forces them to perform in a macabre puppet show. Definitely one of the show’s freakiest episodes.
The Masters Of Horror
Season 1 Episode 1 – Incident On And Off A Mountain Road
The Masters of Horror is another horror anthology series that showcases famous horror movie directors, and their works, in hour long episodes. This first one of the series is directed by Don Coscarelli, who directed the Phantasm movies, John Dies At The End and Bubba Ho-Tep, (Starring Evil Dead’s Bruce Campbell). The episode also features Angus Scrimm, who plays the terrifying ‘Tall Man’ in the Phantasm movies. The episode is an homage to both slasher movies and monster movies. In it we see a young couple, Ellen and Bruce, meet and fall in love. Over time though we see Bruce descend further and further into paranoia, and become very controlling of Ellen. We see a lot of this through flash back as Ellen is driving alone in the dark at night. Whilst in her car, she breaks down and notices a young woman, bloodied and bruised emerging from the woods and seeking help. Quickly out of the trees follows a terrifying, anthropomorphous being, who grabs the young woman and kills her. He then sets his sights on Ellen. He catches her and brings her to his house in the woods, and ties her up. The house is filled with unimaginable horrors, including an old man, (Angus Scrimm), tied to a chair, who gleefully rambles and sings. Ellen manages to free herself and a terrifying game of cat and mouse ensues. This episode is truly scary and has all the elements of the classic stalk and slash horror movies of the 70’s. Echoes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 ring out through this eerie tale of murder, madness, and revenge.