A fun list of episodes from popular animated television series that will make you laugh and get you in the mood for Halloween. The list includes a synopsis of each episode, a Spooknopsis, a Ghostmortem and examples of the funniest scenes and lines of dialogue.
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Happy Halloween from The TV Dudes. If you’re like me you’ve been anticipating the best holiday of the year by carving pumpkins, watching monster movies and shopping at Goodwill for the perfect costume. And while I get in the spirit of the season by listening to Thriller and watching “The Crow” every night before bedtime I find the most fun on TV can be had by watching the Halloween specials of my favorite shows. These episodes are always enjoyable and the most creative because Halloween is pass for TV writers to rock-the-boat and color-outside-the-lines of the weekly status quo.
This year I decided to pick a theme: The Top Ten Best Animated Halloween Themed Episodes. Now before I’m asked why I didn’t include “It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown” or “Thundaar and the Space Vampires” I compiled this list with two criteria: First it has to be an episode of an animated series and second it has to (intentionally) be funny.
Quick note #1: That was not meant to be dismissive of the great Charles Schultz or to imply that the writers of Thundaar didn’t have a rollicking sense of humor.
Quick note #2: Did you know writing 10 Ten Lists is hard? I thought I could whip this up in a day but I ended up having to rewatch all theses episodes, take notes, double check the definition of “rollicking” and think up a lot of puns. That ain’t easy!
I hope you enjoy.
Honorable Mention: Merrie Melodies: “Transylvania 6-5000”
Spooknopsis: Bugs Bunny spends the night in a Transylvania castle and outwits a vampire with the help of some magic words and phrases.
Ghostmortem: While technically this animated short was not a “Halloween themed” episode or originally an episode of a TV series it did eventually end up being broadcast on “The Bugs Bunny Show” so I still feel it’s worth including it on this list.
Under the direction of the legendary Chuck Jones (his last Bugs Bunny cartoon), this short manages to be both moody and hysterical. The gothic design of the castle, the way the Count floats like a living shadow and his first attack play like something out of an authentic horror film. Seeing Bugs use his wit and luck to defeat a supernatural and credible threat makes the physical comedy, sight-gags, and wordplay that much more hilarious.
Funniest Scene: The duel between Bugs and the Vampire using the magic words “abracadabra” and “hocus pocus” is the most classic scene in short full of classic moments. I can’t help but laugh just thinking about the scene where the Count is repeatedly crushed by his own boulder.
Funniest Line: THE COUNT: “Goodbye my little friend. I mean, good night!”
#10: The Venture Brothers: “A Very Venture Halloween”
Spooknopsis: It’s Halloween on the Venture compound and we see three different stories told. Dr. Orpheus is holding a party for magic users, Dr. Venture is betting on his security system stopping trick-or-treaters, and the boys team up with Dermott to egg and check out a haunted house.
Ghostmortem: I must admit “The Venture Brothers” dropped off my radar some time ago but I have fond memories of “Rusty” Venture, Brock Sampson and the hapless brothers Hank and Dean. So I was excited to revisit the series after a prolonged absence and check out their Halloween Special. I must admit it’s a bit of a mix bag, which is why it’s low on my list, but it was fun revisiting this crazy world of super scientists, spies and warlocks as they each celebrate the season in their own particular way. This episode also has a surprisingly bittersweet ending when one of the characters is faced with a world-altering, coming-of-age realization. Still, it’s definitely worth the watch.
Final Note: No Brock Sampson automatically disqualifies this episode from placing any higher than #10
Funniest Scene: The Hellraiser spoof, with a Rubix cube instead of a puzzle box and a Cenobites with a toaster for a head, got the biggest laugh from me. I also enjoyed the subplot where Dr. Venture and his friends spent the night watching children get blasted by lasers as they risk their lives attempting to ring his doorbell in pursuit of “fun size” candy bars.
Funniest Line: A toss up between . . . ORPHEUS: “Jefferson, this isn’t The Craft.” AL: “Well if it was I’d be Fairuza Balk and you’d be Rachel True.” JEFFERISON: “Which one is she?” AL: “mmmm, guess.”
Or . . .
“The last time you did this you vomited for a solid hour. I swear I saw a license plate come up. It was like we were gutting a tiger shark.”
#9: Ren & Stimpy (season 2, episode 3) “Haunted House”
Spooknopsis: A dull ghost tries to scare Ren and Stimpy when they enter a haunted house, but the ghost’s plans to scare Ren and Stimpy fail at every turn.
Ghostmortem: Oh, “Ren & Stimpy.” I don’t think there has ever been a cartoon as delightfully bizarre and crass as thee. This episode is definitely homage to the Golden Age cartoons of the 40s and 50s. Many of the jokes are set up and executed in a style similar to the aforementioned Bugs Bunny cartoon but with (oh so sweet) grotesque sight gags involving gross-out humor. The ending is equal parts charming, politically incorrect, inventive and offensive. Expect to laugh at this ending while simultaneously mouthing the acronym “W-T-F?”
Funniest Scene: The black and white shower scene is a fun homage to Psycho but the belly laughs comes when Stimpy uses the poltergeist as a loofa.
Funniest Line: REN: “Let’s go up and wet the bed”. STIMPY: “Sure. I wonder where it is”. REN: “Maybe up those hideous stairs.”
#8: American Dad (season 6, episode 3) “Best Little Horror House in Langley Falls”
Spooknopsis: It’s Halloween and Stan and Francine have had the scariest haunted house on the block for eight years running, but when one of their neighbors provides some stiff competition, Stan ups the ante with a “killer” set-up. Meanwhile, Steve falls head over heels for his overprotective friend’s younger sister and competes to win her heart in a Halloween showdown.
Ghostmortem: Here is another show that’s gotten away from me that I need to revisit. While Seth MacFarlane may be accused of relying on the recycled formula of “Family Guy” — “a sit-com nuclear family has adventures with their wacky talking BLANK“— “American Dad” kind of feels like the most accessible of all of his shows. The Smiths can be just as foolish as the Griffins but they’re not nearly as crass and are often, surprisingly, endearing. This episode perfectly demonstrates this margin of empathy by showcasing Steve’s coming-of-age romance, set against a nostalgic Halloween celebration. However, this is Seth MacFarlane were talking about, so expect the episode to cumulate into bloody, over-the-top absurdity.
Funniest Scene: Toshi saves the day, Kill Bill style.
Funniest Line: STEVE: :::fart::: “That was a duck.” (echo) :::fart::: “That was a duck.” (echo) :::fart::: “That was a duck.” OR TOSHI: (Subtitles) “Once this Sword is drawn, it must taste blood !”
#7: King of the Hill (season 2, episode 4) “Hilloween”
Spooknopsis: Hank is excited to share his Halloween traditions with Bobby until an Evangelical woman complains that it’s satanical and has the holiday canceled.
Ghostmortem: I think Mike Judge’s humor is often underestimated and he’s never been known for his sentimentality so I was pleasantly surprised watching this episode. Back in the day I enjoyed the occasional episode of “King of the Hill” but felt it paled in comparison to The Simpsons (and then later Family Guy). Revisiting this Halloween special after so many years has given me a fresh perspective on Judge’s satirical, slice-of-south-western-life humor. While The Simpsons or South Park use Halloween as an excuse to showcase outrageous, premise-driven scenarios, King of the Hill incorporates touching moments of family bonding in addition to wry humor. Hank Hill is a simple, no-nonsense family man who just wants to connect with his oddball son, and I’ll be damned if my heart strings weren’t tugged.
Funniest Scene: The flashback of Hank and the guys trick or treating as children to a rendition of the Charlie Brown theme made me smile with nostalgia, but the reveal that they were pranking their own houses made me laugh out loud.
Funniest Line: PEGGY: “You hold it right there Judy Harper. You are out of order. I go to church too, and I have raffled and bingoed and bake-saled my way as close to the good Lord as you. So do not try to one-up me, because I will one-up yours.”
#6: Home Movies (season 3, episode 13) “Coffins and Cradles”
Spooknopsis: While getting ready for a Halloween party, Brendon’s stepmother gives birth. Coach McGuirk gets a heart attack and is taken to the same hospital where Linda (Brendon’s stepmother) is giving birth.
Ghostmortem: With the success of “Archer” and “Bob’s Burgers” I’m amazed “Home Movies” isn’t more popular or well known. H. Jon Benjamin is the talented actor who remarkably gives unique and hilarious voices to Archer and Bob with little difference in his inflection. Arguably his greatest character was introduced a decade earlier with the misanthropic grade-school soccer coach named McGurk. McGurk is the father figure Brendon Small doesn’t need but can’t refuse. The conversations between the boy and his coach are the highlight of the series and this episode feature one of their best. Like “Hilloween”, “Coffins and Cradles” uses Halloween as a time to reflect on the cycle of life and the passing of childhood with just enough goofy antics to prevent it from becoming saccharine.
Funniest Scene: Jason (also voiced by Benjamin) snaps and goes crazy from candy withdrawal.
Funniest Line: McGURK: “I never thought it would end like this.” BRENDAN: “Well, how did you think?” McGURK: “I figured, maybe, a bullet in the back. Or a knife in the back. Maybe, hit by a train?” BRENDAN: “In the back?” McGURK: “In the back, yeah. A lot of this stuff I’m turned away.”
#5: Aqua Teen Hunger Force (season 2, episode 15) “The Shaving”
Spooknopsis: It’s Halloween and Meatwad wants to go Trick-or-Treating but Shake decides to mentor a seemingly benign monster named Willie Nelson.
Ghostmortem: The brilliance of “Aqua Teen” is that while the stories are random and nonsensical the comedy stems from the interactions of a trio of characters who couldn’t be designed to irritate each other more. It’s almost like the Jean-Paul Sartre play, “No Exit” but with talking fast food. There’s not a lot of candy featured in this episode—it predominantly focuses on the “tricks” played on Halloween—but there’s a surprise “treat” with an unexpected twist ending. Anyone thirsty for juice?
Funniest Scene: Shake having his train of thought completely derailed by Meatwads mention of Tacos.
Funniest Line: SHAKE: “Now hold still. You’re about to be both Hall and Oats.” OR SHAKE: “Killing is scaring.” OR “I live here a**hole.”
#4: Cowboy Bebop (season 1, episode 11) “Toys in the Attic”
Spooknopsis: A strange blob-like creature with a venomous bite infiltrates the starship Bebop and incapacitates Jet, Faye and Ein. With half the crew out of action, it’s up to Spike and Ed to destroy the creature and find out where it came from.
Ghostmortem: I was hesitant to include an Anime on this list but there’s something about “Cowboy Bebop” that defies the preconceptions of the genre. It is the Reese Peanut Butter Cup of animation; the perfect combination of Western music and pop-culture mixed with Eastern style and storytelling. This episode is self-contained and a standalone story that playfully references the Halloween friendly films “Alien” and “Aliens”. “Toys in the Attic” efficiently introduces the likeable crew of the Bebop and then utilizes humor, atmosphere, and horror-tropes to make for an entertaining—and genuinely tense—25 minutes. I’m including it on this list because there are definitely more laughs than scares, and I would be willing to bet an uninitiated viewer would be charmed by this episode into watching the rest of this fantastic series.
Quick Tid-Bit: While this episode doesn’t have any specific reference to the holiday, coincidentally, the climax of the “Cowboy Bebop” movie actually takes place during a Halloween celebration.
Funniest Scene: Spike gears up like Ripley to hunt down the “spooky space creature” Sam Raimi style, but not without one last bite of an overcooked cabob.
Funniest Line: FAYE: “What’s that smell?” SPIKE: “Herbal medicine.” FAYE: “That swill? Smells like day old road kill soaked in sour milk and maggot juice.” SPIKE: “More like rotten soybeans and turpentine.” FAYE: “Oh yeah.” JET: “Will you two me quit? I have to drink this stuff.”
#3: Bob’s Burgers (season 3, episode 2) “Full Bars”
Spooknopsis: The kids skip their normal trick-or-treat route for Halloween and decide to go to a posh neighborhood, Kingshead Island, where they distribute full-sized candy bars. Meanwhile, Bob and Linda attend Teddy’s annual “Black and Orange” party.
Ghostmortem: In many ways I feel like “Bob’s Burgers” is the spiritual successor to early-year Simpsons in that the show centers on a close-knit family and most of the drama isn’t very high concept. It also doesn’t hit the audience over the head with pop-cultural references but instead incorporates homages, integral to the plot, with subtlety. Just like old school Simpsons. Bob’s Burgers is set in a (relatively) realistic world but is populated that with eccentric, idiosyncratic or sometimes insane characters. It’s also another terrific H. Jon Benjamin vehicle, but the brilliance of the show comes from the reversal of the formula. Instead of a show revolved around a whacky Dad, his reasonable wife and a couple of quirky kids, Bob takes the unconventional stance of having him be the only sane character. This is the first and best Halloween episode the show has tackled in its 5 seasons. I particularly enjoy the feeling of adventure when the kids risk going outside of their neighborhood, encountering bullies, saving their new friends and returning home with a bounty of candy.
Funniest Line: TEDDY: “I got 42 ‘Maybes’, Bob! Who can plan for that!?” OR TINA: “There’s a lot of carrots in that stew.” OR GENE: (after spilling hot sauce on his groin) “11 years old and still learning every day!”
Funniest Scene: When the Belcher kids use a teenage girls cell phone to prank some teenage bullies it’s both a heroic moment and a scene chock-full of the best one-liners. “Or we could take some pictures of them, and then later look at them. THAT WILL SHOW THEM!” Tina cracks me up.
#2: South Park (season 3, episode 10) “Korn’s Groovy Pirate Ghost Mystery”
Spooknopsis: It’s Halloween in South Park, and all is not well. Father Maxi denounces the holiday as evil, and expresses his disgust in inviting the band Korn to perform. But when people start seeing pirate ghosts (or are they ghost pirates?) around the pier, the concert may have to be cancelled. With the help of their space chicken friend, Niblet, Korn sets out to foil the ghost’s evil scheme.
Ghostmortem: There’s nothing quite like a comedy show in its prime. This is the 3rd Halloween special for South Park and in October of 1999 the show was firing on all cylinders after their summer success of their first feature film. I originally considered this episode much lower on the list but after rewatching it I was so impressed with the joke-per-minute ratio, and the straightforward humor, that I had to bump it higher. I still enjoy South Park today. While I’ve grown tired of other animated series I appreciate how this show has evolved into a fine formula for satirizing news and popular culture. However, back in the day, I had forgotten how fun it was to see the boys just being boys. This episode featured three plot threads that all had me spit-taking my coffee. The running gag of the greedy Cartman being excited for Christmas in the midst of an autumn backdrop became funnier with each instance. The spoofing of a wholesome Scooby Doo mystery, played out with the unlikely guest band Korn, was smart and funny. Even the gross out humor involving a dead grandmother, a pair of morticians, a jar of mayonnaise and a mule made me remember why South Park is still beloved.
Funniest Scene: The grave-digging scene was Cartman at his best; singing Christmas carols and miming Kyle’s dead Grandmother was priceless.
Funniest Line: STAN: “This one time, like eight months ago, I saw two guys kissing in a park. And that was the gayest thing I’d ever seen, until I saw the KOZY-FM Halloween Haunt.” OR “Sign hyere, and hyere and hyere.”
#1: The Simpsons (season 5, episode 5) “Tree house of Horror IV”
Spooknopsis: Ned Flanders is the devil in “The Devil and Homer Simpson” battling for Homer’s soul after the aforementioned fool sold it for a donut. “Terror at 5 1/2 Feet” sees Bart as William Shatner in one of the most famous episodes of The Twilight Zone. Mr. Burns is a bloodsucking vampire who turns Bart over to his side and it’s up to Lisa to save his soul from eternal damnation in “Bart Simpson’s Dracula.”
Ghostmortem: I use to have a VHS tape of all the Simpsons Halloween Specials before the year 2000. Every October I’d celebrate the season by having a marathon of all the past Tree house of Horror episodes and then adding a new one. Unfortunately, after the millennium the Tree house of Horror episodes just weren’t the same. You might think it was because the show ran out of fresh ideas, or that by that point I’d outgrown the show or that maybe it was ridiculous to still have a VCR in the 21rst century . . . but I believe the reason was due to the FOX Network ruining everything by broadcasting all future Halloween specials in November—post holiday. Who could possibly enjoy a Halloween special in November? But in all seriousness, for over a decade you couldn’t find a funnier animated Halloween special than what The Simpsons had to offer.
It’s impossible to single out a Simpson’s Halloween special as the best, and I recommend you watch the first 10, but Tree house of Horror IV is undeniably fantastic. Like with South Park, by the fifth year the show was really in the zone and the Halloween episodes were definitely the high water mark by which fans judged the season. Not only were the jokes always fast and furious but also they were smart, subversive (um, Richard Nixon calling Satan master?) and always marvelously exaggerated past the realm of established plausibility.
Another reason IV stands apart is the use of dynamic sequences (such as Flanders transformation into Satan or Homer’s descent into Hell), livelier animation (see Homer’s freak-out over the painting Dogs Playing Poker), dramatic lighting and camera angles, off-set eyeballs on the characters (a stylistic staple of season IV and V) and a cameo by Phil Hartman as Lional Hutz and writing from Conan O’Brien.
Tree house IV was the first time the show played with the framing device of its trifecta of vignettes by featuring Bart introducing spoofing Rod Serling à la Night Gallery. Every story featured in Tree house of Horror IV related to a painting that Bart would comment on and each painting alluded, heavily and hilariously, to a theme of Halloween. The devil, gremlins and vampires are all parodied in arguably the best Tree house of Horror of all time.
Funniest Scene: Homer annoying a demon by merrily eating a never-ending supply of donuts in the “Ironic Punishment Division” of Hell.
Funniest line: HOMER: “More. chomp. More. chomp. More. chomp. More.” OR LISA: “Dad, do you notice anything strange?” HOMER: “Yeah, his hairdo looks so queer”. VAMPIRE BURNS: “I heard that”! HOMER: “It was the boy”! OR LIONEL HUTZ: “That was a right-pretty speech, sir. But I ask you, what is a contract? Webster’s defines it as an agreement under the law which is unbreakable.’ Which is unbreakable! Excuse me I must use the bathroom.” OR HOMER: “Kill my boss? Do I dare live out the American dream?”
Creepy Comment: Yeah, I know this one doesn’t have the Shinning, Zombie Flanders or James Earl Jones so go easy on me in the comments. Happy Halloween, everybody!