My Life In TV and Film: Halloween Special

Get your ‘spook’ on with this special edition taking a look at the scary films and Halloween episodes from days of yore! What follows is a less-than-comprehensive view of TV and film through the Halloween season.  One of the more obvious choices has already been covered in a previous blog post so, sorry, no Ghostwatch here…

IT’S THE GREAT PUMPKIN, CHARLIE BROWN (1966)

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The Peanuts gang celebrates Halloween, with Linus hoping that, finally, he will be visited by The Great Pumpkin; while Charlie Brown is invited to a Halloween party.  Beautifully innocent and great fun!

WATCH IT FOR: The animation, music and charm

HOCUS POCUS (1993)

After three centuries, three witch sisters are resurrected in Salem Massachusetts on Halloween night, and it is up to two teenagers, a young girl, and an immortal cat to put an end to the witches’ reign of terror once and for all.  The three leads, Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy and Sarah Jessica Parker clearly relish their witchy personas which makes for a hugely entertaining seasonal comedy.  Omri Katz and a young Thora Birch play the brother and sister heroes who must battle with the witches to save the town.

WATCH IT FOR: The witches thoroughly enjoying themselves

HOME IMPROVEMENT – “I WAS A TEENAGE TAYLOR” (1996)

It’s Halloween, and the pranks begin. Brad and Randy begin with a head in the microwave, Tim and Jill follow up with actor playing a mysterious visitor. Brad and Randy find out and pretend to be frightened, causing Tim and Jill to worry.  Home Improvement, like most American sitcoms, make the most of Halloween and go all out in celebration.  This is one of the better ones and features a great guest appearance from Larry Hankin.

WATCH IT FOR: Spooky goings on at the Taylor household!

STEPTOE AND SON – “SEANCE IN A WET RAG AND BONE YARD” (1974)

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Albert (Wilfred Brambell) comes in late one night having got involved with séances and local medium Madame Fontana, who communicates with the dead via her spirit guide Geronimo. Harold is sceptical and messes about when Albert produces a Ouija board. However Madame Fontana comes to the house to give a séance, along with Dorothy, a widow Albert hopes to marry. Through Madame Fontana the old couple discover that their late spouses want them to marry. Harold’s (Harry H. Corbett) cynicism leads to the discovery that Albert has told Dorothy he is very well off and the medium is actually her daughter working a scam. Albert has a lucky escape.

WATCH IT FOR: The whole darn thing!

A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984)

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Several people are hunted by a cruel serial killer who kills his victims in their dreams. When the survivors are trying to find the reason for being chosen, the murderer won’t lose any chance to kill them as soon as they fall asleep.  When I was a kid, my brother (who is 9 years older than me) used to rent videos from the local Jack Beanstalk.  I watched a lot of films I really shouldn’t have done at such a young age including this one.  It scared the bejeesus out of me and I couldn’t watch it again for many, many years.  Robert Englund‘s portrayal of Freddy Krueger is one of the most iconic and is probably the reason a lot of people didn’t sleep during the latter part of the 1980s!

WATCH IT FOR: Well, if you dare, watch it….but, you know…just don’t fall asleep!

PAUL DANIELS LIVE AT HALLOWEEN (1987)

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Here’s another one for you that scared the crap out of me as a kid! Not your usual programme to scare you but I think the production of the show was such that it created genuine fear in me.  In particular the final illusion where Daniels attempts to escape from an iron maiden.  This is the one thing I remember from this, and the fact it was shown on Halloween as well.  Thankfully, the illusion is available to view online (see link below) and was a success but in 1987, the show ended without the audience knowing whether it had been a success or not – a genius piece of television in my humble opinion.

WATCH IT FOR: The iron maiden illusion

TOY STORY OF TERROR (2013)

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Woody and the gang are held up at a roadside motel and members of the group start to disappear from everywhere. Woody and the gang set about getting to the bottom of the mystery. This is an excellent homage to horror movies told in a family friendly way.  The tension is racked up and it looks stunning.

WATCH IT FOR: Combat Carl

DON’T GO TO SLEEP (1982)

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This is a made-for-TV-movie about a young girl who begins to see the ghost of her sister who died in an accident a year earlier.  I have very vague memories of this film apart from one scene that haunted me for years.  The young brother is retrieving a frisbee from the roof of the house when an unseen force charges towards the attic window and knocks him to the ground, killing him.  I couldn’t find out the name of the film or from where this particular scene came from until the advent of the internet gave access to a library of resources.  The film as a whole is pretty unremarkable and only features here because of said memory of it.  Thankfully, courtesy of YouTube, the whole film has been uploaded and THAT scene that scared the crap out of me for years is there for all to see.  Its not terribly frightening anymore but it still sent a shiver down my spine.

WATCH IT FOR: Skip along to 54:14 for the start of my nightmare

MICHAEL JACKSON’S THRILLER (1983)

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At the time of it’s release, this 13 minute pop video was unique.  No commercial motion-picture directors directed music videos but, with the Thriller album off the number one slot in the charts, something had to be done to regain the momentum.  Enter John Landis, director of An American Werewolf In London who co-wrote the screenplay with Jackson.  Parodying Hollywood B-movies and other horror films, Thriller became a cultural phenomenon, often cited as being a watershed in music video production.  As an eight-year-old kid, watching this video scared the crap out of me which I think, to some extent, was the purpose.  As I got older I began to appreciate the sheer quality of the production and, of course, the legendary dance sequences and Vincent Price ‘rap’.

WATCH IT FOR: That dance!

THE INCREDIBLE HULK (1978-1982)

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A brilliant scientist, Dr. David Banner, is working on an experiment that goes wrong and finds himself turning into a big, green monster when put under extreme stress.  As a child, this is probably the one tv programme that scared me the most.  Notably for the transformation from Banner to The Hulk, the music and the way Banner’s eye changed first! But also, because my brother had a giant poster of The Hulk on his bedroom door which freaked me out no end!!  Bill Bixby was excellent as Banner, the mild-mannered scientist who wanted to help people with his experiements.  He was the perfect antidote to Lou Ferrigno‘s Hulk, the huge green monster who lurked inside him.  The formula for the show was simple but effective thanks to Bixby’s calm, measured performance in which you could trust that if you made him angry, you really wouldn’t like it!

WATCH IT FOR: Metamorphis! The music!

QUANTUM LEAP – “The Boogieman” (1990)

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Dr. Sam Beckett leaps into the life of gothic horror novelist Joshua Ray.  Strange things soon begin to happen. Then they get worse until something unexpected happens!  There are lots of spooky symbolisms going on here, as well as a particular nod to modern horror writing but this episode belongs to Al and his……no, not going to give it away!

WATCH IT FOR: The Devil?

THE SIMPSONS TREEHOUSE OF HORROR (1990-present)

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I couldn’t have a Halloween special without mentioning The Simpsons classic episodes.  Taking the form of an anthology, usually featuring three mini-episodes within one show, The Treehouse of Horror episodes have provided some of the best Simpsons moments.  In my humble opinion, the first Treehouse was the best, if only for the brilliant depiction of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven in which we see Bart as the eponymous Raven but the following Treehouse episodes have all provided the opportunity to take The Simpsons out of their usual daily lives and into the realm of fantasy, horror and science-fiction.  Spoofing many genres and movies as only The Simpsons can!

WATCH IT FOR: Nevermore!

So, there you go…I hope there are enough scares in there to keep you going this Halloween! Like I said, its not a comprehensive list, just a few special moments that I wanted to share.  There are so many others I wanted to post here, like the classic Bela Lugosi Dracula or the original Halloween movie.  Alas, they will have to wait for another year.

Don’t have nightmares, do sleep well…

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Normal service will resume shortly…

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