Back in the day, before we had instant access at our fingertips to so much entertainment, holiday specials were appointment television. In most cases, a holiday special was only shown one time each year on network television. As many of you probably remember, before streaming, before DVD, and before VHS, you had to watch TV live. When that intro came on the screen letting you know a “special presentation” was about to start, you better be in front of your television. If you missed that airing, you usually had to wait until next year for the opportunity to watch it again. This was not only true for Christmas specials, but also for Halloween. Maybe not all as memorable as Rudolph or Frosty, but there were several Halloween specials that I looked forward to each year just as much.
Many prime-time television shows would also do special Halloween-themed episodes during late October, but for this particular feature, we are not going to include those, instead we are focusing more on the free-standing Halloween TV Specials. Many of my favorites were animated specials, but there were a few that featured live-action as well. “Old” is certainly a subjective word, but for the purposes of this feature, we will limit it to anything that first aired prior to 1990. “Great” is also probably a subjective word, but nostalgia allows us to take a little liberty in that regard. Some of these have gone on to become annual Halloween traditions and others have been forgotten like those pennies or toothbrushes that some houses gave out for trick or treat. Either way, hope you enjoy this list of 10 Great Old Halloween TV Specials You Need to Watch…
Mad, Mad, Mad Monsters
Originally aired: 1972
Everybody is familiar with the Rankin/Bass Christmas classics like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964), Frosty the Snowman (1969) and Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town (1970). Rankin/Bass tried their hand at some Halloween Specials as well that most people are not nearly as familiar with. Despite several attempts, they surprisingly never had any that achieved the adoration that so many of their Christmas specials had. Rankin/Bass never created any specials considered to be a true Halloween classic.
Mad, Mad, Mad Monsters originally aired on September 23, 1972 (not even in October) as part of The ABC Saturday Superstar Movie. It did not use their stop-motion animation like Rudolph but instead employed more traditional animation similar to Frosty. It features all of the iconic Universal monsters including Frankenstein, Dracula, the Invisible Man, the Werewolf, the Mummy, the Creature from the Black Lagoon and Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. They all came together for the wedding of Baron Henry von Frankenstein and his Bride. But things don’t go as planned, as Frankenstein’s assistant Igor wants to steal the bride-to-be. It seems like a recipe for a successful Halloween special, but even with the golden touch of Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass, this one did not go on to be an annual tradition. If interested, Mad, Mad, Mad Monsters is actually available on DVD, but you can watch a portion of it here as well…
Marc Summers’ Mystery Magical Tour
Originally aired: 1988
With the popularity of the kid’s game show Double Dare which debuted in 1986, Nickelodeon looked to capitalize on the popularity of the show’s host Marc Summers with this Halloween special. The premise had Summers and a trio of kids locked inside a mysterious magician’s club occupied by the world’s best illusionists. It features stage magicians Lance Burton and Tina Lenert, a young Jonathan Brandis and even a cameo appearance by John Astin ( Gomez Addams in The Addams Family).
Nickelodeon debuted this special on Halloween night in 1988 and then continued to re-air it every October until 1996. Being an avid Nickelodeon fan during the mid-to-late-80s, I do remember watching Marc Summers’ Mystery Magical Tour at least once, but I did not ever really consider going out of my way to be sure to watch it again as I might have on several other Halloween specials. If you are so inclined, you can watch the entire special right here…
The Wickedest Witch
Originally aired: 1989
This live-action special is about Avarissa, a witch played by Rue McClanahan (from The Golden Girls) who is so evil she has been banished to the underground kingdom of the Greevils. She discovers that in order to be freed she must convince a human, pure of heart, to commit one despicable deed. She sends a Greevil named Sammy (voiced by Paul Fusco who is known best from his work as ALF) to bring a human down that she can trick into freeing her from banishment. This special also features the familiar voice of Burgess Meredith as the narrator.
I remember watching The Wickedest Witch at least once back in the day, but I do not remember it becoming an annual Halloween tradition by any means and has probably been forgotten by many. Lucky for us, it has been preserved online and you can watch the entire special right here…
Pac-Man Halloween Special
Originally aired: 1982
There wasn’t anything much hotter than Pac-Man back in the early ’80s. Pac-Man Fever was running wild and this included having his own Saturday morning cartoon series. Even though the Pac-Man Halloween Special was made up of two segments from the regular TV series (that originally aired on Saturday morning on October 16, 1982), it is included on this list because it was actually aired again as a “Special” in primetime on ABC television two weeks later on October 30, 1982.
The two segments that made up the Pac-Man Halloween Special were titled “Pacula” and “Trick or Chomp”. The “Trick or Chomp” segment featured the Pac-Family going trick or treating on Halloween night until the ghosts (Inky, Blinky, Pinky and Clyde) come along to complicate matters. Both seasons of the Pac-Man cartoon series (including the Halloween episodes) are available on DVD, but you can also watch the episode “Trick or Chomp” below…
Elvira’s Halloween Special
Originally aired: 1986
Most of those who grew up through the ’80s will remember “Elvira, Mistress of the Dark” along with her macabre sense of humor not to mention her impressive cleavage. MTV was at its apex in the mid-80s and Elvira was a natural to host a Halloween special, so they combined to do so. Airing on October 31, 1986, Elvira’s Halloween Special was filmed in Salem, Massachusetts and naturally featured music videos (since it was on MTV) as well as several cheesy skits with Elvira. As part, Elvira introduced a countdown of the “strangest, weirdest, most bizarre” music videos. You can watch the entire special here although it is relatively poor quality and does not include all of the music videos…
Disney’s Halloween Treat
Originally aired: 1982
This special is a compilation of Disney cartoons and segments from selected Disney movies featuring spooky or supernatural themes. It is hosted by a talking jack-o-lantern puppet. Among the film segments, it includes Fantasia, The Sword and the Stone, Peter Pan, 101 Dalmatians, Lady and the Tramp and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. But the part that I remember the most is the Headless Horseman from The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. This segment originally created in 1949 is based on “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and features the voice of Bing Crosby as Ichabod Crane. The frightening part is when Ichabod is traveling home through an old cemetery and ends up being chased through the forest by the Headless Horseman who ultimately throws his flaming jack-o-lantern head at a screaming Ichabod. That sequence was always a little scary to me as a youngster and is one of my lasting Disney Halloween memories.
The opening and closing credits for Disney’s Halloween Treat feature an orange-colorized version of the 1929 Silly Symphony short “The Skeleton Dance” which even back in 1982 was 50 years old. Another similar special titled A Disney Halloween aired in 1983 which incorporated segments from both Disney’s Halloween Treat and 1977’s Disney’s Greatest Villains. This new version did include the fun Mickey cartoon Lonesome Ghosts, but it did not include the segment on the Headless Horseman. Disney’s Halloween Treat was rebroadcast for many years but has not been shown since the late ’90s. It was released on VHS in 1984, but as of today, it has not been released on DVD (though many of the segments are parts of other movies that are readily available). Maybe it will be available to stream on the new Disney+ when that launches later this year. In the meantime, here is a video clip that features the opening and closing for Disney’s Halloween Treat…
Fat Albert’s Halloween Special
Originally aired: 1977
Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids ran for 8 seasons over the course of 12 years spanning 1972-1985. It was created, produced and hosted by Bill Cosby who also voiced several characters. There were three primetime holiday specials including Christmas, Easter and, the one I remember the best, Halloween. In Fat Albert’s Halloween Special, which originally aired on October 24, 1977, the gang puts together homemade costumes and decides they are going to spend the night “spooking old folks”. Fat Albert tries to talk them out of it, but the others don’t listen and the shenanigans begin.
One of my favorite parts of this show was when they would razz each other and the best was when little Russell would get in a shot on Rudy. In the Halloween Special, Rudy wears a clown costume and brags to the others, “Hey, now, check out these threads. I’m a clown!” only to have Russell retort, “Ha! We know that. But what are you dressed as?” The part I seem to remember best is when they decide to visit old Mudfoot Brown. Old Mudfoot is usually there to tell some tall tales and give the guys advice usually through some reverse psychology. In the Special, the gang thinks they are going to spook old Mudfoot, but he ends up with the last laugh by taking all of their candy. This always cracked me up because he just keeps taking the candy and they don’t do anything about it. Later on, Fat Albert and the gang learn a lesson that everything isn’t always what it seems when they find out Old Lady Blakewell who lives in the spooky house by the graveyard is really just a nice woman that they had no reason to be scared of. Fat Albert’s Halloween Special has been released on both VHS and DVD, but you can also watch part the part below where they visit Old Mudfoot Brown…
Bugs Bunny’s Howl-oween Special
Originally aired: 1977
Looney Tunes have always been a personal favorite, so is this Halloween Special starring Bugs, Daffy, Porky, Sylvester, and Tweety. Bugs Bunny’s Howl-oween Special also stars the Witch Hazel character which is a natural for Halloween. Witch Hazel is voiced by June Foray who has also provided the voice for Rocky the Flying Squirrel, Cindy Lou Who, Jokey Smurf as well as Looney Tunes’ Granny among many others. Almost all of the other voices are provided by the great Mel Blanc. The Special includes a compilation of ten different horror-themed cartoon shorts that are edited slightly to connect them together.
One of my favorite shorts that is used is titled “Transylvania 6-5000” which was created in 1963. It was actually the last original Bugs Bunny short that Chuck Jones directed prior to leaving for MGM. For the Special, Witch Hazel is transformed before the cartoon starts into Count Blood Count by some Hyde formula that Bugs brought with him. In this story, Bugs discovers two magic phrases; one that turns the Count into a bat and another that turns him back. Then hilarity ensues, as only Bugs Bunny can do. Bugs Bunny’s Howl-oween Special was broadcast in primetime for many years and has been released on VHS and DVD, but you can also watch the “Transylvania 6-5000” segment right here…
Garfield’s Halloween Adventure
Originally aired: 1985
Garfield’s Halloween Adventure follows everybody’s favorite lasagna-loving (and evidently candy-loving) orange cat as he decides to go trick-or-treating. Garfield tricks Odie into joining him so he can get double the candy. Candy, candy, candy. This animated special, which originally aired by CBS on October 30, 1985, would win the Emmy for Outstanding Animated Program in 1986. It features Lorenzo Music as the distinctive voice of Garfield as well as songs provided by Lou Rawls. The songs are what really seem to make this special the most memorable to me. Here is a video that includes those musical numbers from Garfield’s Halloween Adventure…
The story takes a turn from normal silliness to something a little scarier as Garfield and Odie get a little lost encountering a creepy old man and some pirate ghosts. Garfield’s Halloween Adventure really does a good job representing the combination of fun and fright that Halloween should be. It seems that CBS has not aired this special on regular television since 2000, but it is available on DVD and you can watch the entire show through YouTube as well. Here is the entire episode for your enjoyment…
It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown
Originally aired: 1966
You just can’t have a list of Great Old Halloween TV Specials without including the Great Pumpkin. It first aired on October 27, 1966, and CBS re-aired the special annually through 2000, with ABC picking up the rights beginning in 2001, where it now airs annually during the Halloween season. I have watched it each and every year for as far back as I can remember in my life. It just wouldn’t be Halloween to me without the Great Pumpkin.
I enjoy the scene after the opening credits with Snoopy and Charlie Brown raking leaves. Linus jumps into the pile, to Charlie Brown’s dismay, while carrying a large lollipop and provides one of my favorite quotes (and some sound advice): “Never jump into a pile of leaves with a wet sucker.” Words to live by. You can see that quote below followed by another of my favorite scenes when Lucy holds the football for Charlie Brown to kick…
You’d think poor Charlie Brown would learn not to trust Lucy by now. The scene when Linus writes his letter to The Great Pumpkin ends with another of my favorite quotes from this special: “There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics and the Great Pumpkin.” There are many other memorable scenes like Snoopy as the World War I Flying Ace, Sally reaming out Linus for making her miss Halloween and Violet’s Halloween Party. But one that always cracks me up (but also makes me feel a little sad) is when they go out for “tricks or treats” and poor Charlie Brown keeps getting rocks instead of candy. Here is that scene where he keeps exclaiming, “I got a rock”…
Peanuts creator/writer Charles Schulz wanted Charlie Brown to only get a rock at one house. Director Bill Melendez suggested it happen three times, and while executive producer Lee Mendelson said no, he was overruled as well. According to Schulz in the book and retrospective TV special Happy Birthday, Charlie Brown, after the program first aired, bags and boxes of candy came in from all over the world “just for Charlie Brown”. I truly enjoy every scene and, as I mentioned earlier, it just wouldn’t be Halloween without It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. It is one of the few Halloween Specials that is still shown on television every year, but it is also available on DVD so you can be sure to watch it every year.
When I was a kid, I didn’t care that the Great Pumpkin had been created before I was born or when any holiday specials first aired. They were just ingrained in my childhood experience and have carried on through into adulthood. As a parent, I have enjoyed getting to share these with a new generation. I love nostalgia as well as traditions and watching Great Old Halloween TV Specials gives me plenty of both. I hope you enjoyed remembering this list with us and we wish you all a spooktacular Halloween.