The Halloween special. It doesn’t quite get the respect that the Christmas special does. In fact, almost every year the only Halloween special that will actually get shown on broadcast television is It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. While Halloween specials are easily outnumbered by Christmas ones, there have still been a large number of them aired throughout the history of television. Some are good, others are so bad they’re scary (in the quality department, not the creep you out way). This post will be a constantly updated ranked list of all of the Halloween specials I have seen so far broken up into which ones I think are worth watching, average, or flat out not worth your time and money. Whenever I watch a new Halloween special, this post will be updated with my thoughts so make sure to check back in the future.
At the bottom of this post is a list of Halloween specials I know about but have yet to watch. If you know of any additional Halloween specials that aren’t on my list, feel free to let me know in the comments section and I will add them to the list (and try to get around to watching them as soon as possible). TV episodes that aired as part of a television series (for example, The Simpsons “Treehouse of Horror” series or the well-liked Roseanne Halloween episodes) can be found on my Every Halloween TV Episode Ever Ranked post (coming soon). Specials that aired separately (like “The Fat Albert Halloween Special”) are listed here. For example, “Garfield’s Halloween Adventure” aired as a standalone Halloween special (and thus is on this list) while The Garfield Show’s “Orange and Black” was simply an episode of the TV series and is listed in the Halloween TV Episode post. Halloween movies (both theatrical and TV movies that are 60 minutes or longer) also have their own separate post (coming soon).
Essential Halloween Specials:
1. It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966)-It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is easily the most well-known and critically acclaimed Halloween special of all-time. While I have never been a huge Peanuts fan (I generally think they are fine but don’t really laugh out loud at them very often), this is one of the few Halloween specials I actually saw as a kid. I remember thinking It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown was pretty average when I watched it as a kid. After now watching it as an adult, I realize that I definitely underrated it and it is definitely a classic that everybody should watch at least once.
While the story in It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is pretty simple (Charlie Brown and others go out trick-or-treating and to a party while Linus and Sally spend their Halloween waiting for the Great Pumpkin in the pumpkin patch), it is better than the plots of all of the other Halloween specials I have watched to this point. The only problem is Snoopy’s story is pretty boring and really doesn’t fit in (it has nothing to do with Halloween at all and isn’t particularly funny). Charlie Brown’s story is pretty typical for Halloween specials but it does lead to some funny moments (“I got a rock!” in particular). Even though Linus’s story is simply waiting for the Great Pumpkin, it is the best and most original idea in the special. It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is overall quite funny though not really in a laugh out loud kind of way (it has more of an understated kind of humor to it).
While this special originally aired in 1966 (and is still aired on television every October to this day), everything still holds up. The animation is simple but still very good. Everything is so colorful and gorgeous and should really get you in the mood for Halloween. The special takes you back to your childhood when things used to be simpler and should have you reminiscing about Halloween as a child. The score is great as per usual with Peanuts specials. Vince Guaraldi is a great composer and a lot of the music in this special is memorable and/or catchy.
It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is easily the least scary of the Halloween specials I’ve seen (though really none of them are even close to scary for adults but some of them could be scary for younger children). This makes it completely family-friendly and a great watch for families with younger children. Even if you tend to prefer “scarier” Halloween specials, I would still recommend It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown because it is probably one of the best specials to get you into the Halloween spirit. Essential viewing for all, at least once.
How to Watch It: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, TV (still airs yearly in October on ABC)
Recommended Halloween Specials:
Nothing so far.
Average Halloween Specials:
2. Scared Shrekless (2010)-I really didn’t expect Scared Shrekless to be very good when I watched it for the first time for this list but I was pleasantly surprised that it was actually pretty solid. While I like the Shrek movies, I didn’t expect this to match the quality since it is a Halloween special made for TV after all. While it isn’t quite as funny as the movies, the quality is surprisingly high and good enough to get Scared Shrekless into the average section of this list.
Scared Shrekless premiered in 2010 and takes place shortly after the events of Shrek Forever After. The “plot” is basically a scary story competition between Shrek, Gingy, Donkey, and Puss in Boots that is pretty much just an excuse to parody The Bride of Frankenstein (The Bride of Gingy), Psycho (Boots Motel), and The Exorcist (The Shreksorcist) in a much more kid-friendly way (though I wouldn’t recommend Scared Shrekless for really young children because it could be quite scary for them).
One of the main reasons I was pleasantly surprised by Scared Shrekless is the still very high production quality, which is even pretty close to movie quality. Almost the entire original voice talent roster returns (Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz, and Antonio Banderas are all in this), the only major replacement is Dean Edwards taking over the role of Donkey from Eddie Murphy (with some other minor roles changing voices as well). However, I think Edwards’ voice is pretty much a dead ringer for Murphy’s and could barely even tell the difference between them. While the animation obviously isn’t quite up to the standards of the films, it is very good for a TV special and not really that far off from the movies.
In terms of the stories, Bride of Gingy and The Shreksorcist are both good for a few laughs. Unfortunately, Boots Motel is pretty terrible and even somewhat annoying. Donkey and Puss in Boots spend the entire time trying to change each others’ stories and just generally being as irritating as possible (Donkey’s character is pretty awesome in the movies, unfortunately he’s very annoying in this special). I love Psycho but Scared Shrekless butchers its story badly. However, the highlight of Scared Shrekless comes before the parody stories even begin. To add some spookiness to the storytelling, the gang travels to the now abandoned and creepy Castle Duloc where the “It’s a Small World After All” like dolls have a new (and much more horrifying) song to sing. They were one of the biggest highlights of the original Shrek film and their appearance in this special is hilarious as well.
The Scared Shrekless DVD also has a “Thriller” parody but I didn’t think it was a particularly good rendition and there are only a few laughs to be had. It definitely isn’t worth picking the DVD up just to watch it. For those who don’t like the Shrek franchise, you can probably skip Scared Shrekless since it is just average to slightly above average (the production quality is very good for a TV special but it isn’t quite as funny as I had hoped). However, if you are a fan of the franchise, Scared Shrekless is worth a watch.
How to Watch It: DVD
3. Casper the Friendly Ghost: He Ain’t Scary, He’s Our Brother (aka Casper’s Halloween Special or Casper Saves Halloween) (1979)-You would think a cartoon franchise about a ghost would have a pretty well-known Halloween special but I had no idea Casper even had one until I started working on this post. I didn’t really expect much (I assumed that since I had never heard of it it probably had a pretty high chance of being terrible) but Casper’s Halloween Special is actually pretty solid. I wouldn’t exactly call it a must-watch but it is surprisingly decent and definitely watchable.
Like a high percentage of the Halloween specials on this list, Casper’s Halloween Special has a story that is basically about trick-or-treating. Hairy Scarey, Winifred Witch, and Screech Ghost are planning to scare trick-or-treaters and people giving out treats but Casper just wants to go and get some candy without cruelly scaring people. He eventually meets some orphans who accept him for who he is but Hairy Scarey and his gang start to scare all the house owners and blame it on the orphans. Casper needs to get the other ghosts to stop it before he ruins Halloween for the orphans.
I think the main reason why I think Casper’s Halloween Special is pretty solid is the cheese factor (I know cheesy stuff isn’t for everyone though thus the “average” rating for this). The ghost voice actors are completely over the top (especially Winifred Witch whose laugh is simultaneously hilarious and one of the most terrifying things I’ve heard in any of the Halloween specials I’ve watched). The story is also very cheesy though at least it has a message to tell (unlike a lot of the other Halloween specials on this list). The songs are surprisingly catchy, especially “Tonight’s the Night” (the rest of the music is also quite good as well).
However, Casper’s Halloween Special is quite repetitive. Pretty much the entire special is Hairy Scarey, Winifred Witch, and Screech Ghost scaring home owners and trick-or-treaters over and over again. While the scares are different each time, they really didn’t have to show as many as they did (they could have spent the time on other parts of the story). Also, while the songs are good, I believe there were only two different songs in the entire special which were repeated throughout the whole 25 minutes. One or two more songs would have been nice to add some variety.
Casper’s Halloween Special (also known as Casper the Friendly Ghost: He Ain’t Scary, He’s Our Brother or Casper Saves Halloween) is unfortunately only available on DVD-R through the Warner Archive program (or Amazon) and VHS. However, if you can find it for a good price and you really like Halloween specials, I think it is worth a watch despite the repetition. It isn’t amazing by any stretch of the imagination, but it is very solid.
Below Average Halloween Specials:
Nothing so far.
Halloween Specials to Skip:
4. Bugs Bunny’s Howl-oween Special (1977)-Barely even qualifying as a Halloween special because it is pretty much just a blend of nine previously released Looney Tunes shorts (“A-Haunting We Will Go,” “Broom-Stick Bunny,” “Hyde and Hare,” “Hyde and Go Tweet,” “A Witch’s Tangled Hare,” “Claws for Alarm,” “Scaredy Cat,” “Transylvania 6-5000,” and “Bewitched Bunny”), Bugs Bunny’s Howl-oween Special is not very good at all and especially poor when compared to the usual Looney Tunes quality. This is a sloppily made cut-and-paste job of previous Looney Tunes cartoons (with just a bit of new bridge material), which makes for a thin plot that also jumps around far too much (making the story somewhat confusing and disjointed). A Looney Tunes cartoon should never be confusing (they are mainly for kids after all), but this is. I know cartoon companies like to make a quick buck by re-purposing their old content but I really wish Warner Bros. would have made a proper Looney Tunes Halloween special.
Like I said the plot is very thin and confusing, but the basic story involves Bugs Bunny, Witch Hazel, and Dr. Jekyll’s Hyde formula. However, Bugs Bunny’s Howl-oween Special is really just about repackaging vaguely Halloween-themed cartoon shorts together to form a just barely coherent story. Warner Bros. would have been much better off creating a proper Looney Tunes Halloween special but if that wasn’t possible, they should have just aired some of these cartoons in their entirety together instead of trying to assemble them into a complete “story.” If they just showed each short separately (one after another), it would have made the story much less confusing and disjointed and probably would have improved things considerably.
While I didn’t like Bugs Bunny’s Howl-oween Special very much, I did get a few laughs out of the old cartoons (meaning it at least beats out a few other Halloween specials on this list). However, that doesn’t mean I think you should watch this special, just watch the actual Looney Tunes cartoons themselves instead. There was very little effort put into this release and it really isn’t worth your time or money. Skip it.
How to Watch It: DVD
5. Garfield’s Halloween Adventure (1985)-I will start this entry off with a caveat, I did not grow up watching this special and thus have no nostalgic attachment to it. In fact, I had never seen it before in my life until I watched it for this post. Since a lot of the love for these holiday specials is driven by nostalgia and I don’t have any for Garfield’s Halloween Adventure, your mileage may vary on this one. Personally, I think its pretty terrible but I can definitely see how other people could be nostalgic for it. However, since I am attempting to grade these Halloween specials completely by quality while trying to limit the nostalgia factor as much as possible, I have to put Garfield’s Halloween Adventure in the skip it section.
The basic plot of this Halloween special is that Garfield learns that it is Halloween and he can get a lot of free candy just by dressing up and going trick-or-treating (even though most candy would kill a cat like him in real-life). Garfield and Odie have a successful trick or treating session until they come upon a run-down mansion with its own actual ghost story that plays out in real-life.
Garfield’s Halloween Adventure fans will probably hate me for saying this but for people who didn’t watch it as a kid, there is pretty much nothing I would consider good about this special. There are a few songs but other than “Scaredy Cat,” none are particularly memorable or catchy. Also, while this is now a 30+ year old cartoon, the animation is pretty terrible and the video quality is merely acceptable at best. Also, I know this was the case for all of the older cartoons in this franchise, but the fact that Garfield’s lips don’t move even when talking is a bit strange for a Garfield newbie like me (and quite distracting). The story is pretty basic Halloween special stuff, especially the first half of it. If Garfield’s Halloween Adventure had spent a bit more time on the ghost pirates story it might have improved the quality of the special quite a bit.
Overall, despite somehow winning the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program, I don’t think Garfield’s Halloween Adventure is worth a watch for newbies like me. You pretty much had to grow up with it to enjoy it in the present and I didn’t. I can see why people who grew up watching it would enjoy it but I never even laughed once during the entire 25-minute program. Since Garfield’s Halloween Adventure is exclusively for people who grew up watching it (and let’s be honest, the quality isn’t particularly high anyway), that puts it squarely in the “skip it” category for this list (unless you remember it from childhood of course, in which case it might be worth watching).
How to Watch It: DVD, Amazon Instant Video
Halloween Specials Not Yet Ranked:
The following is a list of Halloween specials I know about but have yet to see. When I find a copy and/or get around to watching each special, I will update this post with my thoughts so make sure to check back often. If I am missing any Halloween specials on this list, feel free to let me know in the comments section. Note, Halloween-themed TV episodes are included on my Halloween TV Episodes list while movies longer than 60 minutes are on my Halloween Movies list.
- Alvin and the Chipmunks: Trick or Treason (1994)
- Boo to You Too! Winnie the Pooh (1996)
- Chucklewood Critters: Which Witch is Which? (1984)
- Claymation: Comedy of Horrors (1989)
- The Crown of Bogg (1981)
- D-TV: Monster Hits (1987)
- The Devil and Daniel Mouse (1978)
- A Disney Halloween Hosted by Snow White’s Magic Mirror (1983)
- Disney Sing-Along Songs: Happy Haunting – Party at Disneyland! (1998)
- Disney’s Halloween Treat (1982)
- Elvira’s Halloween Special (1986)
- The Fat Albert Halloween Special (1977)
- Festival of Family Classics: Jack O’ Lantern (1972)
- The Flintstones Meet Rockula and Frankenstone (1979)
- Frankenweenie (1984)
- Gary Larson’s Tales from the Far Side (1994)
- The Great Bear Scare (1983)
- Halloween Hall o’ Fame (1977)
- Halloween Is Grinch Night (1977)
- The Halloween Tree (1993)
- Halloween with the New Addams Family (1977)
- The Last Halloween (1991)
- Mad Mad Mad Monsters (1972)
- Mockingbird Lane (2012)
- Monster High: Fright On! (2011)
- Monster Mash (2000)
- Monsters vs. Aliens: Mutant Pumpkins from Outer Space (2009)
- Mystery Magical Special (1986)
- The New Misadventures of Ichabod Crane (1979)
- The Night of the Headless Horseman (1999)
- Once Upon a Midnight Dreary (1979)
- Pac-Man: Halloween Special (1982)
- The Paul Lynde Halloween Special (1976)
- A Pumpkin Full of Nonsense (1985)
- Raggedy Ann and Andy in The Pumpkin Who Couldn’t Smile (1979)
- Scary Godmother: Halloween Spooktakular (2003-04)
- Scary Godmother: The Revenge of Jimmy (2005)
- Scooby-Doo! and the Spooky Scarecrow (2013)
- The Smurfs: The Legend of Smurfy Hollow (2013)
- Spookley the Square Pumpkin (2004)
- Spooky Bats and Scaredy Cats (2009)
- The Teddy Bears’ Scare (1998)
- Tom & Jerry Halloween Special (1987)
- Toy Story of Terror! (2013)
- The Wickedest Witch (1989)
- Winnie the Pooh: Spookable Pooh (1990)?
- The Witch Who Turned Pink (1989)
- Witch’s Night Out (1978)