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Monday, October 24, 2022

Tricks and Treats: 5 Ghoulish Halloween Episodes from TV Horror Anthologies [Series of Frights]

It’s that time of year again when folks put out scary decorations and pumpkins, fill bowls with candy, and don costumes to blend in with the other ghosts and ghouls. Halloween is in the wind, and nothing quite gets this holiday’s observers in the festive mood better than watching horror.

Movies are the obvious route for experiencing horror at a safe distance, but the television side of the genre has also been a reliant as well as rich source of Halloween activity. And while anthologies can be sparing with tales set around October 31 — they don’t need a special occasion to get scary, after all — these select stories not only celebrate Halloween, they’re a reminder of its power over events and people.

Tales from the Darkside (1983-1988)
The Cutty Black Sow


With every new season of Tales from the Darkside, the series showed less and less straightforward frights. Possibly to save money, even after cutting corners by using limited sets and small casts, the stories were more fixated with internal dread manifesting under unusual circumstances. However, there were the occasional episodes with both external and tangible threats.

In the show’s last season, it spun one final yarn about Halloween. “The Cutty Black Sow” is based on the short story of the same name by Thomas F. Monteleone, which was then adapted by Darkside regular Michael McDowell (BeetlejuiceThe Nightmare Before Christmas). For some odd reason, the episode was scheduled in May rather than October. Despite the specific setting, Halloween is one of those holidays that can be enjoyed year round.

In “The Cutty Black Sow”, an ailing great-grandmother (Paula Trueman) tells her great-grandson Jamie (Huckleberry Fox) to help keep her soul from ending up in the hands of the Cutty Black Sow once she dies. Jamie does his best to honor her last wish upon her passing, though his effort doesn’t go unpunished. He eventually learns the ancient demon was a lot closer than he’d originally thought.

The Cutty Black Sow indeed comes from existing folklore, but its roots are actually Welsh, not Scottish. Here the demon who collects souls on Halloween is given limited face time; most of the episode is focused on Jamie carrying out his great-grandmother’s last wish, which provokes a heap of paranoia on his part. Once the monster does appear, its presence is brief yet effective — despite the substandard costume. What makes the Sow’s big entrance so memorable is how it finally reveals itself. The episode never bothers to explain that bizarre ending.

Goosebumps (1995-1998)
Attack of the Jack-O-Lanterns


Plenty of fans agree “The Haunted Mask” set a high bar for Goosebumps; it’s an eerie coming-of-age tale about losing a part of yourself in order to gain something else. However, it wasn’t the only Halloween episode the series had to offer. “Attack of the Jack-O-Lanterns” doesn’t get talked about quite nearly as much as Carly Beth’s misadventures in trick-or-treating, but this offbeat exercise in trickery is more in tune with the rest of R. L. Stine‘s series of children’s books.

“Attack of the Jack-O-Lanterns” concerns two kids, Drew and Walker (Erica Luttrell, Aidan Desalaiz), who dread Halloween only because they fear whatever prank their bullies are planning. This year will be different only because Drew’s old friends Shane and Shana (Philip Eddoll, Andrea O’Roarke) are visiting, and they’re helping her devise a scary trick. The joke’s on all of them, though, because they later become entangled in an ongoing series of abductions in the area.

Stranger danger is afoot in this silly story punctuated by even sillier antagonists. The pumpkin-headed monsters are too goofy-looking to ever cause a real stir, but once their true intentions are revealed, “Attack of the Jack-O-Lanterns” ends up being one of the more gruesome Goosebumps episodes.

After directing movies such as Death Weekend and Killer PartyWilliam Fruet went on to helm more than twenty episodes of Goosebumps. His take on “Attack of the Jack-O-Lanterns” shows his roots as a horror director, particularly in the nightmare sequence of the old people capturing children.

Perversions of Science (1997)


After finding success with Tales from the Crypt, HBO adapted other EC Comics series for a new anthology in 1997. Unfortunately, Perversions of Science only lasted one season before it was sentenced to the depths of TV obscurity. The show has yet to resurface on streaming platforms, and so far its only home-video release is a Japanese DVD set.

Based on the title, Perversions of Science sounds more erotic than it actually was. Its host, a CG fembot named Chrome (voiced by Maureen Teefy), would deliver sexual innuendo in her narrative introductions and exits, but the stories themselves were only occasionally about sex. Perhaps hesitant viewers had the wrong idea when they heard the title.

The episode “Panic” takes place at Halloween, and it stars a cast of familiar faces: Jason SmithJamie Kennedy, Laraine Newman, Harvey Korman, Edie McClurg and Chris Sarandon. And behind the wheel are director Tobe Hooper and screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker (Se7enSleepy Hollow). Not too many people have seen this episode, but once they have, it’s hard to forget.

“Panic” is a campy adaptation of a Weird Science story by William Gaines. Sweetening the Halloween setting is the year this episode occurs in, and the real-life incident it references; two bona-fide aliens (Smith, Kennedy) get into a pickle when they’re spotted during the infamous 1938 radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds that sent droves of listeners into a, well, panic. Uninitiated Perversion viewers are constantly kept guessing, never knowing where this wacky episode is going to take them.

Fear Itself (2008)
The Spirit Box


Unlike most of the entries here, “The Spirit Box” begins at Halloween before shortly moving on. However, the holiday directly inspired its two main characters to play around with the supernatural. In their haste, these teens fail to consider what they might actually summon.

Anna Kendrick and Jessica Parker Kennedy play the two curious teenagers who whip up a spirit board using a takeout pizza box and a cellphone. The pair then stumbles upon a local mystery about a dead classmate; she asks them to help find her murderer. Their investigation eventually leads to a suspect at the school — a teacher (Mark Pellegrino) who may have been romantically involved with the victim.

Director Rob Schmidt (Wrong Turn) and screenwriter Joe Gangemi (Windchill) collaborated on this crafty tale of deception. The characters aren’t the only ones being misled here; the audience is duped as well. What seems like an unambiguous search for justice beyond the grave is something else entirely once the episode gets the setup and mystery out of the way.

All of Fear Itself is currently streaming on YouTube.

R. L. Stine’s The Haunting Hour: The Series (2010-2014)
Pumpkinhead / Return of the Pumpkinheads

While The Haunting Hour is named after R.L. Stine’s collection of short stories of the same name, early episodes come from another of the author’s anthology books, The Nightmare Hour. The TV adaptation of said book’s opening tale, “Pumpkinhead“, is a series high point, as far as atmosphere goes. This episode does a good job of bringing the the source material alive while also adding its own unique touches.

Like in the short story, “Pumpkinhead” takes place in a town where Halloween has been restricted by a curfew. This is due to the fact that several children went missing last year. Three siblings (Kacey RohlLiam JamesFrankie Jonas) soon learn the cause of those other kids’ disappearances when they step foot into a shady farmer’s forbidden patch of pumpkins. This episode, like most others in The Haunting Hour, does not have a happy ending.

After the original episode ended on such a dark note, the sequel “Return of the Pumpkinheads” confirms one character survived their Halloween ordeal. The wicked pumpkin farmer has since moved on, but his cursed property is purchased by an unaware family. And once their parents succumb to the same evil as before, a brother and sister (Harrison MacDonald, Freya Tingley) fight to avoid a similar fate.

Aside from providing closure for the previous episode, “Return of the Pumpkinheads” doesn’t present anything new other than more victims for the titular monsters. These abrupt, hopeless and unsatisfactory conclusions can be draining, but the bright spots here are higher production values and more screen time for the fearsome Pumpkinheads.

More Halloween episodes from various horror anthology series can be found here and here.

Series of Frights is a recurring column that mainly focuses on horror in television. Specifically, it takes a closer look at five episodes or stories — each one adhering to an overall theme — from different anthology series or the occasional movie made for TV. With anthologies becoming popular again, especially on television, now is the perfect time to see what this timeless mode of storytelling has to offer.

The post Tricks and Treats: 5 Ghoulish Halloween Episodes from TV Horror Anthologies [Series of Frights] appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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