As Spooky Season ’23 culminates with a grim and frosty Halloween, we here at Screen Speck needed to shout-out some of our favorite Halloween-themed TV episodes (plus our favorite simply scary ones). If you’re struggling to find spooktacular shows to watch on Halloween, enjoy our curated list of shriekful delights (cue Cryptkeeper laugh) below.
The X Files Season 5 Episode 12 (“Bad Blood”)
Bring out the pumpkins, the falling leaves, and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) thirsting over a vampire. ‘Tis the season to be gory! In case it wasn’t already obvious: I love unserious spookiness. I especially love it when it comes from a show that takes its spookiness so seriously. “Bad Blood” isn’t just a celebration of fun in The X-Files; it’s a celebration of horniness, too. And how can I not support both?
Off the bat, we have the best X-Files cold open of all time: Mulder (David Duchovny) chasing an alleged vampire in the forest, catching him, and sticking a wooden stake through his heart. (Coincidentally, this is not the first time that The X-Files has mixed biting and pleasure.) Scully arrives and discovers that the victim’s teeth are actually plastic vampire teeth. Mulder says, “Shi-”. Cut to the opening credits!
The rest of “Bad Blood” relies on Mulder and Scully, each with their own spooky and skeptical versions, recounting the events that led to the chase. Scully is horny for the sheriff (Luke Wilson) of this small Texas town, and paints him in horniest light — he’s sexy, listens to her reasoning, and admires the brilliance of her theories. From Scully’s PoV, Mulder is the evil, bossy, self-obsessed partner, demanding late-night autopsies when all she wants is pizza.
Meanwhile, what Mulder remembers is sheriff’s buck teeth, his thick Southern accent, and a scornful, unhelpful Scully, always unappreciative of his extensive vampire knowledge. In typical X-Files fashion, Mulder believes the town has fallen victim to vampire attacks; Scully thinks the whole thing is just a prank.
And it is a sort of trick. In a break with the standard X-Files format, “this”Bad Blood” turns out to be less about the paranormal conundrums of the ‘90s and more about the established dynamic duo of the decade, the will-they-won’t-they of the century, Scully and Mulder. Vince Gilligan is the mind behind this feat, subverting expectations by reminding us that while the truth might be out there, it also comes in versions that say more about the alleged truth-teller then than objective reality.
The result is the most fun The X-Files ever had with itself. What is Halloween about if not tacky vampires; ‘90s visual effects; careless autopsies with intestines falling on the floor; desperate horniness over a [SPOILER] who happens to be a vampire; and feeling too embarrassed to tell your coworker about it the morning after? Underneath its delicious comedic tone, “Bad Blood” is also a reinvigoration of mundane vampire lore, a story that entwines typical American symbols with a goofy, yet folkloric tone. The result is a light coziness Doctor Scully would probably prescribe to scare the real-life spooks away. That’s just my version of events, though. (Ana de Castro)
Evil Season 2 Episode 4 (“E is for Elevator”)
Let it be clear that Robert King and Michelle King have it out for me. I barely survived The Good Wife, a show that basically reinvented the network drama and set a bar so high that no CBS show since — with the exception of Person of Interest — has come close to clearing. As with any drama helmed by the Kings, Evil is intent on disrupting the conventions of the procedural, a genre that peddles in copaganda, in order to expose the moral rot inherent to America’s imagination. The series asks whether it is possible to do good by focusing on the intersections between science, religious faith, and the paranormal. Maybe God has to exist — even for an atheist like Kristen (Katja Herbers) and a skeptic like Ben (Aasif Mandvi) — because a world so fucked-up owes us an explanation. Priest in-training David Acosta (Mike Colter) can no longer ignore the lies he’s been fed by the Vatican, and his belief in God is also continually shaken by the cases that he has to investigate.
And so: “E is for Elevator” is exactly what it sounds like. It is literally about an elevator. It is also about Kristen’s fear that she isn’t a good mother, Ben’s regret over turning his back on Islam, and David’s anger at the Catholic Church’s refusal to acknowledge its lack of Black priests. In the episode, Kristen and Ben are tasked with discovering what happened to a teenager named Wyatt, who has been missing for months. It happens that Wyatt has a giant pentagram etched onto the bedroom floor and the phrase “el-game” carved onto his desk. Might his disappearance have anything to do with the occult? Being skeptics, Kristen and Ben flounder without David, who is forced to offer spiritual guidance to his arch-nemesis Leland (Michael Emerson). And, pushing David’s buttons once more, Leland tells him that David is merely a “diversity hire” for the Vatican; they do not care about Black priests or the Black people in their congregation. So “E is for Elevator” gives us two parallel horrors: a missing kid and the Catholic Church’s avowed racism.
Kristen finds out that “el-game” translates to “elevator game”: if you follow a set of instructions and press some buttons to get to different floors, you will arrive at the underworld. Once you start, you must complete the game or be haunted for the rest of your life. (I’ve read the Reddit threads; the game is based on a real urban legend that went viral in Japan.) Kristen and Ben go to the apartment building where Wyatt and his girlfriend, Felicia, were last seen. Wyatt played the game and disappeared. Felicia played the game to find him and the last anyone heard from her were resounding screams left in a voicemail. To make matters (somehow) even worse, a paranormal tour guide tells Kristen and Ben that the building is haunted by a girl who got stuck in the same elevator and had her body sawed in half. Everything is dandy!…until Kristen also gets trapped in the elevator, figuring out what buttons Wyatt pressed, and “sees” the girl’s bloody torso crawling towards her. Kristen gets GRABBED! She manages to flee, then immediately calls her therapist to prescribe her more drugs.
At this point, I was on my knees, begging for the episode to end. But we haven’t even gotten to David facing a group of white priests who flinch at the mention of slavery because it is too CONTROVERSIAL for them. Frankly, David might as well play the elevator game with his besties instead of dealing with this nonsense. Instead, Ben decides to play the game alone because that’s what people do in horror movies do before their untimely end. Ben is so smart that he figured out which buttons Wyatt pressed to get to the 13th floor, which doesn’t exist in that building (of course). The elevator brings Ben to a secret basement floor. I yelled at him to turn back, and he slowly walked out…and then found the rotting corpses of Wyatt and Felicia, who literally starved to death, waiting for help.
The elevator doors CLOSES behind Ben’s back. They will not open! There is NO reception. There is NOTHING. Ben is going to die all alone. The tragedy is that Wyatt probably thought help was coming when Felicia arrived and yelled at her to keep the doors open, but it was too late. For the first time in decades, Ben prays. He is writing his will in the Notes app. Guess what? The horror hasn’t stopped. Ben’s demon-ness –the one that has been terrorizing him lately – joins in and TAUNTS him in his final moments. Obviously, Kristen and David rescue Ben in the nick of time. But the sheer thought of dying alone from hunger and thirst seconds away from civilization put the fear of God in me.
But this was just another day with the Kings’ sick and twisted thoughts. I suppose I should be grateful that it’s still not as bad as when Will Gardner…you know…happened. (Shar Tan)
Parks and Recreation Season 5 Episode 5 (“Halloween Surprise”)
Halloween is many things to many people: spooky, weird, religious. Halloween is also a time to celebrate Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott) and Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler). Because Halloween means “Halloween Surprise,” Season 5 Episode 5 of Parks and Recreation. There are plenty of laughs and storylines in this episode, but the only one that matters from September 28th to November 1st is Ben getting down on one knee and proposing to Leslie.
This moment is legendary and memorable for even the casual Parks and Rec fan, as the 5th in a standard full-order season of 22 episodes is an unusual time for major moments in characters’ lives. (Parks and Rec repeats this aberration when the pair get married not in the Season 5 finale, but just a few episodes later, in Episode 14.) But Ben and Leslie show on television the ideal love that’s so hard to find in real life: they’re head-over-heels for each other, aren’t afraid to show it, and fight for each other repeatedly. Also, the two get engaged in the same episode where Jerry Gergich (Jim O’Heir) has a fart attack and Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) apologizes (!). “Halloween Surprise” is full of them – it’s just right for the giddy Halloween spirit if you’ve maybe seen too many horrors. (Laura Wanberg)
The Fall of the House of Usher Limited Series
It would be remiss to have a list of spooky things to watch at the end of the spooky season and not include Mike Flanagan‘s latest limited series, The Fall of the House of Usher. It’s Succession meets Edgar Allan Poe, an “unforgiving critique of greed,” and is my second-favorite Flanagan mini-series (The Haunting of Hill House remains supreme). Each episode left me absolutely captivated, unable to look away from the tragedies that befell the Usher family in – well, order of succession. Anyone who knows me knows I have an abnormal sleeping schedule, but it’s rare these days that what keeps me awake is not wanting to turn off the TV (as opposed to just doom scrolling). I was up until 5 A.M. binging Episodes 3-7 because I simply could not get myself to turn the show off.
The series is a must-watch for any lover of Poe and for anyone who loves of a good old family drama. Mike Flanagan is who Ryan Murphy wishes he was. He knows how to up the ante without making his work too outlandish or gimmicky, and that’s why all of his television series are so beloved. His company of players nails it every time, and it’s so obvious that Carla Gugino is his muse – and rightfully so. Even the new additions – Mark Hamill (yep, Luke Skywalker himself) and Bruce Greenwood – fit in seamlessly.
Usher will make you cover your eyes at the demise of some members of the Usher family; their deaths range from throat impalement by a shard of glass to having their flesh melted off to being ripped to shreds by a chimpanzee. It’ll also make you laugh (for any fans of HBO’s VEEP, Kate Seigel‘s Camille might as well be Amy Brookheimer’s long-lost sister) – and, dare I say it, even cry. And it is all so, so worth it. (Sydney Grullon-Matos)
GOTHAM Season 4 Episode 9 (“Let Them Eat Pie”)
Yes, I’m talking about Fox’s Gotham. Hear me out. Season 4’s “Let Them Eat Pie” takes advantage of the show’s superhero prequel disguise to bring the grimness of Gotham City to full potency. Just like the ovens baking pies made of orphans at this charity dinner party.
Michael Cerveris‘ Professor Pyg – I don’t think it’s a good name either – finds his way into the kitchen of Sofia Falcone’s (Crystal Reed) orphanage on the night of a dinner party to raise funds for her charity. Pyg serves dinner in his typical pig mask to a soundtrack of “Cell Block Tango“; or, as he calls it, the “Meat Pie Tango”: “If you had been fair, if you’d been keen, I betcha these pies wouldn’t taste the same.” The pies in question? Why, theyre filled with a selection of unfortunate orphans, of course. (I guess a parody of “God, That’s Good!” would have been too on-the-nose.) Pyg has a reason for stuffing them so: it’s his own social commentary on how the Gotham elite “feeds” from the underprivileged, crafting a nasty anti-capitalist narrative that makes The Menu look like a boring carousel ride.
While threatening to kill The Penguin’s (Robin Lord Taylor) protegé, Martin (Christopher Convery), the Professor offers no choice to Cobblepot, who, by eating the pie first, forces the obnoxious rich donors at the table to follow him. As they eat, they stare begrudgingly at the respective Polaroids of their meals. I enjoyed all three seasons of NBC’s Hannibal, but this is by far the most gruesome cannibalism scene I’ve seen. It’s Robin Lord Taylor’s eccentric, majestic performance (best Penguin to ever exist), Penguin grabbing the pie with his hand and sticking it in his mouth and leaving bits of orphan meat all over his face. It’s this elegant dinner table contrasted with the coughs and retching of Gotham’s elite as they stare down at who they’re eating. It’s too much to not to be recognized more widely.
There’s much to enjoy and much to complain about when it comes to Gotham. This show is a source of fun and of pet peeves – most egregiously, the cowardice of not embracing the full potential of its queer-coding, fascinatingly flamboyant Penguin and Riddler (Cory Michael Smith). But I’m not here to talk about the horrors of homophobia. Given how taken for granted Gotham generally is, I feel “Let Them Eat Pig” is gruesome enough to deserve some recognition on its own.
Considering the vast accessibility of a universe like DC, this episode stands on its own for non-Gothamites if your mood demands a main course of nastiness with a side of dark humor. But you’ve been warned: Don’t underestimate this one. It’s no light dinner. As I’m writing this, I can still feel my nausea over the pies. Which is how you know you watched a fitting Halloween episode. No snacks for this one, though. (Ana de Castro)