Which Halloween specials are the best?
Frankly, which specials are the "best" depends heavily on which ones make you feel the most nostalgic. Most of them aren't exactly great art. But some of them ARE pretty fantastic, and my own list of "essentials" would include:
It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown
Halloween is Grinch Night
Witch's Night Out
The Halloween That Almost Wasn't
A Disney Halloween
Garfield's Halloween Adventure
The Halloween Tree
Alvin and the Chipmunks Meet the Wolfman
Most of these, of course, are the specials I watched as a kid. Your mileage may vary.
Who are you, anyway?
This guy. By night I'm a tour guide (and sometimes a ghost investigator) for in Chicago, and by day I write books for a living, including YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD GIVES ME THE CREEPS, an account of my life in the ghost busting biz, and I KISSED A ZOMBIE AND I LIKED IT, a satire of the paranormal romance genre that has taken over YA literature. I had a bunch of Halloween specials on tape as a kid, and in college I started trying to fill the holes in my collection.
When I was a lad (in the 80's), many of these specials came on every year, and Halloween was a big deal around my town - we all wore costumes to school on Halloween, read ghost stories in class throughout October, and planned our costumes for weeks. My hometown, Des Moines, has a peculiar custom in regards to trick-or-treating: before you can say "trick or treat," you have to tell a joke. Nothing elaborate - usually something along the lines of "whats's the largest pencil in the world," "why did a man put his car in the oven," or one of the other riddles we learned from The Floppy Show. It wasn't until years later that I learned this was uniquely Des Moines-based custom; when I moved to Atlanta as a teenager and heard kids simply saying "trick or treat," I thought "No jokes? What are these kids? Savages?"
Halloween was not as big a deal in the south, where I moved as a teenager - the schools didn't dare have Halloween parties for fear of trouble from the religious groups, many of whom are under the impression that Halloween is a Satanic holiday. I heard stories about how trick or treating and jack-o-lanterns came from Druidic celebrations that involved sacrificing virgins and stories that witches sacrificed kids to the devil using razor blades hidden in candy. All of this was nonsense - the whole story of kids getting razor blades in candy is largely an urban myth(certainly no one ever died because of it), and, while Halloween has certain similarities to various other holidays (Day of the Dead, Samhain, All Saints' Day, All Hallows' Eve, Purim, and so on), most Halloween traditions have distinctly 20th century origins with few traces of any religion. There are a lot of stories about the origins of trick or treating, but the truth is that it was started up by school boards in the 1930's as a way to keep kids out of trouble on Mischief Night, the traditional night to soap up windows and overturn garbage cans.
But the horror stories of Satanism persist, and I can't help but wonder if they're part of the reason that they just don't put many Halloween cartoons out anymore. That's probably a stretch, I know, but in this age of 500 channels, you'd think more would find their way onto the air every year. Instead of putting on Halloweentown 10 times a year, why not put it on 9 times and air Mr. Boogedy once? One day, perhaps they will. Until then, we'll always have youtube.
What determines what makes something a halloween special, vs a tv movie or halloween-themed episode? Why not just lump them all together?
I'd rather list specials like "Witch's Night Out" and "Halloween is Grinch Night," which existed apart from a weekly series as a separate genre from, say, the episode of Pound Pupppies in which they go trick-or-treating. But the line, I must admit, is blurry. I qualify things as "specials" on the following criteria:
1. They are the length of a "special," (30-60 minutes) not a TV movie.
2. They exists outside of a regular weekly series OR were released in some way other than just as a regular episode of a series (ie: special prime-time airings of Saturday morning shows, hour-long specials of half-hour shows, straight-to-video episodes that weren't aired on TV, etc).
Some may disagree with my classification of some shows, but hey, that's okay. It's not exactly life-and-death here. I'm pretty flexible on #1, especially on things made starting in the late 80s, when the home video market really took off. As tapes got cheaper to buy, producing full-length TV movies, instead of half hour TV specials, made better economic sense for most companies, since movies were an easier sell than shorts on the home market, so feature-length "specials" became the norm.
When I first compiled a list of specials in the late 90s, I thought my list was fairly complete. By the time I first put this version of the page together in 2006, I really thought I'd covered just about everything. But more specials keep appearing out of the sands of time, and I've started being a lot more lenient on adding "made for TV movies," especially considering that The Disney Channel treated their TV movies as regular Halloween specials for years.
Why don't you put up links to the Halloween episode of Cheers/Dharma and Greg/Friends etc.
I'm trying (mostly) to keep the Halloween-themed episodes of weekly shows to the cartoons, at least for now. Ever since Roseanne started doing a Halloween show every year, a great many sitcoms have followed suit (Roseanne didn't START the custom - it was standard practice in the radio days - but she revived it). I have my hands full with just the cartoons, and I'd rather focus on them. A few live action standalone specials deserve notice on here, like the Paul Lynde one, but that's different. If you want to see more Halloween-themed TV that doesn't really fit in around here, check out the Ghosts of Halloween blog. Too many reviews of things like that would just make this site a bloated mess when I wanted it to focus on a very specific kind of show. I don't want "Witch's Night Out" to get buried under piles of reviews of Roseanne episodes.
Will you sell me a copy of _____?
I don't sell these things, and I don't do much trading. And every time I try to do some from here, I get cease and desist letters. When I can (ie, when it exists and the copyright holder doesn't contact me to object), I've put up links to places where you can get the shows - quite a few are even on youtube nowadays. That said, I do need the following:
-The Wickedest Witch (late 80s TV special, live action)
-Anything on the list of Long Lost Specials.
If you remember a show that I don't have here, by all means, let me know! Plenty of people have sent me emails asking about shows that sound terrific, but that I've never heard of, and that no one can quite identify them (many of them were probably local productions, a relic of 20th century tv that barely exist anymore). Add a comment to the list if you have any information about these.
Why all the WRITING? Why don't you just put up the videos?
When I started the page, streaming video hadn't come into its own. Practically none of these specials were online when most of these reviews were first written. Now, I sort of use this sort of writing as a warm-up for my work on books. In other words: I just like to. It gives me a chance to write about the role of nostalgia in how we judge art, my annoyance with ghost hunting TV shows, the things I love most about October, and other stuff about which I like to ramble.
And, anyway, I hate "review" sites that have nothing interesting to say about whatever it is that they're reviewing beyond describing the plot and maybe giving it a rating or grade. 90% of YA book bloggers, I'm looking at you.
I'm selling copies of ______ / I encoded ______ , will you put up a link?
No, and I'll delete comments offering copies of these things for sale or download. I don't mind putting up youtube embeds (I assume that if someone wanted their content off youtube, they could arrange it if they cared enough), but I'm always shocked with how brazen people get with this stuff. Putting up a note saying "I don't own this" does not trump copyright protections, and I'm always surprised when people advise me to fight back against copyright holders who don't want me posting free download links of their content. Posting download links gives my host a perfect reason to delete the whole site, and I like having the site, thanks.