Monday, October 29, 2012

Cult-TV Theme Watch: Halloween

Halloween is our yearly celebration of the macabre; a celebration now marked by costumes, candy…and horror movies.  

Halloween was originally a harvest ritual or ceremony in Western Europe, but over the years  the day has lost any kind of religious purpose.  Today, it’s just a good, healthy excuse to get dressed up, eat some candy, and scare yourself silly.

Halloween has also been a critical part of the cult-television landscape for decades  It’s The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown (1966) is a yearly ritual for American children, as popular (if not more so…) than the Charlie Brown Christmas special.

Over the years, Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997 – 2003) probably celebrated Halloween more times than just about any series on record.  A great second season story called, appropriately, "Halloween," saw a diabolical curse fall upon Sunnydale.  

Every trick-or-treater was suddenly transformed into the costume they were wearing.  Thus Willow (Alyson Hannigan) became a ghost, Xander (Nicholas Brendon) beefed up as a soldier, and Buffy  (Sarah Michelle Gellar) became a Victorian lady, replete with fainting spells.

In the fourth season, Buffy offered its second Halloween tale called “Fear Itself,” about a haunted fraternity on Sunnydale College campus.  

And finally, in the sixth season, “All the Way” involved Dawn going out on Halloween night…with a vampire.

The Chris Carter series Millennium (1996 – 1999), meanwhile, presented one of the truly great TV Halloween tales, the incomparable “The Curse of Frank Black.”  

This story finds Frank (Lance Henriksen) alone on Halloween night, at least for a while, and remembering a disturbing event from his childhood involving a suicidal World War II veteran.  In the present meanwhile, he sees demons in every corner, and gets an unexpected visit from a ghost.

One of the earliest episodes of Friday the 13th:  The Series (1987 – 1990), “Hellowe’en” also involved October 31st, and depicts the evil Uncle Lewis Vendredi (R.G. Armstong) crashing Micki and Ryan’s Halloween party at Curious Good in hopes of retrieving the cursed Amulet of Zohar, which can resurrect him on Earth.  I'll be reviewing this particular episode on Wednesday, as part of my Halloween celebration.

Also in the 1980s, the Laurel anthology Tales from the Darkside (1984 – 1988) opened its first season with an excellent Halloween episode titled “Trick or Treat.”  

This tale involves a vulture capitalist in the Depression, named Hackles (Barnard Hughes) and his sadistic attempt each Halloween to scare the children of his town.  He invites them to his haunted house late Halloween night to search for their parents “IOUs.”  They usually fail to find them, but on this Halloween, Hackles gets the tables turned by a bevy of Halloween spirits, including a fierce-looking witch.

My son Joel’s favorite Halloween-centric TV show episode is “When Halloween Was Forever,” a 1986 episode of The Real Ghostbusters.  In this installment, Samhain – “The Spirit of Halloween” – is freed from centuries-long captivity and stops time on October 31st to make All Hallow’s Eve last for eternity.  It’s a great story, and Joel also has a Samhain action figure that he cherishes…

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