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The Belchers do Halloween right, and will do right by you, you wimp.
The Belchers do Halloween right, and will do right by you, you wimp.
Fox

28 Halloween movies and TV episodes for wimps and scaredy-cats

Every Halloween, horror enthusiasts stage movie marathons stuffed with scares and gore, horrifying twists and disgusting creatures from the darkest corners of human imagination. And every Halloween, wimps the world over retreat into the shadows, waiting for the storm to pass.

Well, cower no longer, all ye frightened brethren.

We've compiled a slate of alternative programming for all the wimps out there who want to enjoy Halloween even if they don't enjoy being scared, because, really, being scared is the worst. (Don't worry: Most of these are readily available on some kind of streaming service, the better to immediately squash burgeoning horror movie plans.)

Tier 1: For the wimp who's just here to have fun

1

Roseanne, "BOO!" (season 2, episode 7)

Jackie (Laurie Metcalf) gets in the spirit

Jackie (Laurie Metcalf) gets into the spirit. (ABC)

Few sitcoms take as much delight in their Halloween episodes as Roseanne did over its nine seasons. Halloween was a sacred holiday for the Conner family — far more so than Christmas — and the over-the-top effort Roseanne, Dan, and their kids put into observing All Hallows’ Eve makes for the best kind of family-sitcom hijinks. Netflix’s unfortunately slim "Roseanne Collection" only offers one of the series' seven Halloween episodes, but it’s one of the best (and the first). "BOO!" sees Dan and Roseanne vying to out-scare each other while putting together a charmingly homemade haunted house for the neighborhood kids (and themselves). It’s the sort of all-in-good-fun Halloween cheer that even the wimpiest wimp can enjoy, with plenty of laughs and nary a scare in sight. [Available on Netflix]

2

The Simpsons, "Treehouse of Horror(s)"

If you’re looking for a bona fide Halloween marathon that will still make you laugh, you can’t go wrong by queuing up all —or even half — of The Simpsons 26 "Treehouse of Horror" specials. Every year brings new gags, new horrors, and new jokes for fans to parse and argue about for years. Not every "Treehouse" special is created equal, but the good news is they're a mere 20 minutes long, and then you can move right on to the next one. [Available on Amazon, FXNow, and YouTube]

3

Addams Family Values (1993)

The Addams Family is a no-brainer for Halloween wimps, what with the family's storied creepy-kooky-spooky-ookieness. But why not go the slightly less expected route with this 1993 sequel to the 1991 blockbuster? Whereas the 1991 film leans more toward the cartoon hijinks of the 1960s TV series, with the spooky stuff serving mainly as window dressing, Values goes deeper into dark comedy territory, thanks primarily to the addition of Joan Cusack as a serial killer known as the Black Widow. Values embraces the macabre without straying from the material's cartoon origins, and it holds up surprisingly well. As a bonus, Pugsley and Wednesday's delightful summer camp coup of a Thanksgiving pageant should get you in the mood for the next big holiday on the horizon. [Available on Amazon]

4

Bob’s Burgers, "Full Bars" (season 3, episode 2); "Fort Night" (season 4, episode 2); "Hauntening" (season 6, episode 3)

bobs burgers halloween

Tina, Louise, and Gene rejoice in the glory of full-size chocolate bars. (Fox)

One of the sweetest family sitcoms ever also happens to be a proudly bonkers animated comedy, with characters waggling their noodle arms and hollering like they have too many feelings to keep any of them inside their bodies. This also makes Bob’s Burgers especially ripe for Halloween episodes, which tend to reward the wacky. Queuing up all three of the Bob’s Burgers Halloween episodes will give you a solid hour of comedy that understands the wonder and imagination that hooks kids on the holiday in the first place. [Available on Netflix and Hulu]

5

Community, "Introduction to Statistics" (season 1, episode 6); "Epidemiology" (season 2, episode 6]; "Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps" (season 3, episode 5)

Fans knew Community could be something special with "Introduction to Statistics," the series’ first Halloween episode. This was the moment the show stopped trying to be a more straightforward sitcom and let its quick-witted characters loose, to hilariously unhinged effect. (Bonus trivia: "Introduction to Statistics" was also directed by Fast & Furious’s Justin Lin.) Once Community found its footing, it got even more ambitious. "Epidemiology" is a pitch-perfect zombie episode, both a little creepy and a lot funny. "Horror Fiction in Seven Steps" reveals all the characters’ fears in the form of ghost stories, which immediately go off the rails. The show’s incredibly specific, speedy voice is perfectly suited to the more bizarre turns Halloween episodes can take. If you need to placate some horror fans who were hoping to get pedantic, Community would be a winning distraction. [Available on Hulu]

6

Brooklyn Nine-Nine, "Halloween" (season 1, episode 6); "Halloween II" (season 2, episode 4); "Halloween III" (season 3, episode 5)

brooklyn nine nine halloween

The precinct turns it out. (Fox)

While most other comedies use Halloween to experiment with different costumes and conceits, Brooklyn Nine-Nine has followed roughly the same plot every year. Cocky detective Jake Peralta (Andy Samberg) and his stoic but competitive captain, Raymond Holt (Andre Braugher), try to outwit each other in a challenge that highlights their respective skills. The rest of the precinct inevitably gets roped into the action, making this trilogy a stellar showcase for the workplace comedy and its talented cast (including The State’s Joe Lo Truglio, Terry Crews, and Chelsea Peretti). The Halloween twists have never been all that surprising, but it doesn’t really matter when everyone is having such a good time. [Available on Hulu]


7

Freaks and Geeks, "Tricks and Treats" (season 1, episode 3)

freaks and geeks halloween

Neal (Samm Levine), Bill (Martin Starr), Sam (John Francis Daley), and Harris (Stephen Lea Shephard) cling to childhood.

Every episode of this short-lived high school series contained moments that could bruise your heart for weeks, but "Tricks and Treats" was the first to make it obvious how special this show could be. The premise is simple enough: Lindsay (Linda Cardellini) promises her mother (the wonderful Becky Ann Baker) that she’ll stay home so they can hand out candy together, but ends up ditching to prank people with her new friends. Meanwhile, her little brother, Sam (John Francis Daley), refuses to accept that he might be too old to trick-or-treat. But Paul Feig’s script has so much empathy that the result is one of the most affecting episodes ever written about the dull pain of growing up. Plus, the cast includes a ton of "before they were famous" faces (James Franco, Jason Segel, Busy Philipps, Seth Rogen, etc.), so if you start to get depressed, you can always turn every familiar appearance into a drinking game. [Available on Netflix]

8

Boy Meets World, "And Then There Was Shawn" (season 5, episode 17)

A staple of ABC’s TGIF lineup, Boy Meets World tended to funnel saccharine lessons about family values through at least a bit of a wink. "And Then There Was Shawn" tears apart the show’s formula and has fun doing it. The episode is a self-parodying Scream spoof that delves into the characters’ relationships with one another — and with special guest star Jennifer Love Hewitt (playing "Jennifer Love Fefferman"). It’s deeply silly, and every joke is telegraphed from a mile away, but hey, sometimes you just have to let Halloween be as goofy as it wants to be. [Available on YouTube]

9

It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966)

ABC

Let your heart be warmed by this bittersweet tale of a boy and his undying faith in the Great Pumpkin, his Halloween version of Santa Claus. This was Peanuts' third animated special, and its heartfelt sentimentality follows right in A Charlie Brown Christmas's formidable footsteps. It's the Great Pumpkin is also the first Peanuts special to include both Snoopy's fighter pilot alter ego (who immediately gets to work fighting the Red Baron from atop his doghouse), and the cruel football bait-and-switch game Lucy plays with Charlie Brown. There's nothing remotely frightening about this option, unless you're scared of feeling some real emotions. [Available on Amazon]

10

Young Frankenstein (1974)

young frankenstein

Mel Brooks's screwball take on Frankenstein is a classic, thanks to a completely committed cast, meticulous attention to detail, and Brooks's signature bonkers energy. Gene Wilder plays Dr. Frankenstein (pronounced Franken-steen, Franken-steen) with a manic glint in his eye that foretells his inevitable unraveling. His supporting cast is just as impressive, with Madeline Kahn, Peter Boyle, Terri Garr, Marty Feldman, and Cloris Leachman throwing themselves into Brooks and Wilder's script with gleeful abandon. Nothing about this movie is frightening, but everything about it is delightful, spooky, and fun, making it a solid choice to replace whichever Saw your friends are trying to force upon you this time.

Tier 2: Baby steps

11

Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)

rocky horror

Either you're into Rocky Horror Picture Show's dizzying campfest, or you're already wrinkling your nose at your screen while flashing back to a scarring midnight viewing party. But if this musical is up your alley, there's hardly a more solid choice for group viewing. The songs blend nonsense with dizzying twists and turns, and the incomparable Tim Curry and Susan Sarandon are mesmerizing in their respective roles as the smirking Frank N. Furter and the slyly sexy Janet. If haunted houses aren't your jam, Rocky Horror's funhouse take just might be. [Available on HBO Now]

12

Beetlejuice (1988)

beetlejuice

Beetlejuice features one of the loopier haunted houses on this list, home to creeping ghouls, lurking monsters, and spirits like Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis's relentlessly square married couple. Then, of course, there's Michael Keaton's demented titular poltergeist, who's become a pop culture icon for a reason. Scene stealers include Winona Ryder in her first big film role, and comedian Catherine O'Hara as her theatrical mother. As ghosts swirl around the house, alternately scaring its inhabitants and dancing to the music, you can even see director Tim Burton's aesthetic developing (the only full-length movie he had directed previous to Beetlejuice was Pee-wee's Big Adventure). Another worthy entry in the Halloween-adjacent camp series, Beetlejuice is just plain fun. [Available on Amazon]

13

Ghostbusters (1984)

We know this is a comedy, but singing, "I 'aint afraid of no ghost" all jaunty isn't going to change the fact that Zuul is straight-up terrifying. But the lion's share of Ghostbusters is a goofy romp featuring some of the best comedians of its era (and its upcoming remake is set to do the same). Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Rick Moranis commit completely to the wacky antics (including a ghost blow job, because why not), while an electric Sigourney Weaver reigns supreme as Zuul's host of choice. Plus, any Halloween party would be lucky to count a mammoth Stay Puft marshmallow man among its attendees. [Available on Amazon]

14

Death Becomes Her (1992)

death becomes her

Meryl Streep, Bruce Willis, Goldie Hawn. (Universal)

Don't let the word "death" in the title scare you; Death Becomes Her is much more of a comedy fantasy than anything approaching horror, but its concept flirts just enough with tropes like zombies and vampires to qualify as Halloween-appropriate viewing. Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn star as a pair of lifelong rivals who will go to any lengths to stay young forever — including quaffing a mysterious potion proffered by Isabella Rossellini. Unfortunately, everlasting youth doesn't prevent exterior physical damage to their bodies, leading to lots of cartoon-level gore involving broken necks and shotgun wounds. Death Becomes Her is a hoot any time of year, but the film's borderline-gothic trappings and excellent physical effects make it a great holiday option for those who find over-the-top vanity even more horrifying than ghosts and goblins. [Available on Amazon]

15

Tim Burton special: Edward Scissorhands (1990), Sweeney Todd (2007), Corpse Bride (2005), Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

nightmare before christmas

Technically, only one of these is a Halloween movie (and even Nightmare Before Christmas gets its jollies subverting Christmas tropes), but Tim Burton’s macabre children’s book aesthetic has become synonymous with this time of year — for better or worse. From Edward Scissorhands' dusty mansion to Sweeney Todd’s gleeful murderers to Corpse Brides eerie animation, Burton has produced a solid catalog of what are essentially Halloween fairy tales. Any of his movies, but especially the ones above, are perfect for the horror fan in your life who is also a fan of Hot Topic. [Nightmare Before Christmas is available on Netflix]

16

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "Halloween" (season 2, episode 6); "Killed by Death" (season 2, episode 18); "Fear Itself" (season 4, episode 4); "Hush" (season 4, episode 10)

buffy halloween

Fear Itself.

If a show called Buffy the Vampire Slayer couldn’t do a decent Halloween episode, it wouldn’t be worth much at all, would it? Luckily, Buffy turned out several over the course of its seven-season run that celebrated the holiday in appropriately freaky fashion. The straightforwardly titled "Halloween" turns everyone into the monsters they're dressed as, while "Fear Itself" transforms a frat house into a haunted house that's out for blood. "Hush" and "Killed by Death" are not technically Halloween episodes, but each is a deliciously creepy outing that works well for Halloween purposes; "Killed By Death" is basically "Buffy versus Freddy Krueger," and "Hush" steals everyone’s voices so that when the grinning villains float toward their victims, there's no use trying to scream. [Available on Netflix and Hulu]

17

Mystery Science Theater 3000

mystery science theater 3000

B-movies are a great Halloween option for the horror-averse — the laughs afforded by the subpar production qualities tend to cancel out any potential scares — but it helps to have a guide to these sorts of films, lest you wind up mired in bad-but-boring territory. Enter Mystery Science Theater 3000, the beloved cult comedy institution wherein Joel Hodgson (and later, Mike Nelson) and his puppet sidekicks, Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot, watch and riff on terrible science fiction and monster movies. The only thing scary about MST3K is how bad some of the films it features can be; the laughs are the real appeal here. [Available via Hulu and Youtube; Club MST3K is a good resource for tracking down specific episodes]

18

Shaun of the Dead (2004)

This zombie comedy was the first chapter of Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s "Cornetto trilogy" — and also its best. While Hot Fuzz and The World's End bring their own gloriously specific genre twists to the table, neither tap into the bleeding heart of the material quite like Shaun of the Dead. The gore and Wright’s energetic direction are perfectly balanced against Pegg’s disaffected slacker character, not to mention Nick Frost’s endearing performance as Shaun's best friend, Ed. The movie channels Wright and Pegg’s love for the zombie thriller genre into some spectacular action scenes, while still finding room for jokes and heartwarming moments of true friendship. [Available on Netflix]

19

Practical Magic (1998)

practical magic Warner Bros.

(Warner Bros.)

This title is a misnomer, as just about all the magic in Practical Magic is incredibly impractical. But it is also fun, twisted, and wicked with a grin. Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock play total opposite sisters (Kidman is the free-spirited redhead, while Bullock handles the straitlaced killjoy) who also happen to belong to a powerful family of witches. Also they can never love freely, due to an enduring curse. At the very least, though, they get to live in a fabulous old house in Salem (of course) with their aunts, the same combination of sisters as played by Dianne Wiest and Stockard Channing. Any Halloween movie night would be lucky to feature Practical Magic's murder, mayhem, and margaritas, and any Halloween movie night that refuses such gifts is unworthy of your time. [Available on Amazon and YouTube]

20

Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)

There have been so, so many vampire movies, but none luxuriate in immortality quite like Jim Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive. The film follows Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Ava (Tilda Swinton), two vampires who have lived for more than a thousand years and have been in love for almost as long. Yes, those are some cheesy names, but Jarmusch's lush direction paired with Hiddleston and Swinton's breathtaking performances make for a singular experience. Even just the sets are gorgeous, between Ava's silken life in Tangier and Adam's Detroit homestead, crumbling and lovingly stuffed with curios acquired over centuries. It's not exactly scary, but it's not exactly light, either. If you're looking for something that will transport you to a darker, more macabre place without giving you nightmares, Only Lovers Left Alive is your ticket. [Available on Amazon]

Tier 3: Training wheels to actual horror, for the enterprising wimp

21

Scream (1996)

Don't let horror snobs tell you differently: Scream definitely has some real scares. But they're all startle scares, or "guy in a mask jumps out at inopportune times" scares. There's no real thriller element to Scream, because when Ghostface isn't stabbing high schoolers, said high schoolers are busy making fun of the whole thing. Kevin Williamson's horror movie parody has inspired plenty of copycats (and Williamson himself has never quite hit that sweet spot since), because it's so sharp, and sinfully funny besides. Neve Campbell anchors Scream as the central focus of Ghostface's wrath, but she's supported by weird and wonderful performances from an eclectic cast: David Arquette as a goofy cop, Rose McGowan as his sarcastic sister, Matthew Lillard as an off-kilter bro, and, most importantly, Courteney Cox as the iconic Gale Weathers. Trust us: You don't have to like scary movies to like Scream. [Available on Netflix.]

22

The Craft (1996)

Witch tales come and go, but The Craft is timeless. The film features some witchy equivalents of makeover montages as manic ringleader Nancy (Fairuza Balk) introduces powerful new witch in town Sarah (Robin Tunney) to her high school coven (Rachel True and '90s horror MVP Neve Campbell). It’s a story of sisterhood, of girls who thought they would always be outcasts bonding together against the evils of high school and entitled men (Skeet Ulrich, ubiquitous '90s dirtbag) — until it all goes badly south. Sarah’s wide-eyed journey through discovering her own powers makes for some lovely sequences, but it’s Balk’s ferocious performance that dominates The Craft the second she skulks her way onscreen. [Available on Netflix]

23

The Cabin in the Woods (2012)

cabin in the woods

(Lionsgate)

A group of friends decide to take a break by retreating to a cabin in the woods, only to discover that all is not quite as it seems. So far, so typical. But Joss Whedon (Buffy, The Avengers) and Drew Goddard (Angel, The Martian) gleefully dismantle familiar tropes and knock down expectations in this relentlessly twisty movie. There are still frightening moments, but there's also enough banter around the edges to keep twitchy viewers entertained. Maybe this is why The Cabin in the Woods has come the closest to challenging Scream in the "self-reflexive horror comedy" genre (though we see you trying, Scream Queens). [Available on Amazon]

24

The Final Girls (2015)

While franchises like Paranormal Activity keep trying to make box office magic happen around Halloween, The Final Girls has quietly started racking up positive attention. The ringer is another playful twist on existing horror tropes, especially the "final girl," or the last girl to make it out of a horror movie alive, like Scream's Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell), Halloween's Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), and even Alien's Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver). But The Final Girls takes it even further. Max (Taissa Farmiga) is grieving the loss of her mother (Malin Akerman), who was a famed horror actress in the '80s. Max and her friends (including Arrested Development's Alia Shawkat, The Vampire Diaries' Nina Dobrev, and Silicon Valley's Thomas Middleditch) suddenly find themselves pulled into the world of her mother's most famous movie, to irreverent and surreal effect. [Available on Amazon and iTunes]

25

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night will scare you. Hell, even just the title is enough to give you chills. But if you're mentally backing away from this suggestion, know that it's a truly gorgeous, unsettling film that deserves your consideration. Writer and director Ana Lily Amirpour finds new depth in the shadows and is defiantly unafraid of silence — and did we mention that this film was most often marketed as "an Iranian vampire Western"? It's a reductive label, but it's also the fastest way to suck you into the world of the Girl (the luminous Sheila Vand), a magnetic vampire who floats around a desolate Iranian oil town like a ghost. [Available on Netflix]

26

The Guest (2014)

Adam Wingard’s taut, stylish The Guest is more of a suspenseful thriller than a horror movie, but a climactic sequence set at a haunted house puts this one squarely in Halloween-viewing territory. Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) turns in an excellent performance as a mysterious houseguest who ingratiates himself to the family of his former Army buddy. Stevens is 10 shades of creepy, but there’s a strong thread of dark humor that keeps The Guest fun and surprising throughout its 100 minutes. It’s rarely scary but frequently thrilling (and quite violent), the perfect movie to get the blood pumping without jolting you with terror. [Available on Netflix and Amazon]

27

The Twilight Zone

twilight zone

(CBS)

Rod Serling's famed anthology series is generally considered to be science fiction, not horror, but there are some legitimately terrifying episodes in the bunch, and nearly every entry at least qualifies as "unsettling," with many tipping over into "you might have trouble sleeping afterward" territory. Famous episodes like "Living Doll," "To Serve Man," "The After Hours," and "The Masks" are all good options to send tingles running down your spine; even if you know the episodes' big final twists going in (which, thanks to The Twilight Zone's influence on pop culture over the years, you probably do), they're so much more unsettling in context. [Available on Hulu and CBS All Access]

28

Psycho (1960)

Alfred Hitchcock's most famous film is right out of Horror Movies 101, but here's a secret for those who don't do horror movies: Psycho isn't really that scary, just incredibly tense. There's a reason Hitchcock was known as the master of suspense, not the master of jump scares. Psycho is one of those films you think you know — creepy hotel, weird mother, shower scene — but don't really "get" until you've sat down and experienced it front to back. Watching the 1960 film in 2015 is a great way to feel massively creeped out (no one can ratchet up tension like Hitchcock), but with the psychological distance afforded by a half-century of changes in horror movie convention. [Available on Amazon]

[We realize Hocus Pocus is not on this list. We do not care. — ed.]

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