Supernatural is a bad Halloween show. I don’t like it as an actual show either, but as a Halloween show, it particularly fails. Supernatural is an action show. An action show with spooky elements and that one time a Wendigo showed up, but one where the Winchester boys are expected to kick the ass of the weekly rampaging hell beast after a few jump scares. Pick your variation of this show that you like, be it Angel, The Witcher (psssst…that’s the one I like!) or Buffy the Vampire Slayer and they’re all the same in that respect. They scratch the action show itch. They’re not scary.
Halloween is a mood holiday. The vibing-ist of vibing seasons. It’s all late night chills, rustling leaves and moonlight shining through bare tree branches. The nights get inkier, and street lights seem to throw off a lot less light than they did in Summer. There’s tension in Autumn. The sense that anything can happen under the cold gaze of the Harvest Moon. That things beyond our normal realm of human understanding are a little nearer than they’re meant to be. If you’re able to shoot the manifestation of your childhood nightmares with rock salt and kick it in the junk, Winchester style, some of the vibe is lost!
The following five shows each represent a different aspect of the Halloween season. Between them, they cover every shade of Halloween vibe you could want. Whatever feels a cool October night gives you, pick a show to match. Happy Halloween!
1. Autumnal AF: Over the Garden Wall
Simply stated, this show is about two kids lost in the woods. They’re lost, and they need to get home. Wirt is the older one, a teenager and a poet, which is how you know he sucks. Greg is younger, wears a teapot for a hat and makes up catchy nonsense songs that will burrow into your head and slowly drive you mad. He’s a delight. They’re only friend is a talking Bluebird named Beatrice whose kind of an as asshole. Going any further into the plot of this show would be a disservice to what this does, as the strength of its plot hinges on how weird yet familiar everything in it is. You start this show knowing the same amount of nothing about the woods as the two leads do and for your first time watching it, that’s how it should remain. You’re not supposed to know the secret of picturesque New England village where everyone dresses like a pumpkin. Why is that old man in a Puritan uniform cutting down trees with an axe in the middle of the night? Why is that old ladies house full of bones and what happens when you meet the Highwayman alone on the road at night? Most importantly, what the hell is The Beast, why does it sing opera in the dark and why is everyone in this show terrified of it?
This show is masterful in its creation of a mood that is distinctly Halloween. All the leaves are brightly colored and whistle in the wind. When roads through the woods exist, they’re flanked by wooden fences are low stone walls. The moon is always bright and many of the trees have creepy jack o’ lantern faces that drip blood for reasons that are revealed later in the show! Most of the time, the show has the color and whimsy one would expect on an apple picking trip or trick ‘r treating in a safe suburban neighborhood. The other ten percent however, veers into nightmare territory where some seriously messed up looking creatures threaten the lives of our main characters. The shift between childlike wonder and pants crapping danger is handled masterfully by this show, and the scary bits are offset by a good helping of cutesy humor. Also, the music in this show is really great.
The show is divided into ten episodes that are about 10-minutes-long and each vignette is memorable in its own way. Be it the haunted mansion of a tea magnate or a school of anthropomorphic animal children being terrorized by a gorilla. You could knock the whole thing out in a night or use it as a way to decompress after a horror movie. It’s the only show I’ve ever seen that truly captures what being a kid on Halloween night felt like.
2. Art-House Gore: Hannibal
Hannibal is a show that doesn’t really need much of an explanation. Hannibal Lector is a character that’s up there with any slasher villain in terms of horror movie royalty. He’s a brilliant psychologist and an even more gifted chef that specializes in ‘long pig.’ This show is basically a retelling of Hannibal’s origin story that mixes the first book in the Hannibal Lector series, Red Dragon, with pieces of the other two books thrown in and a lot of stuff the books don’t cover. Specifically, the show focuses on a yet-to-be-jailed Lector and his homoerotic/masochistic relationship with professional sicko hunter Will Graham. Together, the two hunt down serial killers that like arranging their victims in artfully disgusting ways. The shows excels at making its murder scenes look like paintings, and Hannibal himself turns his people based dishes into works of art in their own right. Every actor is great, but Mads Mikkelsen is the reason to watch. His Lector is equal parts theatrical Gothic villain and Michael Myers. His oscillation between perfectly polite menace and surgically precise butchery is a treat to watch. If Halloween to you means gore and graphic murder, this show will get you through October.
3. The Darkness at the Edge of Your Vision: True Detective (Season 1)
The first season of True Detective is easily one of the best single arcs of television ever filmed. Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson are two hard-assed homicide cops investigating a murder involving a truck stop hooker tied to a tree with antlers on her head. What starts as a standard cop procedural rapidly morphs into something weirder as it becomes clear this isn’t the work of some lone nut, but a conspiracy involving every aspect of Louisiana society from the Church, to the government, to the elements of humanity respectable people don’t talk about once night falls. The horror of this show borders on the cosmic. Vague references to Lovecraft and some of his creations appear throughout and the evil being done is almost too much for our main characters to understand, much less fight. The show is vicious in its depiction of human depravity. Drug use, gun violence and dead children appear in almost every episode. The procession of broken down houses, empty schools and backwoods tent revivals give the show an air of the Southern Gothic. It’s view of humanity is so dark that the horror writer/antinatalist Thomas Ligotti straight up accused the show of ripping off their work and honestly, he’s probably right. This show does oppressive horror perfectly. It gives the sense that just under the surface of our world is something pulling the strings that is too horrible to look directly upon, lest it’s truth rip your sanity and soul from you. The sense of hopelessness is crushing. All you can do is pray the eyes of the Yellow King never fall on you.
4. Let’s Get Weird: Twin Peaks
The idyllic Pacific Northwestern town of Twin Peaks is rocked by a murder. Local prom queen Laura Palmer has been found brutally killed and wrapped in plastic near the town’s lumber mill. FBI Agent Dale Cooper is brought in to solve the crime using his unorthodox (to say the least) methods and the journey that follows will take you through the strangest little community on network TV. Twin Peaks is a town where it’s inherent weirdness takes center stage. As you follow Agent Cooper through this quaint little town in the middle of America’s serial killer belt, you’re struck by just how off everything is. Old ladies talk to logs, grief stricken fathers burst into song and/or tears seemingly at random. That owl you hear in the woods at night? Dollars to donuts that shit ain’t an owl. Often times the weirdness that characterizes the town of Twin Peaks is cute. Just as often it heralds the fact that this place is a nightmare none of its characters can seem to escape. What this show lacks in gore or straight-up fright it makes up for the sense that this town is indescribably off. It’s a credit to the world building that the murder that opens the show fades hardcore into the background as the pulsating, eldritch strangeness at the heart of the town itself oozes to the forefront. Is it by caused ghosts? Aliens? Demons? All of those and also the Manhattan Project is involved somehow? What is perhaps David Lynch’s masterpiece resists easy explanation. Sit down with some hot coffee and cherry pie and enjoy the delightful otherworldly wrongness of the town of Twin Peaks.
5. The Endless Halloween Party: Los Espookys
This show is incredible. Set in an unnamed South American country and spoken mostly in Spanish. A group of weird friends consisting of a Latino goth, a blue-haired heir to a chocolate fortune, a no-nonsense lesbian and an indestructible gig economy worker start a company where they fake all manner of hauntings, possessions and monster attacks for money. That’s the whole show. You’re an old lady that needs your greedy relatives to leave the family home? Los Espookys will pretend to be ghosts. You’re a priest that’s losing the trust of your congregation? Los Espookys will fake a demonic possession. You want to scare someone with a fake sea monster for reasons? Los Espookys will do that too. The show takes the magical realism concept from highbrow Latin American fiction and infuses it into a world inhabited by four idiots that scare people for pocket change. The whole show is bizarre in a way that’s non-threatening and the faked hauntings are expertly done and look great. The show is less horror and more a comedy revolving around the concept of friends finding a way to make their passion for special effects their meal ticket. It’s inspiring watching the Los Espookys gradually get better at their job while navigating the bizarre world of speedo clad social media gurus and god-like parking attendants that are their friends and relatives. Just watch it. You’ll laugh, you’ll be impressed by the special effects straight out of the best horror movie schlock and you’ll be sad when you find this party is only six episodes long.