If you're anything like me, Halloween can bring out some serious heebie-jeebies. Horror fans may relish in the gore and jump scares, but the more sheepish among us are content to (mostly) stay behind the sofa come October 31.
It doesn't have to be that way. Whether you're opting for a more family-friendly Halloween, are dipping your toes into slightly scarier waters in this year, or simply want to get into the spooky spirit, we've curated a collection of movies and shows that are a little on the milder side. From animated series to side-splitting comedies, all bases are covered. Read on... if you dare.
- The best horror movies of all time
Bob's Burgers – "Full Bars"
Bob’s Burgers always does Halloween right, often focusing on the time-tested tradition of trick or treating. After all, the Belcher offspring – Tina, Gene, and Louise – are the perfect companions for a spooky door-to-door adventure that very often spirals out of control.
“Full Bars,” though is the best of a very, very good bunch – the plot wouldn’t look out of place in the upcoming Bob’s Burgers movie as the kids head to King’s Head Island and must avoid the fearsome teenage group terrorising children with The Hell Hunt. Elsewhere, a whodunnit transpires as Teddy’s hamster dies at a Halloween party, with the pedantic handyman becoming increasingly frantic as the night wears on.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine's Halloween episodes
The Nine-Nine are here. Noice. Instead of leaning on scares over the Halloween season, the former NBC comedy goes one better by one-upping itself every year and pulling off increasingly elaborate heists. The fifth season’s Halloween episode even shakes things up by having Jake jump through several heist-themed hoops (and a pyramid scheme) to propose to Amy. D’aww.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer – "Fear, Itself"
Buffy’s monster of the week could often act as an excuse to switch up genres or celebrate certain holidays. “Fear, Itself” is not only a characteristically overblown episode (with the Sunnydale gang being a little looser around each other given the premise of a demon conjuring up their worst fears), but also an unmissable peek into the motivations of each character that helps inform the show moving forward. Halloween has never been so ‘90s.
Community – "Epidemiology"
Best known for its meta humour and fourth-wall breaking tendencies, the Dan Harmon-created series has dived into Halloween on a couple of occasions, with the second season episode “Epidemiology” proving the standout.
Greendale is overcome by zombie-like students after their drinks are spiked – and it’s left to Troy, in the words of the show, to become the first black person to survive ‘til the end. What follows is a love letter to zombie flicks, Halloween, and all-round horror, Community-style.
Want to give your kids an early horror headstart? You could do a lot worse than Goosebumps, the ‘90s anthology series based on the works of R.L. Stine. Its mostly schlocky, low-budget episodes have the right amount of cheese to hold up on a rewatch today, and younger generations may well lap it up – especially as it doesn’t pull any punches with its myriad monsters and ghoulish special effects. The Haunted Mask, anyone?
It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown
A Halloween classic you should revisit every year, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown will consistently delight with its childhood capers and Halloween hallmarks, such as playing dress-up, apple bobbing and, uhh, pretending to be a World War One fighter pilot. Maybe forget that last one.
To cap it off, it all comes bundled with the simplistic, if a little crudely-drawn, animation that is filled with the sort of personality you don't get from today's CGI affairs. At its heart, though, it’s a story about how we each bring out the best – and sometimes worst – in each other.
Over The Garden Wall
What if Studio Ghibli and Ni No Kuni had a Halloween baby? It would probably look something like Over The Garden Wall, a heart-warming miniseries that sees two half-brothers traverse the world of The Unknown with just enough wide-eyed wonder to fill the darker, broodier moments with enough magic for it to be suitable for all ages. If you haven’t seen this, you owe it to yourself to watch all 10 episodes of this hidden classic.
The Office (US) Halloween episodes
Everyone loves a good work Halloween party… right? Right? Don’t all leave at once – because The Office’s handful of Halloween episodes come packed with outrageously inventive costumes (Gabe as Lady Gaga, anyone?) and even some heartfelt moments thrown in there too, like Jim finally admitted how he wouldn’t want to work without Pam. Despite all the odds, this is one work gathering where people making a fool out of themselves is entertaining to relive over and over again.
The Simpsons - "Treehouse of Horror"
The Simpsons has perfect Halloween homages with its Treehouse of Horror run, now spanning 32 episodes. From a perfectly-weighted parody of The Shining to Pierce Brosnan standing in for a murderous HAL, it could be argued that America’s Most Famous Family have brought Halloween kicking and screaming back into the mainstream on television in the mid-to-late ‘90s. Its influence is undeniably still being felt years later, judging by how popular standalone Halloween episodes are in the 21st Century.
- The best Treehouse of horror episodes, ranked!
The Twilight Zone
While it may not scream Halloween at first glance, The Twilight Zone has sent more shivers down spines than any other show or movie on this list. For years, it perfected the art of presenting the viewer with surreal, scary situations while also hammering home a moral lesson for those watching at home at the end of the episode. It’s a simple format, sure, but one that worked so effectively for years – and helped launch the careers of the likes of William Shatner and Robert Redford.
The Addams Family
There have been many iterations of the Addams Family but a certain generation won’t be able to look past this 1991 cult classic. The kooky clan is made up of Anjelica Huston’s matriarch, Morticia, the always-wonderful Raul Julia as Gomez and features seminal performances from the likes of Christopher Lloyd and Christina Ricci that would help propel the franchise into the stratosphere in the '90s. It’s a genuinely funny film, too, with plenty of warmth and oddball behaviour to entertain viewers of all ages.
Based on the Neil Gaiman book, Coraline is probably on the darker side of the animated spectrum, with constant eye-popping imagery and a surprisingly morbid plot. Face your fears, however, and you’re met with an always-inventive stop-motion film about a girl finding her way in the world. This story will tickle your funny bone just as often as it makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end.
Silly, always rewatchable, and a story that will make you cackle long after the witching hour has passed. Hocus Pocus features three witchy sisters (played by Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy) attempting to feast on humans so they can live forever. What follows is a cauldron’s worth of crazy situations, all while the trio toil and trouble their way through joke after joke, riffing on each other all the way. Perfect light Halloween fare.
Read more: The best witch movies you can watch right now
Little Shop of Horrors
The first real musical addition to this list, Little Shop of Horrors is a wonderful window into all things ‘80s. An all-star cast consisting of Rick Moranis, James Belushi, John Candy, and Bill Murray are all on top of their comical game, yet it’s the overgrown plant Audrey II that steals the show, plus the handful of toe-tapping numbers that are still (rightfully) hummed all year round today. Check out the newly-restored original ending if you want to see this film in a slightly darker, more absurd light.
Don’t be put off by the title, Scary Movie isn’t that scary. It’s essentially a spoof of ‘90s genre classic Scream and, while some scenes are recreated almost exactly, there are enough send-ups of well-worn tropes and trademarks that you’ll be guffawing far more than you’ll be grossed out. It eventually spawned its own franchise and a handful of other so-so spin-offs, in case you’re looking for more horror hilarity.
Shaun of the Dead
"You’ve got red on you." Simon Pegg and Nick Frost team up for a zombie comedy classic that doesn’t skimp on buckets of the blood, but mostly stands out for its everyman quality, a rarity in the genre.
After all, Pegg’s Shaun is just a normal guy with normal problems: meddlesome parent-in-laws, a stuck-up housemate, and a girlfriend he loves but doesn’t want to commit to. Throw in some deliciously gory action scenes directed by Edgar Wright and one of the most overly quippable scripts in history and you’ve got yourself a winner.
The Nightmare Before Christmas
The Nightmare Before Christmas marries the sheer childlike joy that Halloween brings with the dark Gothic sensibilities that Tim Burton is best known for to create one of the greatest animated films ever made.
Jack Skellington is loveably warm in his attempts to bring more holiday spirit into Halloween Town, while the supporting cast all pitch in and do their best to rescue both Halloween and Christmas. Yep, Christmas. Which means you can watch it from now until the end of the year and feel absolutely no shame.
Tucker and Dale vs. Evil
If you like your movies a little more murderous (yet still tongue-in-cheek) this Halloween, look no further than Tucker and Dale vs. Evil. The pair of unwitting hillbillies face off against college kids after a horrorshow of a misunderstanding. It’s a neat subversion of the sexy teen slasher flicks of the past, while also being very, very funny. There are loads of icky, hilarious deaths too – if that’s your thing.
What We Do in the Shadows
Just before he helped guide Marvel's Thor from the annals of po-faced Shakespearean drama to experimenting with LSD, Taika Waititi starred in and co-directed this mockumentary about vampires dealing with the perils of their fang-tastic fate. This unique movie peaks when the creatures of the night also have to juggle a handful of modern-day issues, such as the internet.
- The best vampire movies, ranked!
As absurd a premise as you’re likely to find on this list: Young Frankenstein features Gene Wilder as Frankenstein’s grandson as he takes over his grandfather’s estate, despite wanting to have nothing to do with the family name.
It takes the hallmarks of any classic Mel Brooks film (lightning-fast joke deliveries and long-running gags that flit between funny, not funny, and back to being side-splittingly good) and adds in the comic timing Peter Boyle as Frankenstein’s monster to expertly lampoon classic horror.
A 21st Century take on zombies sounds kinda awful in retrospect but, against all the odds, Zombieland works. It has oodles of self-referential humour and meme-style cutaways (Zombie Kill of the Week being a particular highlight), but it’s the group dynamic that makes it work. Woody Harrelson’s Tallahasee, Jesse Eisenberg’s Columbus, and Emma Stone’s Little Rock team up to take down hordes of the undead – and it features a scarcely believable cameo with Bill Murray as himself. It’s worth watching for that alone.