Sure it’s fun to go out around Halloween time and egg houses, set flaming bags of dog doo on porches and — oops, I mean … go trick-or-treating, make pumpkin pies … (ignore what I said earlier, kids).
But it’s also fun to stay home, turn off the lights, and see what your TV has in store for you (as long as it doesn’t pull something along the lines of the boob tube in Poltergeist).
With that said, there are plenty of television treats to unwrap this season for all levels of fear tolerance over the next couple of weeks:
* Most Haunted Live: Winchester Mystery House — Travel Channel, October 19, 9pm ET (live). This show had better be pretty scary if it expects to keep viewers awake for its entire seven-hour run time, during which the Most Haunted investigative team visits the former home of the heiress to the Winchester Rifle fortune, who believed she was haunted by the ghosts of everyone killed by a Winchester! If you just can’t make it through the whole thing, the final two hours will be rebroadcast October 20 starting at 11pm ET/PT. And to really cut to the chase, a two-hour encore of the whole thing airs October 31 at 9pm ET/PT.
* Halloween Sweets Unwrapped — Food Network, October 20, 9pm ET/PT. M&Ms, Grapeheads, Junior Mints, Smarties, Snickers, Pop Rocks — they’re all here, as if in one dream trick-or-treat bag, and you don’t even have to worry about happening upon any pins and razor blades.
* Inside Haunted Hollywood — Fine Living, October 20, 10pm ET. The network takes a break from all that classy stuff to concentrate on creeps as it visits top locales used in Hollywood horror flicks, such as the houses used in Psycho and The Amityville Horror.
* Nature of the Beast — ABC Family, October 21, 8pm ET/PT. Fairly innocuous werewolf tale about a cursed young man who meets a girl, and reveals that he’s a wolf. Most women wouldn’t be surprised to hear a man say that, but this guy literally means it — he physically turns into a wolf. As is usual in this type of story, he must track down the original Alpha Wolf who attacked him in order to free himself. Part of ABC Family’s annual 13 Nights of Halloween, a plethora of spooky programming airing through October 31.
* Spooky Cake & Candy Cook-Off — Food Network, October 21, 8pm ET/PT. I’m not sure how “spooky” a cake or piece of candy can be, but one of the cake entries here does weigh over 80 pounds — enough to scare even the hardiest of sweets eaters.
* Monsterfest XI — AMC, October 22-31. The frightful film festival is back, and there’s the usual mix of classics and clunkers that should satisfy most tastes for terror. The wildly wide-ranging titles include Curse of the Living Corpse (October 22 & 27); Scream 3 (October 22, 23, 28 & 29); Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster (October 29 & 30); 1978’s Halloween (October 24, 25 & 31); and Hellraiser (October 23, 24, 28 & 29)
* Secret Life Of … Halloween — Food Network, October 22, 9pm ET/PT. A look at a medieval cake that was the first Halloween treat, foods savored during Mexico’s feast for Day of the Dead, and other deliciously creepy recipes.
* Halloween Unmasked — National Geographic Channel, October 26, 7pm ET. A look at the history of the holiday from its roots in European harvest celebrations, as well as how some of its iconic symbols, like the Jack-o-Lantern, came to be.
* Starz Inside: Bloodsucking Cinema — Starz, October 26, 8pm ET/PT. Richard Roeper looks at movies that are meant to suck — vampire films. The special looks back at titles such as The Lost Boys, Van Helsing, and Interview With the Vampire.
* Fear Fest — Starz, October 26. Bloodsucking Cinema kicks off Starz’s “Fear Fest’ celebration that lasts 24 hours, and includes a somewhat disappointing collection of movies, like When a Stranger Calls (not the original); Pulse (not the original); Dawn of the Dead (not the original); The Grudge 2 (not the original); and others. Not a very original lineup.
* America’s Scariest Halloween Attractions 2 — Travel Channel, October 26, 11pm ET/PT. Another look at the coolest horror attractions that draw lots of fright fans. But if the ones in last year’s special (which airs October 28) were named the scariest, why are they so easily replaced by the ones in this new special???
* A Semi-Homemade Halloween With Sandra Lee — Food Network, October 27, 7am ET/PT. Has some evil monster asked you to bring a dish to a Halloween party? Sandra has a couple of offerings here, like a Black Magic Martini, which seems very likely to have guests haunting the bar area.
* Glade Presents Mannheim Steamroller’s Halloween On Ice Starring Nancy Kerrigan — NBC, October 27, 4pm ET. Probably not all that scary aside from the large amount of sequins that will be on display, this ice show features Kerrigan, Kurt Browning, Todd Eldredge and some other people I’ve never heard of before dressed up in costumes and performing to the Steamroller’s Halloween sounds, which really fall far short of their classic Christmas albums. Even by ice show standards this sounds a little lame, and you might actually need some of sponsor Glade’s air freshener to clean off your TV after this one. Who knows, though — maybe NBC will try to scare us by sending a hockey-masked Tanya Harding and Jeff Gillooly out on the ice with another lead pipe.
* Emeril’s Haunted Holiday — Food Network, October 27, 8pm ET/PT. Yikes, what just went “bam!” in the night? Our old buddy Emeril makes up some recipes that aren’t quite as scary as his short-lived sitcom, including Pumpkin Patch cakes and Down Underground Root Cellar Soup.
* Halloween Madness — TLC, October 27, 9pm ET/PT. How Halloween has become a year-round obsession with some people in terms of decorations and lifestyle.
* Headless Horseman — SCI FI Channel, October 27, 9pm ET/PT. Now, you didn’t expect SCI FI to let the season pass without one of their infamous original movies, did you? Richard Moll, biding his time until they decide to make a Night Court reunion special, stars in this tale of yet some more teens who get lost in a backwoods town. And it’s populated by locals who want to sacrifice them to the Headless Horseman, who needs seven victims every seven years. Now you know why guys don’t stop and ask locals for directions.
* SOAPnet Halloween Special — SOAPnet, October 28, 7pm ET/PT. And you thought Passions had some weird storylines! Tonight SOAPnet is revisiting three pivotal episodes from the infamous 1995 Days of Our Lives storyline in which Marlena (Deidre Hall) was possessed by a demon. The episodes air back-to-back. In the first one, Kristen is onto Marlena, who morphs into a panther and then has Shawn attacked by a swarm of bees. The second episode finds Marlena’s loved ones finally deciding she needs an exorcism after seeing her levitate. Finally, the third episode is the one in which John fights the devil for Marlena’s soul. Come on, now — are these really the days of our lives?
* Halloween’s Most Extreme — Travel Channel, October 28, 7pm ET/PT. A show that promises to celebrate the biggest, boldest and best of Halloween.
* What’s With That Really Haunted Halloween House? — HGTV, October 28, 9pm ET/PT. Yeah, what is up with that? You know, those crazy people who make the folks who go insane with the Christmas decorations look tame by comparison with their wild Halloween decor? This special visits some of those folks, including a producer of The Simpsons, who spends more than $6,000 a year transforming his front yard into a family-friendly amusement park (wonder if he has a “Treehouse of Horror”?) and an Illinois couple who fill their garage with decorations like a real hearse and casket.
* PBS Kids Sprout Halloween Spooktacular — PBS Kids Sprout, October 29-November 2. Spooky episodes of kids’ favorites like Thomas & Friends (although that Thomas the Tank Engine guy is creepy enough in his own right); Angelina Ballerina; Dragon Tales; and others. Plenty of harmless thrills that get the old imaginations working, along with some fun, but not serious, scares.
* Mysterious Journeys: The Hunt for Dracula — Travel Channel, October 29, 8pm ET/PT.
* It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown — ABC, October 30, 8pm ET/PT. The most famous Halloween special of them all, still fun after 41 years (Good Grief! Has it been that long??). I hate to ruin things though, but Charlie Brown still gets a rock this year.
* The Haunted History of Halloween — The History Channel, October 30, 11pm ET/PT.
* 24 Hour Halloween Movie Marathon — TCM, October 31, 6am ET. A fine collection of frightful classics all day long, including 1963’s The Haunting, one of the scariest films ever. Also on TCM, you’ll want to stay up for (or VCR or DVR) some of the late-night thrillers they are showing on other days, especially 1962’s Carnival of Souls (October 27 at 2am ET) and the classic Japanese collection of ghost stories Kwaidan (October 27 at 3:30am ET).
* GSN Halloween Programming — GSN, October 31, 11:30am ET. Twelve hours of Halloween-themed episodes of classic game shows. Bert Convy hands out treats on Super Password. Ray Combs dresses as Batman on Family Feud. And you don’t even have to be in the Los Angeles area to check it out.
* History’s Mysteries: “Werewolves” — History International, October 31, 6pm ET.
* Ghost Hunters Live — SCI FI Channel, October 31, 9pm ET (live). If you’re caught up on your sleep from the Most Haunted Live event, you can stay up for this one (only six hours this time). This series is much more genuinely creepy than the other, though (remember last year’s visit to the Shining-inspiring Stanley Hotel?). This year the TAPS team goes back to the Waverly Hills Sanatorium in Louisville, Kentucky.
* MonsterQuest — The History Channel, October 31, 10pm ET/PT. This new series kicks off tonight. It’s sort of an In Search Of … type of thing, with each episode examining reports of an unknown monster somewhere in the world. The first episode looks at “America’s Loch Ness Monster,” the sea serpent supposedly dwelling in Lake Champlain.
* Chiller’s Scariest Night of the Year — October 31, Chiller, all day. You’d think a network named Chiller would in fact be the place to be on Halloween, and, well … at least they’re trying. Most of the day is taken up with the pretty lackluster Tales from the Crypt films, followed by a commercial-free airing of Red Dragon, and the special Even Scarier Movie Moments, which allows us to actually see clips from some good horror films. Meh.
* The Simpsons: “Treehouse of Horror XVIII” — FOX, November 4, 8pm ET/PT. You can’t have Halloween without this annual installment (even though it has been airing after Halloween more often than not the last several years). Although the episodes have been more hit-or-miss recently, there are still enough ghoulish laughs to make them worthwhile. This year: “Mr. and Mrs. Simpson,” in which Homer, living a double life as a secret agent assigned to eliminate Kent Brockman, finds that his competition, a mysterious female assassin, “hits” a little too close to home; “E.T. Go Home,” where Bart and Lisa come to the aid of Kodos, a space alien hiding from the government, who asks for help in obtaining a long list of devices so that he can “reconnect” with his home planet; and “Heck House,” in which Flanders, driven to the breaking point by endless Halloween pranks perpetrated by Bart, Lisa and their friends, decides to spook the children straight by transforming the church into the “Heck House” and subjecting them to his supernatural wrath of seven deadly sins. Check your local syndicated airings of The Simpsons around Halloween time as well; they often rerun past Treehouse of Horror episodes.