You know, watching horror movies is a fine Halloween tradition, especially if they’re bad ones. Halloween is meant to unify amusement and abominations into a unified whole, and what better way to do that then to laugh at something meant to horrify you?
Well, TV and movies that are actually well-made and good have their place in Halloween as well, and another good way to blend horror and humour is, of course, a horror-themed comedy. Evil Dead, Shaun of the Dead, and of course, Halloween specials of your favourite sitcoms. Thus I am going to compile a list of episodes of my favourite British sitcoms (British sitcoms, because, you know, I’m British) that are either set around Halloween or have a Halloween-type feel to them.
7.) Terror (Bottom)
We’ll start with one of the few episodes on this list actually set on Halloween (though the episode itself aired in January). Bottom starred Ade Edmondson and the late Rik Mayall playing two flat mates, similar to their characters on The Young Ones, who got up to a number of chaotic situations. In this episode, they find themselves trick-or-treating to get money for a party, and then try to summon Satan in order to get laid, and the whole ordeal involves cattle prod-induced defecations and sprouts that cause people to fart fire.
Bottom isn’t as good as the aforementioned Young Ones, and the sort of humour used may not be to everyone’s taste, but you can’t resist Edmondson and Mayall, and does still manage to amuse, mostly through the use of three little rapscallions in devil costumes.
6.) Camping (Not Going Out)
The sixth series of Not Going Out – the adventures of the simple Lee, his landlady Lucy, his friend Tim and Tim’s airheaded girlfriend Daisy – had its ups and downs, but its fifth series was more consistently good, and “Camping” may very well be its funniest episode. It’s not set at Halloween, but certainly has a Halloweeny feel to it. Tim and Daisy are going on a camping trip, and Lucy and Lee are along for the ride too – with Lee, eager to prove his manliness, demanding that they bring no technology along with them. Without a sat-nav, the gang end up in a dark forest, where they find themselves surrounded by strange man in masks.
Now this is Not Going Out at its best, with the characters being given snappy, hilarious dialogue – a highlight being Lee saying Mother Nature is on his list of MILFs. Even Daisy isn’t annoying as she is in some episodes; another moment that had me burst out laughing was when one of the strange men showed up in a Batman mask, and Daisy’s reaction was just so perfectly delivered. It’s hardly a nail-biting drama but the dark woods and the mysterious men do give a sense of genuine spookiness, but the reveal of who the men are is brilliantly amusing.
5.) Friday the 14th (Only Fools and Horses)
Like the aforementioned Not Going Out episode, “Friday the 14th”, features the sitcom’s protagonists going out on a trip where they are terrified by what looks like a horror movie killer. Unlike Not Going Out however, the sleazy Del Boy Trotter, along with his brother Roddy and Granddad, have come to Cornwall to do some illegal fishing (‘It’s not stealing…it’s poaching!’ says Granddad). Unfortunately for them, an axe murderer has escaped from the mental institution and appears to be lurking around the cottage the Trotters are sheltering in.
This episode includes all the hallmarks of your typical slasher movie – the man who warns the protagonists on their way to the site, the thunderstorm, the more nervous character vs the skeptic – but by mixing them with the Only Fools and Horses charm, it creates something that provides more entertainment in half an hour then most slasher movies give in an hour and a half. I could listen to David Jason and Nicholas Lyndhurst talk to each other all day; their characters have such great chemistry and it’s fun to see it transferred into a slightly unconventional setting for them. Even the axe murderer, played by the late Christopher Malcolm, is well-acted, and his reveal and subsequent scene with Del Boy is simply fantastic.
4.) Night of the Nearly Dead (Father Ted)
Graham Linehan’s best work, Father Ted revolved around the eponymous priest, the dim Dougal Maguire and the perpetually-drunk Father Jack and their lives on Craggy Island. In this episode, Ted’s housekeeper Mrs. Doyle wins a poetry contest and thus her favourite singer Eoin McLove is to come over. Word of it gets around, and soon hundreds upon hundreds of old ladies surround Ted’s house, mirroring your typical zombie attack.
I decided one episode per show for this list, and thus had to choose between this and the Scooby Doo-esque “Chirpy Burpy Cheap Sheep”. “Night of the Nearly Dead” feels a bit more Halloweeny to me, if only because of how the usually monosyllabic Father Jack describes the old women. It also includes classic moments like Doyle making McLove a cake which has a sweater baked into it, and probably one of the best ending credits gags on television.
3.) Nasty (The Young Ones)
Just about any episode of The Young Ones could be called Halloweeny, given how utterly surreal and bonkers it is. “Nasty”, however, stands out, as it even forgoes the orthodox intro for a Hammer horror-esque one, promising the following episode will be ‘worse than one of those little blue crunchy things’. The series’ four heroes – the violent Vyvian, the “people’s poet” Rik, the mopey Neil and “Mike the Cool Person” – all try to watch a video nasty – Sex With the Headless Corpse of a Virgin Astronaut – but then a vampire comes into their house and chases them. These, however, are far from the only things to happen in this episode. There are sketches involving Hell, a Victorian photograph…there’s loads of strange, random moments, but they’re good strange, random moments.
The Young Ones may be bizarre as all Hell, but damn is it hard not to laugh while watching. All four of the main characters may be assholes, but they’re assholes you love to listen to, love to watch, love to spend time with. The VCR’s plug doesn’t reach the wall, and what’s Vyvian’s solution? Move the wall with the socket closer to the VCR! Brilliant.
2.) Polymorph (Red Dwarf)
An early rule of Red Dwarf was “no aliens, no robots”, and although the series did have the lovable mechanoid Kryten, it didn’t really have aliens. It did have monsters though, in the form of genetically-engineered lifeforms, or GELFs, as they were called. “Polymorph” featured such a being, a shapeshifting insane creature who feeds on emotions and whose true form has ‘more teeth than the Osmond family’, thus if I were to choose one Halloweeny episode of Red Dwarf, this would be it.
The Polymorph boards the mining ship and drains an emotion from each of the ship’s inhabitants: human Lister loses his fear, hologram Rimmer loses his anger, Kryten loses his guilt and Cat, a being evolved from the ship’s cat, loses his vanity. These emotions are big parts of their characters, so their personalities undergo a fierce metamorphosis and the actors make their altered characters as much fun to watch as their regular states. Having seen Kryten act so polite and chipper to his masters makes his mockery of them all the more hilarious. This episode is a fan favourite and it’s not hard to see why; it even had a sequel episode.
1.) The Psychoville Halloween Special
Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton’s Psychoville was already pretty damn spooky, with its cast including a telekinetic dwarf and a disgruntled clown, so when they made a Halloween episode, you better believe it’s the ultimate in British Halloween-themed comedy.
The format is more or less the same as The Simpsons’ Treehouse of Horror episodes, an anthology of short scary stories featuring the characters of the show. Cantankerous clown Mr. Jelly gets a visit from two sinister children. Joy, a woman who thinks a baby doll is the real deal, has a bit of a falling out with her husband one Halloween. Blind man Oscar Lomax receives a strange new pair of eyes and mother and son duo of serial killers David and Maureen Sowerbutts get a lift from an interesting character. There’s even a framing device revolving around two ghosthunters and the asylum that plays a big role in the series proper, that’s more disturbing than the stories. How can it not be when a witch-like governess gives children muffins filled with thumbtacks?
That’s the great thing about this special, and the series in general. It’s funny, but it can also be as freaky as all hell. When you see Joy doing Halloween activities with her little doll, you’re disturbed but almost charmed, and when her husband meets a grisly fate, you actually feel somewhat satisfied, given what a disagreeable character he was. Mr. Jelly not only gets cockroaches in his Quality Streets and rats in his Pringles, his prostitute even turns into a goat. Perfect. Hilarious and frightening at the same time.
So there you go, seven shows that are good for a chuckle this Halloween, or any other time of the year, really.