The scariest episodes of 20 classic TV shows that horror fans should see
Everyone dabbles in horror — even Beaver, the Bradys and the Waltons.
Who says a TV show has to be a drama to be scary? Plenty of sitcoms have dipped their toes into chilling waters. In this list, we will spotlight everything from cartoons to Westerns.
Are all of them scary per se? Not exactly. But from their plots to their casts to their creators, they all offer something of interest for fans of the horror genre. Why wait until Halloween to enjoy them?
1. Adam-12 - "Log 103: A Sound Like Thunder"
We don't get to see Malloy and Reed enjoy too much time off together. Here, they don't exactly "enjoy" their R&R, as the partners head on a double date to a ghost town. The spirits aren't the problem, but rather a vicious motorcycle gang. Bruce Glover, father of Crispin Glover, plays the leader, "Bach," seen here.
2. The Alfred Hitchcock Hour - "The Jar"
Adapted from a Ray Bradbury story, this twisted backwoods tale actually amplifies the ghastliness of its source material. On the edge of a swamp in Louisiana, Charlie Hill (Pat Buttram of Green Acres) discovers an eerie jar with… something floating in it. The poor simpleton is swindled into buying the jar and a personalized hair ribbon for his young bride. The contents of the jar is insinuated but never spelled out in the print version. However, Hitchcock (he did not direct this episode, Norman Lloyd did) literally spells out the shocking twist, as the beheaded wife's personalized ribbon (T-H-E-D-Y S-U-E H-I-L-L) is seen floating in the jar as Charlie holds a knife.
3. The Andy Griffith Show - "The Haunted House"
This being Mayberry, Barney, Gomer and the young boys have the shaky knees, not the audience. Still, there's a ton of horror-movie fun in this story, from the excessive cobwebs to the moving eyeballs in the eerie portrait above the fireplace. Oh, and don't forget the floating ax. Of course, none of these spooky shenanigans are of supernatural origin. The episode would go on to heavily inspired the Don Knotts film The Ghost and Mr. Chicken.
4. Bonanza - "Twilight Town"
From time to time, Bonanza dabbled with the supernatural, from the clairvoyant woman in "The Strange One" to the "witch" in "Devil on Her Shoulder." But the Western fully embraced the unexplained in "Twilight Town." The title tips it hat to The Twilight Zone, as Little Joe stumbles into a ghost town. Emphasis on the "ghost." The entire mysterious outpost of Martinville vanishes into the desert in the end. Was it all a hallucination? A haunting?
5. The Brady Bunch - "Fright Night"
The perpetually groovy, gee-whiz Brady Bunch don't exactly dip into gore. But "Fright Night" does show Greg with a skull. The boys and girls try to scare one another, staging phantasms and whatnot.
6. Columbo - "Death Lends a Hand"
The second episode of the series showcased the directorial skills of Bernard L. Kowalski, arguably the only true horror director to work on Columbo. Kowalski helmed filmed like Night of the Blood Beast (1958), Black Noon (1971) and Sssssss (1973). Perhaps that's what makes the opening murder scene so unique, as the camera puts the audience in the POV of the victim.
7. The Flintstones - "A Haunted House Is Not a Home"
Fred stands to inherit a mansion. Just one catch — he has to spend a night in the spooky joint… and survive several attempts on his life. In some ways, Hanna-Barbera was honing its forthcoming Scooby-Doo skills here. Horror fans will of course want to see "The Gruesomes," which features the monster-like Gruesome family — Mr. & Mrs. J. Evil Scientist, Weirdly, Creepella, Goblin and Uncle Ghastly. It's the Stone Age spin on the Addams Family, essentially.
8. Gilligan's Island - "Up at Bat"
Gilligan's got wild in its third season. Not like Harlem-Globetrotters-visit-wild, but pretty zany. Take this episode, for example, when Gilligan is bitten by what is supposedly a vampire bat. Gilligan dreams that he is a Dracula-like creature of the night, with Ginger his wife. Turns out, it was just a fruit bat. But maybe also rabies?
9. Happy Days - "Haunted"
Ralph is throwing a Halloween party in the old Simpson house. Richie believes it's haunted. There's only one way to find out. Because this early episode was shot on film, the vintage Fifties feel is more pronounced than in a standard sitcom sound stage. It's a great capsule of how the holiday looked back then.
10. Kolchak: The Night Stalker - "The Spanish Moss Murders"
Kolchak battles vampires and zombies on the regular, so it's tough to single out just one episode, but we always come back to "Spanish Moss." The Creole bogeyman Père Malfait roughly translates as "the father of evil-doings." In other words, he's a devil figure, though here the creature is more of a mossy Swamp Thing. The mucky monster squeezes the life out of victims in the sewer. Gross. He was played by the towering Richard Kiel, better known as "Jaws" in the James Bond films.
11. Leave It to Beaver - "The Haunted House"
When you were a kid, any old house seemed haunted. June Cleaver sets up a dog-walking job for Beaver. Neat. The only downside is that it's for ol' Miss Cooper, whom Beaver believes is a witch. He must brave her house. Oddly, this episode originally aired in March, not October, showing the sitcom's dedication to spooks any time of the year.
12. Mannix - "End Game"
From time to time, a ghost from Mannix's past in the Korean War returns to torment him, none more effectively than Gus Keller (Steve Ihnat) in "End Game." Set in a dark, abandoned building riddled with booby traps, this suspenseful cat-and-mouse game leads to an explosive climax.
13. M*A*S*H - "Hawk's Nightmare"
What greater horror is there than war? His time in Korea has truly begun to have psychological effects on Hawkeye, as he begins sleepwalking and having disturbing nightmares.
14. Perry Mason - "The Case of the Dodging Domino"
Yes, Perry Mason produced a Halloween episode. Set in the music world, this mystery has a murder occurring on October 31. As Alex Chase, Jeff Morrow looks rather devilish in his mustache and goatee. A bunch of kids in skeleton, Satan and gypsy costumes appear in the courtroom. Bonus points for this being the sixth episode of the sixth season. Ooh! Spooky!
15. Rawhide - "Incident of the Murder Steer"
"The Incident of the Murder Steer" is an all-time favorite of Rawhide fans for good reason. Its story is as easily branded on the memory as the ugly word "Murder" that keeps appearing on the side of a cow at scenes where men have died, victims of violent murders. It's an ominous mystery that finds Gil Favor pulling tricks to out the real killer, and it's based on an old Texas legend about a ghost steer reportedly seen in the frontier following a murderous scuffle between real-life cattle owners.
16. The Rifleman - "Hostages to Fortune"
The Rifleman was one of the only Westerns to have a straight-up Halloween episode. "Hostages of Fortune" is a case of mistaken identity, where young Mark and his pals play harmless pranks in masks to celebrate the holiday and this inspires real thieves to don similar masks in hopes of pointing the blame at the boys. The masks are crude and genuinely creepy, and it plays on Lucas' biggest fear: that he raised his boy wrong.
17. Star Trek - "A Wolf in the Fold"
With its spooky castle and unlucky black feline, "Catspaw" might seem like the obvious choice, but "Wolf in the Fold" (also written by Robert Bloch) gets under the skin in a more effective way. Scotty suspects he is a murder. Turns out, it is the sinister, eternal spirit of Jack the Ripper. The dated misogyny of the tale might shock viewers more than the horror tropes, but anyone can relate to idea that we truly don't know what we are capable of.
18. The Twilight Zone - "The Hitch-Hiker"
Ah, where to start! There are many options from which to choose in this brilliant anthology series (the best, really). Is it William Shatner sweating bullets as a gremlin tears apart an airplane wing in "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet"? Is it the more psychological dread of the underrated "And When the Sky Was Opened"? Is it "Mirror Image," the unnerving doppelganger story that inspired Us? Can't go wrong with any of those! But we are sticking with "The Hitch-Hiker," which zips along with the simplicity of the best campfire ghost stories, right down to its perfect twist ending.
19. Wagon Train - "Little Girl Lost"
In one of the most haunting episodes of Wagon Train ever, Charlie Wooster assumes he must be going mad when a little girl appears only to him. Others can only hear her crying. In the end, the ghostly girl is tied to a shocking true story in American history. The Donner Party was a group of pioneers on their own wagon train, who met misfortune and a gruesome turn when they had to cannibalize each other to survive. This wide-eyed girl got lost somewhere along the way...
20. The Waltons - "The Changeling"
Yes, even The Waltons had a poltergeist. Elizabeth is turning 13, which is giving her anxiety. Is what's causing the strange happenings around the house — or is there a maleficent spirit? The piano plays itself, a vase floats off the mantel, and — eeriest yet — her Raggedy-Ann doll creeps towards her bed. Ah!