Spooky Storytelling and a Tradition We Call HallWhoween

Halloween: the yearly excuse for all things creepy, spooky, spoopy, and scary. It’s a month of cosplay even for people who would never cosplay. A time when you have a global duty to eat candy.

And at my house, the opportunity for a tradition called HallWhoween.

Now, I’ve written about HallWhoween before. In short, it’s a weekly party in October when we present a few hours of funny/creepy/scary/Halloween-themed episodes of TV shows for an evergrowing group of our friends. These episodes range from classics to niche hits to new surprises and include pretty much every kind of show possible. (If you’re curious about what the actual episode lineups have been so far, check the list later in this article!)

As much as I love rambling about how AWESOME HallWhoween is and how much fun we have doing it (now for the 6th year), what I want to discuss today is why this event is so fun.

Storytelling. The answer is entirely storytelling.

All Hallow’s Eve

Halloween has always brought out a unique aspect of storytelling regardless of the medium. Books, TV, movies, music: they all generally carry a certain tone when released in the month leading up to Halloween. Certainly, creepy/spooky/scary plots are popular year-round, but this time of year truly brings them out of the woodwork from EVERY side.

But why are there so many? Why are they so beloved? How is it that I can make a yearly tradition involving 15 hours of rotating Halloween-esque shows?

Because Halloween allows us cultural permission to make some very interesting storytelling decisions.

Most human beings have a fear of and/or fascination with death and the supernatural. We’re inherently limited beings (i.e. we can’t know everything), and so ideas of things “beyond our ken” remain interesting no matter how much time passes. Whether modern paranormal murder mysteries or thousands-year-old epics, we want to explore the things that we can’t understand.

And Halloween presents the opportunity to do that without breaking most cultural taboos and such. Or, more simply, it lets anyone tell a trillion ghost stories without people thinking they’re “really weird.”

Writers and creators can take risks in Halloween-timed stories that otherwise wouldn’t be possible in many programs. An all-time favorite example for me comes from Boy Meets World.

Boy Meets World GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY
Classic.

In the Season 5 episode “And Then There Was Shawn”, something strange is happening. Our main cast (and a few fun friends) are trapped in the school building as they get murdered one-by-one. Shawn displays constant trope-savvy and everyone else plays the sitcom horror-shtick with gusto. But what really makes this special is not the revelation that none of it is real (we all knew that the second someone died), but that Shawn himself is the murderer. In fact, his evil doppelganger even murders himself.

Ha-ha, very funny show, oh so spooky.

But what could be a dumb twist (IT WAS ALL A DREAAAAM) comes with the reason for everything we just saw: Shawn’s grieving over the loss of the most stable relationship in his life. Corey and Topanga broke up and Shawn feels like some vital part of his life has been killed along with that couple status.

In a very strange way, it’s a sweet, vulnerable story about a kid that has no stable home life grappling with losing the closest thing to a family he has. He recognizes not only that losing stability feels like dying but that (on some level) he would kill to set things back to how they were. And it being a Halloween story allows Boy Meets World to tell that story in a way that feels witty and clever rather than purely saccharine.

Now, wise artists of all kinds, have embraced the joy that is committing to this kind of storytelling all year round. After all, if death and undeath and redeath and the supernatural can be used to tell a meaningful story, why not make use of them whenever it’s right for the tale being told? And, of course, there are a great many creators that are using these ideas and tropes to simply tell fun/silly/freaky stories that have no greater moral to push. That’s alright, too.

In the end, Halloween–with its Treehouses of Horror and Summerweens and Heists and Tournaments of Terror–gives everyone from the mainstream to the niche a chance to tell stories that may not be as welcome the rest of the year. And that’s positively spooktastic.

As promised, here are the episodes used in this year’s (the lineups change every year) HallWhoween viewings.

A few notes:
– Not all episodes include great storytelling…many are just silly fun.
– It’s called HallWhoween because it was inspired by the Doctor Who episode “Blink”. This also means there’s always at least 1 episode of Doctor Who for each viewing.

VIEWING ONE

Intro Shorts:
“David S. Pumpkins” – SNL
“Zombie Reasonable” – Mighty Magiswords

Sometimes, I like to kick things off with fun shorts, just to get everyone in the mood for a good evening of spooks and silliness. “David S. Pumpkins” has been a part of HallWhoween since it aired. And Zombie Pumpkin Magisword is too awesome not to be included.

Episode 1:
“The Impossible Astronaut” – Doctor Who
I’ll be the first to admit that this 2-parter descends into a little bit of classic Doctor Who looping into itself absurdity, but counterpoint: THE SILENCE.

Episode 2:
“Halloween” – Brooklyn 99
This kicks off a series of several solid Halloween episodes involving hijinks, heists, and little bursts of character development between a stellar cast.

Episode 3:
“The Haunting of Taylor House” – Home Improvement
Included because I grew up watching this show. It’s classic sitcom Halloween with all the life lessons included.

Episode 4:
“Day of the Moon” – Doctor Who
Second half of the 2-parter that kicked the evening off. Room of folks that hadn’t seen it before felt that ‘The Impossible Astronaut” was spookier.

Viewing Two

Intro Short:
“The Hide Behind” – Gravity Falls
I love Gravity Falls. A lot. I may own copies of all three journals… But anyway, this little short manages to be silly and ever-so-slightly spooky. Almost spoopy, which is a term I find…spoopy.

Episode 1:
“Tournament of Terror: Heat 4” – Cutthroat Kitchen
My wife and I love food shows. They’re excellent to unwind, teach you stuff, and are occasionally hilarious. Some of our guests on this evening also enjoyed food shows but had never heard of Cutthroat, so I just had to introduce them to a devilishly good time.

Episode 2:
“Epidemiology” – Community
Another HallWhoween classic. Community loved simultaneously calling out and embracing tropes, which makes it a rather stellar analysis of genre writing depending on the episode. As a lampooning take on zombie flicks, I never fail to enjoy this episode.

Episode 3:
“The God Complex” – Doctor Who
The first half of this episode is 300% spookier than the rest, but I love the bigger questions at the heart of this show: where do fear and faith intersect? What do we rely on when all seems doomed?

Episode 4:
“Halloween II” – Brooklyn 99
Gotta keep this mini-series within the series rolling!

Episode 5:
“Summerween” – Gravity Falls
A funny and eerie take on the classic Halloween episode. Lovely subversions sprinkled throughout and more than a few hints that Alex Hirsch didn’t make this show for kids. This episode ALWAYS gets included somewhere during HallWhoWeen.

And now you’re caught up. I’ll be back next week to share the list for HallWhoween viewing three. Feel free to let me know what Halloween episodes you would put on your list!

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