Along with the costumes, parties and bags of candy, one of the treats of Halloween I always looked forward to were the television specials. It's hard to appreciate now what a big deal these were back in the pre-TIVO, pre-VHS days. When a Halloween special like The Great Pumpkin came on, you had to actually be at a TV when it was being broadcast, or you missed it that year. There was no home taping, no renting, and no repeats. So if your little league game happened to end late and you couldn't get home by 7:30 PM, you were just out of luck.
In addition to TV specials that were made specifically for the holidays, there were also themed episodes of regular series to get you in the spirit. One of my favorites is from the third season of Little House on the Prairie, an episode called "The Monster of Walnut Grove" (1976).
It's Halloween night and the girls are pranking the little town of Walnut Grove, soaping the windows, when Laura thinks she sees the general store's owner, Nells Olsen, behead his nagging wife Harriet with a decorative sword.
Of course it was just a misunderstanding--the figure that lost its head was actually a store mannequin, but Laura doesn't know this.
No one believes Laura's story, and a confused confrontation with Nells mistakenly reinforces the idea in her head. Only her friend Carl seems sympathetic.
This leads to a surreal and creepy nightmare sequence, where we see the beheading play out in her dreams, with a series of heads flying towards the screen, screaming.
In another dream, Laura sits down to a grim dinner party at the Olsen's.
But where's Harriet?
She's the main course, of course.
If the sight of her severed head served up on a platter isn't frightening enough, a few seconds later it comes to life and screams bloody murder!
Eventually the Olsen children, Willie and Nelly, get wind of the story, and decide to exploit it to play a prank on Laura and Carl. The Olsen kids convince Laura and Carl to meet them at their house that night to help them look for Mrs. Olsen's body (Mrs. Olsen being conveniently out of town).
While waiting to rendezvous in a graveyard, we see the moonlit sky in a stock shot that has been used in many other television shows (Brady Bunch, Happy Days, etc.) and even a few movies.
If anybody has any information about this popular moon shot, please leave it in the comments.
After a creepy trip down into the Olsen's basement, evil sister Nelly scares them with this (admittedly lame) ghost get up.
Laura and Carl soon realize they've been tricked and turn the tables. They acquire the severed mannequin head that started the whole mess and drop it down the basement ladder like so...
Leaving Nelly screaming for dear life.
Unlike a lot of Halloween specials that play for laughs instead of scares, this one was a real chiller, even if some elements of the plot strained credulity (e.g. in one scene a dish rag soiled with catsup is mistaken for bloody evidence of murder). This episode is available on DVD here.