Since these TV specials were the spooktastic treats of our childhood, it seems only reasonable that we take an official ranking of '90s Halloween episodes as seriously as possible. Or, you know, as seriously as you can be about a holiday that revolves around horror, candy, costumes, and goofy pranks. The truth is, back in the '90s, these Halloween episodes kind of meant the world to us. As kids, we were obviously too young to be watching some of the horror movies that our parents or older siblings would enjoy, so we depended on our fave TV shows to step up and give us our own creepy special.
And boy, did they deliver. There were so many great Halloween TV episodes from the '90s that we'd be here all day if we even attempted to list them all. So instead, this ranking is as economic as possible in listing the best of the best, while still remaining fair. You'll find a whole bunch of kids shows and family shows, but also a fair few that were aimed at an older audience, too. What many, but not all, of these episodes share is their ability to deviate from the rules of their show in order to provide a Halloween episode that was as surprising as it was thrilling.
Get some popcorn ready, light a few spooky candles (or regular ones, whatever), and let's do this.
"Halloween" ('Sister, Sister')
If you ever wanted to Ray throw some shapes in a bunny costume, then this was the episode for you. While nothing terribly spooky happens, it's still full of pumpkins, silly string, and trick-or-treating joys.
"Meatballs Or Consequences" ('Animaniacs')
The Grim Reaper interrupts a deadly Swedish meatball-eating contest to challenge the Warners to a life-or-death game of chess. It's anarchic and wonderful.
"Hex And The Single Guy" ('Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air')
Worthwhile if just for the fact that Carlton's choice of Halloween costume in this episode is Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone. Genius.
"Halloween" ('My So-Called Life')
Spooky, heartfelt, and featuring that reference to Kurt Cobain that still secretly chokes you up every time (it's cool to admit it), My So-Called Life put some real emotions into Halloween.
Speaking of emotional Halloween episodes, Felicity also totally went there. Showing the painful aftermath of a robbery and the tension of a failing romance, the episode has all kinds of feelings flying round. But it also has our girl dressed as the bride of Frankenstein. What's not to like?
"Halloweenie" ('The Adventures Of Pete And Pete')
There's probably more pumpkins in this episode than in any other TV show ever. And the combination of Big Pete's existential suffering over the holiday, and Little Pete's enthusiasm for it, is absolutely perfect.
"The Tale Of The Twisted Claw" ('Are You Afraid Of The Dark?')
A fun, Halloween twist on the horror classic, "The Monkey's Paw," involving a wooden vulture foot that grants wishes and curses. It was hella creepy.
"A Halloween Story" ('Sabrina The Teenage Witch')
Everything you need to know: Harvey dresses up as James Dean (swoon), Sabrina makes an awful clone of herself so she can attend two important parties at once (impractical), said clone streaks naked, Harvey is horrified, and Sally Jesse Raphael is a guest star. It's wondrous.
"Escape From Witch Island" ('Dawson's Creek')
Dawson's Creek paid tribute to The Blair Witch Project with this episode in which the scariest thing that happens is that Pacey and Jen share an ill-conceived smooch. Still great, though.
"Halloween" ('Beverly Hills 90210')
While it starts out as a pretty fun episode (sorry, but that guy's Edward Scissorhands costume? Nailed it) quickly devolves into a pretty heavy one as a college student attempts to sexually assault Kelly at a party. Thankfully, her friends are badass and storm in to save her from the guy.
"Good Will Haunting" ('Sabrina The Teenage Witch')
Sabrina is terrorized by a talking doll, and Harvey turns up dressed as Frankenstein to watch movies at her house (because he was just the greatest boyfriend ever).
"Ghost Story" ('Rugrats')
Not only is this a cross-over episode with Aaahh!!! Real Monsters, but it also features the babies getting their spooky revenge on Angelica once and for all. It's a Halloween masterpiece.
"Doug's Halloween Adventure" ('Doug')
Doug, surprisingly, had many top-notch Halloween episodes. But this one, where Skeet, Roger, and our eponymous hero break into an Funkytown (the best amusement park ever) to go on a ride called Bloodstone Manor is by far the best. And strangely memorable.
"Halloween" ('Buffy The Vampire Slayer')
By far the most fun episode of BTVS's shaky first season, "Halloween," provided a glimpse of the playful, confident show it would become. With the citizens of Sunnydale transforming into their Halloween costumes, the episode had great fun with pushing the characters out of their comfort zones and playing up the funnies.
"Halloween IV" ('Roseanne')
Roseanne always had the best Halloween episodes, but this one in which Roseanne is visited by the ghosts of Halloween past, present, and future is easily the greatest.
"Fear Itself" ('Buffy The Vampire Slayer')
BTVS's second Halloween episode on this list is just tremendous fun from start to finish. Including Anya playing up her fear of bunnies by dressing up as one and the "fear monster" of the episode revealing itself to be such a puny threat that he gets squished under Buffy's shoe.
"Headless Cabbie / Friday The 13th" ('Hey Arnold')
This episode is iconic. While "Headless Cabbie" is a genuinely spooky little ghost story, "Friday The 13th" is a fun spin on superstition, showing Arnold and Gerald challenged with doing things that may bring them bad luck.
"Tricks And Treats" ('Freaks & Geeks')
Treading the fine line between hilarious and heartbreaking, "Tricks & Treats" is a sweet episode about the pains of growing up during one of the most gleefully childish days of the year. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll be quoting, "I'm not a little girl, I'm a bionic woman," for months after viewing it.
"Treehouse Of Horror V" ('The Simpsons')
If we were to include every single Treehouse Of Horror special from the '90s, then they'd pretty much take up the majority of this list. While they all share an equal genius, it's this installment which features the iconic spoof of The Shining, a cannibalistic school cafeteria, and Homer discovering time travel which is by far the most memorable.
"Stevil" ('Family Matters')
Yes, it was ludicrous and frankly, beyond nightmarish to watch as a kid (characters actually got murdered in this episode, you guys,) but both of the Family Matters Halloween specials featuring Stevil still hold up for their insanity and terror.
"The Scare" ('Dawson's Creek')
Released not long after Dawson's Creek writer had scored big hits with I Know What You Did Last Summer and Scream, this episode was a knowing wink to fans that suggested that Capeside could have serial killers too. It's full of teenage silliness and horror jokes, and it's just great.
"And Then There Was Shawn" ('Boy Meets World')
Boy Meets World took the post-modern horror trend of the '90s and made it their own with this witty take on teen slashers. It's completely over the top, full of horror trope references, and stars Jennifer Love Hewitt.
Suffice to say, it definitely feels time to grab some candy corn and a hot batch of jiffy pop and re-watch all of these episodes immediately.
Editor's Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly said Amy Jo Johnson dressed as the pink Power Ranger on Felicity. It has since been updated.