With South Park debuting a new Halloween episode this week, there’s no better time to revisit the show’s take on the haunted holiday. When you turn on South Park, you know something silly and shocking and unnecessarily gory is coming your way. That’s because most days in the tiny, ignorant mountain town of South Park, Colorado, feel like Friday the 13th.
Clearly fans of the horror/thriller/campy fright genre, you’d expect Matt Stone and Trey Parker to reserve a spot on the calendar for a Halloween special each season, but that hasn’t exactly been the case since after the third season the production schedule shifted to a November start. The more recent seasons have premiered in September, though, hence why we have some new episodes to talk about.
The show’s Halloween episodes are easily fan favorites as Matt and Trey pay homage to the best frights in pop culture history. We’ve counted nine true Halloween episodes over the last 23 seasons and we’re ranking them in order of the worst to the best so that we can all argue about it in the comments section.
9 – “Goth Kids 3: Dawn of the Posers”
(Original airdate: 10/23/2013)
If you stopped me on the street and said: “Hey Chris, I love your writing and you seem like a really cool dude. I also love Den of Geek, the premier entertainment publication in of all the land. By the way, what’s your least favorite South Park episode?” I would respond by saying the most recent stinker that comes to mind, “Goth Kids 3: Dawn of the Posers.”
The episode ran close enough to Halloween (granted a power outage at South Park Studios delayed the episode by a week) and had enough Halloweeny elements — Edgar Allen Poe, a hidden camera scare TV show and the Vamp Kids — to make this list. By default, GK3DOTP is last on my best South Park Halloween episode list. I refuse to give the Goth Kids a participation medal. Not that they’d want to conform and accept it anyway.
8 – “The Magic Bush”
(Original Airdate: 10/29/2014)
Again, we’ll count this one as a quasi-Halloween episode because it aired in close proximity to the holiday. Make no mistake, this is an episode about privacy on the internet, leaked celebrity nudes, and glorious lady bush. Though there’s no true Halloween element in “The Magic Bush,” it certainly plays into our personal and political fears of drones, and the creepy sci-fi synthesizer adds to that feeling every time Mr. Stotch fails to realize Butters’ is responsible for his drone terrorizing South Park.
If the theme of “haunted” drones taking on a mind of their own to peep on the townspeople isn’t spooky enough for you, then surely the sight of Craig’s mom’s bush will send a shiver down your spine.
7 – “The Scoots”
(Original Airdate: 10/31/18)
“The Scoots” has the distinction of being the only South Park Halloween episode to actually air on Halloween. The episode does a fairly decent job of allowing the kids to be kids while incorporating the horrors of a new technology. All the boys want to do is collect the most candy possible and the best way to do that efficiently is to use e-scooters to cover more ground. The problem is no one actually knows where these scooters came from, and Mr. Mackey completely loses his mind over it. Some of the minor details and choices make the episode a fun and worthy holiday entry, like the townspeople panicking over thousands of dollars in candy they’ll need or an adult Kenny bookending the episode with a voiceover. More future Kenny, please.
#6 – “A Nightmare on Facetime”
(Original Airdate: 10/24/2012)
Let’s talk about scary investments in 2012. Randy’s heart and soul are stuck in the late-80s, and it wrongly leads him to believe that owning a Blockbuster Video is a rock-solid venture. The news of Randy’s purchase is cringe inducing for the Marsh family, because they, like all of us, know streaming and Redboxing is the present and the future.
The fun in this nightmare comes from a few key scenes parodying The Shining. Randy doing his best Jack Torrance impression carries the episode while the B plot, with the boys trick or treating as the Avengers and getting into trouble with the “RedBox Killers,” falls flat. Above all, it’s an episode with a Bruce Villanch joke and no episode that references this man should be last on any list.
#5 – “Sons a Witches”
(Original Airdate: 10/25/2017)
Halloween is a fun time of year because we get to disconnect from reality. Some people put on a masks and take on a new persona for a night. Others love mindless horror films that tap into our primal fears. Randy and the dads of South Park take it in a slightly different direction by dressing like witches and getting shitfaced off Jack Daniel and Crack (yes, they smoke actual crack) deep in the woods. Sounds innocent enough, that is until their Halloween tradition is interrupted when Chip Duncan pulls out a spell book he picked up in Salem, Massachusetts and transforms himself into a real witch, who snatches up children and threatens to kill everyone before Halloween. Randy and the guys then worry whether they, the “good” witches, will be blamed in this “witch pursuit thingy.”
The episode is a commentary on the Harvey Weinstein scandal and Woody Allen’s comments that the #MeToo movement could turn into a “witch hunt.” Though it’s far more political than the other Halloween episodes on this list, “Sons a Witches” strikes a fine balance between the seasonal and topical, executing a pointed commentary on the enabling of “bad witches,” misguided male insecurity, and the toxic culture that could lead to a cover up. Also: Bonus points for the haunted opening title music.
#4 – “SpookyFish”
(Original Airdate: 10/28/1998)
“SpookyFish” left us with some classic South Park memories. Cartman’s evil twin is actually just a really nice version of Eric with a goatee. “Spooky Vision,” featuring pictures of Barbra Streisand, decorated the corners of the screen. “Hella” was introduced into our vocabulary to be used ironically to piss off your friends. We met Aunt Flow, who visits once a month and usually only stays for five days or so. Nice lady.
We also met the titular character, a new and unlikely Halloween terror. The goldfish kills innocent townspeople and leaves Stan with the blame, and Sharon, like any good mom, to clean up her son’s mess. The episode was as satisfying as Chef’s Spooky Spaghetti as “SpookyFish” makes us wish South Park continued with the Halloween specials every year.
#3 – “Korn’s Groovy Ghost Pirate Mystery”
(Original Airdate: 10/27/1999)
South Park stuck with the Halloween specials in its first three seasons but a schedule change resulted in the second half of the season starting early November for season four. The last yearly Halloween entry featured the band Korn leading their voices to help parody Scooby-Doo. When I say this episode had everything, I’m not pulling Kyle’s dead grandma’s leg. We’re talking Antonio Banderas blow-up sex doll, necrophilia, Korn’s Scooby stand-in, Nibblet, Kenny’s RoboCop costume and Korn performing a kick-ass show in spite of the spooky pirate ghosts.
#2 – “Pinkeye”
(Original Airdate: 10/29/1997)
So you have a chillingly low temperature, no pulse or heartbeat, red puffy eyes and an insatiable lust for human brains? You must have pinkeye!
South Park’s first Halloween episode is an ode to the zombie genre. When an infected Kenny turns South Park into a breeding ground for the living dead, Chef and the Boys go into survival mode. The episode is our yearly reminder that Worcestershire sauce should never be mixed with embalming fluid. It also includes a fantastic special Halloween title sequence, Cartman dressing up like Hitler and a Klan member and Mrs. Cartman on the cover of Crack Whore magazine. Some foreshadowing: Chef breaks into a Michael Jackson zombie thriller bit and says that he’s going to make love even when he’s dead. Unfortunately we later found out that Chef got really into touching little boys in the landmark episode “The Return of Chef.”
#1 – “Hell on Earth 2006”
(Original Airdate: 10/26/2006)
Picking Satan over the last three entries—all South Park fan favorites—is no doubt a controversial pick. I’ll have to “Go with Christ” later because Satan threw the most bumping Halloween party our mortal world has ever seen. When you can summon Biggie Smalls from the dead, get the Catholic church jealous of a Satanic Sweet Sixteen, turn three real-life serial killers into the Three Stooges and tell a too, too, too, too soon Steve Irwin sting ray joke, then you’re having a good Halloween so long as Diddy didn’t do it already.
Satan gets the top spot on our list because let’s face it, he’d bitch and moan like an MTV tween brat if he didn’t get his way. And you know you don’t want to get on Satan’s bad side. Just ask Sadam…