Long before The Disney Channel became responsible for Miley Cyrus and Zac Efron’s careers, they were the ultimate in children’s programming. The Disney Channel was, and continues to be, the determining factor in what’s “cool” and popular for kids and tweens. Admittedly, the success of HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL completely changed the landscape for DCOMS to follow, but the yearly tradition of Halloween specials is something many millennials hold near and dear to their hearts. All of these flicks are rated G (with the exception of one), so you can watch with certainty that even your littlest monsters with have a spooky good time.
STEPSISTER FROM PLANET WEIRD
Disney Channel movies often featured divorced or single-parent households, so blended families were often a focal point. In this DCOM, we meet Megan Larson, the daughter of a divorced windsurfing mother and an overworked father. When Megan’s mom falls in love Cosmo Cola (already a red flag), a single father with a daughter about Megan’s age, she soon discovers that the two are actually aliens that used to be bubbles and are on the run from an evil emperor. No, really.
While not advertised as a Halloween special, SMART HOUSE is THE TERMINATOR meets 2001: A SPACE ODDESSY if HAL was June Cleaver. A young boy wins the ultimate “smart-house” for his overworked single father and his family. This home acts like Siri on crack. It automatically provides breakfast, the carpet can absorb any mess, and your walls can play music videos from your favorite bands, like 5ive or B*Witched! Much like every other super smart robot movie, our smart house (played by Katey Segal) becomes self-aware and demands to become the mother of the family. It’s like an episode of BLACK MIRROR geared towards children.
MOM’S GOT A DATE WITH A VAMPIRE
This is easily one of the more star-studded casts for a DCOM. Catherine Rhea plays a single mom who is convinced to go on a date with the mysterious Dimitri (Charles Shaughnessy) in order to get her out of the house so the kids can do whatever they want. One problem, Dimitri is a vampire! The littlest brother calls upon Malachi Van Helsing (Robert Carradine) to save his mother from becoming Dimitri’s next victim. This is very, very easily Disney’s attempt at FRIGHT NIGHT and was even edited after parents overwhelmingly complained about a scene that implied Dimitri eats the family dog.
GIRL VS. MONSTER
One of the more recent DCOMS is the BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER flick of the tween millennium, GIRL VS. MONSTER. Skylar is a powerhouse singer that discovers is the fifth generation of a monster hunting family. Skylar is a kick-ass female character and a perfect inspiration for little girls everywhere that like being leaders and aren’t afraid of even the spookiest monsters. There’s also a nice performance from Brendan Meyer as her best friend Henry that many will recognize as Luke Peterson from Adam Wingard/Simon Barrett joint THE GUEST.
Based on the popular book series, Tia and Tamara Mowry play twin witches that were separated at birth and adopted by separate parents. After a chance reunion, the twins discover not only do they possess magical powers, but that the two must save their homeland and all of its citizens. Disney took a risk by casting two actresses of color; given the cover of the book series featured white characters. However, this risk was one of importance and success as TWITCHES spawned a sequel and became one of the most successful DCOMS, ever.
THE SCREAM TEAM
After the death of Frank Carlyle, the owner of the local horror shop in Halloween obsessed “Steeple Falls,” his widower grandson returns to his roots with his children Ian and Claire (a young Kat Dennings) to finalize the inheritance. Ian soon discovers that his grandfather’s home is haunted by the ghost of Zachariah Kull (Kim Coates), the house’s first owner who was burned at the stake. Ian is lucky because with the help of the “Soul Patrol” (you know, instead of “The Scream Team”) he has an undead trio of Eric Idle, Tommy Davidson, and Kathy Najimy to help him save the day.
CAN OF WORMS
Based on the popular book of the same name, CAN OF WORMS is about a young boy who is convinced he’s actually an alien from another world. After attempting to contact outer space, an alien dog named Barnabus (voiced by Malcom McDowell) meets Mike to inform him that he’s opened a can of worms by contacting outer space, and that Earth is no longer considered a “primitive planet” and is now vulnerable to every type of alien life form. The monster designs are pretty impressive, and it’s an endearing sci-fi kid flick.
The kid version of WEEKEND AT BERNIES starring one of the coolest mummy designs ever created, regardless of audience rating. A group of youngsters unknowingly awaken a mummy that escapes its sarcophagus and it’s up to the kids to get the mummy back to its final resting place before midnight on Halloween and the mummy will cease to exist. This slapstick comedy was the very first Disney Channel Original Movie, and one that will quickly become a family favorite.
Showcased under the “Disney Premiere Films” banner (like MR. BOOGEDY, NOT QUITE HUMAN, and WISH UPON A STAR) SUSIE Q is the perfect way to introduce your kids to urban legends. After Susie Quinn (The Pink Power Ranger Amy Jo Johnson) is killed in a car crash on her way to the 1955 Winter Formal, her ghost is left restless with unfinished business. 40 years later, Zach (Justin Whalin of CHILD’S PLAY 3 and SERIAL MOM) and his family move into Susie’s home and discovers her bracelet, which allows him the ability to see her ghost. This endearing tale is an excellent look at grief, guilt, and living life to the fullest.
PHANTOM OF THE MEGAPLEX
17-year-old assistant manager, Pete Riley, is trying his hardest to make sure that the premiere at his megaplex goes smoothly. Unfortunately for him, there’s a PHAAAAANTOM running rampant and causing chaos everywhere he looks. It’s a modern retelling of PHANTOM OF THE OPERA for kids and showcases one of the last great roles of Mickey Rooney as “The Movie Mason.” There are some pretty decent jump scares and some excellent commentary on the destruction of the movie industry due to commercialism and celebrity worship.
TOWER OF TERROR
Originally presented as part of ABC’s “The Wonderful World of Disney” made for TV movies, this film acted as the source material for the famous (and soon to be destroyed) ride at Disneyland. This genuinely creepy film was filled with ghost girls singing creepy songs, evil nannies, and Isaac from CHILDREN OF THE CORN as a ghost elevator attendee. This had all the makings of a film inspired by William Castle, and a fun flick for kid-friendly scares.
While 12-year-old Marnie is arguing with her mother about celebrating Halloween, her grandmother Agatha (played by Debbie Fucking Reynolds) comes for her yearly visit bringing tons of ghastly goodies along for the ride. Marnie overhears her mother and grandmother arguing about Marnie’s witch training, informing Marnie that she’s part of a family of witches that reside in a safe haen for all things spooky called Halloweentown. Aggie warns that something dark is brewing in the city and she needs the help and power of all of her family of witches and warlocks to defeat the evil. The monster designs are incomparable, the villain is effectively scary, but it’s the message of loving everyone regardless of what they look like that makes this film so cherished by many.
DON’T LOOK UNDER THE BED
The only PG rated film on this list; DON’T LOOK UNDER THE BED is genuine nightmare fuel. This is one of the heavier DCOMS that wasn’t featuring a social issue, and is a horrifying metaphor for growing up. The mythos of this film is that when we are children, we are given imaginary friends to help us get through childhood but if we grow up too fast forget about our imaginary friend, the friend will turn into a boogeyman. Frances Bacon McCausland grew up too fast after her brother Darwin almost died from leukemia and her old imaginary friend Zoe is turning into a boogeyman. Darwin’s former imaginary friend Larry comes looking for help with the boogeyman problem. The boogeyman designs are pretty horrifying and if any Disney movie is going to cause a nightmare, it’ll be this one. This is the perfect transition horror film for kids looking to step up past cartoon Halloween specials, and the best horror film Disney has ever made.
*All Photos: Disney