Ask Chris #169: A Very Power Rangers Halloween
Q: What are the best halloween themed Power Ranger episodes? --@I_AM_maxHELL
A: I'm about 400 episodes into my attempt to watch the past 20 years worth of Power Rangers, and one of the things that has consistently surprised me is that there aren't a whole lot of holiday-themed episodes. There's a Christmas special here and there and a couple of episodes where they staple a Jack O'Lantern onto some existing footage and call it a Halloween special, but those are very few and far between. Maybe that'll change once I get up to Mystic Force, the season where they use their witchity powers to battle an army of the undead. You'd think they'd be doing a lot more than they did.
That's pretty weird, right? I mean, I'll admit that I want holiday specials more than the average person -- I am, after all, a guy who owns Pikachu's Winter Vacation on VHS and gets really excited every December about the possibility of seeing Christmas Comes to Pac-Land show up on TV -- but you'd think they'd provide some ready-made plots for shows that already tend to be formulaic. Then again, when your entire show is based around monsters showing up and then getting blown up by a giant robot, I guess that takes a lot of wind out of the usual style of Halloween story where an extra spoooooky monster shows up. When you're starting with a moon-witch who wants to murder a bunch of teenagers, there aren't many places to go.
Like I mentioned (and as you'll see below), the usual tactic seems to be to figure out which episode's going to air in late October and then just cut out everything that happened in the original Super Sentai show and replace it with a slightly spooky set of clips. This year's Power Rangers Megaforce Halloween special, "Raising Spirits," did exactly that, but with an added layer of weirdness of having to work around footage where the monster was eventually defeated by pie-making, which they solved by writing a story where the Pink Ranger made a pumpkin pie while the other Rangers stood around telling her she was baking for the wrong holiday. It was, to say the least, a little bizarre, although it did provide us with this year's annual Halloween Safety PSA, where the tiny perfect angels of Megaforce remind you not to eat loose, melty chunks of chocolate handed to you by a monster:
But, as CA editor Caleb Goellner (an OG Power Rangers fan who considers me a Johnny-Come-Lately for just deciding to mainline the entire series this year) pointed out a few years ago, they did occasionally make the token effort. Of course, he includes a few generally spooky episodes on his list, rather than my strict guidelines for what is and isn't Halloweeny, but we can agree that there are at least a few worth watching. So if you're planning on watching a little tokusatsu between your Hammer Dracula movies this Halloween, then... well, if that's your plan for Halloween, then there's a pretty good chance you're actually me, and this column has just become the world's most overwritten to-do list. Point is, three particular episodes come to mind, and they're all on Netflix if you want to check them out.
First up, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Season 1's "Trick Or Treat."
This s**t is f**king infuriating.
Remember how I said that most of the holiday specials involved slapping a couple of candy canes or a Jack O'Lantern onto unrelated footage? This episode actually does the opposite of that. They have a vaguely Halloween-themed villain, a giant Jack O'Lantern monster that can replace your head with a pumpkin, suffocating you and presumably leading to a messy death where your skull was made into a delicious pie. The problem is that a) the monster was The Pumpkin Rapper, who, as Zordon put it, would "distract you with his clever raps and rhymes," which worked out about as well as you'd expect, and b) it aired in May. Even the people who came up with a "rapping" Pumpkin monster realized that early summer is kind of a lousy time to make a Halloween special, so their solution was to do an episode that was completely Halloween themed, except that it doesn't take place on Halloween.
This isn't the bad part.
The bad part is that they chose to do this by padding the episode out with a plot where Kimberly went onto a local TV station's Halloween-themed game show that apparently airs year-round called Trick or Treat, where the host dresses as Dracula and everyone in the crowd wears a Halloween costume.
That would be fine -- dumb, but fine -- if it wasn't for the fact that this game show makes me want to build a Frankenstein body for my television just so that it has a neck I can strangle. The object of Trick or Treat is to ask the host "trick questions." This is the worst premise for a gameshow ever. This makes Deal or No Deal look like Jeopardy! And it doesn't even make sense! Kimberly gets an early advantage when she asks the host what the secret identities of the Power Rangers are. That's not a trick question! That's just a question, with an answer he doesn't know! DAMN you, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, and may you be struck down with the chillblains as retribution for your sins!
Uh... sorry everybody. I take game shows kind of seriously sometimes.
With a mess like that, it's no wonder they took the next few years off, but when they finally got back around to it in Power Rangers Samurai, they ended up doing two, and the first one is actually really interesting.
It's called "Party Monsters," and at its heart, it's basically a clip show. They tend to do that a lot with the Holiday specials, actually. The Samurai Christmas special where the MegaZord breaks down and they all have to spend Christmas eve in the cockpit telling stories is the same way. It's how they dress all that up that makes this one fun, though: Rather than the Rangers re-telling the stories, the episode has the monsters recounting their defeats after gathering for a Halloween party in Hell.
Seriously. Samurai was always kind of enjoyably dark, what with it being a show about demons who entered our world through shadows on a mission to cause suffering so that the tears of humanity will flood the Sanzu River and unleash actual demons on the world -- which is especially enjoyable given how goofy the rest of the show gets with that premise -- but this is one of the only times in the franchise where they actually go "yep, we sure did get actually killed by those Power Rangers. Our bodies were destroyed and now our souls, because we have souls by the way, are in Hell where we have nothing to do but think on how we died in violence."
As grim as that might sound, it's actually a pretty lighthearted episode. Negatron, for instance, the monster who fought the Rangers with insults that made them explode, is a complete dick to everyone else at the party, which is a pretty good gag. The best bit, though, is that the monsters spend a lot of time being genuinely offended that the Rangers tend to "do that thing they do where they turn around and let us explode behind them" instead of at least being polite enough to look at them until the fight's actually over. When you think about it, that is pretty disrespectful.
It's not the best Halloween special that's ever happened, but putting the focus on the monsters instead of the good guys is a nice way to go about something thematically appropriate.
And then there's the other Samurai Halloween special, "Trickster Treat," which is BANANAS.
For those of you wondering, yes: Those are the Samurai Rangers wearing animal costumes on top of their Ranger costumes. That's where this thing starts.
Okay, no, it actually starts with a bunch of monsters beating up a bunch of people in full on fur-suits, which is all taking place in a dream world where a monster has trapped them, and it's Halloween and they're also dreaming it's Halloween and that they were having a costume contest to determine who got the Super Samurai power that week which is why they have animal ears on their Ranger helmets but when they realize they're dreaming they go into another dream where the Pink Ranger is singing a pop song and the other Rangers, in full costume, are her backup dancers, and then they realize that's a dream, and they start having a fight with their MegaZord but that's all a dream too and they finally realize that because there's a hypnotic windmill in each dream but sometimes it takes the form of a pinwheel and when they destroy it they realize that the monster behind it all is actually watching their dreams while sitting alone in an abandoned movie theater and OH MY GOD THIS IS WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE:
HOW DID THIS GET ON A SHOW FOR CHILDREN? That is, like, Scary Stories To Read In The Dark-level nightmare fuel.
Maybe it's a good thing that they didn't do a whole lot of Halloween stories. Imagine how cussed up things would be if they were trying to be scary.