Some of you may skip this review out of some weird distaste for Roseanne, but if you’re into Halloween, avoiding her a huge mistake. Nobody has done Halloween better.
The first few seasons were as popular with critics as they were with fans, but even when the show started going off the rails (the emergence of Fred kind of signaled the Great Turn for the Worse, IMO), I still loved it. Hell, I can even gut through the final season, even if it seemed like an unforgivable character assassination of human god Dan Conner.
Whether you like the show or not, there’s no denying that it produced some of the best “holiday special” episodes ever. This was especially true for Roseanne’s Halloween episodes, which became an annual thing, and with very few exceptions, were the biggest Halloween brouhahas seen on any prime time sitcom.
Today we remember the first of them, and if going by popular vote, the best of them. From the second season, the episode’s official title is Boo. For purposes of this review, I’ll use a title that’s more representative of its unforgettable plot: Roseanne’s Tunnel of Terror.
It’s no understatement to say that this episode helped shape my love of Halloween. It was practically a blueprint detailing exactly how to make Halloween special.
The Conners had something special in store for 1989’s trick-or-treaters, and if you’ve seen this episode, you’re already picturing Undead Ninja DJ mouthing along to a cassette tape. We’ll get to him, I promise.
Leading up to Halloween night, the Conners are in all-out prep mode. Their house is saturated in Halloween decorations, and though some fans have called this unrealistic (since the Conners were famously poor), I disagree. If you look close, you’ll notice that many of the decorations were homemade, turning simple things like bottles and coffee cans into instruments of death.
(This episode always makes me want to do crafts.)
Roseanne’s sister, Jackie, arrives with a key component for the night’s activities: THAT SAME ORANGE “SPOOKY SOUNDS” CASSETTE TAPE THAT EVERYONE HAD. At least, I know I did. In its time, that was “the thing.” I think I got mine from Hallmark, and Jackie is helping to reinforce this belief, because her little googly-eyed skull button was definitely a Hallmark product. I had that, too. Basically, I was Jackie. Swap our heads, and you’d have me in 1989.
As night draws near, the family remerges in their costumes. Roseanne becomes a witch, and man, she did NOT skimp. She even busted out the Blackjack gum, and that shit tasted awful.
The kids have their own costumes too, of course. It’s hard to choose, but I think Darlene wins this round. She’s basically dressed like Pinhead, but it’s more like Pinhead at a slumber party, and actually more like Pinhead at a slumber party that was attacked by cowboys and swordsmen. Darlene was awesome even before she dyed her hair.
I also have a soft spot for DJ’s ninja costume, which was so true to the times. Ninja costumes became a huge thing for a while. To this day, I have no idea why that happened. Perhaps realizing that so many of his friends were bound to be ninjas, DJ took it one step further. With a little face paint, he became a ninja zombie. Having seen every episode of Roseanne, I can confirm that this was DJ’s best moment of the entire series.
…for one very specific reason:
Finally, the trick-or-treaters start knocking. Finally, the Conners can debut their TUNNEL OF TERROR!
Here’s how it worked. Each trick-or-treater could only get their fun-sized Snickers bar by surviving the Tunnel of Terror – or, in layman’s terms, a stroll through the Conners’ kitchen and living room.
Introducing the victims to their fate is Undead Ninja DJ, who mouths along with an unseen stereo (badly) to deliver the goods:
“WELCOME…TO THE TUNNEL OR TERROR! HA HA HA! PLEASE, JOIN US.”
Michael Fishman is in my will, and this scene is the reason why. So many future events on Roseanne made us hate DJ, but we could never really embrace that hate, because…well, he gave us the Tunnel of Terror intro. Achievements like that are like licenses to steal.
Realizing that he could never top that bit, DJ steps aside and allows Rosie to play host. God knows what those kids were thinking as this enormous witch dragged them through her torture chamber. At that age, I’m not sure I would’ve been willing to go through so much trouble for eighteen Skittles.
This is one of my favorite parts of the episode, simply because we get such a good look at the Conners’ living room. There are too many Halloween decorations to count, but there is NO WAY to watch this episode and not want to fuck up your house.
Aside from the major props (a noose, a skull-headed scarecrow and so on), there were so many tiny touches that made it even greater. Even the simple tilt of the framed picture added so much.
Also note the table full of supposed “mad lab” equipment, using plastic tubing, Corona bottles and a cocktail shaker. I’m trying to avoid making this review longer than it needs to be, but God, even as I sit here now, the Conners’ method of decorating inspires me to pieces. When I think about all the times I was inspired enough to really decorate for Halloween, it’s easy to see how much this episode influenced me.
The first big scare belongs to Dan, covered in blood and with an ax in his head. Given that we were only in the second season, Dan was still THE MAN. It’d be several years before they’d make him so unlikable that I had to keep watching Arachnophobia just to shake the Dan stink off of John Goodman.
Somehow, even by this point, the trick-or-treaters didn’t turn back and run out of the house. I know that this was only a TV show, but those trick-or-treaters were essentially extras, and they probably had few experiences on set. I’d like to believe that Dan scarred them for life, and that they ultimately turned to murder in a form of misguided rebellion. But does that make me a bad person?
The tour continues into the kitchen, and the scares are even heavier, here. First, Roseanne gives everyone heart attacks by unveiling Head-on-a-Platter Jackie, stuffed with demon teeth and surrounded by corn and grapes. Over twenty years later, and I’m only now realizing how strange it was to have a platter with corn and grapes on it. Stranger still, I think those were real grapes mixed with fake corn. The hell?
Ah, Becky. I forgot to mention Becky. After spending most of the episode pouting about her flat-leaving friends, Roseanne persuades Becky to get into the spirit. She does so by dressing as a one-armed stewardess. I think more problems could be solved by dressing like that, and I nominate myself as the guinea pig.
Becky cooks up some green slop, but as the trick-or-treaters approach, a hand rises from the soup and tries to drag her into it.
In my circles, that hand is a point of contention. To me, it’s obviously Darlene’s hand, but others theorize that DJ quietly slipped into the kitchen for a second role. I suspect that there are twenty-page forum threads dedicated to this very topic. Well, it’s time to put a nail in that coffin. I just watched the scene for the billionth time, and it was DEFINITELY NOT DJ. The only way that hand belonged to DJ is if there were two DJs. And okay, there were, but Sal Barone had already killed himself by 1989.
At the end of the tunnel, Lonnie (Crystal’s son) pops out of a washing machine and shoos the trick-or-treaters into the Conners’ garage. We never see what went on in there, but I imagine a quieter, safer environment, where Crystal served hot cider and explained to the kids that the ax in Dan’s head was a phony.
Actually, there was one small hint of the garage activities, occurring near the end of the episode:
With the Halloween festivities over, we see Roseanne taking down the garage decorations – and there seems to be plenty of them. Maybe I should research this, because I smell a cut scene.
Of course, there was more to the episode than this. Actually, the whole Tunnel of Terror thing was essentially a backdrop to the real story: Dan and Rosie’s quest to outscare each other. Still, it was the backdrop that mattered most, and for years (even to this day, really), I’ve pined to do something like this for Halloween.
Unfortunately, I can’t shake the notion that inviting strange kids into a house full of playtime murder might be a little awkward.
For many, this was the most beloved episode of the series – and I don’t just mean the “Halloween” episodes. I doubt I’ll ever let a Halloween season slide by without a rewatch, if not several. For me, this is as iconic as a Michael Myers movie or the Charlie Brown special.
If you’re curious, videos of this episode seem to be all over the Internet. You could also buy this DVD, featuring all of Roseanne’s Halloween specials. Best $5 you’ll ever spend, at least until I tell you about the new holiday edition Chips Ahoy cookies. Give it a week.