There is a huge difference between scary and spooky. Scary is horror: jump scares and nightmares and Blumhouse. Spooky, on the other hand, is every bit as Halloween-y and supernatural without the associated terror. It’s just as festive but entirely defanged. It’s the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland, and jack o’-lanterns, and any number of Scoobys-Doo.
Just because you don’t have a stomach for horror films does not mean you have to sit out on the wonderful October tradition of ignoring trick-or-treaters and watching seasonal, thematically resonant movies. That’s what spooky-but-not-scary movies are for. And no studio since the Golden Age of Universal monsters has peddled more ably and creepily in the world of spooky movies than Disney Channel’s Original Movies outfit. They hit all the right candy buttons: They’re nostalgic, they’re easy to stream on Disney+, and they’ll get you in the Halloween spirit without scarring your brain.
Spooky Halloween DCOMs can be watched at any age, and they run an aesthetic gamut of styles ranging from “obviously filmed in Canada” to “more sneakily filmed in Canada.” They usually center around tweens happening upon a fantastical discovery that they have to keep hidden from the grown-up world and/or the rest of the school. And the CGI special effects are always, always devastatingly bad, but, as the list below demonstrates, in a fun way.
Here, a ranked guide to every Halloween-themed Disney Channel Original Movie for your viewing pleasure.
Under Wraps earns points for being the first-ever Disney Channel Original Movie and loses points for being less of an in-Mouse production. The movie was produced by Hallmark Entertainment, and the rights are now held by Universal, which would explain why it’s not available on Disney+. This movie about kids who discover a mummy and reunite it with its lost mummy love is a decent first effort, but it pales in comparison to Disney Channel’s later kiddie-macabre fare. Mummies just aren’t vampire or mermaid-tier monsters.
The Sinister Sisters walked so the Weird Sisters could run, sure, but replacing Kimberly J. Brown with Sara Paxton was so rude I don’t even want to finish this sentence.
The sequel to Tia and Tamera Mowry classic Twitches is so very overladen with such a tiresome plot: In the magical land of Coventry, there is a shadow from the shadow realm attacking other shadows. But also their wizard-dad (not their adopted Muggle-dad) is dead but also trapped in shadow land. When the dark lord Thantos is released, the Twitches put a stop to him by making him fall down a well. Spoiler alert, but there’s a happy ending where the annoying servant-sidekicks get married and don’t kiss. Despite watching it, I can barely tell you what actually happens. The Wikipedia page says that Twitches Too had a $26.5 million budget. Not a dollar went to the special effects.
Olivia Holt is a fifth-generation monster hunter in this spooky Halloween DCOM. Disney Channel has its fair share of supernatural Halloween movies, and this one isn’t the strongest, but what really matters in Girl vs. Monster are the bops! “Monster Mash” who?
Don’t Look Under the Bed was so scary, apparently, that it got a rare PG rating and eventually stopped being played on Disney Channel altogether. The concept of there being a whole world under the bed where the bogeyman lives is a good one; it’s a shame that they saved it for the last 20 minutes of the movie. Also: “Larry Houdini.”
Before zombies went to human high school or villains went to good-guy high school, the Halloweentown franchise arranged an exchange program for some monster kids, including some High School Musical backbenchers like Lucas Grabeel and Olesya Rulin. Finn Wittrock plays the love interest! I loved this movie as a kid, but upon rewatch, it makes less than no sense and the plot is writing special-effects checks that its budget can’t cash. This is the last Halloweentown movie with the dream team of Debbie Reynolds and Kimberly J. Brown, though, so it’s a significant milestone in DCOM history.
Caroline Rhea plays the titular mom, and Mr. Sheffield from The Nanny is the titular vampire. The kids elicit a big shrug, but the adults are fun.
Twitches really plugs into the teen fantasies of finding a long-lost identical twin sister and learning that you’ve got a magical destiny in another land. What doesn’t make total sense is that the twin witches in question are 21 and not, you know, tweens. So much of this movie stops making sense when you realize that Tia and Tamera Mowry were almost 30 when they made this. (And they were 30 when the sequel came out.) The characters act like teens, and the plot feels so much more like teenage wish fulfillment. Why wasn’t Twitches made in the ’90s, when Tia and Tamera were at the height of their Sister, Sister powers and Sabrina the Teenage Witch made witches a whole thing? Oh, well. As a Harry Potter–obsessed tween, I remember liking Twitches a whole lot. And that’s who it’s for, after all, even if it’s about adults.
Debbie Thee Reynolds plays the Miss Frizzle–esque grandma to three children who learn they are part of a powerful magical family in an alternate dimension called Halloweentown. Their mom has renounced magic for the real world, but the kids connect with their roots to save the day from an evil(?) mayor(??). The effects are corny, the costumes goofy, but it’s so sincere and full of heart that it’s the rare nostalgia-bomb that works every time. Pairs well with fun-size candies and rainy weather.
Before I set out to make this list of DCOMs, I had never heard of The Scream Team, but it’s somehow an even better Halloweenie movie than Halloweentown (the first one, anyway). It has an arch sense of humor and a cast of comedy heavy hitters that elevate the material. Sex and the City Bat Mitzvah–girl era Kat Dennings stars alongside Eric Idle, Tommy Davidson, and Kathy Najimy, who are ghosts. If you thought Disney kept its Mickey gloves off the world of the dead, save for the contractually obligated dead parent that every other DCOM protagonist has, you thought wrong. Scream Team is all about a band of kids venturing to the afterlife to visit their late grandpa, aided by the help of a corpse bride and disgraced arson ghost. It’s very much in the spirit of the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland: It’s Baby’s First Macabre Memento Mori. This would make an excellent double feature with Hocus Pocus or the Hillary Duff Casper, neither of which, shockingly, are DCOMs.
This Halloweentown sequel is, I’ll say it, even better than the first one. When Halloweentown is blasted with a spell that makes everyone boring, the Piper siblings and Debbie Reynolds have to save the day. They do this by reenacting the Buffy episode where everyone is turned into their Halloween costumes. The stakes feel much higher and the villain more menacing in the sequel, and with a name like Kalabar’s Revenge, how could it not? Three years after the first movie, Halloweentown had already become a fall-time staple. This next entry expanded the franchise’s universe and lore and gave tween viewers everything they wanted with the menacing hottie love interest–slash–secret villain, Kal (Daniel Kountz). It’s like Pleasantville, if Pleasantville involved Reese Witherspoon turning into a goblin.