Regular Show’s Halloween specials make a solemn promise to the viewer: “If you watch this, we will kill off beloved characters, preferably more than once.” After all, it’s just about the one rule a Halloween special can break that differentiates it from every other episode, and “Terror Tales Of The Park III” takes immense pleasure in coming up with increasingly macabre fates for the show’s main characters. The middle segment, “Jacked-Up Jack-O-Lantern,” has barely any story to it at all beyond the pumpkin-flavored deaths of Hi-Five Ghost, Rigby, Mordecai, and Muscle Man, while the subsequent “Previous Owner” makes it clear that nothing is more deadly than anachronistic references to the ‘80s. Only the opening, “Killer Bed,” takes a different approach, but that segment locates one of the only other Regular Show rules it can actually violate by introducing an unreliable narrator. Like previous editions in the “Terror Tales Of The Park” series—and in the grand tradition of other animated anthology episodes like The Simpsons’ “Treehouse Of Horror” and Futurama’s “Anthology Of Interest”—tonight’s episode is a vacation from the show’s normal continuity.
On that point, let’s take a closer look at “Previous Owner,” the most substantial of the three segments. The basic premise of the story recalls “TGI Tuesday,” in which our heroes are haunted by spirits who communicate entirely in ‘80s lingo. While the joke at the crux of both stories is the same, the obvious difference is in where those jokes lead, with “TGI Tuesday” featuring a goofy dance contest followed by a cheerful reconciliation and “Previous Owner” ending with everybody’s grisly death. But there’s a more subtle distinction to make here. “TGI Tuesday,” for all its standard-issue Regular Show absurdity, does make a certain degree of logical and emotional sense. That episode’s ghosts directly echo the story’s themes of lost friendships and unrealized dreams. Jebediah Townhouse, on the other hand, is a murderous poltergeist for no particular reason beyond, well, the fact that Halloween episodes should feature murderous poltergeists. His origin story is gleefully nonsensical, as his giant haircut and insistence of both popping and locking draws the murderous ire of his Pilgrim-garbed contemporaries—which would technically place his time period closer to 400 years ago than 200, although that’s really only a minor logical problem with his story.
As “Previous Owner” relates, Jebediah somehow anticipated every detail of ‘80s dance culture two centuries before it began, and then, he somehow infused his soul into the house and became a poltergeist. Those are two more “somehows” than any plot should have, and that’s not even getting into why exactly he changed from what appeared to be a happy-go-lucky, ‘80s-style dancer to a murderous magical being, although I suppose becoming the target of an unreasoning mob could cause just such a change in somebody’s personality. The reason why any of this works is that the story occurs within the context of a Halloween special, where such outrageousness is expected and even encouraged. At their best, Regular Show episodes build their surrealism around some larger lesson about their characters, but in “Terror Tales Of The Park III,” the only real goal for any of this is to be as grisly as possible. “Previous Owner” is particularly effective because it’s just so unfair, cosmically speaking; while the viewer might be able to infer vengeance against the world that spurned him is what drives Jebediah’s killing spree, he never articulates such a motive, and his gleeful, catchphrase-spouting approach to murdering the park employees suggests nothing more complex in him than pure, unreasoning evil.
The segment, not to mention the episode in general, is an abject reminder that the horror genre requires its own storytelling rules, and it’s instructive to think about both “Previous Owner” and “Jacked-Up Jack-O-Lantern” in terms of how moral failing on the part of our heroes precipitates their deaths. “Previous Owner” only vaguely bothers to justify the characters’ fates, in that they do return to the house after Benson explicitly warned them off, but Jebediah Townhouse’s reappearance in the framing story indicates the poltergeist didn’t need any particular justification to get some murdering done. But in the case of the episode’s middle story, the park staffers earn their macabre fates by smashing the female half of the pumpkin couple. Worse, none of the four show any real hesitation about disobeying the sign’s one quite reasonable demand; there’s a moment where it seems like Mordecai will be the voice of reason, but it’s just a misdirection for his enthusiastic endorsement. The segment depicts our usual heroes at their obnoxious, hooligan-esque worst, and the segment presents a particularly poetic form of justice for their offense, as the demonic jack-o-lantern turns them into pumpkins and smashes them.
In terms of its place in the horror genre, “Jacked-Up Jack-O-Lantern” draws some of its inspiration from the past three decades of slasher films, which can often come across as ultra-violent morality plays obsessed with punishing the thoughtlessness of youth. That’s a perfect fit for Regular Show, which has built many episodes around Mordecai, Muscle Man, and especially Rigby failing to think through the consequences of their rash actions. In that way, “Jacked-Up Jack-O-Lantern” simply shows what would happen on the one occasion that the gang pisses off the wrong supernatural being and they find themselves unable to pull off one more dramatic escape. If every other Regular Show episode reveals a universe that is on our heroes’ side, in which they are always destined to emerge victorious—give or take leaving the house in ruins or being shouted at by Benson, both of which happen frequently—then the Halloween specials are an opportunity to see how the show would work if that guarantee of success was removed. The result, it seems, is that our heroes would die horrible deaths—without even putting up much of a fight—and then spend eternity as multiple pumpkins, desperately trying to convince would-be pumpkin carvers that they are not yet ripe.
Compared to the two later segments, “Killer Bed” is a mere trifle, but it does feature possibly the scariest thing in the entire episode: the prospect of assembling a bed from Ikea (sorry, Umäk). This particular young-adult horror—which really could have been the subject of an entire 30-minute “Terror Tales Of The Park” entry—turns out to be mere setup for the resurrection of gold-toothed criminal Johnny Allenwrench in bed form. Even Regular Show seems to recognize that a knife-wielding, anthropomorphized bed is just too damn ridiculous, particularly when said psychotic bed reforms the moment Benson pretends to offer him a job. As such, the story collapses into a 30-second Rigby success fantasy, with Benson promising him all the promotions while his coworkers chop up the evil bed in the background. It’s a good gag to end the segment on, although “Killer Bed” could have gone further with it, with Rigby’s stupidity and self-obsessed perspective seeping still further into this brief story. There’s some sense of that intentionally bad storytelling with the newsreader’s announcement of the threat, but the segment doesn’t quite feel dumb enough to have emerged from Rigby’s mind.
Still, “Terror Tales Of The Park III” represents Regular Show at its most joyfully unhinged, and it makes the most of its double-length running time to tell three stories that explore the different ways in which the show’s most fundamental rules can be broken. Halloween is the time to let scariness guide storytelling, and that allows the show to be as surreal and as crazy as it could ever want to be. This episode is Regular Show’s dark reflection. That’s not something I would necessarily want to look at more than once per year, but it’s great fun to see what the show’s creative team can do when they give in to all their worst, weirdest impulses.
- Whether this episode takes place in normal continuity or not—I’m pretty much certain it doesn’t, but it doesn’t especially matter—I think we can always take solace in the fact that everyone really, really doesn’t care for Thomas’ crap.
- It will always amuse me no end how Regular Show insists on ignoring the fact that Hi-Five Ghost is, well, a ghost, and a Halloween episode raises that disconnect to just ridiculous levels. Even Fives seems to forget that he’s a spirit, as his friends have to remind him (too late, it turns out) to phase out of the clutches of the jack-o-lantern.