The anthology series has become a bit of a lost art. But I for one have always enjoyed them. A weekly television show with a continual season-long story build is fine. But I must admit that I prefer the freedom that self-contained stories provide. If you miss a week, it’s no big deal. You’re not losing any vital information. And you can view episodes out of order without screwing up the continuity of the story, which is always nice.
Anthologies are also the easiest type of series to enjoy more than once. Sure, I rewatched all 9 seasons of “The X-Files” a number of years ago, but let’s be honest: I’ve seen Twilight Zone’s “The Howling Man” 20+ times, and I will happily watch it 20 more. I can’t say that I’m too jazzed about rewatching X-Files for a third time. Maybe in another 10-15 years, but not right now.
I’m kicking off the Halloween season here on Seeker of Truth with the first of a two-part “Horror Anthologies” series. These are twelve of the best horror anthologies I could scare up, and I’ll feature six selections per post. I can’t claim to have seen every last episode, but I’ve seen enough to give each show a thumbs up. They’re listed in no particular order, though I’m sure most of you can guess a few of my favourites on your own.
We tend to focus on horror films at this spooky time of year, but those tie up an entire 90-120 minutes in a single sitting. We don’t all have that much leisure time to spare. So what say we work a measly 25 or 50 minutes of suspense into each evening instead?
This suspense is terrible. I hope it will last.
~ Oscar Wilde
… † …
Hammer: House of Horror
Okay, I know I said these weren’t in any particular order, but Hammer Film Productions’ first major jaunt into the land of television happens to be my #1 on this list. It is, in fact, one of my favourite series, period.
Hammer’s time as the leading horror giants in film came to an end in the mid-’70s. But 1980’s “Hammer: House of Horror” proved that the British powerhouse still had a few impressive scares up its sleeve.
The series ran for a mere thirteen episodes. But those 50-ish minutes were jam packed full of terror and suspense. Of all the series on this list, I would recommend you look this one up first and foremost if you’re a fan of true horror. “Charlie Boy” is particularly scary (there’s a creepy doll!) and you can watch it here on YouTube. But if you were going to watch only one episode, “The Two Faces Of Evil” is the must-see. Creeeeeepy!
… † …
Tales From the Darkside
When I was in high school, the Syfy channel used to routinely air 8-hour daytime marathons of this wonderful little ’80s anthology series. “Tales From the Darkside” debuted in September 1984 with “The New Man”, and ended its 89-episode run with “Basher Malone” in 1988.
Unlike Hammer: House of Horror, Tales From the Darkside doesn’t take itself too seriously. The writers did a decent job of weaving a little humour into their tales of mystery. Some episodes are scarier than others, but the series has a very distinct ’80s vibe to it — campy and a little cheesy, but always a lot of fun. Making it perfect for the slightly younger scare-loving crowd. You can catch quite a few episodes here.
This series also boasts one of THE scariest intros I’ve ever seen. Sorry, it just creeps me right the hell out.
… † …
The Twilight Zone
Ah, y’all knew this one was coming, didn’t you? Now technically I wouldn’t label adventures of the Fifth Dimension variety as “horror”. But hey, when we’re talking about anthologies, it would be a complete travesty to exclude Rod Serling’s genius series.
As far as I’m concerned, Twilight Zone is one of the most important series ever to be broadcast. And if you think TZ is all Willoughbys, Peaksvilles, Venusians, nuclear bomb threats and redemption, boy, are you in for a surprise. There are most definitely some scary, bonafide horror-esque episodes to be found. “Night Call”, “Spur of the Moment”, and “The Jungle”, just to name a few.
Rod Serling’s writing talent is not limited to the confines of his moral compass. Oh, no. The man could write anything, and his horror shorts do not disappoint. If you don’t get creeped out watching Inger Stevens being chased cross-country by a ghostly spectre in “The Hitch-hiker”? Well, I don’t think we can be friends. Because something is seriously wrong with you. Just sayin’.
… † …
Tales from the Crypt
Is there any horror-loving human on the planet who doesn’t recognize this sinister skeleton?
The Twilight Zone had Rod Serling, “Thriller” had Boris Karloff. “The Hitchhiker” (a 1983 HBO series that just barely missed my cut here) had an unnamed backpacker played by Page Fletcher and later by Nicholas Campbell. But as far as horror anthology hosts go, I think the Crypt Keeper is the most unforgettable.
Airing for seven seasons from 1989 to 1996, we can clearly see the direction television was heading by comparing “Tales From the Crypt” — which is definitely a bit rougher — to my previous entries. Violence, nudity, profanity… this HBO creation took full advantage of their lack of censorship.
But at its core, it’s still a horror show. Our ghoulish Crypt Keeper (voiced by John Kassir) keeps us entertained in an Elvira-like fashion, introducing the weekly delve into the macabre, and also closing out each episode with a horror-ific quip or pun. The show was based on a 1950s comic book series, but the ’90s could never do horror the way the ’50s could, and while I enjoy “Tales From the Crypt”, I think the program is missing that intangible “fun” factor which I’m always touting Hammer Films as mastering.
As a quick side note, I very much liked the more kid-friendly animated spin-off series, “Tales from the Cryptkeeper” that aired in 1993 (3 seasons, 39 episodes). “Growing Pains” and “The Spider and the Flies” are standouts for me.
… † …
The Outer Limits
Okay, when The Twilight Zone made my list, I was only interested in highlighting the original 1959 series. There were two revivals — one in the ’80s, another in the ’00s — but as most fans of the original will tell you… yeah, don’t bother.
But for me, the opposite is true of “The Outer Limits”. Surprisingly, I haven’t seen a LOT of the original series (1963-1965). Like the original Twilight Zone, it was in black and white, and fans will recognize the intro’s oscilloscope visual.
But I was a much bigger fan of the newer, colourized Outer Limits from 1995. The series wrapped in 2002 having produced 154 episodes (a stark contrast to the original’s 49). Both shows had a fantastic, seemingly interactive intro. “There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper.” (Original series) And the show’s volume would change accordingly.
And no one likes commercials, but as a kid, I always got a kick out of the Control Voice in the remake introducing the commercial breaks with “The Outer Limits… please stand by”.
Both the original and the revival are definitely more sci-fi than horror, but I think they still deserve a spot on my list. The 1995 series dealt more with scientific concepts rather than monsters, but it still had a nice, creepy vibe to it, making it eligible for my picks.
… † …
Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction
In 1997, I was 11 years old, and crazy for anything spooky and horror-related. Books, movies… anything. So you can imagine the excitement and anticipation I felt when I learned of the brand new series about to debut on FOX called, “Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction”.
This is, by definition, an anthology series, but its format is a little different than all the other shows I’ve listed here. Every episode contained five different short stories, each of them introduced by the show’s host — James Brolin in season 1, and Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s Jonathan Frakes for the remaining three. What made Beyond Belief entirely its own monster, so to speak, was that it was interactive.
The whole point of the show was to test your ability to separate fact from fiction, truth from lies. So the question was posed (always with some clever wordplay or a pun), “Is this tale based on fact, or did we make it all up?” After all five stories had played, the host came back on to recap them and reveal which were inspired by true events and which were simply made-up stories, written to fool the viewer. Within seconds of the end credits rolling each week, my phone would ring, and my friend Megan and I would eagerly compare how many (if ANY) we had gotten right, and which ones had stumped us.
I wish they had made 30 seasons of Beyond Belief. 45 episodes was not nearly enough for me. And we are long overdue for the remaining three seasons to be released on DVD. Even apart from horror anthologies, it’s really another favourite show of mine.
After season 1, the host’s set was spectacular looking, complete with creepy lighting and cool props. And Jonathan Frakes always delivered his recap of the story beautifully, teasing the viewers with questions designed to cast doubt on your analysis of the story’s plausibility. And then flashing his dazzling smile while he quipped some clever pun like, “Is this the story of plumbing with a mind of its own, or is it just another… pipe dream?”
So, have I whet your appetite? Are your fangs tingling, your claws clacking? Are you tearing at your wrappings? Is hair beginning to sprout all over your body?? ‘Cause if it is, you should probably see a doctor about that. ASAP.
Six down, six to go. Join me again next week to see what other series will round out my loathsome list of Horror Anthologies. In the meantime, if you want to watch any of this week’s picks, here are some links you can try. I apologize to all of my non-American readers who won’t be able to use the Hulu links. I can’t watch them either, so I feel your pain. But apparently our Lord is a horror aficionado too, and He let me find some YouTube links that should work for everyone!
Hammer: House of Horror (YouTube)
Tales From the Darkside (YouTube)
The Twilight Zone (Hulu)
Tales From the Crypt (YouTube)
The Outer Limits: Original Series (Hulu)
The Outer Limits: 1995 Remake (Hulu)
Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction (YouTube)
Until next time, unpleasant dreams . . .