I know you’ve all been simply dying for my second installment of Horror Anthology picks. But fear not (well, maybe be a BIT afraid), I’m back today with six more series you need to check out.
I’ve got a couple of real classics for you this week, as well as the one series on the planet that I’d enjoy seeing rebooted. I see you shivering with antici—pa-tion (more Rocky Horror, sorry), so let’s not waste any time and get right down to business.
Despite my ghoulish reputation, I really have the heart of a small boy. I keep it in a jar on my desk.
~ Robert Bloch
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The Ray Bradbury Theater
I’ve been enjoying rewatching this series for the past few months. I’m not a big Ray Bradbury fan, and to be perfectly honest, the stories here are pretty sub-par. Buuut… well, you all know how I am about crappy horror. #GimmeMore
“The Ray Bradbury Theater” ran for a total of 6 seasons, debuting in 1985 on HBO, and finishing its 65-episode run on the USA Network in 1992. Bradbury, seated at his desk, narrates the show’s opening sequence.
My dad tells me that when I was very young, I would beg to stay up late to watch Ray Bradbury. I don’t remember it myself, but apparently I was pretty persuasive and enjoyed many late night viewings of this.
And the series definitely dished out a few spooky tales. The first three episodes of season 1 nearly scared the pants off of me NOW. I can’t imagine how frightening it must have been when I was just a kid. But perhaps it’s more accurate to say that the stories are disturbing rather than scary. My problem with the series is that there’s often no resolution at the end of the episode. It’s a creepy story that just up and finishes, and you’re left sitting there blinking at the screen going, “Wha —”
William Shatner stars in “The Playground” (S1E2) as an overprotective father who finds himself the victim of some ghostly bullying. This one gave me the creeps something fierce. As did the next episode, “The Crowd“, which will make you think twice about getting too close to the scene of an accident.
Later episodes are, however, more camp than creep. Case in point is season 4’s “Exorcism“, a spoofy little comedy number that pokes fun at nosy neighbourhood women.
But if you’re in the market for something spooky that’s not too serious, this is 20 minutes of easy enjoyment. Just be prepared for a few of those “WTH” moments too.
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Hammer: House of Mystery and Suspense
In Part 1 of “Horror Anthologies”, I highlighted 1980’s “Hammer: House of Horror”. Four years later, Hammer partnered with FOX and attempted to create a series that would appeal more to American viewers. Which explains the abundance of American actors in lead roles.
Known in the US as “Fox Mystery Theater”, the series’ 13 episodes were longer than its predecessor “House of Horror”, with a run time of 70 minutes instead of 50. Unfortunately, much like with The Twilight Zone’s hour-long fourth season, the stories just didn’t lend themselves to the extra minutes.
That’s not to say that there aren’t some decent episodes though. “Child’s Play” is a reimagining of a popular Twilight Zone episode. (If I tell you which one, it’ll ruin the story.) And “In Possession” is a great twist on a haunted house story that harkens back to when “Dark Shadows” introduced the idea of Parallel Time.
The horrors found here are more of the psychological variety, but “House of Mystery and Suspense” is still worth watching if you’re a patient viewer who doesn’t need a lot of “jump scares” to satisfy.
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Rod Serling’s Night Gallery
Of all the series on my list, “Night Gallery” is the one I most wish I’d seen more of. It wasn’t nearly as successful as Rod Serling’s earlier hit, “The Twilight Zone”, and maybe that’s why I don’t remember seeing many reruns of it when I was growing up.
Normally I cringe at the suggestion of rebooting a classic series, especially one spearheaded by one of the greatest writers who’s ever lived. But in many ways, Night Gallery was Rod Serling’s in name alone. And for that reason, it never reached its true potential, making it the perfect series to be revisited now, 45 years later.
Night Gallery ran for only three seasons, debuting in 1970 and ending a 43-episode run in 1973. The pilot aired in 1969, and I think many fans will agree that the feature length, three-stories-in-one film was some of the best the series would ever serve up.
“The Cemetery” (first segment of the pilot) is my favourite of the episodes I’ve seen. After murdering his uncle, TZ/Batman alum Roddy McDowell is haunted by an ever-changing, increasingly menacing family painting. And that brings me to the real stars of Night Gallery — the paintings.
Every Night Gallery segment is represented by a painting, which Rod Serling introduces in his “gallery” at the beginning of the episode. Jaroslav Gebr and Tom Wright are the artists responsible for these creepy yet oddly engaging canvases.
Night Gallery boasts some pretty cool stars. Master of menace Vincent Price (who stars in both “Return of the Sorcerer” and “Class of ’99”), and “The Addams Family“‘s John Astin, most notably. And even Batman’s Clown Prince of Crime, Cesar Romero, makes an appearance in “A Matter of Semantics”, one of NG’s less popular comedy-short segments.
An underrated series that should have become one of the greatest of all time. If only Rod Serling had had his way. But still more than worth checking out, and my fingers and fangs are crossed for a reboot in the future.
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“Viewer beware… you’re in for a scare…”
Who would have thought that the scariest series on my list would end up being the one specifically made for KIDS? Yeah, I didn’t either, but I’m telling you the truth, the aptly named “Goosebumps” will give you nightmares — whether you’re 9, 29 or 59.
Based on the popular book series by R.L. Stine, the Canadian-produced (you’re welcome) “Goosebumps” ran for four seasons from 1995 to 1998. Much to even my own surprise, I didn’t read many of the books when I was young. In fact, in my entire collection of books, there are only four issues of Goosebumps, and I personally picked out and read only one of them.
But the TV series was frighteningly good. And not every episode was scary either. My favourite has to be “The Cuckoo Clock of Doom” (S1E3). Young Michael rues the day his annoying little sister Tara was born. And who can blame him? She’s a despicable little brat whose single goal in life is to torment him. Seriously, only 3 minutes in to the show and you will literally want to strangle her with your bare hands. One day, their father brings home a “magical” antique cuckoo clock that has some interesting… properties. You don’t want to miss the ending of this one. It has a great twist that you should probably feel bad about… but won’t in the least.
Perhaps the most memorable part of Goosebumps is the opening sequence. It was modified several times, but in season 1, uncut and full length, it is absolutely terrifying, and forever instilled in me a dislike for golden retrievers. And thank you so much, Jack Lenz. I’m sure the world was really in dire need of “Music to Pee Your Pants To”.
But without question, the series’ pièce de résistance was a four-episode tale about… can you guess? A ventriloquist dummy named Slappy. To say that “Night of the Living Dummy II” (S1E10), “Night of the Living Dummy III, Part 1&2” (S2E24,25), and “Bride of the Living Dummy” (S3E16) are scary, is the understatement of the century. I ask you: What the hell is more frightening than murderous, talking dolls? Did we learn nothing from The Twilight Zone? Talky Tina? Willy? Caesar???
Okay, a teeny, tiny confession from your hostess with the mostess here: It is currently one o’clock in the morning, and I just watched one of those Dummy episodes — you know, as research for this post…
I’m going to have nightmares tonight. You’re welcome.
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Boris Karloff’s Thriller
The ’60s were a prime decade for television, weren’t they? There was all kinds of good stuff of the boob tube. In film, studios like Hammer and Amicus were in their prime, serving up a newer, more modern type of horror. Scantily clad actresses showered in Technicolor blood were the soup de jour. But in the midst of this horror revolution, came a little nod to the classic monster movies from the Golden Age of Hollywood.
In 1960, “Boris Karloff’s Thriller” hit the airwaves. If you love Universal’s classic horror films, then this is the anthology series for you. I mean, it’s Boris Karloff himself hosting this!
There were 67 episodes in total, running over a period of two seasons. Every episode is basically a 50-minute mini horror film that is very much in the style, spirit and atmosphere of “Dracula” (1931), “The Mummy” (1932) and “Frankenstein” (1931).
Karloff has that wonderfully haunting voice and introduces each episode personally. There’s murder and mystery, ghost and ghouls, suspense, tension and mood. And it’s in black and white. There’s just something about black and white horror programs that makes them instantly creepy. And they’re very quiet, have you ever noticed that? A lot of horror movies/TV series are jam packed with sounds and music and people who get very loud. But the classics? Oh, the classics keep it nice and subdued. Relying more on the anticipation of what’s about to happen to build suspense rather than the act itself. Sometimes it’s what you don’t see that’s scariest of all.
Thriller is perfect for the more refined horror connoisseurs, those who enjoy seeing a story unfold in a tempered and smooth manner, building gradually to the denouement. The pace may be slower, but a good story and a dapper host make for a delightfully spooky contribution to the horror anthology canon.
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Alfred Hitchcock Presents
Any Alfred Hitchcock film fans reading today? I myself am not a huge fan of his work, but there’s no question, films like “Psycho”, “Vertigo” and “Dial ‘M’ for Murder” are classics that most horror fans enjoy and appreciate.
“Alfred Hitchcock Presents” is an interesting series. It first premiered on October 2, 1955, ending its 10th season in 1965. The first seven seasons were nice and short at just 25 minutes long. It was expanded to 50 minutes for the final three seasons, and also underwent a name change, becoming “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour”.
Of the 360 episodes, Hitchcock directed only 18, so it’s really his face and name that are selling the show. In typical Hitchcock fashion, the stories are more about mind twisting suspense drama than scary horror. And the tone is quite humorous and light, which gives the series a feeling of fun amidst all the murder, adultery and exhumations.
Take, for instance, “Lamb to the Slaughter“. (I’m about to give away the entire episode, so if you want to watch it yourself, enjoy it at the link I provided, and skip to the next paragraph.) Husband tells pregnant wife he’s leaving her, wife clubs him in the head with a giant lamb roast. Wife cooks said roast while staging the murder scene, then proceeds to feed the police the murder weapon. While the police debate the whereabouts of said weapon between bites, she listens: “Personally, I think it’s right here on the premises. Well, for all we know, it could be right under our very noses.” She breaks out into a huge grin and starts laughing, and that’s the end of that. Ah, Hitchcock humour!
It’s all a bit twisted, to be honest, but the stories are cleverly written and entertaining, and the wacky situations are sure to keep you on the edge of your seat. Hitchcock’s dry and drole dramatized intros/outros are also rather amusing.
Horror means something revolting. Anybody can show you a pailful of innards. But the object of the roles I played is not to turn your stomach – but merely to make your hair stand on end.
~ Boris Karloff
As if we all didn’t have too much Halloween-y goodness to watch already, right? Happy I could pile more onto your plates! I’m eager to share my love of these underappreciated series, and so I encourage you to watch at least one episode of each of my twelve picks. You’ll find links below for the six series in today’s post.
The horror anthology is sadly an underused formula in today’s land of television, but who knows what the future holds? Much like the monsters portrayed therein, the genre of horror just refuses to stay dead. Whether your preference is classic subtlety or modern shock, there’s a horror anthology for every ghost and ghoul out there. So go on, take your pick. That’s the spirit.
The Ray Bradbury Theater (YouTube)
Hammer: House of Mystery and Suspense (YouTube)
Rod Serling’s Night Gallery (Hulu)
Alfred Hitchcock Presents (Hulu)
Boris Karloff’s Thriller (YouTube)
Until next time, unpleasant dreams . . .