Today I welcome my colleague, Annabelle Mortensen of the Skokie Public Library. When I asked Annabelle to contribute to this haunted celebration, she picked the topic of Horror TV. Today, she shares an annotated list of the best classic horror television series that you can get with just your library card.
To see what else Annabelle is up to click here. And here she is...
With The Walking Dead scoring record ratings and American Horror Story gracing the cover of Entertainment Weekly, horror TV is edging back into the mainstream. I say “back” because there once was a time when spine-tingling series regularly terrorized the airwaves. These programs aren’t just frightfully good in their own right, but they also were key influences for the top horror writers and filmmakers of today. Fortunately the classics listed below are all available on DVD, ready to be discovered by a whole new generation unafraid of the dark.
The Twilight Zone (1959-1964)
Rod Serling’s brainchild was a heady mix of horror, sf, fantasy, drama and social commentary. Amazingly, this anthology series received only middling ratings when it first aired, but it quickly became a pop-culture touchstone. Some of the scares are psychological (“Stopover in a Quiet Town,” where a young couple can’t escape a deserted neighborhood), while others will haunt you for decades (the talking doll who menaces Telly Savalas in “Living Doll” … eek!).
Steven King once called this anthology “the best horror series put on TV.” Hosted by and occasionally starring horror icon Boris Karloff, it boasted guest roles by a who’s-who of future TV stars, including Mary Tyler Moore, William Shatner, Elizabeth Montgomery, Leslie Nielsen, and more. The effects are cheesy, but the show’s macabre sensibility—with thrills that are suggestive, not graphic—still holds up.
Dark Shadows (1966-1971)
Dark Shadows falls into the realm of Not Quite Horror, but given its forthcoming silver screen adaptation by Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, this gothic soap opera is well worth revisiting. The show, like most soaps, centered around love triangles and family secrets, except that those secrets often involved curses, ghosts, werewolves, witches and more. The star of the show was 150-year-old vampire Barnabas Collins (the peerless Jonathan Frid), a conscience-ridden bloodsucker who moves in with relatives who are unaware of his supernatural nature.
Rod Serling’s Night Gallery (1970-1973)
Serling returned to television with this horror anthology that ran for three seasons on NBC. Conflicts between NBC and Serling lead to a falling out (the network went as far as rejecting some of his scripts), but the series nonetheless has some memorable frights, such as “The Caterpillar,” about a bug that crawls into … Well, I’d actually rather not think about it. Just watch the episode on Hulu … if you dare.
Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974-1975)
This comic horror series starred Darren McGavin as a Chicago reporter who crossed paths with all manner of zombies, vampires and werewolves, except his boss would never believe his weird tales. McGavin played things straight, but the show’s overall tone was hip and ironic (if irony had actually existed in the 1970s). A big cult hit, the show’s monster-of-the-week premise would become the primary inspiration for The X-Files