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Television has been a favored pastime for many years, but the thing that it’s lacking is a little bit of mystery, excitement, and gratuitous gore. What we get instead are reality TV shows about ultra-conservative families who can’t stop having children, tanned guidos and guidettes living on certain Shores, and tired sitcoms with laugh tracks.
What happened to all the good horror TV? You may ask yourselves, “There was good horror on TV?” Yes, yes there was. Sadly, it is now an almost obsolete genre, though in recent TV seasons, we’ve been treated to sci-fi and fantasy… but they’re not quite the same. Recently there’s been a slight comeback in horror TV with the success of The Walking Dead, but we’re still not quite in the ripe territory that we were in during the late ’80s and early ’90s.
Did you know both Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street had spin-off TV series?
will take you on a small-screen tour of the top 10 best horror TV series that you might have never heard of… or given a second thought to while they were on the air.
No.10 Friday the 13th: The Series
As I mentioned in the opener, both Freddy and Jason had their very own spin-off TV series, and I felt like I should only choose one to go on this list: Sorry, Freddy, but this time Jason wins – despite the fact that the series has nothing to do with Jason Voorhees, whatsoever.
The only reason that the series was named after the successful Friday the 13th franchise was to draw in viewers. It worked for three seasons, and was a solid horror experience.
The prologue that opened each episode is as such: “Lewis Vendredi made a deal with the devil to sell cursed antiques. But he broke the pact, and it cost him his soul. Now, his niece Micki, and her cousin Ryan have inherited the store, and with it, the curse. Now they must get everything back and the real terror begins.” While it may sound like the plot of a dirty anime waiting to happen (hey, come to think of it, I wouldn’t mind seeing some of that), it’s actually a decent plot for an almost hour-long television show.
The series follows Micki and Ryan each week as they hunt down various cursed antiques, which are unsurprisingly usually in the possession of a twisted mini-villain who has found out that the antiques are evil and are not doing the responsible thing by throwing them into the nearest volcanic mountain. Of course, there’s a reason for that too; the antiques are indestructible. And you thought your job was bad; I can barely find my iPod when I need it, so I seriously doubt I could handle having to find indestructible cursed antiques. It gets better…
The objects all have to be activated with a human sacrifice. Not only do our heroes have to find the cursed objects and stop the maniac who has them, but they also have to stop someone else from getting killed. To top it all off, we have here another “edgy” ’80s series going on, but the good news is that it doesn’t disappoint; the violence in it was both important to the plot AND on par with many of the R-rated movies of the day, and there was heavy sexuality considered too taboo for major network television back in the day. So maybe there are some perks to being a cursed antique seeker after all. Even if you’re not planning on changing careers to be like Micki and Ryan, you should still check out the series.
(For those of you who will undoubtedly wonder why Ryan is not just introduced as Lewis’s nephew, he and Micki are cousins by marriage; no, they don’t get it on in the series. You can thank me later.)
Peter Horton stars as Ezekiel “Zeke” Stone, a New York City police detective who goes off the rails just a little when his wife is raped. He finds and arrests his wife’s assailant, Gilbert Jax, who is cleared of all charges. When the justice system fails him, Zeke takes matters into his own hands and swiftly ends Jax’s life. The end. Right? Right? No, it doesn’t work like that…
Zeke is killed shortly afterward and goes to Hell for murdering Jax, because he responded to rape with murder AND took pleasure in the act, preventing it from being justified, as explained by The Devil himself. Funny how those little trivialities can really screw with a guy.
Fifteen years later, a breakout from Hell is led by a Canaanite priestess. Instant boners all around, am I right? Only 113 souls escape, and because the Devil is technically powerless on Earth, he makes a deal with Zeke: if Zeke returns to Earth and can successfully capture all of the “lost souls,” he’ll be granted a second chance at life. Zeke died the most decorated cop in city history, so this probably shouldn’t be a big deal for him… oh, but wait. The Devil isn’t one of those dudes that likes to help other people! Nah, he’s pretty much all about screwing with poor Zeke, taking immense delight when the poor ol’ dead guy gets frustrated with his meddling. To make things even better, both Zeke AND all of the escapees have certain superhuman powers and abilities. They can’t be killed, hurt, or otherwise caused pain unless it’s by one of the other escapees.
And poor Zeke gets to spend every day in the same clothes, with exactly the same amount of change in his pocket as he had the day he died; $36.27 to spend how he wants. Guess he won’t be renting a tux any time soon. Add in the fact that Zeke can’t stay away from his still-living widow and boom, we have an unsung supernaturally themed hit that barely even got a chance on TV.
Sadly, this is one of the few picks on the list that hasn’t been released on DVD. Our resident Brimstone fanboy, The Matt, will just have to keep dreaming and giving out petitions with his Chick tracts at the mall.
Before Tales from the Crypt but after Tales from the Darkside came Monsters. Monsters ran on NBC from October 1988 to April 1991, giving us 72 30-minute episodes that spanned from black comedy to straight horror to everything in between, with varying degrees of quality.
I’ll admit it, many of these episodes are heavy on the ’80s cheese and have become downright campy (and I wouldn’t be surprised if they were considered campy even then), but there’s still some good stuff within them, including appearances from a slew of stars before they were stars.
My personal favorite episode is “Shave and a Haircut, Two Bites” from Season 3, which featured Matt LeBlanc (“How you doin’?”) and Wil Wheaton (who appears in a hilarious hippie costume that made me cringe for him) as two college friends who break into a barbershop to see if it’s run by. I’ll freely admit that I like the episode just to laugh at Wheaton’s costume. In fact, quite a few of the better episodes are the episodes that are played more for laughs than scares.
The chronologically preceding episode is called “Small Blessing,” which features Julie Brown and Kevin Nealon as the parents of a monstrous baby that has 37 teeth, only eats meat, and enjoys a bit of pyromania. David Spade also stars as the meat delivery boy (and while that sounds dirty, it actually isn’t… for once). The episode takes pot shots at new-age parenting and shows off a younger, yet just as creepy David Spade.
Perhaps a little too late in the game I’m noticing that many of the episodes are just downright funny, from the special effects to the quality of some of the acting to the scripts, but it’s not bad. Nay, this is the sort of horror that one wants when one wants to laugh, and be thankful for the new discoveries in the horror world that one has made. Rejoice and embrace Monsters; be glad for once that we have computer generated monsters.
No.7 Harper’s Island (Mini-Series)
Harper’s Island is a unique addition to this list in that it was only designed as a mini-series. It has 13 episodes and a clear-cut resolution too! I know, that’s pretty nuts, right? The program is also interesting in that it pays direct homage to classic slasher movies. The show takes place on the titular island where guests are being gathered and festivities planned for the wedding of Henry Dunn (Christopher Gorham, Covert Affairs) and Trish Wellington (Katie Cassidy, Supernatural).
Trouble starts from the beginning, when Ben Wellington, Trish’s cousin, doesn’t show up. Guess who’s among the first of the body count! Also in attendance is Abby Mills (Elaine Cassidy, The Others) who hasn’t been back to the island in seven years because her mother was murdered in a spree by a mad killer. The wedding guests and various other inhabitants of Harper’s Island make the perfect motley crew of slasher victims and don’t disappoint; at least one character dies every week, and sometimes up to five.
I can’t say much more without giving away too much of the plot and possibly outing one of the killers (see, there I go; I’ve said too much already!), but I can tell you that Harper’s Island is an example of what outside-the-box thinking can do for television. The premise didn’t need unending season after stale season until the series was beat into the ground; it’s wrapped up neatly in a nice little package in just 13 episodes that are very worth your while.
No.6 American Gothic
American Gothic is a quintessial bit of southern gothic horror and features Gary Cole in a role even creepier than that of Bill Lumbergh. Trinity, South Carolina, is your average small southern town although it’s distinctly Stephen King-esque, which is probably the adjective you want least to describe any town.
The story revolves around Caleb Temple (Lucas Black), a young boy, and the town sherriff, Lucas Buck. No, it’s not one of those sorts of stories; Lucas Buck is a powerful and corrupt man, somehow backed in his endeavours by supernatural forces that allow him the power to manipulate other people into “fulfilling their potential” and making life choices. If both of those things sound a little dubious to you, you’re on the right track. The very first episode paints a bleak picture when young Caleb’s sister, Merlyn, is brutally murdered on his 10th birthday and his father is the prime suspect, eventually hanging himself in his jail cell, effectively leaving Caleb an orphan, save for Merlyn’s ghost.
It is soon revealed that Caleb is NOT an orphan, but actually the son of – you guessed it – our enterprising sherriff, who wants Caleb to be every bit as bad as he is. What ensues is a classic battle between good and evil where no one is safe.
American Gothic features a deep-reaching plot line, a guest appearance from Bruce Campbell, and one of the most corrupt law enforcement members in horror history. American Gothic airs sometimes on Chiller channel, but the complete series can be found at your retailer of choice. My will commands you!
Find out which horror TV series ranked Number 1 after the jump…