I am an author and paranormal enthusiast who has published numerous books and articles on the subject of true unexplained phenomena.
A couple of things before we dive in. First of all, these are merely my humble opinions as a lover of all things horror related. Some will agree while others won't, which is as it should be.
Second, for those of you who haven't seen these shows, but would like to, they are available on both DVD and online streaming sites. If you're lucky, you may even stumble upon them on a cable network devoted to the genre. Keep your eyes peeled and you're bound to find them. With that said, let's begin.
1. Night Gallery
Writer and visionary Rod Serling's follow-up to his classic series, The Twilight Zone, is a little gem called Night Gallery. Airing from 1969-73, it too invited viewers into a world where nothing was ever as it seemed.
The television pilot showcased three separate stories, two of which were spooky as all get-out. The first, with up-and-coming director Steven Spielberg at the helm, was an unsettling piece of work called "Eyes."
Starring veteran actress Joan Crawford, it weaves the story of a rich blind woman who buys the eyes of a fellow who is down on his luck as a means of gaining the temporary gift of sight.
Despite learning in advance that the transplant will only enable her to see for a few hours, she demands that the surgeon go through with the procedure, knowing full well that the hapless donor will be forever plunged into a world of darkness. Needless to say, things don't go as planned for the cruel protagonist.
The other winner in this trio of haunting tales is "The Cemetery." In this one, Roddy McDowell, co-star of the original Planet of the Apes, which was also penned by the prolific Mr. Serling, portrays a money-grubber who kills his uncle in order to claim a hefty inheritance.
As the story unfolds, an unexpected obstacle arises in the form of the dead man's long-suffering caregiver. Needless to say, since this is a Rod Serling project, things take a terrifying turn you won't see coming until the last minute.
Subsequent episodes kicked off with the show's creator strolling through a darkened art gallery that was inhabited solely by paintings that were designed to give viewers a taste of what was to come.
A host of popular actors of the day, many appearing more than once, were featured on the show. The talented cast included Bill Bixby, Sandra Dee, Vincent Price, Leslie Nielsen, and Bradford Dillman.
While nearly every episode of the series was entertaining, there were a few standouts, one of which was a terrifying little number called "The Caterpillar" which aired toward the end of season two.
Starring Joanna Pettit and Laurence Harvey, it starts out as a tale of lust and avarice before transitioning into something far more disturbing. The ending, which I will not spoil, will give you nightmares for years to come.
Earning a respectable 7.9 rating on the Internet Movie Database, Night Gallery is a horror lover's dream come true.
2. Ghost Story/Circle of Fear
Hosted by Family Affair alumnus Sebastian Cabot, Ghost Story debuted in 1972. Although it only ran for a single season, the show was one of the most memorable of its kind.
Executive produced by William Castle, this horror anthology featured the performances of a slew of talented actors, among them were Susan Dey, David Soul, Karen Black and Academy Award winners Jodie Foster, Geraldine Page, Patty Duke, and Melvyn Douglas.
With stories involving, among other things, vengeful spirits, cursed objects, phantom telephone calls, deadly shapeshifters, and haunted houses, this show had something for everyone—providing of course that their tastes leaned a bit left of center.
About midway through the series' run, disappointing ratings prompted NBC to revamp the format. When it was reintroduced to the public as Circle of Fear, Sebastian Cabot was inexplicably nowhere to be seen.
Unfortunately, the changes didn't impress viewers and, unable to find an audience, the show was permanently pulled from the air. Even so, it left horror fans with a collection of bone-chilling tales that were some of the best to ever hit the small screen.
One of these was a noteworthy offering called "Dark Vengeance." Starring Martin Sheen and Kim Darby, this nasty snippet featured a toy horse that was straight out of a parent's worst nightmare.
Even though the show didn't resonate with audiences at the time, it went on to gain a well-deserved cult following. With an impressive 7.7 overall rating on the aforementioned database, it is sure to send shivers down your spine.
3. Tales of the Unexpected
This series, which ran for nine seasons, was conceived and hosted by famed children's book author Roald Dahl. Debuting in 1979, it was an odd mashup of horror and humor that occasionally fell flat, but is still deserving of a place on this list. To paraphrase Mae West, when it was bad, it was horrible, but when it was good, it was great.
Each episode was presented by Dahl as he lounged around in a comfortable setting, looking very much like the gentleman writer he was. After a brief introduction, which sometimes involved how the upcoming story was pulled from his own personal experiences, the show got underway.
Rather than exploring the world of the macabre, this one had a tendency to focus on topics such as cheating mates, reincarnation, mistaken identity, and the like. While entertaining, these premises weren't always scary. There were, however, a few instances in which fear crept in and, when it did, it was well worth the wait.
Featuring a fairly even balance of British and American talent, the performances were mostly good. Some of the better-known actors chewed the scenery a bit much for my liking, I'm looking at you Julie Harris and Joseph Cotton, but overall the portrayals were convincing.
Two of the more exceptional episodes: "The Hitchhiker," starring Rod Taylor and "Genesis & Catastrophe," were shown in the second season. While not overtly frightening, they stood out from the rest not only for their respective storylines, but also for the way they were presented. Season eight's sinister "Scrimshaw" was also outstanding.
As the series progressed, there were times when it seemed to lose its way. This was most evident around the midway point of its run when, in a somewhat perplexing move, many of the already short episodes would end abruptly with no rhyme or reason.
In spite of its pitfalls, with a 7.7 rating to its credit, the show seldom fails to deliver on the title's promise that each episode will end on a note that, if nothing else, is unexpected.
4. Tales From the Darkside
While it may not be everyone's cup of tea, this is my personal favorite. From the moment it launched in 1983, until it faded into the shadows five years later, this syndicated offering was far superior to many of the popular network shows that polluted the airwaves at the time.
Produced by none other than George Romero himself, this anthology series, with a few exceptions, stayed true to its genre. Beginning with the first episode, titled "Trick or Treat," viewers knew that they had stumbled onto something special.
While the pilot was certainly spooky, season two's "Halloween Candy" was far more disturbing. Directed by special effects makeup pioneer Tom Savini and starring Roy Poole and Tim Choate, it pulls you in quickly and hold you rapt till the end. Again, no spoilers, but if you have a fear of cockroaches, you'd do well to skip this one.
While you're on season two, be sure to check out "The Last Car." While the special effects leave something to be desired, the story itself is stellar. It involves a college student on winter break and a handful of eccentric train passengers who all share a paralyzing fear of tunnels. While not exactly unforeseen, the climax is jarring, to put it mildly.
As far as the other seasons go, the first and last are excellent for the most part. The series does, however, stumble every now and again. To each their own, but you shouldn't get your hopes up when it comes time to watch "Answer Me;" "The Tear Collector;" and "Semourlama." Sadly, the same can be said for the majority of the episodes available in season three.
To wrap things up on a positive note, a few pearls that deserve mentioning are the final season's "The Moth", starring Blondie's Deborah Harry; "Sorry, Right Number," written by Stephen King; and "Do Not Open This Box," directed by Jodie Foster. Truth be told, the show's last hurrah featured some of the finest examples of unconventional storytelling ever televised.
Garnering a 7.5 rating, though it should be higher, this collection is one that any maven of the macabre would be proud to own.
We'll round things out with another show from the late, great 1980s called Monsters. Co-created by Tales From the Darkside's showrunner Richard P. Rubinstein, this series picked up where its more popular predecessor left off; debuting just before Halloween in 1988. Although it lasted barely three seasons, each half-hour episode packed a punch.
The program begins with a family of blob-like monsters excitedly preparing to watch their favorite show while its lumbering theme music plays in the background. As they settle in to enjoy the gory fare, the viewing audience is expected to do the same.
As the title suggests, this series focuses on the scary creatures that inhabit the recesses of our minds. From straight-up demons to malevolent aliens, monsters of every shape and size are represented on the screen.
While not necessarily the best show featured here, this one just might be the scariest of the lot. Despite its relatively short run, it boasts enough disturbing content to keep even the most discerning viewer teetering on the edge of their seat.
While the pilot episode is nothing to write home about, its follow-up has a creep factor that is off the charts. "Holly's House" centers around the relationship between the main player in a children's television show, who happens to be a life-sized robotic doll, and the actress who voices her behind the scenes. Without giving too much away, let's suffice it to say that Holly's chipper exterior masks the monster within.
Another exceptional installment is the next season's "Bargain." The story of a mousy bookstore owner who makes a deal with a disfigured stranger in order to garner the attention of an aloof customer, it takes an unexpected turn that few will see coming.
The third season's "Bug House" is another offering in which cockroaches figure prominently. If you don't mind buckets of gore mixed in with some creepy crawlers, this one is for you.
As with most horror anthologies, if you're looking for upbeat stories with happy endings, you won't find them here. If, however, you wish to see werewolves, zombies, vampires, killer plants, and a host of other nefarious characters in all their glory, pull up a chair, you've come to the right place.
With a decent rating of 7.5, Monsters is certainly worth a look, that is, if you don't mind sifting through a bit of sand to find the nuggets of gold.