I'm Nevets: Nerd, cinephile, TV-junkie, bookworm, gamer, and slacker extraordinaire.
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Good evening, boils and ghouls! Gather around, will you? Take a look outside. See how the leaves have fallen? How the pumpkins have been carved? How everyone's suddenly become weirdly cool with children accepting candy from strangers? No, this isn't The Twilight Zone... It's All Hallows' Eve, upon us at last!
This year on my list of scary things to watch, we're going to take the focus off from the movies (who always hog all the glory this time of year) and, instead, focus only on the top scares of TV. Not just any boob-tube scares, mind you, but TV's most successful medium for tales of terror: the horror anthology series.
For those not already in-the-know, an anthology series is one that presents us with a different story and a different set of characters with each new episode (or, in special circumstances, with each new season). Where each episode, in a sense, is its very own self-contained short story. Oh, sure, occasionally you'll have a host (sometimes even a rotting, decomposing one) that will introduce and conclude each story, but that's about it as far as recurring characters go. This means you'll find no serialized TV shows like The Walking Dead, Kolchak, or Dark Shadows here today, horror fans. Sorry. We still love them too. They just don't fill the bill this time around.
So turn off the lights, lock the doors, tell the trick-or-treaters to screw off, and sit back and relax. Here are my top 20 scariest TV anthologies.
24. The Hitchhiker (1983 - 1991)
Many may not remember this, but before bestowing upon us one of TV's most beloved immoral gorefests, Tales from the Crypt, HBO first tried its hand at the horror anthology genre with this fun attempt at a more modern take on The Twilight Zone; where each sordid, bloodbathed episode was introduced and concluded by a mysterious wanderer known only as -- you guessed it -- The Hitchhiker.
The Hitchhiker was no Twilight Zone though. For one thing, its host, a mullet-having weirdo in tight jeans and a leather jacket, was a pretty far cry from Rod Serling; and his opening and closing monologues were about as insightful as Jerry Springer's "final thoughts" (well, maybe not that insightful). And the episodes themselves, while not bad, were equally without class or depth.
All that being said, the tales told to us did succeed in one very important respect: they were scary. And, really, when you've got good scares (and a little gratuitous gore and nudity thrown into the mix) who needs class and depth anyways? #MAGA
23. Bobcat Goldthwait's Misfits & Monsters (2018 -)
Bobcat Goldthwait's Misfits & Monsters is a much more comedic, tongue in cheek series than the rest of the horror anthologies on this list, with some episodes actually feeling closer in tone to drawn-out comedy bits rather than Tales from the Crypt episodes. But with the likes of vampires, werewolves, murderous cartoons, and the devil included, it would've felt unfair to not include it here today.
My personal favorite aspect of this show is that each episode is written and directed by Bobcat Goldthwait himself (hence the title), who's actually a fantastic writer and director in the film world. This is the same brilliantly wackadoodle mind that brought us such dark, funny, and oddly thought-provoking films as God Bless America and World's Greatest Dad. So, suffice it to say, Misfits & Monsters is at least worth a try. If nothing else, expect something unique.
22. Monsters (1988 - 1991)
Perhaps the most bizarre series on this list (and that's saying something), Monsters was originally released as being a more humorous successor to the 1983 anthology series Tales from the Darkside (which ended its run during the same year in which Monsters premiered). Nevertheless, as funny — and oftentimes campy — as the show may have been, it was still pretty darn eerie and disturbing; and, as hinted at by the title, it featured the added bonus of having a new (and usually grotesque) monster with each new episode. Those episodes were admittedly hit or miss, though, and the ones that got it right are only for an acquired taste. But if you happened to be in possession of that particular palate, you, sir or madam, are in for some fun.
Also, there's just no denying the creativity that goes into a show with episodes where girls start romantic relationships with zombies and bloodsucking plants; and where a creepy-looking, foul-mouthed, animatronic puppet (that looked like something from the equally disturbing The Garbage Pail Kids) goes on vicious killing sprees.
UNFORTUNATELY, Monsters isn't yet available on DVD. But for those of you who are internet savvy enough, you should be able to find the episodes pretty easily online.
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21. Are You Afraid of the Dark? (1991 - 2000)
Yeah, yeah, it's a kids show. I know. But for those of us who grew up with this rare anthology horror series for children, it was our first taste of what that great and glorious genre of storytelling had to offer. And, furthermore, it was absolutely terrifying to us!
Rewatching it today, of course (from our rocking chairs), the show has admittedly lost a lot of it's magic. But it's still a fun trip down memory lane, and a great, Halloween-themed show just in general. So, for those more advanced horror fans out there who've never seen it before, this may not be for you. But if you've got kids and want to start them on the anthology medium for the first time (or if you're just a past viewer who wants to relive the good old days) it's totally worth the watch.
[NOTE: If you're into this, also worth a look would be the similar horror anthology series for kids, Goosebumps (1995 - 1998), that was based on the popular R. L. Stine children's books of the same name.]
20. Room 104 (2017 -)
Truth be told, I'm still unsure of how I feel about this one. While I enjoy the unique stories and ideas, they rarely feel to deliver on their setups. Most of these stories, for instance, end in ambiguity, with us never really knowing what we just watched. Which, hey, I'm a big Twin Peaks guy, so, ya know, I'm usually cool with such things. But for Room 104 (not to be confused with the MTV reality series, Room 401), this type of "decide for yourself" ending was a bit too much, for my tastes. And it happened way too often.
Perhaps if the episodes were stretched out to an hour as opposed to 30 minutes, I'd look upon this one more favorably. For now, however, I'll keep it pretty low on this list. Maybe I'll place it higher as time goes on (although it's not looking good).
19. Way Out (1961)
This very weird and quirky short-lived series was, as the title states, way out there.
Based on the stories of Roald Dahl, who also hosted the show, 'Way Out wasn't very unlike most anthology series as far as the basics were concerned. Dahl, as host, would open and close each episode, and each story within would involve the regular formula of strange-thing-happens-to-normal-person-then-comes-a-twist. The biggest difference that made the series stick out from the rest, in my opinion, was that 'Way Out also happened to incorporate a very wicked and ironic sense of humor that was way ahead of its time (somewhat similar to the black humor that shows like Tales from the Crypt would showcase years later).
Also, with episodes which revolved around such things as a dying man who is contemplating having his brain (and one eyeball) kept alive in a jar, a woman who's strapped to an electric chair with a light bulb in place of her head, and a man who has his face erased, the show was about as crazy as it gets (in a good way, of course).
[Incidentally, this writer has only seen 5 of the 14 episodes of this series; including, sadly, only one of the episodes mentioned above. This is due to the fact that since its cancellation, the series has never been rebroadcast or put on DVD. And while the entire series is available to watch at The Paley Center for Media in New York and Los Angeles, only 5 are available to watch online. Due to this, 'Way Out isn't getting as high a spot on this list as it may deserve.]
18. One Step Beyond (1959 - 1961)
Like the never broadcast, Boris Karloff-hosted The Veil (1958), and the much later series Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction (1997-2002), the anthology series One Step Beyond (or as it was also known, Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond -- back in those golden days of TV, when shows could be funded by just one sponsor) featured stories which were allegedly based on actual events of "the paranormal, the mysterious, and the unexplained".
As far as actually being based on "true events," that's, well... questionable. Regardless of that, the episodes are still very frightening at times and always contain a good dose of mysteriousness that keep you on the edge of your seat. The endings were often much more upbeat and hopeful than a lot of fans of this genre would probably prefer, but, hey, the ride to get there was always fun.
17. American Horror Story (2011 -)
Unlike all other series' mentioned on this list, American Horror Story is actually just barely bordering on the edge of being an anthology series at all. This is due to the fact that instead of having an all new story with all new characters per episode, American Horror Story gives us an all new story with all new characters per season (making each season, essentially, a miniseries of its own). So maybe it could be considered as cheating by tossing it in here? I don't know. In either case, I'm keeping it.
The first season consists of a horror favorite: the haunted house story. Without going into detail about the plot, let's just say that it's as warped, weird, surreal, mysterious, and as stylish of a tale as a horror buff could ask for (a sort of strange mix between The Shining, Amityville Horror, and American Beauty; with a bit of Shutter Island thrown in there to keep things interesting). And speaking of Shutter Island, the second season (entitled Asylum) takes place in yet another favorite setting for horror: the insane asylum. Then, later on, we get into tales of circus freaks, vampires, witches, and a whole assortment of other staples of the horror genre.
Personally, my biggest gripe about the series is that each season seems to consistently go speeding off the rails when it nears its end. Their weird, mostly coherent stories suddenly take a swift turn into a type of all-out insanity that always seems to turn me off. But the show's remained pretty darn popular all these years, so maybe my criticisms are just a matter of personal preference. Either way, the early episodes of each season always managed to keep my interest. So I say give it a shot.
16. Masters of Horror (2005 - 2007)
The basic idea behind Masters of Horror, where you'd pair together top genre directors with top genre writers to make short, weekly "movies", was by no means an original one. It was done various times before in a whole line of TV programs (including some on this list) and it'll probably continue being done well into the future. But when it was done here, the directors were really put into the limelight, and their hour-long "movies" actually looked like real, feature films (with the assistance of being aired on the premium cable channel Showtime, of course, where the lack of censorship gave each episodes directors complete freedom to throw in as much gore, boobs, and foul language as you could want).
For any Wes Craven or John Carpenter fan, you pretty much know what you're going to get here. These are the kind of bloody slasher films, monster movies, ghost stories, and journeys into the supernatural that we all grew to know and love in the 70's and 80's. They're raunchy, overrun with gratuitous sex and violence, and oftentimes are the very definition of "so bad it's good". And due to this, Masters of Horror is as awesome as those old favorites continue to be.
[NOTE: If you enjoy Masters of Horror, also check out NBC's Fear Itself, which many consider as the short-lived shows unofficial continuation.]
15. Tales of Tomorrow (1951 - 1953)
In many ways, Tales of Tomorrow looked and felt like an amateur's version of Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone (which wouldn't come around for another eight years). And while The Twilight Zone (and later The Outer Limits) would soon grow to overshadow this groundbreaking series, it was really Tales of Tomorrow that paved the way for everything to follow. It's quite literally the great grand-daddy of serious science fiction anthology shows; the oldest, not only on this list, but in all of television history. And, best of all, it still holds up to this day! Well, sorta.
Filmed in lo-fi black and white, with a budget of practically nothing, very limited resources to make even the most basic of special effects, and shot and broadcast live, with no chance at hiding mistakes, it's frankly astounding that the show was ever watchable at all; let alone still watchable now. But with some very well written stories taken from some very clever writers (including Arthur C. Clarke and H.G. Wells) the episodes usually manage hold their own as far as the sci-fi/horror anthology genre goes; even if they didn't look as pretty as we've come to grow used to. They also showcased some pretty big names and soon-to-be names, including James Dean, Rod Steiger, Paul Newman (in his first screen appearance), Boris Karloff, and Lon Chaney (who gave an infamous drunken performance as Frankenstein's monster).
As for this whole "not being pretty" stuff, though, don't let it get you down. It should be remembered that a grainy picture and a shoestring budget doesn't always mean a lack of quality when your intentions are to be scared. It's in the opinion of many, in fact, that such qualities actually add to the creepy factor. Not buying it? Try watching the original Night of the Living Dead or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and imagining them in a crystal clear picture; or, even worse, watch their remakes. Now that'll make you shudder.
14. Amazing Stories (1985 - 1987)
When you have a big budget fantasy/sci-fi/horror series created by one of the worlds leading filmmakers, Steven Spielberg, with a collection of nearly 50 episodes written and directed by such film legends as Martin Scorsese, Robert Zemeckis, Tobe Hooper, Clint Eastwood, and Spielberg himself (not to mention starring more A-list actors than you can shake a golden statue at), suffice it to say, it's difficult to go very wrong.