A Bloody Good Time 02.28.13: Top 10 Horror Anthology Shows
Posted by Joseph Lee on 02.28.2013
From Tales from the Crypt and Freddy's Nightmares to The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits and more, 411's Joseph Lee counts down the top 10 horror anthology shows of all time!
Opening Logo courtesy of Benjamin J. Colón (Soul Exodus)
Welcome to A Bloody Good Time.
We are now in the nuclear fallout of last week's edition, in which I ranked the top ten Buffyverse characters and everyone had their own opinion about it. It was actually quite fun for me to discuss the list with you and read all of your differing opinions. 70 comments is the most we've had since the horror knockout tournament, so at least I know what kind of thing to talk about more often!
On that note, I'm staying within the TV realm this week.
Who doesn't love a good anthology show? It's like getting a brand new mini-movie every week. Different stories, different characters, different actors showing up. Horror anthology is very fun to watch because there are different types of horror to focus on and each week is a new taste of the macabre. So which anthology show is the best? That answer should be obvious, but hopefully this will introduce you to a few more along the way that you can check out. Not every show on this list is strictly horror, but they're all good. So let's look at the top ten horror anthology shows!
#10: The Twilight Zone (1985-1989)
For someone to say, "I'm going to bring back The Twilight Zone" takes a lot of guts. The show is the landmark in not just anthology TV, but one of the best TV shows ever. You have to have a lot of faith in your product, actors, directors and writers in order to think you could successfully pull that off. While the Twilight Zone revival is nowhere near as good as the original, it turned out to be a very successful program with quality episodes on its own.
Much like the version of the 60s, the 80s revival featured the stars of the time, both present and future. Bruce Willis was in the first episode, directed by Wes Craven. Future episodes would see guest stars like Adrienne Barbeau, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, Fred Savage and others. The stories themselves were written by everyone from Stephen King, J. Michael Straczynski and George R. R. Martin. It was a who's who of talent for a show that by all rights probably should never have existed. It certainly shouldn't have been as good as it ended up being.
#9: Masters of Horror (2005-2007)
I said it when I wrote about it last year, and I'll say it again. Masters of Horror should not have been canceled after two season. It was an ingenious concept that had the potential for a wealth of new stories and great miniature horror films. The big directors in horror like John Carpenter, Dario Argento and Joe Dante making new scary stories along with smaller names like Lucky McKee and Brad Anderson looking to build up their profile.
It's not just the concept that I loved. The show was really good. Episodes like Cigarette Burns, Imprint, Family, and The Black Cat really show what this show could be as it has some great direction and acting all around. Some of the stories could have easily been expanded into feature theatrical films if the right people were able to get it off the ground. Instead you get hour-long short films on TV. The show was later revived (sort of) as Fear Itself, but that one never really got off the ground because not only did NBC not have any faith in it, but it also wasn't that good.
#8: Freddy's Nightmares (1988-1990)
New Line decided that with the Nightmare series and Freddy Krueger at the height of their popularity in the 80s, it was a good idea to put him on television. This was just after Dream Warriors cleaned up at the box office, with Dream Master on the way to doing the same thing. Obviously, you couldn't make an actual show out of the series because it would just be Freddy killing people every week and that would get old. So instead, they made it an anthology series with Kruger hosting and occasionally starring. It's a pretty great idea.
The show was really goofy and violent, just like the Nightmare films at the time. Freddy would crack puns and laugh at the victim of the story, similar to how The Crypt-Keeper did in the Tales from the Crypt comics and later the TV series. This was really good for Freddy fans, because it meant more of him, even if some of the stores got really silly (he shows up to kill people because he was stood up at prom years before in one episode). There would actually be two episodes in one, as a minor character in the first story would move on to their own horrific tale. The show never left syndication and it only lasted two seasons, right around the time New Line was planning to kill off Freddy for good (which obviously didn't take).
#7: Monsters (1988-1991)
Running only one more season than Freddy's Nightmares, Monsters was also a show that only ran in syndication. In fact, I never saw any first-run episodes, I had to wait until they re-ran on the Sci-Fi Channel and Chiller later on. However, it was still a really fun show that may not be remembered by very many people because it was on as the same time as the Twilight Zone revival, Tales from the Darkside and the previously mentioned Freddy's Nightmares.
Right away from the opening moments you realize that they're trying to have fun with this one. It's not super serious, it's just an interesting and entertaining way to spend half an hour of television. Much like the other shows, it had some notable character actors show up. There was even an episode from a Stephen King story (The Moving Finger, which is actually one of his creepier short stories). It was a decent, if underrated show for its time. I just wish it would get a DVD release so I could enjoy it any time I wanted.
#6: Tales from the Darkside (1984-1988)
George Romero decided after the success of Creepshow to try and move the format to television. It made sense. It was an anthology film and the format works best for television. But Warner Bros. owned parts of Creepshow so Romero, with Laurel Entertainment, created this instead. Focusing more on dark comedy than the other shows of the time, the show was more like Tales from the Crypt and Creepshow than the serious Twilight Zone revival that it actually pre-dated.
Stephen King submitted two stories for this series, along with stories by Romero, Harlan Ellison and Clive Barker. It is probably the most fondly-remembered anthology show of the 80s. It certainly is my personal favorite. It's mostly because it had some of my favorite stories of the four shows on in the same time period. It also received its own movie, which I really enjoyed. In a related matter, how great were the 80s?
#5: Night Gallery (1970-1973)
After The Twilight Zone ended, Rod Serling went on to make a show that was more devoted to horror, and that ended up being Night Gallery. This show is so good, there are some who consider it better than Serling's other show. While I don't feel that way, I can't deny that it's one of the best of its kind. It's amazing how it wasn't appreciated in its time, and only took until later for it to be appreciated for the good show it was.
Even Serling disowned it towards the end, which is just sad. Everyone wanted The Twilight Zone and couldn't handle that this was something different. I think Rod Serling had every to be proud of his creation. He wrote the majority of the stories and the show is fondly remembered today. I think that if he had stuck with it, Night Gallery could have been held as highly as his other creation. Instead, it's just a really good anthology series that didn't last as long as it should have.
#4: Alfred Hitchock Presents (1955-1965)
In one form or another, this show ran for ten years. That's longer than any other anthology show ever. In 1962, it became the Alfred Hitchcock Hour, which was basically just a continuation of the same thing. The show ran for 361 episodes and featured great tales of suspense presented by the master of it. Hitchcock didn't always direct, either. He stepped aside to let others take the reigns while he hosted with his own sense of humor applied. Think about the trailers for his films like Psycho and The Birds if you want an idea of how it worked.
This is probably the least "horror" on the list but I think that it's close enough. Thrillers and suspense are sort of on the verge but it's Hitchcock so I had to include it. Many of the stories were crime stories or murder mysteries. This is a show that went on for so long (it was in syndication for years after it was canceled, and then was revived in the 80s) that it's hard not to give it its proper respect. On top of that, it was also a great watch. Hitchcock may not have directed all the episodes (he only did about 18), but his fingerprints were all over it, and that's never a bad thing.
#3: The Outer Limits (1963-1965)
It wasn't on as long as our #1 (as if you haven't guessed what it is yet) but it was certainly almost as influential. This was more sci-fi oriented but there were plenty of horror-themed episodes. It ran just as The Twilight Zone was ended, so it sort of filled that void of bizarre tales until its cancellation. While it would eventually abandon horror altogether and focus more on sci-fi, it was still a thinking man's anthology show with terrific concepts and stories.
This show was also revived, although much later than the others on this list. It had another run in the 90s which ran longer than the original but I think isn't as good. I still enjoy both, but the original is ironic and can't be matched. It's only third because of the top two, which speak for themselves. Also, that intro? Classic.
#2: Tales from the Crypt (1989-1996)
This was arguably the first anthology series, as it originally ran as a comic book from EC Comics, along with titles like The Vault of Horror and Haunt of Fear in the 1950s before the government decided to be dicks and get them all pulled. When the team of Richard Donner, David Giler, Walter Hill, Joel Silver, and Robert Zemeckis decided to adapt the comics for television, it created one of my favorite TV shows ever. Always with a tongue-in-cheek tone, and with each story having its main character get their comeuppance, Tales from the Crypt was highly entertaining.
A few of the anthology shows on this list were created to tell stories that made you think or aspire to be more than the format they're presented in. Tales from the Crypt wasn't like that, and that's okay. You watched this show for the same reason kids read the comics. You wanted to be entertained by the dark humor, gore and absurd plots. This had the added bonus of the Cryptkeeper, which both Kevin Yagher and John Kassir brought to life each week. Without him, the show may not have lasted as long as it did. I mean, that, that corpse made even the dumber episodes of the show fun to watch.
#1: The Twilight Zone (1959-1964)
If you thought that this #1 slot was going to Perversions of Science, I'm sorry to say that isn't the case. I think it's nice to have this countdown book-ended by The Twilight Zone as it's the standard for what an anthology series can and should be. Not only that, but it's one of my personal favorite shows ever and I'm glad to know that I'm not the only one. It's impossible to list all of the good stories because there were so many.
In case you need a reminder, let's name a few: Living Doll. To Serve Man. It's A Good Life. Those are just the more memorable of the episodes. The series had 156 episodes and there are only a handful which aren't really good. While I'm never going to have an unkind thing to say about Night Gallery, I can see why it was in the shadow of this. The Twilight Zone is just one of a kind, and it will never be topped.
That's it for me. Leave some comments here on or my Twitter. Next week I devote an entire month to the supporting characters of horror. You may remember me hinting at this after I did a look at the minor (one-scene) characters last year. They weren't the star and they weren't the main monster, but they still provided a memorable turn that will make them hit my list. It will last ALL MARCH LONG.
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