The 8 Ball 10.30.12: The Top 8 Horror TV Shows
Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Movie Zone! I’m your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, we will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You’re free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is “wrong” is just silly. With that in mind, let’s get right in to it!
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Halloween is almost upon us! Only a day (or less, depending on when you’re reading this) awaits, and then it will be good old October 31st. We love Samhain here at 8 Ball headquarters, and one of our favorite things about it (among many) is the proliferation of horror on television that comes along with. For the past couple of years October has been a kick-off point for the growing trend of horror-related TV shows such as Grimm, American Horror Story, The Walking Dead, 666 Park Avenue and more. This past week saw the premiere (and probably only) episode of NBC’s high-profile Munsters reboot, Mockingbird Lane. Reportedly NBC and Bryan Singer had different visions for the show which is what led to it not getting picked up; however, the episode we got worked just fine as a special. It was all over the map in tone and some of the special effects went to the wrong side of cheesy, but the performances were a lot of fun and I liked some of the touches the show did. That got me thinking about the great horror shows that have aired over the years, and that brings us to this week, where we look at the best horror TV shows of all time.
Caveat: Two major caveats here come into play. First off, I left out anthology shows. As essential as Twilight Zone, Tales From the Crypt, Tales from the Darkside and such are to the horror television landscape, there are literally enough anthology shows that I can do a whole list of those so I decided to save them for just such an occasion. These are horror shows that follow a single narrative (or in one Honorable Mention’s case, a single narrative throughout the course of each season). The second caveat is I wanted shows that were fully aimed at horror as opposed to just dipping into the genre from time to time. Genre shows can blend sci-fi, fantasy and horror and while there are absolutely episodes of X-Files, Doctor Who, Twin Peaks and Fringe that lean to the side of horror, they all revolved more around sci-fi (or in Twin Peaks’ case, mystery).
Being Human (2008 – Present)
Brimstone (1998 – 1999)
American Horror Story (2011 – Present)
It took a long time for non-anthology horror to end up on television. Outside of comedic takes like The Munsters and The Addams Family, horror was considered to be too risque for a media format that children could conceivably watch unsupervised. It wasn’t until Dark Shadows came along in 1966 that the genre began to serious shoulder its way into television. While I enjoy the hell out of Dark Shadows it didn’t make this list. Kolchak on the other hand belongs firmly in the top eight. The show was preceded by two TV movies, 1971’s The Night Stalker and 1973’s The Night Strangler. The series only ran for twenty episodes during the 1974 – 1975 season but its influence extended far beyond the length of its run. Darren McGavin was great as Carl Kolchak, the investigative reported who investigated supernatural crimes, and he largely inspired series like The X-Files; McGavin actually appeared in the later series as the “father of the X-Files” in a clever casting move. This show, like many genre shows throughout the years, found its audience through syndication and is rightly remembered as one of the better founding fathers of supernatural television.
True confession time: from 1987 through 1989, I was in love with Mickie Foster. The lead character of Friday the 13th: The Series was the perfect wannabe girlfriend for a freaky little horror geek just approaching the teenage years: she was beautiful, smart and she hunted down cursed objects for a living. That’s not only a great girlfriend, that’s job security. This series ran in first-run syndication and was originally just titled The 13th Hour. As it happened, producer Frank Mancuso Jr. was also producing the iconic Jason Voorhees slasher films and so he took the title purely for name recognition. That led to a lot of criticism levied at the show, which is a bit unfair because it was a great horror series. The show followed Mickie, her cousin Ryan and their ally Jack Marshak as they tried to hunt down cursed objects that Mickie’s uncle Lewis sold for the devil before his demise. It was a great set-up that allowed them to create a lot of procedural-type episodes, but there were also serial plots that worked their way through. There is an oft-quoted urban legend that the show was intended to end with the group hunting down Jason’s mask. That would have been a great little twist, but in the end it didn’t happen and there was never any serious talk of mixing them. If you’ve never seen the show, do yourself a favor and check it out on Chiller or SyFy when you can catch it; it is well worth your time.
Also unfairly known as “that other show that the X-Files guy did,” Millennium was an exceedingly dark television show to be airing in a major network in the 1990s. The series starred genre favorite Lance Hendrikson in one of the best roles of his storied career as Frank Black. Black was a former FBI profiler and criminal investigator for the FBI who had the uncanny ability to put himself into the mind of criminals and is recruited by an organization known as the Millennium Group to be a “consultant” for them, which pretty much means tracking his way through dark forests and seedy homes hunting down serial killers. The show was more of a thriller than a true horror series until the second season, when supernatural elements came into play. Sadly that was a bit too ahead of its time and viewership declined, with the series being cancelled before the actual millennium hit. Hendrikson was fabulous in a role that really allowed him to show off his acting talents and Terry O’Quinn, who would go on to star in Lost, was great as the Millennium Group agent who first made contact with Frank. The show’s tone was spot-on and Chris Carter even teamed Frank up with Mulder and Scully on an X-Files episode after the show’s cancellation. It was a show cancelled far too soon and one that is still (rightly) beloved by many to this day.
I didn’t start watching Supernatural until partway through the fourth season. The reason for that is simple: it seemed at first glance like the kind of show more suited for a Justin Bieber fan. Tell me you don’t take a look at a show starring two pretty boy actors (Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki) on the CW and immediately feel like passing. As it turns out, this is as far from 90210 and One Tree Hill as you can imagine. A surprisingly visceral and bloody show, Supernatural brings the horror and blood spatter on a weekly basis. Demons, nasty fanged vampires, silvery-eyed shapechangers, very gross versions of Frankenstein’s monster…the list goes on and on about the kinds of monsters that show up on this series. And on top of it you have Ackles and Padalecki as Sam and Dean Winchester, the siblings who are hunting down these terrors of the night. The actors are all fantastic but it is the very brotherly chemistry between the two leads that make it all work. The show is on its eighth season currently, making it incredibly long-lived among genre shows, and it shows no signs of slowing down. The show succeeds through its incredibly rich mythology and the dynamics between the core characters, making it an absolute genre favorite.
“Hey Jeremy, have you heard about this show Dexter?” That was the question posed to me in 2006, halfway through the show’s first season. Not being a subscriber to Showtime, I answered that I had not. The response came back, “Man, you have to check it out. It’s a show about a serial killer as the protagonist.” And just like that, I knew I had to watch it. As part of my horror fandom, I have always been accused of having a love of serial killers that some have thought borders on unhealthy. I am fascinated by the idea of what makes people tick that way, and so I got quickly caught up on the show and was hooked. Michael C. Hall is one of the most unappreciated actors in terms of award recognition (along with most of the Sons of Anarchy cast). Sure, Jon Hamm rocks it on Mad Men and Bryan Cranston is great on Breaking Bad, but Hall has delivered consistently excellent work even when the show has briefly gone a couple loopy directions. Many feel that the last couple of seasons dipped terribly in quality but I don’t fully agree; they weren’t up to the show’s best work but they still had moments to enjoy. Either way, nearly everyone agrees that the show is right back on course in this, its seventh and penultimate season. Hall and the many great actors who have played monsters on the show, from John Lithgow and Jaime Murray to Christian Camargo and Jonny Lee Miller, have done a fantastic job of exploring the true nature of evil in a way that is far more interesting and enjoyable than a more black-and-white situation would be.
If you didn’t know these shows would be on this list, you don’t know me very well. Honestly I didn’t feel right including these as separate selections since they are permanently tied to each other due to their shared universe. Joss Whedon largely helped make supernatural television cool again around the turn of the millennium. Television was starting to change a little, but the geeks had not yet inherited the airwaves as they’ve done now. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a show that should not have worked; it was a horror-comedy-drama based on a failed movie on a brand-new network that no one was watching. However, people paid attention against the odds and Buffy–and its spin-off Angel–became important within the pop culture lexicon. So many shows of the past several years owe their status on television to Buffy, from True Blood and (sadly) The Vampire Diaries to Supernatural and even non-horror series with strong female leads like Nikita, Alias and so on. As for Angel, it took horror on television one step further and dropped just a touch of Buffy’s camp for a moody and more noir-ish feel. What’s more, the show had moments that were legitimately creepy. “Hush,” anyone? Buffy did things that no one thought possible on TV (dialogue-less and musical episodes come immediately to mind, among others) and it did so brilliantly, making it must-watch TV for horror fans.
When people talk about shows that were unfairly cancelled, Firefly is always the first one mentioned. Obviously as an avowed Whedonite and Browncoat I would agree with that, but a very, VERY close second goes to Shaun Cassidy’s 1995 series American Gothic. This show was one of those that was way, way ahead of its time and one that the American television-watching public just wasn’t ready for in the mid-1990s. This show stars Cary Cole as Lucas Buck, the demonically evil sheriff of the fictional Trinity, South Carolina. Lucas is the kind of monster you love to hate; he’s a rapist and a murderer who controls Trinity through what appears to be supernatural backing, yet he’s so charismatic and magnetic that you understand why people are drawn to him. The show was unrepentantly dark and Cassidy probably should have expected that CBS wouldn’t give it proper promotion nor would audiences embrace it, but that didn’t stop him from trying. The supporting cast was great and the writing was exceptional, creating a show that I would actually like to see Cassidy get another shot with. I know we hate reboots but if any show could be started up again, it would probably be this one. Sadly, it will probably not happen but at least we got a full season to cherish and dream about what could have been.
The problems or lack thereof regarding The Walking Dead’s second season have been much-debated here at 411mania. In previous columns I have defended the second season and I continue to feel it was largely good, but this isn’t just about the farm. Either way, I don’t know that anyone can complain about the third season which has been relentless so far in keeping tension high. Even with the rise of supernatural horror on television, I never really thought a zombie show would work on TV. AMC, Robert Kirkman, Frank Darabont and the talented cast and crew proved me and many others wrong by making a compelling show that mixed horror and drama beautifully. Kirkman has said in the comic book that The Walking Dead is not a horror comic but a “survival adventure” book. All well and good, but the horror elements were undoubtedly ramped up and to excellent effect. And the best is only yet to come if the comic can be taken as any guideline. Among horror shows, none have maintained such a consistent quality level and its one of the best shows on TV, horror or not.
Note: Now that I am caught up to current, I have gone back to watch the episodes that have become available in the US since I started watching and thus were previously unavailable to me (thus why I have episodes remaining despite being caught up).
Current Series/Season: Season Eight (1971)
Episodes Watched: 587
Last Serial Completed: Colony in Space – When the Time Lords discover that the Master has stolen their secret file on the Doomsday Weapon, they realize that they have only one recourse and send the Doctor and Jo–without their knowledge or consent–to the planet Uxarieus. There, they become enmeshed in a struggle between an agrarian colony and a powerful mining corporation, with the Master himself pulling strings from the shadows.
Surviving Episodes Remaining: 42
And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don’t forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.