This year, I'm going to try to do a Top 10 or two every weekend, so today, I'm counting down the top 10 horror-oriented television programs. (No miniseries, so no IT or Salem's Lot)
10. "Masters of Horror": This anthology series gets it's title from the fact that each episode is directed by a famous and influential horror director, including people such as Dario Argento, John Carpenter, Mick Garris, Jon Landis, Tobe Hooper, Tom Holland, Stuart Gordon, Larry Cohen, and Takashi Miike. It was created by horror filmmaker Mick Garris. Despite the episodes being hit-or-miss, the series is very entertaining, and, like the BBC series Sherlock, each episode is like it's own short movie. Unfortunately, Showtime no longer wanted to show the series after season two, so Garris edited the content down, and transformed the third season into a new series on NBC, Fear Itself, which had a similar premise as this series but only lasted one season.
9. "Dark Shadows": This 1960's drama/ gothic soap opera focuses on the wealthy Collins family, who often deals with strange and troubling issues, and is watched over by Barnabas, their vampire ancestor who lives with them. Despite being slightly boring and melodramatic, the series is very influential, and Jonathan Frid's portrayal of Barnabas Collins is fantastic. Tim Burton is a fan of the series, and adapted it into a mediocre and underwhelming dark comedy film in May 2012.
8. "The League of Gentlemen": This insanely dark horror-comedy sitcom/sketch show hybrid from the BBC is not only hilarious, it can also send chills down the spine. It's the perfect mix of clever humor and frightening horror. The troupe behind this show are not only comic geniuses, but masters of creating creepy characters.
7. "Psychoville": This surreal and creepy black comedy/thriller is from the same guys behind The League of Gentlemen. The narrative is very strange, but is well-written, and all the characters are insane and twisted, and all the actors are really great. This is an entertaining horror/dark comedy show, and is one of the BBC's best shows.
6. "The Outer Limits": This rival of The Twilight Zone may not be as clever or influential as it's competitor, but it's entertaining enough. The opening screen ("Hello, there is nothing wrong with your television set...") is now a staple of pop culture, and the stories are pretty interesting, and it's a good mix of sci-fi and horror.
5. "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"/"The X-Files": These shows were both excellent in their own right, so I gave them both their own spot. The former is one of Joss Whedon's many cult shows, starring Sarah Michelle Gellar as a sweet high school girl named Buffy who defends her hometown from vampires, which was inspired by a cult movie from the 90's. Funny enough, the TV show spin-off turned out to be ore beloved and successful than the original film. The latter is the long-running sci-fi/horror investigative drama about two government agents who investigate cases involving the supernatural. Both shows are beloved and have strong cult followings, and you can understand why if you watch them. They are well-written, perfectly cast, and have a good mix of humor, action, and creepy moments.
4. "Twin Peaks": This David Lynch project stars Kyle MacLachlan as Special Agent Dale Cooper, who runs the investigation into who murder homecoming queen Laura Palmer in the town of Twin Peaks, Washington. The show was a thrilling murder mystery, but it was unfortunately cancelled after season two as it got too surreal and too confusing for many mainstream audiences, although it was followed up by a theatrical movie, similar to how the cult show Firefly was cancelled but later followed by a movie.
3. "Tales from the Crypt": This over-the-top, gory, comedic HBO series is based on the EC Comics of the 50's, and was most likely created in response to the success of the 1983 anthology film Creepshow, which also was inspired by the EC comics. This show added a lot more adult content to the stories, including ever more gore, and a lot more sex and nudity. This show also was known for it's many famous guest directors and stars, and it's recurring story patterns, particularly that most episodes focused on cruel or evil people receiving an over-the-top, fucked-up and cruel comeuppance, usually involving the supernatural.
2. "The Walking Dead"/"American Horror Story": These two are equally great, in their own ways. The first is a dramatic and dark action-horror series, based off the acclaimed independent comic book series of the same name, follows a troubled group of survivors during a zombie apocalypse in Georgia. The writer of the comics (Robert Kirkman) produces and writes the show, and actually changes some storylines of the comics to make the series more unpredictable and interesting. This show is well-written, has some great characters, and some awesome zombie kills. The second is a disturbing and gruesome anthology series, where each season follows a different cast of characters, but often has recurring actors, including Evan Peters and Jessica Lange (who has been praised for her complex performances in the show). It shows a mix of everyday horrors (miscarriage, adultery, murder, psychopaths, etc.) and the supernatural (ghosts, aliens, demons, the undead, etc.) Ryan Murphy (Nip/Tuck, Glee) does a great job of bringing true horror to the television medium, and he often likes to explore elements of horror rarely explored. Both shows are worthy of the #2 spot on the list.
1. "The Twilight Zone": Rod Serling's excellent and extremely influential anthology series has become a staple of pop culture, and is considered one of the greatest shows ever written. Serling was a master of storytelling and this series is both compelling and terrifying. It's a masterful mix of science fiction, drama, psychological thriller, and pure horror. The episode "Living Doll" is one of the best and scariest "killer doll" stories ever put to film or television. The Twilight Zone is extremely well-written and acted, and showcases some of the best actors of the day. Rod Serling, thank you.
Runner-ups: Supernatural, Lost Tapes, Paranormal Witness, Fringe, Todd McFarlane's Spawn, Hannibal, Bates Motel, Death Note, Courage the Cowardly Dog, The Munsters, The Addams Family, Hellsing, The Maxx, Night Gallery, Ugly Americans, Todd and the Book of Pure Evil, American Gothic, The Fades, Millenium.
(Images: Wikipedia, movieweb.com, IMDb.com, screened.com, amazon.com, fanpop.com, moviepostershop.com, sciencefiction.com, circleofconfusion.com, katymunger.wordpress.com)