With the Halloween season in full swing now, it’s time for a special edition of Nearly Forgotten TV shows, this time focusing on spookier series that may have almost lapsed from your memory. These are shows that once upon a time were enjoyed audiences, but have since fallen out of favor. Without further ado, here are a few “spooky” old tv series for your Halloween binge watch this season.
Imagine taking the quirkiness of a David Lynch-type series and applying it to a show for kids. The result might look something like Eerie, Indiana, which aired for a single season on NBC in 1991 and followed the adventures of a boy and his best friend who, much to their dismay, live in one of the most bizarre towns imaginable.
When young Marshall Teller, his parents Edgar and Marylyn, and older sister Syndi, relocate from New Jersey to the small rural town of Eerie Indiana, population 16,661, nothing seems too out of the ordinary at first. He quickly acquires a paper route and makes a new friend named Simon Holmes. That is until he is delivering papers and happens to spot both Bigfoot and Elvis along his route. He is soon faced with the realization that he has moved to “the center of weirdness for the entire planet.”
How weird is Eerie, Indiana? Well, when Marshall visits the orthodontist, he soon finds that his retainer allows him to read dog minds…and these sinister canines are plotting to take over the world. When his friend Simon gets an eye exam from the school nurse, it turns him into a zombie who adores doing homework. And worst of all, when Marshall tries to warn his family of the strange happenings around town, of course, nobody believes him.
Eerie, Indiana was a wonderfully unique kid’s show that, sadly, was never really given the chance it deserved, having been canceled after a mere 19 episodes. Still, in the years after its short run, and thanks to syndication, it has managed to retain almost a cult-like following. It is still fondly remembered to this day for its delightfully different storylines, such as the final episode when Marshall discovers a screenplay in his mailbox that lets him in on a little secret – his friends and family are all actors and his life is actually nothing more than a television show. In any other town, that might be a shocking revelation, but it’s just another day in Eerie, Indiana.
Kolchak: The Night Stalker
While he will always be remembered as the perpetually grumpy patriarch (and proud owner of a certain long-legged lamp) in A Christmas Story, actor Darrin McGavin endeared himself to audiences as the frumpily dressed reporter, Carl Kolchak, who tracked various supernatural serial killers in the fondly remembered series, Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Although the series was relatively short-lived at the time, its popularity and influence were felt long after it left the airwaves.
Based on an unpublished novel by author Grant Rice called The Kolchak Papers, audiences were first introduced to the character through a pair of made-for-television movies. The first, The Night Stalker, aired in 1972 and told the story of a reporter investigating the presence of a murderous vampire in Las Vegas. It would become the highest-rated television movie of the era and spawn a sequel called The Night Strangler. The combined success of these two films made a television series inevitable. And, in 1974, Kolchak: The Night Stalker debuted on ABC.
As in the films, Kolchak was a reporter obsessed with investigating supernatural menaces that go bump in the night. With his ever-present blue seersucker suit and tropical straw hat, and a sarcastic and abrasive personality, he was a unique character, one that was always at odds with his editor, Vincenzo, who rarely believed his strange stories. Luckily, he could rely on a fellow reporter, Emily Cowles, whose friendship was one of the few that he trusted.
In each episode, a series of mysterious killings would occur, with the evidence pointing to a not-of-this-world perpetrator. With the local authorities and his boss remaining skeptical, it would be up to the fearless reporter to shed light on the story, all while risking life and limb from these creatures of the night in the process.
Perhaps most frustrating to Kolchak is that evidence of the creatures always remained elusive and caused his superiors to look upon him with constant disbelief. But they were out there – the werewolves and aliens and vampires – and Kolchak was their lone adversary. Many fans, in particular, remember his encounters with a Hindu demon called the Rakshasa, who was responsible for a series of grisly murders in the elderly community. This episode, called “Horror In The Heights,” showed the demon as one who could appear in the form of a person that the victim most trusted, right before ending their life.
Considering the impact of Kolchak: The Night Stalker, it is amazing that the series only ran for a lone season before being canceled in 1975 – due to low ratings. Its influence was undeniably felt, particularly in such future shows like The X Files and the Nicolas Cage produced, The Dresden Files, and the original series still boasts a large fan base in the science-fiction/horror community.
An attempt was made to revise the beloved series in 2005, in an all-new show simply called, Night Stalker. Actor Stuart Townsend portrayed the Kolchak character in the mere six episodes that were produced before the show was canceled. Fans just didn’t feel that it lived up to the original, which remains one of the most frightening spectacles to ever air on television. Not to say that the long-legged lamp wasn’t nightmare-inducing in its own special way.
Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone had a cult following like few shows this side of Star Trek, and ever since the program’s cancellation in 1964, the die-hards had been begging for new episodes. They wouldn’t get them during Serling’s lifetime, but the king of eerie TV satisfied the masses with an all-new anthology series in 1970. He called it Night Gallery, and while it wasn’t exactly the same thing as The Twilight Zone—in fact, it was considerably more horror-tinged—it proved that there were plenty of chilling stories left to tell.
A made-for-TV Night Gallery movie in 1969 introduced the format: Serling once more served as host, introducing each segment of the show by walking the guests at home through a gallery of creepy paintings. Each had a story to tell, and everyone was either darkly comic or just darkly dark. Like The Twilight Zone, Night Gallery rose and fell on those individual stories, and there were a number of highlights. Among them:
“Eyes” – Directed by a young Steven Spielberg and starring Joan Crawford, this segment from the pilot movie has Crawford as a blind woman desperate to buy or steal a working pair of eyes.
“Pickman’s Model” – In late 19th century Boston, a woman becomes intrigued by a strange painter and his horrible works.
“A Fear of Spiders” – A callous food writer turns to one of the recipients of his callousness when he finds a terrifying spider in his sink.
“The Return of the Sorcerer” – Vincent Price plays a sorcerer looking to unravel the secrets of an Arabic manuscript, hoping to find clues about his brother’s mysterious death.
“Rare Objects” – A gangster with a price on his head thinks he’s willing to pay anything for safety, but then, he doesn’t know what “anything” might entail.
As an anthology, Night Gallery had a cast that changed with every segment, and again like The Twilight Zone, the players included several famous faces: Crawford, Price, Leslie Nielsen, Diane Keaton, Edward G. Robinson, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Ozzie Nelson, Sally Field and many more. Initially, the series was part of NBC’s Four in One anthology hodgepodge, but by the fall of 1971, Night Gallery went solo.
The show’s popularity ebbed after the 1971-72 season—partly due to shortening from one hour to a half-hour, partly due to conflicts between Serling and the producers and network—and after one more season of original episodes, the Night Gallery was closed. It may never have gained the same cult status as its Rod Serling predecessor, but Night Gallery lives on today, still chilling after all these years.
Are You Afraid of the Dark
For kids who had a hunger for the occasional spooky story, the early days of Nickelodeon had something right up their alley, guaranteed to raise a few goosebumps. Debuting in 1992 as part of the SNICK lineup, Are You Afraid of the Dark gathered a group of kids in the dark and desolate woods, to weave tales of the macabre around the time-honored campfire and scare each other silly.
This adventurous clan, the Midnight Society, included the group’s founder, a horror fan named Gary and his cohorts, Kiki, Frank, Betty Ann, David, Kristen, and Eric. Each would take turns telling their own spooky tales, which would fade into dramatizations of their respective stories. Every terrifying topic was fair game, from haunted houses, killer clowns and cannibals to vampires, mad scientists, and werewolves.
Urban Legends were often borrowed from, as were fairy tales, lending their own twisted morality lessons. Shows usually had a happy ending, and the main character usually safely escaped their strange circumstances unscathed. At the conclusion of each show, the Midnight Society would extinguish the campfire with a red bucket of water before the group left their surroundings.
Since the members of the Midnight Society never appeared within their stories, the stage was ripe for a number of celebrity guest appearances. Bobcat Goldthwait, Melissa Joan Hart, Neve Campbell, and Gilbert Gottfried all took a stab at various creepy cameos. During the seven seasons that Are You Afraid of the Dark appeared on Nickelodeon, a number of the original kids would be replaced, including Gary, who eventually gave the torch to his kid brother, Tucker, to lead the frightful festivities.
Creepy, but never gory, bone-chilling without resorting to blood, Are You Afraid of the Dark was a ghoulishly good time around the campfire that is fondly remembered by anyone who bravely listened in.
Alfred Hitchcock Presents
There are people around today who will still fall to the ground, quaking in fear, at the mere sight of Alfred Hitchcock’s portly silhouette. Not that we blame them. When that deadpan British film director—“The Master of Suspense”—walked onto the screen, you could be sure that your fingernails would be raking the underside of the couch before the hour was through. Hitchcock had earned his heart-stopping credentials through feature films like The Lady Vanishes, Spellbound, Notorious, Strangers on a Train, Rear Window and Dial M for Murder, and in 1955, the Master brought his macabre sense of horror and humor to the small screen.
Alfred Hitchcock Presents was an anthology series, but one thing was constant: the on-screen introductions and wrap-ups by Hitchcock himself. Accompanied by the unforgettable “Funeral March of a Marionette” theme music, Hitchcock delivered—with his characteristic dry wit—the set-up to this week’s tale of terror. Many stories involved typical Hitchcock motifs—plots to kill spouses, false accusations, suspicious neighbors, murder cover-ups and other unpleasantries—but the series also made room for the occasional Twilight Zone inspired supernatural goings-on (or were they supernatural?).
Alfred Hitchcock directed a few dozen episodes himself, including the memorable debut episode, “Revenge,” in which a traumatized woman leads her husband to take vengeance on the man who assaulted her (or did he?). Even when he didn’t direct, the Master was always there to provide the opening tidbits and a brief epilogue, explaining to the viewers at home that the bad guys didn’t really get away with it in the end, no matter how much it looked like they did. In this sneaky way, Hitchcock got to air his disturbing tales with minimal interference from moral watchdog groups.
As an anthology series, the show had plenty of room for celebrity guest spots, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents had recognizable faces both from years past (Peter Lorre, Claude Rains) and from up-and-comers like Robert Redford and Katharine Ross. Some made multiple appearances, like Phyllis Thaxter (eight), Robert H. Harris (eight) and Vertigo co-star Barbara Bel Geddes (four).
Alfred Hitchcock Presents ran a full ten years in its original run, and its syndicated reruns proved equally successful. Alfred Hitchcock died in 1980, but in a perverse nod to the director’s macabre sense of humor, Hitchcock was brought back from the dead to host a revival of his old show.
Starting in 1985, a new Alfred Hitchcock Presents on NBC used colorized footage of Hitchcock’s old intros to segue into new series episodes. Some were remakes from classic scripts, but others were entirely original (except for the recycled director, of course). This updated Alfred Hitchcock Presents ran for two seasons of original episodes, both on NBC and later on cable’s USA Network.
The final new Alfred Hitchcock Presents episodes aired in 1988, but the doom-laden pull of the Master of Suspense continues more than 20 years after his death. Just ask those poor, quivering souls who still can’t bear the sight of that famous silhouette.