The Top Horror TV Shows of the 80s

Television viewers have seen a resurgence of horror themed television shows appearing on the schedule from not only cable channels, but network television as well. From True Blood to the most-anticipated horror show of the year The Walking Dead (check out our review here), horror has taken television by storm by pushing boundaries that wouldn’t have been acceptable 30 years ago. Despite horror dominating the 80s in every form of entertainment back then from movies to books, the one medium that the genre couldn’t really break into was television.

With that being said, a few shows made the cut, but they were either only available on cable, were in syndication, or were canceled before their time due to protest from parental groups and televangelists crusade against the genre in the late 80s. These shows defined horror in the 80s as the genre was testing new ground, breaking down barriers, and scaring the hell out of us all at once. To the youth (and posers) of today, these shows might come across as lame, boring and downright cheese fests not worth their time. But to those of us who saw the shows on this list and experienced the horror from either the back of a couch, under a blanket, or through our fingers as our hands covered our faces, they induced nightmares and made us think twice about turning the light off in our rooms.

Can you really say that some of the horror shows today are capable of that?

So, in the celebration of Halloween, we here at TVOvermind give you the shows that horrified us as daring kids, thrill-seeking teenagers, or young adults with a slight penchant for the macabre. Some of these gems you can find on DVD or, if you are supremely desperate, on VHS somewhere in the five places that still sale them. This list by no means is a Top 10 countdown, just a celebration of an era that is debatably considered one of the best of the horror genre.

Let the journey began…

First, a “spin-off” of the horror anthology film “Creepshow”…

Tales From The Darkside

Man lives in the sunlit world of what he believes to be reality…

But! There is, unseen by most, an underworld, a place that is just as real, but not as brightly lit…

A DARKSIDE!

When these words were uttered over one of the most eerie opening themes for a horror television show, your skin crawled, you tensed up, and most importantly, you zone out. Welcome to the Darkside, folks. Enjoy your stay, because you’re not going to make it out intact…

Original conceived to be a spinoff of the George Romero film “Creepshow,” Tales From The Darkside became it’s own frightening franchise, which had stories written by or/and adapted from authors like Stephen King, Harlon Ellison, and Clive Barker to name the few. The show lasted in syndication for four years, ending it’s run in 1989.

In 1990, the series was turned into a feature film starring Deborah Harry (of Blondie), Christian Slater, Steve Buscemi, Julianne Moore, and Rae Dawn Chong to name a few. The film is memorable for having Deborah Harry as a witch, preparing a big meal that would include a young Matthew Lawrence as the main course. To stave off the dinner, Lawrence reads stories from a book called, you guessed it, Tales From The Darkside.

SyFy and Chiller are currently running the series in sporadic time slots, but some of the episodes that stuck out to me include “Snip, Snip”, “Inside The Closet”, and “The Word Processor of the Gods”. The movie is also an annual treat for me as well…

Next, Reenter The “Zone”

The Twilight Zone (1985)

The revival of the cult classic television series in 1985 had a similar creepy opening, which (in my opinion) slightly surpassed the original series opening. While not as iconic as it’s predecessors, the 1985 incarnation of The Twilight Zone still managed to scare the hell out of me on plenty of late nights when it was in syndication. It wasn’t until later in life that I found out the show actually aired on CBS for two seasons before dropping the third season in syndication.

The show is memorable for it’s guest appearances from various stars at the time in front and behind the camera, such as Bruce Willis, Fred Savage, Morgan Freeman, and Helen Mirren to name a few. The names behind the scenes included Rockne S. O’Bannon, Wes Craven, Joe Dante, Stephen King, Tommy Lee Wallace, and J. Michael Straczynski, masters of the genre and idols to some of the new directors on the block now. The (New) Twilight Zone theme was redone by the Grateful Dead and, like I mentioned before, made me shiver under my own skin. The opening credits were very creepy to my five to 10 year old eyes, even unnerving me to this day if I come across it in the middle of the night.

Even though the series had it’s ups and downs, it is still one of the best horror television shows to come out of the 80s and the episodes are still watchable to this day.

Coming Up: Mama Always Told Me Not To Pick Up A “Hitchhiker”…

The Hitchhiker

This show was probably the only one my parents had a problem of me watching, not because of it’s dark twisted nature… but because of the nudity!

The Hitchhiker was one of HBO’s first original shows and got me in trouble plenty of nights due to me sneaking in to watch the depravity it displayed on a weekly basis. Every bit the genesis for HBO’s later horror effort, Tales From the Crypt, The Hitchhiker’s tales found their center in the dark passages of the human psyche. Where it separates is that these tails were almost entirely human, The Hitchhiker had supernatural overtones – but frequently it induced screeches in the human dimension.

Nicholas Campbell played the ‘host’ and hitchhiker of the title for 3 episodes. Page Fletcher did the remaining 82 episodes. The full series is available from HBO home video.

Next: Are you afraid of ‘Monsters’?

Monsters

After the success of Tales from the Darkside, producer Richard P. Rubenstein launched a second independent horror anthology titled Monsters, and it was all about – you guessed it – monsters.

Running from 1988 to 1991, Monsters used a very specific template for its story telling: each story would center around a new ‘˜type’of monster, only occasionally would Monsters stick with a tried and true beasty from the horror catalog – production was mostly interested in coming up with the freakiest creatures their meager budget could afford.

Like Tales From the Darkside, though, Monsters’protagonists often wound up falling victim to their own character flaws rather than the ill intent of some misanthropic miscreation.

The series was saved from near obscurity when Syfy picked the series up after it mostly washed out in syndication.

Next: One, two, Freddy’s coming for you…

Freddy’s Nightmares

This show, no matter how cheesy it is today, made me sit in a hallway over a friends house all night, due to my complete and utter fear of Freddy Krueger.

The Man of Your Dreams dominated the screen and possible got a little victim happy, so he extended his wrath of terror to television sets where he sliced and diced his way through new denizens of Springwood, Ohio in an anthology-styled series. The episodes ran an hour long, but contained two linked stories, where a minor/secondary character from the first segment would appear in the second segment. Freddy served as the show’s host, but that didn’t stop him from joining in from time to time to personally make someone’s life a living hell.

Freddy’s Nightmares to most fans was a way for New Line (the studio behind the franchise) to cash in on the Freddy Krueger craze, but it might have proven to be overkill instead of a gold mine. Some of the guest stars featured on this weekly anthology are Morris Chestnut, Mariska Hargitay, Lori Petty, Eva LaRue, Bill Moseley, and Brad Pitt. Yes, THE Brad Pitt.

In a case of life imitating art, Freddy’s Nightmares, with most of the horror syndicated fare during it’s time, were attacked by parental groups who felt that the show was too violent and soon was canceled. In other words, the parents got Freddy, again…

Reruns of Freddy’s Nightmares can be found on ChillerTV

Next, It’s Friday the 13th. You’re luck just ran out…

Friday the 13th: The Series

Like with Freddy’s Nightmares, Paramount wanted to bring their own horror icon Jason Voorhees to the small screen as well. Problem was that Jason is a killing machine and doesn’t crack jokes, you know, with him being mute and all. So Paramount decided to leave Jason on the big screen, but take the name of the movie series and use it as the title of their venture into television, which is how Friday the 13th: The Series was born.

The series was about a man, Lewis Vendredi, who made a deal with the devil, to sell cursed antiques. When the Vendredi reneged on the deal, the devil took his soul. Unfortunately, cousins Micki (Louise Robey) and Ryan (John D. LeMay) inherited the store, which was called Curious Goods, and the duty of retrieving the cursed antiques from demented individuals with the help of Jack Marshak (Chris Wiggins), an old friend of Vendredi’s.

Does that premise sound familiar to you? Yes, that’s because Warehouse 13 is getting flak about stealing ideas from this 80s classic. The sharp difference between both series is tone. Friday the 13th: The Series was dark, moody, and captured the serious side of 80s horror. Warehouse 13 is more light and not as serious with it’s cursed items, but that could change. Who knows?

The episodes of F13: The Series were graphic in nature, putting them ahead of their time. There was more blood shown (and shed) on this show than most other stuff on TV. Some of the memorable antiques include a compact mirror (which made two appearances it was so cursed), an antique doll, a boxing gloves, and film projector that could transport you back in time.
The items represented the themes of the show which mostly circulated around power, beauty, greed, and hatred, which correlated with the ‘greed is good’era of the 80s, especially the latter part of the decade.

Like Freddy’s Nightmares, Friday the 13th: The Series met it’s maker due to parental outrage and a casting change that might have turned some fans off from the series.

Next, looking for another tale? Let’s meet The Crypt-Keeper…

Tales From The Crypt

The Crypt keeper became a horror icon in this offering from producer Robert Zemeckis. One thing that made Tales From the Crypt such a spectacular was that it attracted a literal who’s who of filmmakers and actors throughout its run including directors like Richard Donner, Walter Hill, Tom Holland, and of course Zemeckis himself. Writers included such royalty as Fred Dekker, Jeffrey Price, and Frank Darabont.

Tales From The Crypt was inspired by the stories in the EC Comics series of the same name. That series survived numerous attacks during the 50s and 60s from decency proponents who found the depraved stories to be troubling. The hedonistic culture of the 80s was fine with it though, and record numbers tuned in for Tales From The Crypt’s sexually charged supernatural sojourns.

Next: An Honorable mention. Want to see something … Amazing?

Honorable Mention: Amazing Stories

Without a doubt, in the 1980s Stephen Spielberg was a champion of the imagination so it was only appropriate that he be the one to bring Amazing Stories to the screen. Not specifically a horror show, Amazing Stories was prime time fantasy as it has never been done since.

Much like Zemeckis did for Crypt, Spielberg’s association with the show – which survived for two seasons – attracted all sorts of big league talent including Burt Reynolds, Clint Eastwood, Joe Dante, Martine Scorsese, and of course a few episodes directed by Spielberg himself.

2 Comments

  1. Holly October 29, 2010
  2. Holly October 29, 2010

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