In this new golden era of horror TV – with shows like The Walking Dead, True Blood, American Horror Story, Supernatural and The Vampire Diaries dominating the small screen – it's hard to believe how many decent horror series have had a helluva time taking hold recently, even when they managed to grab high ratings and a serious fan following. Sure, every series that clicked with audiences then spawned its own imitators, and a lot of those probably deserved to die a quick death... but there were many strong contenders among them that deserved a better chance than they ended up getting. A few actually showed potential for greatness, but for one reason or another, they were canceled after – or even before – the end of their first season.
I picked out five of the more worthy horror & supernatural-themed shows that could have – and should have, in my humble opinion – stayed above ground a bit longer. But like any good horror creation, they never truly die, because you can reanimate all of these series for yourself, thanks to the mystical powers of the infernal internet. Read on for more info on this handful of dark gems...
Dark Shadows: The Revival (1991)
All the fuss over Tim Burton's upcoming big-screen rendition of Dan Curtis's groundbreaking '60s horror soap opera might have overshadowed Curtis's own attempt to reboot the series for a new generation. I'll always be a fan of the original, and it deserves massive props for bringing vampires, werewolves and ghosts into the world of daytime TV – in starring roles, no less – but I was also impressed by this sexually crazed remake, which stars the excellent Ben Cross (Chariots of Fire) as Barnabas, vampiric forefather of the Collins clan, and even features horror icon Barbara Steele (Black Sunday) in a recurring role. Despite high ratings, this one fell victim to wall-to-wall coverage of the Gulf War, and I'm guessing the NBC bosses made the misguided decision that "people don't want to watch horror during a national crisis." (I think that's a ridiculous mindset, but we'll get into that in another article.) Capturing all the crazy plot twists and campy fun of the original, it's well worth streaming all twelve episodes on Netflix.
American Gothic (1995)
While many of executive producer Sam Raimi's non-horror shows like Hercules and Xena thrived in the mid-'90s, I still can't figure out why his seriously nightmarish horror series didn't put down deeper roots, given Raimi's legendary cred in the genre. Centering on a troubled boy named Caleb growing up in a small South Carolina town, the show gave us one of television's most ominous villains in the form of the local sheriff (Gary Cole, years before he found a successful niche in comedy), who is able to summon evil forces and manipulate the townspeople to suit his nefarious plans... which include murder, rape, suicide and more. Add to this the mysterious intervention of Caleb's dead sister, and you've got a steamy, kudzu-crawling nightmare that truly lives up to its name. The show only made it through one season, leaving many of the show's more chilling mysteries unsolved. If you don't mind being left swinging, you can still indulge in some serious chills by streaming the entire series on Hulu. (Here's a little trivia: American Gothic was created by former '70s teen idol Shaun Cassidy, who also produced another one-season wonder, the sci-fi series Invasion).
The Dresden Files (2007)
The cancellation of this series is another sad story: it started as a smart adaptation – although a very loose one – of Jim Butcher's bestselling book series about a Chicago private eye (played here by Paul Blackthorne) with mad mystical skills solving supernaturally-linked cases. It was one of the first TV series to tap into the popularity of the "urban fantasy" book genre, and despite some rough spots early in the show, it gained a fairly strong fan following on SyFy... so why did it tank after just a dozen episodes (not counting the unaired pilot)? Some on-the-run tinkering might have played a hand in its demise (several episodes were aired out of order), and maybe the wide arc of the book series didn't lend itself to easily wrapped-up storylines. Either way, I was hooked for a while there, and subsequently punked when it didn't return. People tend to either love or hate this one, so you be the judge: you can currently watch the whole thing on Hulu, Netflix and Amazon.
Fear Itself (2008)
Maybe I'm in the minority here, because I've heard this one called "Masters of Horror Lite" more than once. As a big fan of Mick Garris's Showtime anthology (most of it, anyway), I was still skeptical going into his tamer NBC follow-up, but I was pleasantly surprised – and even quite creeped out – by a couple of the stories; in fact, I'm betting you'll share my appreciation for the episode "Skin and Bones," directed by horror auteur Larry Fessenden (Habit), which I'd rank alongside the final chapter of Trilogy of Terror as one of the scariest things ever made for television. None of the others can match it, but there are still some strong entries, including Stuart Gordon's gruesome serial killer tale "Eater," Brad Anderson's surreal ghost story "Spooked" and Darren Bousman's zombie-apocalypse riff "New Year's Day." This is another one that got the boot due to coverage of a major event – in this case, the 2008 Summer Olympics. It's a shame, because it has some truly scary and often funny moments. All twelve episodes are streaming on Netflix, with restored graphic scenes cut from the network versions.
The Gates (2010)
I'll admit I was more than a little cautious going into this one... I'd never really been interested when the single season of this show aired on ABC, and after watching the pilot episode I imagined a table of network execs trying to figure out a way to toss Twilight and The Vampire Diaries into a blender with The O.C. and Desperate Housewives. But I have to give my wife credit for nudging me to watch the next couple of episodes... and I'll be damned if I didn't find myself hooked. The concept is pretty cool: a cozy, upper-class gated community (quite literally gated, in fact) is home to a whole spectrum of supernatural creatures – from the expected vamps and werewolves to a powerful witch and a succubus. Into the mix arrives a Chicago cop (Frank Grillo) and his family, who begin to suspect that something is amiss. Loaded with steamy romantic sub-plots, a fair amount of suspense and likable characters, this show is actually a lot of fun, and my theory is that it started off on the wrong foot by trying to target too many audiences at once. Once it gets going, though, it's like opening the proverbial potato-chip bag. See for yourself... it's currently streaming on Netflix.