Genre television has hit a high in the last two or three seasons. I know that I am covering up to ten genre TV shows a week at any given time, even during the notoriously slow summer months. Scary TV has been around since the boob tube first flickered to life, but most people only remember the big ones: Twilight Zone, Dark Shadows, Tales From the Darkside, Tales From the Crypt, American Gothic, and Night Gallery, to name a few. But I wanted to highlight a few lesser-known series - hidden gems - if you will, from my lifetime of obsessive television consumption.
Friday the 13th: The Series
My absolute, all-time favorite TV show since the age of 10, Friday the 13th: The Series had absolutely nothing to do with hockey mask slasher flicks other than the fact that film producer Frank Mancuso Jr. executive produced the series. The series had three seasons in syndication, running from 1987-1990 before it was abruptly canceled, despite being the second highest-rated syndicated show of the era (behind only Star Trek: The Next Generation). The show followed cousins Micki and Ryan as they discover that the antique shop they inherited from an uncle they never knew. Uncle Lewis sold antiques cursed by the devil, and Micki and Ryan, along with wise antiques procurer and former Lewis associate Jack, now spend their days trying to get their hands on these antiques and lock them away from the world.
Of note: I have many, many favorite episodes, but it is noteworthy that David Cronenberg directed an episode ("Faith Healer") and the show featured a number of now-recognizable actors: Sarah Polley (Dawn of the Dead); Fritz Weaver (Creepshow); Colm Feore (The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Chronicles of Riddick, Thor); Monika Schnarre (Waxwork II); Kerim Malicki-Sanchez (the upcoming Leatherface 3D); and Enrico Colantoni (Contagion).
Does it stand the test of time? I may be too biased to answer this, having committed more than half of the show's 72 episodes to perfect memory. Yes, some of the effects are cheesy - especially by today's standards, and some of the acting is a little silly, and continuity was never the show's strong suit, but each episode still enthralls me.
She-Wolf of London
This syndicated show only ran for 20 episodes, but had some surprisingly high production values, with most episodes shot on location in London. American grad student Randi is studying in London. She goes camping on the moors and is attacked by a wild animal. The next full moon reveals that that animal was a werewolf. Together with the help of Ian, her professor (and eventual lover), the two search for a cure to Randi's "condition." The show went through a "re-tooling" for the last six episodes (the British co-financiers pulled out). Ian and Randi move to her hometown of Los Angeles, set up in a chic beach house with a private dungeon, and now work on paranormal investigation talk show: Ian as host, Randi as producer. The show changed its title to Love and Curses to match the slicker feel. The moodiness of the British episodes was replaced with pure wackiness.
Of note: Horror icon Mick Garris created the series along with Tom McLoughlin (Friday the 13th VI). The pair also wrote the pilot episode.
Does it stand the test of time? I was surprised at how much it did. The DVD set came out a year or two ago, and I sat down to watch it for the first time in nearly twenty years, expecting it to be a roll-your-eyes affair. But I was impressed that it was still pretty damned good. Of course, I have not had the guts to watch to Love & Curses episodes yet.
Kind of The X-Files mixed with Goosebumps, I remember Eerie, Indiana airing in the early primetime Sunday "family" slot. Marshall is a little boy who moves to a small town called Eerie, Indiana with his parents and discovers that his new neighbors are all... weird. And not really "fun" weird; weird-weird. The most memorable episode to me was the one where a woman not only sold Tupperware-type products - she and her family slept in them to maintain their freshness and youth. Other fun to be had in the town were talking dogs trying to take over, Bigfoot, and aliens.
Of note: Joe Dante was a "creative consultant" on the show, and also directed a number of episodes. Notable guest stars and "before they were stars" included Vincent Schiavelli, John Astin, Danielle Harris, and Tobey Maguire.
Does it stand the test of time? Honestly, I haven't seen it since it originally aired in the early 1990s. I grew up loving Joe Dante's movies, so I have to imagine the series would have the same feel.
Nick Knight is a Toronto cop who also happens to be an 800-year-old vampire. After centuries killing, he was reformed by his guilt and now sticks to animal blood and crime-solving. The vampires in Forever Knight are not so different from the vamps we are all familiar with: super speed, super healing, the ability to glamour people. Knight could not go out in the day, so he claimed to have a rare disorder making him extremely sensitive to sunlight in order to remain on the night shift.
Of note: Forever Knight was originally a made-for-TV movie called Nick Knight and starred singer Rick Springfield. The series ran in CBS's short-lived "Crimetime after Primetime" block, which ended when the ‘net landed The Late Show with David Letterman.
Does it stand the test of time? Another one that I have not caught up on recently, but it has an enormous cult following, so I imagine there is something there.
Carnivale is an interesting entry on this list. It is far more recent (having run from 2003-2005), and it was a well-received show with critical success, high production values, and winning five Creative Arts Emmys in its first season. The show, set during the Great Depression in the Dust Bowl, followed Ben, a young man who is able to heal with a touch. He joins a traveling carnival and begins to have strange, prophetic dreams. On the other side of the coin is Brother Justin, a preacher who is having similar visions and begins to realize that he has powers that allow him to manipulate humans and use their sins against them. Carnivale had a very Twin Peaks-feel with a slightly more supernatural bent.
Of note: The series was intended to run for six seasons, but was canceled abruptly after two seasons, leaving major cliffhangers that were never resolved. The show was one of HBO's early entries into original weekly series (that weren't porn or children's shows), and Carnivale was a major endeavor for the premium cable network that was still best known for carrying feature films. Ultimately, the $4 million per episode price needed to be cut in half, but the producers couldn't or wouldn't make it work.
Does it stand the test of time? I guess we will have to wait another ten years or so, but my guess is: yes.