THE TWILIGHT ZONE
To mimic Rod Serling's introductory monologue to his ground-breaking anthology program:
It lies in the pit of man's fears (and hopefully somewhere in your DVD collection). This is a television show with imagination. It is a series which we call The Twilight Zone.
The coordinates are a little sketchy: it's in an alternative universe, a fifth dimension, somewhere between heaven, sky, and earth, a middle ground, off a highway exit, on the outskirts of a small town, around the block, or the next stop.... But the episodes are as well-known as the back of your hand: ''To Serve Man,'' ''The Eye of the Beholder,'' and that terrifying tale of air-travel-gone-awry, ''Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.''
Summer used to be the season for reality series, game shows, and reruns. But thanks to this new NBC show, serial killers, zombies, neighborhood conspiracies, and deadly secrets could add some spook to your otherwise humdrum summer nights. With 13 stand-alone installments from masterminds like Mary Harron (American Psycho), Ronny Yu (Freddy vs. Jason), and Brad Anderson (The Machinist) horror junkies can get a weekly 40-minute fix of fear. Time will tell how it stacks up against the 15 shows on the following screens, which set the bar high for chill-inducing TV.
Set in the small town of Trinity, South Carolina, American Gothic is about a sheriff, a schoolteacher, and a young boy. Sounds innocent enough, except that Sheriff Lucas Buck (Gary Cole) is the devil; the schoolteacher, Selena (Brenda Bakke), is his evil partner in crime/part time lover; and the boy, Caleb (Lucas Black), is the Sheriff's son, conceived when the cop raped his saintly mother. Yeah, ''nefarious'' doesn't adequately describe this town's seedy underbelly. It's hard to decide what's creepier, an almost-too-convincingly evil Gary Cole, or the perpetually arched eyebrows on Lucas Black.
TALES FROM THE CRYPT
What would happen if there were Siamese twins, and one was good and the other was evil? Or if a serial killer was parading around dressed as Santa? Or if a cat gland was implanted in a homeless guy's brain? Or if a radio talk show host committed murders for ratings? Or if an older model killed her younger competition? Or if a vampire was fired from his job at the local blood bank? Just find your way through the door, down the hallway, into the basement, and turn the channel to HBO, which allowed gore-hounds Robert Zemeckis, Richard Donner, Joel Silver, and Walter Hill to hatch this wickedly adult anthology, inspired by the EC Comics of old.
Fox ''Spooky'' Mulder (David Duchovny) and straight-edge scientist Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) are FBI agents who have met their fair share of monsters, demons, and alien clones, but it's the corrupt government that keeps them up at night. Mulder and Scully are crusaders into the unknown, but their nemesis doesn't eat bodies for sustenance or elongate his body to fit through air vents. He's just an old guy in a nice suit whose wrinkled face is constantly framed by an ominous cloud of smoke.
THE OUTER LIMITS
It has monsters and aliens and dimensional time travel and a witty opening monologue from a Control Voice that isn't above begging and brainwashing to keep you tuned in. But what makes The Outer Limits special are the ethical dilemmas it poses. The flawed hero of the week often ends up in the same boat as the audience — feeling uneasy, alienated, or maybe just plain terrified. The series never quite recaptured the magic of its first season in 1963, but its mid-'90s revival addressed biochemical warfare, genetic mutation, artificial intelligence, and overpopulation. A collection of fantastic scenarios that seemed not entirely outside the realm of possibility, The Outer Limits is scary because it doesn't seem so ''out there.''
Long before audiences got Lost, there was Carnivale, a series about circus freaks which was more cryptic than a catatonic fortune teller. It had a plot that twisted like a charmed snake — revolving around two men, young Ben Hawkins (Nick Stahl) and Brother Justin Crawford (Clancy Brown), and an all-encompassing battle between Good and Evil — and a mythology bigger than a 400-pound man.
MASTERS OF HORROR
A few of the creepsters that Showtime's Masters of Horror would like you to meet: Corpses who bar dance, orgy-loving zombies, demonic babies, insect enthusiasts, soldier corpses with political savvy, and serial-killer hitchhikers who pick the wrong ambulance to ride.
After The Twilight Zone, Rod Serling set up shop in a poorly lit museum and took audiences on guided tours of works of art. But you didn't have to be an aesthete to appreciate these paintings: The gallery wasn't so much a nod to artistic talent as it was a way to introduce the week's scary story.
POLTERGEIST: THE LEGACY
A secret society exploring paranormal anomalies and supernatural evil, the Legacy pledges to protect the innocent from whatever evil may be lurking in the shadows. Also on their to-do list: keep friends away from vampires, take down cult leaders, make sure portal of hell isn’t breached...you know, the usual.
KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER
''Has-been big-city reporter'' Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin) isn't afraid to do some of his own investigative journalism, even if it means losing the respect of his co-workers, or losing his job. But while other authorities deny the existence of Native American bear-spirits, headless motorcyclists, high fashion witches, and giant lizards, for Kolchak, it's just another day on the job. While the series often veered from horror into black comedy, it still summoned up a few scares, and inspired its much more successful successor, The X-Files.
Frank Black (the gravelly voiced Lance Henriksen) is not your typical FBI profiler. He can put himself into the minds of criminals; see visions of the world through a killer's eyes. The grim Seattle setting adds to the spook, as do the apocalyptical prophesies from the morally ambiguous Millennium Group. And this Chris Carter show gets bonus points for casting Terry O'Quinn before the Lost boys made it cool.
On April 8, 1990, audiences watched as Pete Martell, a lumberjack from the town of Twin Peaks, Wash., discovered the body of a young woman wrapped in plastic. And thus, one of TV's biggest cult hits was born. David Lynch's series had everyone asking who killed the popular, sweet, homecoming queen Laura Palmer? The town's bizarre citizens, combined with Dale Cooper's other worldly dreams, gave this mystery thriller just the right amount of supernatural scare.
ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS
Hitchcock is the master of suspense, mayhem, and macabre; and he'll grab you right in the opening sequence. His droll greeting after the Funeral March of a Marionette is teasing; he sounds quite pleased that he's about to scare the bejesus outta you.
It's a series entitled Amazing Stories, with a superstar like Steven Spielberg at the helm, big name directors like Clint Eastwood and Martin Scorsese, and Kevin Costner, Charlie Sheen, and John Lithgow as a few of the many notable guest stars. Knowing all of that, you'd think Amazing Stories would have stories that were, well, a little more amazing. Not all episodes were winners (the one where the boy saves Santa from jail comes to mind), but some managed to mix the perfect blend of horror and fantasy — like the psychic who contacts a serial killer or a horror film director whose monsters come to life.
ummm where is according to jim? and did anyone watch that fear itself show, was it good?