Small Screen Screams

One of the wonderful aspects of the DVD revolution has been the unearthing of classic creepy tales from movie and television vaults worldwide. And this Halloween season is bringing us even more deliciously dark treats with the reissue of the following series, some of which have been kept locked underground for many years. A bulk of these are anthologies, the one genre that tends to be very hit or miss both in terms of content and special effects. One has to forgive some of the cheesiness that occasionally pops up in these shows; at least horror fans are a forgiving lot. We crave fresh meat, and the following series offer plenty for this Halloween.

Blood Ties Season OneBLOOD TIES — This Canadian series, based upon novels by Tanya Huff, actually managed to make it on to Lifetime during 2007-8, but it’s reception was short-lived. A variation on the vampire procedural drama first pioneered by Forever Knight, Blood Ties focuses on Vicki Nelson (Christina Cox), a headstrong P.I. with degraded eyesight solving supernatural cases with a dashing vampire (who moonlights as a graphic novelist) while also consorting with her former cop partner. Despite a hokey pilot, the show actually developed some teeth, along with a fun sense of humor. Nelson is a strong, savvy heroine, and its nice to see a vampire that does not always have the upper hand while handling supernatural threats and, despite centuries of accrued wisdom, still loses his cool with mere mortals.

Fear Itself Season OneFEAR ITSELF — After Lionsgate bought the rights to Showtime’s occasionally controversial Masters Of Horror series, they stripped out the sex, excess violence and political overtones for broadcast on NBC, and the result was a middle of the road shriek show that occasionally delivered a few serious chills. Two of the best: Larry Fessenden’s “Skin And Bones,” with Hellboy‘s Doug Jones in super scary form as a farmer turned flesh eater, and Mary Harron’s “Community,” a Twilight Zone episode-in-disguise with Brandon Routh and Shiri Appleby as a couple who discover that their exclusive new neighborhood makes the concept of a “nice place to raise your kids” seem absolutely terrifying. Routh’s connection to Superman makes this one (un)intentionally extra creepy. There are some worthwhile episodes here, but ultimately it is clear that horror anthologies work better on cable without commercial interruptions. FYI: Five of these stories never aired on NBC.

Friday The 13th: The Series Season ThreeFRIDAY THE 13TH: THE SERIES –This late-night series from the late Eighties bore no resemblance to the Jason movie franchise, but it played with a fun concept — three antique store owners must retrieve the possessed objects sold by the Satanic former owner. The main cast (Chris Wiggins, singer Robey and, alternately, John D. LeMay and Stephen Monarque) had a pretty good chemistry (with Wiggins clearly the standout thespian), and many of their adventures — involving everything from a cursed mirror to a murderous scarecrow to a wheelchair with supernatural healing properties — were pretty fun. The most poignant episode was Season Three’s “Hate On Your Dial,” in which a magical car radio sends a bitter man back in time to the Fifties to reconnect with his racist father, with horrifying results. The show’s bombastic, dramatic score from Fred Mollin, who also did the music for Forever Knight, was an added plus.

The Hunger Season OneTHE HUNGER — Here’s another series with no connection to the movie that spawned its title. Well, that’s not entirely true. The arty cinematography, sensual escapades and metaphysical musings remained, but the vampires were rarely there. Instead, this Tony and Ridley Scott-produced series explored how lust, passion and desire, usually for the wrong things, leads people down the wrong path. Terence Stamp (General Zod himself!) hosted Season One, while David Bowie hosted Season Two, and many episodes were written by established genre authors like Graham Masterton, Karl Edward Wagner and Poppy Z. Brite. Like Tales From The Crypt, The Hunger featured many stars and rising stars — check out the twisted, supernatural “Menage A Trois” with Daniel Craig, Lena Headey and Karen Black — in strange stories. One of the most beguiling is “The Secret Shih-Tan,” with Jason Scott Lee as a master chef who is cajoled into preparing a most distressing dish. Not all of the episodes clicked, but many were worthwhile, and Stamp’s introductions in Season One were devious fun. (Season Two is next for me to watch.) Many argue that The Hunger was for people who liked softcore porn because there were always obligatory nude scenes in every episode; frankly, not all of them were sexy, and purposely so.

Masters Of Horror Season One, Vol. IIIMASTERS OF HORROR (on Blu-ray) — Mick Garris’ ominous Showtime series assembled many well-known genre directors (including Dario Argento, Don Coscarelli, John Carpenter and John Landis, among many others) and allowed them to create hour-long short films with the quality of full-length features. With creative freedom and without networking censoring — the lone exception being the banning of Takashi Miike’s squirm-inducing Imprint, which I suspect may have been a marketing ploy since most of its violence and nastiness is off-camera — the veteran filmmakers got to let loose all sorts of ghouls, demons and maniacs on the small screen. There were deranged serial killers, a deformed and sexually predatory woman, patriotic zombies and even a malicious film that drove anyone who viewed it to homicidal madness. Part of what made this show stand out was the way it tackled hot button topics like gun control, abortion and animal rights, most of which popped up in Season Two. One gripe: Season One has been released on four separate Blu-rays, which makes collecting the series expensive. Amazon has a great deal on them right now.

Tales From The Darkside Season TwoTALES FROM THE DARKSIDE — George Romero’s seminal late-night series from the Eighties has been out-of-print on video and never on DVD…until now. This low budget compendium of fear fare was not overtly scary but usually served up its tales of retribution with a wicked sense of humor, continuing the EC Comics vibe that Romero excelled at with Creepshow. While the budgetary limitations occasionally stuck out, the show did generate some classic tales, including “Monsters In My Room,” with a young Seth Green as a kid who is afraid of the creatures in his midst but whose angry stepfather refuses to believe in, and “The Last Car,” a ghostly tale on a night train free of blood but not of fear. Both have great twist endings. It’s great to see this series available to the masses once again.

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