Wednesday, November 1, 2017

TERROR TEE-VEE: A Countdown to Halloween (Day 31)

Well, here we are again at the end of another Halloween Season, nothing but candy in a bag and tired feet to show for it. Sure the ride was an amazing, sure the knowledge gained was great, but now comes the hard part...

Saying goodbye to the holy day of holy days, putting the Halloween Tree away until next year.


What makes Carl such a great protagonist is that he's your average Joe in a seersucker suit and straw boater hat whose only mission is to be a truth-teller, to find the facts and report them to his audience, the reader.  What makes him even greater is that he not only uncovers great supernatural evil on a regular basis on his own, but he usually either dispatches or destroys it.

Sure, he does all of this while being scared out of his gourd, but he overcomes it, in part due to his sense of fact-finding—but there clearly is a sense of civic responsibility, too. Course, he’s also a silver-tongued, wittily sly guy who can usually talk himself into more trouble than he needs and out of more trouble than you would expect.

Born in an unpublished novel by Jeff Rice entitled The Kolchak Papers, the story was adapted by Richard Matheson into the 1972 film The Night Stalker and starred the great Darren McGavin as Carl Kolchak, hunting down a vampire killer.  This TV movie was the most highly rated of all time and led to a sequel (The Night Strangler).

The series began on Friday, September 13, 1974 and ran for 20 episodes. Some of these are great and some are less than good. Don't worry, Carl knows what to do with stories that just don't fit and ideas that stretch the imagination beyond the breaking point...

TERROR TEE-VEE: A Countdown to Halloween (Day 30)


Rod Serling brought mind-bending storytelling to primetime television in America in the 1960’s via his thought-provoking series and it changed the country for the better.  The wide-ranging themes and genres, the twist endings, the morals and social commentary all kept audiences on their toes while entertaining them differently each week.

Lasting five seasons from 1959 to 1964 and compromising 156 episodes, The Twilight Zone was begun with a single script purchased by CBS in 1958 called “The Time Element” (a story in which a psychoanalyst’s patient tells him of a recurring dream where he tries to warn people of the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor before it happens, until in one dream he is shot and killed—the psychoanalyst finds his picture on the wall of a bar and is told the guy used to tend there, but was killed in Pearl Harbor) and shelved.

It wasn’t until a producer for Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse found the script and shot it that aired to great praise. This overwhelming positive feedback convinced execs that a series of such stories could be a success and they entered talks with Serling shortly thereafter and the rest became history.

Although Serling bore the vast writing duties of writing or adapting nearly two-thirds of the series episodes, many great writers worked for the show, such as Charles Beaumont, Earl Hamner Jr., George Clayton Johnson, Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, etc.

As for the darkest episodes of this superb series, I recommend:

"Mirror Image"

"Living Doll"

"Nightmare at 20,000 Feet"

"Little Girl Lost"

"Night Call"

A few more select lists of the scariest episodes of the Twilight Zone can be found via the links below…

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

TERROR TEE-VEE: A Countdown to Halloween (Day 29)


Inspired by the cult quirky and strange horror/sci-fi/mystery show from the 1970s KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER, Chris Carter wanted to create a show full of suspense and the unexplained, a show dedicated to purehearted principles such as the search for the truth, where ever the search takes one.  And so, he created The X-Files, which ran for 9 seasons and 202 episodes.  It then spun off into two movies and a six episode revival season.  It will return soon for it’s eleventh season and ten more episodes to begin in January of 2018.

The tiny, much maligned department of the FBI that is devoted to solving the weird cases for which there are no feesable explainations is called the X-Files. Eager Fox “Spooky” Mulder (played by David Duchovny) gladly toils in the shadows, driven by a desire to solve his very own potentially paranormal case—the disappearance of his sister.  But, his sister’s case just feeds his desire to seek out the truth, which he has come to understand has been suppressed by a conspiracy of those in power behind the powers that be.

Dana Scully (portrayed by Gillian Anderson) is an agent on the rise, a medical doctor and a healthy skeptic when it comes to things unexplained.  She is assigned by those powers behind the powers to look into the work of Mulder, who they fear may learn too much of the way the world truly is.  Of course, Dana comes to see the world more from Mulder’s point of view after her scientific mind cannot explain away undeniable proof of the paranormal and extraterrestrial.

Of course, this was just the beginning of the series and it went on to become a great feature for one-off “Monster of the Week” stories and it’s continuing central story called “Mythology” episodes. Episodes ranged from terrifying to hilarious, from thought-provoking to open-ended. Like any series that lasts several years, the quality of the show varied greatly episode to episode.

The series always worked for me because of the dynamic between Scully and Mulder—put them in any situation and the debate they have over the simple facts can keep my interest.  It is a case of perfect casting and I’m not sure it would have worked as well with any other combination of actors.  Their characters, each in their own way, knowing that “The truth is out there” and that they want to believe.

Key scary episodes to watch on Halloween: 




“Die Hand Die Verletzt”

“Field Trip”

Monday, October 30, 2017

TERROR TEE-VEE: A Countdown to Halloween (Day 28)


Created by the team of Joe Ruby and Ken Spears for Hanna-Barbera in 1969, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! ran for two seasons before moving from CBS to ABC and a change in format.

The series focuses on four teenagers and their talking dog who travel around in a van called the “Mystery Machine” solving mysteries and crimes using deductive logic, creative trap-building and general pluckiness.

Fred plays the role of lead detective, Velma is the intelligent mind of the group, Daphne seems the danger-prone damsel and Shaggy and Scooby are the fraidy-cats who have to overcome their fears to help spring the traps on the bad guys.

Beyond solving mysteries, Scooby-Doo is all about facing your fears and overcoming them. While Velma Freddie and Daphne represent the rational mind, Shaggy and Scooby clearly represent that side of us that fears the unknown. It was probably the first piece of fiction many kids watch where it was about putting aside superstition in favor of the power of reason. Evidence over gut feelings.

And anytime this character line-up was changed, the series didn’t seem to work.  When some characters were dropped to add others (that’s you Scrappy-Doo), the dynamic didn’t work.  It was as if there was a perfect balance reached with this quintet. But then, it primarily entertained better than most shows of its ilk due to a combination of great character design, voice acting and engaging stories.

Keep the line-up the same and you have the dynamic that seems to work, no matter what other changes you make.  You could send these characters into space, under water or another reality and they seem to work well together.

Scoob-Doo is such a gold standard in pop culture, it’s hard to believe TV Guide only named it the 5th Greatest TV Cartoon of All Time (behind The Simpsons, The Flintstones, Looney Tunes and Peanuts).

That's nice and all--you say?  But what about a horror, scary or terror element that I've not successfully mentioned yet--you say?  Well, these kids were up against some pretty scary dudes to a wee one watching back in the 1970s--you be the judge:

Sunday, October 29, 2017

TERROR TEE-VEE: A Countdown to Halloween (Day 27)


With richly spectacular visuals, imaginative plot twists and crisp performances, the story of the long hard takedown of Hannibal Lecter by Will Graham was a feat to behold.  And it’s a shame we didn’t see it quite come to completion.

Hannibal is based on a series of novels by Thomas Harris that portray FBI criminal profiler Will Graham and his hunt for a murderer that has him turn to, Hannibal Lecter, the most ingenius serial killer he has ever met for advice—for insight into the killer’s mind.

Hugh Dancy is excellent as the quiet and thoughtful profiler who falls under Lecter’s spell, nearly fatally so.  Mads Mikkelsen’s Lecter is a charmer of a snake, slithering around in the background and through the foreground kicking up messes, murdering folks all the while throwing elegant dinner parties for his law enforcement guests.  One always wondered while watching: how much of that victim did the cops just eat alongside Lecter?

Laurence Fishburne made a great Jack Crawford, head of the FBI’s Behavioral Sciences division, just a little full of himself to fall for Lecter’s charm—hook, line and sinker.  Caroline Dhavernas was a complicated Dr. Alana Bloom, a psychology professor consultant to the FBI who is a former lover of Will’s who falls for Lecter during the story.

Gillian Anderson plays it cold and calculating as Lecter’s psychotherapist. She is so close to Lecter it’s nearly impossible to tell if she is his hostage or his lover (or both?).

Regardless, the look of the show is eye-poping.  The feel of the show is textured and rich—a spectacle for the senses. All played for distraction while Lecter feasts upon his victims and plays with his “friends” as if they were figures in a doll house.

But Graham eventually figures Hannibal out, uncovering the true depths of the horrors Hannibal was responsible for—seeing him for the predatory demon he is.  Unfortunately, the series ended in a literal cliffhanger as the two adversaries plunge over a cliff in the season finale that became the series finale.

A true shame,
for the show was shooting for high art.
And it was getting there.
But then, so was Lecter.

Hannibal’s most beautiful murders…