Last week, fans of obscure TV movies and Larry “Dr. Giggles” Drake were elated by the release of Dark Night of the Scarecrow on DVD (and Blu-Ray) for the very first time. It was definitely one of the finest horror flicks ever produced for the small screen, during an era–unlike today–in which there was actually quite a bit of genuinely scary stuff to be found on the tube. Here’s a look at the ten finest original fright films ever broadcast on television.
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ABC gave us this deeply unnerving thriller about the spirit of a dead kid who keeps telephoning the living, featuring a very young Michael Douglas. A note to those interested: it’s available on DVD under the title “Shattered Silence”.
Five years before Jack Palance and horror TV producer extraordinaire Dan Curtis teamed up on the better-known Dracula TV movie, they brought this fine adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic tale to ABC. Believe it…or not.
More psychological than most film treatments of Mary Shelley’s novel, this NBC two-parter featured an all-star cast, including Sir Ralph Richardson, Sir John Geilgud, Tom Baker, Agnes Moorehead and that ever-dependable TV fixture, Jane Seymour.
For once, the Sci-Fi Channel actually got it right when it comes to original movies. For my money, this “mockumentary” was way more effective than the actual Blair Witch Project itself. It’s also the most recent entry on this list, which tells you the direction TV horror has gone in the last decade.
In this entry from the peacock network, Drake plays Bubba, a mentally challenged man killed in cold blood by some scumbag cops who falsely accuse him of raping a little girl. The horror twist? Bubba just so happened to be disguised as a scarecrow at the time of his murder–so naturally, he returns in that guise to exact a bloody vengeance.
One of the earliest efforts by the fledgling Fox Network, this underrated gem was expanded into a full-blown series. Despite its obvious co-opting of the whole “man-accused-of-crime-wanders-from-town-to-town-transforming-into-a-rampaging-creature-and-inadvertently-helping-people” gimmick from The Incredible Hulk, it’s still a great watch. Sadly, it’s also the only entry on this list that’s still not available on video.
A long-time fan favorite, CBS’s nightmare-inducing tale of hideous creatures awakened from their ancient slumber to wreak general havoc boasts some of the earliest work by the late special effects master Stan Winston.
Directed by Tobe Hooper, this two-part effort from CBS can be held right up there with some of the best vampire flicks ever made, regardless of screen size. The truly terrifying Nosferatu-inspired Barlow and his creepy guardian played by James Mason completely make up for the fact that the hero is played by one half of Starsky & Hutch. It’s still by far the best of the endless Stephen King TV adaptations (with “It” coming in a distant second).
Another TV movie that spawned an equally excellent series, Carl Kolchak’s original caper–in which he matches wits with a Vegas vampire–kicked off one of the most beloved and influential phenomena in the genre’s history.
and finally, the number one made-for-TV horror movie of all time….
Originally aired by the BBC, this miniseries came to the United States as part of “Great Performances” on PBS, and is regarded as one of the most effective adaptations of Stoker’s novel ever attempted, and possibly the best. Featuring Louis Jourdan in the lead and Shakespearean actor Frank Finlay as Van Helsing, it is also quite possibly the most faithful (sorry, Mr. Coppola). Pretty intense for TV, it was even edited for its original U.S. airing, with one infamous scene (in which the Brides make a late night snack out of an infant) completely removed to protect delicate American sensibilities.
For more news and opinions on the world of horror, including a breaking story on the NOES remake, the ten most infamous lines in horror movie history, and the third part of the history of horror television, check out Brian’s daily blog, The Vault of Horror.