Horror and science fiction have always been a part of the television canvas, and constant attempts have been made over the years to produce classic entertainment. Some have fallen by the wayside, while others became mainstream phenomena. With “TV Terrors,” we take a look back at the many genre efforts from the 80’s, 90’s, and 00’s, exploring some shows that became cult classics, and others that sank in to obscurity.
Today we remember… “Night Visions.“
- Aired in 2001
- Aired on the FOX Network and the Syfy Channel
After being considered something of a dead format for a long time (especially after the end of HBO’s “Tales from the Crypt”), the last fifteen years has thankfully been a renaissance for the horror anthology. Especially now with the rise of indie filmmaking, the sub-genre has become a great way for directors to combine their talents for titles like “10/31,” and “The Invoking 2.” Thankfully television has followed suit with creative minds like Guillermo Del Toro now developing a series with Netflix. “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” and “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” are also getting highly anticipated revivals.
One of my all time favorite contemporary television anthology series is “Night Visions,” a hideously underrated attempt at the sub-genre that featured truly creative tales of horror. Originally airing on FOX, it served as Friday night filler during the summer so there was a guarantee almost no one would be home to watch it. It was not surprisingly taken off the air without much of a resolution for the small audience that tuned in every week. As a genuine TV junkie, I made a note of watching every episode, and in the middle of summer when all my favorite shows were on break, it was fun to see a classic anthology series airing on primetime again.
Although it wasn’t as grandiose or gory as “Tales from the Crypt,” it more than compensated with clever episodes that packed in a ton of surprising plot twists, and genuine atmosphere. “Night Visions” was hosted by the legendary Henry Rollins who would introduce two half hour stories, both of which made up an hour long episode per week. Allegedly forced on the creators of the series as the host, Rollins successfully added a stark sense of tension to every episode, but never did much on the show. All of his intros and outros were obviously filmed beforehand with Rollins standing stationary in front of a green screen. Thankfully the episodes are strong enough to where they don’t need much explanation or preamble.
“Night Visions” dabbled in science fiction every now and then, but most of the time it reveled in its horror formula, with tales concerning classic themes about morality, comeuppance, and the dark side of humanity. To its credit, despite its smaller budget, “Night Visions” packed in a pretty good pedigree of directors and actors. This included the late great Tobe Hooper, Ernest Dickerson, and “Gremlins” director Joe Dante, respectively. The episodes also garnered impressive stars like Brian Dennehy, Bridget Fonda, JoBeth Williams, Cary Elwes, and Bill Pullman, many of whom would also direct a few episodes here and there.
Among some of my favorites, there was “Dead Air,” a genuinely scary story of a late night shock jock (Lou Diamond Phillips) who receives a weird call by a young girl who thinks she’s being stalked by a killer, and realizes he’s also being terrorized. This is the first episode I ever saw of the series, and it gave me the willies. There’s also “Darkness,” starring Michael Rappaport, who plays a young man who inherits a mansion from his uncle, unaware that with the wealth he’s also inherited a horrible curse. I’m also a big fan of the episode “Quiet Please,” a darkly comical tale starring Cary Elwes as a man seeking peace and quiet during a wilderness getaway; he can’t quite shake the presence of another camper that insists on following him everywhere with his loud dog.
Bridget Fonda is very good in “The Occupant,” playing a divorcee who lives alone, slowly realizing that things in her house are being moved around, or are missing. Before long she begins to suspect she may not be the only resident there. Lastly, there’s “Neighborhood Watch,” a pitch black tale of a cul de sac housing a group of tightly knit families. When they receive notice that a sex offender has moved in to the neighborhood, they become increasingly paranoid for their children’s safety and decide to do something about it. There’s such a great selection of horror stories in its thirteen episode run that it’s sad to think of what could have been if FOX gave “Night Visions” another season.
Even in the early aughts, FOX was never very kind to genre fare. “Night Visions” came along during a time where FOX was changing formats, so the series was mishandled big time. That’s a damn shame, considering that at its best, “Night Visions” matched the quality and sharp writing of series like “Tales from the Crypt,” and “The Outer Limits.” The show was shortly picked up by the Syfy Channel, where the final two unaired episodes were reformatted and re-edited into a made for TV anthology horror movie named “Shadow Realm.”
It’s a fairly good horror film that allowed for a truer vision of what the creators wanted for “Night Visions,” with Henry Rollins cut out as narrator. Tobe Hooper thankfully returned with folks like Thora Birch, Timothy Olyphant, and Malcolm McDowell starring. If you’ve yet to see “Night Visions,” I highly recommend giving it a shot, as it might surprise you. With anthology horror making a slow but steady comeback on television, I hope audiences will re-discover “Night Visions” once again.
Is It On DVD/Blu-Ray? Sadly, there’s yet to be an official release on DVD or Blu-Ray, and “Shadow Realm” is incredibly rare, only airing once or twice on cable. The series does still occasionally show up in syndication on cable television (most recently the now defunct “Chiller”), and episodes can be found on YouTube in full length.