The Golden Age of Anthology Horror Television

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I was lucky to grow up in the 80’s; it was the golden age of anthology horror television.

From the early 80’s through the 90’s, there were a number anthology horror TV shows on the airwaves. These shows would air late at night on the weekends, and they were the perfect creepy, late night viewing.

Anthology horror TV shows of the time were an extension of the unfolding golden age of horror on the silver screen. These weekly horror shows were produced by companies like Laurel EntertainmentNew Line Cinema, and Paramount, who were behind some of the best horror films of the 80’s, including Creepshow, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Friday the 13th. 

Many of the shows had episodes written or based on stories by famous horror writers and directors, like George Romero, Stephen King, Clive Barker, Tobe Hooper, and Fred Dekker.

Anthology horror TV shows were popular throughout the 80’s, but by 1992 the only show left in the genre was Tales from the Crypt, which aired until 1996. When the golden age of horror films diffused into the 90’s, anthology horror television did as well.

There have been some modern anthology horror series over the last few decades, most notably Masters of Horror (2005-2007), but anthology horror television has largely become a lost genre.

Let’s take a look back at the classic anthology horror shows of the 80’s.

Tales from the Darkside (1984-1988)

With the success of George Romero’s horror anthology film Creepshow, Romero and the film’s producers, Richard P. Rubinstein and Laurel Entertainment, decided to develop a similar TV series entitled Tales from the Darkside. The show followed the same approach as Creepshow, with live-action 1950’s EC comic-style horror tales. The iconic, creepy opening and closing sequences feature a haunting theme song by Donald Rubinstein and Erica Lindsay. A number of the episodes were based on stories by famous horror authors like Stephen King, Clive Barker, and Robert Bloch. Tales from the Darkside ended in 1988, after four seasons and 90 episodes. A movie based on the TV show by the same was released in 1990.

Friday the 13th: The Series (1987-1990)

Even though the show was called Friday the 13th: The Series it actually has nothing to do with Jason Vorhees or Crystal Lake. The show is about Micki Foster and her cousin Ryan Dallion, who inherit an antique store from their Uncle Lewis Vendredi, and inadvertently sell cursed antiques from the store. After being told about the cursed items by their uncle’s friend Jack Marshak, Micki and Ryan work with him to retrieve the cursed antiques, and return them to a vault under the store. Many of the customers discover the powers of the cursed items, and do not want to return them, using the powers for their own purposes. Friday the 13th: The Series ended in 1990 after three seasons and 72 episodes, when the show was canceled abruptly during the third season.

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Freddy’s Nightmares (1988-1990)

Freddy’s Nightmares is a spin-off from the A Nightmare on Elm Street films produced by New Line Television. The show is hosted by Freddy Krueger, and the format is much like Tales from the Crypt. Each week there was a new stand alone episode which typically had two story lines. The pilot, “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” directed by Tobe Hooper (Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Poltergiest), elaborates on Freddy’s origins referenced in the first A Nightmare on Elm Street film, showing his trial, release on a technicality, and immolation by the parents of Springwood. After the pilot, Freddy would occasionally appear in episodes, but mainly served as the host. Freddy’s Nightmares ended in 1990 after two seasons and 44 episodes.

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Monsters (1988-1991)

Monsters debuted not long after Tales from the Darkside ended, and was produced by Darkside producer Richard P. Rubinstein and Laurel Entertainment. The two shows were similar, but Monsters was more straight horror, and focused on monsters. The show adapted stories by Stephen King and Robert Bloch, and had guest stars, including Steve Buscemi and Gina Gershon. Monsters ended in 1991 after three seasons and 72 episodes

Tales from the Crypt (1989-1996)

Tales from the Crypt debuted on HBO in 1989 and was named after the 1950’s EC comic by the same name. The episodes were largely based on stories from Tales from the Crypt, and the 6 other EC comics of the time period. The show was produced by HBO, with Executive Producers Richard Donner, Robert Zemeckis, Joel Silver, and David Giler. Unlike other anthology horror series of the time, Tales from the Crypt aired on cable TV, so it wasn’t subject to the censorship of network TV. The show often contained graphic violence, gore, nudity, and sexual situations. The episodes were later edited for broadcast in syndication. Episodes opened with theme music by Danny Elfman while the show’s host, an animated corpse named the Crypt Keeper, introduced the story. The show featured well-known writers, directors and actors from film and television throughout the series. Filming was moved to Britain for the seventh season and featured episodes based on British characters. Tales from the Crypt ended in 1996 after seven seasons, and 93 episodes.

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