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10 frightening, forgotten horror TV shows of the '60s, '70s and '80s

Horror may be big bucks at the box office, but the terrifying genre has never been terribly popular on network television. It tends to be a little too intense for primetime. Still, some of the greatest series in TV history have been eerie, like Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone.

In the 1970s — the peak of the horror craze in American pop culture — popular made-for-TV horror movies like Satan's School for Girls and Trilogy of Terror paved the way for series such as Kolchak: The Night Stalker.

The Twilight Zone revival of the 1980s was accompanied by other spooky anthology series, from Amazing Stories to Tales from the Crypt.

Over the decades, some titles have fallen through the cracks. So we're creeping into the dank basement of television history to blow the cobwebs off some overlooked shows. So turn on a nightlight and read on…


'Way Out


Master of devilishly dark humor, Roald Dahl had not yet become a children's storytelling institution in 1961. James and the Giant Peach was just hitting the press, while Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Witches were yet unborn. No, at the time, Dahl was better known for twisted tales like "Man from the South," which became a brilliant episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents with a Zippo-flicking Steve McQueen. No wonder then that CBS tapped Dahl to host and present this series. The network paired it The Twilight Zone, but 'Way Out (What exactly was that apostrophe shortening?) proved to only click with big-city audiences. 


Great Ghost Tales


Equally short-lived in 1961 was this anthology series, which drew on talents like Robert Duvall. A summer replacement, Great Ghost Tales stuck out like a tombstone on the green grass of the TV schedule, jabbed between Bachelor Father and Groucho Marx. It does hold a place in history, however, being the last series entirely filmed and broadcast live on a network.

Image: The Everett Collection


Ghost Story


Also known as Circle of Fear, Ghost Story drew on the hypnotic narrating powers of the dapper Sebastian Cabot, best known for family fare like Family Affair and The Jungle Book. It was a good gig while it lasted for Cabot, who introduced each week's witches and ghouls from the Hotel del Coronado on the San Diego Bay. Not quite a cold, haunted mansion. As for the stories, Jodie Foster played a kid with telekinetic powers, while Angie Dickinson faced a manic dog. We're going to assume Stephen King was watching. 

Image: The Everett Collection


Quinn Martin's Tales of the Unexpected


Quinn Martin had a nose for action, having produced hard-boiled hours like The Fugitive, Cannon and The Streets of San Francisco. He tried his hand at horror with Tales of the Unexpected, which ran for eight episodes in 1977. William Conrad played host, while guest stars included everyone from Bill Bixby to Eve Plumb. More killer dogs turned up, to hound farmer Ronnie Cox of Deliverance. Elsewhere, former teen idol Ricky Nelson played a Dodger who receives a haunted hand transplant.

Image: The Everett Collection




The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery had Rod Serling, Thriller had Boris Karloff. Prototypical tough guy James Coburn handled the hosting duties on Darkroom.
His leathery voice is heard over the opening credits, as a camera raced through an old house. "You run, but there's no escape... nowhere to turn. You feel something beckoning you... drawing you into the terror that awaits you in the Darkroom!" Helen Hunt starred in "The Bogeyman Will Get You," while Billy Crystal, fresh off Soap, appeared alongside Brian Dennehy in "Paddy." The cast also included familiar TV faces such as Rue McClanahan, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, David Carradine and June Lockhart.

Image: The Everett Collection


The Hitchhiker


Premium cable channel HBO had been around for about a decade before it proved its ability to craft original drama. Today, it is the known for prestige television. Early programs like The Hitchhiker helped blaze the trail. Page Fletcher (pictured) played the title character, taking over for Nicholas Campbell. The title seemed to a nod to the 1960 Twilight Zone episode, while the "Hitch" part certainly brought to mind the Master of Suspense. This underrated anthology (most people still could not afford to see it) kept the tradition of exploring humanity's dark side alive.

Image: The Everett Collection


Tales from the Darkside


George A. Romero popularized the zombie. He also produced this syndicated anthology series, which balanced terror with comedy. Take the episode "Distant Signals" for example, which cast Darren McGavin of Kolchak as an aging television pro asked to complete his old TV show, which was canceled years ago before a fulfilling conclusion. Turns out, it's an alien race demanding the final episodes. Futurama would spin a similar story years later. If we were aliens, we would do the same thing for Star Trek and Hogan's Heroes, honestly.

Image: The Everett Collection


Friday the 13th: The Series


Fans of the Friday the 13th slasher-flick series might notice something missing in this promotional photo — no Jason. Yep, indeed, the evil Jason Voorhees did not appear once in this Canadian production. And he was even known for his hockey mask! Instead, we got a series about antique dealers who signed a deal with the devil. Perhaps April Fools' might have been a better title.

Image: The Everett Collection




Fantastic creature makeup and inspired casting set this syndicated anthology series apart. Where else could you see disgusting beasts like "The Feverman" (pictured here) and Meat Loaf?  Other wonderful guests included Linda Blair, Debbie Harry, Pam Grier, Imogene Coca, Steve Buscemi and Tony Shalhoub. The veterans (Barbara Billingsley, Soupy Sales) brushed shoulders with the up-and-comers (David Spade, Matt LeBlanc). And loads of slimy monsters.

Image: The Everett Collection


The Munsters Today


Turquoise was a hot color in the Eighties. Paired with hot pink, it was part of the Miami Vice color palette, glowing in neon, blaring from Crockett's blazers. You could also the electric hue all over Herman Munster's face. Fans may have recoiled in horror as this reboot, but — believe it or not — The Munsters Today lasted longer than the original. Lee Meriwether (Catwoman!) and John Schuck (er, Holmes & Yoyo) played the parents. Perhaps they should have kept it in black and white.

Image: The Everett Collection

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