Sat 29 Oct 2016
by Michael Shonk
In the final part of my three part look at horror entertainment, I look at television.
Television is a visual medium, something that can limit the horror story. Too much visual horror can offend the viewer and not enough can disappoint the viewer. In the early days of television the amount of graphic violence and gore was limited for TV’s large mass audience. But as times and culture has changed the horror genre has reflected those changes.
In the ROUTE 66 episode “Lizard’s Leg & Owlet’s Wings” Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney Jr. wonder if there is a future for the old style monsters.
ROUTE 66 (CBS, 1960-64): Created by Stirling Silliphant and Herbert B. Leonard. CAST: George Maharis as Buz and Martin Milner as Tod.
The series followed the adventures of two men in a Chevrolet as they traveled across country.
“Lizard’s Leg and Owlet’s Wing” (October 26, 1962) Written by Stirling Silliphant. Directed by Robert Gist. GUEST CAST: Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre and Lon Chaney. Buz and Tod get jobs at the Chicago O’Hare Inn where they help groups set up their conventions or meetings. Buz’s first assignment is to take care of fifty young beautiful secretaries while Tod gets stuck with Karloff, Lorre and Chaney who are planning to start a film production company. The three famous horror actors argue over whether to produced movies with new monsters or stay with the classics.
Silliphant’s script examined the power of fear and love, but suffers from dated characters. Silliphant does have one of the women in charge complaining about men getting better pay than women, but he also had the women faint at the sight of Lon Chaney in a werewolf costume.
A popular form of horror on television has always been the supernatural story, not only in America but in England as well. Englishman M. R. James (August 1, 1862 – June 12, 1936) is considered one of the greatest writers of ghost stories.
OMNIBUS (BBC, 1967-2003) was a popular documentary series that included occasional fiction.
“Whistle And I’ll Come To You” (May 7,1968). Produced and directed by Jonathan Miller; story by M.R. James (“Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad”). CAST: Michael Hordern as Professor, Ambrose Coghill as Colonel, and George Woodbridge as Hotel Proprietor. *** A Professor on holiday finds an ancient whistle next to a grave. The inscription reads whistle and I’ll come to you. The Professor blows the whistle and his life is changed forever.
I am not a fan of ghost stories so I have not read any of M. R. James’ work. This adaption by Jonathan Miller is regarded as the best of James’ work.
This ghost story was not what I expected. There was no action or conflict or screams. Instead the drama relies on the characters. Michael Hordern captures the Professor, a man used to living alone with his books. The pace is slow and the background soundtrack has natural sounds rather than music. It all gives the story a feeling of reality.
DARK SHADOWS (ABC, 1966-1971): Created and Executive Produced by Dan Curtis. CAST: Joan Bennett as Elizabeth Collins Soddard, Alexandra Moltke as Victoria Winters, Louis Edmonds as Roger Collins and Mitchell Ryan as Burke Devlin.
DARK SHADOWS is one of my favorite TV series from my childhood that happily holds up today. It is a gothic horror soap opera where every character has a mystery. The low production values and black and white video adds to the uneasy mood. This is a perfect example of why restoring every television series into high definition blu-ray quality is a mistake.
“Season One Episode One” (June 27,1966): Story Created and Written by Art Wallace. Directed by Lela Swift. CAST: Elizabeth Wilson, Kathryn Leigh Scott and Conrad Bain.
Young Victoria leaves the only home she has ever known – a founding hospital – to take a governess job for the wealthy eccentric Collins family. Meanwhile the Collins family has their own secrets.
How can anyone do a list of any genre of TV shows without including a TV detective series? The horror genre has offered many to chose from, I picked SPECIAL UNIT 2.
SPECIAL UNIT 2 (SYFY, 2001-2002) Created and Executive Produced by Evan Katz. CAST: Michael Landes as Detective Nicholas O’Malley, Alexondra Lee as Detective Kate Benson, Richard Gant as Captain Page and Danny Woodburn as Carl the Gnome.
The Special Unit 2 is a little mentioned part of Chicago police department. The Unit’s duty is to enforce the law among the supernatural community known as links.
“The Eve” (October 31, 2001) Written by Josh Lobis and Darin Moiselle, Directed by Oscar Costo. CAST: John de Lancie, Stefan Arngrim and Christine Caux. *** It is Halloween, the least favorite day for Special Unit 2. Humans are dressing up as links (monsters and demons) making it impossible to tell the good guys from the bad. A powerful link is willing to kill for a key that Special Unit 2 had taken from him years ago.
Comedies in the horror genre are not uncommon. There is ADDAMS FAMILY, REAPER, STRUCK BY LIGHTNING and TOPPER. One of the better examples is EERIE, INDIANA.
EERIE, INDIANA (NBC 1991-92, 18 episodes; Disney Channel, 1993, 1 original episode and the original 18) Created by Karl Schaefer & Jose Rivera CAST: Omri Katz as Marshall and Justin Shenkarow as Simon – Creative Consultant: Joe Dante (GREMLINS)
This cult favorite features two boys exploring their hometown of Eerie Indiana. By all appearances Eerie is your typical small American town but it is really the center of all the weirdness in the Universe.
“The Hole In The Head Gang”(March 1. 1992) Written by Karl Schaefer. Directed by Joe Dante. CAST: John Astin, Justin Whalin and Claude Akins. *** Marshall and Simon meet the ghost of Grungy Bill, the worst bank robber in all history. Grungy had failed to rob the bank of Eerie thirteen times – the last attempt he forgot his gun. Now despite being dead he wants to make another attempt to rob the bank.
Horror shows are getting better and more graphic. Networks such as FX (AMERICAN HORROR STORY), AMC (WALKING DEAD), SHOWTIME (PENNY DREADFUL), USA (FALLING WATER) and SYFY (CHANNEL ZERO) are producing great horror series.
WYNONNA EARP (SYFY, 2016) Created and Executive Produced by Emily Andras. Based on a graphic novel series created and written by Beau Smith. CAST: Melanie Scrofano as Wynonna, Shamier Anderson as Dolls, Tim Rozon as Doc Holliday and Dominique Provost- Chalkley as Waverly Earp.
WYNONNA EARP is a western horror series about a demon-fighting descendant of the great Wyatt Earp. This kick-ass series was one of my favorites last season and will return for a second season sometime in 2017.
“Purgatory” (April 1, 2016) Written by Emily Andras Directed by Paolo Barzman. CAST: Michael Eklund, Katherine Barrell and Greg Lawson*** Wynonna reluctantly returns to her hometown and resumes her family responsibly to keep the demons Wyatt Earp had killed from escaping Hell.
It is unlikely this episode will remain on YouTube for long so here is the SYFY official video explaining the series premise.
Note the comment from Beau Smith that he created the comic book premise due to his love of Westerns and the old Universal Movie monsters. This brings us full circle from ROUTE 66’s belief the Universal Monsters would live forever.
The supernatural horror genre may be more graphic today but it maintains the same goals it has had from the beginning – to explore the emotion of fear.
BONUS VIDEO: Temporarily available to watch is the first episode of the new entertaining SYFY horror series VAN HELSING. It is a Van Helsing you have never seen before.