Horror TV: From Anthologies to Series

There is always a lot of debate of what exactly falls into the ‘horror’ genre (as opposed to fantasy, sci-fi, thriller etc). In terms of television the definition is pretty fluid, and most shows of this type contain a fair portion of elements from each genre. However to be fully conversant with horror in popular culture, the medium of television is crucial as it gives us some of the best known (and most loved) characters in the genre. Horror TV has existed since the 50s, usually in the form of anthology series with a new story, new monster or scenario and new characters every week. Some of the better-known series are listed below:

50s and 60s
Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955-1965)
The Twilight Zone (1959-1964)
The Outer Limits (1963-1965)
Dark Shadows (1966-1971)

70s
Night gallery (1970-1973)
The Sixth Sense (1972)
Kolchak; The Night Stalker (1974)

80s
Tales from the Darkside (1983-1988, produced by zombie legend George A Romero)
Tales from the Crypt (1989-1996)
Monsters (1988-1991)
The New Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1985- 1987)
Hammer House of Horror (1980)

However from the 90s we see a shift from Horror anthologies to serial television with long-range plots and season-length story arcs, extended analyses of key themes and ideas and recurring characters. There were still a few new anthology series launched in the 90s (The Outer Limits was revived from 1995-2002 and The Hunger ran from 1997-2000, Masters of Horror 2005-2007) but serial horror is now the most prominent form of horror TV. Listed below are some of the best horror series in the last 20 years:

The X-Files (1993-2002)
American Gothic (1995-1996)
Millennium (1996-1999)
Buffy (1997-2003) and its spin-off Angel (1999-2004)
Supernatural (2005-present)

This is not an exhaustive list but these series have had a significant influence on both the genre and popular culture. To help you get acquainted with them Gobbets will be providing you with guides to these series over the coming weeks.

Do you have a favourite horror series? Have fond memories of any of the above? Tell us about it!

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9 Responses to “Horror TV: From Anthologies to Series”

  1. I’m dubious about listing Buffy as horror genre. A genre is a classification of something’s dominant tropes. There isn’t more horror than other things in Buffy. If anything I’d say there is more drama, action and comedy than horror elements.

    • I agree that there is a lot going on in Buffy that isn’t horror (and that what makes Buffy so good is probably not largely connected to its horror elements). However another element of genre is its contexts and networks – how it interacts with other texts – and Buffy has had an enormous influence on the depiction of vampires in popular culture, the role of women in horror narratives, and the notion of horror as symbolism in youth texts. So while it isn’t ‘just’ horror I think its horror elements are significant enough to discuss in this context (even if it’s also really funny and just heartbreaking at times!).

      • Mind you, I don’t really know what X-Files has done for horror in that context. Possibly encouraged the use of black in framing scenes?
        🙂

      • It taught us that the government is really out to get us. You mean we already knew that? Bugger.

      • I think it taught what Alias taught us – there are so many times that you can switch loyalties/causes before it becomes confusing and we give up caring.
        Is it aliens? Is it Government? Is it Government pretending to be aliens? Vice Versa? Let’s call the whole thing off!

        In the case of Alias, you have friends pretending to be spies for agencies that are pretending to be official, but are manipuated by their leaders for their own evil goals, for noble reasons. Etcetera, etcetera, ad nauseum…

      • Re watching the X-Files again from the beginning at the moment – up to season 5. What’s funny is that when you know how the rest of the show goes there are so many episodes where I think – hey, what ever happened to this plot idea/story -arc? It sets it up then never follows up on it… I get confused and i’ve seen the whole thing at least 3 times!

      • Too many writers, no continuity.

  2. I think they revived the twilight zone in the 90’s as well

  3. I’ll agree with being a little hesitant about listing Buffy/Angel in the horror genre, at least not entirely, it certainly has horror themes but I wouldn’t classify it as a ‘horror’ series, much in the same way that I wouldn’t classify True Blood or Moonlight in ‘horror’, for all that they’re about vampires.

    X-files…wow, now I need to rewatch that. I haven’t done an X-files marathon in years!

    I think my current favourite on that list has got to be Supernatural, there’s definite continuity there (not to mention eye-candy, but we just won’t go there right now). I haven’t watched the latest season yet since I’m waiting for it to finish so I can watch it in one sitting.

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