Classic TV Horror Shows

Here's a look at some of the forgotten vintage classics of American horror TV, with a list of horror anthologies from the 1940's to the 1970's.

Lights Out Opening Scene, Horror TV

Lights Out (1949 - 1952)

Acknowledged as the first horror TV series, Lights Out was based on the popular radio show which began in 1934. A few TV specials were commissioned in 1946 but it wasn't until 1949 that it was given a regular spot on US television. Stories were adapted from the original radio series as well as from classic horror writers such as Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne, it also included an episode written by a young Ira Levin, author of Rosemary's Baby.

Suspense (1949-1954) horror mystery TV

Suspense (1949 -1954)

Suspense was also based on a popular radio show, broadcast between 1942 and 1962. Although the stories were primarily mysteries or thrillers some episodes did include horror tales, like adaptations of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, The Signalman and The Monkey's Paw. The series featured a number of well known film actors including horror stalwarts Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi.

Eye Witness (1953)

Eye Witness was a short lived anthology series broadcast live on NBC. It consisted of just thirteen, 30 minute episodes which featured stories that combined mystery, the supernatural and characters caught up in unusual situations, with unexpected twists of fate. The series was produced by the actor Robert Montgomery and each week the guest host of the episode would guest star in the following week's Robert Montgomery Presents.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Horror Mystery TV shows

Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955 - 1962)

Alfred Hitchcock Presents, retitled The Alfred Hitchcock Hour in 1962, produced tales of murder, mystery and the macabre, mixed in with typical Hitchcock dark humor. Writers for the show included Robert Bloch, Ellery Queen and Roald Dahl.

The Veil, Classic Horror TV

The Veil (1958)

The Veil was hosted by horror movie legend Boris Karloff, who also acted in every episode but one. Karloff would begin each episode with "Good evening. Tonight I'm going to tell you another strange and unusual story of the unexplainable which lies behind The Veil." The stories were purportedly based on real-life supernatural cases. The Veil was actually never broadcast on television at the time, due to production and studio complications. Extracts from the series first began to appear in the 1960s and all episodes have since been released on DVD.

classic horror TV shows, Alcoa Presents One Step Beyond

One Step Beyond (1959 - 1961)

Also known as Alcoa Presents - One Step Beyond, after its sponsor. The series was hosted by John Newland and featured stories of the supernatural and the unexplained. What separated One Step Beyond from other horror anthologies was that the stories were based upon true events and were shot in a docu-drama style. Guest stars of the series included Donald Pleasence, Christopher Lee and Warren Beatty.

The Twilight Zone, Horror TV

The Twilight Zone (1959 - 1964)

No doubt the show that set the bar for eerie tales of the weird and wonderful was Rod Serlings The Twilight Zone, its opening theme now used whenever something strange or unexplained occurs. Perhaps what made The Twilight Zone so successful was its simplicity, filmed on small studio sets with minimal special effects it relied almost entirely upon the talent of its writers and actors. Its stories combined elements of horror, drama, science fiction and suspense all of which at their heart reflected on aspects of the human condition. By framing stories within a horror format it was also able to explore contemporary themes of racism, politics, communism and war, topics that when spoken about directly would have incurred the wrath of the sponsors. Besides Rod Serling other regular writers for the show included Richard Matheson (I Am Legend) and Charles Beamont.

Thriller TV horror show, Boris Karloff

Boris Karloff's Thriller (1960 - 1962)

This was Karloff's third go at hosting a horror/mystery TV series, after Mystery Playhouse Starring Boris Karloff  (1949) and The Veil (1958). Stephen King in his Danse Macabre said he considered Thriller to be one of the best horror anthology TV shows of its time, high praise indeed considering it was in competition with The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The early Thriller episodes usually featured stories of murder and suspense but later began to delve into Gothic horror. Actors who appeared in Thriller included William Shatner, Leslie Neilsen, Elizabeth Montgomery and John Carradine.

Way Out (1961) Roald Dahl classic TV horror series

Way Out (1961)

Way Out was a science fiction and horror anthology series hosted by Roald Dahl, with stories taken from some of his strange and macabre tales. The series was paired with The Twilight Zone on CBS, but only lasted for 14 episodes. The most distinctive aspect of Way Out was Dahl's opening and closing remarks, filled with irony and dark humor (a feature he would replicate in his British TV series Tales of the Unexpected.)

Great Ghost Tales (1961)

Great Ghost Tales adapted the work great horror writers such as Edgar Allan Poe, M R James and Algernon Blackwood. The show was hosted by Frank Gallop and lasted for 12 episodes, all of which, unfortunately, have been lost.

Night Gallery, Horror TV shows

Night Gallery (1969 - 1973)

Another Rod Serling series which again featured him as host/narrator and writer. I've always considered Night Gallery to be the poor relation of The Twilight Zone, lacking some of the psychological insight and sheer cleverness that made The Twilight Zone great. However, whilst The Twilight Zone featured stories that can be described as mainly fantasy and/or science fiction, Night Gallery's main focus was on tales of horror and the supernatural.

The Sixth Sense, 1972, Horror TV

The Sixth Sense (1972)

The Sixth Sense was a supernatural drama series that followed parapsychologist Dr Michael Rhodes and his assistant Nancy Murphy as they investigated psychic phenomena, with stories featuring ghosts, telepathy, precognition and possession. Guest stars included Joan Crawford, Sandra Dee and William Shatner.

Ghost Story a.k.a Circle of Fear (1972 - 1973), Horror TV

Ghost Story a.k.a Circle of Fear (1972 - 1973)

Created by legendary horror writer Richard Matheson and produced by B-movie master William Castle. Early episodes began with an introduction by the host Winston Essex (Sebastian Cabot), owner of the mysterious Mansfield House hotel. However after the series changed it name to Circle of Fear he was no longer included. Stories featured supernatural creatures such as ghosts, vampires and witches.

The Wide World of Mystery (1973 -1976)

Also known as ABC's Wide World of Mystery. The series combined episodes from the British TV Series Thriller with their own independently produced episodes. Stories were a mixture of horror, mystery and suspense.

Kolchak The Night Stalker, horror tv

Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974 - 1975)

Kolchak was a series that was to be a major influence on The X Files. An off-shoot of the TV movie aired in 1972, it followed newspaper reporter Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin) as he investigated crimes that centered around the unusual and the supernatural, battling zombies, vampires and other horror monsters along the way. The series was based on the novel by Jeff Rice and was adapted for television by Richard Matheson.

Tales of the Unexpected, 1977, Horror TV

Tales of the Unexpected (1977)

This obscure supernatural/mystery anthology series is often confused with the Roald Dahl series of the same name. It was also known as Quinn Martin's Tales of the Unexpected (Quinn Martin being the producer) and when shown on British television it was renamed A Twist in the Tale. It was narrated by William Conrad and guest stars included Lloyd Bridges and The Hulk's Bill Bixby.

Special mention should also go to Australian produced supernatural/mystery anthology series The Evil Touch (1973 -1974), which featured a number of international guest stars including Leslie Nielsen, Kim Hunter and Julie Harris, with each episode introduced by Anthony Quayle.

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