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Thursday, October 1, 2020

10 Ghostly Horror Anthology TV Episodes Perfect for Halloween

Tales From the Television looks back at standalone episodes from various TV anthologies. Each collection of stories, every one based on a specific theme, is proof that even the small screen can deliver big frights.

The ghost is a staple in all kinds of storytelling. Whether it be a figurative device or a literal character, spirits haunt our homes and minds; their presence is a reminder of the great and intimidating unknown. Ghosts have been scaring people for generations, yet not every phantom, spirit, wraith or spectral plume is the same, nor do they all linger among the living for one singular purpose.

As seen in the following ten episodes, the ghost plays a significant role, and their message from the land of the dead is rarely friendly.

The Twilight Zone (1959): “The Hitch-hiker”

As familiar as the stories are now from The Twilight Zone, episodes like “The Hitch-hiker” are so ineffaceable. This classic chiller is based on Lucille Fletcher’s radio play that was first heard on The Orson Welles Show. The outcome is conventional by today’s standards, but “The Hitch-hiker” was well ahead of the game in 1960.

While the original play starred a male protagonist, Inger Stevens fills the role as Nan, a woman driving by herself on a cross-country trip. Her journey is delayed by the infrequent appearances of an ominous hitcher who appears wherever she goes. No matter what she does or where she’s at, he’s always there asking for a ride.

Night Gallery (1969): “The Ghost of Sorworth Place”

The Twilight Zone’s approach to the supernatural was rich in nuance, but Rod Serling’s successor series Night Gallery allowed for more overtly macabre stories concerning otherworldly characters and anomalies. Most episodes never quite raised goosebumps or clung to our memory banks like the aforesaid show ever did. Even so, there was a sense of ingenuity that audiences overlooked.

“The Ghost of Sorworth Place” is a subtle and uncanny segment about an American tourist who crosses paths with a beautiful and reclusive widow in Scotland. When the woman asks her guest to remove a ghost haunting her mansion, the tourist is dealt an unfortunate fate of his own.

Ghost Story (1972): “The Dead We Leave Behind”

Some might know this show as Ghost Story; others are familiar with its mid-season retitling of Circle of Fear. The sudden name change and retooling, all spurred by low ratings, made no difference seeing as the series was inevitably cancelled. While the viewership for this anthology was paltry, there are episodes that have aged rather well because of their brand of uncombed spookery.

One of the strongest episodes is “The Dead We Leave Behind,” a story that feels like it was ripped straight out of EC Comics, albeit with no blood or viscera in sight. This creepy chronicle of comeuppance is built upon a lousy husband who murders his wife as she tries to leave him, then buries her to hide the crime. He finally starts to see her image inside the television he so resented, but is this vision a byproduct of his guilty conscience, or has his wife’s ghost really risen from her grave?

Hammer House of Horror (1980): “The House that Bled to Death”

There is just some imagery that viewers can never, ever forget. A crucial scene in this Hammer House of Horror episode remains ingrained in collective memories not just because of a scene where children are showered in free-flowing streams of blood but because of its timeliness. By no coincidence, this episode aired a week after the Housing Act 1980 became law in the UK; homeowner status and greed were becoming national hot topics as the decade furthered along. And “The House that Bled to Death” is a clever and deceptive story that plays upon these themes with indelible results.

The episode takes place inside a run-down council home with a dark past. Upon moving in, a family is subjected to paranormal activity that appears to be tied to the home’s former resident.

The Ray Bradbury Theater (1985): “The Crowd”

A man survives his late-night car crash in spite of the intrusive bystanders who gathered at the scene, pulling at his injured body before help arrived. Their swift appearance in an otherwise empty area late at night raises questions. In his research, the survivor learns these very same onlookers have appeared at other accidents.

Ray Bradbury’s allegorical story is a chilling one because it examines people’s subconscious obsession with others’ misery and how everyone is susceptible to the same unsavory behavior.

Tales from the Crypt (1989): “Television Terror”

The forefather of trash TV, Morton Downey Jr., essentially played himself in one of the most gratifying episodes of Tales from the Crypt; “Television Terror” helped pioneer the first-person format that became prolific in millennium-era horror. This rousing story follows a tabloid show host as he and his crew visit an allegedly haunted murder house.

Crypt frequently leaned towards horror hilarity, but “Television Terror” provides more than just gallows humor — there are bonafide dread-inducing moments during Horton Rivers’ terrifying tour of the real-life Higgins-Verbeck-Hirsch House.

Are You Afraid of the Dark? (1990): “The Tale of the Quicksilver”

While ghosts weren’t always malevolent in Nickelodeon’s iconic horror anthology, the titular spirit in this classic episode is anything but nice. Tatyana Ali plays a set of twins torn apart by evil; only one lives to tell the “Tale of the Quicksilver.” After a tragic event forced the previous tenants to move out, a new family of four settles into their new home and incidentally awakens a lurking spirit. The two sons, Aaron and Doug, occupy the bedroom with a sinister past. As Doug becomes mysteriously ill, his older brother befriends a classmate named Connie (Ali); she and her sister once lived in the house that his family moved into. Her late twin’s sudden demise is related to the supernatural phenomena that has now attached itself to Doug.

“Quicksilver,” a genuine campfire tale chock full of ghoulish and lasting scares as well as tender bits, still holds up to this day as one of the best episodes in the show’s entire run.

Inside No. 9 (2014): “Dead Line”

Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton’s ongoing series plays in many sandboxes — from comedy to suspense, Inside No. 9 is one of the more remarkable anthologies to ever air on television. Their 2018 Halloween special “Dead Line” is just an example of the duo’s brilliance when it comes to writing horror. In the same vein as BBC One’s notorious Ghostwatch, the live episode was a cunning and ambitious event that no one could have foresaw. The final product is a delight even for today’s more cynical viewers.

“Dead Line” has a routine start before technical difficulties lead to a rollercoaster of doubt and thrills for the audience. Combining the supposed paranormal activity of real-life Granada Studios with media smoke screens — before the special aired, The Sun reported that Inside No. 9 had suspended filming at Granada because of the location’s haunted history — the episode is a sinuous ghost story.

Ghost Theater (2015): “Ruins”

To promote Hideo Nakata’s movie Ghost Theater, a tie-in series was produced for television. Almost every self-contained episode is about ghosts, and some star notable Japanese idol celebrities. The most standout entry was “Ruins,” a story about a family of four getting stranded near an abandoned building after their car breaks down. The same place happens to be home to an urban myth known as the Bandage Woman, who resembles the fabled Kuchisake-onna.

“Ruins,” partially shot found-footage style, uses several in-camera visual effects to generate an effective, jumpy moment or two.

50 States of Fright (2020): “The Golden Arm (Michigan)”

As part of Quibi’s 50 States of Fright anthology, Sam Raimi and his brother Ivan tackled the obscure folktale “The Golden Arm” that many people know of because of Mark Twain. Most forms of this regional legend entail a man’s wife whose golden arm is stolen from her grave following her death; she then returns to haunt him. The Raimis focus on a variant of the story where the wife receives her golden prosthetic limb only after a terrible accident ends in amputation. Eventually, the husband needs to find a way to pay off his debt, and his choice of separating his late wife from her beloved golden arm yields a ghastly reunion.

Sam Raimi knows when he needs to reel in his gruesome, trademark campiness. The tail end of “The Golden Arm” is a prime example of traditional spooky storytelling.


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