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Thursday, October 15, 2020

10 Housebound 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.

Homes are an extension of our identities and make us feel like we belong to something. For more practical reasons, they also keep us safe from an outside world that isn’t always so nice. Even so, what about the household dangers that lurk behind corners, roam our hallways, or wait at the top of the stairs? Evil doesn’t always need an invite, after all.

Due to their short runtimes and quickened pacing, TV anthologies often rely on one-location settings. And episodes like the following strike fear into the heart because they’re proof that horror sometimes starts at home.

The Twilight Zone (1959): “Night Call”

Richard Matheson was a welcome addition to the Twilight Zone staff because his horror stories were like no other in the series. One of his spookiest is “Night Call,” an episode where telephone calls are the source of terror for a lonely woman. During a dark and stormy night, Miss Elva Keene receives an unsettling call from an unknown party. The phone company later traces the calls to a surprising source.

Matheson’s short story was notably changed for the television adaptation. In particular, the original ending was more vague and ominous. Here, audiences are left with more closure but also an undeniable sense of sadness for Miss Keene.

Night Gallery (1969): “Certain Shadows on the Wall”

A trio of bickering siblings wait for their ill sister to die so they can inherit her house and belongings. Upon her suspicious death, though, an immovable shadow shaped like the recently departed appears on a wall.

Mary E. Wilkins Freeman’s “Shadows on the Wall” is given the Night Gallery treatment, and Rod Serling embellishes the short story’s ending so that it feels more climatic than originally stated. As a result, we’re treated to a Gothic ghost story with a haunting resolution.

Shadows of Fear (1970): “Did You Lock Up?”

Being robbed is a traumatic experience because the one place we should feel secure, is now tainted and there’s little you can do to change that. Shadows of Fear avoided the supernatural and instead focused on the deep, dark regions of the human psyche. The premiere episode “Did You Lock Up?” begins with a couple feeling completely vulnerable after their house is burglarized. The husband then decides to do whatever he can to feel safe again — even if that means putting himself in harm’s way.

The episode brilliantly captures one person’s extreme coping mechanism. It seems easier to just leave the house until further notice, but Michael Craig’s character isn’t an easy man to deal with. In time, the audience learns just how far he’s willing to go to reclaim his security. By that, “Did You Lock Up?” ends on a chilling and incredibly dark note.

Circle of Fear (1972): “Doorway to Death”

William Castle’s Ghost Story renamed itself Circle of Fear and removed Sebastian Cabot as the host as part of an effort to save the show from cancellation. Although their strategy didn’t change the course of things, audiences at least found a few spooky, slow-burning stories like “Doorway to Death.” 

After a single father and his two children move into a city apartment, the son discovers an anomaly in the empty unit upstairs: a door leads to a snowy cabin where a mysterious man chops wood. Meanwhile, the daughter has prophetic dreams about the same foreboding scene.

Beasts (1976): “During Barty’s Party”

Nigel Kneale, the genius behind the Quatermass franchise and The Stone Tape, conceived this unique anthology that centered on various creatures. The episode “During Barty’s Party” sees an elderly couple whose home is invaded by aggressive rats. The rodents initially fester in the basement before making their way upstairs. Meanwhile, the husband and wife listen helplessly, waiting for help that never seems to come.

A dense layer of dread is spread across this episode as the only two visible characters crumble before our very eyes. The rats are never seen, but their presence is felt in every second of this minimalist, nerve-wracking story.

Tales from the Darkside (1983): “Halloween Candy”

Two of the most memorable episodes from George A. Romero and Richard P. Rubinstein’s anthology were directed by special effects guru Tom Savini; one was “Inside the Closet” and the other was the equally creepy “Halloween Candy.” The latter was about a cantankerous old shut-in who doesn’t believe in giving out candy to trick-or-treaters on Halloween night. When a goblin then goes away empty handed, he strikes back. 

Savini is known for crafting overt and tangible horrors like monsters and slashers but here his approach to terror is more calculated. The buildup eventually leads to a shivery and harsh conclusion for our curmudgeonly character.

The Twilight Zone (1985): “Acts of Terror”

Public service announcements, or PSAs, became popular in the 1980s; these messages often raised awareness about social problems like domestic abuse. And as usual, horror and other forms of genre storytelling were on the forefront when addressing these pressing topics. “Acts of Terror” spoke on the behalf of the abused in only a way that something out of the 1980s Twilight Zone could.

Louise is a devoted woman so mistreated by her husband Jack that she cannot even open a package from her sister without him getting upset. Inside the box, however, is a belated birthday present: a Doberman Pinscher figurine. When Jack’s violent and uncaring behavior doesn’t change, Louise’s innermost desire to finally escape materializes in the form of a real attack dog. The episode is not at all subtle, and it’s considerably heavier than others in the revival, yet “Acts of Terror” is also powerful and affecting.

Beyond Belief: Fact or Fiction (1997): “House of Shadows”

House-sitting seems easy enough, but for the main character in this segment, the job’s not without its own set of problems. When a college student agrees to watch over a couple’s house while the husband goes to meet his wife on vacation, she experiences an unusual problem with the television. Footage of someone digging in what looks to be a basement continues to show up on the TV no matter what the house-sitter does; she can change the channel or turn the set off, and the same clip continues to play. It’s when she finally follows the weird noises inside the house that she gets some answers.

“House of Shadows” is another one of the show’s many eerie yet somewhat hopeful segments about the supernatural being more helpful than harmful. More importantly, though, is the story based on fact or fiction? According to Jonathan Frakes, it’s inspired by truth.

R. L. Stine’s The Haunting Hour: The Series (2010): “The Girl in the Painting”

The majority of Billy Brown and Dan Angel’s anthology for kids and young adults was original and not based on anything written by R. L. Stine — and quite often, episodes ended with a mean-spirited conclusion. “The Girl in the Painting” is no exception, either.

Bailee Madison’s character finds a painting in the trash and brings it home in hopes of brightening up her dull room. Her interest in the painting later borders on obsessive and her mother begins to worry. In the end, the girl realizes appearances can be deceiving in the most painful way possible.

Inside No. 9 (2014): “The Harrowing”

For £88, a teenager agrees to watch over an eccentric brother and sister’s house one evening; their bedridden brother is upstairs, but he likely won’t be a bother for the young house-sitter. Of course that all changes when the girl’s friend comes over and they explore the property. One thing leads to another and the owners’ dark secret is soon revealed.

At the time, “The Harrowing” was the show’s first true horror-themed episode. Inside No. 9 would only get more and more twisted with its horror stories, but this one was particularly nasty in spite of all the undisguised humor.


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