Continuing my series of posts about things that put me in an October mood, and making recommendations for what to watch and read this Halloween season, this time around I’ll be talking about television shows.
As a kid, I loved Disney’s Halloween Treat, a compilation of shorts and excerpts highlighting animated ghosts, monsters, and of course, Disney villains. It seems there were two versions of this annual show, the other being A Disney Halloween, which featured much of the same materials, but was slightly longer. My favorite segments were always “Night on Bald Mountain” and “Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman”. And, of course, the dancing skeletons in the opening credits.
American Gothic only lasted one season, 22 episodes, many of which aired out of order when it was originally shown on CBS, and some of which never even made it to air. But damn it if I didn’t imprint on this show hard when I was in high school, and now I am the happy owner of the full series on DVD. A small Southern town full of secrets, a Sheriff with supernatural powers who may actually be the Devil, his son who wants nothing to do with him, and the ghost of the boy’s murdered sister – you know, a regular happy family. The show does nod to the true Southern Gothic tradition, particularly with its buried secrets, and employs many of the classic horror trappings – bloody messages of warning spelling themselves out on the walls, a moon that’s perpetually full, and a creepy little kid who can fuck you up with his mind. Plus, American Gothic gave the world the gem that is Sarah Paulson – she’d done some theater before then, but this was her onscreen debut – so it’s worth it for that alone.
And speaking of Sarah Paulson, American Horror Story - my current TV horror jam - feels like a spiritual successor to American Gothic. At very least scratches the same itch for me. Who knows what American Gothic would have become if it had continued past one season. There’s a good chance it would have gone horribly downhill, but American Horror Story manages to prevent that somewhat with its anthology format. Every season is a new series, with different characters (mostly), but many of the same actors. Of course, all the seasons exist in the same universe, so there’s some crossover, and elements from one season can creep in as plot points in another. The show features top-notch actors – the aforementioned Sarah Paulson, Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates, Angela Bassett, Evan Peters, James Cromwell, and many others. It’s a joy watching the actors reinvent themselves from season to season, and sometimes even within a single season. Over the course of seven years (thus far) the series has hit many of the classic horror tropes – haunted houses, creepy carnivals, witches, and horror-filled hotels. The series has its ups and downs, but it’s well-acted, frequently visually stunning, and in a horror-y kind of way, just plain fun. I still have some catching up to do, but at this point I’m sold, and on board for whatever the series wants to do.
Stranger Things has only had two seasons thus far, but right from the get-go, it was pretty much an instant classic. The show taps into 80s nostalgia hard, calling to mind the works of Stephen King, Steven Spielberg, and H.P. Lovecraft, while scattering pop-culture references like Ghostbusters, Dungeons and Dragons, and various arcade games throughout. The show is more than just references though. There’s genuine growth for the characters, and family and friendships are at the heart of the show. The actors are fantastic, and everyone feels perfectly cast. It’s clearly a show made with love, and I can’t wait to see where the Duffer brothers take the story next.
Can I make the case for Preacher? It make not be strictly horror, but it certainly has horror elements – vampires and other supernatural creatures, an undying killer bent on revenge, the actual devil, and it isn’t shy about liberal sprays of blood. I adored the graphic novel series when I first read it, and I’m really enjoying seeing the changes the show has made, where they’ve re-imagined things, and where they nod to the source material even as they shift things around. The whole cast is fantastic in my opinion, the locations are wonderful, and the way the episodes are filmed – the framing, the choice of lighting – it all feels perfect. I admit I was hesitant when the project was first announced. Could they do they graphic novels justice? The first season felt a little uneven to me, but the show really hit its stride in season two, and it has completely won me over.
Even though I don’t watch The Simpsons regularly anymore, I do try to tune in for each year’s Treehouse of Horror episode. Now going on their 30th installation of the anthology show, there are of course hits and misses, but its easier to forgive the misses when there are classics like the Simpsons’ take on “The Raven” and “The Shinning”. And even if some of the vignettes fall flat, even a bad Treehouse of Horror is worth watching.
Once again, this is just a small snapshot of worthwhile Halloween fare. What are your favorite horror and Halloween watches?