Unveiling the Captivating World of Anthology TV Series: Exploring the Finest Selections from Hammer House of Horror to Inside No. 9

Anthology television series have long captivated audiences with their ability to introduce fresh and thrilling narratives with each episode. From the dark and twisted tales of "Hammer House of Horror" and "Tales from the Crypt" to the mind-bending stories of "Black Mirror" and "The Outer Limits," these shows offer a unique and immersive viewing experience. Whether you're a horror fan seeking spine-chilling tales or a sci-fi enthusiast delving into the depths of the unknown, anthology TV series have something for everyone. In this article, we will explore some of the top anthology TV series, delving into the captivating worlds they create and the enduring impact they have on the television landscape.

 

Hammer House of Horror

 

Hammer Films' foray into television marked a departure from their iconic gothic and European settings. Instead, "Hammer House of Horror" showed us that horror could be just as effective in the suburbs of contemporary Britain. Gone were the horse-drawn carriages and caped counts, replaced by Ford Escorts and a more relatable setting.

Airing in late 1980, the series consisted of thirteen episodes, each offering a different horrifying tale. Viewers were treated to witches, Nazi pet shop owners, werewolves, and doppelgangers, keeping them on the edge of their seats. One particularly gruesome highlight was the episode entitled "The House that Bled to Death." However, every episode was expertly executed, with top-notch acting and a sincere approach to the genre.

Ironically, the series met its demise due to the financial failure of the Hammer Films' cinematic release "Raise the Titanic." The costs associated with a second season could not be justified. However, Hammer Studios would rise from the ashes in 1984 with "Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense," followed by a successful return as a full-fledged film studio in the years to come.

 

Creepshow

 

"Creepshow" drew inspiration from 1950s horror comics and was based on the well-known movie series of the same name, which debuted in 1982. While some may consider it a mere imitation of "Tales from the Crypt," the show possessed a unique style and charm. Each episode was reminiscent of a comic book, with seamless transitions from pen and ink to live-action.

As is often the case with anthology series, the quality varied between episodes, and even between the different stories within each installment. Nevertheless, "Creepshow" was created with passion and love for the genre by some of the most talented individuals in horror. The stories portrayed a mischievous and macabre spirit, reminiscent of the comics on which they were based. In the absence of "Tales from the Crypt," "Creepshow" proved to be a worthy spiritual successor.

One standout episode was "House of the Head," written by Josh Malerman, the author behind the acclaimed book "Birdbox." This haunting tale offered a subtlety rarely seen in "Creepshow," setting it apart from the show's typically broad strokes.

 

Masters of Horror

 

"Masters of Horror" was the brainchild of director Mick Garris, best known for his TV adaptation of "The Stand" in 1994. This anthology series aimed to showcase the best talent in horror directing, with each episode serving as a standalone short film. Esteemed directors such as Tobe Hooper, Takashi Miike, and Dario Argento lent their expertise to the project.

The series spanned two seasons, featuring a total of thirteen episodes in each. While some tales were original to the series, others were captivating adaptations of existing works by renowned authors like H.P. Lovecraft and Clive Barker.

One particularly memorable episode was "Cigarette Burns," directed by horror maestro John Carpenter. The story followed Kirby, played by Norman Reedus, as a film dealer on a desperate quest to find a rare and cursed film. Though the theme of cursed films has been explored before, this episode's execution was particularly noteworthy, culminating in a satisfying finale.

 

The Comic Strip Presents

 

In the 1980s, alternative comedy emerged as a counterculture movement in Britain, challenging the legacy of sexism and racism from the previous decade. Within this scene, familiar names in the comedy circuit united to form a collective known as "The Comic Strip."

"The Comic Strip Presents" was a series of standalone films that showcased the pioneers of this new comedy movement. It made its debut on the inaugural night of Channel 4, a new British television station. The series boasted a chaotic style that matched the talents involved. Each week, the show would satirize various subjects, from Enid Blyton's beloved children's books to Hollywood drama. One highlight was the hilarious rock band parody, "Bad News," presented in mockumentary style before Rob Reiner's "This Is Spinal Tap."

However, the absolute highlight of the series was "Mr. Jolly Lives Next Door," a riotous slapstick piece featuring acclaimed comedians Ade Edmondson, Rik Mayall, and the legendary Peter Cook.

 

Doctor Terrible's House of Horrible

 

"Doctor Terrible's House of Horrible" served as a loving homage to the successful horror films produced by Hammer Studios and Amicus in the '70s and '80s. Created by comedian Steve Coogan, better known as Alan Partridge, the series consisted of six episodes, each starring Coogan himself. It gently mocked the source material while maintaining reverence for its rich history.

The series boasted episodes such as "And Now the Fearing..." which featured three tales of recurring nightmares, and "Lesbian Vampire Lovers of Lust," an unabashed portrayal of lesbian vampires. While the humor often leaned towards the crude and obvious, it was clear that Coogan and co-writer Graham Duff shared a genuine love for the genre. Each episode began and concluded with Doctor Terrible, played by a nearly unrecognizable Steve Coogan, donning heavy makeup and offering short announcements.

 

Alfred Hitchcock Presents

 

When he wasn't helming iconic films like "Psycho" or "The Birds," the legendary Alfred Hitchcock introduced his own television series in his distinct and inimitable style. "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" featured Hitchcock's instantly recognizable silhouette in a simple black and white drawing, accompanied by the simultaneously sinister and playful theme tune "Funeral March of a Marionette." Hitchcock himself even directed some of the episodes.

True to its association with the master of suspense, the series delved into mystery and suspense, often showcasing the bad guy getting away with their misdeeds, albeit with a final moral reassurance. Hitchcock's tongue-in-cheek introductions added a touch of sincerity to the episodes.

One standout episode was the adaptation of Roald Dahl's short story "Man from the South." Starring Peter Lorre and Steve McQueen, it exemplified the high-caliber cast that the show attracted.

 

 

In "Night Gallery," Rod Serling played the role of curator, introducing each episode from the titular room. As the camera panned, Serling would discuss a painting before transitioning into the tale behind it. This series had a darker tone than Serling's previous work, "The Twilight Zone," as it delved into macabre and supernatural stories rather than science fiction.

Notably, the series marked the directorial debut of a young Steven Spielberg, who helmed the episode "Eyes," written by Serling himself. It also showcased the final performance of actor John Crawford. "Night Gallery" featured several adaptations of H.P. Lovecraft and August Derleth's works, further adding to its allure.

The pilot episode set the tone with "The Cemetery," a gripping story in which Roddy McDowall's character inherits his uncle's estate and encounters a painting that eerily changes as a corpse-like figure draws closer. This macabre tale immediately differentiated "Night Gallery" from Serling's previous show, highlighting its darker and more distinct identity.

 

Tales of the Unexpected

 

Author Roald Dahl, best known for his children's books and their subsequent film adaptations, hosted the late-night drama "Tales of the Unexpected." Dahl's warm and comforting presence, set against the backdrop of a cozy fireplace, belied the twisted tales that awaited viewers. Each episode featured a macabre and often unexpected story.

While earlier seasons primarily relied on Dahl's own writings, later seasons incorporated stories from other authors as Dahl's short stories became scarcer. The show attracted a stellar cast of British actors, with notable episodes like "Royal Jelly," which portrayed the nightmarish consequences of a father feeding his newborn royal jelly, and "The Landlady," a tale set in a sinister hotel inhabited by exceedingly quiet guests. The theme tune alone evoked a sense of unease with its sinister fairground-esque melody, leaving audiences on edge from the opening credits.

 

The Outer Limits

 

"The Outer Limits" leaned more towards science fiction than its predecessor, "The Twilight Zone," particularly in its second season. However, during its first season, the series explored elements of horror before transitioning to hard science fiction. Each episode began with an eerie voice-over, suggesting that control of viewers' televisions had been seized, setting the stage for the captivating tales that followed. The show became a showcase for talented writers of the time.

Two standout episodes, "Demon with a Glass Hand" and "The Soldier," both written by renowned science fiction author Harlan Ellison, gained notoriety in the '80s when Ellison sued director James Cameron, claiming that his ideas were stolen for the film "The Terminator." The lawsuit was settled, with Cameron acknowledging Ellison in the credits of the "The Terminator" VHS tape.

Although the original series faced scheduling challenges, it enjoyed a successful relaunch in 1995, running for seven more seasons before concluding. It left an indelible mark on television, proving to be a captivating exploration of the unknown.

 

Black Mirror

 

"Black Mirror," created and written by Charlie Brooker, gained recognition due to Brooker's previous work on shows like "Newswipe" and "Nathan Barley," both characterized by his cynical worldview. This pessimistic outlook merged seamlessly with the zeitgeist, resulting in the groundbreaking series that is "Black Mirror."

The series began with a controversial episode in which the British prime minister is blackmailed into a compromising act, sparking intrigue and capturing headlines. The title, "Black Mirror," reflects the reflection of our own dark tendencies that we see on computer, phone, and television screens. The show examines humanity's relationship with and dependence on technology, exploring the often-unsettling paths it guides us along.

The flexible premise of "Black Mirror" allows for stories set in the present day, near future, and distant future, each shining a spotlight on uncomfortable aspects of humanity. The series fearlessly delves into topics like desensitization and conditioning by the devices pervading our lives. One notably grim episode is "Shut Up and Dance," from the third season, which is as bleak as anything presented in this genre.

 

Tales from the Crypt

 

"Hello, boils and ghouls..."

With these words, the emaciated corpse known as the Crypt Keeper welcomed viewers to "Tales from the Crypt," introducing each chilling tale with a collection of puns that bordered on torturous. The series featured a memorable theme by Danny Elfman and established a balance between frightfulness and humor.

While HBO's "Tales from the Crypt" drew inspiration from old horror comics, it also directly adapted stories from the source material. Airing on a premium cable channel allowed the show to push the boundaries of gore and risqué content, making it a resounding success. The undead host, voiced by John Kassir, became almost as unkillable as the show itself, which lasted an impressive 95 episodes and spawned films, a game show, and even a children's cartoon series.

 

Inside No. 9

 

Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton, known for their work on the dark ensemble comedy "League of Gentlemen," brought their talents to "Inside No. 9." The creators already had a following in British television, and their latest series proved to be equally daring and innovative. With numerous awards to its name, "Inside No. 9" strikes a balance between populism and audacity.

The show follows a simple premise, with every episode incorporating the number 9 in some way. This mechanism allows for a wide range of tales spanning various genres. From poignant episodes like "The 12 Days of Christine" to the bold and inspired "A Quiet Night In," performed without dialogue, and the utterly terrifying "Dead Line," performed live on Halloween, "Inside No. 9" fearlessly takes risks. Shearsmith and Pemberton's exceptional talent ensures that each genre feels like a natural fit for their storytelling. With its ability to captivate audiences, it is highly likely that "Inside No. 9" will continue as long as the number 9 exists.

These top anthology TV series are a treat for fans of suspense, horror, and mind-bending storytelling. Each show presents a captivating collection of tales, showcasing the creativity and talent of their writers, directors, and actors. From the chilling twists of "Tales from the Crypt" to the technological nightmares of "Black Mirror," there's something for everyone in these anthology series. So grab your popcorn, dim the lights, and immerse yourself in these captivating and spine-tingling journeys through the unknown. You won't be able to turn away from the dark and beguiling world of anthology TV.

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