Greatest Horror Television Shows – Before Cable

As a writer who was influenced greatly at a young age  by the genre of horror, in both literature and cinema, it has been disappointing over the years to see the horror anthology series “phased out” of television. So, in a trip of reminiscing, I decided to revisit the shows that shaped my style of writing and inspired me to enter the genre of horror. Here are the Top Horror Television Series before capable television came about and changed everything. Keep in mind that these shows are “before cable” so there is a reason shows like Tales from the Crypt and Tales from the Darkside are not on this list.

THE VAMPIRA SHOW  ran for one season from 1954-1955 with 50’episodes,and is considered the first horror television series.  Showing feature horror films, he show was only seen on an LA ABC affiliate and never syndicated. Unfortunately, it was filmed live and never taped with kinescope so none of the originals were preserved,

It was hosted by actress Maira Nurmi, who created the “Vampira” character herself. The wardrobe, her and her iconic dress was modeled from cartoons in the New Yorker by Charles Adams, which were later adapted for the Adam’s Family on television. Nurmi created the sexier persona and was far different physically than Adam’s ghoulish wife character in the comic.

After Nurmi refused to sell her character rights to ABC. Revival of the series in 1981 was attempted and when Nurmi quit the project, the station created the character “Elvira” and hired Cassandra Peterson to portray the new vamp hostess. Nurmi sued Peterson for stealing her character as the character Vampira was her intellectual property.

So now we know where Elvira got her groove.

ALFRED HITCHCOK PRESENTS was aired in 1955 through 1965 and produced and directed by Alfred Hitchcock. He was already successful and influential in cinema. The guest stars in this series were impressive and many went on to become big stars, including Jackie Gleason, Steve McQueen, Vincent Price, Robert Redford, and Roger Moore, among many more.

The series included topics of science fiction, drama, some horror, and thrillers. It was also regarded as one of the top television series of all time.

THE TWILIGHT ZONE was the brainchild of Rod Serling and ran from 1959 to 1964. Serling, who had already garnered attention and popularity in television, wanted to create a show that he could express some of his controversial ideas creatively. There were 156 episodes of the Twilight Zone and Serling co-wrote 96 of them, scripting 80 of them himself. The shows were predominantly science fiction, though there were some horror and supernatural elements present, as well. There was a large number of actors who starred in episodes who later went on to become big stars in Hollywood, such as Bill Bixby, Charles Bronson, Carol Burnette, Peter Faulk, Robert Duvall, Ron Howard, Elizabeth Montgomery, Billy Mummy, Leonard Nimoy, William Shatner, Robert Redford, Dennis Hopper, Burn Reynolds all appeared in episodes.

The series was voted as one of the top television series of all time. Serling’s favorite episode was said to have been “Invaders” while my own personal favorite was “The Monsters are due on Maple Street.”

THRILLER or BORIS KARLOFF PRESENTS was aired in 1960 for two seasons, with Karloff as the host. It aired 57 episodes and was devoted more to horror and macabre. Unfortunately, on a lot of the stations it was syndicated to, it was preempted for regular programming and the show was cancelled after the second season.

In 1962 it was turned into a comic series, titled Boris Karloff’s Tales of Mystery and was published until 1979. Dark Horse comics purchased and published archives of the series in 2005.

THE OUTER LIMITS was a science fiction series that ran from 1963 to 1964 with 49 episodes. It was highly influenced by Twilight Zone and Science Fiction Theatre, though it differed in that it’s shows were based on more traditional science fiction with Aliens (Extraterrestrials), monsters from outer space. Joseph Stefano was one of the writers for many of the episodes and he was the screenwriter for Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.

NIGHT GALLERY was on of my favorites of all time. It was created by Rod Serling and ran from 1970 through 1973 for total of 42 episodes, the majority of which were written by Serling himself. It differed from Serling’s Twilight Zone in that it focused more on horror and macabre. Serling did not have as much autonomy and control in this series as he had in Twilight Zone but was influential in the product. Each show began with Serling walking through a gallery of paintings and he would stop at one and begin telling the story behind that panting as the film faded out and into the episode. My favorite episode was titled “Green Fingers” and was about a property developer who killed a stubborn property owner, Lydia Bowen (Bride of Frankenstein). He had her buried on her property and when the police showed up the next day, they found her alive, tending to her Garden.

KOLCHAK, THE NIGHT STALKER is on my list because it was one of my favorites, as well. It aired in 1974 t 1975 for 20 episodes. It followed investigative reporter Carl Kolchak (Daren McGavin) through his hunting down strange stories of monsters. The list of monsters is impressive for horror fans, as it included vampires, werewolves, mummies, zombies, dopplegangers, witches, and some sci-fi aliens and prehistoric man who was unthawed among others. This series was credited by Chris Carter as being a major influence in his creating The X Files. Almost twenty years later.

I will mention SVENGOOLIE, a similar show that aired in 1970 and is still around. It was originally aired in the Chicago area only and eventually got syndication and has taken advantage of cable, streaming and social media to gain a cult popularity among horror fans. It shows a lot of low budget horror and science fiction movies.

2 thoughts on “Greatest Horror Television Shows – Before Cable

  1. I REMEMBER ALL OF THESE VERY WELL, EXCEPT FOR THE FIRST…Alfred Hitchcock AND KOLCHAK BEING MY FAV…..GUESS WE ALL LOVE TO BE SCARED ON A BLACK AND WHITE TV ON ANY NUMBER OF NIGHTS…..THESE WERE SIMPLE THRILLERS, FAR MORE INNOCENT THAN THOSE OF TODAY WHERE BLOOD AND GUTS ARE THE THINGS USED TO SCARE, NOT THE IMAGINATION~

    Like

  2. All really great shows that totally consumed you andvhad you gripping your seat and chewing on your lips in anticipation. Zap… you just took me back to what seemed light years. Tks!

    Like

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