Monday, 23 October 2017

October Nightmares III #23: Freddy's Nightmares (1988 - 1990), Tales from the Crypt (1989 - 1996), Monsters (1988 - 1991) & Night Gallery (1969 - 1973) - Insert Plot Twist

Freddy's Nightmares
With contributions from Sam Graham

The anthology show has appeared on this list more times than any other type of show, such was their popularity. I understand the appeal for studios: a rotating crew, cast, and set, would have saved them a hell of a lot of money. And from an audience perspective it meant that you were getting something new each week: an episode would have to tell a story within a specific time frame, so you knew you'd see random Johnies get their just desserts in double-quick time. Basically anthology shows are Airbnb for sociopaths.

As I approach the end of October Nightmares there are a few more anthology shows I'd like to discuss. After this I'll never want to see the words anthology show ever again: unless it's in the context of "local man kills himself over mention of an anthology show."

Freddy's Nightmares was New Line's desperate attempt to get in with the cool kids during the 80's/90's anthology show boom. And while most ill-thought out attempts to confirm usually involve getting a shit haircut or buying overpriced designer trainers, this one involved crafting a surprisingly solid anthology series. The main reason for the show not being as generally terrible as you'd think, is that New Line essentially pulled the old Henry VIII English Reformation trick: by which I mean that they broke away from the anthology club and stuck their own all powerful figure head at the top. Freddy Krueger, everyone's favourite rubbery-faced paedo (who's not Jimmy Saville), was finally on TV. Welcome to prime time, bitch.

The show was the usual affair of horrible things to happening to poor bastards, except it's usually a fucking dream. Some characters probably deserve their fate, like the rapey therapist; whereas the only thing others seem to have done wrong is having the bad luck to have been born in A Nightmare on Elm Street's Springwood locale. There's an episode about a nerd virgin whose only crime is wanting to get laid so badly he settles for some Weird Science style set-up. And for that Freddy lops his knob off with his razor-finger glove.

Outside of the episode introductions, however, Krueger's not actually involved with most of the stories. The few that feature prominently Krueger are basically mini-Elm Street street movies - with smatterings of gore, dreams filled with comical body horror and dayglo backdrops, and Krueger's dad jokes.

Right, what's next?

Tales from the Crypt

Standing out in a saturated marketplace such as the anthology boom is a tricky task. It's like trying to find a bird to cop off with in a nightclub when the genital ratio starts to resembles the Lincoln Sausage Festival. So you need a hook. Not some badass Captain Hook disability-hook, but rather a selling point. If it goes wrong, you get The Hitchhiker: a show about mostly mundane stories, noteworthy mostly for its host who looks like he calls himself  'Snake-Hips' on Facebook. But when you do the hook well you get Tales from the Crypt, a show adapted from pulpy old EC Comics and hosted by a puppet - the wisecracking Crypt Keeper (John Kassir). It's amusing to think the malevolent master of ceremonies had a hand up his arse the whole time.

This is the show you snuck downstairs to record on the VCR while your parents slept (remembering to get up early to set everything right again was a bitch). As the stomping ground for Hollywood's finest (seriously everyone from Steve Coogan to Isabella Rossellini to Arnie was in this), who just wanted have a blast and gouge and maim (in a more socially acceptable way than the usual cocaine rampages), Tales from the Crypt featured more sex and violence than usual for this type of show. There's an episode which begins with Ed Begley Jr. banging a hot chick and ends with him getting raped by Tim Curry in drag. Perhaps the standout episode for most is 'Abra Cadaver' in which a prankster doctor fakes his own death and we get to witness his autopsy from his point of view. It's pretty grisly stuff.

Tonally Tales from the Crypt is a weird show. On the one hand you've got the mischievously ghoulish Crypt Keeper with his crap jokes ("boils and ghouls," "choppin' network"), and on the other hand (heh, you'll see why that's funny in a minute) you've got flesh-eating monsters, murderers, ventriloquist dummies, vampires, con men, and Judd Nelson. It's always towing the line between black-comedy, slapstick, and out-and-out horror. 'Cutting Cards', for example, sees Kevin Tighe and Lance Henriksen as card sharks cutting bits off each other over a game. They end up resembling the Black Knight from Monty Python.

Right, what's next?

Monsters

Monsters was one of the many low-rate shows from the golden years of when the Sci Fi Channel had dignity (early 90’s). Like all low-budget trash, it was a proving ground for new directors/actors to cut their teeth on, and with 72 episodes it does have a fair wedge of chaff. But don’t let that campy intro of a monster family sitting down to eat their TV dinner in front of the idiot box fool you, some were actually pretty good.
One episode in particular, 'The Waiting Game', sees two survivors in a fallout shelter talking to another base close by on the radio, until something knocks on their door from outside. It was a nice mix of horror, sci-fi, and speculative fiction. It won’t win any awards, but it was a flimsy pretence to stay up after 10. - Sam Graham

I remember only one thing about this show, and that was the episode which expected us to buy Meat Loaf as a Herbert West reanimator type of pseudo-scientist. It had a predictably brutal ending - ending with some kind of undead Frankenstein communist revolutionary thing stealing Meat Loaf's heart. Is this what Wham were singing about? - Iron

Right, what's next?

Night Gallery

"Good evening, and welcome to a private showing of three paintings, displayed here for the first time." Rod Serling knew how to set an appropriate tone, and Night Gallery had it in spades. It's like going to an art an actual art gallery which is showing Hitler's paintings with your Jewish girlfriend. The format was simple: Rod would introduce three creepy paintings and tell you a story based on each one. With the extra time constraints and shifts in tone caused by the multi-storied format, Night Gallery was often something of a mixed bag. Stories about robotic maids and possessed dolls, jostled alongside stories about forty-year-old sales executives on a boozy downward spiral. 

I chose the Night Gallery over The Twilight Zone as that show's been done to death and it was more sci-fi orientated anyway. The major difference here was that Night Gallery adapted the works of H.P. Lovecraft, Basil Copper, Bernard Malamud, and August Derleth. Given the age of the show, the cast is golden: Cesar Romero, Ray Milland, Edward G Robinson, Vincent Price, Barbara Steele and Will-i-am Sh-at-ner. Even Spielberg had a go at directing an episode. This was like The Twilight Zone unhinged: it was awash in fluid colour, had a jazzy soundtrack, and Rod Serling was less like an interdimensional G-man here and more like roughspun Literature professor who pats his female students on the bum. 


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