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You’re now travelling through a dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound, but also of some of the best anthology shows ever…
As Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith’s Inside No. 9 return for a second season, we take a look back at some of the finest anthology series out there. (Sorry, Futurama‘s ‘The Scary Door’ is not on this list.)
Are You Afraid of the Dark?
Similar to children’s horror anthology Goosebumps, AYAotD? plundered public domain tales and urban legends and presented them in a format suitable for the kiddies.
There was no shortage of imagination: stories included aliens disguised as Tamagotchis, a book that stole people’s faces, a magic hockey stick that turned a young chap into a snake (don’t ask), and even a demon that made soup out of fear – a recipe that would be later stolen by Gordon Ramsay.
It was all pretty tame stuff, and nothing that would make you spill your Rice Krispies, although the show did have perhaps the creepiest opening titles in history.
The Outer Limits
Seen by many as The Twilight Zone‘s little brother, The Outer Limits fused sci-fi and horror, with stories usually revolving around aliens and visitors from other worlds. Dark and eerie, it had a more nihilistic feel to it than its anthology contemporaries, and humankind often ended up coming across as a bunch of silly bastards who won’t stop meddling.
It only ran for 49 episodes but there are some classics in its run, including ‘Demon with a Glass Hand’ and ‘The Duplicate Man’. If you’re ever watching an episode, keep a sharp eye out: many of the creatures, effects, and more than a few guest actors on the show would later be repurposed for Star Trek.
Alfred Hitchcock Presents
With one of the most parodied openings on television, Alfred Hitchcock Presents is fondly remembered for its theme tune – Funeral March of a Marionette – and Hitchcock’s famous ‘Goooood eeeeevening’.
A mixture of adaptations of stories by famous authors (including Ray Bradbury and HG Wells) and original scripts, it had that creepy, ‘anything can happen’ feel that you’d expect from the master director, and consequently proved to be spectacular huge ratings hit. Like The Twilight Zone, it regularly featured big name guests: Christopher Lee, Dick Van Dyke and William Shatner to name but a few.
Hitch only directed 17 of the 127 episodes, but he introduced each episode personally and also ended it with his epilogue. Long before Scorsese or Spielberg got in on the act, Hitchcock showed it was cool for movie directors to work in TV.
Tales of the Unexpected
Roald Dahl’s series of short stories made for great TV adaptations. So great in fact, that a few – including ‘Dip in the Pool’ and ‘The Man from the South’ – were used both in Unexpected and Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
Tales of the Unexpected is worth watching just for its title sequence, which is so unsettling it looks like it was designed by a deranged carnival owner on LSD, and which ingrains in the viewers’ mind that they’re about to watch a show where anything can happen.
And it usually did. Veering from the damnably clever – ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’ features one of the most ingenious (and delicious) murders on TV – to episodes that took sharp left turns down WTF!? Lane and then pressed firmly on the accelerator. For one of the weirdest, watch Timothy West turn into a giant bee in ‘Royal Jelly’. Yes. That’s right. A giant bee. Buzzing and everything. Madness.
The Twilight Zone
‘Doo-doo-doo-doo, doo-doo-doo-doo…!’ Rod Serling’s seminal sci-fi series remains the grand-daddy of all anthologies: oft imitated, never bettered, and it likely never will be.
Starting in 1959 and running for five seasons, it filtered powerful social commentary on everything from the Cold War to race through a science-fiction sieve, and in the process introduced many Americans to their first ever proper sci-fi in the process. It also boasted guest stars who were or would go on to be big names, including Dennis Hopper, Robert Duvall, Telly Savalas, Peter Falk, and half of the Starship Enterprise’s crew.
But it’s the quality of the storytelling that everyone rightly remembers best, with corkers such as ‘To Serve Man’, ‘Time Enough At Last’, and the much-parodied ‘Nightmare at 20,000 Feet’ – featuring William Shatner shouting “There’s… a gremlin …on the wing!” – all now firmly etched in the sci-fi and pop-culture collective.
What’s your favourite anthology TV show? Let us know below…