10 frightening, forgotten horror TV shows of the '60s, '70s and '80s

Digging through the crypt of cult TV.

Horror may be big bucks at the box office, but the terrifying genre has never been terribly popular on network television. It tends to be a little too intense for primetime. Still, some of the greatest series in TV history have been eerie, like Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone.

In the 1970s — the peak of the horror craze in American pop culture — popular made-for-TV horror movies like Satan's School for Girls and Trilogy of Terror paved the way for series such as Kolchak: The Night Stalker.

The Twilight Zone revival of the 1980s was accompanied by other spooky anthology series, from Amazing Stories to Tales from the Crypt.

Over the decades, some titles have fallen through the cracks. So we're creeping into the dank basement of television history to blow the cobwebs off some overlooked shows. So turn on a nightlight and read on…

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1. 'Way Out



Master of devilishly dark humor, Roald Dahl had not yet become a children's storytelling institution in 1961. James and the Giant Peach was just hitting the press, while Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Witches were yet unborn. No, at the time, Dahl was better known for twisted tales like "Man from the South," which became a brilliant episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents with a Zippo-flicking Steve McQueen. No wonder then that CBS tapped Dahl to host and present this series. The network paired it The Twilight Zone, but 'Way Out (What exactly was that apostrophe shortening?) proved to only click with big-city audiences. 

2. Great Ghost Tales



Equally short-lived in 1961 was this anthology series, which drew on talents like Robert Duvall. A summer replacement, Great Ghost Tales stuck out like a tombstone on the green grass of the TV schedule, jabbed between Bachelor Father and Groucho Marx. It does hold a place in history, however, being the last series entirely filmed and broadcast live on a network.

Image: The Everett Collection

3. Ghost Story



Also known as Circle of Fear, Ghost Story drew on the hypnotic narrating powers of the dapper Sebastian Cabot, best known for family fare like Family Affair and The Jungle Book. It was a good gig while it lasted for Cabot, who introduced each week's witches and ghouls from the Hotel del Coronado on the San Diego Bay. Not quite a cold, haunted mansion. As for the stories, Jodie Foster played a kid with telekinetic powers, while Angie Dickinson faced a manic dog. We're going to assume Stephen King was watching. This hidden gem can sometimes be seen on our sister network, Decades.

Image: The Everett Collection

4. Quinn Martin's Tales of the Unexpected



Quinn Martin had a nose for action, having produced hard-boiled hours like The Fugitive, Cannon and The Streets of San Francisco. He tried his hand at horror with Tales of the Unexpected, which ran for eight episodes in 1977. William Conrad played host, while guest stars included everyone from Bill Bixby to Eve Plumb. More killer dogs turned up, to hound farmer Ronnie Cox of Deliverance. Elsewhere, former teen idol Ricky Nelson played a Dodger who receives a haunted hand transplant.

Image: The Everett Collection

5. Darkroom



The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery had Rod Serling, Thriller had Boris Karloff. Prototypical tough guy James Coburn handled the hosting duties on Darkroom.
His leathery voice is heard over the opening credits, as a camera raced through an old house. "You run, but there's no escape... nowhere to turn. You feel something beckoning you... drawing you into the terror that awaits you in the Darkroom!" Helen Hunt starred in "The Bogeyman Will Get You," while Billy Crystal, fresh off Soap, appeared alongside Brian Dennehy in "Paddy." The cast also included familiar TV faces such as Rue McClanahan, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, David Carradine and June Lockhart.

Image: The Everett Collection

6. The Hitchhiker



Premium cable channel HBO had been around for about a decade before it proved its ability to craft original drama. Today, it is the known for prestige television. Early programs like The Hitchhiker helped blaze the trail. Page Fletcher (pictured) played the title character, taking over for Nicholas Campbell. The title seemed to a nod to the 1960 Twilight Zone episode, while the "Hitch" part certainly brought to mind the Master of Suspense. This underrated anthology (most people still could not afford to see it) kept the tradition of exploring humanity's dark side alive.

Image: The Everett Collection

7. Tales from the Darkside



George A. Romero popularized the zombie. He also produced this syndicated anthology series, which balanced terror with comedy. Take the episode "Distant Signals" for example, which cast Darren McGavin of Kolchak as an aging television pro asked to complete his old TV show, which was canceled years ago before a fulfilling conclusion. Turns out, it's an alien race demanding the final episodes. Futurama would spin a similar story years later. If we were aliens, we would do the same thing for Star Trek and Hogan's Heroes, honestly.

Image: The Everett Collection

8. Friday the 13th: The Series



Fans of the Friday the 13th slasher-flick series might notice something missing in this promotional photo — no Jason. Yep, indeed, the evil Jason Voorhees did not appear once in this Canadian production. And he was even known for his hockey mask! Instead, we got a series about antique dealers who signed a deal with the devil. Perhaps April Fools' might have been a better title.

Image: The Everett Collection

9. Monsters



Fantastic creature makeup and inspired casting set this syndicated anthology series apart. Where else could you see disgusting beasts like "The Feverman" (pictured here) and Meat Loaf?  Other wonderful guests included Linda Blair, Debbie Harry, Pam Grier, Imogene Coca, Steve Buscemi and Tony Shalhoub. The veterans (Barbara Billingsley, Soupy Sales) brushed shoulders with the up-and-comers (David Spade, Matt LeBlanc). And loads of slimy monsters.

Image: The Everett Collection

10. The Munsters Today



Turquoise was a hot color in the Eighties. Paired with hot pink, it was part of the Miami Vice color palette, glowing in neon, blaring from Crockett's blazers. You could also the electric hue all over Herman Munster's face. Fans may have recoiled in horror as this reboot, but — believe it or not — The Munsters Today lasted longer than the original. Lee Meriwether (Catwoman!) and John Schuck (er, Holmes & Yoyo) played the parents. Perhaps they should have kept it in black and white.

Image: The Everett Collection

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NATFDirector2 34 months ago
Does anyone recall an old horror tv show from the early sixties called Nightmare?... if I remember correctly, the theme song went "The whispering of the breeze, the rustling of the trees its nightmare... NIGHTMARE!... the intro was very dark and you appeared to be running through some trees in a graveyard possibly with a huge southern style mansion being highlighted in the distance by the lightening...
Trying to find information on this one...I found a local show called Nightmare that aired on KWCH-TV in Wichita starting in 1960. It was a hosted horror movie show. Is it possible this was it?
JudithReboy 35 months ago
The Tales From the Darkside episode "Distant Signals" is absolutely essential viewing for Kolchak fans. Since it did have a big screen spinoff, I'm not sure I'd call it completely forgotten though.
Fleiter 35 months ago
Friday the 13th was a great syndicated show with some genuine scares. I would love to own it or stream it.
RichardWiehe 35 months ago
Another little known that could be added to this list is Freddy's Nightmares with Robert England as Freddy Kreuger hosting the shows. Ran from 1988-1990.

wama 38 months ago
I am shocked (shocked!) that you failed to mention either of Karloff's horror shows: The Veil and, even better, Thriller.
And what happened to One Step Beyond?
StrayCat 42 months ago
Incredibly, missing from this list is the 80’s “War of the Worlds”. It ran for two seasons and employed an imaginative story line. It was said that the level of violence (never before seen on broadcast TV) was on par with an movie R rating in the 80’s contributed to its cancellation after two seasons.

This is another series that METV should consider showing.
frances3agape 43 months ago
Only remember 3* of these -
Hitchhiker, Tales From the Darkside and Friday the 13th The Series.
Liked them all.
Hitchhiker was HBO, but don’t remember what channels aired Darkside and Friday Series.
Would probably like the others (EXCEPT for footnote below).

*don’t consider The Musters’ reboot worth mentioning
Oh, the correlation between Friday Series and The Librarians just dawned on me !
dictracy 45 months ago
Need to air the original munsters series
KenB 48 months ago
'Friday the 13th' lasted three seasons; it wasn't a 1987-only show. I always liked that one, but I had to watch it at my grandparents' house because we didn't have cable at that time!
WendyLovesJesus 48 months ago
I've watched and loved most of these series! However, regarding the entry about "Ghost Story/Circle of Fear", Jodie Foster's character in "House of Evil" did not have telekinetic powers (the ability to move things with your mind)—she was telepathic (she and her grandfather—and her grandfather only—could speak to each other using their minds). And the grandfather had the ability to create voodoo dolls. Also, about "Friday the 13th"..... the April Fools crack is unwarranted. The title was never meant to relate to the slasher franchise, I think they meant it in the more accurate and historical sense of Friday the 13th being unlucky and cursed: Hence the fact that they deal in cursed objects on the show, and that instead of mindless killing, they try to help people.
Amalthea 48 months ago
Why were they picking on "Friday the 13th"? My husband & I never missed an episode. It was a fun, entertaining show. We also watched "The Hitchhiker" for the short amount of time when we actually had HBO.
MarkSpeck 49 months ago
One of the episodes of Quinn Martin's Tales of the Unexpected was "The Nomads", an attempt at rebooting Martin's classic alien series The Invaders. This time around, it was District Attorney David Birney who was the guy who saw the aliens. Interestingly enough, Roy Thinnes appeared in a different episode of this series, "The Final Chapter".
RichWalker 59 months ago
Another was "One Step Beyond" which purported to be "true" stories. Stephen King must have been watching the portrayal of the European psychic who could determine true identity through touch.
frances3agape RichWalker 43 months ago
Seen several reruns. Several GOOD ones
Ariesmale44 59 months ago
i used to watch Monsters,Tales From The Darkside,and The Hitchhiker,and Friday The 13th The Series.i do know about Darkroom and Ghost Story and Tales Of The Unexpected.you guys should have included Werewolf and In Search Of
HachikoTelly 61 months ago
Re: Great Ghost Tales. The line, "the show was filmed and broadcast live on a national network," is awkward. To me, and perhaps others, "being filmed" is to record on film or videotape. Perhaps the best way to describe this program that it was produced live and broadcast on a national network. Too many people write things about Tv's early days, but don't understand everything about TV's early days. They have no idea how live programming was produced and how entertaining and thrilling it was.
Mirramanee 64 months ago
I vaguely recall there was also an anthology series called "Journey to the Unknown". Had a creepy opening sequence and music. The stories had twist endings and were very atmospheric. It ran around 1968 and I would actually love to see it now again. I don't believe it is available on DVD or on any of the various channels. Maybe someone could point me to it if it is. Some of the tales were not supernatural, but rather psychological mysteries, but the supernatural ones were the best.
frances3agape Mirramanee 43 months ago
YES! Ihave seen some reruns. Very Good
ImdaPrincesse 66 months ago
Dark Shadows.. I should go try to find it.
Tresix 68 months ago
How could you not mention that "Tales from the Darkside" had a big-screen spin-off? An anthology film that featured three people who had appeared on the TV show: Debbie Harry ("The Moth"), Christian Slater ("A Case of the Stubborns"), and William Hickey ("The Circus").
pumkinheadfan 68 months ago
What no mention of Kolchak: The Night Stalker?! Oh and when F13: The Series was first aired in Canada it was titled Curious Goods (this was also the name of the Store the characters all worked at/ was centered around). It wasn't until it was shown in the US (not to mention was executive produced by Frank Mancuso Jr.. The man who produced F13 2-7 ) they wanted to put a popular name on the show that would sell. Hence what it was called. Oh there was mention of plans to have one of the episodes have the hockey mask show up as one of the "cursed" items they had to track down, but the show ended and so any possibility to making the title make sense was lost. I did like the article mentioning April Fools being a good title considering Frank Mancuso Jr. produced April Fools Day as well. However....not a big enough money making title at the time!
Tresix pumkinheadfan 68 months ago
I think they didn't mention "Kolchak" because they were going for shows that weren't that well-known.
Amalthea pumkinheadfan 61 months ago
My husband & I LOVED F13 and never missed an episode. We also liked "The Hitchhiker".
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