Every modern horror fan has heard of the TV horror anthology series MASTERS OF HORROR, THE TWILIGHT ZONE, and TALES FROM THE CRYPT. Hardcore fans will be familiar with lower-budget horror anthologies like TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE and even the lower, lower-budget MONSTERS. Famous horror icons have hosted their own shows like (or merely lent their names to) FREDDY’S NIGHTMARES, Boris Karloff’s THRILLER, Rod Serling’s NIGHT GALLERY, and FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE SERIES. But only the most hardcore of all horror fans will have seen these rare, hard to find, and older TV horror anthologies that aired in the USA and the UK between 1960 and 1990.
THE OMEGA FACTOR
This 1979 UK series is about a journalist named Tom Crane (played by James Hazeldine) who writes mainly about occult and paranormal phenomenon. When he is the victim of a tragic accident, a mysterious government agency called only Department 7 conscripts him, as they believe he has true psychic powers. Department 7 is searching for something called “The Omega Factor”, which can only be described as the untapped psychic potential of the human brain. Crane joins Department 7 in investigating paranormal phenomenon while also investigating his wife’s untimely death in a car accident that may have been planned.
The series was called “thoroughly evil” by British Christian values campaigner Mary Whitehouse, who believed that the supernatural references were bad influences on the minds of the British public, in particular in the episode “Powers of Darkness”. Whether the BBC was actually pressured to cancel the series, or they decided to for other, unrelated reasons, it is commonly believed that The Omega Factor was taken off the air due because of government intervention due to Whitehouse’s influence.
21st century genre fans may consider it a precursor to the American 1990s science fiction/mystery series The X Files: both are about government agencies researching paranormal activity, and both have a troubled male agent partnered with a red-headed female investigator (Louise Sherman, of Dr. Who fame, played Dr. Anne Reynolds, Tom Crane’s investigative partner). Only ten episodes of the shot-on-video The Omega Factor were aired, and you can watch them online (if you can find them!)
TALES OF MYSTERY & IMAGINATION
Tales of Mystery and Imagination was a successful supernatural and horror anthology series that ran for five seasons on ITV Network in the UK from 1966 through 1970. Relying on ghost and horror stories from classic Victorian literature rather than newer science fiction from current authors, Mystery and Imagination embodied a gothic sensibility with its versions of stories by Edgar Allen Poe, Sheridan le Fanu, Mary Shelley, M.R. James, unlike anything else airing on television at the time. Of the original 24 episodes, 16 are lost (or currently missing). The series was famous for using sensational taglines for its episodes; the one written for the episode “The Open Door” was Please hurry home father — mother and I are frightened out of our senses.
LATE NIGHT HORROR
This horror TV anthology series is, sadly like so many other genre shows, lost to time. Airing between April 19 through May 24 of 1968 on BBCTV, Late Night Horror is said to be “a bit of a misnomer” by people who still remember watching the British TV show when it originally aired, as the plots “put sinister twists on apparently ordinary situations,” but just one look at this eerie opening credit sequence will tell you it’s definitely got a major creep factor:
ABC’s WIDE WORLD OF MYSTERY
Another late-night anthology TV movie series was ABC’s Wide World of Mystery, which aired from the early to mid 1970s on US networks. The feature-length movies in this series were of the horror, thriller, and even sometimes cience fiction variety. So many of these amazing, low-budget, shot-on-video horror movies have just disappeared into a puff of smoke, as many were not transferred to film and the original digital files were discarded. You can find a few on YouTube, posted by kind bootlegging Samaritans for posterity, but you’ll have to look really hard.
Shelley Duvall hosted and executive produced this four-episode 1989 TV horror anthology series from Showtime which adapted classic horror stories from the 19th century using well-known actors. Amy Irving was in the Henry James episode “The Turn of the Screw,” Meg Tilly and Roddy McDowall were in Sheridan Le Fanu’s “Carmilla,” Laura Dern was in Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” and even C. Thomas Howell and Daphne Zuniga were in the Ambrose Bierce adaptation “The Eyes of the Panther.” Check out the trailer for that last episode here:
HAMMER HOUSE OF MYSTERY & SUSPENSE
Unlike the more popular Hammer House of Horror, Hammer House of Mystery & Suspense (which aired on British TV for only one season in 1984) was composed of feature-length horror and thriller episodes made by Hammer studios. Genre favorites Dirk Benedict, Dean Stockwell, David Carradine, and Susan George were guest stars on a few of the 13 episodes. Thankfully, this show was preserved in a 6-set DVD release in 2006, so you can see it.
KRAFT SUSPENSE THEATRE
Back in the early 1960s, sponsors would still name TV series after themselves, hence the name Kraft Suspense Theatre (that’s Kraft as in those cheese singles, yes). The earliest of the titles on our list, Kraft Suspense Theatre aired on US TVs from 1963 to 1965. Also known as Crisis in syndication, the show had some amazing guest directors like Sidney Pollack, Robert Altman, and Ida Lupino, as well as actors like Telly Savalas, Robert Ryan, and Robert Loggia among its ranks. Definitely a competitor of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Twilight Zone for viewers, Kraft Suspense Theatre often gets overlooked in discussions of TV thrillers because, frankly, it’s pretty old at this point and most horror fans did not grow up watching it on reruns the way they did The Twilight Zone. The series has only been digitized by bootleggers, and you can find copies on DVD or free on YouTube, but sadly the series has never gotten an official DVD release that it surely deserves.
ROALD DAHL’S TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED
Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected is a horror fantasy series that aired between 1979 and 1988 and, yes, is based on stories written by Roald Dahl (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, among many other fantastic stories) in his 1979 book Tales of the Unexpected. It was extremely popular and had numerous guest appearances from famous actors, including Peter Cushing and Derek Jacobi. There was always a wry, perverse twist at the end of every story that could only come from the uniquely demented mind of Dahl. Horror fans should also note that actress Jennifer Connelly’s first acting role was as an extra in the 1982 episode “Stranger in Town.”