SMALL SCREENS, BIG CHILLS: CLASSIC AMERICAN TV HORROR
Date(s) - Tue. Jan. 22, 2013 - Tue. Feb. 26, 2013
7:00 pm - 10:00 pm
Peut-être Vintage Microcinema
Tuesdays, January 22 – February 26, 2013
As we reflect upon the recent popularity of horror melodramas such as True Blood, The Walking Dead and American Horror Story, it becomes essential to explore the influence of earlier examples of TV horror (aka Gothic TV, or what television scholar Helen Wheatley has referred to as ‘telefantasy’). In his book The Pleasures of Horror, Matt Hills has argued that TV horror should be seen not as a “para-site” of the genre, but as a major influence on the development of horror. This course takes up this issue with reference to representative horror TV series and made-for-TV horror films, and the horror conventions, themes and issues they both borrowed from, and helped to establish in, cinematic and literary horror. We will cover three of the most influential horror-themed television shows of the “classic” period of horror TV, from roughly 1950 to 1980: writer-producer Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone (1959-1964), writer-producer Joseph Stephano’s The Outer Limits (1963-1965), and Dan Curtis’s unique daytime Gothic soap opera, Dark Shadows (1966-1971). In addition to these “key” series, the course will also look at less popular and more short-lived horror TV series such as One Step Beyond (1959-61), something of a prototype for later shows like Unsolved Mysteries, and the Boris Karloff-hosted anthology series, The Veil (1958) and Thriller (1960-1962). The final two classes will address feature-length made-for-TV horror films that proliferated throughout the 1970s (Crowhaven Farm, Duel, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, Bad Ronald), as well as iconic horror hosts such as Vampira, Ghoulardi, Zacherley and Elvira, who helped to bring horror films into TV viewers’ homes.
Week 1: Tuesday, January 22, 2013, 7:00pm-10:00pm
The Space of Subversion: Limited Perspective and Liminal Horror in Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone (1959-64)
Instructors: Karen Herland and Kristopher Woofter
“Now the fear is no longer vague. The terror isn’t formless; it has a form.”
— from The Twilight Zone episode, “The Hitch-hiker,” aired 22 January 1960
The brainchild of writer-producer Rod Serling, The Twilight Zone was an oasis of the fantastic in a desert of quotidian American TV shows that perpetuated the stifling patriarchal ideals of the American domestic sphere, from Father Knows Best,to Leave it to Beaver, to My Three Sons. Serling’s magnum opus was diverse enough to include horror, fantasy, satire and even dark comedy, and proved to be one of the most successful and influential series ever on American television. Serling wrote 99 of the show’s 156 aired episodes; others were written by literary horror giants such as Richard Matheson and Charles Beaumont. Classic episodes of the show include the William Shatner-starring “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” the science-fiction tinged classic, “Where Is Everybody?,” and the speculative moral tale, “Time Enough at Last.” Our entry point will be with the show’s specific engagement with the discourses and conventions of horror and the fantastic, dredging up the terror of the mundane and the everyday as a way to open up spaces for analyses of culture and politics. We will show three representative episodes of the series, each of which responds to one of three key Twilight Zone themes: Fragmented Subjectivity and Limited Perspective, Suburban Paranoia, and Cosmic Paradigmatic Shifts.
Week 2: Tuesday, January 29, 2013, 7:00pm-10:00pm
TV Horror’s “Others” and the (Pulp) Anthology Series: Lights Out! (1946, 1949-52), The Veil (1958), One Step Beyond (1959-61), Thriller (1960-62) and Night Gallery (1969-73)
Instructor: Kristopher Woofter
“What you are about to see is a matter of human record. Explain it, we cannot. Disprove it, we cannot. We simply invite you to explore with us the amazing world of the Unknown—to take that One Step … Beyond.”
— from John Newland’s Introduction to numerous episodes of One Step Beyond
Horror has had a pervasive presence on television since the late 1940s, a fact that may have been overshadowed by the enormous influence of two canonical 1960s horror series, The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. This class surveys five series that for various reasons now speak to a more limited, select audience than their monolithic counterparts. The earliest of these shows, Lights Out!, has its origins in the 1940s horror radio work of Arch Oboler. The short-lived, Boris Karloff-hosted The Veil predates Serling’s Twilight Zone and is a prototype for the later, more popular Karloff-fronted show, Thriller, which Stephen King called the best of all TV horror programs.The under-seen and equally underappreciated One Step Beyond, is prototypical of pseudo-scientific shows popular in the 1970s and 1980s focusing on the paranormal and the unexplained, such as In Search of … and Unsolved Mysteries. Finally, Night Gallery, Rod Serling’s pulp-inspired follow-up series to The Twilight Zone, will leave us on the verge of the contemporary period of horror on television, suggesting the anthology format attempted with fleeting success by 1980s horror series such as Darkroom (1979) and Cliffhanger (1981).
Television’s half-hour to one-hour formats were an ideal space to adapt the sustained atmosphere of intense gloom and dread of the short horror tale. This class focuses on select episodes that are either adaptations or extrapolations of horror short stories and radio scripts. We also will look into the aesthetics of the horror anthology series within the tradition of the pulps. Screenings will include representative clips from three of the series, as well as two complete episodes, one 25-minutes in length, and the other 50-minutes.
Week 3: Tuesday, February 5, 2013, 7:00pm-10:00pm
A ‘Bear’ of a Series: The ‘Wonder’ and ‘Tolerable Terror’ of The Outer Limits
Instructor: Philip L. Simpson (*visiting instructor!)
First airing in 1963, the ABC-TV network’s black-and-white anthology series The Outer Limits was created by Leslie Stevens as a vehicle for exploring his ideas about human frailties within a science fiction setting. Its blend of insightful character study, Gothic mood, intelligent themes, expressionistic visuals, and science fiction with a decidedly dark edge showed The Outer Limits daring to confront some of the most difficult political and humanistic questions of the times. Series co-producer and writer Joseph Stefano (of Hitchcock’s Psycho fame) both capitulated to the network’s commercially driven desire for “more monsters” and subverted this desire by referring to the show’s “monster of the week” as a “bear.” While seemingly lampooning the network’s incessant clamoring for monsters, Stefano is also making a serious point, in that the Gothic borderlands of the human psyche that the “bears” represent grip or even prey upon the subconscious or pre-conscious, leaving a sense of unsettlement or unease within the viewer long after the episode itself has ended.
Reading: Worland, Rick. Sign-Posts Up Ahead :The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, and TV Political Fantasy 1959-1965
Week 4: Tuesday, February 12, 2013, 7:00pm-10:00pm
The Gothic As Soap Opera: Dark Shadows and Uncanny Domesticity
Instructors: Mario DeGiglio-Bellemare and Anne Golden
From 1966-1971, ABC-TV broadcast a 30 minute daytime Gothic soap opera called Dark Shadows. Produced by an “auteur” of television horror, Dan Curtis, the show began as a brooding gothic tale in the style of Jane Eyre (Charlotte Brontë), and quickly established itself as a vehicle for ghosts, witches, vampires, werewolves, and Frankenstein-like creatures. Dark Shadows brought into the living rooms of millions of Americans elements that have come to be associated with the 18th century Gothic, such as supernatural beings, malevolent aristocrats, orphaned daughters, family dishonour, old castles, craggy rocks, stormy weather, hidden passageways, persecuted romance, wanderers and uncanny doubles, and above all, an excess of tragic romance that only a soap opera could deliver. As Richard Davenport-Hines argues, the Gothic and the soap opera have much in common: “confused paternities, improbable coincidences, melodrama, sudden death, cheap ideas, trivially stereotypical characters, [the] television soap opera provides the twentieth century equivalent of the gothic novels.”
But more importantly, the Gothic and the soap opera have traditionally been associated with women and the domesticity. This section of the course will trace the evolution of Dark Shadows as a show that was radically uncanny (unheimlich), precisely because it fuelled anxieties around domestic space, where the boundaries between the public and private collapse. In this uncanny ambiguity arises subversions to the patriarchal family: powerful matriarchs, hysterical males, “queer” characters, youth with agency, powerful witches, parodic portrayals of the gothic ingenue, a reluctant vampire, etc. Because it was a daytime soap opera, the Gothic was not only presented in simply temporal categories (a return to the past), but as an invasion of domestic quotidian space.
Week 5: Tuesday, February 19, 2013, 7:000pm-10:00pm
The Golden Age of TV Terror: The Made-for-Television Horror Boom of the 1970s
Instructor: Kier-La Janisse
Back before we had hundreds of cable channels to create custom-packages from, there were only three networks – CBS, NBC and ABC – that had the monopoly on home viewing, and they utilized this captive audience as a means of testing out some bold new programming. The Made-for-Television film – where genre directors like John Carpenter, Steven Spielberg, John Badham, Tobe Hooper and Wes Craven got to play out some of their earliest ideas – was a unique experiment that – although its golden age runs through the decade 1969-1979 – would have lingering impact on how TV would be programmed going forward to this day. when NBC introduced the Project 120 series in 1964 and its follow-up series World Premiere in 1966 – both platforms for original 2-hour films – it was a pioneering move. But it was Barry Diller and Leonard Goldberg over at ABC who really upped the ante with the groundbreaking Movie of the Week series, launched in 1969 with an ambitious mandate: “25 original 90-minute Movies Made Especially for ABC-TV Comprise the Most Costly Series in Network History,” the trades loudly proclaimed. This broadstroke of programming momentum coincided with the emerging counterculture, and many of the risks being taken by the major studios with feature films following the success of Easy Rider were mirrored on the small screen. The original horror films being pumped out by the networks were no less critical of their turbulent social context. Television provided us with some of the most lingering, affecting horror films that anyone reared in the 70s can remember witnessing: Duel, Bad Ronald, The Legend of Lizzie Borden, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, Brotherhood of the Bell, Crowhaven Farm, Salem’s Lot, Frankenstein the True Story, not to mention the numerous productions of television titan Dan Curtis (The Night Stalker, Trilogy of Terror). We’ll see clips from all these films and more, looking at the people who made them, the society that fuelled them, and tracing the history of a very special moment in time for genre fans everywhere.
Week 6: Tuesday, February 26, 2013, 7:00pm-10:00pm
“Ooh, That’s Scary!” A History of TV Horror Hosts
Instructors: Mario DeGiglio-Bellemare, Kristopher Woofter and Kier-La Janisse
Course description coming soon!