Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Muir Book Wednesday # 4: Terror Television: American Series, 1970-1999 (2001)

I had such a great time writing this book, Terror Television. It's one of my most decorated (and also one of my longest) efforts, coming in at over 670 pages. In 2001, the year of its publication, it was selected as a Booklist Magazine's "Editor's Choice."

It was a blast to write it (back in 1999...) because in the process, I was able to re-visit so many (40...) of the genre's best and worst efforts, along with a plethora of personal favorites. I also wrote the book just after I had moved into my first house, a historic home in Monroe, N.C. (where I still write...) so there are special memories because of that experience too. I'll never forget staying up late at night screening episodes of Twin Peaks and freaking myself out...

I also wrote the book before the age of DVD box sets, so my "research mode" on this book was one of my favorites, if most difficult. I tracked down episodes from traders, over the Internet, and found syndicated movies and the like to attempt to see as much as I could. It's an experience I'll never forget. Today, many of the series I wrote about I now own on DVD, including American Gothic, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, Millennium, X-Files and more.

Terror Television: American Series, 1970-1999 examines in detail some 40 horror TV series from these important thirty years. Among the series discussed in detail are

Rod Serling's Night Gallery (1970-1973)
The Sixth Sense (1972),
Ghost Story/Circle of Fear (1972-1973)
The Evil Touch (1973-1974)
Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974-75)
Quinn Martin's Tales of the Unexpected (1977-1978)
The Next Step Beyond (1978-1979)
Cliffhangers: The Curse of Dracula (1979)
Darkroom (1981-1982)
The Hitchhiker (1983-1991)
Tales from the Darkside (1984-1988)
Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1985-1990)
Werewolf (1987-1988)
Friday the 13th: the Series (1987-1990)
Freddy's Nightmares: A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Series (1988-1990)
Monsters (1988-1991)
Tales from the Crypt (1989-1997)
Twin Peaks (1990-1991)
Dracula: The Series (1990-1991)
She Wolf of London/Love and Curses (1990-1991)
Stephen King's The Golden Years (1991)
Dark Shadows (1991)
Beyond Reality (1991-1993)
Nightmare Cafe (1992)
Forever Knight (1992-1996)
The X-Files (1993)
American Gothic (1995-1996)
Kindred: The Embraced (1996)
Poltergeist: The Legacy (1996-1999)
Dark Skies (1996-1997)
The Burning Zone (1996-1997)
Millennium (1996-1999)
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997)
Sleepwalkers (1997)
Prey (1998)
Charmed (1998)
Brimstone (1998-1999)
Strange World (1999)
G vs. E (1999)
Angel (1999 - )

There's also a less detailed section in the back of the book that gazes at anthologies that sometimes featured horror (along with fantasy and sci-fi), including Amazing Stories (1985-1987), The Twilight Zone (1985-1987), The Outer Limits (1995-999), The Ray Bradbury Theater (1985-1992), Nightmare Classics (1989) and Welcome to Paradox (1998). Another section featured horror 'Man on the Run' series including Dead at 21 (1994) and Nowhere Man (1995). I even had a section on horror reality TV including Sightings, and Psi-Factor: Chronicles of the Paranormal.

Here's what the critics had to say about
Terror Television:

"....the book he [Muir] was born to write....His analyses are first-rate and based on a wide knowledge of the subject...TERROR TELEVISION is superlative television history." -BIG REEL, June 2001.

"Muir is well-known in the horror/sci-fi reference field, with previous well-received guides to Wes Craven, John Carpenter and the TV series essential purchase." -Anthony Adam, REFERENCE AND USER SERVICES QUARTERLY, Winter 2001.

"Fans and researchers will appreciate the detailed episode-by-episode documentation and even nonfans will be engaged by Muir's informed and opinionated analyses." - Editor's Choice 2001- BOOKLIST, 2001.

"TERROR TELEVISION is a massive 685 page reference guide that documents the history of modern television horror from 1970 to 1999....Muir provides a good format for discussing each series...Not shy to share his views...Muir has obviously done his homework in researching the shows listed in this book...[it] gives an excellent analysis of shows produced during the period of 1970 - indispensable volume of useful reference information..."-CHILLER THEATER # 17, page 57.

"...highly readable, extremely literate...the real strength of the book lies in his unflinching opinions. When a show is lousy, he wastes no words showing where it went wrong; when a show succeeds, he skillfully defines the elements that made it rise above the drivel. All film libraries will want a copy of this book..."-Joseph L. Carlson, ARBA, 2002.

And here's an excerpt from my introduction to Terror Television:

"Terror" and "television" are two words (and two worlds) which, at first glance, do not appear to fit easily side by side. The word "terror" portends an adrenaline rush, heightened emotions, suspense and heart-pounding horror. All these elements seem at odds with the medium of television - a venue of the masses, a homogenized entertainment. Implicit in this term "terror television" is the conjunction of the extreme with the mild, the extraordinary with the mundane. Yet, in the last thirty or so years, visionary artists and technicians have labored to make the horror genre a success on American television, despite such intrinsic contradictions. Such a venture is no small enterprise, and accordingly, these craftsmen are no slouches.

Rod Serling, William Castle, Quinn Martin, John Newland, Kenneth Johnson, George Romero, David Lynch, Dan Curtis, Stephen King, Wes Craven, Sam Raimi, Chris Carter, Joss Whedon, the Pate Brothers and even Aaron Spelling are only some of the recognizable names to be found in this cavalcade of creepy cathode imaginings.

Why begin a review of television horror in the year 1970, when television as an art form stretches back to the late '40s? First of all, because "terror television" truly came into its own in the freewheeling early 1970s. Although there were many noteworthy genre series in the 1950s and 1960s such as Alcoa Presents/One Step Beyond (1959-1961), The Twilight Zone (1959-1964), Thriller (1960-1962) and The Outer Limits (1962-1964), these landmark programs aired in black-and-white and tended to highlight science fiction (The Outer Limits), fantasy (The Twilight Zone), and even crime melodrama (Thriller) in conjunction with the occasional outright horror programming. Rod Serling's Night Gallery was thus the first prime-time, color network TV series devoted exclusively to macabre tales. As such, it represents the beginning of modern horror television.

Furthermore, the early 1970s represent a period of transition in another arena which is vitally important to the efficacy of the modern horror drama: make-up and special effects. Spurred on by the incredible success of Planet of the Apes (1968), perhaps the biggest prosthetics show in Hollywood history, Rod Serling's Night Gallery showcased some of the most grotesque and complex make-ups (courtesy of John Chambers and Bud Westmore) then seen on network television. It is important to note that these unusual make-up creations (such as the H.P. Lovecraft-inspired monster in "Pickman's Model" and the Dickensian ghouls in "Camera Obscura") were not extraterrestrials, as were the famous "bears" of Joseph Stefano's and Leslie Steven's The Outer Limits. Instead, they were honest-to-goodness ghouls and monsters designed wholly to terrify audiences, thus forever severing the genres of science fiction (which seeks to illuminate) and horror (which seeks to cast its audiences into darkness and doubt.)

Want to read more? Order
Terror Television today!

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