Who remembers Tales from the Darkside? Can you recall that introductory sequence, the slow trip through the woods, the eerie theme music, building tension until the scene flips, colors invert, and the organ lands its ominous final note?
It imparts a sense of unease, atmospheric tension. To halt the viewing experience at this point is to leave the details of the “darkside,” an alternate place which exists in the long twilight shadows of the world, to the viewer’s imagination.
The imagination can be powerful, intimidating, and sometimes inescapable.
Speaking of horror anthology television shows of the 1980s, another opening theme that comes to mind is that of The Hitchhiker. Late at night, the opening beat would start with a hitchhiker’s solitary walk down a dirt road between desolate hills and past a rock formation. It’s this aspect I remember most of all: the setting, the sense of isolation, and minimal accompanying theme music. But from an objective standpoint, it’s just a man walking, isn’t it? Or is it?
There is more to the picture, we sense, a crucial detail askew, and more to come. As the scene fades out, this lingers on our thoughts.
Reaching even further back, I could go on to speak of The Twilight Zone, the original version created by Rod Serling, one of my favorite television shows of all time and an early influence on my work as a writer. Its theme and opening sequence needs no introduction.
Visiting an old, abandoned barn, happening across an unusual cemetery to which no road leads, or a mere stroll through the woods might serve to stir these avenues of the imagination. A late-night drive along old roads, such as one I made years back to find the Joplin Spooklight, or walking the perimeter of a school at night, with bulbs casting faint illumination across each of the locked entrances. While the building appears abandoned for the moment, the heavy silence echoes an unspoken question: are we alone here? Or are we being watched at this very moment?
Frightening? Maybe. Better yet, inspiring. Prominent fuel for an opening theme, if only in our own minds.
Every horror story must have its beginning, after all, whether the beginning of the end, a stab of sheer terror, or a moment’s speculation that leaves us uncertain but wondering, unable to turn away. It begins with the senses—the sights, the sounds—and in the darker spaces of the imagination, culminates in the question: what next?
Boo-graphy: Tommy B Smith is a writer of horror and dark fiction, award-winning author of The Mourner’s Cradle, Poisonous, and the forthcoming Black Carmenia series. His presence currently infests Fort Smith, Arkansas, where he resides with his wife and cats.
Black Carmenia 1: New Era Insomnia. Headaches. Fear.
It drove Marjorie down, cost her a career, and almost destroyed her marriage. When she and her husband Terry escaped to the quiet green countryside west of the Mississippi River, their new home, it seemed too good to last.
The snake-ridden adjoining property, bordered by a row of maple trees, hosts a deadly secret. There the blood of fields and innocents stain the crumbling ruins of an old farmhouse, a decaying testament to a web of treachery and murder stretching back to distant times.
The horror in the ruins watches in wait. Marjorie fears the end, and the end is coming.
Meghan: Hey, Jonathan. I don’t know if you realize this, but you have been a part of our annual Halloween Extravaganza long before it was named a Halloween Extravaganza. In fact, you have been part of every Halloween celebration since I started blogging, back in 2014, on The Gal in the Blue Mask. So thank you so much for all the support. And for once again taking part. Let’s begin: What is your favorite part of Halloween?
Jonathan: I think the general mood. I love the aura, the spooky, cozy, gloomy vibe of late-October/early-November. There’s something uniquely mysterious in the air, the feeling that anything could happen, will happen. Wet-black tree trunks and rain-shiny streets. Drooping leaves and shadows. No time can transport me back to elementary school like this time of year. Nothing can reproduce that shivery feeling quite like Halloween time.
Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween tradition?
Jonathan: Hmm… For me, the music plays a big role. The Halloween score is a central, seminal work there. I think not only of Carpenter’s incredible main theme, but of the other tracks, specifically the one we hear when Jamie Lee Curtis walks through the neighborhood when we first meet her. I hear the same music when I walk through my own neighborhood, which is like hers with more hills. I also love “This Is Halloween” from The Nightmare Before Christmas. I sing that one with my youngest daughter Peach.
So listening to the music is a big part of the celebration for me.
Meghan: If Halloween is your favorite holiday (or even second favorite holiday), why?
Jonathan: It’s my favorite non-religious holiday, I’ll say that. It’s just such a marvelous celebration of all the things I love about horror. It’s being joyful in the terror, it’s reveling in the macabre. It really is a time where what we love all year is normalized and appreciated by all, including the hobbyists. For a short time they can see through our eyes and understand the dark beauty we see all year. So there’s a sense of community with the full-timers and a moment of communion with the part-timers.
Meghan: What are you superstitious about?
Jonathan: I’m really not superstitious anymore, but I used to be. Like catastrophically so. I was afraid to leave a room without first smiling into a mirror because I was sure the last expression I made in that mirror would determine the tenor of the day or evening. I had an intricate series of rituals I had to complete (everything in threes, everything pointing in a specific direction) that held a mystical power over me. Essentially, I was raddled with these superstitions, and they profoundly affected me in many negative ways. I eventually overcame them, but it took time.
Meghan: What/who is your favorite horror monster or villain?
Jonathan: Michael Myers still scares the daylights out of me. So does Jerry Dandridge from the original Fright Night. I love werewolves in general, so the one in Silver Bullet, for instance used to really give me the willies. Oh, and The Thing was awesome because it’s this hostile intelligence and always changing.
Meghan: Which unsolved murder fascinates you the most?
Jonathan: Wow. Tough one. There were a pair of murders in my hometown of Delphi, Indiana (which is known as Shadeland in Children of the Dark) that remain unsolved, so for several reasons I want that killer to be caught. Two adolescent girls lost their lives, so it’s an unspeakable tragedy.
Meghan: Which urban legend scares you the most?
Jonathan: I don’t know if this qualifies, but Spring-Heeled Jack has always fascinated me. I love the uniqueness of his powers and the mysterious, fantastical nature of his abilities. I’d like to write a novel about it someday.
Meghan: Who is your favorite serial killer and why?
Jonathan: Well, I probably wouldn’t say that any would be my favorite, but the most fascinating has to be Jack the Ripper. So much of that has to do with the surreptitious nature of the crimes, the Whitechapel setting, the myriad theories about the killer’s identity, and the fact that it remains unsolved. I also think the clothing of the time and the fog add to the mystique.
Meghan: How old were you when you saw your first horror movie? How old were you when you read your first horror book?
Jonathan: Probably something like The Omen, which scared the crap out of me. I vividly remember watching The Twilight Zone when I was little, especially Nightmare at 20,000 Feet. Also the one where there’s an alien in the café and the one where the woman is going to have plastic surgery because (supposedly) she’s so hideous. Those shows truly impacted me. They scared me to death but they absolutely absorbed me and compelled me to keep watching despite my terror.
Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?
Jonathan: Ah, nice question! Let’s see…I’m going to say The Girl Next Door. Jack Ketchum/Dallas Mayr had a way of going to the core of an issue and showing us what he found there, without flinching. That book made me cringe, put it down, return to it reluctantly, despair for humankind, and weep for what happened to that poor young woman.
Meghan: Which horror movie scarred you for life?
Jonathan: This one is easy, though it’s surprisingly recent. It’s called Lake Mungo, and it’s a slow-burn faux-documentary that’s at turns depressing, unnerving, and flat-out terrifying. There’s a moment in the film I keep replaying in my head to an unhealthy, obsessive degree. When I wake up in the middle of the night, I’m afraid to see this face coming out of the dark. So even though I’m an adult…I might just be permanently scarred by Lake Mungo.
Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween costume?
Jonathan: I had a chintzy Godzilla costume when I was really little. Cheap as hell, the sharp plastic mask with the string. But I loved it, felt like I was a fire-breathing monster when I wore it. I loved that costume and love it still.
Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween-themed song?
Jonathan: Got to be “This Is Halloween,” though some of the tracks from Halloween are in the running. The song I referred to earlier I think is called “Laurie’s Theme,” though I could be wrong about that.
Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween candy or treat? What is your most disappointing?
Jonathan: My favorite candy altogether is Dots, so because I sometimes get to eat those on Halloween, I’ll go with Dots. Other favorites include Snickers, Twizzlers, Reese’s Cups, and Kit Kats. Disappointing candy? I can’t think of any.
Meghan: Thanks again for stopping by today. As always, it was an absolute pleasure having you here. Before you go, what is your go-to Halloween movie and book?
Jonathan: Top Halloween Movie: Halloween (1978): I know this is an uncreative answer, but Carpenter’s original film is just perfect. What I appreciate is how Carpenter treats the quieter moments, not just the kills. That film just drips atmosphere.
Top Halloween Book: Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. Look, there are many great Halloween stories, but this one feels perfect for Halloween. I love the evocation of the small town, the friendship, the father-son relationship, those cusp-of-adulthood themes, and of course the sinister elements in the book. Basically, it’s perfect. I taught it for a few years to freshmen, and they ate it up. It’s a timeless novel.
Boo-graphy: Jonathan Janz is the author of more than a dozen novels and numerous short stories. His work has been championed by authors like Joe R. Lansdale, Jack Ketchum, and Brian Keene; he has also been lauded by Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and School Library Journal. His ghost story The Siren and the Specter was selected as a Goodreads Choice nominee for Best Horror. Additionally, his novel Children of the Dark was chosen by Booklist as a Top Ten Horror Book of the Year. Jonathan’s main interests are his wonderful wife and his three amazing children.
This TV series has no relation to Jason or the Friday the 13th films except its producers. Originally it was to be called The 13th Hour, but it was probably a better marketing idea to cash in on the films. Strangely, now there is a TV show in the works based on the films and will share the same title. That’s lazy on the part of network execs. You can just as easily use the Jason name in the title and everyone will know who you are talking about. In England, the show was known as Friday’s Curse.
This show was created by Frank Mancuso Jr. and Larry B. Williams. Shot and produced in Canada. I wonder if this was one of the shows to give producers an idea how many great locations and how much cheaper it was to film in Canada. The eerie theme music was composed by Fred Mollin.
The premise is that two cousins by marriage who never met, inherit an antiques shop after its owner, Uncle Lewis Vendredi (played by great character actor R.G. Armstrong—Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, White Lightning, Children of the Corn), dies mysteriously. Micki and Ryan soon learn that the antiques sold there were all cursed by the devil himself. With the help of Jack Marshak, the three hunt down these objects, learn the dangers of this job, even feel guilty not being able to prevent deaths.
That’s what separates this show from a lot of copy cats (Warehouse 13). It’s very human and you get to know characters.
Also the talented group of writers and directors, actors, staff that ran this show, made it look and feel like a network TV series, not a low budget syndicated show. The stars had charisma, and melded well with each other. John D. Lemay as Ryan, pop star Robey as Micki, ever reliable Chris Wiggins as Jack Marshak, and later Steven Monarque as Johnny. 72 episodes were made, three seasons. Here’s the list:
A hearing aid that lets the wearer hear the thoughts of people around him. Adam Cole is a mentalist in a double act that is going badly because he has a hearing problem. He goes to the ear doctor and promptly steals an antique hearing aide. This enables him to hear others thoughts. The only problem is the thoughts build up inside and if he doesn’t release them onto another poor unsuspecting soul, his body could release them for him, which is like an overload.
Why is this my favorite episode? How it handles the subject of con artists working in the so called “Spirit” profession. They make people think they have supernatural powers by using old Magician’s tricks, and steal hard earned money from the working class. It’s also one of the gorier episodes and a sex scene that the producers got away with because of late night syndication. But the script, direction, and acting is perfectly executed. It also contains my favorite quote and delivery between Jack and Johnny. Johnny: You guys won’t let me write about any of this stuff. Jack: that’s because you write fiction and that has to make sense. According to Wikipedia, this episode was influenced by Magician and debunker James Randi accused (and proved) that Healer Peter Poppoff used a hearing device to receive information about his congregation that he regularly cured of all medical problems they had.
“First the glove heals, then it kills to pay for it.”
David Cronenberg directed this gem. The story bears some resemblance to the episode above, except a white glove that can heal, and if those ailments are not rid of in good time, the owner has the problems ten folds. What a unique and great idea, one I hadn’t seen used in horror television before. Just like the episode above, the makers had to have been following James Randi’s exploits to come up with this story. It also deals with body horror, which fit right in with Cronenberg’s other films. It even has one of Cronenberg’s mainstays guesting, Robert A. Silverman as a debunker, named Jerry, who specializes in faith healing con men. Jack and Jerry go way back, never seeing eye to eye about whether supernatural exists or not. The best thing about this episode is the twist in the story, something the viewer wouldn’t expect.
This was the pilot episode about a killer doll. The episode that explains the premise of the show and introduces Jack, Micki, and Ryan. Sarah Polley is a little girl, Mary, who hates her stepmother, and to be frank, rightfully so. The woman is overbearing and controlling, and downright mean to the little girl. They wander into the shop and discover Uncle Lewis ready to close. They talk him into letting them look around and Little Mary sees a doll she wants. Lewis has second thoughts about selling it, and tells them to leave. Turning away a customer of cursed items has dire consequences, and the Devil or evil presence kills Uncle Lewis. Next we meet Micki who is about to marry a successful Lawyer. She has the intention of selling the shop. She meets Cousin Ryan. She convinces Ryan to have a sale so she can get back to her life, but Ryan really has nothing else going on. During the sale, Mary’s father buys the doll for her. The doll begins to talk to her, and they make a pact to rid themselves of the stepmother just as she wants to take the doll away. One late night they catch Jack Marshak sneaking around, and this is where Jack relates his story that he was the one that travelled the world collecting the antique oddities for Lewis to sell. They discover the manifest and the contract between the Devil and Lewis. The show is off and running.
The cursed item is boxing gloves. When used, literally the shadow of a boxer appears on walls or buildings and beats their victim to death. A never- was been sweeps the floors and is prodded by fellow trainees at the gym, gives him cause for vengeance and builds an even bigger bloated ego. He first discovers the gloves in the manager’s office tries them on, and when the manager catches him, the shadow beats the manager to death. This definitely could have fit into the Twilight Zone. At one instance even Jack gets caught up in a tangle with that shadow.
This episode is about a cursed pool stick. Danny is a talented pool hustler who is up to win 5,000 dollars in a big match. His fiancé Jennifer believes that he is the man who of her dreams. Jack and Ryan go off to find cursed snow shoes, leaving Micki to mind the store and eventually team up with that kid Johnny who is helping locate that pool stick. This is where we meet Johnny who ended up replacing Ryan as one of the main pursuers of cursed objects. This episode is notable for Lolita Davidovich guest starring as the sister of a woman who would do anything to make her boyfriend a success. Full of characters who care of nothing but themselves and pay the price for it.
This one is about a cursed tattoo kit. Gambler Tommy Chen can’t win for losing. He sees a rival gambler using a tattoo kit that not only gives good luck, but the tattoos he places on his victims come to life to ensure death as the price. Tommy kills the rival and takes the tattoo kit. His grandfather notices the writing on the box, he knows its evil and also the name of Lewis’s shop. He calls Jack and asks to return it. Which turns out that the kit is listed in the manifest. Tommy also owes quite a bit of money to the mob. He is given 24 hours to bring in a lot of money in a short time. An excellent episode that brings the gang into Chinatown and introduces the idea that they are a family, whether they believe it or not. The animation in this episode is tremendous, must have cost a fortune for TV.
Cursed 1950’s car stereo that can take you back to a simpler time, before you had to give people of color their rights. A poignant episode. Very well written (notable for replacing the adage of the N word with colored), extremely well-acted episode. You can see the influence of the 1988 film Mississippi Burning here.
Robert A. Silverman guest stars again, this time playing slow-witted Archie who buys the cursed car radio for his Brother Ray’s 1954 Chevy. When blood is drawn, the car can take whoever is in the vehicle back to that year. It’s no surprise that Ray hate’s black people, because his father (a member of the Klan) had murdered a black man and a mysterious witness put him in prison and eventually put to death by the state. Ray is enamored to be back in the past and see his father, whom he never met.
A ballsy episode, and frankly, I don’t think they can produce such a story these days in this PC world. Terrible times, no one should have to go through any kind of racism, or torment for their skin color or for any reason. But when dealing with villains of any kind, you can’t water it down (as in the last season of American Horror Story with Kathy Bates character). When you watch this episode, you come away informed and again, the villains in this episode have reason for the things they do, and the show doesn’t apologize, because they are villains. The ending is just and satisfying, the scenes with the Klan a lot scarier than anything the show has ever produced.
A pair of Houdin cabinets is the focus of this one. We get to see Jack discuss his early days as a magician. There is death as payment as always, and the victims get locked in the cabinets to guarantee magic works. Jack and Micki enter a magic contest. One of the few episodes where the owner doesn’t know about the curse. A very bloody episode. Once again we see Jack converse with people he knew back in his days as something other than a pursuer of cursed objects.
A bottle traps victims in their worst memories. This was an end of the season flashback episode, to help hype the coming season and help newcomers to find out more about the show. According to Wikipedia, this was also the result of a writers strike during production. Micki and Ryan are trapped in the vault with the cursed items. Rashid makes an appearance as does Uncle Lewis. It was an ingenious way of reintroducing Lewis, adding a possible helper and showing the audience all of the previous cursed antiques and backstory. Remember when shows used to use flashbacks? A thing of the past.
This episode holds a special place in my heart. Not only was it the first episode I had seen, but on a Saturday night, watching TV with my brother and Father, trying to find something on at ten pm. I’m not sure why my Father stopped on the syndicated channel (the newly dubbed Fox 35 affiliate of Fox network) we thought this was a Fox show. I’m not even sure why it was on at ten pm, when usual time slot was eleven pm(on another channel, a CBS affiliate, it was on at eleven thirty and even spurred the local newscaster of the area to film a short commercial urging parents not to let their children watch this show). My brother and I were hooked( later to involve our younger sister in our obsession over Cursed antiques show), and our Father watched one or two more, then he didn’t care to watch anymore, probably the late hour and silly premise did it for him.
The Cupid of Malek makes women fall in love with the owner of the little statue. The three of them tear around a college campus looking for the statue and the person who owns it. You get to see some great animation with the use of the statue shooting arrows and his evil facial expressions. Denis Forest was great as both funny and a creepy would-be rapist. This episode was masterfully directed by Atom Egoyan, best known for such indie films as Exotica, The sweet hereafter, and Felicia’s journey.
It was hard to pick the top ten. I even had five more picked when I realized the article would be too long. I know I skipped fan fav’s as The Scarecrow, or Vanity’s mirror, The Quilt of Hathor, but these are my favorites. My list is way too long to include in its entirety.
Barry London is a Fixer by trade, lent out by his boss to other crime lords. He is sent to his hometown of Geneva, New Jersey to deal with corrupt cops at war with each other over a missing video, dealing with an ex-girlfriend who happens to be a cop, the wife of a good friend who also wants to sleep with him, both looking to tame the wild and rough London. On top of all that, London finds himself looking several murders and Firebug who torched a nightclub. The key to it all is cracking the mystery of Mr. Zero.
Do you need a potion? How about a spell? Maybe… murder someone? Evelina Giles is a witch chosen by magic, just like her father. She operates a shop in a sleepy college town in Virginia. When a businessman approaches Evelina for a spell so he can steal a project from his boss, Evelina’s practical joke turns deadly. Or did it? Now, along with her assistant Mungo and her Journalist-friend Jeanie, Evelina must investigate not one, but multiple murders.