Once I got through the books that my parents gave me to test my awesomeness, I was ready for the real gift to children of the '80s and '90s - the television. And though most of my youth was spent with a combination of Transformers/G.I. Joe/Masters of the Universe/Thundercats/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (OMG, there were so many awesome things!) on the tele, there were a few things scattered into the mix that helped push me toward my budding affection for the dark and dreary side of entertainment.
Like the books I listed in Volume One, these are some pretty common picks for folks my age - but that doesn't mean they didn't pack a lot of punch for little The Mike. So let's take a look.
(And, if you missed the explanation behind this series, you should know that all credit for this idea belongs to the wonderful Mrs. Christine Hadden over at Fascination With Fear, who does lists better than anyone in the Western Hemisphere. For that, I salute her.)
A Pup Named Scooby Doo
Most kids love Scooby Doo (I do too) and loathe the many knock-offs of the show that occurred later in Scooby's run. I agree with most of them - because, let's face it, NO ONE EVER liked Scrappy or that weird white version of Scooby with the goatee - but yet there was something about A Pup Named Scooby Doo that just enamored The Mike from day one. I guess it's kind of the Army of Darkness to the original Scooby's Evil Dead. And I'm OK with that.
Perhaps the thing that made me laugh most about A Pup Named Scooby Doo - and I did laugh at it often, still do on occasion - is the ridiculous monsters put forth on screen. I'm not saying they were great, but I still love to draw my version of the "Totem Pole Monster" (which is LITERALLY the only thing I know how to draw) and can still sing the "Cheese Monster" song. (Because any song with the lyrics "Mozzarella...nasty fella....here comes the Chhhhhheeeeeeeesssssseeee monster!" is worth singing.) Was it a cheesy show? Absolutely, and literally at times. Did they introduce a character named Red Herring who was always accused but was only once the monster? Yes they did. Did it make little me smile and make me want to watch more monster mysteries? You betcha.
Disney's DTV Monster Hits
This thing was something special.
A one-time-only presentation that aired sometime in October of 1987, this one hour (with commercials) special featured Jeffrey "Mr. Rooney" Jones as the magic mirror on the wall that hosted a collection of animated music videos featuring some awesome music and plenty of Disney's favorite characters. There was Michael Jackson's Thriller, Monster Mash, Ghostbusters, and plenty of other great tunes. Even today, I still picture images from this special whenever I hear Stevie Wonder's Superstition or the Eurythmics' Sweet Dreams - which was definitely the most bizarre and engrossing segment of the show.
Luckily for little me, my grandmother happened to tape this special when it aired, which means I watched it as many times as I could when I was at her house. Sure, I could have watched any of the other videos she had - and there was one that I'll cover when we get to movies later this month - but this was the "scary" movie of the bunch. So I sat, and I stared at the old Disney images, which had been matched up perfectly with pop music - and I loved every second of it.
And, like all good things, you can now watch it on You Tube. Ain't life grand?
Horror hosts were a big deal a lot of places in the '80s, but little The Mike didn't get to see a lot of them. I certainly knew who Elvira was, mostly because her
breasts face were all over the place, but I never was up late enough to see her show. No, the first horror host I really knew was the undeniable Count Floyd - and I'm still pretty excited to have viewed him.
Though the character originated on the sketch comedy bonanza SCTV, my experience with Count Floyd was due to Joe Flaherty's appearances on the animated spin-off The Completely Mental Misadventures of Ed Grimley. On most episodes, Count Floyd would promise a "real scary story", though his show-within-a-show never seemed to turn out the way he wanted it too. Count Floyd didn't necessarily teach me anything about horror - but it's another one of those things that kept horror in my mind and made me smile.
OK, now we're getting to the real stuff.
What, you're telling me a Nickelodeon show isn't the "real stuff" when it comes to horror? Boy, you're missing out.
It was a much simpler time in my life when SNICK was destination television for The Mike and family. There was Ren and Stimpy that got me in the door, but then there was Are You Afraid of the Dark. And this show, to those of us where were 9-11 years old, was basically The Twilight Zone with awesome early '90s kids telling the stories.
Unfortunately, Are You Afraid of the Dark has been a hard show to find on home video, so my memory of the show is pretty bare at this point. But I remember the excitement, mostly that joyous feeling that seemed to run through the house every Saturday night as we sat down to watch the horror show that was completely OK for us to watch. I'm not sure that I've been that excited about a TV show since then.
(And, now that I've written this, I find that tons of episodes are on YouTube. I was dumb for not checking, wasn't I?)
I don't think I'm overstating myself when I say that Unsolved Mysteries might have had the biggest impact on my sense of wonder than anything else I watched as a child. If you don't believe me, talk to the counselor that I had to talk to after I emphatically claimed I saw a UFO at a high school football game. In retrospect, I may have been a spaz. But I was not afraid to believe.
And so it came to pass that I hid out in my childhood bedroom with a 13 inch black-and-white TV, listening to Robert Stack tell me about terrible true stories and fantastic tales from people that belonged in looney bins. I was in awe of this show, and I - because I was about 8 or 9 years old when I started devouring every episode - kind of let myself believe everything I saw. Seriously, I think this show is about 90% responsible for how insane I am now. And I kind of love that about it. Robert Stack, you complete me.
Tales From The Crypt
Like Stephen King was in my post on books, this was kind of my graduation from being a kid with horror. My parents might not know it, but I was up way later than they thought on most Saturday nights during my teenage years. But unlike others in the family - *cough*my sister*cough* - I wasn't out partying and missing curfew. I was laying in bed and watching syndicated episodes of Tales from its first few seasons on network television.
By the time I got around to Tales From the Crypt I had already seen a lot of horror cinema - more on that next week - but there was something about the Cryptkeeper that made me feel like an official horror freak every time I watched Tales. Did I still change the channel every time he unleashed his blood-curdling laugh in the opening? Well....I'm going to plead the fifth on that one. I'm not going to tell you that I was a giant scaredy cat who was tucked safely under the covers with his feet nowhere near the edge of the bed. That would be too much incriminating information. I'm not saying it.
But it might have happened.
Television played a big part in leading me to horror, even if there was a heavy dose of comedy and plenty of cheese involved. It wasn't the biggest piece of my horror fandom, but these shows definitely filled some of the gaps and reminded me how much I loved the spooky and macabre in my entertainment. But movies were always where I felt horror lived....which means we can talk about them next week.
As always, join in the comments and let me know what kind of TV shows inspired your love of horror. Next week I'll talk more about my horror birth via movies. I promise you'll be a little surprised by what you learn. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm watching some Are You Afraid of the Dark.