Monday, October 31, 2011

Top 5 TV shows to watch with the lights out

List by Danielle

"You know, there's no version of this that ends well."
~ Danny, Harper's Island

Happy Halloween, everyone! I don't think we've quite got Halloween figured out in New Zealand. It feels like we're never quite sure whether we get into trick-or-treating or not, and a lot of the costumes the neighborhood kids show up in are a bit of a half-hearted and embarrassed plea for free goodies, but I wasn't the only person buying up large in the pick-and-mix choccy aisle at the supermarket yesterday. There's a 'Festival of Light' happening at a local church (to offset the celebration of darkness), but my three year old went to daycare today dressed as his favourite hero, Sonic the Hedgehog, complete with spiked and spray-painted blue hair, makeshift blue pointy ears and his fastest running shoes. There, he was celebrating the day with about a gazillion pink fairy princesses, a couple of Disney princesses and a lone Spiderman. No zombies, no vampires, and no witches (unless you count the teachers - and no, I'm not being nasty, the teachers actually dressed as witches this morning).

That said, I think there's plenty of room for celebration of all things spooky amongst consenting adults, so here are my top picks for TV shows to watch in the dark, or maybe by the gently flickering light of your pumpkin lantern...

Honourable mentions: American Gothic (not really that scary despite the association with Sam Raimi, but a fun show nevertheless); Torchwood and Doctor Who (never watched them, but am assured that they get mighty scary); Being human (vampire + ghost + werewolf share a flat); True blood (scary? maybe. Silly? yes); Twilight zone (past masters of creepiness, represent!); Sapphire and Steel (which would have headed the list... if we had it. Sad face.)

1934. The Dustbowl. In a time of sandstorms, plagues, drought and pestilence - signs of God's fury and harbingers of the Apocalypse - the final conflict between good and evil is about to begin. Carnivàle follows a traveling carnival as it wends its way across the Dust Bowl, focusing on Ben Hawkins, a mysterious 18-year-old fugitive with hidden talents who is taken in by the carnival, and Brother Justin, the charismatic, shadowy evangelist who will ultimately cross his path. The series takes place at a time of worldwide unrest, with evil on the rise around the globe and the Great Depression wreaking economic and social havoc here at home.

Great performances from Clancy Brown (The Kurgan, for those geeks who remember the Highlander) as an ambitious and morally-challenged evangelist, plus The Terminator's Nick Stahl as the battered young hero, and Clea DuVall as a desperately unhappy young fortune teller. The look and feel of this show is wonderful - creepy, bleak and dust-coated - but it's not a happy show, so be warned.

Sam Winchester grew up hunting creepy, demented, unexplainable, unearthly and terrifying things. But law school, safety and normalcy beckon him until Sam's estranged brother appears with troubling news: their father, a man who's been hunting evil for 22 years, has disappeared. So now, to find him, the brothers must hunt what their father hunts and Sam must return to the life he thought he'd left behind.

Like X-Files, the growing plot arcs eventually start to eat into the amount of time given to monster-of-the-week episodes, but there are still plenty of scares, and some of the major big bads (like the yellow-eyed demon and Lilith) are great villains capable of well-honed malevolence, regardless of whose body they're possessing. For some personal spooky favourites, I recommend Season 1's 'Bloody Mary' (they do ghosts pretty well on this show) and Season 2's 'No exit' and 'Crossroad Blues'.

X Files
Two FBI agents, Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, join forces to solve cases the FBI has labeled X-files. Both are determined to uncover the hidden truths - one searching for otherwordly answers, the other for more earthbound scientific explanations. Together they will make discoveries neither could have ever imagined.

Anyone else remember Eugene Tooms, the man who could stretch himself like toffee and sneak into all sorts of tight spaces, living in a nest made of newspapers glued together by his own bile (thanks to X-Files wiki for reminding me of that delightful fact)? What about the 'flukeman' who haunted the sewer system and looked like a giant, pasty human leech? There's plenty to love about the X-Files, and plenty to give you nightmares, too. This Halloween, skip the tedious conspiracy dramas and revisit one of the classic monsters!

Twin Peaks
The body of a young girl is washed up on a beach near the small Washington state town of Twin Peaks. FBI Agent Dale Cooper is called in to investigate her strange demise only to uncover a web of mystery that ultimately leads into the heart of the surrounding woodland and his very own soul.

More flashbacks: the billboards running to advertise this, with the plastic-wrapped bodies a la Laura Palmer... I remember watching this after my parents went to bed, with the lights out, and being totally terrified by the inscrutable weirdness of it all. The woods, the quietness of the trees, the ominous Lodges and the backwards speaking dream sequences. Years on, I still remember the shock of the scenes in the pilot movie where the audience sees her killer's face. Brilliant and creepy!

Harper's Island A group of friends and family meet on an island just outside of Seattle to celebrate a wedding. On the island, which is famous for a streak of unsolved murders that occurred seven years ago, suspense ensues when one by one they end up dead. Has the killer returned or is someone else to blame?

A show designed to run in a very tight format - a one-series whodunnit - which knocks off at least one character every episode (and five in one memorably bloody installment). It's like a very high-octane soap crossed with an Agatha Christie island mystery, and has a rollicking plotline, a gutsy heroine and even a sweet romance. Plus a cool cameo from Harry Hamlin. Awesome!

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