Explainer: TV's top 10 monster shows
The boob tube is about to get to a bit scarier with AMC’s zombie apocalypse thriller, “The Walking Dead,” set to premiere Halloween night. But before that new group of ghouls grabs all the attention, television’s classic and current monster mashes deserve a little credit.
After all, while “Walking Dead” has plenty of pre-premiere buzz, it still has some big, filthy, misshapen shoes to fill if it wants to follow in the footsteps of the top monster shows.
'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'
As the name of the show suggests, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” often revolved around the nuisance of one particular type of monster infestation. Of course, as any ardent follower of cheerleader-turned-demon-killer Buffy Summers knows, vamps were just one of the many beastly problems plaguing Sunnydale.
Over the course of “Buffy’s” seven seasons, the slayer faced multiple impending apocalypses brought forth by all manner of horned creeps and ancient evils. The fact that the same old routine never got old and was even worthy of a spin-off ("Angel," starring David Boreanaz) and a continuing comic-book adventure just goes to show how entertaining life on the Hellmouth really was.
'The Addams Family'
The creepy and kooky “Addams Family” marked one of television’s earliest efforts to merge monsters, humor and family life. The 1960s series about a group of wealthy and exceedingly eccentric relations ran at the same time as its only real challenger, “The Munsters,” but the Addams clan brought bigger laughs per half-hour than their blue-collar counterparts — or at least bigger laughs from witty dialogue.
There were considerably fewer guffaws from head-banging slapstick than the competition provided. And let’s face it. If monsters aren’t going to be particularly scary, it helps if they’re funny. If they’re going to be funny, it helps if they’re high-brow.
For a sci-fi series wrapped around alien investigations, government conspiracies and the interpersonal relationship of a couple of feds, “The X-Files” sure packed plenty of wacky frights. Among the list of boogeyman-worthy candidates were a telekinetic ghost, a parasite-injecting Flukeman, robotic cockroaches, an insect man (plus his personal company of zombies), one man-eating fungus and of course, the Great Mutato, who wasn’t so much a monster as a mutant who loved Cher, but still.
With a list like that, if judging by pound-for-monstrous-pound alone, “The X-Files” could easily take top TV ogre honors.
The first pick from the still-on-the-air category is Bon Temps-based vamp and more drama “True Blood.” Much like “Buffy” and practically every other popular fang-gang story, vampires are the main attraction, but they’re not the only threat.
Werewolves, werepanthers and shapeshifters (witches coming next season!) also shake things up. Even so, all the best scenes tend to involve the resident bloodsuckers. And the very best scene featured one spine-chilling and spine-yanking member of vampire royalty. Truth is, even if the King of Mississippi, aka Russell Edgington, were the lone monster man, “True Blood” would still make the list.
'The Twilight Zone'
In “a journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of the imagination,” “The Twilight Zone” set the standard for sci-fi-horror anthology shows to come. It wasn’t, strictly speaking, a things-that-go-bump-in-the-night program. Psychological suspense in the form of always-apt short stories was the common theme, but that’s not to say monsters didn’t play a part in the terror.
Whether their presence turned out to be the final plot twist or the whole story, big baddies were often in the mix — a point not lost on one-time gremlin-gunner William Shatner.
'Aaahh!!! Real Monsters'
Ickis, Oblina and Krumm may have only been monsters-in-training, but they were every bit as entertaining as the fully formed variety on Nickelodeon’s 1990s kids’ cartoon “Aaahh!!! Real Monsters.”
The series, which ran for four seasons, followed the three tiny terrors as they learned to finely hone their human-scaring skills. While school life meant the trio often faced the sort of problems more relevant to the typical tyke than beast, it was tempered by the fact that they were almost always taking aim at their kid equivalents.
Also, Krumm carried his eyeballs around in his hands, which is an undeniably cool and monsterish thing to do.
'Tales From the Crypt'
Picking up where “The Twilight Zone,” “Night Gallery” and “Tales from the Darkside” left off, HBO’s “Tales From the Crypt” carried on the tradition of the made-for-TV horror anthology.
Not every episode was a top-monster-show winner, but that’s the nature of stand-alone stories and guest talent. Judging the series as a whole, there were enough scary hits to more than make up for the cheesy misses. Besides, the opening sequence alone counts as one of television’s classic undead clips.
Those who can’t wait for “The Walking Dead” premiere to get their zombie on (as well as their demon and assorted frankenbeasts), can turn to “Ugly Americans” in the meantime.
This Comedy Central cartoon covers all the gory bases as it chronicles the life of Mark Lilly, a mild-mannered social worker trying to ease the pains of monster integration. It’s a tough job, given that most of the demon crowd would rather bring about the end of days than hang out with humans.
Now in its sixth season and showing no signs of fading away, “Supernatural” tells the story of the easy-on-the-eyes Winchester brothers. Well, more to the point, it’s the tale of a couple of good-looking guys who also happen to hunt and battle demons, spirits and other monstery whatzits on a regular basis.
While “Supernatural” doesn’t rank as an instant classic like some of the best-of picks, it’s easy to get caught up in the drama of the second-generation ghostbusters story.
Also, if it hasn’t been mentioned yet, those Winchester boys sure are attractive.
'The Walking Dead'
Huh? What? Yeah, that’s right. “The Walking Dead” hasn’t even started yet, and it makes the list of TV’s top monster shows anyway. Why? Oh, it could have something to do with can’t-be-beat source material, in the form of Robert Kirkman’s ongoing comic-book serial of the same name. Or it could be because the few minutes already available in the form of one sneak peak look amazing.
Actually the real reason is a combination of all of that added to one important point: The monster genre grades on a curve. A show doesn’t have to be an all-time great to be pretty darned good by comparison. Remember, for every “Buffy,” there was a “Monster Squad” (starring “Love Boat” actor-turned-politician Fred Grandy). For every “X-Files,” there was a cringe-worthy “Munster’s Today.”
Put in a real effort, as creators of “The Walking Dead” seem to have done, then the quality of the ghoulish show is almost a given.
Ree Hines wishes the bigwigs in charge of planning Halloween night series premieres would remember that you can’t watch TV and trick-or-treat at the same time. There’s candy out there, folks! Follow @ReeHines on Twitter and tell her what your DVR will be set for this Halloween.
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