13 Horror Movies About Television
Article By: Sean Abley
You might call it the “idiot box,” but don’t sit too close to the TV in these horror flicks featuring television.
1. TerrorVision (1986)
In an eerily accurate projection of the future of television, trash is transmitted into a suburban home via a satellite dish. Only this time, it’s alien trash, and once the set is turned on, a creature that looks like a cross between a Muppet and something you pick up after your dog emerges, starts chewing up the nice Putterman family and their friends. Thank you, Empire Pictures! Low budget mainstay Ted Nicolaou serves up this 80s time capsule starring Gerrit Graham, Mary Woronov and a young, pre-outing in tabloids Chad Allen.
2. The Video Dead (1987)
When there’s no more room in Hell, the dead will offer alternative programming. Made at the height of the direct-to-video era, The Video Dead features a lot of people that you’ve never heard of, with the possible exception of the late Jennifer Miro, member of the punk band The Nuns. (Check her out in the art house favorite, Dr. Caligari). While the dead in TVD can be dispatched via head wounds, the premise here is to convince these walkers that they are, indeed, dead and should chill out and just lie down already. After learning the telezombies only attack when they sense fear, the final girl manages to calmly herd them into her basement by offering to teach them how to dance (no lie).
3. Ringu (1998)
Based on the novel of the same name. Turns out sitting too close to the TV screen is bad for you. The highest grossing horror film in Japan at the time of its release, Ringu (true geeks use the original Japanese title rather than the Americanized The Ring) introduced the world to Sadako, the vengeful girl ghost with long hair covering her face. After crawling out of a TV courtesy of a haunted videotape, Sadako would go on to appear in six more Japanese sequels (one as recent as 2013), two TV series, video games, more books, manga, and both American and Korean remakes. Not bad for a girl who could really use a scrunchie.
4. The Signal (2007)
This low budget experiment not only works, it works in three different ways. Not an anthology, although shot like one, The Signal is a triptych that plays out like a paranormal gore flick, a pitch black comedy, and an “everything you thought about reality is over” post-apocalyptic romance, one after another. Created and filmed in segments by three Atlanta filmmakers (David Bruckner, Dan Bush and Jacob Gentry), this Sundance entry is also notable for serving up current indie horror man-about-town, AJ Bowen, in an early performance. (Let’s just forget about the previous year’s Creepshow 3, shall we?)
5. Series 7: The Contenders (2001)
Released at what seemed at the time to be the zenith of reality TV (little did we know), Series 7: The Contenders takes the genre to its logical conclusion – murder for ratings. Shot on video and presented as a marathon of the show “The Contenders”, the plot follows pregnant Dawn (an excellent Brooke Smith) and five other contestants as they attempt to outlast each other in a killer game of tag. Horrifyingly violent one minute, grimly funny the next, Series 7 definitely deserves a second look after a disappointing release over a decade ago.
6. Videodrome (1983)
Although writer/director David Cronenberg had already explored the horrors of the human body in films like They Came From Within, Rabid, The Brood and Scanners, Videodrome was the first (but not the last) to add a possibly traitorous mind to the mix. James Woods’s slightly off-kilter energy makes him the best leading man of all Cronenberg films (although a solid argument can be made for Scanner’s Michael Ironside), and he’s ably assisted by a fine supporting cast that includes Sonja Smits, Peter Dvorsky and Debbie Harry in her first major film role. You really should watch Cronenberg’s films in chronological order, but if you want to jump to some of his most disturbing imagery, definitely start with Videodrome.
7. Poltergeist (1982)
A huge hit worldwide, Poltergeist delivers the goods despite feeling like a series of set pieces from different movies. So, the TV is haunted and the tree is a demon and people hallucinate tearing their face off and ghosts throw people around the house and the closet is a doorway to another dimension? And how did they dig the foundations for the houses if they moved the gravestones but left the bodies behind? These ghosts need a lesson in on-target messaging. One could point to the seemingly unsolvable mystery of who actually directed this film - credited director Tobe Hooper, or suspected director, screenwriter/producer Steven Speilberg – as the reason for the schizophrenic nature of the experience, but despite our nitpicking, Poltergeist is a ton of fun, and in the end that’s all that matters.
8. The Twonky (1953)
The common household television set became available in the late 1940s, and by the early 50s people were already worried this new technology would take over the world. Thus, The Twonky, a horror/sci-fi satire about not only the power of the medium, but the power of the actual set itself. Hans Conried squares off against a walking, dish-washing, mind-controlling TV determined to…well, its motives are a bit unclear, but suffice to say if you want to do it, the twonky doesn’t want you to do it, and that ray beam projected from the set into your brain will change your mind right quick.
9. Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)
This anthology based on the TV series features a big screen remake of the classic episode, “It’s a Good Life.” In this version, a young man with special, albeit somewhat undefined, powers has created a good life in his home, which includes kidnapping people to be his “family,” birthday dinner every night, and televisions playing nonstop cartoons in every room. The cast is one pop culture geek reference after another – Billy Mumy from the original Twilight Zone episode, Kevin McCarthy (Invasion of the Body Snatchers… twice!), Patricia Barry (appeared in the original series as well), Dick Miller (once again playing “Walter Paisley”), The Runaways lead singer Cherie Curry (appearing with no mouth), and animation voice actress Nancy “Bart Simpson” Cartwright ironically transported into the television and eaten by a cartoon.
10. Nightmare on Elm Street Part 3: The Dream Warriors (1987)
Okay, yes, it’s not about TV per se, but seriously, who doesn’t remember that scene? Zsa Zsa Gabor and Dick Cavett? Dick Cavett transforming into Freddy Krueger and attacking Zsa Zsa Gabor? “Welcome to prime time, bitch!” entered the pop culture lexicon as poor Jennifer’s (Penelope Sudrow) head entered the Freddy set in this superior Nightmare sequel.
11. [REC] (2007)
Seen entirely through the lens of a Spanish TV documentary camera, [REC] doesn’t answer the “Why don’t they just put the camera down?” question, but it does keep you from changing the channel for a tense seventy-eight minutes. Angela and Pablo, (reporter and cameraman) get the worst assignment ever – following local firemen into an apartment building filled with demon rabies. Of course they don’t know the score until they’re well into running for their lives from both the infected and the authorities who want to keep it all inside. This Spanish import spawned three sequels ([REC]2, [REC]3: Genesis and the upcoming [REC]4: Apocalypse). The B+ American remake and sequel, Quarantine and Quarantine 2: Terminal, are worth a watch, although the first unnecessarily changes at least one large plot point.
12. V/H/S (2012) and V/H/S/2 (2013)
Anthology films are having a renaissance courtesy of film funding drying up like the rest of the economy. Filmmakers can typically scrounge up $10-20k via Kickstarter, et al, to shoot a short, then put three or four of them together – voila! A feature! V/H/S and V/H/S/2 (they’re essentially the same film with different segments) work better than most because the low budget is worked into the premise – a stash of crappy old VHS tapes is found in a crappy old house and watched on a crappy old TV. The segments are fun, and watching the filmmakers (most of whom have varying degrees of indie horror street cred) work within the confines of found footage is quite entertaining. V/H/S/3-D is no doubt right around the corner…
13. Halloween 3: Season of the Witch (1982)
At some point John Carpenter and the late Debra Hill decided the Halloween franchise had the potential to be an anthology brand rather than just a series of unfortunate Michael Meyers-inspired events. Considering the love fans have for this one detour from the Haddonfield narrative, it’s surprising they never tried again. Completely implausible, yet undeniably watchable, Halloween 3 features a TV commercial with an earworm jingle that, when watched, causes the wearers of Silver Shamrock masks to spew snakes, spiders and other many-legged insects which in turn kill all those around them. There are also robots and Stonehenge. Rob Zombie stopped at two Halloween remakes. Can someone jump in with Halloween 3: Season of the Witch 2?
Sean Abley writes the “Gay of the Dead” blog for Fangoria.com. His writing has appeared in Fangoria, The Advocate, Unzipped, and in his new book, Out In the Dark: Interviews with Gay Horror Filmmakers, Actors and Authors.