From the late 60’s until the 90’s, horror films enjoyed a boom period on the small screen as well as the big one. In that time, fans of fright fare were treated to countless gems that were often just as effective and impressive as anything the genre had to offer in any medium. For those of us who grew up during those decades, the accessibility of TV horror movies meant that they were key to us falling in love with all things spooky. Overall, though, the small screen has treated horror fans of all ages to some of the most fun flicks ever made.
So many films of this ilk were produced back then, and part of the fun of digging for forgotten gems is knowing that it’s a journey that will take decades to complete. And sure, while TV movies are still being produced to this day courtesy of networks like Syfy, the aforementioned period was the high point and this list reflects that.
Picking 10 was difficult, and it’s a crime that we’ve left certain movies out. But, hey, that’s FSR democracy for you. We’re a fair system, but we we were restricted by the confines of a top 10 list format. So trust Meg Shields, Rob Hunter, Jacob Trussell, Brad Gullickson, Chris Coffel, and myself as we bring you a selection of treats. Enjoy.
10. The Night Stalker (1972)
With a creative team that included master of horror Richard Matheson and Dark Shadows creator Dan Curtis, The Night Stalker was already destined to be a hit. And unlike other films from the era, it dared to take the vampire out of dark, stuffy European castles and into the alluring and dangerous lights of Las Vegas. But it’s Darren McGavin, best known as The Old Man in Bob Clark’s A Christmas Story, as Kolchak that helped transcend the show from TV film to series to the influential cult classic as its known today, laying the groundwork for The X-Files and practically every supernatural procedural television show for years to come. He’s affable, curious, and constantly in search for the truth; Kolchak wanted to believe before it was cool. – Jacob Trussell
Humankind thinks gargoyles are merely statues for libraries. How silly. They forget that, in ancient times, gargoyles were our biggest adversaries. Of course, this all changes when an archaeologist and his daughter stumble upon a colony of the creatures in Mexico and a cat-and-mouse chase begins. Gargoyles is as great as it sounds and boasts some outstanding practical creature work courtesy of Stan Winston. And the best part? We get to see a gargoyle ride a horse. – Kieran Fisher
8. Fortress (1985)
This was the first HBO movie I remember seeing and watching on repeat back in the 80s, and having revisited it recently I’m happy to say it holds up quite well. A teacher (Rachel Ward) and her students are taken hostage from their small rural school and transported to the Australian outback, and from there it becomes a story of survival as the group fights back with everything they’ve got. It’s a smart, deadly thriller leading to a memorably savage finale. – Rob Hunter
7. Dead of Night (1977)
Not to be confused with the horror anthology with the same title from 1945, Dead of Night is a collection of three charmingly spooky stories that are perfect viewing for a stormy night. “Second Chance” is about a vehicle with the power to travel back in time. Don’t expect a fancy Delorean here, though. “No Such Thing As a Vampire” defies its own title by proving that, in this universe, bloodsuckers do exist. Finally, “Bobby” tells the story of a grieving mother who brings her dead son back to life, only he’s not the same kid she once knew and proceeds to chase her around with a hammer. All in all, this is very entertaining spook fare. – Kieran Fisher
6. Citizen X (1995)
With the release of Silence of the Lambs, and the cultural acceptance of that cannibal scamp Hannibal Lecter, serial killers became the go-to boogeyman. With that flood came a lot of wannabe tripe and a celebration for the sociopathic mind. Citizen X cares not for your rubbernecking fascination with human horror. This HBO movie peels back relatively recent Russian history and exposes not just the terror of people hunting people, but the atrocity of a government desperate to hide its shame from the rest of the world. The killings of Andrei Chikatilo went unreported for years, allowing him to thrive in an unsuspecting environment. He reportedly slaughtered at least 52 women and children from 1978 – 1990, and the blame falls as much on the politicians who refused to admit that such crimes occurred within their borders as it does Chikatilo’s blade. Citizen X focuses on Viktor Burakov’s (Stephen Rea) eight-year hunt to capture the killer and fend off the suits eager to suppress his crimes. The film is glamourless and has zero interest in making an icon out of its monster. – Brad Gullickson
5. Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981)
When it comes to scarecrow horror my heart belongs to 1988’s Scarecrows, but this made-for-TV classic is just a straw behind. It’s essentially a tale of supernatural revenge, and the scarecrow angle ups the creepy factor dramatically with some eerie visuals and frightening kills. Part of its strength rests in the sadness at the core of its story, and that softness comes together to deliver a touching ending to the nightmare. – Rob Hunter
4. Cast a Deadly Spell (1991)
A little bit Who Framed Roger Rabbit, a little bit Tales from the Crypt. This HBO production re-imagines horror writer H.P. Lovecraft as a private dick stalking the streets of 1948 demon-possessed Los Angeles. Fred Ward plays Harry with an utter contempt for the nonchalant cultural acceptance of magic, and his disgust is validated when he runs afoul of David Warner’s maniacal collector. You see, a special book has turned up on the black market, and every manner of creature is after its grubby pages. His collar may be a little frayed, and maybe he needs a shoeshine, but no one has a mortgage on Harry’s soul. He’s the last honest man in a town that’s fallen to literal hell. He handles whatever the warlocks, zombies, demons, and vampires throw his way with a stone face and an even firmer moral ground. Cast a Deadly Spell is the best pulp horror adventure Bogart never got to play. – Brad Gullickson
3. The Horror at 37,000 Feet (1973)
There are plenty of things you wouldn’t want to bring with you on a late night overseas flight: a fragrant sandwich, a delicate vase…an ancient and defiantly cursed piece of druidic architecture. Throw in an alcoholic ex-priest played by William Shatner and a pilot played by Chuck Connors and you’ve got yourself a regular schlock fest. Did I mention that the evil force emanating from the cargo hold demands human sacrifice? How inconvenient. Charmingly workmanlike and bottomlessly ridiculous, Horror at 37,000 Feet is goofy as sin, and an artifact in its own right. – Meg Shields
2. Ghostwatch (1992)
How’s this for hardcore? Ghostwatch features no blood, no gore, no offensive language or aggressively violent action, no sex scenes or nudity but was still banned from the BBC for over a decade and only surfaced again in 2002 when it was finally released on DVD and VHS. The cause of the ban? The psychological trauma and mass hysteria that BBC viewers across the UK had in the wake of watching the broadcast, featuring “The Great British Talk Show Host” Michael Parkinson. The film is wildly disturbing for its time, demolishing the fourth wall by alluding that the paranormal activity featured in the film was not only real, but could even be in your own house. Tragically one viewer, whose family says he was obsessed by the film, committed suicide five days after the broadcast (resulting in a judicial review), further cementing the haunting legacy of Ghostwatch. – Jacob Trussell
1. Duel (1971)
Dennis Weaver and his wicked ‘stache encounter horror on the highway when a semi-truck stalks them at breakneck speeds. Steven Spielberg directed this made-for-TV gem, from a screenplay written by Richard Matheson, when he was 25-years-old. The final product was so good that Universal called him back to shoot an additional 30 minutes so they could release the film in theaters and then they gave him the keys to the studio. He’s been mildly successful ever since. – Chris Coffel