Welcome to Scared in Segments, a monthly column devoted to horror anthologies big and small. If you don’t know what an anthology is, it’s a film that includes a collection of short stories or segments (self-contained or connected). As for anthology television, series can be episodic or seasonal, but the former will take precedence here. Now, in each edition of this column, you’ll get background info as well as insight on the monthly pick. If you’re ready for some short-form horror, pull up a seat as I’ve got a story for you…

Count yourself lucky if you’re a horror fan who grew up with permissive parents. As for everyone else, trying to watch scary movies at a young age was a struggle. But for all the ’90s kids out there, they had to get their horror rush somehow, right? Which explains why television shows like Are You Afraid of the Dark?, Eerie, Indiana, and Goosebumps were popular. These series helped us get ready for the big leagues. But what about kids who were born after the new millennium? What crucial ingress did they have to horror? Well, the answer to that would be a little-known show called The Haunting Hour.

R.L. Stine’s The Haunting Hour: The Series walked the same path paved by Are You Afraid of the Dark? With the exception of inbuilt narrators, the show was made up of freestanding stories. Although, some tales required the length of two episodes, or on the rare occasion, they had a sequel somewhere down the line. As for its brand of horror, the series ran the gamut of straightforward, external threats to purely psychological.

 

“…the series ran the gamut of straightforward, external threats to purely psychological. […] A number of episodes in the show’s run ended with children perishing in gruesome, uncongenial ways.”

 

The series premiered three years after executive producers Dan Angel and Billy Brown’s movie The Haunting Hour: Don’t Think About It first aired on Cartoon Network. Angel’s company The Hatchery was one of three production companies behind the project, which was mainly shot in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The series lasted a respectable four seasons on Discovery Family before it was finally cancelled in 2014.

As with Don’t Think About It, the Haunting Hour series kept things “clean” by leaving out anything parents could find objectionable. That didn’t stop Angel and Brown from pushing the envelope, though. A number of episodes in the show’s run ended with children perishing in gruesome, uncongenial ways. It almost felt like the series was disdainful of its own target audience. As the series continued, however, there was a noticeable curtail in unhappy endings. It’s unclear if this decision was a result of complaints or an internal desire for a less pessimistic design.

When citing our favorite childhood horrors, The Haunting Hour won’t come up remotely as often as its predecessors. Mainly because of its timing. After all, many of us have long outgrown our need for accessible, parent-approved horror. Nevertheless, anyone who’s caught some episodes here and there knows the show is not strictly kiddy fare. So in memoriam of a series that never got its proper dues, let’s look at ten of the best and spookiest episodes from The Haunting Hour.

 

10. “The Dead Body” (1.04)

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Written by Scott Thomas & Jed Elinoff
Directed by James Head

Will is frequently bullied by two classmates at school until he meets a new student named Jake. After the two become friends, Will learns that Jake isn’t new to their school after all. In fact, he’s not even alive; Jake died forty years ago.

So often, ghosts in movies and television haunt people because they were wronged in the past. The ghost in “The Dead Body” is no different. What flips the script is the mean-spirited ending, though. We have what could have been a simple rehash of someone helping a ghost move on. Indeed that’s what Will does. Unfortunately, his actions are a cold reminder of the meaning behind the phrase “no good deed goes unpunished.” Thankfully, there’s a sequel episode in season three — “Dead Bodies” — that tidies things up.

 

 

9. “Flight” (2.04)

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Written by Jack Monaco
Directed by Peter DeLuise

A boy flying alone to see his father suspects that the Grim Reaper is on his flight. And to keep everyone aboard the turbulent flight safe, the boy must find the passenger that the Reaper is after.

Death is no stranger in children’s stories; it’s addressed directly or through metaphors. In “Flight“, death comes from all sides for the protagonist. He’s in harm’s way as the plane is on the verge of crashing. On top of that, he’s a mediator between a tangible “enemy” — the Grim Reaper — and a soul who refuses to cross over. What’s notable about this episode is how the dearly departed is depicted. The spirit is restless over how dejected he was about life. This candid characterization is bracing, especially in a kid’s show.

 

8. “Catching Cold” (1.17)

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Written by Neal Shusterman
Directed by Peter DeLuise

Marty becomes obsessed with an elusive Kreemy Kold ice cream truck that no one else but him sees. When he ultimately catches the truck, he gets more than he ever bargained for.

Catching Cold” is an episode about addiction and the harms that come with getting a “fix.” Using Marty‘s weight and his desire for ice cream as euphemisms, the story is a parable for addictive behaviors. The cruel and icy fate bestowed upon Marty showcases how malicious The Haunting Hour can be.

 

7. “Seance” (3.15)

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Written by Melody Fox & Tim Shell
Directed by James Head

Left home to their own devices, Naomi and her two friends play a prank on Naomi‘s younger sister Carla. They scare her by faking a séance to summon the spirit of an ax-wielding, one-legged man named Cyrus Clayton. Unfortunately for Naomi, they conjure more than just a good laugh.

As vague or weird as some stories could be in The Haunting Hour, there were plenty of uncomplicated ones. Their effortless approach didn’t make them any less effective either. To tell the truth, “Séance” has one of the best “gotcha!” moments in the whole series.

 

6. “Stage Fright” (2.15)

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Written by Erik Patterson & Jessica Scott
Directed by Peter DeLuise

After a school production of “Hansel and Gretel” is met with numerous setbacks (e.g., an actor breaks her leg), a stage hand blames the play’s supposed curse. On opening night, cast members disappear one by one. Is there truth to the curse? Or is some other sinister force to blame?

Stage Fright” is a comedy of errors with a delectably nasty ending. It has the trappings of a traditional slasher, but the twist pulls the rug out from under you.

 

5. “Mascot” (2.08)

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Written by Craig S. Phillips & Harold Hayes, Jr.
Directed by Jason Furukawa

A pair of students thinks changing their school’s mascot — a towering, yellow monster named Big Yellow — will improve their basketball team’s chances at winning. They hold tryouts for a new mascot, which upsets the old one. Yet when they investigate the origin of Big Yellow and the person inside the suit, they come up with less answers than when they started. Who exactly is Big Yellow, and how far will he go to keep his position?

Mascot” is a story about challenging the status quo and fighting evil hiding in plain sight. It’s deceptively goofy in tone and execution, but its insidious nature becomes apparent soon enough.

 

4. “My Imaginary Friend” (3.08)

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Written by Melody Fox
Directed by James Head

David is concerned about his young brother Shawn having an imaginary friend at his age. Said friend is named Travis, and he’s a bad influence on Shawn. When Travis believes David is coming between him and Shawn, he acts out violently.

This is the only episode actually based on a story in the Haunting Hour book. It’s also one of the most heart-stomping. The subject of evil imaginary friends is common, but this episode takes it in a whole other direction that leaves viewers feeling out of sorts.

 

3. “Scary Mary” (1.21-1.22)

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Written by Billy Brown & Dan Angel
Directed by Peter DeLuise

Into a mirror, Hanna chants the name of local urban legend Scary Mary. It’s believed doing so will cause the game’s namesake to come out and steal her summoner’s face. The game is really based on fact, and Hanna is taken into a world beyond the looking glass.

Combining elements of “Bloody Mary” and Candyman, “Scary Mary” is a master stroke for the series. The director and writers craft a modern, dark fairy tale with Gothic qualities and imagery so eerie and indelible. “Scary Mary” truly lives up to its name.

 

2. “Detention” (3.16)

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Written by Harold Hayes Jr. and Craig S. Phillips
Directed by Neill Fernley

A group of four students is stuck in detention for various offenses. Yet none of them can remember what those offenses are. As the day goes on, bizarre events happen that beg the question of whether or not any of this is real, or simply a nightmare the students can’t wake up from.

Detention” is a prime example of how to do a grim story without the matching ending. Through an adolescent scope, the episode admirably handles topics like regret and atonement. It’s true the concept at the core of “Detention” isn’t original; what makes it stand out is its cathartic and uplifting personality.

 

1. “Scarecrow” (2.11)

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Written by Billy Brown & Dan Angel
Directed by Ken Friss

A young farmer named Jenny is struggling to maintain her crops because of a crow infestation. She buys a scarecrow from a mysterious salesman with ulterior motives. Eventually, people in the town start to disappear, and Jenny‘s scarecrow might be the cause.

There were two endings for this episode. The original one expresses optimism, whereas the other is entirely bleak. The second version was seen in reruns, and it embodies how defeat is a compelling literary device when used properly. Brown and Angel wrote a stunning episode that offers two polarizing sides of the same coin.

 

Anthology Checklist

Most anthologies follow a very specific formula, or they incorporate tropes intrinsic to the sub-genre. What boxes does The Haunting Hour check off?

Host / Narrator … ☒
Not a one in sight.

Framing device … ☒
Not at all.

Multiple directors … ☑
Peter DeLuise, Neill Fearnley, Ken Friss, Jason Furukawa, Allan Harmon, James Head, Michael Robinson, Jon Rosenbaum, Michael Scott, and J.B. Sugar were all directors.

Crossover / Hyperlink quality … ☑
Only in the episodes with sequels.

Based on an existing work … ☑
My Imaginary Hero” was based on the story of the same name from R.L. Stine’s book The Haunting Hour: Chills in the Dead of Night.

Was Richard Matheson somehow involved? … ☒
No.

Final Thoughts

With the cancellation of The Haunting Hour, there was a vacancy for a children’s horror series that didn’t patronize its viewers. Yet nothing on television since then has filled the spot. We live in a world where society draws a blatant line between things made for kids and things made for adults. So while The Haunting Hour was made with youth in mind, it’s abundantly clear the showrunners didn’t want to keep adults from enjoying this underrated series, too.

Share your thoughts on The Haunting Hour: The Series with the Nightmare on Film Street community on Twitter, in our Official Subreddit, or in the Fiend Club Facebook Group!

 

 

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