To celebrate the launch of Blood Drive on UK screens, we’re listing five shocking shows that changed TV forever. Because Blood Drive – which hits SyFy at 10pm on August 10, and revolves around a death race that features cars fuelled by human blood – pushes the boundaries of small-screen gore and bad taste.
The following five shows that have also succeeded on that front, while at the same time being innovative, influential, and hugely entertaining.
The Twilight Zone
From that creepy, tinkly intro music and the voiceover telling us about the alternative dimension we’re about to crossover into to the spinetingling stories therein, The Twilight Zone was the anthology show to beat all anthology shows. It’s the king. The godfather. The OG.
Combining horror tales with fantasy, science fiction and suspense elements, Rod Serling’s original series ran for five years between 1959 and 1964. It wasn’t the first of its kind but it’s certainly the most influential, and was revived twice, once in the 1980s and again in the early 2000s.
Besides Serling, it had esteemed writers, including Ray Bradbury and Charles Beaumont, penning episodes that dealt with pertinent topics. Some of the most memorable eps to leave us all slack-jawed include “Mirror Image” in which a woman comes face to face with her doppelganger, “Long Distance Call” which sees a little boy attempting to kill himself to be with his dead grandmother, and “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” in which William Shatner sees a scary creature on the wing of the plane he’s travelling in. Scary stuff.
When Twin Peaks debuted in 1990, television audiences and critics quickly realised it was like nothing they’d ever seen before. Although David Lynch had been experimenting with his own special blend of surreal horror in feature film format since Eraserhead in 1977, Twin Peaks was the first time he’d brought his thing to a mainstream television audience.
On paper, Twin Peaks – co-created, of course, with Mark Frost – was a murder mystery, but in practice it was so much more. A send-up of soap operas with the cast employing an exaggerated, non-naturalistic acting style mixed with supernatural horror, offbeat comedy and Lynchian weirdness, Twin Peaks was groundbreaking and its massive influence can still be seen today.
It dealt with subject matter including murder, sex, incest and drugs and did so in an incredibly shocking way. Its supernatural villain, Bob, was – and still is – one of the scariest bad guys ever seen on screens both big and small.
Currently enjoying a return to the TV 25 years on, the third season picks up roughly 25 years after the Season 2 story ended in 1991 – and is achieving the unfathomable. Twin Peaks: The Return is every bit as shocking as its early 1990s counterpart, ramped up several gears for a contemporary audience.
It’s hard to believe that this trailblazing show has been absent from screens for 11 years. Up to the point of the series debut, there had been plenty of attempts to rejuvenate the western, but none was more successful – or shocking – than Deadwood.
The show was partly based on real-life characters, with Ian McShane proving a revelation in the role of Al Swearengen. McShane had previously been best known for a long-running British TV series about a mystery-solving antiques dealer named Lovejoy, whom the show was named after. It was lighthearted, Sunday-night viewing fare.
McShane’s appearance as the foul-mouthed brothel owner of Deadwood was shocking enough. But the sheer scale of the swearing – on television – was unprecedented. The F-bomb is dropped 43 times in the very first hour of the show.
American Horror Story
This anthology horror series, created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, reinvents itself season by season. Instead of a different story episode-by-episode like The Twilight Zone, it switches up its story season-by-season. Another pioneering show, Murphy and Falchuk take an innovative approach to the series, which always feels fresh and experimental.
Season 6 took the haunted house concept and turned the drama on screen into a documentary about a couple’s horrific experience. In a stunning twist, part way through the season, the docu-drama actors and the show’s ‘real’ characters were thrown together along with the production team into a new real-life nightmare.
Earlier seasons have featured a ‘murder house’, a mental institution for the criminally insane, a witch’s coven, a freak show troupe and a haunted hotel. Violence is bloody and graphic always, and themes are outlandish and frequently jaw-dropping. The second season, Asylum, featured a sadistic Nazi doctor performing horrific experiments on his patients, with Chloe Sevigny’s character displaying the horrifying results.
The Walking Dead
Zombies hadn’t had this kind of impact since George A. Romero’s began his reign as the zombie king with Night of the Living Dead in 1968. Sure, there have been some pretenders in latter years, but many messed with the magic zombie formula. With The Walking Dead, the traditional zombie was restored.
Slow-moving and mindless but also relentless, walkers in The Walking Dead were not the frenzied, rage-filled monsters of 28 Days Later. And audiences embraced them. This didn’t lessen the shock factor, of course. A show that shies away from swearing but layers on the carnage, The Walking Dead became must-see TV for gore fans. It didn’t stop short of killing off major characters either, and stunned the world when villain Negan was introduced and promptly dispatched two much-loved characters in the most brutal way imaginable, in an extremely bloody and controversial season opener.
A raft of zombie-based TV shows followed in its wake.
Blood Drive launches on SyFy in the UK at 10pm on August 10.