[31 Days of TV Anthology Terror] Tales of the Unexpected: The Flypaper

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To celebrate horror on television, I’m looking back at 31 tales from various anthology series. They’re the ones I vividly remember or respond to the most. No matter what, though, they are proof that horror and suspense aren’t limited to the big screen.

Between the 1970s and 1990s, there was a relentless rush of “stranger danger” warnings throughout the Western world. A carefree attitude was replaced with a more wary one. No matter where you turned, you were warned of the potential dangers of about everything. Cautionary tales of misrepresented men luring naïve children into black vans were particularly popular with the younger crowd. It is no wonder so many adults who grew up during that time period have so much anxiety today.

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While a constant string of urban portents had good intentions, it mustered up a lot of fear in children. It could be downright confusing under the right (or wrong) circumstances. The British anthology Tales of the Unexpected put it best with “The Flypaper,” an adaptation of author Elizabeth Taylor‘s short story.

In the episode, a small village is recently plagued with murders — a serial killer is on the prowl and young ones are the target. Sylvia has been warned again and again not to talk to strangers, but she soon finds herself in a perilous situation while riding the bus home from school. As a man of the cloth chats her up en route, Sylvia remembers all she was told about talking to people she doesn’t know. No matter how hard she tries to do the right thing, though, Sylvia is thwarted.

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Anyone who has ever seen a fair chunk of Tales of the Unexpected remembers this episode. It is one of the darkest entries in the show’s entire run, which spanned a good nine seasons. Although it is not even remotely violent, it suggests a grisly ending for young Sylvia. This is a wonderful case of what we expect to happen is far worse than what we ever actually see. Our imagination does the heavy lifting here; this is why the conclusion haunts our grownup memories.

If there is anything negative to say about “The Flypaper,” it would be the episode’s ending, much to the surprise of anyone who is reading this. The issue is that episode goes on a bit past the shocking twist that makes audiences gasp. The director could have easily ended it right there rather than dwell on what’s to come. Either way, this is a fantastic entry that will leave you absolutely creeped out.

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