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.
Famed young adult author R. L. Stine is recognized for Goosebumps and its television adaptation. In 2010, producers decided to create a series based on Stine’s other children’s works. This began in 2007 with a made-for-TV movie called The Haunting Hour: Don’t Think About It. Three years later, an anthology show was born. Unlike the aforesaid Goosebumps, the Haunting Hour series is only partially based on Stine‘s writing; only select entries were taken from two collections of his short stories. This left a lot of room for original material in what turned into a four-season show.
Dan Angel and Billy Brown had been writing partners long before this project came to be. They had previously worked together on Body Bags, The X-Files, and Night Visions. This time around, however, they were writing for a very different audience. With The Haunting Hour aimed at children, there was a limit to what they could do. That doesn’t mean they didn’t push the envelope; the duo and the show’s staff often went to dark places that Goosebumps never dared to go.
Season Two’s “Scarecrow” is set in a small, rural town. A young girl named Jenny (Bailee Madison) is having no luck with her crops as crows keep feasting on it. Then comes a stranger (Juan Riedinger) into town who offers her a scarecrow. In time, the town’s disappearances are revealed to be somehow tied to the salesman.
What sets “Scarecrow” apart from its peers is its tone. Other episodes broached darkness in more tangible ways — episodes end on cliffhangers where it’s assumed the adolescent protagonists are done in by sinister forces — but this one is more about inward fright and utter hopelessness. There were two endings for this episode: the premiere had the main character’s brother (Richard Harmon) setting the scarecrow on fire and walking away; other airings had a director’s cut where the protagonists and everyone else are turned into scarecrows and forced to watch as the world is essentially destroyed. Both conclusions are prefaced by the salesman’s eerie narration: “This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but with a whimper.”
“Scarecrow” is a nihilistic episode conceived by the show’s script supervisor, Ken Friss. It imperils children like any other entry, but there is an undeniably anarchic theme that makes this one seem bold even for a series that regularly killed characters resembling its target audience.