“The Dead Hour” is a Fun Throwback to Late Night Horror Anthologies

If you’re a horror fan born in a year beginning with 19 there’s a good chance you remember spending weekends and slumber parties watching horror anthology shows like The X-Files, Tales from the Crypt or Tales from the Darkside. Or if you’re like me, you remember hiding in your sleeping bag from the scary parts. These bite-sized horror films pack a mean little punch with a shorter format that caters to nihilistic and jaw-dropping endings. We love anthologies partially because no matter how much they horrify, disturb, or gross us out, there’s always another chapter right around the corner preventing us from becoming too emotionally involved in any one story. We simply get to enjoy ourselves until the credits roll. 

The format has seen a bit of a resurgence with the success of American Horror Story which seems to have perfected the series-long installment format. Shudder’s Creepshow and Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities also offer fun and frightening chapters using the tried and true Monster of the Week format. Operating on a much smaller budget is The Dead Hour, a slight but fun horror anthology series which combines modern themes with traditional serial storytelling. Watching these fun little films took me right back to those sleepover moments and the lovably corny execution brought back fond memories of endlessly thrilling myself with episodes of Unsolved Mysteries

The Dead Hour is a nightly radio show featuring the sinister and seductive DJ Raven (Melissa Holder) who delivers tales of the macabre to her devoted audience. Twelve bite-sized tales follow her introductions and lead us down different roads of the horror genre. Vampires, zombies, werewolves, and psychopaths abound in this world where the most dangerous creatures only come out at night. Each segment is no longer than 22 minutes with most stories averaging around 17. Some are hopeful, others poignant, but more than a few conclude with a nihilistic gut-punch or cautionary tale that causes us to regard an element of our own lives in a new and horrifying way. Creators Scott Coleman and Daniel B. Iske sifted through hundreds of story ideas and chose their favorite twelve. 

Each of the twelve episodes is a mix of innovative concepts and clever twists on well-loved legends, but each of the twelve chapters present a different facet of the horror genre and function as deliciously sinister nightmare fuel. Standouts include the season opener “Donor” in which a worried father-to-be gives his all for the benefit of his child and “Fright Fest,” which chronicles a film festival from hell. Others like the “The Alcoholic Vampire” and “Fame” are intriguing variations of classic genre narratives though they occasionally stumble in the execution. “Cannibal Girls” and “Gross Anatomy” are more standard horror fare and make creative attempts to terrify with limited resources. The only dud is “Inside Man” with its uncomfortable portrayal of a mentally challenged young man. This vignette unfortunately also stands out as the only entry with any significant diversity. 

The Dead Hour will never be mistaken for prestige TV. Each episode is shot on a microbudget with minimal effects and no-name actors. However, this is part of the charm. Coleman and Iske make smart choices with limited resources and installments pleasantly capture the cheese of low-budget TV reenactments. Each vignette features an almost entirely new cast with mostly solid performances though the material requires a certain level of overacting. Stories are set in the modern era, but like the best urban legends, each story has a timeless quality. The Dead Hour makes the most of its limited scope and scale. Clocking in around 17 minutes, they capture the kitschy nostalgia of Friday night slumber parties and narrowly avoid overstaying their welcome. The series likely will not have the staying power of The Taking of Deborah Logan or Hell House LLC, also members of the Terror Films stable, but it is a fun, if forgettable, escape into nightmarish territory.

Jenn Adams is a writer, podcaster, and film critic from Nashville, TN. Find her social media nonsense @jennferatu.