90’s HORROR KID TV SPOTLIGHT: EERIE, INDIANA
(Author’s Note: This is part of an ongoing series where BJ Colangelo takes a trip down memory lane and talks about the kid friendly horror TV shows from the 1990s/early 2000s that helped shape her into the horror loving fangirl she is today.)
NBC ruled Saturday mornings from 1991-1992 with EERIE, INDIANA a show I would definitely call the FIREFLY of children’s supernatural programming. Way ahead of its time and a kid’s show that is just as effective now as it was 20 years ago, EERIE, INDIANA was a misunderstood masterpiece. Created by Jose Rivera (the first Puerto-Rican screenwriter to be nominated for an Oscar) and Karl Schaefer, the show managed to nab Joe Dante (THE HOWLING, GREMLINS) as the creative consultant. The show was weird, funny, creepy, but still maintained a charming “junior high” attitude about the whole thing. The story followed Marshall Teller, a New Jersey raised teenager whose family moves to the desolate town of Eerie, Indiana population of 16,661. Upon moving to the new town, he quickly befriends Simon Holmes, who Marshall later realizes is one of the few people living in Eerie. Together, our duo are faced with bizarre situations like dogs that are plotting to take over the world or a Moby Dick style tornado hunter. With it’s extremely dark tone and variety of jokes EERIE, INDIANA was definitely a black comedy for kids.
EERIE, INDIANA undoubtedly brought some powerhouse performances on the creative side of production, but it was also home for a lot of actors that we love today. Marshall was played by the total dreamboat Omri Katz who is more well known for his iconic role as Max Dennison in HOCUS POCUS. He may not have done a whole lot after the 90s ended, but between HOCUS POCUS, EERIE, INDIANA, and MATINEE, Omri Katz solidified himself a place in genre history. The Real version of recurring character Mr. Radford (he had an imposter) was played by John Astin, who many of us will forever call Gomez Addams. Joe Dante’s leading lady, Belinda Balaski, (THE HOWLING, GREMLINS, PIRANHA) played Winnifred Swanson and Mother. Genre icon Danielle Harris played a major role on one episode as a girl who received a heart transplant from a fellow classmate after he mysteriously dies (remember, this is a kid’s show) and Tobey MacGuire played a ghost boy that needed to send a letter. Considering Joe Dante was the creative consultant, many of the actors were also major players in his other films. For kids, this probably didn’t mean much but for adults, it gave familiar faces for them to enjoy while making sure their kids weren’t watching trash.
But was it scary? EERIE, INDIANA was less “scary” and a lot more “traumatizing.” The show dealt with some pretty dark subject matter ranging from kids killing other kids for their organs, verbally abusive fathers, a milkman responsible for the missing kids on the milk carton, and a man who tries to bankrupt the town and make everyone refinance on stolen credit. These were some pretty dark themes and extremely adult subject matter that often dealt with the realities of adulthood that we often try to protect our children from. Looking back on it, the idea that a man could come into a town and brainwash everyone into refinancing on stolen credit is HORRIFYING. That would literally destroy the lives and cripple the economy of a huge number of people, and it’s unfortunately a very real possibility. Supernatural or not, that’s some terrifying stuff to think about. However, it’s the pilot episode that most fans o the show talk about. Playing on the craze of Tupperware parties, the episode focused on a mother that had been keeping her children in “Foreverware” to keep them “fresh” after her husband died. The mother was a combination of Donna Reed and the Aunt from SLEEPAWAY CAMP. Her eerily cheerful demeanor combined with the absolute insanity of trying to keep her children alive forever was too much for my brain to process. Never before had I actually felt sympathy for a villain, and for a 7 year old (I watched the show when it hit syndication in 1997) that was totally new.
After EERIE, INDIANA came back on syndication in 1997, they tried to make lightning strike twice with EERIE, INDIANA: THE OTHER DIMENSION but it just couldn’t produce what the original had captured. It did spark the career of Lindy Booth (DAWN OF THE DEAD 2004, CRY_WOLF, KICK-ASS 2) but without the original team behind its creation, it just didn’t have the special magic of the original. Ultimately, EERIE, INDIANA goes down in history as yet another show that was ahead of its time and will be forever appreciated on DVDs.