Turn Your TV into a Horror-Movie Machine This Halloween

If your idea of a great Halloween has more to do with horror flicks than huge parties, then draw the curtains, light some candles, pet a black cat, and pour a glass of Bordeaux: It's time to scare yourself senseless.

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If your idea of a great Halloween has more to do with horror flicks than huge parties, then draw the curtains, light some candles, pet a black cat, and pour a glass of Bordeaux: It's time to scare yourself senseless. Here are some tips to tune your TV for maximum fear.

Boo-Fore We Begin...

We won't pick a "best" TV for watching horror films, because the sets that are great for watching Poltergeist are generally the same sets that are best for watching the Superbowl, Mad Men, the Tony Awards, the Westminster Kennel Club dog show, home videos, or whatever. Horror movie buffs should buy the same TVs that "regular" movie buffs do—there's nothing inherently special about the genre. Check out our favorites.

It's also worth noting that classic horror flicks were often made with less-than-ideal production standards, either because of low budgets, or just that they're really, really old. High-def TVs can expose the flaws in the source material, rather than enhance the experience. So honestly, there would be no reason to run out and buy the Bela Lugosi collection on Blu-ray—it just won't look very good (that Blu-ray collection doesn't exist, by the way, but it is available on DVD).

TV Tuning Tricks and Treats

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For the most hair-raising environment, cut all the major sources of light in your living room, home theater, or wherever you're watching. Close the blinds, turn off the lamps, kill the overhead lights—anything you can do to make the room as dim as possible. This step eliminates glare, and more importantly, your TV won't be competing with external light sources, so it won't need to be as bright.

So once your room is as spooky and cave-like as possible, turn down the backlight on your TV if it has one; most LCD and LED TVs do. If not, try cycling through picture presets to see if any of them will automatically dial down the brightness. The backlight makes your screen look vibrant in bright rooms, but it isn't necessary in more subdued lighting, and it can wreak havoc on the all-important black levels. Crystal Lake doesn't look as creepy when the night sky is a medium-gray.

One exception: If you own an LED TV with a local dimming feature, you shouldn't need to lower the backlight. When these sets sense that a portion of the screen is dark, they'll shut off the backlight in the corresponding zone (or zones) to achieve deeper black levels.

Sony's latest flagship, the HX950 is a good example of the tech. With local dimming activated, we measured a black level of 0.02 cd/m2, a very strong score for an LCD TV. (Plasma TVs are generally better at producing deep blacks, since they don't use backlights at all.) A typical lower-mid range LCD is significantly grayer—the Vizio E470VLE for example displayed a middling 0.36 cd/m2. Far more people own TVs like the Vizio than the Sony, so there's usually a big benefit to rolling back a backlight.

Find a Frightening Flick

If your horror-film collection begins and ends at The Shining, let us suggest a few sources to expand your horizons.

• Netflix has a special Halloween Favorites section up this month, offering a wide selection of old classics, 80s-era gems, not-so-scary flicks for families, and more recent favorites as well. These are all streaming titles, so no need to wait for DVDs to arrive.

• IMBd's list of top-rated horror movies,&sort=user_rating,desc makes it easy to find a great fright flick. Our favorite in their top 10? The Thing.

• Check this list of horror and Halloween-themed shows and movies that'll be on cable TV this month, assembled by classic-tv.com.

• An old standby, It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown! will be on at 8 PM EST Halloween night on ABC, as it is every year.

• And just in case you're interested, Wikipedia hosts an exhaustive list of Halloween TV specials, past and present.

Any tips of your own? Let us know in the comments below, and happy Halloween!

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