DOCUSERIES "Dark Matters: Twisted but True"

WHEN | WHERE Series premiere tonight at 10 on Science

REASON TO WATCH Wanna give yourself nightmares? What better provocation than real-life mad science?

WHAT IT'S ABOUT John Noble of "Fringe" brings his creepy vocal bearing to the host-narrator gig on this chronicle of what the preshow advisory calls "scientific research that some may find controversial and disturbing."

Each hour recounts three historic tales of "questions that should not be asked, experiments that should not be performed, doors that should stay forever closed." Dramatizations with subtly surreal computer backgrounds, eerie electronic music and other techniques share screen time with contemporary physicists, neuroscientists and engineers explaining (and even demonstrating) the whats and hows of what happened.

Speculation starts tonight with the military's Philadelphia Experiment making a World War II warship invisible (perhaps driving men mad!). The hour moves on to ponder a possible Soviet plot to create an ape-man army (making chimps bear human progeny and vice versa!), and concludes with DC power developer Thomas Edison's determination to prove his rival's AC power dangerous by seeing it electrocute animals (and eventually humans!).

MY SAY Viewers are likely to be less upset by the "gruesome fiasco" of a depicted human execution than by a preliminary step producing the smoking carcass of a bunny rabbit. (Dark and twisted? That's us humans.)

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"Dark Matters" taps many chiller-film tricks, including blurry fades and distorted swish pans, those unsettling drama backgrounds (vaguely altered movie posters, curiously symmetrical bookshelves), a relentlessly on-the-march scare soundtrack and the latter-day Karloff shiver in Noble's narration.

Science channel publicity materials call the show "a real-life 'Twilight Zone,' " and in terms of mood, that's on the mark. Next week's roundup includes Unidentified Flying Nazis, I Have Einstein's Brain and Killer Thoughts. The Sept. 14 hour manages to mix Sexy Secret Agent, Full Body Transplant and Honey I Nuked the Planet.

BOTTOM LINE Brilliant minds sure can make an ethical mess.