This past April was the last time I got excited about seeing a horror flick in a theatre. I’d heard great things about INSIDIOUS, and I was pleased to find it lived up to every one of them. Given that I’d just seen the lackluster SCREAM 4 a few weeks prior, it was a booster shot in the arm, so much that I wrote an article comparing how the two used conventions. But that was 8 months ago, and the months that followed have been a dry time. My last few forays into theatres to see horror have been stale disappointments. FRIGHT NIGHT and THE THING prequel/remake did nothing to inspire me to go out and plunk down good money. Which is okay, because I’ve discovered in recent months that all the best horror is on TV nowadays. Old favorite SUPERNATURAL and the trifecta of new shows THE WALKING DEAD, AMERICAN HORROR STORY and TEEN WOLF are doing horror right, and Hollywood would do well to take a look at them when they throw hundreds of millions behind theatrical releases.
It’s best to take a look at these four shows on a case-by-case basis. Each has its unique reasons to compel viewers to return every week for a new episode.
Supernatural– Welcome to a CW show that doesn’t suck. What started as a KOLCHAK-style monster of the week program developed as each new season came, with story arcs that put Winchester boys Sam and Dean into deeper perils than the last. The addition of archangel Castiel in Season 4 upped the ante to its maximum, pitting the Winchesters against the Devil and God Himself, with the Apocalypse looming over Season 5.
The show balances horror and humor to sweet perfection, as Dean is not only a monster hunter, but a goofball as well. His food references alone are gems. Jensen Ackles is superb whether the show calls for Dean to be intense or jokey. He more than makes up for Jared Padalecki as Sam. Padalecki isn’t great at emoting, and his range is much more limited, but he and Ackles have a chemistry that has kept the show alive and popular into Season 7 now.
But Supernatural, for me, is all about Bobby Singer. A gruff former hunter, he acts as home base for the boys’ misadventures, a source of knowledge and advice, and most importantly, a father figure. Veteran TV character actor Jim Beaver got the role of a lifetime in the series, and the Bobby-centric episodes are my favorites. Bobby’s ability to call it as he sees it is much like my own, and it never hurts when he drops a reality and calls one of the boys an “idjit.”
If there’s one weakness in the show, it’s the uneven Canadian cast. Many of the actors who appear as guests never should’ve made it out of acting class. But that’s a small issue, given the quality of the show, and it shouldn’t deter you from watching.
What’s deterred me from watching much of Season 6 and all of Season 7 so far is that Supernatural was set for a five-year run, and the end of Season 5 would have been a great capper to the Winchesters’ saga. But money got the best of all parties, and the beginning of Season 6 was a severe letdown, given what transpired in the Season 5 finale. My sister Sarah turned me onto the show, and she’s stuck with it. When I have the time, I may just go back and give the later shows a chance.
If you’ve never seen Supernatural, do yourself a favor. Start at Season 1, Episode 1, and don’t stop until Season 5 comes to its powerful close. You’ll be treated to Jeffrey Dean Morgan and some spectacular rock tracks from the WB catalogue, and you’ll fall in love with the Winchester brothers just as I did.
The Walking Dead– You’ll find much of my feelings about The Walking Dead here, but I’ll add some thoughts. Romero was in discussions to make DIARY OF THE DEAD as a TV show before he made it a movie. I’d like to think The Walking Dead is the show he would have made. If you took Romero’s ideology of what a world of living dead would be like and extrapolated it, you would have this show. Robert Kirkman presents a grim vision of what things would be like if the dead ruled. This would all be for naught, if not for a great cast and compelling characters. Andrew Lincoln is impeccable as Rick Grimes, the cop who’s become the group’s de facto leader. He portrays a man who’s always questioning his decisions, many of which lead to controversy within the group. And he does a superb Georgian accent, given he’s actually British. The rest of the characters represent a broad array of the human condition. You’ll like some some, despise others, and hope that they survive, which they’ll compel from you.
The introduction of a farmhouse and a new set of characters in Season 2 added more interactions for the group, some of which have not turned out well. It’s been an interesting first half, though throughout it I had a major qualm. The search for the young Sophia became an annoying sticking point in every episode, but the payoff in the last episode packed such a punch it kicked the air from my lungs. I learned to trust the creators behind the show, as they don’t seem capable of disappointing.
Given my love of Romero, this show was a no-brainer for me. But if you just love great horror, or great characters, this is a no-brainer for you too.
American Horror Story– I’ve also covered some of Season 1 of American Horror Story, but I’ll add some thoughts about this wonderful show too. The show blends old school horror with new age weirdness perfectly. Take the tried and true house with a history and throw in a neurotic family of three with all sorts of personal issues, add in a shot of Jessica Lange and plunk down some interesting guests the likes of Zachary Quinto, and you’ve got a potent mix.
The title is what gets me every time I ponder the show. This is how the guys who created Glee see the American family. It also makes me question the housing market, and the true evils of bland reality television shows such as Flip This House. That alone tells me this is worth watching.
Much like INSIDIOUS, American Horror Story takes horror’s archetypes and makes them fresh again. That’s one mean task, but the writers and actors handle it with aplomb. The house with a dark history is one of my favorite tropes in the genre, and this show turns it on ear. Oh, and those leather S&M suits really creep me out. Now more than ever.
Teen Wolf– Okay, I’ll admit it. I choked on this one. Reading up on the new Teen Wolf show on other sites during its planning, I came across phrases such as “dark drama,” “young, attractive cast” and “MTV.” My thoughts ran to the phrases “title grab,” “clueless as to what horror fans want,” and “It’s official! MTV sucks!” Why MTV would take a Michael J. Fox comedy from the 1980s and turn it into another TWILIGHT ripoff a la The Vampire Diaries, I had no idea. My biggest question is the same every time I hear about a current remake: Who is this supposed to please?
Watching the first six episodes yesterday reminded me that my reactionary stance isn’t always accurate. It sure wasn’t in this case, as the new Teen Wolf is actually a great show.
Looking at the advertising, I really can’t blame myself for expecting this show to be Twiteenwolflight. Just look at this ad photo and my rationale explains itself:
Damned if MTV didn’t do everything in its power to sell this like it belonged in that sickening cluster of little girly shows.
What Teen Wolf actually delivers, though, is something else altogether. When best friends Scott and Stiles go off to find half a dead body in the woods, a wolf attacks Scott and leaves him dealing with a new set of changes alongside puberty. Along the way, he’ll encounter new girl Allison who becomes his girlfriend, rival lacrosse jock Jackson and fellow werewolf Derek, who’s much more experienced and guides him in controlling his powers. As the two hunt for the identity of the alpha werewolf who turned Scott, they in turn are hunted by a group of humans sworn to eradicate them. This leads to some interesting turns in the character interactions, as the intertwining lives conflict at every turn.
What I appreciate about the show is its portrayal of teenagers in high school. As a former high school teacher, I find it one of the most honest portrayals I’ve come across in a long time. Hormones run high, rivalries lead to clashes, and the pressure of getting passing grades is omnipresent; all of which would exist even without werewolves. The acting helps, as the portrayals are universally grounded and the characters likable. Even if Tyler Posey is a bit too whiny at times for my tastes, I won’t let it turn me off. But Dylan O’Brien steals the show as Stiles, the wisecracking best friend who legitimately loves Scott. His deliveries are awesome, and like Bobby Singer, a side character is the show’s best.
Speaking of Bobby Singer, this show presents the opposite side of Supernatural, where the hunters are unlikable scum and the monsters are the victims, and the newfangled songs all suck. Taken together, the two shows are opposite sides of the same great horror coin.
The problem is the show’s name. It has so little connection to the source material, that I wonder if calling it Teen Wolf is actually holding back fans from checking it out. I only watched Teen Wolf because I was pissed off at Netflix. I had a number of problems with shows and movies that I could watch on Instant through my computer, but not through my Xbox. This was one of those shows, so I added it to mock Netflix. Last night, I figured I would watch 5 minutes, prove my theory that it sucked, and then delete it from my queue. Oh was I wrong. If you had the same preconceived notions about the show as I did, give it a look. It’s a lot better than you’d expect, and it’s enjoyable horror.
If only the dreck in theatres was enjoyable horror. Filmmakers are forcing horror fans to forsake the theatres and sit at home. But as I said in my introduction, that’s not a bad thing at all. All the best horror is on TV of late, and these four shows are proof of that.