Although October is the official spooky month, where everything gets painted pumpkin-orange and gangs of masked youths roam the streets demanding snacks with menace, there aren’t many TV horrors on this month’s list – or, indeed, in general. The big screen still has it sewn up where horror’s concerned, and even the stripling medium that is video gaming can probably boast more horror classics than the television.
Why is this? Well, one obvious answer is that modern horror’s favourite trick, the jumpscare, is just about tolerable over one-and-a-half hours, but try to keep beating that horse over ten episodes in as many weeks and even hardcore jumpscare fans might begin to suspect they’re being diddled. More broadly, this kind of running time requires, by nature, for the narrative to keep characters around for longer, and so there’s much less tension over any of the protagonists getting got. This is why stuff like The Walking Dead and Bates Motel (itself an adaptation of the original slasher, Psycho) have ended up more like conventional dramas wearing the trappings of horror.
And, if you are going to be spending more time with these people, you’ll want them to have some redeeming qualities, or at least some interesting neuroses. This is strongly at odds with the main casts of many horrors, who overwhelmingly tend to be dizzy, conventionally attractive high school students (played by thirty-somethings) who appear to have no urges or desires other than the purely primal ones, or otherwise a family so white-bread they have ‘Hovis’ stamped on their spines who have just moved into an obviously haunted house and come to regret it.
Then again, spending ten hours with the average charmless horror protagonist – what could be more terrifying than that?
1. Doctor Who | October 7th
Doctor Who may be inextricably sci-fi, but it does punch above its weight in horror terms. Granted it is at core a kid’s show, but plenty of children’s media is messed-up enough to give adults a start – and even if your nerves are too strong for that, there’s no arguing with the fact that a good four generations of British youth grew up hiding behind the sofa when Doctor Who brought out something really gribbly.
Steven Moffatt had, previously, been a master of this – yet seemed to fall off the trolley completely when they made him showrunner, letting the show disappear up its own arse in much the same way his other baby, Sherlock, did. Taking his spot is Chris Chibnall, the man behind Broadchurch, whose strength would seem to lie more in the direction of ‘relentlessly grim’ rather than ‘fantasy scares’, or indeed ‘whimsical time-travelling’ – though Broadchurch did have former Doctor Who David Tennant in it, so that’s almost like relevant experience.
As for the other new face, Jodie Whittaker, the first woman to play The Doctor (at least, outside of a certain Red Nose Day spoof), what is there to say that hasn’t already been said? The decision made some people very angry, a reaction which subsequently made other people angry. Everyone who cares at all has made up their mind now. It’s a show about an alien who travels through time, there are more important things to care about.
2. Arrow | October 15
While TV may not be able to match the cinema on horror, it is at least having a fair go at trying to compete with the juggernaut that is the MCU, in particular with the Arrowverse – the convoluted network of works successfully spun off from Arrow, currently clocking in at four TV shows (Arrow itself, The Flash, Supergirl, and Legends of Tomorrow, three web series, a tangential link to NBC’s short-lived Constantine adaptation, and any number of other DC characters wandering in and out from time to time.
Unlike the MCU’s steady diet of standalone films following a specific Avenger, and then the occasional team fun day, all the strands of the Arrowverse start at around the same time. This setup has created the somewhat brave decision that the crossover events are spread between the different shows, with last year’s ‘Crisis on Earth-X’ four-parter taking the form of an episode on each of the broadcast shows.
A sceptic might call this a shameless attempt to force viewers into following all the shows in the Arrowverse, but the numbers don’t bear it out – almost all the franchise’s crossover episodes have seen a significant bump in viewing figures, pointing towards viewer migration as well as a generally good reception. Sure enough, another crossover event, ‘Elseworlds’, is planned for the upcoming seasons, which will see the various protagonists heading over to Gotham City – an obvious draw for the fanboys.
3. The Romanoffs | October 12
Period dramas involving the aristocracy have been in vogue lately (and you can probably thank the BBC’s king-hell wardrobe department for that), but in spite of this, this isn’t a look into the wacky adventures of Russia’s last royal family – rather, it’s a new take on the anthology series, with each episode following a different person who claims to be a descendant of the Romanov family.
The theory that Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna had somehow escaped being executed by the Soviets – as so memorably depicted in the laughably inaccurate 1997 Fox animation Anastasia – was a popular one throughout the twentieth century, with at least ten women coming forward claiming to be her. This was only laid to rest in 2007, with the discovery of the two missing sets of Romanov remains.
While Amazon Prime’s video service has been going since 2006, and using it to distribute Amazon Studios content since 2013, The Romanoffs will be its first program to be shown weekly as opposed to the modern method of chucking it all out in one lump. It may be a dubious honour, but they haven’t given it out lightly – The Romanoffs is created, written, and directed by Matthew Weiner, the man behind the incredibly popular Mad Men. True to form, Mad Men stars Christina Hendricks and John Slattery will be turning up at some point.
4. Bodyguard | October 24
Having already received widespread acclaim in Britain, and coming fairly close on the heels of another BBC thriller, the excellent Killing Eve, Bodyguard will now be let loose on a wider audience. It centres on the Home Secretary (Keeley Hawes) introducing sweeping new powers of surveillance which prove incredibly unpopular – which, given recent history, puts her in line for the leadership.
Although this is very much business as usual for the Home Office, the backlash is lively enough that she’s seen as being at risk of assassination, and is assigned a bodyguard (Richard Madden, formerly of Game of Thrones until he was betrayed and murdered). As an Afghanistan veteran who saw terrible things over there, the guy’s certainly tough enough for the job – the only snag is, for the same reason he has certain feelings about snooty politicians playing games with other people’s lives.
It’s perhaps appropriate that Madden is a Thrones veteran, as George R.R. Martin has often given voice to William Faulkner’s old maxim that ‘the only thing worth writing about is the human heart in conflict with itself’ – an idea on full display with Madden’s character, torn between his personal feelings and his professional duty. As for Hawes’s Home Sec, it’s possible she may also end up torn after learning a thing or two from him – but again, it’s also possible that like her real-life analogue Theresa May she’ll just blunder her way into being a supremely ineffective Prime Minister.
5. Tell Me A Story | October 31st
And on Halloween itself, we have Tell Me A Story, produced by Kevin Williamson of Vampire Diaries and the hilarious The Following, which reimagines classic fairy tales as a modern-day psychological thriller. Which perhaps might sound like it’s just wildly mashing concepts together, until you consider that most of the Brothers Grimm’s output involved people meeting with horrible fates – and that, if you squint, Little Red Riding Hood is fairly obviously a cautionary tale for young women about predatory men.
(Those interested in the darker side of fairytales might be interested in checking out Angela Carter’s smutty, smutty works.)
Little Red Riding Hood is one of the show’s main influences, alongside The Three Little Pigs and Hansel and Gretel – that is to say, people’s vanity leading to destruction, and the risks inherent to temptation. Like its predecessor Once Upon A Time (and, indeed, based on a Mexican crime drama titled Érase Una Vez, literally ‘Once upon a time’) it grafts these storylines onto a modern-day setting, although rather than an idyllic small town, here it’s the specifically urban backdrop of New York.
The inevitable grit that goes along with a New York setting is made much of in the press releases, which boast of “an epic and subversive tale of love, loss, greed, revenge and murder”. Again, though, this is about what you’d expect from fairy tales, and one must hope they don’t make the all-too-common mistake of thinking ‘gritty’ has to mean ‘suck all the fun out’.
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