- 31 Oct 18
It’s a time of strange apparitions and horrific gurgling in the night. But enough about the Presidential election – Halloween is upon us too. And if you fancy a scare before bedtime, television is happy to oblige.
The stars are in alignment this autumn with a shambling hoard of terrifying TV here to shred our nerves. Even better, the crop of 2018 frighteners vary wildly in tone – meaning there are terrors for all tastes.
One of the more acclaimed new horror shows is The Haunting Of Hill House, a wildly revisionist updating of the 1959 Shirley Jackson novel. The new Netflix series uses horror as a metaphor for childhood trauma, exploring how the things that, in an emotional sense, go bump in the night when we are kids can define who we are decades later.
The lesson the drama teaches is that there is stuff in this world even more unnerving than a haunted house – such as family estrangement that acts as a running sore through the lives of those affected. The clever decision by show-runner Mike Flanagan was to reimagine Jackson’s protagonists as siblings suffering lifelong PTSD, from what they went through when their naive parents tried to restore a possessed mansion.
“I’ve always been drawn to familial horror, and this seemed like an excellent way to recontextualise a lot of what I loved about the book,” Flanagan told Vulture. “For us, the ghosts that were the most interesting were the ones that we create in ourselves, throughout our lives. We needed the characters to inform and create their own monsters, or else it’s hard to care about what would happen to them.”
That isn’t to say The Haunting Of Hill House isn’t straight-up horrifying at moments. Via flashbacks, Flanagan makes it clear that something horrible went down at Hill House. However, the real terror is in realising that, try as they might, the characters simply can’t escape their pasts.
“It was always clear to me that a straight adaptation wouldn’t be sustainable for an entire season,” Flanagan told the Huffington Post. “I also felt like Robert Wise had done a near-perfect job adapting the novel back in 1963, and it didn’t seem like we’d top that if we tried to head down the same path, so expansion was very necessary. I heard someone describe this as an ‘echo’ of the novel, as opposed to an adaptation, and that feels right to me.”
At the very opposite end of the scare spectrum resides Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina, a Grand Guignol re-boot of ’90s hoke-fest Sabrina The Teenage Witch. With Mad Men’s Kiernan Shipka as the titular spell-caster, the broad storyline follows that of the Melissa Joan Hart series. Tonally, though, Sabrina new and old could not be more different. Chilling Adventures is visceral, angsty and genuinely upsetting in places. One early sequence sees Sabrina pursued by a living scarecrow – later she has a vision in which a horned demon springs from a tree and tries to devour her.
Shipka is fantastic as an adolescent torn between her regular life and the world of magic – with The Office’s Lucy Davis and Lord Of The Rings’ Miranda Otto as her broomstick-positive guardians. Watching it, Sabrina is arguably every bit as nerve-shredding as Hill House – there are bucketloads of jump-scares and if you have a phobia of spiders keep a cushion to hand.
The difference is that Sabrina’s chills are surface level, whereas Hill House drills deep. If you enjoy TV that gets under your skin, the latter is just what you’ve been seeking. If you’re looking for something to curl up to now you’ve finished the latest Better Call Saul, however, approach with a degree of caution.
Scary TV didn’t begin with Netflix of course. Over on Fox, ratings-crushing zombie caper The Walking Dead has returned for a ninth season – the last to feature long-running hero Sheriff Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln).
There was a time when The Walking Dead could claim to be the biggest juggernaut on TV – the only plausible rival to Game Of Thrones. That era is long since past and, amid plunging ratings, parent network AMC has taken drastic action. It has given long-running show-runner Scott Gimple a new job overseeing the wider Walking Dead franchise (including spin-off Fear The Walking Dead) and installed writers-room veteran Angela Kang in his place.
The irony is that this course correction comes as Dead prepares to wave adieu to its two most compelling actors. Joining Lincoln in the departure lounge is Lauren Cohan, aka Hilltop Colony boss Maggie Greene. Cohan is taking time away to star in a new FBI his ’n’ hers comedy, Whiskey Cavalier (this sounds horrible). Kang has suggested Cohan might return – but for much of the forthcoming run, The Walking Dead is going to be down its most compelling stars. See what my colleague, Edwin McFee, makes of it all opposite.
• The Haunting Of Hill House and Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina are on Netflix. The Walking Dead season eight airs Mondays on Fox.