We are in the ascent of TV horror.
But you wouldn’t know it, judging by how often I only hear that we’re living in a golden age of TV.
I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve read this statement or heard it in a pub.
It’s the era of Game of Thrones, Orange is the New Black, Breaking Bad, etc.
What I haven’t heard so much is that we are living in a golden age of TV horror.
Recently we’ve had American Horror Story, Santa Clarita Diet, Hannibal, The Walking Dead.
And we’re currently enjoying the most recent crème de la horror crème, The Haunting of Hill House.
People like horror, even if they profess not to enjoy the genre.
They’re fascinated by death and people doing bad things.
When you look at the recent TV successes, you don’t have to scratch too hard to find the horror buried under the surface of more palatable packaging.
Game of Thrones has a death count and brutality to rival any horror franchise, and it doesn’t stop there.
Horror’s moment to shine
Think about long running series like Dexter, Grimm or Supernatural.
While it would be a difficult to label them out-and-out horror, there is definitely an argument that these are horror series.
In Dexter especially there were set-pieces that would not have felt out of place in an Argento film (if they had been lit with Suspiria’s lurid colour palette).
The appetite for TV horror has always been there. It was just waiting for the right (and twisted) mind to start the feeding frenzy.
Horror has long had a history of one or two spectacular ideas which spawn innumerable follow-ons and imitators.
Every vampire story after Dracula, the films that followed in the wake of The Blair Witch Project or Friday 13th coming in the aftermath of Halloween.
That’s not to suggest that these are necessarily pale imitations or without merit. Without Dracula you wouldn’t have Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot, without the cabin in the woods sub-genre you wouldn’t have, well, Cabin in the Woods.
The point is that there is a tradition in horror for one shark to take a bite and other sharks, sensing blood, to come in droves and turn the ocean pink!
For horror TV, that catalyst has to be American Horror Story. When Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk brought this wonderful anthology horror to our screens in 2011, it was a breath of fresh and bloody air.
The genius of it lies in its simplicity, each season conceived as a mini-series with a core cast returning from one season to the next like an old style rep company.
The anthology nature of AHS has allowed it to keep fresh and reinvent itself, tackling horror mainstays from the haunted house and hotel to the abandoned asylum to 2016’s Roanoke, which wonderfully satirised TV horror (and reality TV).
The success of AHS pathed the way for the TV horror that has come in its bloody wake.
Horror has often utilised the anthology format (Unheimliche Geschichten, Dead of Night, Creepshow, V/H/S, The ABCs of Death) and AHS is not the first to do so for TV (Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Tales from the Crypt).
AHS’s brilliance is to take that anthology format and run with it.
Talking about the ascent of TV horror, it would be criminal not to mention the other lumbering behemoth that shuffled onto our screens, the year before AHS, The Walking Dead.
While later seasons have not been universally loved, this is a horror series which has straddled the line of horror/not-horror.
I have had people tell me The Walking Dead is not a true horror series…yes, a series about zombies.
This perspective, voiced by the Zombie Father himself, George A Romero, seems to stem from the idea that by focusing on the human relationships it is more of a soap with zombies.
Whether you agree with that sentiment or not, it is hard to argue with the enormous success of The Walking Dead not only in the horror community, but with mainstream audiences and success leads to the other sharks kicking off the feeding frenzy.
Explaining the ascent of TV horror is a subject as tricky to tackle as taking on a tag-team of Jason, Freddy and Michael.
You have the rise of streaming services, the explosion of social media, arguably increased respect for the genre, but when you cut through to the still-beating heart of the question, the answer I think you reach is simple.
Horror fans want horror
We want horror novels, films, theatre.
At a time when there are so many varied ways of consuming content it makes sense for the companies producing series to wake up to the huge audience base in the horror genre.
Long live the ascent of TV horror.
By Ed Hartland
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