Film & TV

Netflix and Thrill: The Rise of Horror TV

Just a few years ago the thought of watching horror films and television shows was non-existent for me. An episode of Midsummer Murders was about the level of thrill and fear I could handle without enduring sleepless nights with the light left on. Now, with the rise of the TV horror genre, I, like many others, have watched through my fingers as the gruesome scenes depicted in shows like The Walking Dead and American Horror Story unfolded.

The compelling storylines and depictions of imaginative, yet horrific, bloodbaths are perhaps what appeals to our generations’ love of watching things we don’t want to, yet can’t help but look at. Any horror movie fan will be well aware of the genres love of a sequel or prequel film. What is now becoming increasingly more common is for these sequels and prequels to be transferred from the big screen to the small screen. The television shows can’t just copy the film’s premise, as fans would already know the outcome, leaving the show predictable and less successful. Therefore, the use of sequels and prequels helps to draw out the television shows’ potential and longevity. 

During the rise of 90s parody horror, such as Scream, one of the first truly successful horror film sequels for television was created in the form of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. While the 1992 film of the same name is not held in particularly high esteem by viewers, the Buffy series was a long running success with critical acclaim and is definitively worth watching. If you can cope with the 5 minute long cheer routines and copious amounts of denim, then you may not find the Buffy movie as appalling as some do either.

Hitchcock’s Psycho, considered by some the benchmark of modern horror, is one film that has been developed into a television prequel in the last few years in the form of Bates Motel. The prequel is brought forward into a modern day setting, appealing more to modern viewers, and follows a young Norman Bates as he battles with his mental state, girls and most importantly, his relationship with his mother. As everyone knows that Norman will one day kill his mother, leading to a series of events that will take us up to the famous shower murder scene; the show is a great way of detailing how Norman ended up that way. It plays greatly on the psychological concept of nature vs. nurture; was Norman born a killer, or did the experiences shown within the television show turn him into the Psycho we know him to be.

Similarly, NBC’s Hannibal acts as a prequel of sorts to horror classic Silence of the Lambs. Unlike the film, Hannibal is yet to be imprisoned and so reveals to the audience the monstrous things he has done to get himself incarcerated. Hannibal Lecter from the film, played by Anthony Hopkins, is only actually present on screen for 16 minutes of the film, so the television show gives us a much more in depth look at his character. Despite the name, the main character in Hannibal is actually not the man himself, but Will Graham, a man who works for the FBI and helps to catch an awful lot of serial killers. The first few episodes of Hannibal are fantastic, with the most inventive and gruesome murders I have ever witnessed in horror TV, but then it begins to focus more on the characters and loses what makes it really great. It is clear what has led to its cancellation, and for me it is the overwhelming feeling of annoyance that these people who can solve the most baffling of cases almost instantaneously can’t seem to work out that Hannibal, the man whose name is literally one letter off Cannibal, is the one behind the murders involving the removal of edible organs.

What seems to separate the film and the TV is the emotion. The longer overall run time of TV shows allows for characters to be developed into those we truly love and feel for. Hannibal isn’t just about murder; it’s primarily about the psychiatry and mental stability of protagonist Will Graham. Likewise, Buffy isn’t just about slaying, it’s about love and family, leaving us with the capacity to become quite emotionally attached to certain characters. Films don’t allow us a long enough glimpse into the characters lives; the scenes are established but not developed into something more wonderful. However, the focus on this emotional connection with characters that TV has, as well as the fact that TV is trying to appeal to a wider variety of people than viewers of cinematic horror, perhaps makes the shows less scary than their movie counterparts.