Two of the most critically acclaimed television programs of the 2012-2013 season owe the foundation of their success to horror movies: Bates Motel and Hannibal. The creators of these programs saw the potential in what has become one of the most common storytelling devices across all platforms – the origin story. They may have brought their iconic characters into the modern era, but they both got at the roots of how each horror icon eventually became so gloriously evil. How does a psychopath like Norman Bates navigate high school? What are the games that Hannibal Lecter played with Will Graham before the action of Manhunter and long before The Silence of the Lambs? They’re both brilliant programs.
As anyone who knows anything about Hollywood will tell you, if there’s a good idea, it will be copied. A trend isn’t over until it’s burrowed into the ground through repetition. With that in mind, it seems inevitable that there are writers’ rooms around Hollywood trying to meet the mandate of “Who’s next? We’ve had Norman and Hannibal. What other horror films could survive or even thrive with the transition to the small screen?” Rather than deny the inevitable, we’re here to offer advice. Supernatural villains like Chucky might be fun, but they’d miss the humanity at the core of why Bates Motel and Hannibal work as well as they do. With that in mind, here are our picks for five horror films that could make for an engaging, exciting weekly series, listed alphabetically.
Note: An update of Stephen King’s It has tons of creative potential, but there are two King creations with even more potential and we don’t want to turn this into “What’s the next Under the Dome?” by placing too much emphasis on the legendary author. However, you can bet those conversations are already happening in network boardrooms at the moment, given the success of that CBS Summer series.
[Warning: spoilers ahead!]
The Cabin in the Woods
It’s almost too easy. This would have to be a prequel (although one does long to see what happened after the giant hand smacked terra firma) centered on Gary, Steve, and the rest of the men and women tasked with keeping the underworld at bay. Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s script for Cabin is so rich with ideas and story potential that one could draft a few seasons of entertainment just from the film’s infamous white board - the one with all the deadly possibilities that the staff uses in their betting pool. It might get a little morbid to watch sacrifices pulled off around the world every week, however, Whedon has proven he can make the horrific feel human. I don’t want to say it would be a pure office comedy, but learning more about how the team works, the planning that goes into an event, etc. would be fascinating. And nearly everyone involved in the film has TV experience. Get Goddard and Whedon back in as at least advisors; lock in Bradley Whitford and Amy Acker in their original roles. Can you imagine if they could get Richard Jenkins to do weekly TV? It would be huge.
Yes, I know, vampires are overdone. But with True Blood being about as entertaining as getting an actual transfusion nowadays, the genre could use another injection of spontaneity and creativity. The world of Fright Night is rich enough to have supported a comic book series at one point, a remake, and even a new straight-to-DVD sequel to that underrated Colin Farrell flick. Rather than go the cut-rate route, someone needs to take the story back to its core – a vampire in suburbia. How has Jerry Dandridge survived for so many years going from suburb to suburb? How does he keep his bloodsucking heritage secret? If done stylishly enough, the show could even have echoes of Let the Right One In (and its remake) in the way that story addressed the concept of immortals having to adapt to normal communities. It would make a great fit for AMC once The Walking Dead heads down the other side of its creative peak.
How did Annie Wilkes develop such an obsessive personality that she kidnapped and maimed Paul Sheldon? This is straight from the Bates Motel model – the development of a lunatic. Was she another victim’s number one fan before Sheldon? Yes, it would be difficult to find an actress willing to draw comparisons to an Oscar-winning role, but the writers could update and alter the material to give its own personality. Don’t make it a period piece; make it a modern update of the early days of Annie Wilkes (How would she use Twitter and other social media to interact with her new Paul Sheldon?), a woman so lonely and devoted to the creative people she adores that she snaps. How she balances a seemingly normal life with an increasingly tenuous grip on how fans should interact with their icons would make for a wonderfully timely piece given the increasingly small gap between people who create and people who buy those creations.
The cultural staying power of The Shining is as much, if not more, than Psycho and Hannibal Lecter. Not only does the film constantly play in revivals and on cable, but a great documentary was just released about it (Room 237), a horror film festival was launched this year at its iconic location, and Stephen King is releasing a sequel to his original novel this Fall called Doctor Sleep. The time is right for a TV series. Of course, it’s prequel time again, but one set in modern days like Bates Motel. What happened at the Overlook before Jack Torrance got there? The creators could make nods to both the books and classic Kubrick film, all while carving their own path as a program that has what so many modern shows lack – a sense of setting. Television is built around characters, but what if the Overlook had the attention to detail of great modern shows and became a character in and of itself? Millions would check in every week.
The Wicker Man
Not the Nicolas Cage remake (a film that served to spark viral videos of its overacting star more than anything else), but imagine a TV program that took viewers back to the core idea of the original – the alluring power of cults and the trouble people face when sucked into them. It would be called Summerisle, of course, and detail the origin of the pagan community that thrives there. Were there outsiders sacrificed before Police Sergeant Neil Howie? How did the power structure of the island come to be and how is it maintained? This could be a really smart, moody piece about societies creating their own structure that nods to the original while also speaking to concerns of today. Perfect for BBC America.