Just in time for one of our favorite holidays, I bring you my thoughts on horror. I know, you’re sitting on the edge of your seats already and breathing through your mouths in shallow little gasps to keep from fainting with excitement. I feel the same way!
I was – and to some degree still am – a fan of the Walking Dead series. At some point I’ll go back and get the graphic novels and enjoy them from a different perspective, but from the first episode (spoilers ahead!) showing a cop waking up in a hospital only to realize the world has apparently come to an end, I was an every week watcher. Until last year that is, when the wife and I decided not to buy the series for the year on Amazon Prime and, instead, would wait for it until they released it on Netflix this fall. It was a tough call, but we managed to avoid most of the worst spoilers (once I gave up following the WD forums on Reddit).
So we watched season six in late September, and it was fairly enjoyable with the exception of the Glen cliffhanger, which was too manufactured and felt like such a ludicrous TV trope (oh no, our character has fallen, but did he really die? Stay tuned to WD next week!). Rick seemed to be getting his head on straight, there were some surprising moments and deaths (but none too terribly shocking), and it felt overall like it was on a good arc. Until the last episode of the season. Until the baseball bat to the head, the cliff hanger that left us wondering who had been beaten and/or possibly killed.
And that’s the moment WD jumped the shark for me. There was nothing patently wrong with what they did, I just felt… tired about it. It seemed so trite that they would once again resort to a nasty evil human who does nasty evil things to other humans now that the world has gone to shit. The horror part of it was brutal violence, there was nothing subtle or appealing about it to me at all. In fact, I’d been growing tired of the constant barrage of “humans always end up doing bad” the show is pushing. It may be part of the comic story as well, but sometimes you need some redemption so you can get enjoyment out of a piece of entertainment, especially a long-term story arc that’s been going on for roughly 70 episodes now. Plus there’s the added feeling on my part that this is the same group that so easily (sort of) took down the Governor – bad ass Daryl took out a tank on his own, for heaven’s sake! – and they are supposed to be pretty smart by now. Yet they did nothing smart in that episode, seemed stupid and foolish, and it made no sense at all except as a setup for the end game that happened. It was plot for plot’s sake.
This is horror for the slasher crowd. I’m sure they are going for something a little deeper, but the violence is all about blood and guts and people being awful to each other, or getting eaten by zombies. I know many WD fans were waiting for this arc, the evil villain Negan is a big part of the comics. But for me… yeah, it’s losing its appeal. I was initially considering keeping up with the series week to week again this season, but after the let down of the finale of season six, I’ll wait until next year, and won’t care if I hear the spoilers (already have… I know who died, both of them).
Then we discovered Black Mirror, the British “Twilight Zone” like series that debuted in 2011 and has put several seasons now on Netflix. I suggested we check it out, and we were immediately hooked by both the stories and the actors. Unlike WD, this is not an episodic series. Each one hour program is an individual tale with different actors. They all revolve around some slightly futuristic timeline, the “near future” of our own world perhaps, where technology has become ever more integrated into our lives, and which leads to some seriously messed up consequences. Grotesque violence is replaced with psychological fears, such as a society where your social status is determined by your ranking on a 5 point scale by everyone you interact with and what happens when your careful tight rope walk of politeness is stripped and your rankings crash. Or losing your spouse and finding a way to reconnect them to them based on their entire history of text messages, voice mails and uploads, a digitally recreated version of them that becomes a reality for the grieving person. And much darker things, too, with several excellent and messed up stories on crime and punishment.
The writing is sharp as hell in Black Mirror, with some wonderful takes on our potential futures. There’s also fine acting, and they bring in some relative heavy weights, like Hayley Atwell from Agent Carter/Captain America fame. And the effects used to create a world that feels almost like our own but with technological and visual twists – not to mention cultural ones – are never intrusive and always feel perfect.
The upshot is that horror falls into two camps. Violent or psychological. The best blends the two into a smooth concoction that you can swallow down, leaving you chilled and nervous and a little freaked out. And I’d rather see a show lean more on the psychological than the violent to achieve its goals. The best Daredevil (Netflix series) villain – and perhaps best of the Marvel villains to date – was Kingpin, who was certainly a psycho murderer when needed, but was much more of a psychological opponent with deeply rooted neurosis that felt creepy to us and made him a much more rounded character.
Give me more like Black Mirror, and less like Walking Dead. And Happy Halloween, friends!