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Today’s Terrific Era of Television Horror on Popular Streaming Services

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Today's Terrific Era of Television Horror on Popular Streaming Services

No matter what your hobby might be—whether it’s baseball cards, stamp collecting, or watching horror—there’s a tendency to think that past eras represent the peak of that pursuit. Part of that stems from nostalgia, and part of that comes from a tendency to think back to what we liked and following during our childhood. It’s only natural, and in some cases, the reverence for the past is deserved and fitting.

A number of horror fans, myself included, look back favorably on the years of the 1930s and 40s and fondly recall the classics from Universal Studios: Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, and The Wolf Man, among others. Some would call that group of films the height of horror, the absolute peak of the genre. I’m certainly a fan of those films, and still enjoying watching them today. But I’ll hesitate to call that era the peak of horror. It was terrific, yes, and the films still hold up nearly 90 years later, but I believe that the height of horror can be found right in the here and now. Beginning around 2010 and continuing to the current day, we are living in the midst of an era when horror is not only enjoying a renaissance, but is giving us good reason to refer to these as The Glory Years of the genre.

Frankenstein Universal

Why would I make such a bold statement? Some skeptics might counter by saying that the film industry is failing to produce films at a level that would match the classics of past decades. After all, they ask, where are all of the new classics of today? There’s some legitimacy to that argument. Some very good horror films have been produced over the last decade, including an Academy Award nominee in Get Out, a compelling offering like The Conjuring, a fear-inducing movie like The Babadook, and even more recent entries like Midsummer and Hereditary and the newest version of The Invisible Man, but perhaps they do fall short of being four-star films of iconic status. They’re all very good, even excellent, but not quite great. Perhaps they will not quite be remembered as classics 10 or 20 or 30 years from now. I’m willing to concede that point.

No, my argument in favor of today’s horror comes from outside of feature films. It stems directly from the television and streaming industries. In my mind, this is where we’re seeing horror’s best at work. It is here that we’re seeing a level of sophistication that we haven’t seen before, along with excellent and creative writing, high-quality special effects, and top-notch acting. Very quietly, a long line of compelling series have been made over the past 10 years—both full-length series and miniseries—which have demonstrated the ability to sustain horror in an episodic format.

The Walking Dead Zombies

Perhaps it all started in 2010, when “The Walking Dead” made its debut on AMC. Like most of the skeptics, I felt that a show about zombies was unsustainable over the long haul. Perhaps the show would be good for an episode or two, but the zombie theme would quickly wear thin, and the show would descend into tedium. Ten years later, we’ve all been proven wrong, thanks to sympathetic and highly developed characters, detailed scripts, unforeseen plot twists, and groundbreaking special effects. In becoming a national sensation, “The Walking Dead” essentially jumpstarted an era of horror that shows few signs of slowing down.

Another show has also become a cultural phenomenon, one that we can find on Netflix. “Stranger Things” has not only developed a rabid following, but has helped renew interest in 1980s American culture. With its likeable characters (including a goofy group of misfit children and a few broken adults hoping for redemption), “Stranger Things” has become the most popular show among Netflix’s growing library of original programming.

Stranger Things Season 3

On a more restrained level, “Bates Motel” has taken the classic story of Norman Bates, gone back in time, and created Norman’s life as a teenager, in a way that neither Robert Bloch nor Alfred Hitchcock likely would have envisioned. The performances of Vera Farmiga as Norman’s mother and Nestor Carbonell as the local sheriff helped elevate “Bates Motel” to a higher level, making it appealing for fans outside of the genre. It was a show that lasted for five seasons, but when it ended, I wanted to see five more.

And then we come to my personal favorite, the short-lived but terrific “Penny Dreadful”. It lasted only 27 episodes before foolishly being cancelled by Showtime (that’s a story for another day), but in a short span it managed to collect the classic monsters—Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Wolf Man—throw in a less classic character like Dorian Gray, add a few new villains, and weave them into Victorian England against a backdrop of beautiful cinematography and high-quality special effects. Few shows of any kind have featured better casts than “Penny Dreadful”. Headlined by the breathtaking Eva Green and well supported by Timothy Dalton, Rory Kinnear, and a surprisingly effective Josh Hartnett, “Penny Dreadful” became must-see viewing over its three-season existence.

Penny Dreadful

Another recent show has handled classic monsters with creativity and flair, albeit with far less publicity. “The Frankenstein Chronicles”, headlined by a strong performance from Sean Bean, has reimagined the origins of Mary Shelley’s iconic novel, while incorporating the author herself into a more involved and complicated plot. It’s a show that hasn’t been seen by many, but for those who subscribe to Netflix, it remains available and is certainly worth the investment of two seasons’ worth of watching.

In 2018, Netflix introduced “The Haunting of Hill House”, based very loosely on the original story of Shirley Jackson and the classic 1963 horror film, The Haunting. With a creative reimaging, director Mike Flanagan has turned to a modern-day story of a tormented family and its attempt to overcome its history of tragedy and its link to a cursed mansion. To date, only one season of “The Haunting of Hill House” has aired, but a second season, with a fresh story and new characters, is slated for release later in 2020.

The Haunting of Hill House TV Series

These six shows have all become favorites of mine, but they also represent just a sampling of what has become available over the last decade. There’s plenty more, including “American Horror Story” (which has been hit-or-miss, but has included some terrific seasons), the short-lived “Marianne” (which was recently cancelled in another decision of dubious proportions), the similarly short-lived “Harper’s Island”, MTV’s surprisingly effective “Scream”, SyFy’s disturbing anthology “Channel Zero”, the mind-bending “Black Mirror”, and the longstanding CW favorite, “Supernatural” (coming to an end in 2020).

Clearly, there’s a lot to be enjoyed in today’s horror market, thanks to basic TV, cable, ROKU, and the growing variety of streaming services. If you’re looking for good horror, the old classics will always remain an excellent option, but there is really no better place than to start with the television offerings of the last 10 years. After all, we are living right in the midst of horror’s glory years.

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