The year in horror began with Get Out winning an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, and went on to include big-screen landmarks like A Quiet Place, Hereditary, and Halloween. But 2018 also yielded a high concentration of juicy horror in 2018 on the small screen, too. Here are eight reasons why.
Syfy’s horror anthology series doesn’t get talked about nearly as much as it should, though over four seasons it’s built up a dedicated fan base—and there are several very good reasons for that. Each six-episode installment takes inspiration from a different Creepypasta story, but the writers, led by showrunner Nick Antosca, push the boundaries of what an adaptation can be, producing stories that evolve in delightfully strange ways, with a different director helming each season in its entirety. The result is a show that’s able to maintain unusual visual and tonal continuity throughout each installment—but also feels like a completely fresh experience with every new season. That said, all four seasons so far have tapped into a similar horror vibe; Channel Zero on a whole is slow-building, unsettling, surreal, shocking, and artistically adventurous. In 2018, we were lucky enough to get two new chapters: Butcher’s Block, directed by Arkasha Stevenson, which dug into the horrifying history behind a neglected inner-city neighborhood and unearthed some frightfully gory echoes of the past; and The Dream Door, directed by E.L. Katz, which offered a more claustrophobic, scaled-down tale of a marriage that’s severely tested when secrets come to life—or to life, as the case may be.
Shirley Jackson’s classic horror novel has been adapted for the screen multiple times, but never like this. With horror veteran Mike Flanagan behind the wheel, Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House was a mix of technical daring (like episode six, which made use of incredible extended takes); clever production design that did things like sneak hidden “ghosts” into certain shots for eagle-eyed and/or obsessive viewers; extreme melodrama (the Crain family had a lot of issues, but they sure made the show the on-screen equivalent of a page-turner); and, oh yeah, plenty of bone-chilling frights. Standout spook the Bent-Neck Lady could have probably fueled the entire series on her own, but Hill House wasn’t interested solely in jump scares. Instead, it spent its 10 episodes digging deep into its troubled characters and their worst fears, teasing out a season-long mystery while also reminding us that sometimes humans, rather than haunts, can be the scariest and most tragic monsters of all.
Opinions were varied here at io9 about Castle Rock, particularly over that finale, which walked a very thin line between explaining everything while also leaving way too many plot holes and blank spaces in its wake. But no matter your thoughts on Henry Deaver’s eerie journey, Castle Rock must be mentioned on any list of 2018's standout horror TV. The 10-episode Hulu series seized upon the current Stephen King craze in a way that no other project has, using King’s works and familiar Maine landscape to inform an otherwise totally original story of a town where bad things just seem to happen to everyone, and the forest holds secrets that may either be messages from God or transmissions from a far more sinister dimension. Woven throughout, there were hints both overt (a character named Jackie Torrance, niece of you-know-which notorious hotel caretaker) and subtextual (the casting of Sissy Spacek, who starred in Brian De Palma’s 1976 King adaptation Carrie) that Castle Rock was intended to be part of a larger literary and cinematic universe, but mostly focused on its own concerns. Castle Rock’s story may not have always stuck its landing, but its cast—in addition to the wonderful Spacek, it also featured André Holland, Scott Glenn, Melanie Lynskey, and Bill “I’m not Pennywise” Skarsgård—expertly negotiated its twists, time-slips, and generally uneasy tone, which suggested that at any given moment, the action on-screen was actually taking place inside of a nightmare that would make even Stephen King awake in a cold sweat.
Much like Castle Rock, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina had some flaws. Serious flaws. But the witchy Netflix series’ first season had some strong points, too. Lucy Davis and Miranda Otto were delightful as Sabrina’s world-weary guardians Hilda and Zelda, who gave love (sometimes tough love) and support to their teenage niece as she floundered through problems both supernatural and mortal. And as a show ostensibly about religion, Sabrina also did an admirable job exploring the conflicts between the women who largely make up the Church of Night, and the men who hold its highest seats of power. That includes the Dark Lord himself, though Sabrina wouldn’t be nearly as fun if it didn’t take such glee in sprinkling its dialogue with cheeky exclamations like “Hail Satan!” and “Satan bless us, every one!” And with its recent re-up for more seasons, here’s hoping Sabrina have ample opportunity to course-correct those flaws we were talking about.
IFC’s horror comedy about a small town cursed by vengeful demons—and the sheriff and ex-sheriff who reluctantly team up on defense—has always been a lot of fun. But Stan Against Evil’s third season marked a new high for the show; the cast, loaded with talented (and hilarious) actors like John C. McGinley, who plays the titular curmudgeon, and Janet Varney, as his level-headed partner in ghoul-hunting, has settled into a winning ensemble, and the premise is so well-established by now that Stan’s fondness for wackiness has more than enough grounding to indulge itself. In season three’s eight, breakneck-paced episodes, the characters narrowly escaped the apocalypse, battled an evil puppet, found themselves trapped in a vampire soap opera, broke up a kaiju battle, and fought a demon disguised as a plumber—while also making us guffaw repeatedly, thanks to the show’s refreshing mix of go-for-broke goofiness and genuinely clever humor.
Ash vs. Evil Dead ended its three-season run this year—a bummer made even more potent when horror icon Bruce Campbell announced the series finale would be the last time he’d ever play Ash Williams, a character he’d embodied since the first Evil Dead movie in 1981. But just because we won’t get any groovy new Ash adventures doesn’t take anything away from the joy that Ash vs. Evil Dead brought to TV screens this year—and by joy, I mean gut-sloshingly gory horror delights. Season three saw Ash reconnect with the teenage daughter he never realized he had, as he and the “Ghostbeaters” did their chainsaw-swinging best to keep Deadites out of Ash’s Michigan hometown (and the world at large, really). After briefly becoming a “good” version of herself in season two, Lucy Lawless’ Ruby reverted to maximum malevolence, giving birth to yet another version of Bad Ash to torment our hero as part of a grand scheme to rip the universe apart. While it would’ve been cool to see the show continue, especially since it ended on a very Army of Darkness-evoking cliffhanger...we’ll always treasure what Ash vs. Evil Dead was able to accomplish, even if we often had to watch it while peeking between our fingers.
Just in time for Halloween, Hulu and horror-centric producers Blumhouse kicked off Into the Dark, a 12-part anthology series that will drop a new episode every month with a theme tied to a holiday that falls during that month. It’s a gimmick that the horror genre has been exploiting for decades, but Into the Dark has so far yielded some really great results—especially a deliriously inventive Christmas episode about a hapless actor who gets tangled up in a children’s toy craze, “Pooka!”, directed by Nacho Vigalondo (the same guy behind 2016 giant-monster mindfreak Colossal). But an even more inspiring directorial choice—mostly because Blumhouse has been notoriously sluggish when it comes to hiring women behind the camera—comes in social-media satire “New Year, New You,” the New Year’s episode. We’ll have a full review closer to its December 28 debut, but we can report that the very dark, very tense tale of a frenemy reunion is very much directed by a talented woman named Sophie Takal. This first step toward more inclusivity is encouraging, and it makes us even more excited to see what Into the Dark will bring as it continues in 2019.
After the tiresome hysterics of Cult, which aimed to comment on politics and current events while also leaning heavily on scare tactics we’d seen before (like famous serial killers and ghoulish clowns), we’d all but written off American Horror Story. But Apocalypse was a return to form, delivering the much-teased “crossover” season we’d been waiting for, bringing in fan-favorite characters from Murder House and Coven for new adventures in back-stabbing and boundary-pushing while reminding us why we fell in love with the show in the first place. We’ve seen plenty of end-times tales before, but this particular version was shocking, thrilling, stuffed with some wonderfully weird performances, and as io9's Charles Pulliam-Moore accurately wrote after the Apocalypse finale, it made it very clear that “there’s still a fuckton of magic to be mined out of the franchise.”
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