When I think of horror I don’t think of television. Immediately, I think of the movies. My greatest scares come, hands-down, from the silver screen.
But why is that? Isn’t TV just as viable a medium?
There have been many successful horror TV shows in the past (The Twilight Zone, Tales from the Crypt, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dark Shadows) and right now as I write (American Horror Story, The Walking Dead, Sleepy Hollow, True Blood). The shows are high quality, full of scares, compelling plots and a little blood here and there (well, nowadays, a lot of blood). But my scariest moments have always come from movies.
In a movie we’re given ninety minutes to two hours (on average) to dive in. We’re like a Haunted Navy Seal: we get in, get what we want, and get out. And if we truly get what we want those scares can stay with us for a lifetime. A television series has twelve to over twenty episodes a season to compel us. Generally, some episodes are terrific, some are forgettable, and many more are in between. This leads to less of those horrific moments encapsulated in one viewing and makes a series, on the whole, less poignant. Each episode leads to the next; we have to be compelled with not only scares but an ever-moving plot, and possibly romance, to keep viewing. In a film, it’s a one-off; sequels excluded.
As well, much of TV horror has to do with what is acceptable within the medium. Up until the explosion of cable channels like HBO, Showtime, AMC, most quality television shows were on the major networks. That led to relatively tame horror in comparison to that shown on film. Sure, in the 1980’s, you could watch Freddy’s Nightmares or Friday the 13th: The Series, but we all knew the real scares, the true horror, was in the movie theater.
Today, I believe we are in the infancy of a change. Shows have both the budget and freedom to stretch television audiences and show us the scares and gore that had long been discarded from TV. Heck, even the more mainstream networks are getting in on the action.
For example, Fox’s Sleepy Hollow, which airs 9pm on Monday nights, has a considerable level of not just scares but also disturbing horror. There are beheadings, torture, pale demons, and bloody sacrifices. But it is the mood for a 9 o’clock show that is most impressive. Oh have times changed when you can watch a soup of tortured evil souls swirling around in a cauldron. My childhood was full of staying up past my bedtime and watching TV horror I wasn’t supposed to. That image would have been one that disturbed me until the wee hours of the morning, and I would have loved it doing so.
TV Horror has always been on the fringe, lurking around the mainstream, ready and waiting to one day have a seat at the main table. It’s about time TV horror has a more compelling and, well, horrific place on the small screen than it had before.
But what about the question: does TV horror deserve a seat at the table?
Not yet my precious.
TV horror doesn’t scare me. It can be disturbing, perverse, spooky, and creepy, but it doesn’t send shock waves through my system. It doesn’t make me look around my shower curtain for some masked killer or keep me from entering a dark hallway, afraid of what lurks inside. The scares haven’t gone far enough. For me, that’s the missing ingredient.
Its named horror for a reason isn’t it?
It’s like a Thanksgiving dinner. There is the adult table and the kids table. Undoubtedly, there is a younger adult, still stuck at the kids table, almost ready to make the leap to the big time but still needing a little more seasoning. That’s like TV horror. To have a seat it needs to be scarier.
Dive right in TV horror! Stop circling the drain.