Today is the first day of the best month of the year (does that make me macabre?). To celebrate the kickoff of such a spooktacular month, let’s talk about small-screen horror.
Sure, television’s long history is sprinkled with horror greatness here and there—“Dark Shadows,” “The Twilight Zone,” “Tales from the Crypt,” and “The X-Files,” to name a few—but never before has there been such a concentration of horror programs at one time.
In the past few years alone, horror has made quite the name for itself on the airwaves. Once reserved solely for the cinema, the genre is now finding a new home and getting quite comfortable there. “American Horror Story,” “The Walking Dead,” “True Blood,” “Dexter,” and, most recently, “666 Park Avenue” are all enjoying a respectable status within pop culture—garnering favorable reviews and even better audience buzz at various points throughout their runs. “American Horror Story” even scored 17 Emmy nominations (and one win). Seventeen!! And the outlook for future horror shows is good, too. Next spring, NBC’s “Hannibal” (which will delve deeper into the past of Hannibal Lecter) and AMC’s “Bates Motel” (which will serve as a prequel to “Psycho”) will debut.
So, why the trend?
Well, I have two theories.
First, I think television studios might have caught on to the secret that movie studios have known for years: horror sells. Audiences love a good scare, and they’ll come out in droves for some quality ones. Scary flicks most often land within the top 3 spots of the box office chart during their opening weekend. And while their figures tend to plummet after opening weekend, many of them end up closing their box office run at or around a healthy $50 million. The best part is that horror movies are often cheap to make—using unknown or up-and-coming talent and setting the story in one central location (thereby reducing production costs)—so such sales turn a decent profit. Perhaps it’s no coincidence, then, that several horror movie titles—“The Blair Witch Project,” “Halloween,” “Open Water,” and “Paranormal Activity”—are considered some of the most profitable movies of all time. So, apply this logic to television, and you see that quality writing and manageable production lead to high ratings and more advertisers during those timeslots.
Second (and stick with me now, y’all), it could be a sign of the times that we live in right now. Everything is so fragile and unknown right now (human rights, financial futures, political stability, population stability, the Earth’s sustainability). And at its core, horror itself is about fear of the unknown. So, perhaps it’s not such a stretch to imagine that these shows are subconsciously tapping into that fear. “The Walking Dead,” in particular, presents a post-apocalyptic world that—if you believe the reports on how we’ll run out of energy, how diseases will mutate and spread like we’ve never seen before due to global warming, and how resources will become unbelievably scarce—scientists say is within a century away. For something so outlandish, it feels very real. “True Blood,” on the other hand, is an allegory for gay rights and the acceptance of that which is different and misunderstood. So, in addition to these shows finding a way to deliver us an adrenaline rush in the comforts of our own home as opposed to in a crowded, loud, and oversized movie theater, these shows are resonating with us on a deeper level.
What are your theories? Why do you think horror TV is so “in” right now? Which current shows give you the biggest chills?