Sunday, March 10, 2013

WHY HORROR IS MAKING A KILLING ON TV


As many of you already know, I am a film critic online for the Examiner, often specializing in writing about the horror genre. And there may not always be a lot of good horror to find at the cinema, but there is plenty of amazing stuff to see on TV these days. Shows like THE WALKING DEAD, DEXTER, and AMERICAN HORROR STORY have proven that the genre can thrive in a setting with distinct time limits, as well as violence and language restrictions. In fact, TV looks to become even more of a terrific venue for horror with the premiere of two new shows in the coming weeks. Norman Bates will soon be open for business at the BATES MOTEL, starting March 18 on A & E. And HANNIBAL, based on the “Hannibal the Cannibal” Lecter character of THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS franchise fame, is being served up April 4 on NBC. 
Freddie Highmore and Vera Famiga in BATES MOTEL premiering soon on A & E.
Ever since THE SOPRANOS became a critical darling as well as a big ratings winner for HBO back in the early part of this century, networks have been trying to capture a similar dark magic with their own stories centered on killers and very bad eggs. Since then, BREAKING BAD has become one of basic cable’s most respected shows as Walter White as gone from chemistry teacher to drug kingpin in five, terrifying seasons. Showtime’s DEXTER is approaching year seven and has reinvigorated itself in its last couple of seasons by having stepsister Deb (Jennifer Carpenter) find out about her stepbrother Dexter's (Michael C. Hall) peccadilloes and joining him on the dark side of the law herself (http://exm.nr/Z98RPz). And Don Draper, Nucky Thompson, Sookie’s vampire lovers, all those sons of anarchy, and half the cast of GAME OF THRONES have proven that being the anti-hero sure beats being a hero on TV these days.
Original caricature of Deb (Jennifer Carpenter) and Dexter (Michael C. Hall) In Showtime's DEXTER.


Thus, Norman Bates and Hannibal Lecter, two of the greatest movie villains of all-time, will soon be starring in their own primetime TV shows. Bryan Fuller, who brought us HEROES a few seasons back, now switches to the other side with his take on the early years of Dr. Lecter’s duel with FBI profiler Will Graham. Mads Mikkelson plays Lecter while Hugh Dancy will essay the role of the bad doctor's crime fighting foil. Mikkelson made mincemeat out of 007’s testicles in CASINO ROYALE in 2006, and we shall now see how he does with a man’s liver, some Fava beans and a nice Chianti. The DeLaurentis Group tried to make more hay out of the character with a youthful film reboot back in 2007 but HANNIBAL RISING bombed big time, so hopefully the American Film Institute’s pick for # 1 villain of all-time (http://bit.ly/oEa39D) will make the transition to the small screen and not bite off more than he can chew.
Mads Mikkelson in NBC's upcoming TV series HANNIBAL.

Then there’s Norman Bates. The AFI’s # 2 villain of all-time has seen his profile turn into just as big a legend since his premiere in Alfred Hitchcock’s horror classic PSYCHO way back in 1960. For my money, it’s impossible for anyone to top the amazing performance of Anthony Perkins as the mother-fixated motel manager (http://exm.nr/LOCHUQ) and most others agreed, as subsequent PSYCHO sequels or spin-off's wisely turned to him to continue playing the iconic role. But Perkins is no longer with us and the role must be recast. Shrewdly, the makers of BATES MOTEL aren't starting with an adult Norman, but rather a teenager in an origins story, so that will make it a bit easier for an actor to start anew. 

Freddie Highmore, the respected child star of FINDING NEVERLAND (1994), is now 21 and will be portraying the troubled teenage Norman. And the series will concentrate on his early, tempestuous relationship with his demanding mother Norma (Vera Famiga). Famiga is one of the more complex actresses working today and her participation promises something special. And showing how Norman was ‘schooled’ by his namesake parent could illuminate the entire PSYCHO series as I hope that the early years of  Hannibal's  story will do the same for his franchise. Time will tell whether either TV series resonates with the public the way their movie counterparts have for decades now.


To me, as a horror buff, the most promising part of all of this is the continuation of TV thriving in the genre. While big-budget movies are more obsessed with CGI effects and  bloodletting, TV has concentrated on character, which makes all the difference in the world. Perhaps because they cannot be as gory as an R-rated movie, television shows have to make the characters more interesting to keep our attention. But keep us they do, even on a show like AMC's THE WALKING DEAD where the violence is unsettling, but the characterizations are more so. We wouldn't care about what happens on the show, and it wouldn't be basic cable's biggest hit, if it weren't for us caring about what happens to the cadre of complex characters. And care we do, about them, and all the other baddies in primetime who are making for such rich and fascinating character studies. 

It could be a big year for horror, what with BATES MOTEL and HANNIBAL launching in the next weeks, along with the premieres of big screen remakes like CARRIE, EVIL DEAD, and HELLRAISER due in the coming months. I'm also looking forward to the theatrical releases of original works like WORLD WAR Z, THE LORDS OF SALEM and ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE as well. With all that, who needs the Jodi Arias trial on TV? And frankly, that nightmare is just too horrifying to watch. Even for me. 

1 comment:

  1. I just saw the first episode of Bates Motel and I was impressed. Beautiful cinematography and set. I'm enjoying the back story. Norman as a modern day teen is pretty intriguing. Just goes to show that psychos can be found in every generation.

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