2016 has not only been one hell of a year for horror movies, but horror television. A few short years ago, you’d be hard pressed to find any options regarding horror themed television program, and yet thanks to the success of things like THE WALKING DEAD and AMERICAN HORROR STORY, a whole slew of terrors have made their way to the small screen. And most surprising is how many “remakes” have shifted towards the medium.
A shot-for-shot remake of PSYCHO certainly didn’t go over very well with the general public back in 1998, but a modern day prequel series exploring the turbulent relationship between Norman Bates and his Mother made for a perfect launching pad for A & E’s original programming. Now is a great time to be both a horror fan and a TV lover, and with so many good things out there, we wanted to shine the spotlight on 6 of the absolute best horror shows in the year 2016!
6 – ASH VS EVIL DEAD: Season 2
It’s unbelievable to me that this show even exists. After dismissing the probability of an EVIL DEAD 4 at conventions for the last 20 years, the stars finally aligned and it seemed like cable TV was the best way to bring back and continue the story of Deadite Slayer Ashley J. Williams, as lovingly portrayed by the great Bruce Campbell. The first season made quite a bloody splash when it debuted last Halloween season. The pilot, under the direction of creator Sam Raimi, kicked things off in style. And while the whole season was predominantly good, the success of each episode varied. Now back for its second season, ASH VS EVIL DEAD has found its groove and delivered a pretty stellar group of 10 episodes. We cataloged in this article the most outrageous things to happen this season, but just as a refresher, we met new threats (Ruby’s demon children, Baal), got call backs to all 3 movies and saw the return of Ellen Sandweiss as Cheryl, got welcome additions with familiar faces like Ted Raimi and Lee Majors, and Ash got sucked up a dead corpses ass by a colon monster. No really, you have to see it to believe it! The finale was a bit of a disappointment, but otherwise, the majority of ASH VS EVIL DEAD Season 2 was in top form and thoroughly entertaining from start to finish!
5 – CHANNEL ZERO: CANDLE COVE
Not everything needs to be based upon an already well known property, but Syfy’s adaptation of the “creepypasta” known as “Candle Cove” about an old children’s television program that drove kids nuts made for the perfect template for a great new horror show. Told as a 6 part mini-series, CANDLE COVE delivered a creepy, nuanced story that went beyond just the “creepypasta” legend and gave us interesting characters, scary visuals and an overall sense of creepy dread. Kudos to director Craig William Macneill, who helmed the SpectreVision produced feature THE BOY, for giving us a unique horror show that felt like reading a great novel. Plus, showrunner Nick Antosca created one of the greatest, most iconic looking monsters in ages; the hideous “tooth child.” CHANNEL ZERO returns next year focusing on NO END HOUSE, a completely different “creepypasta” story, but I love that we can expect what feels like mini-horror novels every year from this crew. CANDLE COVE really kicked it off and is hands down one of the best TV shows we got this year. For more about the show, be sure to listen to our episode of Shock Waves with the creators!
4 – BATES MOTEL: SEASON 4
People forget that season 4 of BATES MOTEL aired earlier this year! The modern tale of how Norman Bates inevitably becomes “psycho” has been entertaining these last few years, mainly because of how strong the acting is from leads Freddie Highmore and Vera Farmiga. But the show always felt strongest when we stayed with Norman and Norma, rather than deviating into the shady dealings of the drug trade in town. It’s been a weird balance, but Season 4 dropped all the outside story influences and focused solely on the Bates this year, and hence delivered their best season yet. Norman is practically full-on “psycho” at this point, and Norma doesn’t know what to do. So, along with Sheriff Romero, who ends up being her husband (!), they send Norman to a mental institute. Naturally, if you know PSYCHO, you know this can’t be the way it ends, but Season 4 managed to shock even the most well versed of PSYCHO enthusiasts by twisting things around giving us exactly what we’ve been waiting for; a season worthy of the Alfred Hitchcock movie it drew its influence from. Both Highmore and Farmiga gave performances in this season that were ignored by the Emmy’s yet again, despite deserving tremendous accolades for their work, but we, the genre fans, absolutely appreciate it. It’ll be interesting to see how they wrap things up with their upcoming 5th and final season, which will, in fact, be a retelling of PSYCHO. Regardless, it’s going to be difficult to top Season 4!
3 – THE EXORCIST
Here’s a show that I didn’t have any hope from based upon the early trailers for this, and a handful of other Fox shows intended for the fall, but boy, was I ever glad to be wrong! Considering the way A & E unsuccessfully handled adapting THE OMEN into their series DAMIEN, I was skeptical about how THE EXORCIST could work in TV form. Most of the sequels, minus for EXORCIST III: LEGION, haven’t managed to come even close to the power of William Friedkin’s original movie. Even the slew of “exorcism” horror movies to come in the 40 years after couldn’t match it. But somehow, the pilot that showrunner and creator Jeremy Slater put together was a solid piece of storytelling. They introduced a family in trouble, and two immediately likable yet complex priest characters. When “Tubular Bells” played in the final moments of the first episode, it was rightfully earned. And then at the mid-way point of the show, they drop a major twist that changes everything! And I didn’t see it coming at all. Quite frankly, these 10 episodes make for a great and proper sequel worthy of THE EXORCIST name. And while it hasn’t been picked up for a 2nd season just yet, rumor has it the odds are good! We welcome more time with Father Marcus and Father Tomas!
2 – BLACK MIRROR
BLACK MIRROR, the brainchild of Charlie Brooker, was one of those great word-of-mouth shows. I had heard about it not too long after it debuted overseas thanks to filmmaker Darren Lynn Bousman, who described to myself and the Shock Waves crew on our former podcast Killer POV. Once it hit Netflix, everyone had caught the bug on this brilliantly crafted not-so-sci-fi series that played like a modern day TWILIGHT ZONE and focused on the dangers of putting all our trust in our little handheld devices. After 2 successful seasons (at only 3 episode each), rumors flew that an American remake was under way, but thankfully, Charlie Brooker was planning a new season, exclusively for Netflix and this time using some well known American actors, starting with John Hamm for the dire Christmas episode. Season 3 is just as top-notch and mild blowing as all the previous episodes. Each one plays like a fully realized feature film, and can be an emotionally devastating journey, which is why this is one of the only shows I recommend not binge watching! Among the darkness, however, you’ll find “San Junipero,” one of the most beautiful and heartwarming tales in television history. I dare you to watch it and not tear up by the conclusion of that episode. BLACK MIRROR is breaking new ground in terms of TV storytelling and was one of the best things we got to see this year.
1 – STRANGER THINGS
Last but certainly not least was the surprise Netflix breakout hit STRANGER THINGS. This was so under the radar that when it finally did debut, it was one of the fastest word of mouth cult followings I had the pleasure of seeing emerge. (Followed almost immediately by those that had to bash on it because it was universally liked.) For me, The Duffer Brothers created a great adaptation of a long lost late 80’s Stephen King novel, in which a group of boys search for their missing friend, while simultaneously finding a girl on the run from a secret organization conducting dangerous other-worldly experiments. Eleven, the telekinetic kid that every 12 year old wishes they’d meet, stole the show. But then again, so did every one of these kids from Dustin’s adorable goofy toothless grin to Mike Wheeler’s genuine first time love for Eleven. Let’s not forget a great, great comeback performance from Winona Ryder, and then David Harbour as Sherriff Jim Hopper, the sort of old-school hero we all wish we had in our lives. I knew I was watching something special from the first few minutes of the first episode, so I purposely spread these out over the course of a week so that I could savor one episode per day, despite my desire to binge them all in one shot. And it was worth it. Can’t wait for Season Two!
NOTABLE MENTIONS: Also worth mentioning? The 6 part WOLF CREEK mini-series finally hit my sweet spot after a dire two feature length films. They’re great and well made movies, but they bum me the hell out! And the show kept that serious tone, but instead shifted to a strong, young gal that managed to survive one of Mick Taylor’s massacres. Once recovered, she goes on a quest to track down the man responsible for the slaughter of her entire family. And I love me a good vengeance story! The show definitely got as dark as the movies, but there was something about spreading it out over 6 episodes that made it more satisfying. MTV’s SCREAM wrapped up their second season with fun results. I enjoyed the first season, but questioned how they could possibly maintain the traditional “slasher” formula by utilizing the same cast for yet another season. After a bumpy few episodes at the top of season 2, the show found it’s groove and delivered a really fun story with a conclusion that changed the context of the entire first season! As an added bonus, we got a feature length Halloween special too!