It’s rather convenient that we’re writing this at Halloween, but the truth is that horror has been creeping into the TV spotlight for months already.
For a genre once considered disreputable and grotesque, mainstream viewing now contains a surprising amount of monsters and gore. There are the obvious current candidates, of course: The Walking Dead, Bates Motel, American Horror Story and Supernatural. NBC pushed the boundaries of on-screen viscera in Hannibal, and its latest drama, Constantine, features intense exorcism scenes that were once the preserve of movies.
Mainstream viewing now contains a surprising amount of monsters and gore.
But the genre is bleeding out of scripted. French reality show The Bunker, as seen in our October K7 Quicklist, is more Blair Witch Project than Big Brother as it sends contestants into a subterranean night vision nightmare. Sky’s forthcoming Fright Club, meanwhile, aims to cure phobias through terrifying exposure therapy – think of it as self-improvement by way of Fear Factor.
Perhaps most notably, Sony’s endurance contest Release the Hounds is being picked up across Europe and derives its appeal from the idea of contestants being hunted by a pack of wild dogs.
Audiences not only look to TV to distract from their fears but to offer a release valve.
Halloween is over in one night, but how long will this trend last? It has built up slowly, and we suspect it will subside at a similar pace. Between Ebola, ISIS and other real life headline horrors, audiences not only look to TV to distract from their fears but to offer a release valve, by offering safe but satisfying abstractions. If pop culture truly reflects the anxieties of its era, we’d say TV’s love affair with uneasy scares won’t go away any time soon.