Last year I offered my utterly biased and credential-free picks for Halloween movies. This year, after socially distancing gave me even more time to invest in my favorite forms of media, I wanted to offer a list of horror series, all of which are currently streaming.
A series tends to be a much bigger commitment than a movie, however it allows for a bending of genres, and horror is no exception. All of my selections just happen to be on Netflix, perhaps as a direct result of their plethora of original content.
The Haunting (2018-2020): This series, created by Mike Flanagan, follows in the episodic spirit of American Horror Story, in which each season is a fully developed and closed story, but actors and themes carry over. In particular, I thought the use of a leitmotif was especially effective. However, the series does not follow the exact narration of the original works and utilizes the series format to build larger worlds. As a complete non-spoiler, there definitely are ghosts in the series and I very much hope there are more seasons to come.
I should note that both stories so far are inspired by books that I love, and if you enjoy the sort of horror/thriller stories where you’re never quite sure if anything supernatural is really going on, I recommend both novels.
The Haunting Of Hill House (2018): Based on the novel by Shirley Jackson of the same name, The Haunting of Hill House follows a family who spends a summer in a large country mansion where something is not right. Although the story diverges from the book a lot, I thought it held a lot of the same mystery. Having the story set around an entire family, rather than the scant characters of the original, allowed for more depth and for the themes of fear, isolation, and dissociation within the characters and setting to become more developed.
The Haunting Of Bly Manor (2020): The second season, based on The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, similarly maintained the atmosphere of the source work while creating a much larger world for the story to exist in. I think of the two seasons, this is the stronger season. Both Jackson and James know how to weave a ghost story with tragedy and humanity, and I felt that Hill House mostly stayed true to that spirit. However, themes of corruption of innocence and classism in Bly Manor plunge the viewer into the emotions of the characters, both dead and alive. Because the “source” work is a novella, Bly Manner pulls from multiple works by James, who greatly enjoyed playing with the horror genre. Bring tissues, but all in all it’s perfectly splendid.
Marianne (2019): Created, directed, and co written, by Samuel Bodin and starring Victoire Du Bois, this series is extremely effective in it’s eerie story telling. Set in the French countryside, its plot focuses on a young novelist who comes to realize the characters she started writing about to abate her childhood fears are still haunting her hometown. The story wraps up well after one season, up to the point that I was surprised to learn it was cancelled; it felt like a stand-alone. Excellent performances and cinematography top off the well written story.
Vampires (2020): This French series by Benjamin Dupas and Isaure Pisani-Ferry, starring Oulaya Amamra and Suzanne Clément, tells the story of a young woman born to a vampire mother and human father. At the beginning of the series, we see the protagonist and her brother taking medication to reduce their “symptoms” of vampirism. However they soon choose to rebel against their mother’s hope that they can lead normal, human lives. This series takes many of the tropes familiar to vampire stories and plays with them in very fun ways. The grungy setting and eccentric characters make this coming-of-age story feel alive. There was only one season released right before the pandemic, but many hope it will be renewed as soon as filming can begin again.
Ares (2020): Set in The Netherlands, this Dutch single season series follows a young medical student who joins a secret society and slowly begins to unravel the mysteries both within the group and herself. At only a half hour an episode, this series goes by fast but is definitely worth a watch. The single-camera filming style allows the sets to seem elaborate and huge, while also skewing perception. The story itself has a lot of layers, with excellent use of color symbolism and critique of ruling power structures.
Dark (2017-2020): Co-created by Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese, this German series might be my favorite series I have watched in a very long time. With three seasons, it is the longest option on this list. However it is a self contained story within those seasons. In the aftermath of a child’s disappearance, Dark follows characters from the fictional German town of Winden in a story that, by the end, involves generational time travel and deep existential questions. The way the characters lives are woven together is absolutely pristine, and the visuals in the surrounding German forest are stunning. The soundtrack, featuring an original score by Ben Frost who also selected the songs, is a fantastic collection of European indie-pop. While dubbing in general has come a long way in the past few years, I highly recommend watching Dark in the original German. If this is a series you end up enjoying, there are plenty of spoiler-filled blogs and videos to keep you busy.
Although it’s convenient that these happen to all be Netflix originals, I would love to see other streaming services create more original horror content. I have loved watching how creators have been able to play with tropes through a series instead of being locked into the length and structure of a feature film. I also really enjoy that in expanding original content, more languages and cultures are being represented.
While all of these choices are certainly scary, creepy, and fitting with the Halloween spirit, they are also amazing dramas and touching romances in ways that I think the horror genre previously lacked. If you end up watching any of these series, or have any you think myself or others would enjoy, please feel free to leave them in the comments.