Not every horror movie has been turned into a TV show, but it sure feels that way sometimes. The popularity of serialized entertainment opens up a lot of doors for filmmakers, who can expand the tales of Norman Bates, Hannibal Lecter and, most recently, Annie Wilkes into long-form shows with more character development and shocks than ever before.
But there’s something to be said for going in the other direction. TV isn’t inherently better than motion pictures, it just works differently, and there are some horror TV series that could definitely take advantage of the feature film format to add gravitas and production values, and increase the size of the show’s cultural footprint.
So while everyone else is wondering which horror films can turn into a TV show next, let’s do the opposite, and highlight some horror TV shows that could also make amazing films!
Jeff Lindsay’s series of novels about a serial killer who hunts other serial killers, Darkly Dreaming Dexter, was transformed into a hit television series on Showtime starring Michael C. Hall as the title character. It lasted for eight seasons, but the conclusion of the series – without opening that whole bag of worms – has perhaps tainted the memory of the early, excellent seasons of the show.
Although Dexter is obviously well-suited for television, which offers more time to seriously explore Dexter’s complex psychology and interactions with other murderers, there’s no shortage of excellent and terrifying films about horrifying antiheroes. Most recently, Todd Phillips’s Joker turned the origin of a serial killer into a nearly (as of this writing) $1 billion success, with critical acclaim to boot.
Giving each Dexter novel its own film, and letting another actor take a crack at the now-iconic role, could reinvigorate the franchise and give it an amplified air of significance. The lead role earned Michael C. Hall five nominations for Best Actor in a Dramatic Series. It could earn the next actor an Oscar nomination.
The Dresden Files
The short-lived SyFy series The Dresden Files starred Paul Blackthorne (Arrow) as Harry Dresden, a private detective who is also a sorcerer, who helps the police solve supernatural cases. The show lasted only one season but, as an adaptation of a successful series of novels by Jim Butcher, it has a respectable cult following, many of whom agree that the show only scratched the surface of what The Dresden Files could have been as a franchise.
And since everyone’s looking for the next big franchise, why not The Dresden Files? It’s as richly detailed a horror/fantasy world as any on the market, filled with wizards and vampires and ghosts who live in nifty skulls. Even a modest theatrical budget would be a vast improvement on the lo-fi adventures the SyFy Channel was able to pay for. What starts out as a simple private detective case could gradually evolve into a gigantic nightmare, and with the right filmmakers involved – people who understand noir, not just action and CGI – it could be taken completely seriously, and launch a whole new series of medium-budget, high profit crossover films.
Kids like horror stuff too, but when kids like horror stuff it’s usually not explicitly horrifying. Disney’s cult favorite animated series Gargoyles was about a group of scary monsters who turn to stone during the day, only to emerge again at night to fight villains, sometimes other demons, and protect humanity. It’s steeped in mythology and horror iconography but the stories have more in common with Batman and Hellboy. And although the series is decades old it holds up remarkably well because the storytellers took extra care in crafting the characters and fleshing out their world.
Frankly, it’s extremely weird that Disney – which loves exploiting every intellectual property it’s got, for all that they’re worth – HASN’T made a Gargoyles movie yet. It’s a beloved television series with characters and stories that would transport easily into a live-action format, with prosthetic and/or CG assistance to make the creatures look distinctive from every other blockbuster franchise.
It’s such a good idea that Jordan Peele, the Oscar-winning writer/director of Get Out and Us, reportedly pitched this reboot to Disney himself. Why the heck the studio didn’t just shove wads of cash into his hands and tell him to go nuts with it is completely beyond me.
Masters of Horror
It’s tragic when you realize that, although the horror genre is consistently profitable and popular, there are a lot of legendary horror filmmakers who have trouble getting projects off the ground. That’s one of the reasons why Showtime’s anthology series Masters of Horror was such a godsend. It was a series of standalone, hour-long stories from genre luminaries like John Carpenter, Stuart Gordon, Don Coscarelli, Joe Dante and Dario Argento (to name just a few) where the directors were given free rein within a modest budget.
While a straightforward TV reboot of Masters of Horror would be more than welcome, why stop there? Instead of doing a TV anthology, do a feature film anthology featuring installments by a few of the greatest horror filmmakers of all time, and give each of them a shorter running time but a little more money so their contributions can be even more ambitious and cinematic. Release a new one every Halloween as a grand theatrical experience, a la Grindhouse, to capitalize on the acclaim of these great filmmakers while giving these legends – and many more besides – another chance to reach a wide audience.
Treehouse of Horror
Treehouse of Horror isn’t technically its own TV series, but it could be. There have been 31 installments of the popular annual Simpsons Halloween special so far, and that’s more episodes than Masters of Horror ever got, even with multiple seasons. So let’s just count it this time.
Besides, The Simpsons Movie was a smash hit in 2007, grossing over half a billion dollars worldwide. A follow-up is clearly overdue, and making the follow-up a part of the show’s annual tradition – and taking it to theaters instead of just putting it on television, is the kind of pop culture mega-event audiences love and studios can turn into a major moneymaker.
The filmmakers could stick to the usual, winning formula of a horror anthology, filled with clever pop culture send-ups of popular horror properties, or they could get even more ambitious. The Simpsons and their elaborate ensemble cast could easily headline a feature length horror-comedy, especially one that freewheels into multiple genres the way a Simpsons episode often jumps from one story idea to another. It could even pay homage to cult horror classics in the process. Imagine, if you will, a Simpsons movie that follows the basic plot of Plan 9 from Outer Space, beginning with zombies and gradually evolving into an outer space invasion.
Who wouldn’t love that?