Horror Comes Home

The Transition of Horror Films from the Silver Screen to the Small Screen

With the recent announcement of Child’s Play & Nightbreed being developed as TV series, horror film-to-TV adaptations are pretty hot in Hollywood right now—but that wasn’t always the case. There was a time when studios weren't sure what to do with these properties and censorship on television prevented violent films from making that leap. Now films like Snowpiercer and The Lost Boys are getting the small screen treatment, with TNT greenlighting the Bong Joon-ho film-to-series starring Jennifer Connelly, and Rob Thomas producing an adaptation of the Joel Schumacher 80s vampire classic over at the CW. Let's take a look back at some of the other horror film to horror TV series hits & misses over the years.

'Tales from the Crypt' (1989-1996)

Based on the EC Comics Series & the 1972 UK Film of the same name, this anthology series ran for a total of seven seasons on HBO. Hosted by The Crypt Keeper, voiced by John Kassir, this half-hour series focused on various horrific themes, none of which ever ended well for the protagonists. While it is based on a film, it’s based on an anthology film, and therefore transitioned easily to television unlike a few of the following shows.

'Friday the 13th: The Series' (1987-1990)

Wouldn’t it have cool to have a show focused on the horror icon Jason Voorhees? Yeah, that would be; unfortunately, the only thing similar about this show and the machete-wielding killer is the title and font. Instead, Friday the 13th: The Series revolved around two young antique store owners who must recover various cursed objects. Think of this as a precursor to shows like Warehouse 13. The show ran for three seasons from 1987-1990 and produced 72 episodes.

'Freddy's Nightmares' (1988-1990)

Following in the footsteps of Friday the 13th: The Series, New Line debuted this anthology series based around the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise back in 1988. The show was hosted by Freddy Krueger himself (Robert Englund) and lasted for two seasons and 44 episodes. Unfortunately, Krueger was relegated to hosting duties as the show focused on citizens of Springwood meeting untimely ends. Another swing, another miss.

'Poltergeist: The Legacy' (1996-1999)

How about a poltergeist show that has nothing to do with the films and instead focuses on a secret society called ‘The Legacy' that has dedicated itself to fight evil in its various forms? Once again, a show pretty much in name only, Poltergeist: The Legacy ran for three seasons on Showtime and then moved to the SciFi Channel for its final season. During the final season, things got weird as random guest stars such as WWF's The Undertaker took the forefront, turning the show into a novelty until it's cancelation.

'Tremors: The Series' (2003)

Surprise! Before SyFy’s Tremors series announcement (& subsequent cancellation), there was a short-lived series also by the SyFy channel. The series is a direct follow-up to Tremors 3: Back to Perfection and follows the inhabitants of Perfection Valley including film staple, Burt Gummer (Michael Gross), as they try to co-exist with a Graboid known as ‘El Blanco’, who is the only thing keeping evil real estate developers from destroying the town. In an effort to boost ratings, the SyFy channel aired the 13 episodes out of order and then canceled the show when it failed to deliver the lofty demographic goals that executives had put upon it. Fortunately, fans saw a return to the film series, albeit a prequel, the following year with Tremors 4: The Legend Begins before an eleven-year hiatus.

For almost ten years, studios wouldn't even consider the idea of turning a horror film into a television series. The only one that was really successful was Tales from the Crypt and that was an anthology series based on an anthology movie. The other three series had almost nothing to do with the source material and it seemed like Hollywood wasn't sure about how to adapt a horror film into a series successfully. How do you turn Jason or Freddy into a protagonist and make the show successful? During the late 80s, 90s, and early 00s it didn't really seem possible, especially with the censors on TV. Imagine, a watered down Texas Chainsaw series where all of the Sawyer family kills are either off-screen or bloodless. That doesn't really scream success. But around 2010, things started to change as violence on TV began to eclipse violence in films. It began to look like the transition from film to series with a strong narrative was possible again. It needed a trial run though, and MTV was looking at a series loosely based on the film, Teen Wolf.

'Teen Wolf' (2011-2017)

When Teen Wolf was originally announced as a series for MTV, fans of the 1985 Michael J. Fox film were expecting a light-hearted comedy-horror following Scott Howard as he deals with the problems of being a werewolf in high school with the help of his best friends, Styles & Boof. Instead, they kick Boof to the curb, kept Scott & Styles and turned the show into a horror drama involving a host of supernatural creatures, including banshees, were-panthers and a whole lot of lore. Despite being denounced by fans of the film upon its release as being Teen Wolf in name only, it gained a strong following and remained one of MTV's top shows for six seasons and 100 episodes.

'Hannibal' (2013-2015)

Up until 2013, the name Hannibal Lecter was synonymous with Anthony Hopkins, whose portrayal of the Thomas Harris character won him an Academy Award in 1991 for Silence of the Lambs. Both Brian Cox & Gaspard Ulliel have played the good doctor as well, but never with the commanding presence and charm that Hopkins could give. That was until NBC and Brian Fuller brought Hannibal Lecter to the small screen. Enter Mads Mikkelsen, best known for his role as the blood-weeping, Le Chiffre in 2006's Casino Royale. This was that ‘Heath Ledger - Joker' moment all over again. No one thought Jack Nicholson could be topped, but Heath Ledger did it, and once again such was the case with Mads Mikkelsen's portrayal of Dr. Lecter. Over three blood-soaked seasons, we explored the complicated and violent relationship between Hannibal and his patient, FBI criminal profiler, Will Graham. The series pulled heavily from the Thomas Harris novels, as well as the previous films and wove a complex and compelling narrative that won over critics and viewers alike. With censorship on television becoming increasingly lax over the years, Hannibal pushed the absolute limits of blood and gore on network television in an artfully-beautiful, macabre way, and opened the floodgates for other violent film franchises to take a stab at a series.

'Bates Motel' (2013-2017)

Based on the 1960 Alfred Hitchcock film Psycho, this A&E series followed Norman Bates during his teenage years and detailed the disturbing relationship he had with his mother, Norma. Over its critically acclaimed five-season run, it was nominated for three Primetime Emmys. This, like Hannibal, was another deep character study into a horror icon and shed light on situations only glossed over briefly in the sequels, making this series a welcome addition to the Psycho franchise.

'From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series' (2014-2016)

Director Robert Rodriguez returned as executive producer for this El Rey series that lasted three seasons and 30 episodes. The first season is essentially a longer retelling of the 1996 film, following on-the-run criminals, Seth & Richie Gecko, as they hold up in a desert bar that just so happens to be run by vampires. From there, the storyline evolved further into the continuing adventures of the Gecko Brothers for two more seasons until its cancellation in 2016.

'Ash vs. Evil Dead' (2015-2018)

Bruce Campbell reprised the role of Ash Williams for this gore-filled Starz series that lasted for three seasons. Unlike the Evil Dead remake, this series was a continuation of the first two Evil Dead films, and due to copyright issues, Army of Darkness (the third film in the trilogy) is only vaguely referenced a few times. Joining Ash on his journey to rid the world of the evils of the Necronomicon and a new threat in the form of Ruby (Lucy Lawless) are Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo) & Pablo (Ray Santiago). Not only was Ash vs Evil Dead a great show, but it is also the first movie to TV series adaptation that follows the original protagonist portrayed by the original actor. This in itself is quite a feat even further bolstered by the fact that the first film was released in theaters in 1981 and the third in 1992. For eleven years, Bruce Campbell played Ashley J. Williams and then it took another twenty-three years for Ash to grace our screens again. Alas, it was to be short-lived as Starz canceled the show in 2018 due to ever-dwindling ratings. The argument has been made by fans, that if Ash vs Evil Dead been on a digital platform like Netflix or Amazon, it would have been a major hit. I guess we'll never know as any hopes of the show getting revived were dashed when Bruce Campbell announced his retirement from the character. We’ll miss you, Ashy Slashy.

'Scream: The TV Series' (2015-2018)

Another MTV series, this one follows the movie’s storyline... kinda. I mean, yes, it does involve a serial killer, who slaughters a group of teens, and the killer does call their victims and ask various horror questions. The major departure from the source material is arguably its most recognizable aspect—the mask. Instead of the Ghostface mask that we all know and love, we get a skin-like silicone mask. Also, the fun of the original series is gone and instead we are subject to the basic teen drama that permeates networks like MTV & the CW. After two seasons, the show went on hiatus and is coming back for a shortened third season that changes the established structure of the show. Maybe this will be a good thing! Only time will tell.

'Wolf Creek' (2016-2017)

A direct follow-up to Greg McLean’s Wolf Creek (2005) & Wolf Creek 2 (2013), this Australian series centers around Mick Taylor (John Jarratt), the deranged serial killer from the first two films. The Stan Network released two seasons and 12 episodes with the first season focusing on a teen survivor seeking revenge for the murder of her family, and the second on Mick hunting a bus full of tourists. For fans of the films, this series is a welcome companion until the release of Wolf Creek 3.

'The Exorcist' (2016-2018)

When this show was first announced by Fox in the spring of 2016, hopes weren't high. While the original The Exorcist was a masterpiece in horror and Exorcist III has become a cult classic, the other films in the series aren’t so highly regarded. Exorcist II: The Heretic is considered one of the worst films ever made, and there are two versions of the 4th film, both of which are bad in their own ways. Luckily, Fox had a solid show on their hands; unfortunately, it took viewers too long to realize that and ratings suffered. After fans were able to successfully petition Fox for a 2nd season, as the show was on the bubble for renewal, the show continued for another ten episodes. While the fans loved what The Exorcist was doing, there weren’t enough of them to save this show for a 3rd season.

'The Mist' (2017)

Turning the 2007 Frank Darabont film, The Mist, based on the Stephen King novella into a TV series sounds like an amazing idea and it looked like Spike TV was going to have a hit on their hands. Unfortunately, the show went a different route, veering away from the nightmare creatures and survival horror feel of the film and instead gave the mist the ability to kill people at will by manifesting various bugs and mutilating people at random. There were also subplots of rape and incest along with the titular mist attacking people with their own personal demons. Viewers weren't on board and neither was Spike as they canceled this series after one season and ten episodes.

While these films were able to make the transition from production to air, some other potential adaptations were not so lucky. While some of those series never made it past the early pre-production stages like The Devil’s Advocate (NBC), Shutter Island (HBO), and Fatal Attraction (FOX), others went through heavy pre-production and some even filmed pilots, only to never be picked up to series. Here are a few of those horror film to TV adaptations that almost made it or are still stuck in development hell.

'Friday the 13th' (2017)

Jason Voorhees was looking to finally make his transition to the small screen over at the CW. Unfortunately, the network passed on the project and it has stayed in development hell, where it looks like it will remain, as the current Victor Miller lawsuit is holding up the rights to the franchise in all formats. Recently, the Friday the 13th video game was forced to cease any further updates and Platinum Dunes seems to be unable to move forward with any future films in the series.

'Tales from the Crypt' (2017)

Due to rights issues, this M. Night Shyamalan reboot of the classic series has been in development hell with TNT for years now. Here’s hoping that things can get resolved soon, so we can once again be greeted by the familiar shrieks of The Crypt Keeper.

'Let the Right One In' (2017)

Based on the 2008 Swedish film of the same name and remade for American audiences in 2010 as Let Me In, this coming of age vampire tale was set to grace the small screen in 2017. Originally announced in 2015 by A&E, the project was moved to TNT in 2016 and a pilot was filmed with Jeff Davis (Teen Wolf) attached as show’s creator & executive producer. Ultimately, TNT passed on the project and the pilot remains unseen by audiences.

'Tremors' (2018)

The Tremors film series was revitalized in 2015 with Tremors 5: Bloodlines and talks of a TV series started all over again. This time we’d be following the character of Valentine McKee with Kevin Bacon reprising his role from the original 1990 film. A pilot was filmed and a trailer has recently been uncovered, but SyFy decided against picking it up for a full season for one reason or another. They probably should have released the trailer to the public first, as the reception has been extremely positive. Here’s hoping this show finds new life with another network. In the meantime, the 6th film in the series, Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell recently released on VOD & Netflix so you can watch the continuing adventures of Michael Gross’ Burt Gummer and his battles against the Graboids. Wait, this seems like deja-vu. Is there going to be another eleven-year hiatus?

'Heathers' (2018)

Some shows are victims of bad timing, and the long-awaited Heathers TV series was one of those. Originally developed for TV Land in 2017, this adaptation of the 1988 Winona Ryder & Christian Slater classic was moved to the Paramount Channel for a March 2018 launch. Due to the show’s dark subject matter about high school students being murdered and in the wake of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in February 2018, the premiere was delayed until July 2018. Unfortunately on June 1st, 2018, the show was dropped entirely due to its content and the wake of violent shootings. Heathers is currently being shopped around to other outlets, and may eventually see the light of day.

With film-to-television adaptations at an all-time high across all genres, and with digital networks adding content at a rapid rate, it's only a matter of time before we see horror films like Hellraiser, Tucker & Dale vs Evil, and The Thing turned into effective horror television.

What horror films or franchises would you like to see turned into a TV series?

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