From The Terror to Event Horizon, TV horror is a screaming success | Television & radio

It is the 21st century’s most influential multinational, an omnipresent Tyrell Corporation pushing AI assistants and drone deliveries. So it is hardly a surprise that Amazon is horny for science fiction. When hard-bitten galactic noir The Expanse was cancelled after three seasons on Netflix, Amazon swooped in to save it. In the UK, it provided a streaming berth for Halle Berry’s alien-baby thriller Extant. And their man in the high castle, Jeff Bezos, seems genuinely jazzed to bring Iain M Banks’s sprawling Culture space opera novels to a device near you.

With all that in mind, the news that Amazon is looking to salvage Event Horizon – the lurid 1997 movie about a drifting space hulk with a sanity-destroying secret – and retool it into a TV series feels like just another step in its sci-fi masterplan. But it will also see the platform elbowing into another dark yet crowded corner of the TV market: the mushrooming world of small-screen horror.

The original Event Horizon’s horror gimmick was to put a Clive Barker spin on Star Trek. It posed the question: what happens if you build a hyperdrive engine but it accidentally jumps your spacecraft to hell and back? The answer, apparently, is that a malignant evil will drive the crew insane by bombarding them with nightmarish visions until the ship erupts into a bloody bacchanal of violence and torture. It is Solaris reimagined as a Slipknot video. Tellingly, the experimental gravity drive – invented by Sam Neill’s tormented boffin Dr Weir – resembles a gigantic gothic meat-grinder.

The man tasked with wrangling Event Horizon V2.0 into shape is Adam Wingard, the writer-director behind the taut thriller The Guest and the recent Blair Witch sequel, and he can probably completely rewire the source material without being accused of corrupting a sacred text. The original film initially stumbled at the box office before becoming a cult curio on VHS, and part of its disreputable legend was that scaredy-cat executives insisted director Paul WS Anderson – who would go on to oversee the durable Resident Evil movie franchise – cut some of the goriest scenes. Even hardcore fans would agree that the movie is a compromised vision.

Kiki Sukezane as Yuko in The Terror: Infamy.

The most chilling show yet? … Ridley Scott’s The Terror: Infamy. Photograph: Ed Araquel/AMC

The real challenge facing Wingard will be to stand out from the head-lopping, grave-robbing crowd. Right now, horror movies – hair-raising, fun to watch with friends and, crucially, cheap – feel like the only backstop against the superhero hegemony, and the symbiotic relationship between film and TV means there has been a trickle-down effect that has filled the schedules with would-be chillers. Barely a week goes by without another horror anthology TV series being announced (or cancelled), with the Ridley Scott-produced chiller The Terror, which has just returned for a second season, leading the way. Horror novels have also been gleefully filleted, from Netflix’s unsettling hit The Haunting of Hill House to AMC’s limo-driven boogeyman NOS4A2 and FX’s hinge-jawed vampire nightmare The Strain. Genre godhead Stephen King even has his own mashed-up mini-universe in the form of Hulu’s Castle Rock (available on Amazon in the UK).

After a cluster of relatively straight-faced efforts, including a gloomy expansion of The Exorcist that lasted two seasons and the unexpectedly good Psycho spin-off Bates Motel, the recent surge of film-to-TV horror adaptations seem to have steered hard into shlock. Some of the results have been entertaining (such as Starz’s Ash Vs Evil Dead, a gleeful expansion of Sam Raimi’s original) while others (notably MTV’s seemingly unkillable Scream reboot, now on its third season) seem merely shrill. While technically an original series, Ryan Murphy’s Scream Queens took most of its campy cues from well-worn slasher movie tropes, while the upcoming American Horror Story: 1984 – the ninth season of Murphy’s sturdy horror anthology – is set in a kitsch sleepaway camp familiar to anyone who has ever watched a Friday the 13th flick.

The Haunting of Hill House

An unsettling hit … The Haunting of Hill House. Photograph: Steve Dietl/Netflix

Wingard is in the captain’s chair of his cursed starship, so is free to plot whatever course he wishes. Event Horizon has such a splattery reputation that doubling down on the gore-orgies and improvised body modification would be the obvious thing to do. (The film’s signature line – “Where we’re going, we don’t need eyes to see” – comes after a particularly gruesome bit of self-surgery.) But it also feels like a potential opportunity to speak to the current political and cultural moment.

An event horizon is essentially a point of no return, and we are currently being bombarded with grave messages of environmental tipping points reached and societal red lines breached. The original film was set in 2047 but on our current timeline we might need Sam Neill to genuinely invent faster-than-light space travel before then to guarantee humankind’s survival. Or maybe Wingard could lean into a juicy twist: his experimental starship successfully warps to a place that is so hellish it drives you insane … but it is actually just visiting our current universe.

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