Horror is one of the most difficult genres to translate on television and the dam is about to burst with more on the way. We’ll welcome at least three new horror series this fall, including The Following, The Cult, and one that premiered on ABC’s new Sunday night, 666 Avenue starring Terry O’Quinn (Lost) and Vanessa Williams (Ugly Betty) as owners of the Drake apartment building–a building known for some historic tragedies and where devilish things tend to happen to many of its 388 tenants when their lease is up. The blueprints have been laid out for a hopeful, long run but the landscape of “horror” has long changed since the days of The Twilight Zone or Outer Limits when a clever concept or notion of something creepy could grow like a beanstalk in your imagination. Horror films are a dime a dozen on any given weekend outside of October. How does 666 Park Avenue stack up?
It’s a wild concoction of the Madoffs meeting The Love Boat, Devil’s Advocate, and Rosemary’s Baby, that is if you’re old enough to remember all of those shows and movies. Much of the intrigue will lie in the tenants and the producers and writers are hoping you’ll be invested in their dreams and desperate deals made with Gavin Doran (O’Quinn). In the pilot we see a violinist that’s trying to play on a big stage, another who wishes he could spend more time with his ailing wife and a writer hoping to scribe the next big novel. Each has the pressure of delivering the goods and if Gavin is unsatisfied, you can expect a final extension where everyone must put up his or her soul for collateral.
Innocents upon introduction, Henry Martin (Dave Annable) and Jane Van Veen (Rachael Taylor) apply to co-manage the Drake and sign on the dotted line to become Gavin’s puppets. While they keep up the facade of a well-oiled machine (and investigate the history of the building), Gavin is free to take care of his expiring contracts with the tenant(s)-of-the-week. And while the well-being of Henry and Jane are at the crux of the ongoing story, they feel a bit helpless in the greater battle. Hopefully the second episode and the stories that follow give us a taste of the scary we’re looking for in the series.
Currently, the zombie apocalypse comic book is well-represented in The Walking Dead and and Ryan Murphy horror mix tape/brain teaser American Horror Story have set new bars for finding ways to send chills down your spine on a weekly basis but still creating interest week after week. One personalizes while the other goes towards that visual edge of tolerance.
Both Williams and O’Quinn have scary qualities about them, their glares their two-faced charm, but they fall short in today’s standards of pure evil. What makes TWD scary is that it’s so simple to project oneself in the story. How would I survive if zombies ruled the planet? Would I make those same decisions? Would I be able to step up and make t he hard decisions? AHS meanwhile creates these stylized, exaggerated archetypes and puts them in situations we can relate to, touchstones that are further warped by bringing our own or others’ perversions, feelings or points of view we are ashamed of, to the table as well. And let’s not forget Murphy’s influences of past horror classics. It’s part homage as much as it is rattling the cage.
666 Park Avenue is primarily horror of circumstance– belonging to third parties. It’s easy to view someone else’s terror like a bystander and never connecting our own fright in that character. The visual cues are there, from the poltergeist tricks, the ghostly apparitions walking the halls of the Drake. Walls made to look like silly putty with grabby hands and mouths about to reach out and eat some one. We’ve seen it all before in the Frighteners. It playfully flirts with sex and dangerous temptations but backs away like a young school boy. The training wheels need to come off now that the pilot is over.
As these characters experience frightening things, we as viewers are unable to truly be moved, and instead, more entertained. There are the supernatural genre shows like Supernatural, Grimm, Lost Girl and True Blood too that many would argue are more campy than genuinely aiming to creep the hell out of viewers. 666 Park Avenue looks and feels like another complex on the Vegas strip of supernatural than horror, which is perfectly fine because there’s always room if done as well as the others listed. But if the ultimate goal is to scare viewers, well, there are more frightening characters on reality television.