When it comes to making TV shows and movies in the horror genre, there’s few better right now that Mike Flanagan.
He may not be a household name, but his Netflix series The Haunting Of Hill House and Bly Manor were delightfully old-school spooky and his adaptations of Stephen King novels (Gerald’s Game and Doctor Sleep) showed he’s one of the few filmmakers who understands the great man’s work.
His latest Netflix mini-series is Midnight Mass and feels indebted to King’s work, without being a cheap imitation.
The setting for the show is the God-fearing Crockett Island, a remote fishing community that has been struggling to survive following an oil spill a few years previously.
When altar boy-turned-atheist Riley (Zach Gilford) returns home following a spell in prison, he begins to see the island in a different light, and in particular, the creepy new priest Paul (Hamish Linklater), who doesn’t appear as virtuous as he seems.
That’s the set-up and to say much more would spoil the series’ many surprises, but it certainly delivers the horror goods after a couple of slow-burn episodes.
Flanagan clearly has a lot of thoughts on religion, God and the afterlife and uses some typical horror tropes to craft a series that’s pleasingly horrific but also quite moving.
A close-knit community being upended by the arrival of a stranger is something Stephen King has tackled in novels like Salem’s Lot and Needful Things, so what Flanagan is doing is nothing new.
But as the final two hours unfold and the horror that he’s been patiently withholding erupts into life (and lots of death), it stands on its own two feet.
The witching season is fast approaching and I can’t think of anything better to get you into the spirit than Midnight Mass.
Chat show with added thrills
The new Channel 4 series Foxy’s Fearless 48 Hours is more or less a chat show but with added bum-clenching stunts.
These outward bound-type programmes are becoming more common these days – Bear Grylls and Ant Middleton have similar shows – but Jason Fox’s version felt a little less gung-ho and alpha male.
Maybe that’s because the conversations he got into with comedian Rob Delaney in between all the daredevil antics veered into some quite dark places.
When talk turned to Rob’s alcoholism, depression and the death of his son Henry, it could have felt awkward but Fox turned out to be quite a good interviewer.
Trio’s tedious travels
I think we can now safely say Gordon, Gino & Fred is “a thing”.
I thought their globe-trotting antics might just be a one-off, but I think we now have to accept that we’ll be seeing them in destinations across the world for years to come.
Their latest, in the Greek islands, is exactly like their previous trips to America, Europe and Lapland – pre-planned “chaos” from the Top Gear school of programme-making.
None of it feels particularly spontaneous, all of it feels set up – to the point that even genuinely poignant moments (like Gino remembering his late mum) make you question how stage-managed the whole show is.
For your goodbyes only
Even though Being James Bond (ITV) was a pure puff piece to whet our appetites for the new movie, the recollections of Daniel Craig and producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G Wilson were surprisingly candid.
None of them attempted to make it sound as though all of Craig’s films were masterpieces and were happy to get into why some of them were a bit rubbish.
A rare bit of honesty for the movie business!
Film of the week: The Andromeda Strain (TCM Monday, 10.45pm)
When you say science fiction, it conjures up images of Star Wars or 2001 or Independence Day, but I don’t think anything has matched The Andromeda Strain as an example of pure, uncut science fiction (emphasis on the science).
Because although the set-up sounds like your typical sci-fi – an alien virus crash lands on Earth and military scientists have to race against time to contain it – the execution is more like a science documentary.
Robert Wise’s adaptation of Michael Crichton’s bestseller spends far more time observing the boffins and their equipment than it does with the alien stuff.
That means that viewers looking for a more typical sci-fi experience may well be bored, but I thought it made the movie all the more believable.
Not bad for the director of West Side Story!