The slow, repetitive decline of television horror

Wednesday, April 13, 2016 - 12:02am

“American Horror Story”

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The hook of season one for MTV’s reboot of “Scream” built off the suspense of what a slasher flick could offer to the small screen. While movies must reach resolution by their 120-minute time allotment, TV series carry the ability to drag out the suspense over multiple weeks. However, MTV’s revival, in keeping a story arc similar to that of its namesake, has ultimately set up its second season for failure.

The horror genre, though effective in film, doesn’t translate well into a television show (with the notable exception of FX’s “American Horror Story”). Where MTV’s “Scream” follows Wes Craven’s original tetralogy, “Horror Story” begins each season with specific theme in mind, such as last season’s “Hotel” premise. These new approaches could be responsible for the upward trend in ratings that the season premieres have pulled in since its first season, “Murder House,” whose average 3.18 million views were succeeded by 3.85 million from “Asylum,” 5.54 million from “Coven” and 6.13 million from “Freakshow.”

With the exception of “Hotel”’s slightly lower numbers in viewership of 5.81 million, the series is ultimately responsible for bringing in consistently high ratings for FX since 2011. These numbers sharply juxtapose MTV’s “Scream,” whose first season was met with divided critical response and an opening viewership of 1.03 million against “Murder House” ’s 3.18 million. This discrepancy could be a result of MTV’s lack of originality in their series because they’re attempting a revival, but regardless, what might have been considered passable in the first season will certainly not survive a second season.

Shows of the supernatural and horror genre are especially at risk of extinction over other genres of television, and the race to remain relevant is a high-stakes challenge. These series fight for the audience’s attention through elaborate and well-established plotlines, which is why “Horror Story” is likely so popular. Changing the theme stirs up audience attention, oftentimes allowing for a clean slate if interest is too easily lost. This theory is not a relatively new one, as successful television shows often follow a different established path during each of their seasons. For example, during its successful early years, “Supernatural” followed the pattern of a punctuated theme followed by resolution at the end of the season.

Other shows of this genre follow this same pattern of repetition without repetition. “Once Upon a Time” establishes its new direction during the season finales; “Orphan Black” deploys clever plot twists to keep the viewer engaged. The point is, they never do the same thing twice, which is why MTV’s “Scream” is ultimately headed towards senseless repetition.

Unoriginal plot and repetition has not only led horror revivals such as MTV’s “Scream” to an early grave, but technology has ultimately played a hand in their demises, too. The digital age has essentially demolished the foundations of the horror genre, a fact punctuated by scenes such as Ariana Grande’s futile attempts to send a tweet at the time of her demise in FOX’s satire series “Scream Queens.” The original “Scream” is famous for the deadly phone calls that were used as a tool to propagate fear and paranoia for both the characters and audience, a tool that does not transpose into a decade where “Find My iPhone” exists. Intimate landline calls added into the suspense and thrill of horror flicks in the ’80s and ’90s alongside Hitchcockian scores and well-developed characters.

Unfortunately for MTV’s revival of “Scream,” we live in a decade of sleek screens, electronically produced music and a cast whose flat affect lacks conviction. With the rise of the gothic genre that characterizes shows such as “American Horror Story” and “Bates Motel,” the scarce shows of the horror variety are slowly creeping towards extinction, and probably for good. As for those involved in the production of television horror, I’d recommend keeping a day job.