The summer season is quickly becoming my favourite TV season. This summer saw the return of my three favourite comedies from last summer (Difficult People, Another Period and Barely Famous) as well as a handful of series that set out to prove that summertime can also be scarytime. Let’s go in for a closer look, shall we?
SCREAM: The Series – Season 2 (MTV/Netflix)
After a shaky first season, I was mildly surprised that SCREAM got the go-ahead for a second season. With an uneven go at being a slasher-movie-as-episodic-television I was intrigued to see how it would handle doing a slasher-sequel-as-episodic television. On the up side, I was glad to see that the acting and writing had both improved. On the down side, I was dismayed to see it stumble over the same problems it had in the first season: a low body count, how to plausibly have all the main players remain in an isolated location for several days while a killer is not only stalking them, but offing everyone around them (a problem that also plagued both Scream Queens and Slasher earlier this year) and a killer whose whole plan would be shot to hell if those goddamn teens would just stop answering their phones whenever it says “UNKNOWN CALLER”.
Usually horror sequels are supposed to give us more of everything: more deaths, more danger, more suspects, etc. Well, SCREAM season 2 definitely served up more suspects, adding three new suspicious students to the six who survived season 1 (SIX! No “final girl” here, instead we got a “final sextet”) as well as a bevy of new suspicious adults to cast suspicious looks and do suspicious things. Yet, with all the new bodies, season two proved to be very skimpy on making any of them new corpses. Instead, it chose to pad it bigger season order (12 episodes to last season’s 10) with plodding side storylines and even LESS kills than season one. It never felt like the stakes were really high this time around, especially when the killer spent more episodes blackmailing one of the characters instead of actually trying to y’know, KILL them.
But, much like season one greatly improved in the final stretch, so did season two, and the final reveal of the killer was pretty darn great. It’s just too bad that it took forever to get there and that *SPOILER* only 1 of the original surviving six got knocked off in the process (like I said, low stakes). But the most scary thing about season 2? Wes Craven, director of the SCREAM film series, retained his executive producer credit on SCREAM the series, even though he passed away well before the second season even began filming.
But then again, Wes Craven executive producing from beyond the grave seems just about right to me.
SCORE – 2.5 imitation ghostface masks out of 5
Hoo-boy, this one. I can only imagine what the pitch meeting was like: “Okay, it’s like those 80s summer camp/coming of age movies – hey we’ll even set it in the 80s! – but with a bit of LOST and Twin Peaks thrown in, then mashed up with, say The Last Exorcism, Candyman at least three of the Friday the 13th films”.
And that’s Dead of Summer in a nutshell. At the core, it’s about the reopening of a summer camp where decades in the past, some unfinished, unholy ritual resulted in the deaths of numerous people. And now it seems like someone or something is trying to mount the ritual once again. Now, being a Freeform (nee ABC Family) series, you know that it’s aimed at the Pretty Little Liars set and won’t be able to amp up the scares and carnage that we’re used to seeing on similar cable shows, but what I wasn’t expecting was for almost half of each episode to be devoted to the decidely un-scary backstories of the Camp Stillwater counsellors (all of which except for main girl, Amy were Camp Stillwater campers 5 years earlier – a plot point which has no payoff whatsoever).
Things go off the rails almost immediately with an “accidental drowning”, and soon we’re dealing with ghosts, possessions, devil worshippers and how Camp Stillwater is one of the worst-run camps EVER (like, we’re talking Kamp Krusty levels here). I mean, a very significant plot point involves how the area all around the camp is peppered with bear traps. BEAR TRAPS. Surrounding a camp for children, who are only cautioned with a “be sure to stay on the trails!” warning from their counsellors. (Those counsellors, by the way, are the worst. They pretty much treat the campers as minor diversions that get in the way of them hanging out with and/or blackmailing each other, leaving camp to go into town or leaving camp to explore the woods and/or explore each other).
Even after one counsellor almost dies after literally getting struck by lightning and another counsellor DOES die after “accidentally” falling into one of the aforementioned bear traps (she was totes power-pushed by a devil worshipper), the camp director just squeezes in a quickie memorial service between Arts and Crafts and Capture the Flag and then continues running the camp as scheduled, hoping the dead counsellor’s grieving parents who come by to pick up her belongings don’t ruin the vibe any more than it already has been.
To try and explain the actual plot would take far too long, and probably wouldn’t make much sense, but suffice to say, when it did stick to the scary stuff, Dead of Summer was kind of enjoyable (in an incoherent way) and as with SCREAM, it balanced out some pretty wooden acting and writing with action that kicked it up a notch in the home stretch including a final twist/reveal that was also pretty darn great.
SCORE – 2.5 bear traps out of 5
Next up: In Part Two of this post, my pick for the best “scary summer series”!