After his memorable introduction in “Daredevil” Season 2 (2016) – which could’ve been called “Daredevil and Punisher” – Frank Castle/Punisher (Jon Bernthal) gets the spotlight in his own 13-episode season. The revelation of who killed Frank’s wife and two children at the merry-go-round leads to a conspiracy that goes to the highest levels of the U.S. government and military. One approach for showrunner Steve Lightfoot’s “Punisher” Season 1 (2017) might’ve been 13 mini-“John Wick” movies. That would’ve been viscerally satisfying, but I appreciate the meaty roster of characters. The season is not faced-paced, but nor is it boring.
Netflix’s “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” is easiest to describe to a newcomer if they are familiar with “Riverdale.” It’s like “Riverdale” but with witchcraft and likeable characters. Those two elements are what make “Sabrina” the more interesting show, but it shares “Riverdale’s” foundation of moody cinematography and an ephemeral sense of time and place. As a horror-tinged show (though not a scary one), those elements work perfectly on “Sabrina.”
I was so impressed with “The Haunting of Hill House” that I immediately checked out writer-director Mike Flanagan’s previous horror work, which is easy to do in these days of streaming services. Although his IMDB goes back to the turn of the century with student films, Flanagan didn’t enter the mainstream until this decade, when he directed six horror (or horror-adjacent) films. All are worth checking out to see the progression of an emerging genre talent. It’s interesting to look at rankings of Flanagan’s films on the web and see that there’s nowhere near a consensus on the order, but here are my personal rankings:
Netflix has enjoyed a stellar October for new horror releases, including the films “Malevolent” and “Hold the Dark” and the TV shows “The Haunting of Hill House” and “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.” It also delivered an excellent horror film back in February with “The Ritual,” which would make for solid Halloween-month viewing if you haven’t seen it yet.
Netflix’s “Big Mouth” – which recently released its second season — marks the latest sea change in Things You Can Do on Television, as it chronicles 12- and 13-year-olds entering puberty. But unlike “The Simpsons” in the 1990s and “Family Guy” in the 2000s, there has been little hand-wringing from parents’ TV groups about “Big Mouth,” which opens with episodes where Andrew (John Mulaney) ejaculates in his drawers at a school dance and Jessi (Jessi Klein) has her first period on a field trip while wearing white shorts. Fortunately for its creators, “Big Mouth” also exists in the most prolific age of TV history: There’s so much out there that watchdog groups can’t keep up.
Some people won’t watch horror movies or TV series because they don’t want to be scared. As I was drying my eyes after watching the beautiful ending of Netflix’s “The Haunting of Hill House,” I thought “Those people are missing out.” The horror genre has always been a way to work through real-life fears in the safety of a fictional journey, but showrunner Mike Flanagan’s 10-episode series does it better than almost anything before it.
The new Netflix horror movie “Malevolent” is arguably cashing in on the fact that viewers love haunted house yarns (see also the Netflix series “The Haunting of Hill House”), but it undercuts that right off the bat. Four young – and shady – entrepreneurs in 1986 are themselves cashing in by pretending to be ghost hunters. While 100 percent of viewers will correctly guess that the faux-ghost hunters will encounter real spirits in “Malevolent,” the movie has enough worthwhile elements on top of that to be a decent diversion.
If you have patience on par with that of people carving out an existence in remote Alaska, “Hold the Dark” is a meditative blend of wilderness Earth porn and a serial-killer pursuit, loaded with talented actors. Although I heard about this Netflix movie from Entertainment Weekly’s Fall Horror Preview, viewers who look for scares or intense psychological drama will be disappointed. It definitely has violence, but if it’s a horror film, it’s also a war film and certainly a Western.
“American Vandal” proves it’s not a one-case wonder with the excellent Season 2 (Netflix), which again blends juvenile humor on the surface with a deeper layer of observations about human behavior. Whereas Season 1 explored who spray-painted penises on teachers’ cars at a California high school, Season 2 (again eight episodes, although it strikes me as brisker and more tightly crafted) finds teen investigative documentarians Peter (Tyler Alvarez) and Sam (Griffin Gluck) – plus a “Netflix” cameraman — traveling to Oregon to uncover the identity of the Turd Burglar.
There are more good shows on TV than ever, but the traditional fall season has become the dumping ground for the least exciting new series – perhaps because they need the extra buzz of Fall TV Previews more than something with the cachet of an “Atlanta” or a “Fargo.” Still, some quality series rise to the surface: Recent years have given us “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” and “This Is Us,” along with glitzy franchise entries like “The Gifted” and assorted MCU efforts (“Iron Fist” and “Daredevil” boast new seasons this fall).