A wise man once said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. Now, FDR may have made that statement in an attempt to rally and comfort a nation in the grips of the Great Depression, but for purposes of this review I am using it as the quintessential definition of what makes something scary. Because as Roosevelt further explained it is, “… – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance” that keeps us awake at night. It is the fear of the unknown that cuts to the core of every known phobia.
That is why the most successful horror stories, whether they be books, movies or television, are the ones that frighten with shocks and surprise twists. Just focusing on the relatively narrow genre of television horror, the most successful shows (Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Twilight Zone, The X Files, American Horror Story, etc.) used everything from common circumstances gone awry to outright insane circumstances gone even more awry to frighten audiences. I once heard that the best storytelling is one that slightly projects the twists so people can still figure it out (or at least accept that its plausible) because people like to feel smart; like they could see something coming that was intended to be completely hidden. Good horror takes uses that theory, but projects something we can see plausibly happening (even while know we are watching something meant to scare us) and then replaces that something with a shrieking marmoset popping out of the coffee pot wielding a box cutter( or something like that. I’m not a horror writer). The point is it scares us because it we don’t see it coming which means we aren’t as smart as we think we are. It means we could just be walking through life and something horrible could happen and we would be totally unprepared. And that is terrifying.
And this is why 666 Park Avenue mostly fails as a horror series. The pilot sets it up to be a classic horror story, but the horror genre has been pretty well established by now so unfortunately classic translates to predictable. The title is 666 Park Avenue. Mr. Doran (the genuinely frightening Terry O’Quinn), the all-powerful landlord, makes deals with his tenants that has them paying heavily. The old building has a sorted past that involves rituals around a giant dragon mosaic. The TITLE is 666 Park Avenue. Oh, what can it all mean?
There were all the usual tropes, the young blonde being lured into the mystery, a creepy basement, ghost like visages leading the young blonde through empty corridors late at night, the actual house claiming the lives of the tenants who can no longer “pay” to Mr. Doran. We’ve all seen it before and it was no surprise to see it again.
But, just because it fails to offer any real frights isn’t a reason to write it off. Yes, it is being marketed as a horror drama, probably in an attempt to cash in on the success of American Horror Story (which will probably backfire because the ads for AHS are scarier than anything that happened in 666).But what do the marketers know? If you take 666 for what it actually is, a nighttime soap/mystery that pays homage to all the horror classics (without trying to be one) than it’s a rather entertaining hour. Vanessa Williams and Terry O’Quinn anchor the series and everyone else just sort of fades behind their performances. Lead actress Rachel Taylor has certainly earned her scary movie cred, but then this isn’t really a scary show, so we’ll see how much she can utilize those skills.
Perhaps once the show hits its stride ABC will stop trying to make it into something it’s not and let it be what it actually is. Then we just might have a decent show on our hands.
666 Park Avenue airs Sundays at 10/9c on ABC.
– Devin Mainville