Mike Flanagan

The Legacy of Netflix Horror Legend Mike Flanagan

12 mins read

That’s horror to me- when the monster is the truth.

Mike Flanagan for Netflix

Directing five mini-series over six years, prolific horror creator Mike Flanagan is bulldozing into the horror hall of fame.

Known for combining horror and despair, Flanagan writes and tells stories that rivals no other in his field. Also known for recycling actors, Flanagan has created this trippy and incestuous sense of identity in his shows; same faces, different decades, different people and different demons. It’s a horror experience like no other, and it all started with The Haunting of Hill House.

Hill House was Flanagan’s first release, premiering on Netflix in October 2018. Reaching 93 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes and a score of 8.6 out of ten on IMDb, Hill House‘s reputation precedes itself. It set a benchmark not only for Netflix’s horror content but for Flanagan’s own creations.

The acclaim and adoration for this series secured Flanagan a running stint of Netflix mini-series. However, none have been quite as adored by critics as The Haunting of Hill House.

The Haunting of Hill House

Based on the 1959 gothic horror novel of the same name, Hill House created a new emotional strain of horror media – as well as redefining what it meant to base something on a book.

Flanagan pinched the names of the characters from American author Shirley Jackson, but that’s where the similarities end. Where the novel follows unconnected participants invited to be part of a study, Flanagan takes a familial approach, creating a story that spans a lifetime.

Image credit: Netflix

In the summer of 1992, Olivia (Carla Gugino) and Hugh (Henry Thomas) Crain, move into the desolate Hill House as a renovation project for Olivia. Along with them are their five children: Steven (Paxton Singleton, Michiel Huisman), Shirley (Lulu Wilson, Elizabeth Reaser), Theodora (Mckenna Grace, Kate Siegl), and the twins Luke (Julian Hilliard, Oliver-Jackson-Cohen) and Eleanor (Violet McGraw, Victoria Pedretti).

Of course, the stately Hill House poses more problems than leaky plumbing. Supernatural happenings creep up on the family. The spooks become more frequent and bolder as time goes on, resulting in some excellent jumpscares.

I felt that I was drawn to stories that had a final note of some kind of color, some kind of forgiveness, some kind of empathy. 

Mike Flanagan for Netflix

Named by the twins, the Bowler Hat Man and the Bent Neck Lady are the ghosts who plague the youngest two with particular persistence. It’s these two apparitions that follow the characters right until the end of the series, unrelenting in their haunts. Although, they do more than just spook.

Despite being a decidedly terrifying series, The Haunting of Hill House is arguably equal parts sad and scary. The unravelling sanity of the characters, the conclusiveness of the tale, and the trauma carried from childhood to adulthood encapsulate the anxieties and sadness of grief and suffering.

Image credit: Netflix

Flanagan wants you to watch Hill House and mourn. The terror built up over episodes dissipates, and overwhelming sadness takes its place. The tension is replaced with tears.

It’s unique, it’s elegant; it’s sensationally scary and intellectual TV that proves Flanagan has earned his acclaim.

The Haunting of Bly Manor

A delightful quirk of Flanagan is his use of the secret ghost. Across his shows, under staircases or behind doorways, are figures we are never able to identify. The ghosts are tucked away, never seen by the characters; they are taunting the audience with their mystery. Hill House introduces this concept, giving us 33 secret spooks. However, Bly Manor takes the edge with over 40 ghosts- and some are even given backstories.

Image credit: Netflix

Bly Manor relates to Hill House as it’s also not a straight edge traditional horror; it, too, has sentiment and sadness at its heart. If anything, Bly Manor lets this sorrow seap even further into the main story.

Bly Manor is also based on a book, the 1898 novella The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. Although, also like Hill House, the similarities are sparse and Flanagan takes the base material to new heights.

More of a ghost story and less of a fright fest, the series follows American nanny Dani (Victoria Pedretti, also in Hill House) in her new job, bonding with chef Owen (Rahul Kohli), housekeeper Hannah (T’nia Miller) and charming gardener Jamie (Amelia Eve) whilst looking after the two children, Flora (Amelia Bea Smith) and Miles (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth).

My biggest fear as a child was being alone in the dark. My biggest fear as a child was being by myself without any support where I could not comprehend what was around.

Mike Flanagan for Netflix

Romantic as it is sinsiter, the relationships in Bly Manor have fear and affection coexisting. The familial love is unignorable too, with the story focusing on the fear of loss in a violently haunted home.

Of course, the Flanagan trademark devatating ending does not bypass Bly Manor. Hearts are broken, loose ends are tied, and rewatches difficult; yes it’s a fantastic show, but can one survive having a heart ripped out twice?

Image credit: Netflix

Midnight Mass

Catholicism and creepy Islanders; Flanagan leaves the realm of spectres in Midnight Mass and enters the world of… angels?

Image credit: Netflix

An original series and an original concept, Flanagan explores rural community life and the devotion to faith and superstition within isolated societies.

The gothic supernatural horror follows Riley (Zack Gilford) returning to his rural home, Crockett Island, after serving four years for a drink-driving murder. Arriving at the same time is the new clergy, Father Paul, a young, charismatic, and unusual priest who revives the community’s dwindling sense of faith. Of course, these arrivals coincide with mysterious happenings, including a beach of washed up dead cats…

Similarly, I was terrified of a lot of the imagery that I encountered in Catholicism. I was terrified of the devil, demons, hell, consequences and guilt. 

Mike Flanagan for Netflix

Midnight Mass is so far removed from Hill house and Bly Manor it’s initially hard to recognise as a Flanagan work. Although, it soon became obvious it was another masterpiece of his.

The long monologues, the unbareably long stretch of mystery, and heavy-hitting moments of despair are what makes Midnight Mass brilliant, and what proves it’s a Flanagan work. As well as the spooky elements, of course.

Image credit: Netflix

The move away from the paranormal and into the supernatural was a risk; ghosts have stayed scary whereas vampires, werewolves and witches have a more nuanced reputation in modern media. However, mingling Catholic culture, themes, and imagery with these creatures creates this really tantalizing tale of fear and fantasy.

Midnight Mass is just another example of Flanagan’s expertise in the realm of horror. No matter what faction of the genre he chooses to explore, he dominates.

I think the one I identify with the most is the vampire. It’s an anxiety of mine that I don’t know exactly where it comes from, that I’m feeding off of the people I’m close to somehow. I’m taking something from them, and this relationship is beneficial in a lopsided way. As a child, I’d identify very much with the vampire because this was a character that was lonely.

Mike Flanagan for Netflix

Other Projects

The Midnight Club was Flangan’s 2022 project, which took a new turn altogether. Aimed at a younger audience, The Midnight Club is a story-telling cult horror featuring children in a hospice. Based on the 1994 novel of the same, Flanagan uses the author’s (Christopher Pike) short stories to punctuate the series.

Whilst not as acclaimed as his prior Netflix projects, The Midnight Club still has that jump-scare before the sadness quality Flanagan may as well have trademarked.

Image credit: Netflix

The Fall of the House of Usher released on Netflix this October. It’s the fifth horror mini-series he has brought to the platform.

It’s loosely based on Edgar Allan-Poe’s story of the same name, as well as including ideas from his other works. Usher House is a murder-mystery about a CEO of a nefarious pharamceutical company with an ambiguous past. As the mystery of his life unravels, a new drama unfolds; his children are dying in brutal ways, and no one can get to the bottom of it.

Image credit: Netflix

Halloween To-Do List

So, with a wide range of works, Flanagan is a binge-wrothy choice for this year’s Halloween watching. It’s also a great chance to rewatch if, like myself, you’ve streamed them all relentlessly.

There’s something for every kind of horror fan in his works. Plus, being series rather than films means there is hours of content- what’s better than that? What’s better than hours of Flanagan creations? Not a lot, I think.

Feature image credit: Netflix

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Journalism and English Studies student with an interest in film & tv, music, and politics.
Live on Forth Valley Radio Mondays 6-8
Twitter: @AlexPaterson01

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