Ah, October. Month of mists and mellow fruitfulness; close-bosom friend of the slutty Halloween costume. As Poundland stocks up on plastic pumpkins and fishnets, our TV screens turn more gruesome to match. Yes, we’re officially into seasonal programming – a strategy that persists despite the serious changes to viewing habits we’ve seen over the last five years (if we learned anything from Stranger Things, it’s that millions of people will spend their summers indoors watching a small town in mid-winter under siege from supernatural forces, as long as the show is actually good).
A big trend for recent years has been the youth horror show – with its roots in series such as Buffy and Angel, there’s been a big uptick in the genre: from America’s Scream Queens and American Horror Story to BBC’s Being Human, The Fades and In the Flesh.
Tonight, two new additions make their way to British screens: ITV’s Him and E4’s Crazyhead. Like Stateside shows Preacher and Outcast, they’re concerned with possession and psychic phenomena – fast becoming a TV subgenre of its own.
Him follows a nameless 17-year-old, who caught between the new families of each of his parents, is acting out: skipping school, only engaging with his phone screen – oh, and using his telekinesis to wield weapons and explode boilers. Like Stephen King’s Carrie, anger brings these strange powers to the fore, inducing a Psychic Nosebleed (as seen in Stranger Things, Heroes, Supernatural, Lost and Buffy). We’re unsure where these abilities come from – is he possessed? Gifted? Or, as his parents assume, psychologically unwell?
Crazyhead blurs the lines between battling demons both metaphorical and literal. Airing on E4 tonight and Netflix shortly after — the streaming service invested some money in the series — it follows two young women, Amy (Carla Theobald) and Raquel (Susan Wokoma), who have the ability to see humans who are possessed. They’re also both receiving psychiatric care, are on and off various medications, and are convinced that a trained psychiatrist is the figure behind this supernatural conspiracy to bring them down.
“You’ll need to keep an open mind about this. Suspend your disbelief.” This is how Him opens, narrated by excruciatingly wise-beyond-her-years Faith, the step sister of the show’s titular character. I struggled to follow her instructions – not because of the floating knives and scissors or teenager-induced earthquakes, but because of the show’s clichéd story and wooden dialogue. Teachers warn against “girlfriend problems, drugs, cyber bullying” in a way that’s reminiscent of the teatime BBC soap Waterloo Road. A sage old grandmother insists of his ability, “Only use it for good. Only for good.” We’re repeatedly hit over the head by starling imagery. It’s all cringe-worthily po-faced.
But thank God for Crazyhead, which ends its opening scene with Amy, tights and pants round her knees, crouched over her bound and gagged best friend, desperately trying to summon some urine as “Rhythm of the Rain” by The Cascades tinkles away in the background. It’s the funniest (and first) exorcism-by-pissing scene I’ve ever seen.
From Howard Overman, the creator of another, tonally similar youth supernatural series, Misfits, its success lies in its genuinely funny script, and brilliant comic performances from Theobald, and particularly Wokoma. It tackles its own incredulous premise swiftly and with humour, not self-indulgent foreshadowing. “Yeah, I know,” Raquel says to Amy. “It sounds like so much bullshit, right? The thing is, there’s a little part of you that knows it’s true. Jabbing away at you, like… a woodpecker… on amphetamine.”
Like the US sitcoms Broad City or Parks and Rec, the jokes in Crazyhead flirt with edginess while ultimately remaining sweet-natured, rooted as they are in the dynamics between characters who care deeply for one another. “He knows nothing about women. He used to call mum’s vagina a foo-foo,” Raquel says of her brother. “Mum said you were obsessed with it.”
And if you need that hit of Halloween horror like a pumpkin spice shot in your seasonal latte, it’s fairly scary too (as in Misfits, Overman isn’t afraid to kill off characters or put his stars in actual danger). The six-part series should take you through to December – just in time for your Christmas viewing schedule to begin.
Now listen to the Crazyhead episode of the NS pop culture podcast, SRSLY: