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The Ambitious Horror of "The Terror"

AMC’s new anthology series, The Terror, has been sitting on my DVR since premiering March 26 and concluding on May 21. I love a good naval yarn but was so badly burned with the ridiculous Pirates of the Caribbean movies and aimlessly bland Black Sails Starz series, so all 10 episodes sat like sad logs by a summertime fireplace. But I gave it a go and so grateful I did. The Terror is an engrossing prestige horror aimed at adults with a superb cast, grand visuals, and taut dramatic storytelling that swiftly moves along – easily one of the finest series on cable today and it MUST be on your watch list. Be warned however that it’s violent, relentlessly gory, and very heartbreakingly tragic.

Based on the novel by Dan Simmons, the story traces the 1845 lost expedition to the Arctic led by Captain Sir John Franklin (Ciarán Hinds) aboard the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror. In traversing the icy region in hopes of finding the Northwest Passage, they ultimately become icebound, and as Captain Francis Crozier (Jared Harris) exclaims, “This place wants us dead.” As if the situation wasn’t dire enough with tainted food supplies, crew rivalries, and harsh conditions, they soon face an even more deadly thing that tilts the series towards the supernatural… perhaps. Regardless, this is most certainly is horror at its finest.

The series is visually stunning with long shots of the ships at sea, dancing northern lights, and the jagged shards of frozen sea pushing skyward. The lighting is impressive as winter sets in and only a momentary red sunrise peaks beyond the horizon only to set seconds later. There’s a particular scene enshrouded in a thick fog where the camera pulls back and up and capturing the hazy, terrifying action below. Every aspect of the production is striking and chilling, and I could swear the temperature in the room dropped 10 degrees as I watched.

Take a look at the endlessly fascinating and hypnotic opening credits. Not once did I fast forward through it:

After reading about the premise for season 2, which is a different story altogether, I’m hooked on this prestige horror series. Although I really doubt that quality like this will drawn the kind of audience that AMC hopes. It’s an incredibly ambitious concept (read: a tough sell) to take a real historical event and overlay it with horror. But like all short-lived great horror that came before it (Hannibal, The Exorcist, BrainDead, Carnivale, The Leftovers, Ash vs. Evil Dead, Outcast) we’ll get what we get and be grateful.

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