'Tis All Hallow's Eve, and there's no shame in being basic by settling down for some scary television after you're done hiding from trick-or-treaters. The explosion of niche television means that horror TV shows have come a long way since Tales From the Crypt, and no current show of scares is more popular than FX's American Horror Story. This season of the anthology is knee-deep in the buckets of blood spilled at a summer camp as it ventures back to the glory days of 1980s slasher films, but if you're looking for something truly frightening, your best bet is to ditch AHS and throw on Netflix's Marianne, because Marianne makes American Horror Story: 1984 seem like a Paw Patrol Halloween special.
American Horror Story wasn't always the horror parody it is today, though. The bona fide latex-wearing terror, the image of a boil-faced Chloe Sevigny, and the twisted voodoo minotaur-sex magic of the early seasons of American Horror Story once delivered on the series' title, but they are long gone. Particularly this season, American Horror Story has gleefully turned on itself, trading its respect for the horror genre for lazy satire and ad nauseam '80s references so on-the-nose that you'll peep your Swatch watch to see how soon the episode will be over. Whether it's fatigue or something more, American Horror Story's abandonment of legit horror opens the door for others.
Marianne, a new French horror show that premiered on Netflix in September, aptly fills the hole AHS left behind and overflows it with paralyzing terror that most horror shows never get close to. The story follows horror author Emma Larsimon (Victoire Du Bois), a punkish, hard-drinking, no-sh**-giving woman who penned a popular series of books about a witch named Marianne. Bored with the lifestyle and fame, Emma decides to end the series, which causes the witch to manifest in the real world and haunt the living hell out of her until she continues to write.
Called back to her hometown — an adorable coastal village in France — after a childhood friend tells her the witch is back, Emma quickly comes face-to-face with Marianne, and oh what a face it is. Mireille Herbstmeyer plays the first woman possessed by Marianne, and her mugging grin, wrinkled like a road map to hell, is what horror movie posters were made for.
Marianne's face is symbolic of what makes Marianne truly horrifying. It is, simply put, deeply disturbing. Clearly influenced by classics like Evil Dead, The Exorcist, and The Omen, Marianne creator and director Samuel Bodin has a perfect sense of what's scary and builds that atmosphere into the show's entire run through cues that choke your senses into submission. Footsteps echo, narrow camera angles draw out claustrophobia, ghoulish figures slowly fill the screen, hex bags made from human-skin dangle from ceilings, a fitting piano-driven score rings out, and mist from a bloated fog machine budget lingers on the ground. Jump scares aren't my thing — they're cheap and boring — but they're employed sparingly and appropriately in order to let the suspense of those moments just before the surprise do the most effective work. If a breath-snatching mood is what you're looking for, Marianne is a labyrinth filled with it that you may never escape from.
Beyond the horror, Marianne has a surprisingly emotional and gooey center founded on friendship. A few episodes into the first season, Emma reconnects with her high school friends who never left home — Episode 5 is an especially good Stranger Things-esque flashback episode with some of the most tense moments of the season — and the tight writing instantly establishes believable bonds between the group, entangling them in complicated interpersonal obstacles. Then, of course, they're put to the test when Marianne invades their circle and inevitably begins picking them off one by one.
Marianne is also beautifully presented. The coast of France is a great photo op for wide vistas of rocky shorelines adorned by lighthouses and crashing waves that fill the screen. Abandoned schools are, well, scary as abandoned schools can be, and the repeated image of a hole in the ground where Marianne presumably comes from is haunting. Additionally, the literary theme that runs through the season manifests itself visually through famous horror quotes that kick off each episode and a sweet "previously on" intro that literally flips through pages of Emma's books with scenes from the previous episode catching you up. In addition to being scary AF, Marianne has that effortlessly cool vibe that France exports so well.
The story can be a little meandering and confusing, with some parts moving in directions just for scares, but that's sort of the point with these shows, right? American Horror Story does the same thing, but those detours hit dead ends with mustachioed Dylan McDermott; Marianne delivers possessed dogs and vomiting old people. Yes!
Horror shows rarely actually scare viewers nowadays, especially not for a sustained time. The horror turns to camp, which turns to gassy parody because most producers don't know how to do horror. But the eight episodes of Marianne are all perfectly equipped to chop lesser horror shows up into little bits and keep you up all night. Give it a watch; you can curse me later.
Marianne is now streaming on Netflix.