Harper's Island Aftergasm: Horror Movie Legacies
“You don’t even know The Rules? There are certain rules that one must abide by in order to successfully survive a horror movie. For instance, number one: You can never have sex. Big no-no! Big no-no! Sex=Death. Okay? Number two: You can never drink or do drugs. No, the sin factor. It’s a sin. It’s an extension of number one. And number three: never ever ever, under any circumstances, say ‘I’ll be right back.’ Because you won’t be back. You see? You push the laws and you end up dead.” - Jaime Kennedy as Randy Meeks, Scream

You might say Harper’s Island isn’t a horror film. It’s a television series, and more of a thriller or a Who Done It? at that. You’d be absolutely wrong. Let’s get one thing straight: Harper’s Island is a horror film, specifically a contemporary slasher.

There’s the obvious: A group of cute young people in formal wear are being killed one at a time by a mysterious killer. They’re running around woods, a beach and a small town. It’s practically Friday the 13th’s Crystal Lake set next to Jaws‘ resort town of Amity. Much like in A Nightmare on Elm Street or the Scream trilogy this is not the first series of crimes to plague a small town but the second, coming just when the town’s psychological trauma was starting to heal. The Band-Aid rip.

The characters are even presented as stereotypes, seemingly written by Scream’s video store clerk Randy. Abby - The Good Girl. Chloe - The Flirt. Kelly - The Outcast. And of course my favorite Sheriff - The Sheriff. Series creator Ari Schlossberg would seem to be a horror movie fan boy out to offer his twist on the genre.

Supernatural is a horror series heavily influenced in places by movies like The Ring and The Grudge, but again, unlike Supernatural this doesn’t fit the mold of a traditional TV series. Because it’s a closed series the narrative structure is closer to that of a movie than to that of a regular TV drama. Main characters can be killed off from the first episode on. For the purposes of beating you in the BuddyTV fantasy game I hope you predict that Abby can’t die this early. Really, I hope you do. Because she could. She won’t be she could. That’s where this series has the potential to really excite people.

So the question we all want to know is the question Schlossberg wants you to wonder about, the same as in any horror movie. Who’s gonna die and who’s gonna kill um and is their brain going to show up as an hors d‘oeuvres at the reception? Sorry, that last part was over the line. But that’s the point. 

The motive for the killings can be almost as simple as in a movie: Because the brilliant young installation artist is creating a masterpiece in human suffering, or the ex-boyfriend is insanely jealous, or the old masked guy at the carnival is a crank, or grandma’s off her meds. Characters’ story arcs in general can be simpler, shorter and more like that of a midnight screamer.

The old Murder She Wrote axiom says that whoever appears to be the most likely killer in the opening of the story probably is. That show routinely spent forty-five minutes talking you out of what you already knew perfectly well - that the abusive ex-boyfriend was the one who killed Matilda’s date. At best you didn’t realize until the end that he set the gun up with a trigger so it would blow the guy’s head off when he opened the closet door, giving the ex an alibi for not being at the scene of the crime.

If that’s the case then Hunter totally did it. I mean, it’s right there in his name. He’s a hunter. He’s enormous - Kane Hodder size - and he’s sending creepy text messages to his ex-girlfriend on the week of her wedding, compelling her to chase him. When she rejects him one of her family members gets whacked.

But the other cliché about psycho killers, and perhaps the even more established one, is that they’re the last people you would ever expect. Most horror writers wax poetic about the idea that you wouldn’t even know a serial killer if you met them - and indeed that’s the story of Plainfield, Wisconsin cannibal Ed Gein, the inspiration for everyone from Norman Bates to Leatherface.

If that’s the case then the father or daughter did it, Abby or the Sheriff. They lost their matriarch in the first killings. Surely they would never want that drama to continue, much less be a part of it. But Abby hasn’t seen her father in a long time. What if he lost his mind and she wasn’t there to see it?

There are a few characters I’m fairly convinced aren’t the killer, and again this is based more on storytelling conventions than clues in the episode. Anything in the episode could be pointed to as a clue after the fact, from Trish giving the order to start the boat that chopped up Cousin Ben to Chloe disappearing in the woods right before Uncle Marty was killed there. (Way too obvious. Or is it?)

Chloe is not the psycho - or at least, she‘s not the killer. She loves serial killers. She knows all about them. She’s absolutely endearing. She was my favorite character right off the bat, which tells us two things. One - and this should just be obvious - she has to die. I’m sorry. But it’s a big horror movie rule that Scream never makes fun of but it always holds. The most likable character - usually the comic relief - has to eventually die. Randy, the inventor of Scream's rules, died. The comic relief's execution - often in a moment of bravery with one last great, quotable line - is necessary in order to make the audience truly hate the killer and want to see them die. And the second thing we should know - Chloe’s death can’t come until late in the series. If she died anytime soon that would just be a bummer.

Her adorable puppy dog boyfriend? He'll follow her into death, drawing sad sighs from 'bad' girls everywhere who wonder if any nice, normal man will ever love them that much.

It’s not J.D. - The Black Sheep, either. At least, I doubt it. He’s the character who gets to say, “I might be a tattooed, suicidal young man but I’m not a serial killer. Why does everyone always think that?” Turning that on its head - having society's assumptions about the Gothy social outcast turn out to be correct - doesn’t sound like that much fun, even given the classic horror motif of The Dread of Difference (see author Barry Keith Grant).

The creepy little girl? Complete red herring.

Presumably characters like Booth,  Danny, Maggie, Nikki, Malcolm, Richard and Sully who barely showed up in the first episode probably aren’t the killer, either. To steal a truism from another elimination series, Survivor, the eventual winner needs a complete story arc. They’ll play a memorable role in the premiere even if the editors hide them in the background during the middle of the season to throw people off their scent. The non-entities are much more likely to add to the body count, and my guess is that the girls are most in danger next week since it was two of the guys’ turns this week.

You want to know my theory? It’s The Bride and her ex, Trish and Hunter, working as a team. He’s the muscle. She’s on the inside. They have a dangerous love. That’s why she didn’t want to tell Henry about Hunter being there. She and Hunter are playing Henry for the fool, getting him to do whatever she says and she‘s using sex to manipulate him. He invited his loved ones, including his best friend who suffered so badly during the first murders. The Bride will kill them all until Henry and Abby save the day and realize that deep down they truly belong together, like Wendy and Dick Hallorann in The Shining.

Then again, I never guess TV’s The Mole correctly so what do I know? I think I'll finish the article after I go get some Sun Chips. Hold on. I’ll be right back ----

-Henry Jenkins, BuddyTV Staff Writer
(Image courtesy of CBS)