Television

Grisly, Amoral Fun Found in Hulu Anthology Series Into the Dark

Think Alfred Hitchcock, not Rod Serling.

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Into The Dark: The Body. Available now from Hulu.

'Into the Dark: The Body'
'Into the Dark: The Body,' Hulu

Everybody loves Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone. But the more fully formed suspense-terror anthology of those three-channel days of the late 1950s and early 1960s may have been Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Rather than relying, as Twilight Zone often did, on a single, big-enough-to-strangle-you ironic twist ("Oh my god, To Serve Man is a cookbook!"), Hitchcock's show—mostly drawn from classic short stories by people like Richard Matheson and Ray Bradbury, and performed by actors like Jessica Tandy and Vincent Price—was collection a collection of small theatrical stories, with emphasis on character and plot twists: An abused housewife kills her husband, then tricks the cops into eating the murder weapons; A woman falls in love with a ventriloquist but is terribly surprised to learn who the real dummy is; A vigilante seeking revenge on a woman who attacked his wife realizes, too late, that she's lost her mind. (That one was so subtle that the Hollywood Reporter critic insisted network censors must have chopped off the ending.)

They were also tightly constructed little anti-morality tales in which the villain, often as not, got away with whatever atrocity he was up to. Hitchcock's brief, darkly witty epilogues were supposed to correct the cosmological balance, but he quickly took to mocking his own speeches. (After one episode, he dutifully ticked off several possible moral dicta, then shrugged: "One of them is bound to fit.")

Hulu hasn't said a word about Hitchcock's old show, which lasted a decade and 267 episode after its 1955 debut, in connection with its new monthly horror anthology, Into the Dark. (In fact, the channel is promoting the individual episodes as movies, though at 80 minutes apiece, they're closer the length of a TV drama than a feature film.) But that's what I thought about while watching Into the Dark's deliciously grisly first episode, The Body.

It's everything Hitchcock's TV work used to be: Macabre. Smirky. Gaspingly gruesome (though the standards on that are a moonshot away from what they were 60 years ago). And amusingly amoral. All we're missing here is a droll cockney accent and an occasional affinity for avian animosity.

The bloodshed is already well underway when The Body gets started. It opens with Halloween-night a shot of a bloody corpse at the feet of a dapper fellow we'll soon come to know as Wilkes (Tom Bateman of last year's Murder on the Orient Express), a renowned and rather cosmopolitan hitman. (Go-to conversation starter: recitation of Dante's Inferno. Midnight snack of choice: casu marzu, a dish of Sardinian cheese and live maggots.)

Wilkes must deliver the corpse—it's somebody famous, though we never learn exactly who—to his client, and after encasing it in Saran Wrap, drags it downstairs from a penthouse, confident it will be mistaken for part of a costume. That works, but his car has been trashed into immobility by Halloween vandals.

To get a ride, he has to fall in with a collection of self-important and dazzlingly airheaded millennials, impressed by what they think is an amazingly realistic corpse prop. ("Super sick!" gasps one in admiration.) If he'll stop into a hipster party and boost their cred, they'll take him on his way.

From there The Body turns into a grindhouse version of one of those madcap 1940s road-trip comedies, with the characters reeling from one improbable adventure to another as Wilkes' cover story unravels and he starts killing the kids. Their attempt to escape by grabbing the mic at their rave and screaming "Call the police! One of the guests is trying to kill us!" brings only cheers from a crowd admiring the dopest Halloween prank ever.

The only one who doesn't try to get away is the hyper-woke Maggie (Rebecca Rittenhouse, Blood & Oil), whose fascination with Wilkes' chic nihilism turns into love-at-first-arterial-gush when he sticks a knife in the head of one of her friends. "Do you know how often I've wanted to do that to somebody?" she breathlessly exclaims.

From there, The Body zigs and zags like a homicidal game of Twister. Perhaps, in fact, a zig or two too far: It feels maybe 10 minutes too long. But the profligate murders are pleasingly imaginative, the plot twists unpredictable enough to stay interesting, and Rittenhouse the cutest sociopath since Kathleen Turner in Body Heat. What's not to like? As Hitchcock said during one of his shows, "Seeing a murder on television can help to work off one's antagonisms. And if you haven't any antagonisms, these commercials will give you some."

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