A Guide to Mike Flanagan's Horror Catalog - Nerdist
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A Guide to Mike Flanagan’s Horror Catalog

It’s been little more than a decade since Mike Flanagan made a soft launch into the horror genre with his debut feature Absentia. It was a little film, but one that quietly set the tone for the creator, best known these days for his Netflix series like The Haunting of Hill House and Midnight Mass, and his Stephen King film adaptations. It also introduced us to actress Katie Parker, the first in a legion of Flanagan regulars that populate his projects. Kate Siegel (Flanagan’s real-life wife), Henry Thomas, Samantha Sloyan, Alex Essoe, Rahul Kohli, Carla Gugino, and more have come to feel like a mini horror family. 

The Flanagan Feel

Beyond his casts, Flanagan is a beloved figure in the horror scene because his genre work isn’t your standard-fare shlock. Nor is it rife with jump scares. (Although when he does do those, they’re all-timers.) There’s a sensitivity to his work. An earnestness. Characters speak wisely, often in long monologues, with alarming insight and tenderness and provocation. It may verge too close to saccharine for some viewers, but for many of us, it’s just the right balance: beauty and blood—a tantalizing elixir. And one even non-horror fans might find themselves indulging in. 

In honor of Flanagan’s latest horror series, The Midnight Club—an adaptation of the Christopher Pike book series and his first YA project—we’re looking back at all of his films and TV series to date and serving up a sample pack for those new to his oeuvre. Along with a brief synopsis, we’re providing a scare rating (on a scale of o to 5 spooks) for those who are Flanagan-curious but too easily scared to jump in without feelers. We’ll also let you know where you can stream the series, so you can get started planning your Halloween viewing. 

Absentia (2011)

A woman's long-missing husband suddenly returns in Mike Flanagan's horror film Absentia
Phase 4 Films

Flanagan got his start with student and short films, but Absentia was his first proper full-length feature. Though hindered at times by its low budget (which was crowdsourced on Kickstarter), the film—a play on The Three Billy Goats Gruff—is an urban fairytale that is remarkable for how adverse it is to convention. The story follows a pair of sisters dealing with the disappearance—and sudden reappearance—of one’s husband and all that such a disturbance entails. It’s properly scary and, best of all, indelible, with characters who stick in your subconscious and genuinely great creature effects, considering the budget. It teases the greatness to come and shows what a master horror creator can achieve even with great limitations. 

Flanagan regulars: Katie Parker, Courtney Bell, Doug Jones, Justin Gordon, Jamie Flanagan, Dave Levine, Natalie Roers

How scary is it: 3.5 out of 5 spooks. Though not as viscerally scary as some of his later work, excellent makeup effects and a great performance from legendary creature actor Doug Jones take this film to some really dreadful places. 

Where to watch: Stream it on Amazon

Oculus (2013)

Katee Sackhoff is possessed in the Mike Flanagan horror film Oculus
Relativity Media

If Absentia introduced us to Flanagan’s work, Oculus is where his style comes into clearer focus and the themes he’ll return to start laying their ground. It follows a young man (Brenton Thwaites) recently released from a psychiatric hospital, where he’s been for the suspected murder of his own parents. He struggles to connect with his sister (Karen Gillan), desperate to prove their parents’ deaths were the result of a supernatural phenomenon emanating from an antique mirror in their childhood home. You don’t have to look hard (pun intended) to see the similarities between Oculus and Hill House, with their flashback plots, themes of generational trauma and grief, and ghosts as metaphor. The Oculus mirror has also turned into a Flanagan Easter egg, hiding in plain sight in many of his later projects

Flanagan regulars: Annalise Basso, Kate Siegel, James Lafferty, Katie Parker, Courtney Bell, Justin Gordon, Dave Levine, Jamie Flanagan, Brett Murray, Jack Teague

How scary is it: 4 out of 5 spooks. Oculus is loaded with jump scares, frightening specters, gruesome imagery, and some straight-up gnarly body horror. It’s not the most elegant of Flanagan’s work, but it’s also very straightforward horror and has a lot of fun with the gruesome stuff. 

Where to watch: Stream it on Hulu

Hush (2016)

Kate Siegel is unknowingly stalked by a masked killer in Hush.
Netflix

Hush is a singular Flanagan feature in that it’s not at all preoccupied with the past, or with ghosts, or generational trauma. Instead, it’s a lean, mean slasher flick with a genius premise. It follows Maddie (Kate Siegel), a deaf author self-isolated in a remote cabin in the woods. She falls victim to a masked killer who sees her disability as an advantage. A physical tête-à-tête being perpetrator and prey follows, one that whittles the story to its essential function and does away with the rest. Though the film has been rightfully criticized for casting an able-bodied actress in the main role (both Flanagan and Siegel have noted and apologized for the misstep), Maddie still emerges as a notable heroine of the genre, and Hush shows that Flangan (and Siegel, who co-wrote the script) can do more within the horror genre than we might have previously assumed.

Flanagan regulars: Kate Siegel, Samantha Sloyan, Michael Trucco

How scary is it: 4.5 out of 5 spooks. Hush is a straight-up slasher, with all that the subgenre entails: blood, gore, jump scares, dread, terror—you name it. It’s not relentless or so over-the-top gory that it’s ostracizing, but if you’re at all adverse to slasher-style scares, you might want to skip this one. 

Where to watch: Stream it on Netflix 

Before I Wake (2016)

Mike Flanagan's film Before I Wake
Netflix

Though filmed in 2013, Before I Wake was caught in release purgatory for years when its original distributor, Relativity Media, went bankrupt. Originally titled Somnia (and renamed against Flanagan’s wishes), the film is centered on a couple and their foster son Cody, whose dreams (and nightmares) magically come true. Kids with supernatural abilities are another of Flanagan’s trademarks, so it’s fun to see the film that started it all. Bonus points for an early performance from soon-to-be-mega-child-star Jacob Tremblay. 

Flanagan regulars: Jacob Trembaly, Annabeth Gish, Justin Gordon, Brett Murray, Jack Teague, Courtney Bell, Natalie Roers

How scary is it: 3.5 out of 5 spooks. The movie’s big bad Canker Man is nightmare fuel and the nightmarish nature of the story is pretty intense. But it’s not the hardest of Flanagan’s pure horror to get into if you’re easily scared. 

Where to watch: Stream it on Netflix  

Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016)

Lulu Wilson has milky eyes and an exaggerated open mouth in Ouija: Origin of Evil
Universal

A sequel to Ouija, a horror movie based on a Hasbro game, sounds like a miserable idea on paper. But leave it to Flanagan to buck expectations. This follow-up is not only brilliantly scary, but it began professional collaborations that would lead directly into his latter work—most importantly with Henry Thomas, who’s appeared in all of Flanagan’s projects since. The story follows a recently widowed mother running a scam seance business who accidentally conjures a spirit through her Ouija board that torments her two young daughters. A lot of mayhem and fun follows, and demonstrates Flanagan’s capable hand when trusted with a franchise and studio money. 

Flanagan regulars: Elizabeth Reaser, Lulu Wilson, Annalise Basso, Henry Thomas, Kate Siegel, Doug Jones

How scary is it: 4 out of 5 spooks. The family element (and PG-13 rating) keeps this one from veering too far over the edge, but this is a traditional studio tentpole horror movie, rife with jumps, and thrills. 

Where to watch: Stream it on Netflix 

Gerald’s Game (2017)

The ghost of Bruce Greenwood torments Carla Gugino chained to a bed in Mike Flanagan's Gerald's Game.
Netflix

Easily the gnarliest of Flanagan’s oeuvre, and his first Stephen King adaptation, Gerald’s Game feels like his biggest arrival in a lot of ways. A critical hit, the film brilliantly translates King’s fairly simple novel—about a woman handcuffed to a bed after accidentally killing her husband during foreplay—into not only a terrifying horror story, but a sorrowful one, too, with themes of betrayal, abuse, and regret taking center stage. It’s a film that’s also remembered for what has to be one of the most gruesome sequences involving hands ever put to screen. This one is not for the squeamish. 

Flanagan regulars: Carla Gugino, Bruce Greenwood, Henry Thomas, Kate Siegel, Carel Struycken, Jamie Flanagan, Natalie Roers 

How scary is it: 5 out of 5. Gerald’s Game is a litmus test even for seasoned horror pros thanks to the aforementioned hand scene, which is one of the goriest and hardest-to-sit-through horror scenes of recent memory. The film also comes with a major trigger warning, as one of the overarching themes has to do with childhood sexual abuse, including scenes where the abuse is directly depicted. 

Where to watch: Stream it on Netflix 

The Haunting of Hill House (2018)

The terrifying Bent-Neck-Lady, from the Haunting of Hill House
Universal/Netflix

Arguably Flanagan’s magnum opus (at least so far), this 10-episode Netflix series is a legitimate masterwork and one of the best-ever horror TV series. A loose adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s seminal 1959 horror novel, the show follows the Crain family, who move to the eponymous house with plans to flip it. Instead, the decaying mansion infects them, planting seeds of trauma that haunt them into adulthood. A story of impossible grief and transcendent love, it’s Flanagan at his very best: scary, thoughtful, and elegantly profound.    

Flanagan regulars: Kate Siegel, Henry Thomas, Carla Gugino, Elizabeth Reaser, Victoria Pedretti, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Annabeth Gish, Robert Longstreet, Katie Parker, Lulu Wilson, Violet McGraw, Samantha Sloyan, Bruce Greenwood, James Lafferty, Fedor Steer

How scary is it: 3.5 out of 5 spooks. Though it’s loaded to the brim with ghosts and has an all-timer spook in the Bent-Neck Lady, it’s not the kind of grueling horror that’s hard to sit through for non-genre fans. Its sentiment and great big heart is a spoonful of sugar to help the horror go down.  

Where to watch: Stream it on Netflix 

Doctor Sleep (2019)

Abra and Dan on the Overlook's massive steps in Doctor Sleep
Warner Bros.

Stephen King’s Shining sequel Doctor Sleep is divisive among book readers, and a film adaptation had every right to go terribly wrong. But again, Flanagan eases concern with a movie that blends the iconography of Kubrick’s 1980 film with King’s source material, creating a balm for fans of both. Ewan McGregor stars as a grown-up Danny Torrance, who is drawn to a young girl with similar “shining” abilities to his own, who is being stalked by a troupe of soul-sucking “vampires” who gain youth by killing psychic children. Rebecca Ferguson is the standout here, her villainous Rose the Hat an iconic female villain for the books.

Flanagan regulars: Alex Essoe, Robert Longstreet, Bruce Greenwood, Katie Parker, Carel Struycken, Henry Thomas, Jacob Tremblay, Violet McGraw, Jamie Flanagan, Fedor Steer

How scary is it: 4 out of 5 spooks. Though it won’t have you jumping out of your seat, this one gets a high scare-rating thanks to the violence perpetrated against young children, both by Rose’s cronies and real-life forces like neglect and abuse. 

Where to watch: Stream it on HBO Max 

The Haunting of Bly Manor (2020)

The ghost of a young boy with a missing face from The Haunting of Bly Manor.
Netflix

A sequel of sorts to Hill House, this second installment of the (now sadly defunct) Netflix Haunting series adapts another classic horror novel, this time Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw. The tale follows an American governess caring for two children in a mansion in the English countryside, who befriends the home’s quirky staff. The house is (expectedly) haunted, and the apparitions particularly fixated on the kids. What starts as a traditional Gothic horror story transforms into something rather tender and loving, with a queer love story for the books. 

Flanagan regulars: Victoria Pedretti, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Henry Thomas, Kate Siegel, Rahul Kohli, Alex Essoe, Carla Gugino, Katie Parker, Jamie Flanagan

How scary is it: 2.5 out of 5 spooks. Bly Manor might be your safest bet if you’re Flanagan-curious but a little too scared of his darker stuff. The series is full of striking horror imagery (like the Lady in the Lake) and bumps in the night, but there’s nothing too dreadful.

Where to watch: Stream it on Netflix 

Midnight Mass (2021)

A still from Midnight Mass shows Father Paul speaking to his parishioners in church
Netflix

Addiction is a theme in much of Flanagan’s earlier work, but it’s a grounding force here. Midnight Mass is a story teased throughout his filmography—Hush’s Maddie wrote a book called Midnight Mass; its cover also appears in Gerald’s Game—and for good reason: it’s the most personal of his works, stemming directly from his own history of addiction. The result is a beautiful story about a remote island plagued by religious fanaticism and a monster preying on their vulnerable souls. The result is something so special it’s hard to really quantify, with a stellar central performance by Hamish Linklater as the town priest that will leave you haunted in more ways than one. Hill House may be his masterpiece, but Midnight Mass is the underdog.

Flanagan regulars: Kate Siegel, Zach Gilford, Samantha Sloyan, Igby Rigney, Rahul Kohli, Alex Essoe, Matt Biedel, Michael Trucco, Henry Thomas, Annabeth Gish, Robert Longstreet, Carla Gugino, Annarah Cymone

How scary is it: 3.5 out of 5 spooks. There’s definitely plenty of haunting imagery, and the penultimate episode is shockingly brutal, but the series is more thoughtful and considered than it is downright scary. It uses horror to amplify what is really a story about the boundaries of faith and what it means to live—and die.  

Where to watch: Stream it on Netflix 

The Midnight Club (2022)

A young girl hunches over with a match looking at the floor while a man stands in an elevator far behind her on The Midnight Club
Netflix

The Midnight Club might sound like a weird project for Flanagan, when it fact it’s the perfect bridge between his brand of horror and content for younger audiences. But don’t be fooled: this isn’t a kid’s show. It’s a macabre but fun-as-hell YA horror series based on the Christopher Pike novels of the same name. The story centers on eight terminally ill teens in a unique hospice center: an old manor with a history of haunts. At midnight, they gather in the basement to share horror stories. One night, they make a pact: whichever of them dies first must make contact with the others from beyond the grave. 

Flanagan regulars: Annarah Cymone, Igby Rigney, Zach Gilford, Samantha Sloyan, Matt Biedel, Robert Longstreet 

How scary is it: 3.5 out of 5 spooks. This may be a YA series, but that doesn’t mean it’s light on scares. While nothing verges on over-the-top terror, it’s definitely a horror show, complete with jump scares, spooky spectres, and other imagery that aligns it perfectly with the more grown-up stuff in Flanagan’s catalogue. 

Where to watch: Stream it on Netflix (October 7)

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