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Review: Hulu's monthly horror anthology 'Into The Dark' is more chill than chilling

Review: Hulu's monthly horror anthology 'Into The Dark' is more chill than chilling
Tom Bateman and Rebecca Rittenhouse in "The Body," the first installation of Hulu's monthly horror anthology "Into the Dark." (Hulu)

Hulu’s anthology horror series “Into the Dark” isn’t the first of its kind. Every generation has one, or ten, nightmare-inducing creepshows of their own. “The Outer Limits,” “Tales From the Crypt,” “Goosebumps, “American Horror Story,” etc.

Blumhouse TV’s “Into the Dark,” which premieres Friday, carves out its own niche by offering up 12 lengthy episodes helmed by different directors (think “Room 104”). These stand-alone, film-length episodes arrive the first Friday of every month and are inspired by a holiday that takes place during that month.

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Binge-watching is not an option here, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. This series gets off to a shaky start over its first two installments, so it’s questionable whether fans will have the will or want to wait four weeks or more between episodes.

Premiere episode “The Body,” directed by Paul Davis and based on his short film of the same name, starts out well enough, replete with sufficient amounts of gore and suspense. But it quickly devolves from creepy to irritating thanks to 80 long minutes to fill, a plot with few surprises and an overwrought love affair with B-movie horror.

“The Body” opens with dapper hitman Wilkes (Tom Bateman) sitting at a dining table in his latest victim’s upscale apartment, sipping wine after the kill. On the floor is a bloody corpse, and on the table, a wheel of cheese squirming with maggots. Wilkes, of course, savors a wedge. Lovely stuff and just in time for Halloween.

It’s October 31st in this story, so when the suit-and-tie wearing assassin drags the body (now wrapped in plastic) out of the building, costumed party-goers stare and point before yelling “Great costume!” Wilkes knows this is the best night to murder and get away with it.

The stoic, British-accented gun for hire isn’t just clever, though, he’s a sophisticate who harbors disdain for the drunken idiots around him as they stagger around downtown L.A. in ridiculous outfits. But when he chances upon a group of self-absorbed millennials (Rebecca Rittenhouse, Aurora Perrineau, David Hull and Ray Santiago) just as he needs to evade police, the condescending Wilkes becomes entangled in their vapid world of raves, craft cocktails and emoji-speak.

They invite the strange foreboding character to come to an exclusive party with the hopes that his “amazing” costume and corpse “prop” will gain them favor with the monied host. It’s clear that the annoying 20-somethings are going to end up on the wrong side of whatever gruesome weapon he chooses, and they’re so insufferable it can’t happen fast enough. And it doesn’t happen fast enough.

Please kill them, you’ll find yourself asking, as they opine about their art (bankrolled atop a trust fund), take selfies with the corpse and mistake a Marie Antionette costume for something from Disney’s “Frozen.”

Meanwhile, the hitman is so stone cold in his expressions that he’s practically a walking corpse. But somehow Maggie (Rittenhouse) falls for him. “You really got this killer thing down! I like it,” she says as he discusses how easy it is to slay his victims.

She’s hopelessly hooked when he says, “There’s no art in the natural world. There is murder,” then kills one of her peers.

“That was the most amazing thing I’ve ever heard,” swoons Maggie. “Do you know how often I’ve wanted to do that to somebody?”

It’s supposed to be funny, but it feels more like one stiff gag after the next, delivered by a cast with little feel for the material. When the gang flees from Wilkes through an escape room (get it?!), they finally find the safety of the dance floor and shout “Call the police! One of the guests is trying to kill us!” The crowd cheers.

Those hoping for stylized gore or kitschy horror film humor won’t find quality doses of either in “The Body.”

The psychological thriller “Flesh & Blood,” the second installment of “Into the Dark” (it arrives Nov. 2), is a bit more inspired and artful than episode one. Performances by Dermot Mulroney as Henry, the father of traumatized teen and newcomer Dana Silver as his daughter Kimberly are alone worth the wait.

The episode, directed by Patrick Lussier, follows the plight of Kimberly, who’s suffered from agoraphobia ever since her mother was killed in an unsolved murder. She believes the house is the only safe space on the planet. Poor Kimberly.

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The suspense builds for about the first 20 minutes of the 80-minute episode but soon flattens into a mildly interesting drama that fizzles out with minimal payoff.

If only this horror anthology was more, well, horrifying. As is, “Into the Dark” is more chill than chilling.

‘Into the Dark’

Where: Hulu

When: Any time, Friday

Rating: TV-MA-LV (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17 with advisories for coarse language and violence)

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