Hulu and Blumhouse TV's year of scares kicks off with a bang (and some stabbings) this week when Into the Dark debuts its inaugural episode, "The Body." Each movie-length episode will focus on one holiday a month, but it feels especially appropriate that the horror series launches with writer Paul Fischer and director Paul Davis' story about a sophisticated and sinister assassin (Tom Bateman) who must dispose of his fresh kill on Halloween night. Anybody who witnesses the hitman's hauling simply thinks he's got the night's best costume award wrapped up as tight as the cellophane around his prey's face.
So why is this the perfect episode to kick off the year of scares? "I think mostly because it's starting in October," jokes director Davis, while speaking with SYFY WIRE. "It gives people a taste of what's to come; we give a little bit of comedy, there's horror in there, there's drama. We essentially wanted to give you the kitchen sink. And you've got all this to come for another year."
"The Body" actually started back in 2013 as a short film starring Game of Thrones' resident Reek, Alfie Allen. Fischer was inspired to write the short after watching Shallow Grave on Halloween, particularly the sequence where they're trying to get rid of the body. As writer Fischer tells us, his first thought was: "Oh, if they tried to do that tonight, I wonder if anybody would even care… or notice?"
Fischer figured the premise was intriguing enough to write a short script about it. So he made a couple of passes, then shopped it around to directors, which led him to Davis, who shared his interests. They got it made in the U.K., made the festival circuit, and then wrestled with writing a feature for about a year. The pair spent another year writing the first feature draft, expanding on the "one-trick" logline pony, adding depth to all the main characters, and coming up with the "$40 million version" of what you'll see, says Davis: "It was like 'The Body' meets Fast & Furious."
As exciting as that sounds, it didn't land anywhere, so they took another couple of years before deciding to rewrite the thing on a more practical budget. Then, "out of the blue," they got a call saying that Blumhouse Television was doing this series and they were interested in Paul and Paul's script. Funnily enough, Blumhouse read the big-budget Fast & Furious version, "and then they told us that we were making it for $2 million," recalls Davis.
Good thing they had already figured out a more refined script, just for that purpose.
Part of drawing out the script was evolving the assassin, Wilkes, into a person. It was a necessary bit of development from the assassin in the short, who Davis described as "robotic," "emotionless," and "a cross between the Terminator and Michael Myers." In the feature, the Pauls wanted their killer to be charming, sophisticated, likable, and also a little bit diabolical. "I felt that he needed to be like Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange, despite the fact that we're told from the get-go that this is a guy that does bad things, he needed to be likable, he needed a sense of charm," said Davis.
While Davis wanted to cast Tom Bateman (Murder on the Orient Express) as Wilkes upon first meeting, Fischer wasn't as convinced. "He was way too handsome for me," said Fischer after seeing a picture of Bateman. But Davis was just mesmerized: "If he can do this to me, then he can do it to the audience. And he became Wilkes."
Another aspect the duo wanted to fill out from the initial short was the idea that all this happens on one crazy night, with the assassin necessarily joining fans of his "costume" at a Halloween party thrown by Ash vs Evil Dead star Ray Santiago, and then making a connection with his Marie Antoinette-dressed assistant, Maggie (Rebecca Rittenhouse, The Handmaid's Tale). Davis noted they were "doing something along the lines of Scorsese's After Hours, which is this very esoteric … one night goes completely batsh** crazy … for me it was a mesh of After Hours meets The Terminator."
Just as New York City was essential to After Hours, L.A. is part of the DNA of "The Body." Indeed, Davis says they wanted to "embrace that kind of Hollywood culture." As such it's only appropriate that adult film star/DJ Sasha Grey spins at the Halloween party (though she was originally going to play another part that got cut). And there are a few more fun cameos too, including John Landis (director of An American Werewolf in London), Allie Goertz (an editor at Mad Magazine, doing some killer folk singing), and Alex Winter (Bill of Bill and Ted's), who voices the man in the box that hires Wilkes, and whose movie The Lost Boys inspired the episode's disturbing use of maggot cheese.
While Hollywood is a part of the film's flavor, it's definitely a Halloween movie, and a fun one at that. "We're kind of playing with Hollywood culture, and with Halloween movies, and Halloween generally, and the idea that yeah, this guy's charismatic, but he's also a psychopath," says Fischer.
The story soon moves from the very Hollywood party to the hitman and his new friend Maggie chasing Santiago, Aurora Perrineau (Truth or Dare), and David Hull (TV for Monsters) around L.A. on foot (which may be the most fantastical element of the entire thing). And the more the chased outwit the chasers, the less sure you are of who to root for.
"The usual thing with a horror film is you've got to root for the people being chased by the killer, because you've got to sympathize with them, you want them to live," says Fischer. "But we all also love a good killer. So we tried to do that thing where hopefully you switch your allegiances constantly."
"I've always felt that people take away from movies what they bring to it. So I think whoever you root for is kind of based on your own individual responsibilities as a person," adds Davis. "Ambiguity at its best."
That ambiguity of who to root for also extends to Maggie and the hitman, who make for quite the unlikely alliance. "One of the things that's interesting is trying to figure out whose movie it is, and I think in a sense it's Maggie's movie, and the fact that she can't really make up her mind about whether she's really making healthy decisions or not," says Fischer. "Good instincts/bad guy."
"You hope there's going to be a redemption at the end of this by making Maggie be that breakthrough," adds Davis. "By and large, it ends up being almost a superhero origin story, maybe."
So, yeah, "The Body" has a lot going on, which is one of the many reasons it's the right way to kick off Hulu's entire year of scares. "If this is the first one, and you get 10, 11 other ones that are in the same vein, that are beautiful, they're well made, they're smart, they're anchored on something, and they're just a really, really fun 90 minutes that you can count on every four weeks," says Fischer, "I think 'The Body' kind of sells all of that."
"The Body" episode of Blumhouse TV's Into the Dark debuts this Friday, October 5, on Hulu.