I will admit that I am a big fan of Mike Flanagan’s shows based on other gothic stories, The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson and “The Turn of the Screw” by Henry James (which, as a show, was titled The Haunting of Bly Manor). While neither show was what I would call an adaptation (in the classic sense of the word) of the written works, they gave the viewer enough of a feel for them while still being their own creepy, fantastic pieces of art.
So, when I heard that his 2022 Halloween show would be based on the 1994 novel The Midnight Cub by Christopher Pike, I immediately pre-ordered the book. While I hadn’t read this specific novel by Pike, I was introduced to him as my own childhood tastes matured out of Goosebumps books in the late 90s and early 2000s.
Here's the basic premise of the novel.
But first, a content warning for both the book and the show: unlike a typical horror film, the death here is right on the surface with the setting at a hospice for terminally ill teens.
“Every night at twelve, a group of young guys and girls at the hospice came together to tell stories. They called themselves the Midnight Club, and their stories could be true or false, inspiring or depressing, or somewhere in between.
One night, in the middle of a particularity scary story, the teenagers make a secret pact with each other: ‘The first one who dies will do whatever he or she can do to contact us from beyond the grave, to give us proof there is like after death.’
And then one of them does die…”
The novel has moments of interest, like conversations about death and how these teens show a maturity while grappling with their own mortality so young. But in truth, the novel is dated with the way it navigates ideas of love and sexuality.
But what I was most interested in seeing, and what I thought had the greatest potential with a transition from book to screen, was the story-within-a-story aspect. There are some tales that the teens come up with that would lend itself to amazing visuals.
And so, I tuned in to watch.
We get a number of new faces in this show. If you're familiar with Flanagan’s work you know to expect there will be reappearances by actors in new roles. So, according to IMDB, they are Flanagan newbies now, but we can expect a number of them in The Fall of the House of Usher coming next Halloween (and based on the Edgar Allen Poe short story).
But true to this style, we do get Samantha Sloyan as healer Shasta and Zach Gilford as nurse Mark (both from Midnight Mass) and Rahul Kohli (Midnight Mass, Haunting of Bly Manor) who appears as a character in a story.
Is it true to the book?
Like with Flanagan’s other adaptations, there are changes between the original Pike novel and the show. Although it is worth noting that author Christopher Pike does serve as executive producer.
The first obvious change is that there are more members of the Midnight Club than there are in the book. This of course allows for more storylines throughout—only Kevin, Ilonka, Spencer, Anya, and Sandra share the names with the book.
This leads into the next one: with more teens, we get way more stories at midnight, and they are way more involved that the original text (which is only about 215 pages). The only one true to The Midnight Club novel is Anya's story The Two Danas. But Flanagan, in his delightful wisdom, uses other Pike novels to supply the creepy tales. It is a lovely way to open Pike’s works to a new generation of readers while also showing that depression, suicide, love, and more are themes that transcend time.
The series not only increases the darkness and violence in the stories the teens tell, but there is also an added a cult background for the house, pitting natural medicine against science.
There is also much more death (and less supernatural events) in the novel than the show, which is a bit problematic for a hospice setting. In addition, while the actors navigate the conversations around their mortality well, the bigger issue is that they appear and do things that seem too healthy.
Is it worth watching?
Overall, the show is better than the novel it is based on. But…
… the series deals well with several sensitive topics like terminal illness, AIDS and the gay community, and suicide. These prevalent and very real topics around mortality that touch us all is what makes it difficult to watch, not the specters and jump scares (episode 7 is guaranteed to make you cry).
In addition, there is a storyline of natural medicine vs. science vs. religion, which might also be a touch too sensitive coming off of years talking about vaccines during the global pandemic. If you feel mentally prepared to handle all of that, then yes, I’d say give the show a watch.
But if you’re expecting something like Hill House or Bly Manor, this one doesn’t deliver. Midnight Club is for a younger demographic than his other shows (especially capitalizing on the return of 90s fashion in 2022). It’s missing the complexity of Flanagan’s other shows, which is interesting given the adult theme of grappling with your own death. The narrative ‘breadcrumbs’ are just too big and easy to follow (and for any reader, it will be incredibly frustrating how long it takes the kids to identify the Dewey Decimal Classification). And the ending will have you googling “will there be a season 2?” but not in the way I think they hoped—I don’t think I am emotionally and mentally prepared for another season. I’ll be reading the summaries instead.