We have reached a blood curdling apex in horror entertainment. Once perceived by many as a disagreeable genre that would occasionally spawn a monster movie hit like The Exorcist or a profitable 1980s slasher series, horror has become a powerful, more accepted genre in Hollywood and especially lucrative on television. But now that we have been deluged with many quality series (and many not so great), could this maelstrom of fear soon wear thin?
Enter Lore, the Amazon Prime Video’s new series inspired by Aaron Mahnke’s podcast of the same name, which is 70 episodes and two-and-a-half years strong. Each of the six television episodes investigate actual incidents of alleged paranormal incidents throughout world history. While it has been called unscripted or reality TV, this understated but eerie show, which debuts on Friday, October 13, integrates scripted dramatic recreations with unscripted animation and mixed media to delve into the creation of many myths, superstitions and urban legends that haunt our psyches.
Playboy caught up with the show’s cast and creators at last week’s New York Comic Con, which featured an interactive exhibit that fans waited an hour to experience. Further, a Lore-inspired tour is now happening in Los Angeles. Executive producer Gale Ann Hurd stresses that without Mahnke’s great material, there would be no series playbook. “Unlike most reality shows, we had a script for each episode, so we knew exactly how the unscripted animation and the scripted elements would flow together,” she says.
What makes Lore feel so relevant is that we live in a modern era where many people have chosen to disregard science, medicine and straight facts in favor of sculpting a reality with which they are more comfortable. The show plugs into that paradigm quite naturally. “I think we’re always in danger of having a fear of something we don’t understand—the fear of the modern world, the fear of the modern woman—and ascribing the supernatural to that, and assume that someone must’ve been taken over if they are not following social mores,“ says Hurd. "I think that makes it even scarier.”
Holland Roden appears in the episode “Changeling” playing an independent, self-employed wife in Ireland in the late 1800s. Her husband, intimidated by her strength and unwillingness to follow his whims, thinks she has become possessed by a changeling, a fairy double that, if not exorcised within nine days, will fully replace her. The more he tries to change her back with barbaric practices, the more horrifying the events become.
We’re really good at hurting things we hate, and that’s not something that has ever changed. It’s not a political statement; it’s just human nature.
“I had no idea that Irish folklore was taken so seriously to the point where it was a religion basically,” says Roden. “People really did live by it.” She asked the Irish members of her cast to confirm such superstitions and they confirmed that in their grandparents’ generation such irrational notions were accepted as fact. But, Roden adds, “The people that didn’t believe it still had to live by it. There are a couple of characters in the episode that don’t believe it but pretend they have to. You start to feel the change in Irish society at that point in time, but the people that did believe were the males who ruled the roost, and the women had to secretly talk amongst each other if they resisted what was basically considered a religion.”
Hurd points out that (spoiler alert) the resultant murder case from that story had a huge impact on that country. “Ultimately, Ireland did not get its independence because people thought that they were so backward,” says Hurd. “These stories actually have ripple effects that are much larger than just the people in real life who were affected.”
Robert Patrick took on the episode “Passing Notes” as a welcome diversion from his main gig on Scorpion. The former X-Files co-star also has a passion for the unknown and the unsolved, and this series goes from exploring the myths that inspired his previous show to uncovering the creation of such myths. In the episode “Passing Notes,” he portrays a Philadelphia reverend who, after grieving the loss of his wife, remarries to a younger women with two children and relocates to Connecticut. Becoming aware of séances and spiritualism, he sees an opportunity to reconnect with his dead spouse and speak to her one last time. In doing so, he unleashes a demonic spirit that attacks his family. “It’s based on the Connecticut hauntings,” says Patrick. “He left the house after two years. He was getting notes coming down out of thin air telling him to get the hell out of the house.”
Patrick understands that people like being scared by spooky legends. “I moved around enough as a kid that there were different places where I lived [with stories like] ‘Don’t go to that house over there, that’s the Medford house, that’s haunted.’ Right there, that’s enough for you to go, 'Really? What happened?’ What do you do? You go there to see if there is something there that will scare you out of your wits.”
True Blood alum Kristin Bauer van Straten appears in the episode “Unboxed” as the mother of a boy whose oversized doll, Robert, is seemingly possessed. The actor loves that the storytelling of Lore crosses into nonfiction. “I think that’s more intriguing and frightening than trying to go for shock value or more gore or more stunts,” says von Straten. “I think we’ve gone as far as we can in horror in that direction, so I feel like we have to go back to engaging the mind and the psychological aspect. It’s such an interesting way to do that when it becomes folkloric and becomes something that people say they experienced.”
Despite the creepy nature of the tales he tells, Lore podcast creator Mahnke has a calm, matter-of-fact delivery, both in his podcast and on the show. Others might have approached the material in a more obvious way. “I might inject some humor because I’m asking people to follow me into a dark cave, and I want them to feel comfortable with me,” he explains. “I’m not going to scream or use a creepy voice, and I might even tell a joke and see if it lightens the mood a little bit. They’re going to step a little bit deeper in the cave with me, then I’m going to let go of their hand and leave them there.”
He’s not only taking us into a dark cave but into the darker parts of our psyche. These stories tend to deal with fears and superstitions that were usually not grounded in reality and often masked inherent prejudices. Some abound today. “We lash out at things we don’t like,” notes Mahnke. “We’re really good at hurting things we hate, and that’s not something that has ever changed. It’s not a political statement, it’s not a right or left issue, it’s just human nature. It’s rough when you hate things. We’re bad at it. That’s a part of the storytelling process. It’s an embedded fact in folklore. When you pass these stories down through the generations, we’re also teaching ourselves about how we used to be.”
Executive producer Brett-Patrick Jenkins believes that Lore says a lot about society both back then and now. The idea that a man would kill his wife because he thought she was a changeling seems insane, but it actually happened. “In another episode, someone thought their son was a vampire because he had tuberculosis,” adds Jenkins. “I think the show is entertaining and you can watch it just as a horror story, but if you take a deeper dive there is a whole other layer and universe there.”