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The Mist The Walking Dead The Reality Of Horror Main

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THE MIST, THE WALKING DEAD, & THE REALITY OF HORROR

Written by Stuart D. Monroe

I remember a day and age when horror, profitable as it was, tended to be viewed as the height of unreality. Maybe it’s just me – I grew up in the age of the slasher film, a time of thin characters where the motivations were even thinner. I love those times, too. They hold a special place in my heart. My happy place is full of cheesy Freddy Krueger one-liners and lascivious camp counselors impaled with their boyfriends in a sex sandwich.

(L-R) Laurie Holden, Jeffrey DeMunn, and Frances Sternhagen in The Mist.Nowadays, making that kind of horror gets you labeled as “throwback”. Even in the wider picture of pop culture at large, the ‘80s and ‘90s nostalgia is ruling the roost. Down here in the trenches, however, the horror of today is grounded in reality. You actually give a rat’s ass about the characters. Family drama and the tension that comes from testing those bonds produces fright fare capable of emotions other than simple fear or adrenaline. Often the nastiest shocks come from the ugliness of humankind and its propensity for violence in the name of survival…or violence for violence’s sake.

The change didn’t happen overnight, but much credit needs to go to the style and influence of one of America’s most important creators – Frank Darabont. A three-time Oscar nominee for The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption, Frank Darabont speaks the language of Stephen King like few others (and God knows many have tried). While his biggest successes have come from Stephen King stories that aren’t exactly horror per se, it’s his work on The Master’s arguably bleakest novella, The Mist, that changed the game when it hit the big screen in 2007. Darabont then upped the reality factor by bringing Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard’s wildly successful comic, The Walking Dead, to the AMC Network in 2010.

Frank Darabont and Laurie Holden.Everyone knows The Walking Dead has been a juggernaut for years (despite sagging ratings in recent years), just as everyone knows that The Mist wasn’t adored by mainstream critics despite plenty of love from genre critics and awards alike, shaking off initially slow box office to eventually perform respectfully via word of mouth (and the power of one of the ballsiest endings ever filmed). Over time, The Mist has aged like a fine wine and The Walking Dead continues to shamble on to mixed reviews with a still voracious appetite. What’s the connection, though?

Aside from (obviously) Frank Darabont himself, the two share seven actors of varying importance. Melissa McBride played “Woman with Kids at Home” in a memorable turn in The Mist and plays Carol Peletier for 144 episodes and counting (the longest running regular behind only Norman Reedus). Laurie Holden follows; she played Amanda Dunfrey in The Mist and was a regular on The Walking Dead as Andrea Harrison for 35 episodes from 2010-2013. The remaining five actors – Jeffrey DeMunn, Sam Whitwer, Tiffany Morgan, Juan Gabriel Pareja, and Cheri Dvorak – have played a wide variety of roles in The Mist and The Walking Dead, each bringing something unique and memorable to both. On the other side of the camera, David Boyd directed an episode of the 2017 Spike TV version of The Mist (a “twisted cousin” of the film) after he directed 10 episodes of The Walking Dead between 2010 and 2019.

It’s much more than just actor and director crossover, though. The Mist and The Walking Dead both serve as important signposts on the journey of horror in the 21st century, a road that’s taken the genre to more mainstream respectability thanks in large part to that grounding in reality. Said reality begins in simple human nature.

Survival is the dominant theme in both worlds. There’s a scene in The Mist where David Drayton (Thomas Jane; Dreamcatcher, The Punisher) is planning an escape from the growing religious Melissa McBride in The Mist.cult inside the microcosm of the Food House supermarket. He’s speaking with Amanda Dunfrey (Laurie Holden) and Dan Miller (Jeffrey DeMunn). She remarks that Miller doesn’t have much faith in humanity. He scoffs at her notion, and she bristles. “I can't accept that. People are basically good; decent. My god, David, we're a civilized society,” she nearly pleads. David responds, “Sure, as long as the machines are working and you can dial 911. But you take those things away, you throw people in the dark, you scare the shit out of them – no more rules.”

I’ll be damned if that doesn’t summarize both worlds perfectly, but it also encapsulates the mindset we’ve developed in the post-9/11 world we live in now. With each passing year the world gets crazier, and the horror on the screen becomes more real and relatable. We’re not completely in the dark yet, but it feels like it more than we’d like to admit. Survival mode has kicked in on a subconscious level, and we’re echoing that in our art.

Horror has always been at the forefront of social change. It’s one of the many reasons that horror fans get so riled up at the critical derision of the genre, but that’s a topic for another day. Frank Darabont was at the top of his game in this stage of his career. Not only is The Mist as much a standalone classic as The Walking Dead is a cultural milestone, but hindsight shows us that their cinematic creator may just be a goddamned prophet.

Now, let’s just hope it doesn’t all end the way it did for David Drayton. Make sure you have enough bullets…or just be a bit more patient. Your call.

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About The Author
Stuart D. Monroe
Staff Writer
Stuart D. Monroe is a man of many faces – father, husband, movie reviewer, published author of short horror, unsuccessful screenwriter (for now), rabid Clemson Tiger, Southern gentleman, and one hell of a model American who goes by the handle "Big Daddy Stu" or "Sir". He's also highly disturbed and wears that fact like a badge of honor. He is a lover of all things horror with a particular taste for the fare of the Italians and the British. He sometimes gets aroused watching the hardcore stuff, but doesn't bother worrying about whether he was a serial killer in a past life as worrying is for the weak. He was raised in the video stores of the '80s and '90s. The movie theater is his cathedral. He worships H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, and Clive Barker. When he writes, he listens obsessively to either classical music or the works of Goblin to stimulate the neural pathways. His favorite movie is Dawn of the Dead. His favorite book is IT. His favorite TV show is LOST.
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