Special Miniseries Episode: Midnight Mass (2021)
Horror Bulletin Reviews for Week 169
This week, we’ll watch all seven episodes of Netflix’s “Midnight Mass” series as well as a fun short film.
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where this week, we cover:
“Daughter of Dr. Jekyll (1957)”
“Psychomania” and “The Death Wheelers” from 1972
Next week, we’ll be back with a little less screaming!
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Midnight Mass (2021) Book One: Genesis
Directed by Mike Flanagan
Written by Jamie Flanagan, Mike Flanagan, Joyce Sherri, Teresa Sutherland
Stars Kate Siegel, Zach Gilford, Kristin Lehman, Samantha Sloyan
Run Time: Around 60 Minutes per episode
This week, we look at a seven-part miniseries that is currently airing on Netflix. It’s been out a little while now, so we will include full spoilers in the synopsis below. We will be working through one or more chapters each day this week, so stay tuned for the complete story.
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone for Entire Series
It’s pretty terrific with a nice slow build. There are some moments that seem maybe a little too talky, but the writing is very good. There isn’t a weak link in a pretty large cast of featured characters. The special effects are top notch.
Book 1: Genesis
We open on a traffic accident. Riley Flynn sits in handcuffs as the paramedics decide they can’t save the dead girl across from him. He was drunk and caused the accident. He gets a rather lengthy prison term.
Four years later, on the sparsely-populated Crocket island, Riley is being released. Only his mother seems to want to see him. Riley’s brother Warren imports pot from some guy on the ferry.
Elsewhere, a man drags a big trunk off the boat and takes it home. It’s got heavy padlocks on it and something inside knocks to get out.
Warren and his friends row out to a tiny island full of stray cats. There’s also a cemetery on the island full of bodies that are hundreds of years old. They come out there to get high. They imagine they see a huge bird in the sky.
Riley’s ferry arrives and his mother, Annie, picks him up. Monsignor Pruitt was supposed to be on the boat as well, but he didn’t come back from vacation.
Erin goes to the gynecologist, Dr. Gunning, as she’s five months pregnant. The doctor’s elderly mother has dementia. Joe, the town drunk, claims to Sheriff Hassan that he saw a giant albatross chasing him last night.
There’s a big storm coming in tomorrow night, so the sheriff and the town leaders make plans. The marina shuts down and they switch off the power to the docks for safety.
Bev, the church lady, sees a light on at the Monsignor’s house and lets herself in. She doesn’t expect who she finds.
Sunday comes, and there’s a new preacher in town that no one expected. Father Paul Hill says that he is filling in for a few weeks while the old priest recovers on the mainland. Afterward, Riley and Erin catch up on their sad and pathetic lives since they last talked four years ago.
The storm arrives. The power goes out. Riley sees Monsignor Pruitt out walking in the storm on the beach. When he goes out to chase the man, he’s gone. The next morning, the whole island is a mess, with lots of storm damage. There are hundreds of dead cats laying on the beach…
Comment: Lots of character introductions and we meet the town, but there are only hints of something ominous coming. We immediately noticed several young-to-middle-age actors made up to look much older than they are. Will they be doing flashbacks, or are the characters going to get younger? We’ll see...
Book 2: Psalms
The sheriff, mayor, and everyone else wants to see the dead cats on the beach. The island of cats must’ve flooded for the first time in twenty years. Except, the sheriff points out, these cats didn’t drown; their necks are broken and there’s no blood anywhere. We see that Mayor Wade is a know-it-all jerk who brushes off the cats as nothing to be concerned about.
Father Paul does a daily service and only three people attend. When Leeza asks him where he came from, he’s a bit evasive. Riley goes to an AA meeting on the mainland. Father Paul goes to see Dr. Gunning’s mother Mildred, who hasn’t gone to church since her dementia set in. He gives her personal communion. She confuses Paul with the old Monsignor.
One of Warren’s friends sees something big flying in the sky. It also sees him…
Sunday rolls around again, and Father Paul gives a rousing sermon that really hits the people in the audience. Afterward, the whole town has a potluck picnic. Everyone talks and does normal drama until someone poisons old Joe’s dog, and he suspects it was Bev, the church lady. The sheriff follows up with Bev the next day who denies the whole thing vociferously.
Father Paul sets up an AA branch on the island, and it’s only him and Riley. Awkward!
Erin sees someone outside her window. So does old Mildred. Bowl, the drug dealer, hears something and investigates— something large “gets” him.
The following Sunday, Father Paul performs a miracle. He gets Leeza to walk and leave her wheelchair.
Comment: It’s clear by this point that it’s gonna be a really slow burn, but the characters are interesting, the location is fascinating, and the situation is strange. There’s only one scene with the drug dealer that involves anything monstrous, but it’s good enough for part two!
Book 3: Proverbs
We hear Father Paul reminiscing about old Monsignor Pruitt and how bad off he was even before he left for his trip. His dementia was more advanced than anyone realized. The old man wandered away from the tour group and got lost in the desert.
We then flash forward to when Leeza walked for the first time. Paul runs out of the church to his home, and Bev follows. Paul vomits blood after the “miracle.”
Dr. Gunning is at a loss to explain Leeza’s recovery. She recommends further study on the mainland, but the parents are against the idea. Riley wonders how Father Paul knew she could walk. How did he know? Paul doesn’t have much of an answer.
Mildred can suddenly climb the stairs. Ed’s back is feeling better; he even dances with Annie for the first time in ages. The church is packed the next Sunday. Three weeks pass, and things are good. We see Bev with her rat poison again, and then we see Father Paul collapse at the pulpit.
We flash back to Monsignor Pruitt in the desert, where he found a cave.
Dr. Gunning pronounces Paul as OK. Leeza confronts Joe, the town drunk who shot her in the back years ago. She’s not forgiving, but she also is. The Muslim Sheriff complains at a town meeting about his son, all the students, being given a Bible at school. Bev is about as hypocritical and racist as can be. With the recent miracle, the community doesn’t pay much heed to the sheriff’s concern. Erin is repulsed at the whole mess.
Dr. Gunning’s mother Mildred is getting more and more lucid. And is she looking younger too? Joe shows up at Riley’s AA meeting, and they have a nice talk. The sheriff and his son have a long discussion about belief and religion and miracles, and then he sees a face in the window for just a moment.
Father Paul collapses again, this time with bloody convulsions. This time, he dies.
We see old man Pruitt in the cave once again. He lights a match and sees glowing eyes in the darkness. He lights another, and is attacked by a winged demon-looking creature. Pruitt thought it was an angel. It gave Pruitt some of its own blood. Later, the old man crawls to the entrance to the cave, and we see that he’s much younger now— he’s Father Paul. Pruitt got younger and became Father Paul. Paul then brought the “Angel” home with him, smuggled in that big trunk we saw in episode one.
Will he stay dead? Nope. Paul sits up, feeling much better now.
Comments: It’s a natural progression of events after the previous episode, but not much happens in the overall story once again. It’s as much a soap opera as a monster movie. The “twist” with Father Paul turning out to be the reinvigorated Monsignor Pruitt wasn’t really a huge surprise, we had suspected that.
Book 4: Lamentations
Erin is at Dr. Gunning’s getting an ultrasound for the baby. We notice that there’s no sound. There hasn’t been much kicking. The baby is... gone. She’s not pregnant. She was last week! Gunning thinks she miscarried and then blocked it out, but Erin says there’s no way.
Bev is taking care of Paul. She keeps going on about how he came back from the dead. He doesn’t want to eat her food for some reason. She knows who he really is— the reinvigorated Monsignor Pruitt. What she doesn’t know is that Father Paul is becoming allergic to sunlight. It burns him.
Ed and Riley have an uncomfortable father-son talk and Riley cries. At Dr. Gunning’s place, old lady Mildred is suddenly completely normal and coherent, but Erin’s blood sample explodes in the sunlight. Erin tells her own sad story to Riley, and he cries some more (he’s probably wishing he had just stayed in prison at this point). They eventually discuss what they each believe happens after death. He’s an atheist, but she’s very religious.
Father Paul is in great pain. He cuts himself and licks up the blood. He goes to see Mildred, who figures out who he is as well. She’s old enough to remember him as a young man. He gives her Communion.
Back at his house, we see Father Paul putting something in the Communion wine between bouts of pain. He chugs the wine just as Joe comes by to talk about not drinking today. Paul talks about fighting the hunger that gnaws from within, and he’s not talking about alcohol. One thing leads to another, and Paul ends up licking Joe’s spilled blood up off the floor.
The next morning, the Muslim sheriff’s son goes to the Catholic Church for the first time. Bev finds the priest and Dead Joe in his home, and she decides to “handle it.” She has a plan. She goes back to the church and explains that the Father is sick. She gets Mayor Wade and another man to dump the body in the ocean. She’s gone full-Renfield.
Erin goes to the mainland for a second opinion about the baby. They don’t believe she was ever really pregnant. There’s no evidence that she’s ever been pregnant— it wasn’t even a miscarriage. They suggest a psychiatrist.
Riley shows up for AA, but no one else is there. Paul finally shows up, and they talk about Erin’s missing baby. Riley catches Paul in a lie about Joe visiting his sister, whom Riley knows is dead. Annie and Ed are both feeling so much better; Annie doesn’t even need her glasses any more.
A strange figure visits Father Paul that night. He’s very tall and has long claws. The “man” refills the Communion wine flask with his own blood. Riley goes back to talk to Paul about the lie and finds them both there. The vampire attacks and bites Riley while Paul shuts the door.
Commentary: Finally, we get some idea as to what’s really going on here. There are a lot of long conversations, or maybe monologues from Riley and the people around him. Paul is obviously some kind of vampire now, but he was innocent when he arrived; this is all just developing for him. He’s putting vampire blood (or whatever that thing is) in the Communion wine, and that explains the people in town starting to heal and get stronger.
Short Film: House of Straw (2015)
Directed by Kyle Bogart
Written by Kyle Bogart
Stars Liz Beckham, Jason Newman, Joseph Garlock
Run Time: 16:06
Watch it at:
It starts out so normal. Reed is buying some pork scraps from Nicholas' butcher shop for their dog. Reed mentions that Emma lost her wedding ring, but Nicholas says she hasn't been to the shop in weeks. Reed goes home to Emma, and it's quickly clear that something is off. There is no dog. Why are they dumping the pork into a tub in the shed? And why is Reed filling shotgun shells? It doesn't take long to figure out where things are going, but even then it's very interesting.
Love and relationships can be complicated enough as it is. Throw in another...factor and it takes things to a whole new level. The acting and script are excellent. Special effects are all really good. This one is well worth checking out.
Book 5: Gospel
Annie and Ed are looking quite a bit younger, and they wonder what happened to Riley. Mildred is now looking nearly as young as her daughter. Bowl’s mother goes to the sheriff about her missing son. They change the sign at church: now there’s only going to be masses held at night, no more in the daytime. Mildred finally goes outside, and the town considers it another miracle. Erin goes looking for Riley. The sheriff goes looking for Joe.
Everyone comes to church that evening after dark. It’s Good Friday, so it’s a big time for the church. Father Paul talks about being good soldiers during the coming war; morality changes; you must follow your conscience. When the service ends, Mildred is horrified at what she heard and refuses to go back.
Riley comes to Erin’s house, and he looks fine now. They row out on a boat for some privacy. She wants to know where he was, and he has a monologue.
He eventually gets to his story that we get to see in flashback. He wakes up on the floor of the community center where the creature attacked him. Paul forcibly straightens Riley’s broken neck; it cracks a few times in the process. He wakes up a while later, looking much better now, but really hungry. He runs outside and starts burning in the sun so Paul yanks him back in. He's a full vampire now, and Paul explains things. They start with who Paul really is.
Paul explains that he, and Riley as well, have been taken back to their perfect self, their best selves. Bev comes in to see if everything is going to plan. She obviously knows everything. Riley can hear the heart beating in her chest; he wants to eat her. Paul explains it all away as God’s will. Bev exalts how all this is right there in the book Revelations, and it mostly does fit. Riley, still mostly an atheist, doesn’t really fall for it. The sun goes down, and they let Riley go.
Riley overhears Mildred outside the church, and his hunger starts to hit again. He looks in on his sleeping family and then goes to Erin’s house. We pop back the present, with Riley and Erin on the boat. He wants to show her, to prove it to her. He apologizes for what she has to see. He begs her to go to the mainland and not try to save the others, but he knows she will anyway.
The sun comes up, and Riley burns. Erin screams.
Comments: The episode is mostly concerned with Father Paul explaining the logic behind vampirism to Riley in the recreation center. It’s amazing how someone can twist scripture to support just about anything, but what he says all makes sense and is pretty logical if you ignore the ethics behind it.
Book 6: Acts of the Apostles
We resume on the boat where Riley is now just a pile of ash. Erin rows back to the island. The sign on the church mentions Midnight Mass Easter Vigil is this weekend.
Erin goes to see Dr. Gunning and tells her the story about Riley. It’s crazy, but then there’s the doctor’s mother, so she’s got her own crazy story. She puts a bit of Mildred's blood into the sunlight. Sizzle! The three women try to work out what’s been happening. She’s not sure if the process will go away on its own or not if they stop ingesting “the material.”
Somehow, Father Paul knows Riley has died. Bev has platitudes, which annoys Paul. “Who knows who he told?” She asks.
Ed, Annie, and Warren find letters from Riley in their beds. Ed comes to see Father Paul, and says the letters he got were “delusional.” He leaves the letters with Paul. Erin goes to Annie, who doesn’t believe Riley is dead.
Doctor Gunning goes to the sheriff, who doesn’t believe any of it. The sheriff explains why he moved to the island after 9/11. He doesn’t even carry a gun on this sleepy little island. Gunning, Mildred, and Erin go to the ferry to head to the mainland, but it’s not there. Sturge says that all the boats are being serviced today, and he reminds them about the Easter vigil— three times.
The power cuts off just after dark. The sheriff calls Sturge, who has his hand on the big switch, along with the mayor, and says to the sheriff that it just happens sometimes. He doesn’t know why. They plan on knocking out the cell tower later at night. Erin tells the others that she plans on going to the midnight mass tonight. The sheriff’s son wants to go to the mass, and he wants his father to go see the “big miracle” that is promised.
Bev starts a procession through town as everyone heads toward the church. Sturge cuts the cell tower wires; the island is completely cut off now. They all file into the church, followed last by Father Paul. Everyone is there. Paul does his confession: That he is Monsignor Pruitt, rejuvenated. He was “blessed by an angel of the lord and he brought him home. Tonight, the same will happen to each and every one of them.
Paul calls up Sturge, who drinks rat poison and dies. The sheriff tries to leave when the “angel” shows up blocking the door. He walks in so that everyone can see him and flairs out his huge wings. Sturge gets up, alive again. They bring out little cups of rat poison for everyone!
Everyone starts looking really uncomfortable when the poison is distributed with the demonic-looking angel standing before them. The sheriff finally draws a gun, and the others pull him down. Many of the people start chugging the poison and dying. Mildred picks up the gun and shoots Paul in the head; the demon swoops over and drags her outside.
Bev takes charge, but as the dead rise, they all hear hearts beating, including hers. Half the parishioners start eating the other half. A handful of people get out the back door. This was not what Paul had planned, but Bev thinks it’s all for the best.
Comments: Could this be any more “culty?”
Each and every one of these characters gets a ten-minute dramatic monologue sooner or later. This time, it was the sheriff. They’re good; they’re really good, but it is starting to feel more than a little drawn out. They are quite good at managing to convey a sense of growing tension and impending disaster, while not much happens— until all hell breaks loose.
What are they all going to eat now that they are all vampires? Well, there were a few who still aren’t infected..
Book 7: Revelation
A few hours have passed. Father Paul is back on his feet after being shot in the head. Mildred comes inside, awake after being killed and changed, and she looks to be about twenty years old now. Paul admits that he did the whole thing to save old Mildred from her impending death. It comes out that he is Dr. Gunning’s father; he was closer to Mildred than we knew.
Elsewhere, the newly-changed vampires are eating (and feeding) the rest of the village. Dr. Gunning, Leeza, Erin, Annie, Warren, and the sheriff are hiding in a house. Erin figures that the vampire’s plan is to get things to the mainland and start spreading it everywhere. They talk until Bev and Sturge throw a Molotov cocktail through the window. Annie goes out to stall while the others go out the back way. They spot the “angel” out there killing people.
Surge thinks they should put out the fire at the house since the winds are so strong, but Bev says let it burn. “Let all of it burn.” She likes the idea so much that the two of them set fire to more houses and businesses.
Annie finds Ed, and they’re both vampires now. They decide to fight the hunger. The sheriff, doctor, and Erin start filling gas cans to burn the boats in order to prevent the vampires from spreading.
Leeza and Warren find the main vampire feeding and shoot him several times but he doesn’t even notice them. They pour gasoline on him and set him on fire, and he notices that. Sturge tells the other vamps to burn every building but church and the rec center.
Bev comes into the church spouting her crap. She shows Paul and Mildred what’s been going on, and they are not pleased. Bev explains the plan to spread their “gospel” to the rest of the world. Father Paul recognizes that he was wrong all along. Bev loses it on him, telling how he was the weak point in all this, and she will lead the others.
Leeza and Warren grab a canoe and head offshore to avoid the carnage.
Bev starts rubbing it in with some of the locals who weren’t churchgoers. She starts telling Sturge who to exclude from the rec room, where they will all sleep through the day. Father Paul announces he’ll take the excluded into the church except he finds Dr. Gunning pouring gas throughout the church. He pauses and says it’s good, and that he’s proud of her. As they have their tearful farewell, Sturge shoots and kills her. Paul attacks him, but can’t kill him. Paul feeds the doctor some of his special blood, but she spits it out and dies for real. Mildred sets the church ablaze with Father Paul’s blessing.
Then they spot the sheriff pouring gas on the rec center. Bev calls him a terrorist and shoots him. This is the last building on the island he says before she shoots him again.
The demon swoops down and kills Erin. Before she dies, she slices up the monster’s wing while he’s busy feeding. The sheriff’s son picks up a lighter and sets the rec room on fire.
Where are all the vampires going to go now?
The sun starts to come up. The bat-winged demon tries to fly away but can’t get very far. It flies West, away from the sunrise, but it’s unlikely that he’ll get very far. Erin flashes back to her conversation with Riley about Death— she’s about to find out what happens. We watch as the various remaining now-vampiric characters wander around, knowing what’s about to happen. The sheriff finally dies.
Bev gets a frantic idea to dig a hole for herself as the sunrise approaches. The rest of the villagers all start singing hymns.
The sun comes up, and everyone bursts into flame. All the singing just suddenly stops, which was a nice detail. Warren and Leeza watch the island burn from their boat. Leeza says she can’t feel her legs.
Comments: The ending took so long to complete that the vampires could have simply dug some holes to hide in; Bev got the idea, but far too late. Surely the power plant or water works had a stone building. These guys were just ready to die at the end or something— the island is small, but surely some building remained. I assume since Leeza lost the use of her legs at the end that meant the magic, in the form of the big vampire demon thing, had also died.
It’s a super-slow burn, but it’s intended as a miniseries, so that’s not a bug, it’s a feature. You have plenty of time to get to know the setting and characters. On the other hand, many of the characters give hugely long speeches and monologues that are pretty divorced from the way real people talk. It’s beautifully written, but not realistic.
It is great that there’s time to develop theories, wonder what’s up with this or that action, and decide who knows what. It’s a mystery, a drama, and a horror story all in one.
The gore and creature special effects are good, but there’s not a huge bunch of it considering the run time. There’s a lot to be said here about religion, faith, and cults, but I’ll leave it to you to make those connections.
The final episode was a bit predictable in how it went, but the fun of this miniseries is the journey. All these characters are well-written, interesting, and have their own motivations for doing the things they do. It’s seven full hours of story, and it’s definitely worthwhile.
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