7 retro TV shows that should be turned into horror films


The idea of taking a TV series that aired decades ago and reinventing it as a horror story didn’t turn out well for the dull and generic Fantasy Island (now playing in cinemas). But it could work a charm with these other retro shows, writes critic Sarah Ward.

It’s easy to see how 2020’s big-screen version of Fantasy Island came about. The original television series, airing from 1977–84, lends itself to a darker twist – any dream can turn into a nightmare, after all. And Blumhouse has faired nicely when it has revived old properties.

Halloween worked so well that two more sequels will follow, the remake of Black Christmas found a timely and topical way to update its story for the 21st-century, and The Invisible Man will soon unleash its bumps and jumps. But in Fantasy Island’s case, the results couldn’t be more generic and dull. Worse – it feels like a gimmicky by-the-numbers horror script slapped with the Fantasy Island name to make it stand out.

Still, the notion of taking a TV show that aired decades ago, finding a horror angle and reinventing it isn’t without its merit. Here’s seven that could have potential – and yes, The Muppets going gothic is one of them.

Degrassi

Since 1979, Canadian teens have been learning life lessons in a Toronto school, with the franchise cycling through five different series (plus several specials and made-for-TV movies). While the most recent version, Degrassi: Next Class, was cancelled back in 2019, Degrassi has stuck around for four decades for a reason. Bringing in new students and updating the storylines to suit each new generation couldn’t be easier.

But what if all of Degrassi’s old students were still hanging about? What if, having not quite learned all the lessons they were supposed to, they’re all trapped in limbo in the school? They keep growing old, but they’re stuck, never able to leave – pushing each generation of teens into making bad decisions so they’re trapped there too. Drake could star, of course.

The Muppets

If you’ve never considered how The Muppets might react if they were in a horror film, then you haven’t spent enough time thinking about The Muppets. No twists or gimmicks are needed, really. Just take any given horror movie scenario and bring in Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Gonzo, Rowlf, Animal, Statler and Waldorf, the Swedish Chef and the rest of the gang.

Or, given that The Muppets have already taken on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, why not set the loveable puppets loose on a horror classic? Miss Piggy could easy become Piggula. Vampirism would keep her young forever, which she’d obviously love. And Kermit and Gonzo would make a great Victor Frankenstein and his monster.

Macgyver

He’s the man who somehow can fashion a matchstick, paper clip, two broken plate shards he found on the street and a piece of year-old gum into whatever he needs. And sure, in both the original 1985–1992 series and the remake that’s currently on screens, MacGyver uses his resourcefulness for good. But do you ever get the feeling that he could be a Dexter-style serial killer when he’s not working as a problem-solving secret agent?

He does love duct tape, after all. And he’d probably love setting up elaborate escape room-style scenarios where his victims can only escape if they use mothballs, vodka and rosary beads. Or, MacGyver could be stuck in the same kind of situation, being forced to come up with increasingly ridiculous inventions to save his own life and mullet.

The Love Boat

It’s the obvious culprit. Back in the 70s and 80s, it even aired in the same popular Saturday night lineup alongside Fantasy Island. Everyone hops aboard The Love Boat looking for romance, a getaway and whatever other light-hearted adventures come up; however, as plenty of horror and action films have already shown us, a wealth of unnerving things can occur when a big group of people is stuck together on a ship.

Sharks, monsters, ghosts, icebergs, collisions, engine failure, leaks…pick one, or several, then subject The Love Boat’s libidinous guests and crew to its terrors. Or, the setting could make for an intriguing Yorgos Lanthimos-style scenario. If the passengers don’t find love, happiness and a perpetual party, they get thrown overboard.

Red Dwarf

It wouldn’t take much to turn Red Dwarf into a space-set horror film. Indeed, many of the long-running British sci-fi sitcom’s episodes fall into that category anyway. Just tone down the laughs, lean into the scares and voila  – spooky space hijinks are underway more than 30 years after the show first started airing.

As the series has shown over its 73 episodes to date, the possibilities are virtually endless. Making the most of its main characters would be key, though. Given that the show follows the last known human alive and his companions on a mining spaceship – a hologram, an android and a life form that has evolved from cats – that shouldn’t be difficult.

Murder She Wrote

Murder She Wrote, the Angela Lansbury-starring detective series that aired from 1984–1996, followed a mystery writer who happened to be a nifty sleuth. Jessica Fletcher was successful at both. While literary fame and fortune kept coming her way, so did an astonishing number of strange deaths. She was always better at solving them than the cops, of course.

Adding an element of the supernatural, what if Fletcher’s words started coming to life, with the fictional murders in her pages happening around her? Moving out of Stephen King territory, she could also inspire a copycat – a reader determined to toy with Fletcher by recreating her bestsellers.

Mulligrubs

Aimed at pre-schoolers and screening from 1988–96, Australian kids’ series Mulligrubs was always more than a little unnerving. That disembodied face, that hauntingly catchy theme tune – surely many a child has had many a nightmare that has involved either or both.

Highlighting its already unsettling elements, Mulligrubs seems a clear candidate for a Black Mirror-style dystopian horror film, taking an eerie look at the way technology currently controls our lives and where it may go in the future. You could just give Siri, Alexa or another digital assistant the same Mulligrubs face, and that’s as much as you’d need to nod to the original show. Because that’s creepy enough.