vulture lists

Which Into the Dark Episodes Are Worth Your Time?

Photo: YouTube

Blumhouse and Hulu announced an interesting partnership near the end of 2018: Jason Blum’s wildly profitable company, one that has been responsible for game-changers like Paranormal Activity and Get Out, would produce a new horror film every month for Hulu subscribers. And there was even a clever twist — each film would be based on that month’s holiday.

While the potential to spotlight new voices in horror on an international streaming platform was welcome news for genre fans, the experiment has not resulted in the best batting average. Even die-hard fans of the series would tell you that it’s been inconsistent at best. For every installment that impressed, there has been at least one that has disappointed. And now, with this week’s release of eighteenth chapter, it’s high time we finally figure out which episodes you should actually watch by ranking them all. Consider this your guide to Hulu’s Into the Dark.

24. “Down” (Episode 5)

While some of the installments of Into the Dark come apart at different times, none are as front-to-back loathsome as this Valentine’s Day chapter about two people stuck in an elevator. Directed by the talented Daniel Stamm (The Last Exorcism), “Down” features two beautiful people named Guy (Matt Lauria) and Jennifer (Natalie Martinez) stuck in an elevator over a long holiday weekend. Before the alarm has really even gone off, they’ve gotten each other’s clothes off, but then “Down” reveals its hand when we learn that Guy is really Jennifer’s stalker. It gives the whole thing a punitive, gross angle — Jennifer is being punished for having sex with a handsome man in an elevator — and then everything about it starts to make less and less sense. The characters are inconsistent, there’s absolutely no real tension, and the gender politics are antiquated. If this is the first episode you watch, there’s nowhere to go but up.

23. “The Current Occupant” (Episode 22)

One of the low points in the history of Into the Dark comes in the form of this 2020 Independence Day-themed episode about a man named Henry Cameron (Barry Watson), who becomes convinced that he’s the President of the United States. The small problem is that Henry is currently a resident at an abusive psych hospital, and, well, they think he’s just lost his mind. Is Henry a world leader being brainwashed in a bunker under the White House or just an average guy who no longer has a grip on his identity? It becomes impossible to care because this is one of those horror movies that could barely sustain a half-hour episode of The Twilight Zone but has been asked to drag out for the length of a short feature film. There’s just nowhere near enough to it, and so the filmmakers repeat the same ideas over and over again until viewers will start to question their own identity too. Or at least their choice in movie-watching.

22. “Uncanny Annie” (Episode 13)

The second year of Into the Dark started with a whimper, with one of their best concepts ending up hampered by bad execution. Who doesn’t want to watch a bunch of obvious victims in something that was probably pitched as “Horror Jumanji” to Jason Blum? It’s a great premise. So how do you screw it up? With bad dialogue, flat characters, and some of the most lackluster visuals of the whole series. A bunch of teenagers stumbling upon a game called Uncanny Annie, which unleashes a Bloody Mary character to torment them, should be a slam dunk, but it won’t be long before you start rooting for Annie to just dispatch them all and end it.

21. “All That We Destroy” (Episode 8)

Some of the worst dialogue and performances sink the Mother’s Day chapter of Into the Dark. Again, as is often the case here, there’s a decent idea — they just don’t do anything with it. Arguably the most Black Mirror-esque installment, this is the tale of a genetic scientist who has finally figured out how to clone people. How does she use this technology? To create copies of a woman for her serial-killer son to murder. Again and again. Yes, it’s icky, but arguably clever in that her son doesn’t get the same thrill he does from killing real women as it’s too controlled a situation. He needs the real panic, and to take the real life. Sadly, the writing here goes from bad to abysmal, and the performances get dragged down with it. There’s nothing worse in this series (and maybe on all of Hulu) than the exposition-heavy virtual-reality scenes between Samantha Mathis and Frank Whaley in which they go over the plot again and again just to make sure we get it.

20. “Blood Moon” (Episode 24)

Megalyn Echikunwoke stars as Esme, the single mother to a boy named Luna, played by Yonas Kibreab, on the run from an unseen violent incident that opens the film. It turns out that the boy named Luna has some funny things that happen to him when the moon gets full in this twist on the werewolf template that starts with an intriguing premise and then does absolutely nothing with it. Whether or not Esme will protect her unusual son from the world around him (or, more accurately, if she can protect the world) hangs in the air during this slow burn that ultimately fizzles out. The second season finale of Into the Dark comes with many of the recurring problems of this series, including a run time that feels much longer than 82 minutes, a premise that’s never developed, and a lack of actual horror. To be fair, Echikunwoke brings her all to a movie that has no idea what to do with her skill set.

19. “I’m Just Fucking With You” (Episode 7)

April Fool’s Day was probably rich with ideas on the Into the Dark whiteboard, but this horror-comedy feels more like a prank on viewers. It’s one of the ugliest and least enjoyable installments in that it gives us no one to care about, pitting two sociopaths against each other and letting them chew on the scenery. Hayes MacArthur is somewhat entertaining as Chester, a loudmouth jerk who’s always playing pranks on people and is very clearly physically dangerous and probably a serial killer. Chester is fascinated by Keir O’Donnell’s Larry, who checks into a motel that Chester is pretending to manage (it’s obvious he’s done something awful to the owners pretty early on). The problem is that Larry is a jerk too, the kind of troll who goes beyond standard, bad social behavior and becomes actually abusive and dangerous. As we learn more and more about how awful Chester and Larry are, the whole venture comes apart, until it ends with such a cheap gotcha twist that you’ll want to take a shower to wash the whole icky thing off.

18. “The Body” (Episode 1)

The first episode of Into the Dark has one of the best premises of the entire series but never quite figures out what to do with it. It also had the blessing of being able to use Halloween as its holiday setting. In this one, Tom Bateman plays a suave hit man who has to dispose of a body quickly. Given that it’s a holiday in which people can get away with odd looks, he basically just wraps it up and starts walking, presuming that most people will hesitate when they see a bloodied man dragging something wrapped in plastic. Wacky hijinks ensue. It’s a great idea for a short film, which this originally was, but comes apart when it gets stretched out to feature length. Tonally inconsistent and with a flat central performance, this one only comes to life when Aurora Perrineau pops up in the supporting cast. Otherwise, just watch the short.

17. “My Valentine” (Episode 17)

The kind of toxic masculinity that has been exposed by the Me Too movement gets a pop-music treatment in this well-conceived but poorly executed film. Britt Baron of Glow plays Valentine, a singer returning to the stage after a long absence, who is accused of stealing songs by the pop-star Trezzure (Anna Lore). Through flashbacks and arguments, it’s revealed that the songs are Valentine’s, stolen from her by her awful boyfriend/manager Royal (Benedict Samuel), who literally replaced Valentine with someone who looks and sounds almost exactly the same. You know those abusive, controlling monsters who make all their girlfriends look the same? Royal is one of those, and there’s some joy in watching a sociopath get what he deserves, but the whole thing has a slick, pop music video veneer that keeps it from really connecting. It’s like a mildly clever pop tune with an important message — tolerable while you’re listening to it, but totally forgettable once the last note ends.

16. “Good Boy” (Episode 21)

Judy Greer heads the episode of Into the Dark with the most tenuous connection to an actual holiday – Pet Appreciation Week! Kind of like a Sundance indie comedy version of Cujo, this is the story of a stressed-out California woman who gets an emotional support dog named Reuben, who ends up not just consoling his new owner but literally removing the people from her life that cause her anxiety. Like a lot of season two, this one is way more comedy than horror, but it bungles the tone as it goes along, failing to build any tension into its final act. As she so often does, Greer tries her best to hold it together, but this is one shaggy mutt in the end.

15. “Tentacles” (Episode 23)

After a COVID-enforced hiatus on Hulu’s original series of holiday-themed horror films from the folks over at Blumhouse, Into the Dark returned in February 2021 for one of the genre’s favorite holidays, Valentine’s Day. At its creepy heart, “Tentacles” is the story of a photographer named Sam (Casey Deidrick), who falls hard for a woman on the run named Tara (Dana Drori). She tells Sam that she’s fleeing a stalker, but it’s clear pretty early on that she’s not telling Sam the whole story. He doesn’t care, diving into an obsessive, sexual relationship that comes to define him, before he realizes way too late that Tara isn’t what she appears to be. Some great ideas never come together in this frustrating episode, a film that feels like it needed a rewrite or two to really figure out the story it was trying to tell.

14. “Treehouse” (Episode 6)

The best overall ensemble in the history of Into the Dark makes the relative failure of this installment that much more disappointing. To celebrate International Women’s Day, James Roday of Psych fame directed this twist on female empowerment and convinced Jimmi Simpson (Westworld), Mary McCormack, and Stephanie Beatriz to star. Simpson is excellent as a celebrity chef who has had a history of bullying and aggressive behavior. He’s about to get a serious #MeToo moment courtesy of a group of witches. While the horror genre is likely to become overcrowded with stories of male jerks learning lessons, this one doesn’t have enough teeth. All of the ideas feel half-developed, and it’s just not as vicious as one wishes it would be. Like a lot of Into the Dark, it pulls its punches, ending up more of an interesting miss than it should have been.

13. “Pure” (Episode 12)

What should be one of the most disturbing and powerful chapters of Into the Dark is a failure of execution more than concept. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, it feels like this story of the resurrection of Lilith to destroy a group of hypocritical fathers should have more teeth and rely less on jump scares for most of its run time. Jahkara Smith (NOS4A2) stars as Shay, a teenager who has just discovered her biological father after the death of her mother. The problem is that dear old Dad wants Shay to make a Purity Promise, a pact to stay a virgin until her wedding day, leading to a series of sequences about the awfulness of the patriarchy and how much they love to try and control women’s bodies. Like a regrettable number of original movies on this list, there are elements here that work — ideas, performances, even individual scenes — but it’s a failure to bring them all together that keeps it from the top half of the first year of the series.

12. “They Come Knocking” (Episode 9)

Grief drama, supernatural thriller, and home-invasion-flick tropes are tossed in a blender in this mildly effective episode that would have been something special at about an hour but stretches a little thin at 85 minutes. Clayne Crawford of Rectify stars as a father headed to the middle of the desert to scatter his dead wife’s ashes. When the family arrives in their isolated, no-phone-signal mobile home, they’re startled when hooded, black-eyed children knock on the door and ask to come in. And then things get really weird. Directed by Adam Mason, They Come Knocking contains more striking imagery and genuine emotion than most installments in this series, even if it does hit a few beats too many times.

11. “School Spirit” (Episode 11)

Stretching the boundaries of what a holiday-themed horror movie can be, Mike Gan’s August entry uses going back to school as its narrative crux (and parents around the world probably agree that back-to-school day is one of the best holidays of the year). A riff on slasher movies like Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer, with a bit of John Hughes flavor, “School Spirit” is about a group of teens stuck in Saturday detention at the end of the first week of school. There’s an urban legend about someone dressed as the school mascot (an admiral) who kills unruly students, and there wouldn’t be a movie if it wasn’t true! Some of the kills inject some actual gore into a series of films that have been light in that department, but it’s a film that takes way too long to get to the good stuff, not building actual tension until the effective last half hour. You’ll likely have moved on to a different movie class by then.

10. “Flesh & Blood” (Episode 2)

Sadly, we’re already getting into the “yeah, it’s not great” portion of the Into the Dark legacy, but this one ranks a little higher, thanks to a totally committed performance by Dermot Mulroney. The typically affable actor plays against type as a man whose daughter (2019 breakout Diana Silvers of Booksmart and Ma) starts to suspect he may be a serial killer. And you thought your Thanksgiving was awkward. Wes Craven’s creative collaborator Patrick Lussier (he edited most of Craven’s late career) directs this installment with a workmanlike approach, not quite bringing it enough style but allowing Mulroney and Silvers enough space to do their work. Sadly, the whole piece kind of deflates in the final act, when Lussier can’t find the right tone to keep the tension, but it’s worth seeing for the performances.

9. “Midnight Kiss” (Episode 16)

It’s not every year that ends with a gay slasher pic that could accurately be called a blend between HBO’s Looking and ’90s slice-and-dice movies like I Know What You Did Last Summer and Scream. A group of gay friends (and a female buddy) reunite for New Year’s Eve to bring back the tradition of the “Midnight Kiss”: Find someone new and hot to make out with when the clock strikes 12; what happens after that is up to you. Impeccably dressed skeletons come tumbling from closets, but the bigger problem is that someone is literally killing the members of this group one by one. Director Carter Smith can’t maintain the tone this needed to work from beginning to end — a movie that opens with a glitter-throwing maniac really needs to be campier overall — but it’s certainly like nothing else in the Into the Dark canon. Or anywhere else really, for that matter.

8. “Crawlers” (Episode 18)

Drunken idiocy on St. Patrick’s Day is just as scary as an alien invasion on one of the smarter episodes of Into the Dark, a throwback to ’80s horror-comedies like Night of the Comet. A bunch of college students get together for an epic pub crawl on the Irish holiday only to discover that the people around them are being replaced by aliens a la Invasion of the Body Snatchers. There’s a clever subtext of “Believe All Women” coursing through “Crawlers” as its protagonist is trying to navigate something scarier than any horror movie trope: Being a college girl in a dude-bro culture. Engaging performances, a clever idea, and some nifty action make this one of the series’ most purely entertaining episodes, even if it could have been tighter in a few places (and ditched its over-done narration entirely).

7. “Pooka Lives!” (Episode 19)

The first sequel in the history of Into the Dark is about as good as the original even if it has a totally different tone and plot. Almost ignoring everything about the first movie except for the creepy teddy bear with the red eyes and a dark sense of humor, this follow-up is closer to Candyman and ’80s slasher sequels. When a marketing expert starts something called the Pooka Challenge, the whole world takes notice, and then people who do it start ending up murdered by giant teddy bears with razor-sharp claws. The commentary on trolling and virality doesn’t work, but the pitch-black sense of humor and talented cast, including Felicia Day and Rachel Bloom, elevate it above other installments. At least until the non-ending. Do you have the guts to do the Pooka Challenge too!?!?

6. “Delivered” (Episode 20)

Happy Mother’s Day! One of the more vicious films in the series stars Tina Majorino as a woman who takes a pregnant mother hostage in an effort to steal her baby. And you thought your mom was intense? Emma Tammi’s film resorts to a few too many cheap tricks (there are so many “oh, it was just a nightmare” scenes) but Majorino anchors the whole thing with one of the best performances in the entire series. She finds a way to make her variation on Annie Wilkes into more of a tragic figure than a sociopath, a woman whose trauma made her violent and deadly. Pregnancy horror is a fertile subgenre (get it?), but Majorino finds a way to make this one work by grounding her villain in something believably horrifying. Watch it just for her.

5. “Pooka!” (Episode 3)

It’s probably not a coincidence that most of the best installments of Into the Dark come from directors who had done strong work previously. Nacho Vigalondo, who directed the well-received Timecrimes and Colossal, is the biggest name in this series. Both of those films are very playful with genre rules, and Vigalondo approaches his Into the Dark with a similar degree of risk-taking. The Christmas episode of this series stars Nyasha Hatendi as an out-of-work actor who gets a job selling a new toy called the Pooka, which is a super-creepy doll that repeats back what kids and parents say to it. Dressing up as a crazy creature gives our hero more courage but leads him down a dark path in what is basically a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde riff. While there’s a lot to like here, even an episode this solid suffers from the biggest problem of the Into the Dark series — they all would have better as hour-long episodes than 85-minute movies.

4. “New Year, New You” (Episode 4)

The New Year’s installment of Into the Dark remains one of the most ambitious and most successful to date, largely because it has actual ideas of its own and anchors them to solid performances. It also has a talented director in Sophia Takal, who helmed an excellent little thriller from 2009 called Always Shine, starring Mackenzie Davis. Takal directs the saga of the worst New Year’s Eve party ever. Alexis (Suki Waterhouse) gets together with some old high-school friends and invites the most successful alum of their circle, Danielle (Carly Chaikin), but they have more than a Champagne toast in mind. They’re finally going to teach Danielle, who bullied a girl into suicide when they were young, a lesson she’s long deserved. Takal’s film is smart about how the self-help movement is really a form of bullying — so many of them work to tear people down so they’ll be needed to build those people back up — and contains one of the best Into the Dark performances from Chaikin.

3. “Pilgrim” (Episode 14)

The Collector director Marcus Dunstan helmed one of the gnarliest and most original chapters of Into the Dark, and one of the few to actually use its holiday as a narrative thread instead of as just a fleeting reference. Anna (Courtney Henggeller) decides to spice up this year’s Thanksgiving by inviting people who pretend to be Pilgrims to cook an old-fashioned dinner meant to reflect the culture of the time. Little did she know that this would mean the incredibly committed Ethan (Peter Giles) and Patience (Elyse Levesque) preaching things about gratitude and learning lessons the very hard way. The concept of “Pilgrim” is clever, and Giles is great, but it’s the bonkers final half-hour that really separates this chapter from many others. Most of these films take a great idea and do very little with it, but “Pilgrim” starts interesting and only gets more cuckoo-bananas from there. It’s arguably the best of these for gorehounds hungry for something other than turkey dinner.

2. “A Nasty Piece of Work” (Episode 15)

A blood-soaked candy cane of cinema, the second Christmas episode of Into the Dark outdoes the first by spinning a vicious, funny little fable of corporate gamesmanship and outright insanity. Kind of like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? meets Cheap Thrills, Charles Hood’s episode is the story of two corporate ladder climbers forced to play a demented game to determine who gets to the top after their Christmas bonuses are canceled. Julian Sands stars as a sociopathic CEO who, with his just-as-nuts wife Kiwi (a great Molly Hagan), pushes two of his workers to the edge of insanity in his lavish mansion. How far you would go to get a life-changing job is only one theme at play in the funniest and most twisted episode of Into the Dark to date. Hood directs his great ensemble to a new kind of Christmas classic. You’ll think twice before you accept an invite to your boss’s house again.

1. “Culture Shock” (Episode 10)

The Independence Day installment of Hulu and Blumhouse’s series is the only one that can legitimately be called great. It’s ambitious, surreal, and daring — reminiscent of The Purge at first and then Get Out in the way it uses social issues of today in a way they’ve never been used before. Martha Higareda gives the best performance in the series as Marisol, a very pregnant woman trying to cross the Mexican border. The first act of “Culture Shock” is a harrowing look at the real-life dangers of immigration, and then director Gigi Saul Guerrero takes a sharp turn into something completely unexpected — a mesmerizing look at the American Dream. Marisol wakes up in a world that would scare the Stepford Wives, and she seems to be the only one who can sense that this society isn’t quite right. The final twist of “Culture Shock” doesn’t completely work, but there’s enough to recommend it by that point — including great performances from Barbara Crampton and Richard Cabral — that it tops this list without any hesitation.

Which Into the Dark Episodes Are Worth Your Time?