Created and narrated by Aaron Mahnke
I love lore.
Mythology, legends, stories, fables, tales…LORE. It’s been my obsession since I was a tyke. It’s what I do with The Gasp Menagerie, at the heart of it.
I love the word and what it means, because it’s without judgement. I frequently talk about the lore of the Bible, and I believe in the Bible. I talk about the lore surrounding alien abductions, and I don’t believe in that at all. I can talk about the lore surrounding demonic possession, water-based cryptids, a specific haunted house, or even the Lost Dutchman mine. The word encompasses all of that and more.
I also love “Lore,” the new TV series on Amazon based on the podcast by Aaron Mahnke. The show is narrated by Mahnke, making it a true extension of the podcast, but it’s so very much more.
The series, currently limited to six episodes on Amazon, is executive produced in part by Gale Anne Hurd and Glen Morgan. Those names should be familiar: One was part of many of James Cameron’s seminal works and produced many other great films and TV shows on her own, and the other is legendary for his work producing and writing for “The X-Files.” These aren’t lightweights, and this show proves that.
Each episode follows a format. There’s an introductory bit of lore that serves to introduce the basic concept they’ll be covering in that episode, but isn’t the main story. We then move into the primary tale told in the episode. This is always re-enacted dramatically, usually led by a fairly famous guest star. During the episode’s main tale, Mahnke will break in with other short bits of lore that speak to what’s happening in the main story or kind of splinter off the main concept of the episode’s lore. It’s ingenious, entertaining, educational, and just fun as hell. Finally, the main story wraps up, leaving the reader with the details, but no real answers. It’s up to them to decide; this show just gives you the lore.
These are six extremely well-made episodes of television. Each 45-minute episode is different; yet, all of them generally focus on something creepy. Subjects can be as wild and spooky as hauntings or werewolves or all-too-real horrors like the lobotomy craze of the 50’s and 60’s. As each also has its own cast, these feel like little mini-movies rather than episodic television. Watched separately, you’d never guess “They Made A Tonic” and “Echoes” were the same show, but they sit next to each other as Episodes 1 and 2.
“Tonic” is a creepy, tragic tale led by the great Campbell Scott (at his most stoic and sympathetic here) that tells a tale of New England and the “consumption” epidemic in the 19th century. It’s not afraid to show the suspicions of these poor folks on screen, as fears of the risen dead reach a fever pitch when families die. By visualizing what they fear to be true, the spook factor is elevated and we’re put in their shoes.
“Echoes” meanwhile is shot very stylistically in black and white, with a cheerful and sociopathic Colm Feore portraying the man who invented and popularized the frontal lobotomy despite its obvious catastrophic damage to patients. All 50’s sitcom in presentation, the casual horror involved in what happens on screen will make your skin crawl as Mahnke’s other lore looks at asylums and madness in general.
“Black Stockings” goes to a bit of lore more famous in Ireland than here in the US: the tale of Michael Cleary and his doomed wife, Brigitte, as she is suspected of being the victim of a changeling. Mahnke uses his sidesteps into other lore to give suggestions as to what’s really behind the superstition and fear here, and the outcome is brilliant and chilling. The great John Byner, someone I thought was dead, appears in this one as Brigitte’s father.
“Passing Notes” is the most outright terrifying of the episodes. Written by Glen Morgan himself, this one covers spiritualism in general using the specific case of the Stratford Knockings. Robert Patrick is excellent in this one as the reverend Eli Phelps, a man torn between his faith in God and the growing belief in the “science” of spiritualism in the 19th century. As events escalate and it becomes apparent that he isn’t speaking to his lost wife, we’re left with a magnificent short horror film.
“The Beast Within” deals with werewolves, and in doing so brings up several pieces of lore that even I hadn’t heard of. The primary story is one that should have been used as the basis of a feature years before. As such, it’s a bit rushed but has great performances all around, especially young Cassady McClincy as Greta, the only victim to escape the wolf preying on the people of Bedburg, Germany, in the 16th century. Or did she?
The last episode, “Unboxed” is timely given the release of a new Chucky film. Dolls. Haunted ones, specifically. The main story here is Robert, the original spooky and possibly murderous doll down in Key West, Florida. The tale here is well-told and easily convinces you to be uneasy in any toy room. Again, Mahnke’s choices for the other bits of lore here are clever and appropriate, especially the bit about Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy.
This is an incredible start. The only negative I can find is that there aren’t more episodes. It’s just that good. Amazon continues to make a run right at the big boys of original content for streaming services with “Lore.” Mahnke is now on tour with a live version of his podcast, and I hope to see that show when it lands in Dallas next month. Now we just need MORE “LORE.”