Having adapted classic horror lit (The Haunting of Hill House, The Haunting of Bly Manor) for widely acclaimed Netflix series, Mike Flanagan turned to YA fear favorites with The Midnight Club. The 10-episode series, which premiered Friday on the streamer, adapts the Christopher Pike young-adult novel of the same title, along with numerous other Pike works. FANGORIA took part in a roundtable interview in which Flanagan, who created the show with Leah Fong, wrote or co-wrote most of the episodes and directed two of them, discussed various aspects of its conception and production—including a world record set by one installment and another Pike project in the works.
The titular group is a septet of young adults residing at Brightcliffe, a hospice for the terminally ill. They get together every night at midnight to share scary stories, drawn from Pike's repertoire, as they themselves become involved in a supernatural mystery. Wearing a shirt he describes as being "like Christopher Pike cover colors," Flanagan recalls his youth as a fan of the author. "When I was growing up," he says, "I started with R.L. Stine, and then I graduated to Christopher Pike. [With those books] we felt we were really getting away with something, because Christopher Pike was writing stuff your parents absolutely didn't know was in those books. You'd get them [via] the Scholastic book clubs, and they'd hand you these little paperbacks in your classroom, and you'd always be like, 'Heh-heh-heh, yes!' Like, this is the good stuff.
"He's written like 80 books, and they would come in these little brightly colored [covers]. You could see them a mile and a half away in bookstores. And I just consumed everything that he wrote; I loved it. There was one book in particular called The Midnight Club that made me cry as a teenager, and that idea that a scary book was going to get me right in the heart, I hadn't bumped into that before. It was pretty revelatory."
"And so in college, I sat down and I said, 'I want to make an independent feature-film adaptation of The Midnight Club.' For months, I agonized over writing the script, bound it up really nice, and was really excited to raise the money to shoot it. Then I thought, 'Now's a great time to finally get in touch with the publisher and see if I can do this.' So I called the publisher from my dorm room, and I said, 'I'm so excited, I've written an amazing script for The Midnight Club and I can't wait to make it.' And they said, 'Cease and desist! You do not have permission to do that…and you have to destroy the script.' And I destroyed the script; I don't have the script anymore! I destroyed the hard copies and I destroyed the digital copies, because I was terrified that I was going to be sued into oblivion."
Flanagan would go on to a career including such highly praised features as Oculus, Hush, Ouija: Origin of Evil, Gerald's Game, and Doctor Sleep before his Netflix successes. All the while, he waited in vain for someone to adapt Pike's works, even as the author remained popular among young readers. Finally, during post on Doctor Sleep, Flanagan found Pike's Facebook page and sent him a note. Though Pike was unfamiliar with Flanagan's filmography, his girlfriend was a fan and convinced the author to return the message. He and his regular producing partner Trevor Macy pitched Midnight Club to Netflix before Bly Manor and Midnight Mass, and the filmmaker is pleased that the series is the first of his screen works that he can share with his kids (his oldest son is 11).
On the other hand, certain episodes like "Gimme a Kiss," which partially homages old-fashioned detective stories, weren't necessarily catnip to the target audience. "That one was a gamble, because if there's one thing I know about the youth of today, it's that they love classic '40s film noir!" he laughs. Nonetheless, "That was a playground I thought was really fun. I'd love to go back into that world, but it was certainly not necessarily something that we thought was going to catch on."
A major part of the process was assigning the tales to the characters telling them, which Flanagan says involved "a lot of trial and error. We very much wanted there to be a reason that each of these stories was there—something the character was working through had to motivate the story. It had to either show us a window into something they're having a hard time articulating, like with Anya [Ruth Codd], which is the only story from the Midnight Club book, or it had to help drive their arc forward. You had to see them work through something in their story that they were trying to work through in real life but having a difficult time doing, like Spencer [Chris Sumpter] in 'The Eternal Enemy,' or Amesh [Sauriyan Sapkota] in 'See You Later.'"
"The process of that," he continues, "was a lot of discussion in the writers' room, of trying to find those connections where they were naturally, and if we couldn't find them, trying to stretch the rubber bands to touch. There are so many Pike books, and we divided them up among the writers. Everybody had to read their chunk of books, and we spent the first two weeks in the writers' room giving book reports to each other. No one had time to read everything, or we never would have finished the scripts, so we had this really exciting experience where each writer would come up at the start of the day's shift, and give us a full tour of the story.
"We'd sit afterward and say, 'You know, there's something really lovely about the love story in Eternal Enemy that reminds me of Spence. Let's pin that up under his name for now.' And then sometimes we'd get it wrong the first time, and be like, 'You know, I thought The Wicked Heart was gonna work really well with Amesh, but actually, it really fits Kevin [Igby Rigney], the more we hear that story.' So we'd move it over and try it on there."
"There was a lot of back and forth about which stories could fit and which we should probably hold off on," Flanagan adds. There were, in fact, certain books, including Remember Me, that Flanagan and co. felt warranted more screen time than the Midnight Club series format allowed. "We'd also get kind of greedy, 'cause he has a novel called The Season of Passage, which is one of my favorites and one of his very few and far between adult novels. I took it aside and was like, 'What if we just separately optioned this as a feature, and developed it separately?' Which we did!"
While we wait to see Season realized as a movie, Flanagan and co. are planning further seasons of The Midnight Club, and he says that a Netflix decision about continuing the series is about a month away. In the meantime, the show received a very special accolade last week: a Guinness World Record for the highest number of jump scares in a single TV episode, in a J-horror-inspired story told by Natsuki (Aya Furukawa)—including a "cat scare."
"This is particularly important to me, because I hate jump scares," Flanagan quips. "My whole career, people have been like, 'Put more jump scares in! Do them faster!' And I hate them, because I feel like it's very easy to walk up behind someone and just smash something. The notes were already coming in about times to do jump scares, and so I thought, 'We're going to do all of them at once. And then, if we do it right, the jump scare will be rendered meaningless for the rest of the series. It'll just destroy it, finally, until it's dead.' But that didn't happen; they were like, 'Great! More of those!' My whole career, I've completely just shat on jump scares as a concept, and now…I have my name in Guinness World Records for jump scares, which means next time I get the note, I can say, 'You know, as the current world-record holder for jump scares, I can tell you, I don't think we need one here!'"
Stay tuned for our exclusive Convo X Fango with Heather Langenkamp, coming soon. The Midnight Club is now streaming on Netflix.