Guilty Pleasure No. 42: Harper’s Island

Oh my God, do you remember Harper’s Island!?

Way before The Walking Dead and American Horror Story made death and gore safe for mass consumption, Harper’s Island was the scariest show on television.  I have to admit that, when I first heard about the show, I wasn’t expecting it to be.  Way back in 2009, whenever the commercials for the show would air and that little girl would go, “One by one,” I would roll my eyes so hard that I once nearly gave myself a concussion.

“Really?” I would say, “A slasher television show where at least one person dies every week?  And it’s going to be on network TV?  There’s no way this is going to be bloody or scary enough to be worth watching.”

However, I did watch the first episode because I figured that I could at least be snarky about it on twitter.  (I had joined just a few months before the show premiered.  Harper’s Island was the first show that I ever live tweeted, even though I didn’t even know that there was such a thing as “live tweeting” way back then.)  The episode opened with a man tied to the propeller of a boat, screaming as the engine started.  The episode ended with Uncle Marty (played by special guest star Harry Hamlin) getting chopped in half by an unseen assailant.

“AGCK!” I said.

I was hooked from that episode on.


Believe it or not, Harper’s Island wasn’t just killings.  It actually did tell a story, about a young woman named Abby (played by Elaine Cassidy) who returns to her childhood home, on Harper’s Island, for her best friend’s wedding.  Many years ago, Abby’s mother was among those who was killed by a serial killer named John Wakefield.  From the minute that Abby arrives, she feels that something bad is going to happen and it turns out that she’s right.

Of course, Abby’s not the only one on the island.  There’s the other members of the wedding party.  There’s the island’s inhabitants, the fishermen and the deputies and the cafe owner and the local reverend whose destined to lose his head in the woods.  They’ve all got their quirks and subplots.  Boisterous Malcolm (Chris Gauthier) is in desperate need of money.  Local fisherman Jimmy (C.J. Thomason) is still in love with Abby.  The groom, Henry (Christopher Gorham), has issues from his past that he needs to deal with.  Some of them are likable.  Some of them are annoying.  Some of them, like spoiled Chloe (Cameron Richardson), are meant to be annoying but become likable as the series progresses.

And, in the end, none of their hopes and dreams really mattered because, by the end of the show, everyone was pretty much dead.  The ads for Harper’s Island promised a bloodbath and that’s what the show delivered.  It wasn’t just that at least one person died per week.  It was also that they usually died in the most macabre and disturbing ways possible.  This was the type of the show where the most likable groomsman ended up getting chopped into pieces and then tossed into an incinerator.  Another wedding guest chose to drown herself rather than be attacked by the killer.  Sometimes, the killers didn’t even have to be around for someone to get killed.  Who can forget poor Booth (played by Sean Rogerson), accidentally shooting himself in the leg and bleeding out while America watched?

And yes, you did watch every week because you wanted to see who would be the next to die.  (That’s where the guilty part of the pleasure comes in.)  But you also watched because the show was produced and directed so well.  The island was a wonderfully atmospheric location and the cast really committed themselves to bringing the show’s morbid reality to life.  At the time, it was the darkest show on television and it could have been even darker because, originally, the plan was for the killer to get away with it.  In the end, karma caught up with the killer but not before we were all traumatized upon discovering just who was responsible.  Harper’s Island‘s mystery was as intriguing as its deaths were bloody.

Being ahead of its time, Harper’s Island struggled in the ratings and it was never a big hit with critics.  But, with the help of Netflix and the the occasional marathon on SyFy, Harper’s Island‘s reputation has improved and grown over the years.  Looking back, it’s easy to see that Harper’s Island was not only the forerunner to American Horror Story but it was also a far better series.  American Horror Story tends to condescend to the horror, keeping the genre at arm’s length through misdirected pretension.  It’s a show for people who think that they’re too good for horror.  Harper’s Island, on the other hand, fully embraced both the horror and the melodrama and it did so without apology.

Seriously, what Halloween is complete without a trip to Harper’s Island?

Previous Guilty Pleasures

  1. Half-Baked
  2. Save The Last Dance
  3. Every Rose Has Its Thorns
  4. The Jeremy Kyle Show
  5. Invasion USA
  6. The Golden Child
  7. Final Destination 2
  8. Paparazzi
  9. The Principal
  10. The Substitute
  11. Terror In The Family
  12. Pandorum
  13. Lambada
  14. Fear
  15. Cocktail
  16. Keep Off The Grass
  17. Girls, Girls, Girls
  18. Class
  19. Tart
  20. King Kong vs. Godzilla
  21. Hawk the Slayer
  22. Battle Beyond the Stars
  23. Meridian
  24. Walk of Shame
  25. From Justin To Kelly
  26. Project Greenlight
  27. Sex Decoy: Love Stings
  28. Swimfan
  29. On the Line
  30. Wolfen
  31. Hail Caesar!
  32. It’s So Cold In The D
  33. In the Mix
  34. Healed By Grace
  35. Valley of the Dolls
  36. The Legend of Billie Jean
  37. Death Wish
  38. Shipping Wars
  39. Ghost Whisperer
  40. Parking Wars
  41. The Dead Are After Me

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