Whether or not you’re a fan of big programs like The Walking Dead or American Horror Story, you’ve got to admit that we’re living in a golden age of horror on television. From Ash vs The Evil Dead to Channel Zero, shows are getting away with a lot more gore and disturbing themes these days, even rivaling many studio films. However, with all these small screen juggernauts, it’s easy to miss out on some independent hidden gems.
That’s precisely why I’d like to take a moment to appreciate the simple, perverted genius of a certain short-lived Canadian horror show. This under-appreciated series can be best described as the unholy love child of American Pie and The Evil Dead (with a generous dose of Buffy the Vampire Slayer added in for good measure), though it ultimately gets even weirder.
Todd and the Book of Pure Evil was created by Craig David Wallace, Charles Picco, and Anthony Leo, based on a homonymous low-budget short film. Premiering in 2010 on the Space Channel, the series was successful enough to warrant a second (and final) season, having amassed a handful of Canadian television awards and a respectable cult following. This resulted in a total of 26 episodes of unexpectedly enjoyable supernatural depravity, heavy metal and High School drama.
The show focuses on Alex House as the titular Todd Smith, a head-banging stoner who’s confronted with a satanic tome known only as the Book of Pure Evil, capable of granting desperate teenage wishes, but always at a gruesome cost. With the help of his one-armed best friend Curtis (played by Bill Turnbull), his feisty crush Jenny (Maggie Castle), and the nerdy Hannah (Melanie Leishman), Todd attempts to banish the book from Crowley High and unravel the prophecy of the Pure Evil One. Of course, insanely entertaining supernatural shenanigans ensue.
Beyond the otherworldly terrors unleashed by the book, the gang is also forced to deal with Atticus Murphy Jr (played by the excellent Chris Leavins), their school guidance counselor and a closeted Satanist hell-bent on capturing the book for himself. The show also features Jason Mewes as Jimmy, the school janitor and Todd’s lovable mentor, always spouting hilarious nuggets of pothead wisdom.
During these two short seasons, Todd and the Book of Pure Evil somehow managed to present us with lovable characters, satanic intrigue and several homages to classic horror flicks, all miraculously balanced in the span of easily digested 22-minute-long episodes. Having binged the entirety of the series, plus last year’s animated film that serves as a long-awaited conclusion to the second season’s cliffhanger ending, I’m truly baffled as to why this doesn’t have a bigger fan base.
The show’s signature blend of demonic creatures, stoner humor, and teenage angst obviously isn’t for everyone, but I feel like there’s a significant portion of horror fans who are more than willing to put with a dick joke or two in their televised gore (myself included). After all, it seems like the series’ strength lies precisely in its ability to balance rampant gross-outs and questionable humor with genuinely clever writing and relatable characters.
Of course, the show doesn’t always succeed in its attempts at comedy, and much of the main plot feels derivative, but even the clichés are presented from a fresh perspective, with the writing always feeling just self-aware enough to overcome most of these flaws. And, while the series thrives on parodies of everything from Phantom of the Opera to traditional After School Specials, there’s always a clever (albeit usually horrific) twist that make these episodes stand out.
Hell, the musical episodes were some of my favorites, as the creative direction and writing shined despite a limited budget and obvious time constraints. I also particularly loved how the characters eventually reference the fact that the show’s Illuminati-like Satanists aren’t doing a very good job of representing real-world Satanism, which is decidedly less nefarious.
Maybe it’s an inherent urge to always root for the underdog, but I find it inspiring to see a low-budget production surpass its financial limitations through sheer tenacity and wit. Admittedly, the show’s effects and set design aren’t amazing, but everything is presented so earnestly that it ends up helping the series feel more like the B-movies it’s trying to emulate, instead of detracting from the experience.
All of this translates nicely into Todd and the Book of Pure Evil: The End of the End, an animated film that serves as a kind of pseudo-third-season to the show. The movie combines what could have been four stand-alone episodes into a feature-length conclusion to the story, with the animation allowing writers to focus on some of the more outlandish elements of the plot without worrying about the effects budget. It serves as a satisfying series finale, with hysterical musical numbers and the humorous culmination of several character arcs, but the awkward structure makes it slightly less enjoyable as a standalone film.
Overall, Todd and the Book of Pure Evil is consistently entertaining, even when it stumbles with some occasional awkward writing and limited production value. While the series cleverly deconstructed genre tropes in what could have been a fairly standard high school horror story, the likable characters and memorable banter amongst the gang are easily the most compelling reasons to revisit this criminally underrated show.
Had it gone on for a few more seasons, Todd could have become a worthy successor to Buffy, having the main cast grow up as they fought evil, perhaps even beyond high school. Nevertheless, the few episodes that we got have a certain raunchy charm that’s present in very few horror shows these days. It may not have been the best of its kind, and the humor can be downright stupid at times, but clever storytelling and a compelling cast make this a short-but-sweet horror comedy that doesn’t overstay its welcome. So, why not give the show, and its animated conclusion, a chance at fighting evil (with mixed results)?