How hot is horror at the moment? Well, even Nat Geo Wild now has their very own horror series, with the Skybound-produced “Dead by Dawn” premiering on the network this past Sunday night. Yes, the horror TV boom has exploded to such an extent that the world’s first “horror nature series” has been birthed, and what a time it is to be a horror fan.
The six-part series from “The Walking Dead” creator Robert Kirkman‘s production company explores the darkest possible side of nature, with each episode documenting the absolute horrors taking place in a specific location each night. As the original press release for the series indicated, “Each episode offers its own unique twist on horror, inspired by classic, modern and cult classic films, and uses innovative storytelling techniques to infuse suspense, tension and eeriness into the terrifyingly real stories of life in the wild … after dark.”
Not one but two episodes premiered this past Sunday night, with “The Hills Have Eyes” and “Night of the Living Dead” (yes, each episode is named after a classic horror movie!) respectively taking us into the hot, dry Arabian desert and the jungle metropolis on the island of Java in Indonesia. Mind you, nature shows often tread into horror territory even when it’s not their aim (footage of a hungry alligator leaping out of the water and latching onto the neck of an unsuspecting Wildebeest, for example, will always be inherently terrifying), but “Dead by Dawn” is the first to approach the subject matter through a full-on horror lens. Thanks to ominous music and sinister narration from a hammy James R. Baylis (who sounds *exactly* like Tony Todd), “Dead by Dawn” is every bit the horror show it was marketed as, and honestly it’s legit one of the most terrifying horror shows you’ll likely watch on television this year.
We all may have been told from a young age that monsters aren’t real, but “Dead by Dawn” highlights that while they may not be under our beds or in our closets, they’re roaming free right outside our windows, carrying out nightly battles to the death in their never-ending quest to feed. The incredible, up-close-and-personal footage on display in the first two episodes of Nat Geo Wild’s debut horror series showcases the gruesome feeding habits of snakes, bats, spiders and all sorts of other creepy critters, with suspense sequences and kill scenes that your favorite slasher movie franchise could only dream of having. That the events of “Dead by Dawn” are entirely unscripted and feature no effects work, well, that’s a true testament to the idea that reality is always a whole lot more terrifying than fiction. Watching a massive camel spider stalk and then devour a gecko is to date the scariest thing I’ve seen in 2019.
The high-def footage is made all the more nightmarish by unsettling sound design, which amplifies every disgusting chew and crunch. But those moments of true horror are contrasted with rare moments of triumph, not unlike the horror movies “Dead by Dawn” draws inspiration from. As horrifying as it is to watch a snake literally pluck a bat out of thin air, unhinge its jaws and devour it in one big gulp (think Leatherface putting Pam on a meat hook), it’s triumphant to watch another bat crawl its way to safety and narrowly avoid a cruel fate (think Sally escaping Leatherface). The makers of “Dead by Dawn” are no doubt fans of horror cinema, as the very real footage is always shot and edited to evoke the feeling that you’re watching nature’s own horror movie. And it makes for riveting, terrifying and suspenseful television.
“Dead by Dawn” presents a world of monsters, one where monsters consume monsters and then are consumed by other monsters. And I have a strong feeling that by the time I’m finished watching all six episodes that the first season has to offer, I may never leave the house again.
“Dead by Dawn” airs Sunday nights at 9/8c on Nat Geo Wild.