For diehards, no movie or TV show can be too scary. But for you, a wimp, the wrong one can leave you miserable. Maybe you’ve even lost whole nights of sleep in a struggle to get certain images or ideas out of your head.
Never fear, scaredies, because Slate’s Scaredy Scale is here to help. We’ve put together a highly scientific and mostly spoiler-free system for rating new horror movies and TV series, comparing them with classics along a 10-point scale. And because not everyone is scared by the same things—some viewers can’t stand jump scares, while others are haunted by more psychological terrors or simply can’t stomach arterial spurts—it breaks down scares across three criteria: suspense, spookiness, and gore. This time: Mike Flanagan’s Netflix series The Haunting of Bly Manor, which uses Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw as the jumping-off point for the story of a British mansion haunted by ghosts with melted-wax faces, and the living humans who try to steer clear of them.
Like its predecessor, The Haunting of Hill House, Bly Manor is expertly crafted and not above using a jump scare or several to keep the tension high. Mysterious, soon-to-be-screenshotted figures seem to lurk in the background of many shots, just at the point where you can’t tell if your eyes are playing tricks on you, and while it’s not clear exactly what those figures might do to our flesh-and-blood protagonists, one assumes it would not be pleasant. As the narrator in both James’ story and Flanagan’s adaptation points out, the introduction of the young Wingrave children—Flora, 8, and Miles, 10—does indeed add another turn of the screw, the more so because, especially with the ultra-creepy Miles, you can’t tell if we should be afraid for him or afraid of him. Still, it’s hard to keep that level of tension going for nine-plus hours, and there are stretches, particularly in Bly Manor’s baggy eighth installment, when the series veers into uncut melodrama.
There are few things spookier than a preternaturally creepy child, and Bly Manor has a doozy of one in Miles Wingrave. Sent home from a boarding school after an incident presumed too horrible to describe (although we do eventually see it in a flashback), Miles is alternately troubled and troubling, his mood swinging from innocent naïveté to menacing self-possession. The series reveals information at a slow and deliberate clip—apart from an opening-shot tease, it takes the better part of five hours before we get a proper glimpse of Bly’s most terrifying ghost—but it’s so effective at mood setting that the harsh whistle of a tea kettle or the rattling ring of a telephone can make you jump in your seat. Most importantly, the series’ lead, Victoria Pedretti (Hill House’s Nell), excels at conveying the terror of the unseen; just a glimpse of her panicked face is enough to raise your pulse.
Like a true gothic novel, The Haunting of Bly Manor is overstuffed—there are period flashbacks, mysterious doppelgangers, creepy dolls, and forbidden love affairs—but one thing it doesn’t have is blood. Not even a drop, although some of its characters do meet rather violent ends. Flanagan isn’t averse to gore—check out the brutal murder of a teenage boy in Doctor Sleep—but in Bly Manor, the only fluid that matters is the lake beneath whose surface the mysterious lady lurks.
The creators of The Haunting of Bly Manor have been careful to bill it as gothic romance rather than horror, and while pressing that distinction didn’t work for Crimson Peak, it’s an important one to keep in mind. As a character points out near the end, it’s not a ghost story so much as it is a love story. There are scares aplenty, but there’s also sentiment, and the possibility of love gives the characters more to aim for than mere survival. It’ll frighten you at times, but its ultimately goal is to move you. The terror it aims to instill is not of malevolent spirits but of missing a chance at happiness that might never return.
For more on The Haunting of Bly Manor, listen to Sam Adams and Laura Miller discuss the movie in spoiler-filled detail below, or subscribe to Slate’s Spoiler Specials podcast.