It is hard to believe that Harper’s Island premiered six years ago on CBS. A thirteen-week slasher movie? For me, it was a horror fan’s dream come true. If you missed this treat when it originally aired, take my advice-run, do not walk, over to Netflix and binge-watch all thirteen episodes. Granted, I do not always make the best choices; for instance, my choice in husbands sucks, but for important things such as this, you can trust me. Even if you watched it six years ago, I encourage you to revisit this gem. I went into it the second time knowing the punch line, but my goal was to see if there were clues I missed the first time. Perhaps I should just list thirteen things about Harper’s Island that made it so fantastic and ahead of its time. (I was extremely careful not to include spoiler.)
1. Being an English teacher, I will begin with the first thing I noticed about the show. It was clearly inspired by Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None (1939). An isolated island where people, many with secrets, start being murdered one by one definitely pays homage to Ms. Christie’s masterpiece as do most slasher films as I think the novel is the perfect template for such films.
2. In addition to the slasher features, it is an excellent who-done-it mystery. Even after a second viewing, I found no clues that the perpetrator was involved until near the end of episode 11. In fact, it did a great job using “red herrings” to distract the viewer.
3. Speaking of those red herrings, more than once during the series, I was convinced of the guilt of several characters only to have those characters murdered…then it was back to the drawing board!
4. Something else that Harper’s Island did well that slasher films usually do not have time to do is develop the characters. For instance, one stereotypical-looking blonde character went on to be more than I anticipated in the first episode meaning she was not the “dumb” blonde (this is coming from a blonde, BTW).
5. The concept that one season could tell one complete story is yet another reason Harper’s Island was way ahead of its time. Think about shows such as American Horror Story that have become so popular in the years since Harper’s Island. Sadly, this concept did not “jive” with the public in 2009.
6. Discovering in the first episode that no character was safe, even a well-known actor in a cast of lesser-known actors, let me know that all bets were off when it came time for killing. I remember thinking about this when I watched the first episode of Sleepy Hollow when a known actor was killed off in the first minutes of the show.
7. Having emotional reactions to the deaths of characters I had come to care about was something I had not anticipated the first time I watched the show. For instance, the deaths of one couple in particular left me sobbing. This couple in the first episode did not made an impact with me, but as the series progressed, I came to care very much about them, so when their time came, I was crushed.
8. The isolation and atmosphere of the setting added greatly to the suspense of the show. Knowing that these characters were essentially cut off from the outside world made my tension increase with each episode. A small island that can only be accessed by boat or aircraft, a big, creepy hotel with hidden passages, and a deep, dark forest with danger possibly hiding behind each tree was a prescription for terror!
9. Having a creepy, socially awkward child in the cast is always a plus. You just know that at some point a) they are going to say creepy things, “One by one” and b) are going to go missing at the worst possible time, “Has anyone seen _______?”
10. Keeping the identity of the killer hidden until almost the end was quite impressive to me. Typically, I can figure it out sooner, but like I said at the beginning (#2), it was near the end of episode 11 before I even suspected this individual.
11. Something else I found effective in the show was the characters did not discover anything was off until several characters were dead. Granted their technology was not as advanced as now, clever use of text messages led people to believe that certain characters had left, so they did not suspect foul play…at first.
12. A sense of betrayal made some of the last deaths more devastating. The fact that said characters trusted this individual without question (as I had as a viewer) made the reveal that much more heart wrenching.
13. Lastly, even though some found the eventual motive didn’t make sense, I was fine with it. Why, you may ask. Well, for thirteen weeks I was glued to my TV experiencing something I thought I never would-a “slasher movie” on network TV. So bravo to CBS for having the balls, nads, nards, or whatever you want to call them to do it!