AMC’s Adaptation of Joe Hill’s ‘Nos4a2’: A New (Creepier) Vampire Story

The wait is coming to an end: Joe Hill’s Nos4a2 will arrive on AMC Networks this June 2nd. Nos4a2 is a different kind of vampire story—this isn’t sexy dracula in a coffin leaving snake bites on the necks of pale, equally sexy ladies. No, Hill’s creation is much, much creepier than that. Fans have been waiting to see terrifying villain Charles Talent Manx hit screens since the book’s publication in 2013, and you can bet they will not be let down by Zachary Quinto’s portrayal of the child abductor. This vampire isn’t after blood; instead, he lures children to the sinister world of his imagination, the terrifying Christmasland, in order to prey on their souls. You might associate vampires more with Halloween than Christmas, but trust me—this is far more frightening.

 

Image Via AMC

 

When first published six years ago, Nos4a2 was nominated for the Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel. The Library Journal touted it as “fascinating and utterly engaging,” while The New York Times dubbed it a “throat-grabbing” thrill ride of a novel. The AV Club called Nos4a2 “a big, meaty, 700-page steak of a book that tells many distinct stories while weaving them all into a fabulous larger picture,” praising this unique (and uniquely creepy) work as “a song played with familiar instruments, but following its own tune.”

Remember how I said it wasn’t your average vampire story?

The story is as follows:

Victoria McQueen has a secret gift for finding things: a misplaced bracelet, a missing photograph, answers to unanswerable questions. On her Raleigh Tuff Burner bike, she makes her way to a rickety covered bridge that, within moments, takes her wherever she needs to go, whether it’s across Massachusetts or across the country.

Charles Talent Manx has a way with children. He likes to take them for rides in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the NOS4A2 vanity plate. With his old car, he can slip right out of the everyday world, and onto the hidden roads that transport them to an astonishing – and terrifying – playground of amusements he calls “Christmasland.”

Then, one day, Vic goes looking for trouble—and finds Manx. That was a lifetime ago. Now Vic, the only kid to ever escape Manx’s unmitigated evil, is all grown up and desperate to forget. But Charlie Manx never stopped thinking about Victoria McQueen. He’s on the road again and he’s picked up a new passenger: Vic’s own son.

 

So you’re thinking, yeah Charles Manx, sounds pretty terrifying, but a vampire? Where’s the blood? Well, this is why Hill’s take on the age old idea of vampirism is refreshing. After all, a vampire doesn’t necessarily need to feed on blood; indeed the definition of a vampire is “a being from folklore that subsists by feeding on the vital force of the living.” Blood is convenient, I guess. But the souls of children? Way more nutritional value. Or so Manx would tell you. Is it chilly in here?

 

 

According to advance reviews, AMC’s adaptation of Nos4a2 has hit the nail on the head, capturing the chilling character of Manx (played by Zachary Quinto) and the uncanny, atmosphere of 80s small-town America— think a way darker Stranger Things.  Slash Films notes that “Before preoccupying itself with plot intricacies or horror money shots, the series weaves a suggestion of intrinsic dread,” while Film Obsession says “the moody atmosphere of rural Massachusetts, the loneliness and depression of unfulfilled dreams, and the terror of creepy children is more than enough to keep me entertained.” Slash Films goes on to note that the fearful atmosphere is further achieved by the presence of a genuinely likeable main character, whose fate viewers are immediately invested in. They do this “by giving us a character that we immediately care about –  hopeful, resentful, powerfully plausible Vic – and convincing us, without a word, that she’ll soon be in danger, and that we’ll really hate it when she is.” Sounds like a pretty good start!

Comicbook.com also comments on the chilling atmosphere (while giving us a sneak preview!):

Showrunner Jami O’Brien utilizes unconventional cinematography and editing to help the show stand out from the crowd. Whether it be lingering shots of Charlie Manx’s car cruising through cornfields or depicting the physical toll Vic’s travels on the otherworldly bridge takes on her, O’Brien finds a unique tone which doesn’t necessarily feel inherently terrifying so much as it conjures a chilling and unnerving feel that makes the viewer feel uncomfortable in their own skin.

In addition to this, Slash Films go on to call Manx “a villain who starts out in uncanny valley territory before ageing down into a far more familiar bad guy, one who’s uncanny in a whole other, more sinister, way.” Yikes.

 

 

Ashleigh Cummings as Vic McQueen – NOS4A2 _ Season 1, Episode 5 – Photo Credit: Zach Dilgard/AMC

 

 

Another reason folks are raving about Nos4atu is Vic, the badass female protagonist who viewers are rooting for from the get-go. In her glowing review of the novel in 2013, Janet Maslin of The New York Times noted: “Mr. Hill envisions an epic battle between real and imaginary worlds, makes this fight credible and creates a heroine who can recklessly crash from one realm to the other. She is a brave biker chick named Vic McQueen, who rides a Triumph, of course.” Early reviews of AMC’s adaptation confirm that Ashleigh Cummings captures Vic’s essence perfectly. In his interview with Bookstr, Joe Hill himself described the story as “suspenseful, heartfelt and feminist,” going on to praise the leading actresses, female writer, and showrunner Jami O’Brien’s interest in “unearthing themes about how to be a woman in the modern world.” Indeed, in her NYT review, Maslin goes on to comment, “Mr. Hill makes a major point of emphasizing the extent to which his mother, Tabitha King, has influenced his work, no matter how eagerly others connect his writing with his father’s. His dedication is as nifty as any other line here. ‘To my mom,’ he writes. ‘Here’s a mean machine for the story queen.'”

 

 

 

By all accounts, AMC’s adaptation of Joe Hill’s Nos4a2 is not to be missed. You’ve encountered horror before that’s creepy, dark, and uncanny… even if it’s not done half as well. But it’s far rarer to encounter a story of this nature that’s just as heartfelt and feminist as it is deeply terrifying. That makes Nos4a2 unique in both content and execution—though we’ll leave the subject of execution alone before you get too frightened. Based on early reviews and the man himself, this is one TV show that will draw you in and, like Charlie Manx, never let you go.