‘Midnight Mass,’ Netflix horror series by TU alumni, debuts to critical acclaim

By Rebecca Kirkman on September 23, 2021

From director Mike Flanagan ’02 and producer Jeff Howard ’92, the seven-episode series premieres Sept. 24

People wearing face coverings in church setting with candles
Director/producer Mike Flanagan ’02, right, and cinematographer Michael Fimognari on the set of “Midnight Mass.” (Eike Schroter/Netflix)

“Midnight Mass”—from Towson University electronic media and film (EMF) alumni Mike Flanagan ’02 and Jeff Howard ’92—premieres Friday, Sept. 24 on Netflix. 

The seven-episode series from the team that created “Haunting of Hill House” tells the story of a small, isolated island community whose existing divisions are amplified by the arrival of a charismatic priest. 

An original concept created by Flanagan, who wrote and directed all seven episodes, “Midnight Mass” explores zealotry and extremism and has been in the works for years. Flanagan even incorporated Easter eggs referencing the concept into his early successes like “Hush” (2016) and “Gerald’s Game” (2017).

“Being in conversation with my various selves over the last 11 years, who have all dipped into this story, that's what makes it so personal for me,” Flanagan told EW. “I don't know that I'll ever be lucky enough to have that experience again with another piece of work.”

His passion for the project spilled over to the rest of the “Midnight Mass” team. 

“There’s something that happens when something is so personal, that it becomes an invitation to other people, that it becomes more accessible," Flanagan said at a press event. “We all, I think, are wrestling with questions about ‘Why are we here? What's the point of being alive, and what happens when we die? […]’ So, while it's a very personal project, it seems to have become personal to a lot of people.”

Time called the “Halloween binge” Flanagan’s “best horror series to date,” while author Stephen King, whose novels “Gerald’s Game and “Doctor Sleep” have been adapted for the screen by Flanagan, gave “Midnight Mass” his stamp of approval on Twitter, describing the series as a “dense, beautifully photographed terror tale that climbs to a high pitch of horror by the seventh and last episode.”

Production of “Midnight Mass” began last August as part of a multiyear deal Netflix signed with Intrepid Pictures, Flanagan’s production company with Trevor Macy, and proceeded throughout the novel coronavirus pandemic. 

“It is very exciting for all of us in the department to watch EMF alums Mike Flanagan and Jeff Howard succeed,” says electronic media and film chair Elsa Lankford. “They've blazed a path for other media creators, including current and future EMF alums, and we wish them the best of luck on this series and whatever else they have in store.”

This fall, a collaboration between Netflix and Universal Studios brings “The Haunting of Hill House” to the annual Halloween Horror Nights experience. Running at Universal Orlando Resort and Universal Studios Hollywood through Oct. 31, the “Haunting” maze experience brings Hill House to life, stocked with some of the most iconic ghosts from the series, and takes guests on the Crain family’s journey.

“I have loved Halloween Horror Nights for so long,” said Flanagan in a press release. “Some of my favorite memories of Halloween were made at Universal Studios, screaming and laughing with my friends. It is such an honor to be included among such fantastic Haunts, and I’m so glad that fans will be able to walk the halls of Hill House this Halloween. This is—without a doubt—one of the coolest things that’s ever happened to us at Intrepid.”

The recipient of the College of Fine Arts & Communication’s 2016 Deans’ Recognition Award, Flanagan filmed his first feature-length project, “Makebelieve” (2000), while attending TU.

“I made my first feature as an undergrad with the support of the faculty and students, and without that experience—and many others—I don’t think I ever would have made it,” Flanagan recalls. “When I moved to Los Angeles after graduation with a handful of other TU alums, I had the skill set to get employed as an editor, which was the only way I survived those first five years in LA.”

Howard reunited with Flanagan on “Midnight Mass” as the series’ executive producer. The pair have worked together on “Haunting of Hill House,” “Gerald’s Game,” “Ouija: Origin of Evil” (2016) and “Oculus” (2013).

“We kept in touch over the years, and, when I moved to LA, he reached out to see if there was something we could do together, and that partnership fell together fast,” Flanagan recalls. “It took us years to sell a script, but it taught me a ton about patience.”

Intrepid Pictures’ next series with Netflix, now under production, will be “The Midnight Club,” based on works by best-selling author Christopher Pike.