The internet has opened up a huge variety of TV and film to whole new audiences. But with such an embarrassment of riches out there, how’s anyone supposed to know what’s worth watching? Welcome to another edition of DownStream.
Any property that deals with the occult in a high school setting is inevitably going to draw comparisons with Buffy The Vampire Slayer.
Joss Whedon’s seminal classic (based on the distinctly-not-classic feature film flop of the same name) wasn’t the first series to bring the supernatural to the classroom, and it certainly wasn’t the last, but it remains something of a singular achievement. Neither the shows it inspired, nor Whedon’s own subsequent TV work ever achieved quite the same level of success again.
Canadian show Todd and the Book of Pure Evil may share some superficial similarities with the chronicles of Sunnydale’s most famous resident, but Buffy it most certainly is not.
Inspired by a low-budget 2003 short film of the same name, Todd Smith first appeared on Canada’s Space TV in September 2010. The series was created by Craig David Wallace, Charles Picco, and Anthony Leo and subsequently aired on Chiller in the United States and SyFy in the United Kingdom.
Set in the fictional town of Crowley Heights, it follows the titular high school student, a typical misfit kid interested only in heavy metal music, soft drugs and getting into the pants of his beautiful classmate Jenny. Anybody who’s up to speed with their occult trivia might have twigged that the town’s name in something of a warning sign – named after the infamous English occultist Aleister Crowley. Crowley Heights is (of course) no normal town, seeing as it was founded by a cabal of satanists. It’s also home to the eponymous book, a sinister tome with unworldly powers. The book (which is bound in human skin – could also be considered something of a bad sign) has a tendency to appear before those in their hour of need. Naturally, it finds an endless supply of such lost souls among the town’s teenagers, so is found more often than not in Crowley High.
It’s a classic case of “be careful what you wish for”- in granting the holder of the book’s deepest desire, it always has unexpected and unpleasant consequences, either for the wisher or for the wider population. It’s basically like that classic episode of the Twilight Zone – or if you’d rather, that episode of The Simpsons with the Monkey Claw.
After his own brush with the book, Todd finds himself on a quest to get hold of it, alongside his portly best pal Curtis, crush Jenny and a bespectacled straight-A student named Hannah. Eventually they’re joined by creepy school councillor Atticus Finch, although he’s after the book for his own nefarious reasons.
Each episode another student finds the book, and Todd and his gang have to deal with the resulting mess, be it undead zombie cockney rockers, demon babies or a smog that turns everyone it touches into a dribbling imbecile. Sure, it’s pretty formulaic, but there’s also movement towards a larger plot involving the town’s secret masters, Todd’s role in a prophecy and the disappearance of Jenny’s father.
Where the series most differs from Buffy is in its tone. While Buffy was often very funny, it was also quite capable of being earnest. Todd and The Book Of Pure Evil is played one hundred per cent for laughs. The horror elements may come from a place of affection for cheap and cheerful splatter movies, but they’re never intended to actually scare or disturb. Influenced by the likes of the Evil Dead movies or Peter Jackson’s Braindead (AKA Dead Alive) this is comedy-horror with the emphasis thoroughly on the comedy side. The gore effects work well – they look pretty cheap but that’s kind of the whole point. When somebody dies in this show (which they frequently do) it’s played for a laugh or shrugged off with a one-liner.
The high school side of the series is handled very differently too. Todd and his friends talk more like the cast of The Inbetweeners than your average US tennage TV comedy. They’re foul-mouthed and sex and drug references are rampant. You might say they act more like real teenagers (although as is usually the case they’re played by actors in their twenties). Yep, it’s rude and crude and it won’t be for everyone, but it’s definitely a shedload of fun.
If you want an indicator as to the tone (and whether or not this series is for you): the school janitor is played by none other than Jason Mewes – Jay of Jay and Silent Bob fame. If that thought alone makes you smile, then this show is probably for you. If it makes you recoil in horror… maybe not so much.
Todd and The Book Of Evil ran for two, 13 episode, seasons, but the hoped-for season three commission never came. As this meant the producers never got to give the story a proper ending, they decided to go directly to the fans. In 2013 they launched a successful IndieGoGo campaign to produce an animated conclusion to the story titled Todd and the Book of Pure Evil: The End of the End . The movie is due to arrive some time in 2014.
If you’ve spent the last decade or so fruitlessly looking for a show to fill that Buffy-shaped void in your life, Todd and The Book Of Pure Evil isn’t it. But if you’re a horror-comedy fan on the hunt for a gleefully blood-splattered, goofy romp, then it more than fits the bill.
Todd and The Book of Pure Evil is available on Nextflix in the USA. Outside America? Sign up for a free trial at UnblockUs and get all regions of Netflix and Hulu, plus iPlayer and more from anywhere in the world!