It’s October and the spooky streaming series are coming out including HELSTROM based on Marvel characters Daimon and Satana Helstrom. If those are unfamiliar names even with the domination of the MCU, it’s not surprising. HELSTROM is based on several standalone stories, with Daimon Helstrom first appearing in Ghost Rider #1 (1973) and Santana Helstrom in Vampire Tales #2 (1973), that developed into a mythos overtime of the siblings as hybrid demon children of The Satan eventually revealed to be a demon masquerading as Satan. The early incarnations of the Helstrom siblings are over the top, beings of dark magic and vibrant costumes.
HELSTROM, the series created by Paul Zbyszewski (executive producer of “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”), is decidedly moodier, darker in color palette, and much more sardonic than its “SON OF SATAN” splash page predecessor. In this incarnation, the siblings, named Daimon (Tom Austen, “The Royals”) and Ana (Sydney Lemmon, “Fear the Walking Dead“), are the children of a known and allegedly deceased Satanic serial killer father and a demon-possessed mother committed to an asylum. Separated from each other as children, they grew to adulthood using their dark abilities to seek out and destroy evil though with arguably different philosophies and moralities. When the demonic force that twisted their father to kill has seemingly returned, the Helstrom siblings are drawn together to face their past and change their future. The Hulu series is from the beginning much different in tone from the characters established in the 1970s. Reminiscent of the early-canceled Constantine in 2014, there are no costumes, no primary colors, and no references to the rest of the Marvel Universe (so far).
And it’s pretty cool.
The demonic world of HELSTROM is disturbing. The series doesn’t shy away from the brutal physical effect of possession nor the abject horror of the siblings’ upbringing and subsequent lifestyles. As an adult, Daimon remains dutifully devoted to his mother, possessed and committed for twenty years, while assisting the head of the psychiatric hospital Louise (June Carryl, “Mindhunter”) in other possible cases of possession with his own dark gifts. Ana, meanwhile, after being kidnapped as a girl by their serial killer father and forced to witness (and possibly contribute to) the unspeakable acts he committed, now runs a house of antiquities for high-end clients whom she hunts and kills with her own twisted abilities. While the siblings have remained estranged for decades, the similarities in the impact of their trauma are abundantly clear in their shared memories of their father mutilating Daimon and their mother (Victoria) screaming in otherworldly voices, and it binds them.
The siblings are guided and initially kept apart by the aforementioned Louise, who looked after Daimon after his mother was committed, and Henry (Robert Wisdom, “The Wire”) a “caretaker” of evil who stood by Ana. Again, two characters bound by trauma with different mindsets, though sharing the common goal to prevent evil from succeeding. Louise ever-watching the deteriorating possessed Victoria and Henry sadly putting other human victims of possession to “sleep” lest they hurt others or themselves. The four have functioned under the idea that it’s either release a human from possession, which is to release the demon back out to return possibly stronger and murderous, or keep the demon “trapped” in the human which is to leave the human in a prison.
A horrifying “Sophie’s choice” questioned and explored by exposition-proxy, nun-to-be, and agent of the Vatican, Gabriella Rossetti (Ariana Guerra) sent to monitor the Helstrom siblings and report back on any true signs of evil. Through Gabriella, the audience bears witness to the tragedy in the dark. A possessed man on the brink of death pinned by a smashed car who won’t be allowed to speak to his family lest they hear the horrors the demon inside would leave them with as a lasting memory. A priest spitting unspeakable words to Gabriella through a confessional before strapped to a bed screaming (forever). A man eating dead spiders and tearing his arm apart for the whispers of a demon skull. Gabriella is a wonderful contrast to the previous characters’ detachment from suffering. She never wrings her hands or becomes overly sensitive, rather the nun-to-be questions, and listens, and presents the suggestion of humanity whenever possible. It’s honestly lovely in that her insistence of mercy is rarely a chastisement and mostly incredulous that mercy needed to be suggested.
That said, the performances of Daimon and Ana in their detachment is perfect. While dark Marvel pieces like Constantine and Ghost Rider (2007) featured perpetually emotionally tortured leads, Daimon and Ana remain grounded. Even as the physical horror visuals increase, the siblings respond with natural fear or revulsion without a long protracted scene of angst. Sometimes, they come off as straight-up sick of it at all which is very relatable all things in the real world considered. A particular scene involving the removal of a body handled by the two of them alone is incredible in the bone twisting and supernatural burning along with a brother/sister tit for tat in cleaning up the blood. Their relationship is natural and believable making every moment where they work a little stronger together, more exciting to the future of the plot.
And what about that plot? The series takes a very smart page out of the “X-Files” structure of an over-arching complicated plot, the return of their powerful demon “dad”, with a monster-of-the-week approach in individual episodes featuring a standalone element that adds another clue to what’s really happening. There are, however, a few missteps. The writing, for being based in religious allegory fantasy, usually stays grounded but here and there are monologues that feel like the actor just memorized the words without knowing what they were saying. A few moments where the VFX, like fire, had no effect on the characters (a room full of fire you cannot stand and breathe in, I’ve experienced) also pop up. But these are small and not distracting.
A final note is Victoria Helstrom herself performed by Elizabeth Marvel (“Homeland”, “Fargo”). While commonly on screen the possessed are shown snarling and spitting Latin, Victoria is terrifying in her subtlety. With just a change in voice and a small look, Victoria switches from an older woman broken in an asylum to an abject threat with an unspeakable ability to hurt. All the characters clearly live in this world but Victoria writes how easily evil can infect and hide waiting to strike.
It’s hard to know in this climate if HELSTROM will make it to a second season. But if the first five episodes are any indication, this first season could be really powerful and a great Halloween season binge. HELSTROM is dark, moody, and sarcastic. A perfect watch for an imperfect year.
HELSTROM will premiere exclusively on Hulu on October 16, 2020.