'Salem' will scare TV viewers

Janet Montgomery in

Janet Montgomery in "Salem."

Bill Harris, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:48 AM ET

I can't say this very often, but I am thrilled to do so: The new series Salem is scary.

Consider Salem an unofficial prequel to American Horror Story: Coven. But that series had a playful touch to it.

There is little playful about the darkly heart-stopping Salem, which debuts across Canada Sunday, April 20 on Space. Starring Janet Montgomery and Shane West, Salem originates on U.S. cable outlet WGN America, which for the first time is trying its hand at original scripted programming.

Well, I found the first episode quite terrifying, which I assume was the intent, so good job. It even was the middle of the day when I watched it, and I was kind of jumpy afterward.

Salem, as one would predict by the title, is focused on the events surrounding the Salem witch trials of the late 1600s. But while conventional history now views those events as deplorable misogynistic violence against women who were considered too powerful, or too sexual, or even too lippy, this new Salem introduces an entertaining new narrative.

So here's the thing: Promotional clips for Salem have revealed elements of this new take, and the creators of the series openly have talked about it. I'm going to talk about it in general terms. So if you are determined not to know anything about the setup for Salem, consider this a SPOILER ALERT.

Okay, if you're still here, the Salem twist is that the witches were real, and they were instigating the trials for their own purposes, which will be revealed as you watch.

“Didn't everybody growing up get fascinated by Salem in part because you felt like there really were witches there?” said Adam Simon, who created the show along with Brannon Braga. “From everything we know, the 17th century was filled with witches, (because) everybody believed in witches. Even the people who said the trials were wrong, and that these people weren't witches, still believed in witches. In a nutshell I would say the history is fantasy but the magic in it is real.”

Hmmm, that's too deep for me. But there's no doubt the first episode of Salem left me shaken.

“It's a world that is filled with magic, so the things that they believed in, the things that they might have feared in the woods, you will fear in the woods,” Simon explained. “The things that people believed in, the things that terrorized them at the time, will terrorize you now.”

Rest assured, this is not merely the Colonial People's Court. It isn't non-stop trial scenes. Yet some story threads are derived from real transcripts of the trials, referencing specific accusations the witches faced.

“I think the things people will be most certain are true will probably be things we made up, and the things you think can't possibly be true will turn out to be true,” Simon said.

Er ... um ... why does that not comfort me?

Twitter: @billharris_tv

Bill.harris@sunmedia.ca


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