Mike Flanagan's First Attempt To Adapt The Midnight Club Ended Poorly

If you've managed to recover from your "Midnight Mass"-inspired existential crisis, then steel yourself for yet another Netflix series from the twisted mind of Mike Flanagan. This time, he's making one for the teens! Or, at the very least, for teens that share his penchant for horror.

Flanagan is directing some episodes of the upcoming horror anthology "The Midnight Club," an adaptation of Christopher Pike's 1994 YA novel, and he's also writing and executive producing alongside Leah Fong and Julia Bicknell. The story follows a group of terminally ill teens who plan midnight meetings where they share sinister stories and search for signs of the supernatural. A bit like his work on "Midnight Mass," the writer-director comes at this story from a personal perspective: Growing up, Flanagan was a big fan of Pike's horror novels. The best-selling novelist has made several entries into the world of YA horror, and for many, he was the next natural step after graduating from the child-friendly fears of R.L Stine. Flanagan was one such kid.

Flanagan explained his "Midnight Club" origin story while chatting with Vanity Fair: "This is before I'd kind of graduated to Stephen King. I was coming right off of John Bellairs ["The House With a Clock in Its Walls"] and R.L. Stine [the "Goosebumps" series]. And so this really blew my hair back."

But his first attempt to adapt the story for the screen didn't turn out well.

Mike Flanagan's Midnight Club origin story

During the same conversation, Flanagan explained that it was more than just the straightforward horror elements of "The Midnight Club" that made a lasting impression — what astonished him most were the dark themes at the center of the story. Aside from their desire to hear spooky stories, the teens of this club share something else: a promise that when any of them die, they will somehow return and prove to the rest of the club that another life exists beyond the one that's being cut short.

"The Midnight Club was a particular shock to me as a teenager because I thought I was getting this pulpy little YA novella that would be about a spooky Grim Reaper or something. But no, it was about teenagers having to reconcile with terminal diseases and with death. And it didn't pull its punches there either. It was a real lesson in how you could use genre to talk about very serious things."

It's not hard to draw a connection between the impact of this story and Flanagan's later work. The writer-director regularly uses horror as a way to unpack grief, religion, and the endlessly existential question of life and death. It's almost hard to believe that it took him this long to adapt the story in the first place ... but it might have something to do with the fact that this isn't his first time trying.

The first attempt

"This is not the first time that I tried to adapt The Midnight Club," Flanagan told VF. The story dates way back to the 90's, years before he worked on his 2003 directorial debut, "Ghosts of Hamilton Street."

When Pike first published the novel in 1994, Flanagan was still a teenager, and one of the story's earliest fans. Three years later, he'd find himself in college at Towson University in Maryland with "The Midnight Club" still lingering at the forefront of his mind. As he was gearing up to make his Hollywood dreams come true, Flanagan was dead set on the idea of making the adaptation his first feature film. So he did what budding filmmakers do and wrote a screenplay. He even drafted a business plan, offering friends and family a chance to invest their money in his low-budget indie. Once all the pieces were together, he sent a proposal to Christopher Pike's publisher. Their response?

Per Flanagan: "They sent me a cease and desist letter."

If you think about it, this is a pretty stunning lesson in tenacity. I imagine it's pretty hard to recover from a cease-and-desist letter all on its own, let alone one that comes from one of your favorite childhood authors. But indeed, Flanagan managed to move past it and pursue filmmaking, slowly bolstering his reputation in the industry. Ironically, horror adaptations are how he caught fire: He brought Stephen King novels like "Gerald's Game" and "Doctor Sleep" to the screen. But it was his Netflix shows that really pushed him to the next level. 

After years of establishing a relationship with the streamer, Flanagan had a production deal and lots of fond memories of his time reading "The Midnight Club." And so it was time to try again.

Taking the Bly Manor approach

This time around, Flanagan envisioned the novel being turned into an anthology series, rather than a film. In the spirit of how he approached "The Haunting of Bly Manor," he also saw this as an opportunity to weave in other Pike novels that shared similar themes and perspectives on the baggage of growing up. Some of the stories the show's teens will be sharing at their nightly meetings are taken from Pike's other works, including "Witch," "Gimme A Kiss," "The Wicked Heart," and "Road To Nowhere."

It mirrors the way that "Bly Manor" used "The Turn of the Screw" as the basis for the story, but combined it with other works from Henry James to fill out the narrative. Branching out beyond the source material worked beautifully for Flanagan last time; at a certain point, it became less of an adaptation and more of a love letter to the author. But speaking of authors, pulling this off required Flanagan to get Pike's blessing. So how do you break the silence twenty years after someone turns down your offer to adapt their novel into a film? Thanks to the wonders of social media, the answer is pretty simple: You send them a Facebook message.

Flanagan finally got the green light

Flanagan explained:

"I sent him a message that just said, 'I'm a huge fan. I don't know for sure that I would've pursued the career and the life that I pursued if I hadn't fallen so in love with the genre and with horror fiction at the age that I did, and that was all because of your work. I've been making some TV shows for Netflix and I think they might really dig a proper YA show if you're interested.'

The timing worked out perfectly. When Flanagan contacted him in 2019, Pike was in the middle of watching "The Haunting of Hill House." Although he was initially skeptical about the adaptation, a series of conversations with Flanagan got Pike onboard.

On October 7th, 2022, when the series arrives on Netflix, we'll finally get to see what haunting tales "The Midnight Club" has in store.