Like much of director Mike Flanagan’s work, Midnight Mass owes a creative debt to iconic horror author Stephen King, but what are the specific movies, miniseries, and novels that the Netflix hit references? Midnight Mass is the latest series from horror legend Mike Flanagan, and fans of the genre could be forgiven for assuming the Netflix hit is an adaptation of Stephen King’s work. While Flanagan’s earlier series The Haunting of Hill House and The Haunting of Bly Manor were both (loosely) based on classic horror novels, Midnight Mass is an original story from the helmer.

However, between the small-town setting, the character drama, the religious hypocrisy, the themes of faith and addiction, and the slow-burn supernatural horror, the miniseries could pass for any number of classic Stephen King novels. Much of the talky, creepy runtime of Midnight Mass calls to mind the many television miniseries adapted from King’s work between the ‘80s and ‘00s, and Flanagan is admirably open about his creative debt to the horror legend. As such, Midnight Mass is packed with a slew of references to King’s work, both blatant and subtle.


However, despite Flanagan adapting King’s Dr. Sleep back in 2019, the references to King’s work found dotted throughout Midnight Mass are far from mere cutesy Easter eggs between two former collaborators. Arguably Flanagan’s most mature and thoughtful project so far, Midnight Mass works with a lot of heavy themes that crop up repeatedly in King’s work, and the writer/director makes an admirable attempt to build on ideas that King has touched on. Classics like Carrie and The Mist are referenced in Midnight Mass’s satire of religious zealotry, while Dr. Sleep and The Shining are alluded to when Flanagan touches on questions of predestination and fate. Meanwhile, a handful of more obscure King texts are borrowed from for the plot of the series—and one very famous miniseries provides the show with its biggest twist.

The Shining—Pruitt’s Photograph Reveal

As one might expect after Flanagan’s work on Dr. Sleep, there’s a hidden easter egg reference to The Shining in Midnight Mass. When the enigmatic newcomer Father Paul Hill is revealed to be Monsignor Pruitt, back from the Holy Land having de-aged sixty or so years thanks to an encounter with a vampire, the twist is revealed via an old photograph. The photograph shows that “Paul Hill” is no new arrival and has actually been on the island for decades—just like the last shot of Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining shows that Jack Torrance has always been part of the Overlook Hotel. The show’s hero Riley is also a recovering alcoholic, much like Jack Torrance, a reference that leads to another King nod.

Dr. Sleep—Riley’s Alcoholism

Riley is also a cipher for Flanagan (who also struggled with alcoholism), meaning the writer/director borrowed from his own life while writing the show much like King often puts elements of himself into characters from his stories. However, Dr. Sleep’s hero Danny Torrance is also another troubled alcoholic, and unlike Jack Torrance, he is seen attending AA meetings through both the novel and Flanagan’s adaptation. Thus, Riley’s Midnight Mass AA meetings could be read as a nod to Dr. Sleep, although the character they are often shared with, Paul Hill, also borrows from a lesser-known King novel.

Revival—Father Paul Hill’s “Gift”

Released in 2014, Revival is a King novel that is yet to receive a screen adaptation, but was originally set to be adapted by Flanagan before mounting budget costs led to the project being canceled. Revival’s story sees a small-town preacher claim he can cure any ailment through a miraculous method, only for King’s horror to turn Lovecraftian when the nature of the preacher’s “gift” is revealed. Monsignor Pruitt’s “miracles,” which include healing paralysis and reversing the effects of dementia, are revealed to have a similarly gruesome human cost and creepy source as Midnight Mass‘s twist is revealed.

Salem’s Lot—The Small-town Vampire Invasion

The premise of Midnight Mass owes a creative debt to Salem’s Lot, a successful King novel that was adapted into an iconic miniseries in the late ‘70s by director Tobe Hooper. The novel and miniseries see a troubled antihero return to his hometown to find an eccentric local who has bewitched much of the population—only for the protagonist to discover that vampirism is the secret to the seemingly harmless character’s enthralling charms. Admittedly, Salem’s Lot reveals the nature of its paranormal threat a lot earlier, but the face-off between Hill and Riley with the town at stake is reminiscent of the famous miniseries nonetheless.

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Needful Things/The Tommyknockers—The Plot

Famously spoofed by Rick & Morty, Stephen King’s Needful Things sees a mysterious store owner arrive in a small town and set up a shop that trades in antiquities, collectibles, and seemingly exactly what each customer needs—at a terrible cost. The plot of Paul Hill arriving on the island and sewing the seeds of community-wide terror is similar to the story of this King outing and The Tommyknockers, wherein a mysterious object found in the woods fulfills the creepy priest/strange store town-seducing role. However, there is a big difference in Midnight Mass as Father Hill (initially, at least) authentically believes he is reinvigorating the community for the better, whereas the villain of The Tommyknockers is not human and the antagonist of Needful Things knows exactly how evil his plan is.

Carrie/The Mist—Bev Keane’s Fanaticism

The Mist has been brought to life onscreen twice, as a critically acclaimed 2007 movie and a less-liked 2017 miniseries remake. The gruesome story sees a group of small-town locals trapped in a supermarket after a storm sees the titular weather phenomenon descends on their town and brings with it inter-dimensional monsters. However, one of the locals is as much a threat to the heroes as the monsters, as a local busybody, Ms. Carmody, appoints herself the moral arbiter of the community and decides one of the group must be sacrificed to appease God. A transparently hypocritical Christian, Carmody’s character is echoed in the cruel but religiously devout Bev Keane of Midnight Mass.

However, that’s not the only famous King story that Keane’s character borrows from. Bev Keane also bears a resemblance to Carrie White’s mother from King’s debut novel Carrie, another religious fanatic who excuses her own misdeeds as necessary for god’s plan but condemns others for what she views as even the slightest infraction. Unfortunately for the characters of Midnight Mass, Bev has the amoral zealotry and over-involved attitude of Margaret White combined with the popularity and keen following of The Mist’s twisted Stephen King villain.

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