“We are each our own devils, and we make this world our hell.”
So said Oscar Wilde, reportedly. So said Oscar Wilde to Dorian Gray—or, at least, so he did in the first episode of The Confessions of Dorian Gray. The series, a creation of the British audio drama company Big Finish Productions, imagines that Dorian Gray was real and immortal, friends with Oscar Wilde, and Wilde made The Picture of Dorian Gray by fictionalizing Gray's life. In Confessions, Wilde says the words when his old (but still young-looking) friend visits him on his deathbed. And though Wilde passes by the end of the episode, his words haunt the title character throughout the 20th century and into the 21st.
It's those words that help make Confessions such a terrifying series. On the occasion of Confessions' Halloween special, the show is well worth checking out as an example of what makes horror work—and should provide new kinds of scares to anyone used to rewatching classic slasher flicks each October 31.
Confessions, the creation of director Scott Handcock, follows Gray's adventures and excesses, as well as his encounters with the supernatural. It's a world with demons, potions, possession, and the undead. But it isn't Dorian Gray, demon-slayer. By setting each episode in different eras—from Edwardian Paris to 1960s mods-and-rockers Brighton—Confessions is more of a look at an immortal man's descent into depression and guilt as his friends and world disappear. Most importantly, it’s a look at how his actions keep coming back to haunt him.
And that's something that is now often missed from interpretations of The Picture of Dorian Gray. It isn't a romp about escaping mortality, but a horror story of remorseless hedonism and the effects that guilt can have on the human psyche. It's about the destruction of an innocent man, and his own selfish cruelty towards others. The frights didn't come from Dorian's increasingly terrifying portrait, but from the amorality of his actions in the context of a moral framework.