Horror News

The Original “Pretty Little Liars” Is Still a Loony Horror-Lite Treat [Guide to the Unknown]

Few television shows are simultaneously so bonkers and compelling that they inspire ire and enthusiasm from their viewers in equal measure, but the original run of Pretty Little Liars nailed it. From 2010 to 2017, PLL arrived at just the right time for millennials to freak out and theorize online about its mysterious and ridiculous plot points. Much of that joy came from the outlandish tactics of psychological warfare that the villain used against the show’s teenage protagonists – but there were a few moments when A got physical, too.

A quick synopsis: PLL was a soapy young adult thriller in which a group of friends is tormented by a black-hoodied enemy known as “A.” A will go to all kinds of lengths to make the group’s lives uncomfortable by taunting them with anonymous texts, blackmailing them into doing mean crap to each other, and warning them away from getting too close to finding out their identity in increasingly insane ways.

If you haven’t seen it, its reputation as a ridiculous show aimed at teenage girls that aired on ABC Family may precede it. (Its reputation for being problematic may as well, with a bafflingly mishandled trans storyline and teacher-student relationship that ends in marriage.) You might be surprised at how nuts it got, that actual murders took place, etc. But PLL got a little gnarly sometimes, even trotting out a decent smattering of body horror. Not to oversell it – it’s not like it’s Audition, or, let’s be more realistic, even one of the bloodier scenes from Scream. But the show did take horror inspo from everything from Hitchcock to Twin Peaks, the latter of which is evident in the season 4 episode where A poses as a dentist (seriously) and embeds a tiny note in the tooth of one of the girls.

A big part of what made the show so appealing is how active the “Liars” – Spencer, Aria, Hanna, and Emily – were in trying to unmask A and stop them from messing with them rather than passively being messed with. It’s an unofficial teen detective show. So, to that end, in the episode “Bite Your Tongue,” Hanna heads to the dentist to get her hands on some dental records. (It’s a whole thing, don’t worry about it.)

A comedy of errors ensues when Hanna is left alone at the beginning of a dentist appointment made under false pretenses. She pops up from the chair to snoop around in a records room inside the examination room. The dental hygienist comes to check on her, sees the dentist’s chair empty, and assumes Hanna must have left, so she shuts down the whole office. Not knowing this and having found what she needed, Hanna gets back into the dentist’s chair, thinking the appointment can resume as normal when the dentist comes in. But oh no! A pops the nitrous oxide mask on Hanna, causing her to pass out. (This is actually genuinely scary and one of the few times one of the Liars is isolated and vulnerable with A.) Hanna later wakes up alone in the office with a sore, bloody mouth.

She goes to Aria’s house, where the rest of the group has been waiting for her and freaking out, and she tells them what happened and that her mouth really hurts. So naturally, they grab a giant magnifying glass, a flashlight, and some tweezers to see what’s going on in there. What’s going on is a teeny tiny note that says, “I told you. Dead girls can’t smile. Stop looking. -A.” Shades of the letters placed under the victims’ fingernails in Twin Peaks? Whispers of the death’s head moth placed in the throat of a victim in Silence of the Lambs? A bit of a reach? Maybe! To be clear, Pretty Little Liars doesn’t necessarily belong in the pantheon of contemporary horror greats. But it was a good time with some weird scares, and for some people, that really hits the spot.

Kristen and Will of Bloody FM’s Guide to the Unknown discuss the infamous tooth moment and more from the original run of Pretty Little Liars on this week’s episode! There’s a reboot afoot that brought the franchise top of mind, but sometimes it just feels good to go back to the source.

Check out this week’s episode and subscribe to Guide to the Unknown on Apple PodcastsSpotify, or wherever you get your podcasts to get a new episode every Friday.

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