FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: SWEET RECENT SCARES

 

Sweet Recent Scares

by Kristin Battestella

 

Ghosts, vampires, and cults, oh my! This trio of recent tales get the scares right!

 

I am the Pretty Thing that Lives in The House – Ruth Wilson (Luther, The Affair) stars in this 2016 Netflix original written and directed by Oz Perkins (The Blackcoat’s Daughter). Poetic voiceovers tell of a house being borrowed by the living while dark screens and period silhouettes come in and out of focus, creating an aged feeling for our colonial house, ailing horror author, and her jilted live in nurse Lily – who must always wear white, can’t be touched, and slaps her own hand for snooping. Certainly there are obvious implications with repeated phrases, solitary scenes, one side phone calls, whispering voices, and no outdoor perspectives to disrupt our attention from the suspect footsteps and undisturbed décor. Old music with ironic lyrics, cassettes, rotary phones, typewriters, static TV antennas, and Grateful Dead shirts also invoke a trapped in the past mood implying that the thin veil between life and death is soon to be broken. Shadowed, almost black and white shots and doorways framed in darkness make the audience question which side of the looking glass we are on – slow zooms peer into the dark frames or blacked out night time windows. There are shock moments, but the one woman play design is intense without being loud or in your face. Blindfolds, old fashioned dresses, mirrors, musty papers, and mysterious boxes increase amid moldy walls and suspicious characters from our author’s 1960 novel The Lady in the Walls – creating slow burn literary flashbacks, parallel self-awareness, ghostly uncertainty, and feminine duality on wilted old age blooms versus forever beautiful flowers. Is this a linear story or are the past, present, living, and dead blending together? Again, the answers are apparent with book titles and name hints hidden in plain sight. No one eats, sleeps, or bathrooms yet this ghostly rot and repetition may take multiple viewings for full discussion, interpretation, and analysis. Although there are some pretentious arty for the sake of it moments – not the papa Anthony Perkins scenes on the TV! – knocking on the walls, a flipped up rug, buzzing flies, and a will requesting another woman writer come to chronicle this “House of Stories” are atmosphere enough without run of the mill wham bam effects. This individual horror experience remains can’t look away intriguing for old school horror fans not expecting thrills a minute and those who enjoy a seventies, no concept of time mood.

 

Midnight Son – An aversion to sunlight, skin conditions, and the need for human blood make for a deadly quarter life crisis in this 2011 indie gem from Scott Leberecht (Life After Pi). There’s not much dialogue early – and the DVD has deleted scenes, interviews, and commentaries but no subtitles – yet the visual storytelling doesn’t need anything uber talkative. Interesting schemes denote the false night time light with yellow lamps, neon accents, string bulbs, blue kitchen designs, and choice reds as the doctor diagnoses anemia, jaundice, and malnourishment. Rare steak isn’t doing the trick, but the sight of blood on a bandage at the ho hum night security job gets the heart racing for something tasty. Early Google research moments get out of the way in favor of painting memories of the sun, solitary vampire movie watching, checking for fangs, testing for a reaction to crosses, and having a laugh at the clichés. Loneliness, street peddlers, deadbeats, and debt – life’s already down on its luck so what’s a little vampirism? The vampire vis-a-vis for drug use and life sucks may be trite today, but this allegory has an older, working protagonist stopping in the corner butcher for some blood by the pint to hide in his coffee cup. Companionship and fantastic possibilities can be found in unlikely places, and it’s neat to see just how many things a basement dwelling vampire can really do at night. Although I like his bed with the blackout curtains, this is a potential turned bleak world – the natural awkwardness is understandable and casually realistic. Jacob’s smart, talented, and just hampered by his…health problems…and an ER opportunist is willing to trade blood for a price. Rather than shock horror exploitative, we have an intimate, invested view for the increasing slurps, bloody makeouts, and desperateness. Quick camera flashes leave room for suggestion as bodily changes, night vision, infections, and love bites interfere with potential relationships, murder investigations, gallery possibilities, and you know, trying to get somewhere in life. Can you be a good and normal vampire or is amoral violence the only answer? Though plain to some with nothing super unexpected, the simple constructs echo the mature progression, honest drama, and self-aware focus without the need for horror spectacle. This is a fine story with a small but well rounded, multi-ethnic cast, and it’s one of the best same writer/director pictures I’ve seen in a very long while.

 

Sacrifice – Radha Mitchell (Pitch Black), Rupert Graves (Sherlock), and David Robb (Downton Abbey) star in this 2016 adaptation of Sharon Bolton’s novel beginning with brisk New York pregnancy emergencies before moving to Scotland’s great mountains, rocky coasts, and end of the world island isolation for an adoption. Standing stones, jokes about mistaking “runes” for “ruins”, and talk of Druids, Normans, and ritual sacrifice pepper the scene setting job interviews, hospital tours, and dinner with the wealthy, well-connected, but secretive in-laws. A dead animal on the property reveals a buried body, and our lady obstetrician butts into the police investigation of this bog discovery, studying creepy photos and x-rays of the corpse to suggest the victim had recently given birth before her insides were excised. Quality science, Tollund Man references, and flood clues jar against trow myths, unique folklore, and inscription evidence. The authorities don’t want to hear any of that old sacrificial talk, but these mothers and lady cops are intelligent women talking about history and murder rather than men or gossip. While the well-paced, multilayered investigations may build the spooky versus facts with suspicions and tense cloak and dagger, this is not an overt horror picture. The story here feels caught in the middle when it should have been either a straight crime drama or gone with all out fantastics. There are some plot confusions as well – who is who and all the details aren’t totally clear, leaving an abrupt end with serious unanswered questions. Fortunately, surveillance, shadows, chases in the dark office at night, and lights going out add suspense. Late wives, a clinic full of pregnant but anonymous women – who doesn’t want this medical mystery solved and why? This is a small island, and not being in on its secrets can prove fatal with dangerous bridges or fiery car accidents. Body switches, clandestine interviews, identifying tattoos, hidden passages, and bagpipes tossed in for good measure seemingly tidy the case, and a likable, mature cast anchors the maternal fears and cult demands of this unique little thriller.

 

But Skip

White Settlers – A city couple moves to a too good to be true Scottish fixer upper on a medieval battle site in this 2014 British snoozer also called The Blood Lands. After the usual cool opening credits, are we there yet driving to the horrors, a somewhat shady estate agent, no phone signals, and a move in montage; the very unprepared wife realizes she’s afraid of being in an isolated handyman house without power. Of course, her jerk husband makes Scottish jokes, refusing to let up on his bullshit attitude even when there’s a scary break in and unseen attackers. The outdoor saucy, surprisingly immature and incompatible couple, and nighttime suspicious are typical clichés, and the divine scenery, historical references, and great house are never used to their full potential. When the description refers to ancient battles, one sort of expects something wild like ghosts or cults and past meets present horror – not guys in pig masks angry at the new neighbors. It’s tough to feel any of the supposed English versus Scottish subtext because the horror is so substandard. Eden Lake had better us versus them twists, and I swear I just saw this terrorizing hooligans in animal masks trope in at least three other horror house siege movies. Although flashlights and fog make it difficult to see much of anything here, and our wife has to apologize to her asshole husband for her being afraid even while she’s the superior fighter. Maybe this isn’t that bad on its own, but it’s certainly disappointing if you are expecting anything more than Brits chasing some other Brits through the woods in the dark. Nothing here is horror sentient – people go back to check the still body, bads talk rather than act to create a contrived victim escape, and who trusts the creepy little boy for help? Hello, McFly. If you didn’t want any English buying your Scottish property, why not blame the real estate lady who sold it to them? Or the bank that made the price so high? How is unrealistically terrorizing and ridiculously kicking out the new owners so you can move in going to get rid of any of the real world consequences?

Kbatz: Buffy Season 7

 

It’s Very Messy, but Buffy Season 7 Ends Right

by Kristin Battestella

 

The seventh and final 2002-2003 twenty-two episode season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer certainly has its ups and downs with new slayer potentials creating multiple storylines amid the nostalgic series reflection. Most of the year is uneven at best with too many characters and a plodding pace. However Buffy’s big finale remains a sentimental must see for long time fans.

Vampire Slayer Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) is hired by Principal Wood (D.B. Woodside) at the new Sunnydale High school where her sister Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg) attends. Unfortunately, there’s little time for construction manager Xander Harris (Nicholas Brendan) to work or reformed witch Willow Rosenberg (Alyson Hannigan) to return to college, for ex-watcher Rupert Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) reports that potential slayers all over the world are being killed by The First Evil. The Hellmouth beneath the high school is stewing, putting vengeance demon Anya (Emma Caulfield) on the outs with the evil community and testing vampire Spike’s (James Marsters) inability to deal with his newly earned soul. As the public abandons Sunnydale, the small Scooby army is joined by former Trio hostage Andrew (Tom Lenk) and Slayer bad girl Faith (Eliza Dushku) to fight against the ancient Turok-Han vampires and The First’s ruthless disciple Caleb (Nathan Fillion).

The seventh season opener “Lessons” is a pleasing re-introduction to Sunnydale High School, its creepy basement, and the suspicious new principal with an office directly above the Hellmouth. There’s certainly some residual energy on the grounds, and it might have been interesting to stay with this renewed school paranoia. Let Buffy be the occasional adult as new school evils and fresh characters arrive to replace those departing. Scenes from the earliest seasons haven’t been in the opening credits for some time, but numerous references to prior Buffy years pepper the foreshadowing, soul revelations, and demons under pressure. Although the plot is convenient, “Same Time, Same Place” perhaps admits last season skewed too dark – the gang is down to Buffy, Xander, and Dawn before the Scoobies come together again for more yellow crayon reminders. Our main girls help each other heal in similar but parallel separations, and this unique episode with no billed guest stars shows what Buffy can do with a total bottle episode. “Help” also mirrors Buffy’s beginnings with invisible girls unnoticed and hanging at the morgue on a school night. The bullying and suicide conversations are slightly after school special, but in Sunnydale, it’s easier to consider the slayer way or something spooky rather than normal human resolutions. There are demonic twists for sure, but the cryptic predictions build real world life and work better than all the dark metaphors. “Him” does the high school love spell again, complete with the old Sunnydale High cheer leading uniform and A Summer Place music. Despite annoying Dawn moments and dated then cool lingo, this is a self-aware revisit with all involved in the crushing gone awry. In contrast to these lighthearted back to Buffy roots, “Conversations with Dead People” halts the paranormal life moves on potential with a solid mix of supernatural catharsis and deceptions. The isolated vignettes layer multiple foundations while the tension, possessed house, and too good to be true afterlife conversations remain intimate angst and personal horror.

Sadly, most of this season Buffy is disjointed with anonymous potentials detracting from the core gang. With only one big bad lacking the usual Buffy seasonal structure, this could have been a much shorter year, yet the previouslies each episode get longer. That two minute recap eats into an already short forty-three minutes with credits, providing less time for the important things amid ominous cliffhangers and toiling games. Cluttered characters and too much exposition add to the increasingly messy timeline – some episodes continue right where the action leaves off while others never acknowledge gaps in time. Continuity also plays willy nilly with a non-corporeal baddie touching people or objects, leaving viewers to weed out what is fact, error, important, or meh. It’s tough to appreciate the taunts and changing face of The First as actual badness thanks to tired scripts and an over it apocalypse feeling. Such convenient even lazy writing is surprising when Buffy is usually so well interwoven. Season Seven is undecided on whether this is a reset with the global youths or an inward goodbye wrap. Buffy is welcome to do either, but the apathy on choosing makes it easy to tune out now just as it did when the season originally aired. “From beneath it devours” mantras come up empty, and “Beneath You” is a filler attempt at combining good character conversations with monster of the week unnecessary. This is supposedly the bad before bad was even bad, yet it hasn’t been mentioned since Season Three and Buffy doesn’t realize this is The First until “Never Leave Me.” Pieces of episodes have great scenes, but “Bring on the Night” is all talk. Real world school cancellations and residents leaving town finally come in “Empty Places,” but Faith takes everybody to the Bronze, Giles doesn’t trust Spike, Spike doesn’t trust Giles, and peeps be disrespecting Andrew by stealing his Hot Pockets!

Fortunately, the girl power confrontations and women in charge conversations about much more than boys increase the Hellmouth consequences in “Get It Done.” Who The Slayer is and how the job can be redefined finally get back to the First Slayer roots – although such good pieces can be tough to swallow when the obvious First Slayer answers from earlier seasons are selectively ignored. Past slayer angst, vampires both friend and foe, period William the Bloody flashbacks, and motherly conflicts do right in “Lies My Parents Told Me” with deep seeded memories and oedipal mother/slayer sons kink. Not to mention the self-aware jokes on the speeches and confusions about the chip, a trigger, a soul, which one the military gave Spike, and which one is off, on, or making him kill again but not anymore. The wasting time arguing on how to argue comes to a hilt with “Touched,” but not before a speech from Spike interrupted by a speech from Willow cut off by a speech from Faith saying the time for speech giving is done. Thankfully, this entry is about each couple having their moments before the end, and it is indeed touching as well as groundbreaking with steamy interracial sex scenes and equal lesbian action unheard of on American television lo these fifteen years ago. Though commonplace now, it’s another reminder of how important Buffy The Vampire Slayer really is, and “End of Days” takes up the mantle with Sword in the Stone inspiration and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade old lady guardians. The bombs and magic weapons are slightly episodes of the week for Buffy rather than penultimate heavy, but old friendships are reconnected and everyone has their time with what’s really important – like explaining what happened to Mr. Kitty Fantastico! The series is able to say goodbye with a message on whether you win or not being up to you, but there’s a chuckle. too: “What’s your name?” “Buffy.” “No, really.” The prophetic gems and potentials come full circle in the “Chosen” finale by facing the fear of being alone with an eponymous army changing the call to fight against evil. Naturally, it wouldn’t be a Season Seven drinking game without one more speech, but a course of action is finally taken and Dungeons & Dragons is played in the calm before the battle. While some fighting and effects are hokey or crowded, there’s also a cinematic flair with superb moments from the original Scooby Gang – save the world and go to the mall. The slayers make the rules, take it to the evil, and kick ass. It’s an excellent culmination to the series with huge tearjerker moments and a totally fitting goodbye to the Hellmouth, “Welcome to Sunnydale” sign and all.

Kind of sort of counselor Buffy almost has a real job, yet she looks like she did in the first season – just with better symbolic white clothing. High school is a familiar setting, but she’s older, wiser, able to deal and admits to dating hottie dead guys. Buffy has some undead therapy, too, a sit-down examination on her inferiority complex about her superiority complex. The Slayer must always isolate herself, and Buffy feels unqualified for any proper life position. Good thing she has bigger Hellmouth concerns! She doesn’t want any legacy, for what she does is too important for the world to know about it, and Buffy becomes increasingly snotty and defiant despite doing little to fight The First. Her catatonic breakdown late in Season Five seemed a better crack under pressure with fewer roundabouts and rogue fighting getting people killed, and this disservice pulls Buffy a touch too far astray. Deep down she’s still not over killing Angel way back when, and it understandably takes Buffy sometime before trusting Spike again. Luckily, she comes to defend and rely on him, inadvertently confessing she previously had feelings for Spike. The audience has to conveniently forget that Spike told her about Nikki Wood in great detail as Buffy also seems to forget, but amid all the apocalypse crazy, these relationship pauses give Buffy the clarity she needs. Yes, it is a speech about unbaked cookie dough, however, it’s easy to forget how young Buffy really is because she’s been through so much. This time the end of the world is coming round and Buffy realizes she has her whole life ahead of her and it’s okay to not be ready for whatever else there is. She doesn’t want to be the one and only, so she faces self-doubt, embracing a new comfort in her own skin alongside a mature frankness with Spike. Of course, Buffy never was much with the damseling, but now she has to learn how to be just like everyone else.

 

Vampire Spike is on the case trying to unravel what’s happening in his own head in “Sleeper.” Double Spikes and The First’s non-corporeal switcharoos are confusing, but Juliet Landau’s Drusilla disguise helps make The First feel more real as Spike isn’t handling the remorse of his newly acquired soul too well and hanging out near the Hellmouth for The First’s taunts add to his torment. Spike’s crazy basement talk comes in handy, however, and his brief past with Anya is addressed amid multiple questions about his chip, evil brainwashing triggers, and his soul reprieves. His previous attack on Buffy is put front and center to start the season, as Spike knows he has no right to ask for help from her. It’s eerie to see him biting people again, reminding the audience his struggle over his previous villainy will get worse before it gets better. Does he still need to be on a leash or should his chip be removed? Spike drinks to avoid all the household’s human temptations but insists he is there to become good enough and do what Buffy wants. The Initiative chip was done to him, but he sought his soul, and Spike feels good fighting bad guys. He wants Angel’s pretty charm that calls for a champion strong enough to wield it. Spike, a hero, whodathunkit?! He remains loyal to Buffy, literally sniffing her out when she’s tossed from the house, and he’s not fooled by her seeming acceptance of defeat. Spike and Buffy have it out once and for all, coming to a deeper understanding of who each is and what they are together. Even if you aren’t a Spuffy fan – I love both characters but still don’t know if I like them together – there are some endearing late-season moments between them.

Unfortunately, I don’t feel sorry for Willow learning her lesson via a mystical English retreat, and it’s incredibly frustrating that this uber powerful witch who can poof anything better is knocked out of the fight and made awkward again over contrived can’t or won’t magic hang ups. Let her face the bad memories at home and get back into a lighthearted academic usefulness as in the earlier seasons, for Willow has no right to distrust anyone or call out others for any evilness. If potential slayers are making ready, then where are all the other magic experts and trainees for Willow to host or join? If all these characters are doing nothing, why not school other magically inclined people like Dawn, Anya, or Andrew to Wicca power? It’s as if Buffy doesn’t know what to do with Willow’s magic beyond the lesbian sex metaphors, but at least her relationship with Iyari Limon as Kennedy can be realistically portrayed without that wink. Sassy Kennedy acts tough, but the superior potential attitude feels try hard, and the spoiled rich girl is taken down a notch after pushing Willow to do more non-sex magics. Likewise, the uneven “The Killer in Me” is riddled with unnecessary Initiative throwbacks and a repressed grief Willow as Warren hex due to the new lady romance. Been there, done that, and still “So, so tired of it!” Thankfully, Xander has mellowed in his old age, becoming a single parent figure comfortable with himself, his job, and driving everyone to school. His past jerk behavior isn’t forgotten and Xander objects to still being called Buffy’s boy, however, he’s a firm voice of reason, fortifying the house in construction as well as alleviating fears with humor. Xander relates to the potential girls waiting to be chosen, knowing their struggle to be so near but just outside the spotlight. He repairs his relationship with Anya and trusts Buffy even as he pays a hefty price for his loyalty and refuses to let Willow magically heal him. Through it, all Xander’s in good spirits and ready to be there at the end – if only because it is his job to bring Buffy back to life after each apocalypse.

Anya isn’t doing too well as a vengeance demon and spends the early episodes as a magical support plot point before the bemusing Old Norseth speech, subtitles, and period flair of “Selfless” complete with a cute revisit to “Once More with Feeling” and an explanation about the bunnies contrasting her dark and gruesome vengeance deeds. Demon fun with Kali Rocha as Hallfrek and consequences from Andy Umberger as D’Offryn or not, Anya must decide which side she is on with wild spiders, lingering feelings for Xander, and head to heads with Buffy coming to the hilt. I’m not sure where in the series, but we should have had her backstory episode much sooner instead of Anya as merely Xander’s girlfriend who admittedly does little but provide sarcasm. She uses her demon connections, gets into the interrogations, and applies her poor bedside manner when telling how ripe and overcrowded the house is. Her hair changing stir crazy leads to some fun moments with Andrew, who agrees her hospital supply robbery with Jaws quotes makes her the perfect woman. Sunnydale is all kinds of screwed, but Anya isn’t leaving town for this apocalypse. Besides, she’s spot on in saying Dawn isn’t good for anything. The teen still needs to be rescued or babysat a few times, but she does seem to find her place as a junior watcher style researcher. Of course, that doesn’t mean her information is well received, and her idea of developing a demon database based on detective work rather than last season’s out of hand use of magic is ignored. She’s growing up and has some humorous moments, but it makes no sense how her mystical same blood of Buffy means she is not a potential slayer. Despite wise youth observations about no one asking for help when they need it or that is isn’t evil that makes vampires with or without souls love or hate slayers, there are just too many people making speeches already, and if Dawn was mentioned as being secreted away to safety with the unseen good witches coven in England, her absence would not have been noticed.

D.B. Woodside’s (24) Principal Wood is quite interesting for Buffy, a character not quite friend or foe who should have been used more – even as a suspected mini bad for the first half of the season. Wood knows more about Buffy than he admits, calling her school record checkered while he describes himself as a snappy dressing, sexy vampire fighting guy. He knows Spike is a liability but lets his personal history with the vampire cloud his judgment as they begrudgingly fight alongside each other. Sadly, Wood ends up just kind of there, with too much busy and inconsistency in “First Date” interfering with his revelations. I still also want more of Eliza Dushku as Faith, an inexplicably late arrival to Season Seven who’s right that she should have gotten the FYI on The First. Faith opines that Buffy protecting vampires makes her the bad slayer and now she is the good one who chose to serve her time. It’s delightful to see her really meet Spike not exactly for the first time, and their bantering about who is the more reformed bad – not to mention Faith’s chemistry with Spike and Wood – was spin off worthy for sure. The best parts of “Dirty Girls” are the ones without Buffy, and the good and evil religious parallels add to the saucy and Faith’s kinky reminiscing. Buffy should have used the lingering resentment between who is the real slayer in charge to the fullest, and The First appearing as Harry Groener’s Mayor Wilkins helps Faith face her past. She admits she enjoys being part of something bigger, even if a weapon that could be hers of course really belongs to Buffy, and in the end, Faith goes from defensive about her slayer burden to encouraging the man interested to “have a little faith.”

I recall Nathan Fillion’s (Firefly) Caleb as being more important than he actually is, and his evil priest with the dirty slayer girls metaphors also could have been a mini bad face to The First early in the season instead of a mere five episodes late. Caleb has some great warped sermons with evil reversions on the Last Supper, communion, wine, and blood. His misplaced righteous defines who’s good, bad, clean or bad folk. Unfortunately, the hammy quips are too tired, and explanations on his mergings with The First to gain his super strength are almost an afterthought in the second to the last episode. So, The First wants to make all humans soulless with such merges but needs a buried ancient weapon to do this slayer mojo reversion. We could have used that information just a little bit sooner. Likewise annoying, sorry not sorry to say, are the potential slayers – Amanda, Annabelle, Molly, Kennedy, Rona, Vi, Chao-Ahn, Chloe, Eve, Colleen, Shannon, Laverne & Shirley. Even Buffy can’t remember the names of what is said to be thirty odd cardboard placeholders with iffy accents and terrible style. Their number, abilities, who they are, where they sleep, and who did or didn’t tell who what and when remains ridiculously confusing. The potentials admit to having squat in “Showtime,” and the desperately unprepared girls are a terrible little army with entire scenes of fearful debates on their said unpreparedness. Buffy takes too long to realize the slayer line changes and First impostors infiltrate the unknowns far too easily. By “Potential” Spike’s trigger is still in doubt yet he gets neck and neck with these girls during their little slayer boot camp. School and training are unrealistically balanced, as are bruises and injuries so serious one episode but gone the next. As the first episode aired after the series’ winter break, “Potential” also resets any strides made with more round and round vampire studies that ultimately go nowhere.

Outside of the perhaps understandably absent Oz and Tara, nearly everybody who has ever been on Buffy has a goodbye moment, including each Big Bad, Elizabeth Anne Allen as evil witch Amy, and James C. Leary as the fun and floppy eared demon Clem. Special guest star Anthony Stewart Head’s authority as Giles is desperately needed, but brief suspicions about him regarding The First are unnecessary and hollow. His usual voice of information is mishandled as well, with Giles’ Watcher wisdom cast aside for plot contrivances. Fortunately, David Boreanaz’s brief crossover as Angel has more clarity with mystical tokens given and pissy jealously over his no longer being the only vampire with a soul. Bittersweet moments come with Kristine Sutherland as Joyce Summers and Danny Strong as Jonathan, however, I am completely over Adam Busch as Warren and The Trio as villains. Tom Lenk’s Andrew starts weak with lingering what’s his name Tucker’s brother clichés, and my word Buffy gets ridiculously finite with too many pop culture references and geeky fan service, making this annoying character annoying indeed. Thankfully, Andrew – a “guestage” who bakes as his reform from evil – is not wrong when he says this season is Episode I boring, and props to his Dalton as Bond appreciation! Though a fun departure before the big final episodes, “Storyteller” uses Andrew’s video camera point of view for more meaning than it lets on underneath the Masterpiece Theatre ironies, retro video style, and need to document the slayer legacy with embellished liberties. Some B plotting out of the unique viewpoint loses steam, but Year Seven could have opened with the in media res here. This hour captures Buffy’s not taking itself too seriously tone despite the demon bads – something this toiling season often forgets – and everything gets up to speed with revelations to the camera confessor as it should be.

But say hey, it’s 2003 and they have cell phones now! Well, one shared flip phone that’s left behind by teen girls and gets reception in the basement – yeah right! – but it’s those corded landlines where you must remember the numbers to dial that are really scary. Series from this era were probably the last ones where world building could be so isolated with no newspapers or television reports necessary. Online police scanners could have been handy, however primitive internet searches result in nothing but unhelpful Geocities web pages. People need to explain what Googling is, and looking up “evil” on your work computer is never a good idea. The Bronze and its hip music moments should have been retired a long time ago, and certain fashions and weak monster effects shout Y2K. Buffy also strays from its own style with borrowing from Vertigo or The Terminator. Fatal opening montages featuring worldwide potentials strive for exotic edgy but end up mere Run Lola Run copies. The scoring is also embarrassingly noticeable, swelling for each of those redundant speeches. There are some fun splitscreen effects to visually accent the hysteria, but the perpetually beat up yet unrealistically repaired Summers House is too crowded and inadvertently symbolic of this busy Buffy season. Camping out in the damaged Magic Box could have interesting, and maybe Xander’s apartment on that higher floor might have been a bit more secure against the anonymous Bringers, lame Turok-Han vampires, or demon of the week easy. At least they admit one bathroom in the house is a problem, and hehe, Zima.

Today, Buffy’s final leg would have been twelve episodes tops – eight with no punches pulled. I want to zoom over all the superfluous with only a viewer sense of loyalty to carry through the forgettable hours yet can only take so many episodes at a time. However, it’s odd to complain that Buffy doesn’t know what to do with itself this season since the series is must see exceptional television overall. Year Seven makes me want to go back and marathon my favorites, and I repeatedly stopped and started this rewatch several times – only going forth with the last few shows once Buffy was expiring from Netflix as a lazy excuse to continue. Season Seven is both nostalgic good and rocky tough, but all the negatives know when to take a backseat as Buffy The Vampire Slayer ultimately ties itself together in one final, pretty bow. 

 

Kbatz: The Munsters Season Two

 

The Munsters Uneven Second Season Still Full of Fun Treats

by Kristin Battestella

 

At once The Munsters seems like a short-lived show with two seasons worth of spooky shtick – if you’ve seen one episode with lovable monster Herman, vampire housewife Lily, The Count Grandpa mad scientist, unfortunately normal niece Marilyn, and little werewolf son Eddie then you’ve seen them all. However, with thirty-two episodes for the Second 1965-66 season, The Munsters both strays from its affable formula yet provides enough hair-brained fun for triple the time of today’s shorter, ten or thirteen episode seasons.

Lying down on the job, getting mistaken for a customer – The Munsters‘ funeral parlor jokes continue this season in “Herman’s Child Psychology.” The family gathers around the dusty organ for a sing a long and nice father and son moments turn into bemusing reverse psychology as peer pressure puts Eddie in a mini rebellion phase. It’s a simple premise, but this cool refresher even kids that these kinds of things are supposed to work on Leave it to Beaver. Likewise, everyone struggles to all fit on the couch for a family photo and end up victims of the powder poof in “Herman Munster, Shutterbug.” Lily knows Herman dabbling in photography will be botched somehow, and sure enough, the clan ends up humorously held hostage after Herman inadvertently snaps bank robbers in the act. Of course, the crooks can’t handle The Munsters at home, but Grandpa sides with Herman and Marilyn with Lily when the couple both secretly take second jobs to buy each other 1865 anniversary gifts in “Happy 100th Anniversary.” Not only do they scare the employment agency, but the two end up working side by side – but in their welding masks. Granted, The Munsters repeats on the moonlighting jobs, and gosh it sure was easy to get work for a week back then. However, parallel scenes, charming quips, mistaken hijinks, and men versus women in the same workplace combine for some preposterous, memorable laughter. Grandpa says the dripping with class Munsters must frighten the common man and that’s why they can’t get a renter for their guest room in “Lily’s Star Boarder.” Of course, jealous man of the house Herman objects to the idea, snoops, and jumps to a totally wrong conclusion about their secretive guest. Rather than a crooked swindle, here The Munsters smartly puts an outsider in the mansion and lets the happenstance ensue. Unfortunately, the court thinks Herman hitting his head and getting amnesia is a Candid Camera stunt in “John Doe Munster.” Lily and Grandpa must go to the adoption judge over comic book reading Herman – who doesn’t recognize his family. However, he does think Mrs. Munster is a cute cookie and is willing to go home with her if he gets his own TV set!

Meetings with the Mayor, creature sightings, and pesky reporters make for an interesting mix of humor and politics when Grandpa’s anti-voting machine and Spot’s running away clash in “Underground Munster.” Whispers of corruption, red tape, and a politician really throwing dynamite on the situation add to the race against the clock, and The Munsters gets better midway through the season as secret passages in the dungeon lead to the discovery of an old fort in “The Treasure of Mockingbird Heights.” Labels such as “playpen” and “hobby room” on the ye olde prison stocks delight Herman and Grandpa – not to mention the map to buried pirate treasure. After all, the boys agree such luck doesn’t happen to this kind of nice, normal family. Teamwork, humorous obstacles, surprises, and suspicions keep the two-hander cracks fun. Unfortunately, Eddie’s being bullied and Herman faces practical jokers at work in “Herman’s Peace Offensive.” While doing the right thing, not resorting to violence, proper parenting, and standing up to bullies are basic sitcom topics, The Munsters’ unique brand adds witty gags alongside parlor zest and father/son boxing gone awry. The lessons are learned – although innocent Herman mixes with horse racing bookies instead of discouraging Eddie from gambling in “Herman Picks a Winner.” Fred Gwynne also goes sans monster makeup after “disfiguring” stray lightning in “Just Another Pretty Face,” making for one of the most memorable Munster episodes. It’s Herman complete with all the same mannerisms, but the repulsed family takes him to the doctor and considers plastic surgery. Poor Herman feels Hollywood flashy in a regular suit and too embarrassed to go to the parlor, but his original Dr. Frankenstein blueprints and some mad scientist twists bring rectifying delights. Likewise, “Zombo” provides great horror within the horror as Eddie becomes obsessed with the titular host’s show – only to be shocked and disappointed at the behind the scenes fakery and “This is television” cardboard veneer. Here The Munsters uses the spooky bad horror expected of the era to wink at their own comedy as well as the still relatively new vogue of television.

Viewers also get to see more of the funeral parlor after Herman’s publication of “Going out to Pasture” in “The Mortician Monthly” for “Cyrano de Munster.” When he turns to ghost writing love letters for a co-worker and Lily finds out, well, The Munsters add its own spin on the familiar theme. And imagine, back then, one had to look up people’s addresses in the phone book! Dr. Frankenstein IV stops by in “A Visit from Johann,” and Gwynne does double monster duty again as the eponymous but less sophisticated Herman lookalike. Johann, however, escapes the dungeon and ends up on a switcharoo honeymoon weekend with Lily. Alas, it’s Herman ruining Grandpa’s go kart birthday gift for Eddie that brings the father and son-in-law to war in “A House Divided.” Booby traps and elaborate alarms lead to the divvy of mansion property with competing televisions, rival organ music, and newspaper squabbles. Instead of cruel crooks, the bemusing nasty stems from the territorial escalating, and rather than some kind of scam, the car accident victim of the jaywalking Herman tries to settle in “Herman’s Lawsuit.” Her lawyer sees their lifestyle and thinks The Munsters destitute, but the out of touch family doesn’t realize they are the ones being paid! The unplanned series finale “A Visit from the Teacher” sees Grandpa’s crazy invention to save electricity, Herman electrocuted while trying to fix the toaster, and Eddie’s school essay about his zany family – bemusingly summing up The Munsters in a little episode about nothing but them being themselves. Of course, the school officials think it is all just a disturbing fantasy until they end up trapped in the coffin phone booth, and The Munsters think it is nothing but plain old jealousy when others don’t appreciate their good-natured hospitality.

 

Generally, The Munsters’ episodes have a Munster moniker in their title, and the names of each half hour pretty much giveaway that show’s entire plot. However the titles aren’t shown in the episode’s credits this season, and Year Two is slow to start with the same unnecessary gimmicks and dancing bears. Repeat bank heists and people fleeing in super speed get old fast and detract from the family humor this show does best. Rather than takings cues from its own brand, The Munsters relies on too many then-references and jokes that will fall flat for audiences mid-century unfamiliar. Quoting other television shows in attempted self-awareness doesn’t work when the family themselves behave inconsistently and out of character from episode to episode. One and all happily go to the beach without negative comments on sunshine and nice weather, Herman says he never won an award when he just did win the episode prior – isn’t grilling wolf burgers a little cannibalistic? Dated stereotypes and an evil Russian trawler in “Herman the Master Spy” add to the unevenness in the first half of the season, almost as if the show doesn’t know what to do beyond putting the family in outlandish stunts such as “Bronco Bustin’ Munster.” Fun individual moments like Herman’s clumsy, house damaging, not so athletic grace in “Herman, Coach of the Year” are like every other sports episode, and attempted, ahead of their time comments on gay marriage, cross-dressing, and male to female body switches come off as woefully unsmooth. The hypnosis and hiccup gags in “Herman’s Sorority Caper” do enough alongside the drive-in showing “The Beast That Ate Lower New Jersey,” however, frat boys abducting Herman and sorority shower traps dampen the fun, and The Munsters often resorts to such dumb turns rather than fully embracing its potential for unique, spooky horror treats. Big Heap Herman” piles on stereotypical Native American portrayals – with Native Americans complaining about their faux village tourism and putting on stereotypical Native American portrayals. There’s promise with tiny cabin births and little ladders for physical gags, but somehow it all comes down to two vampires walking through the desert. Say what?

He may speak a bit of Spanish and basic French, but Herman Munster’s family knows he is a big boob who can get lost on the way home and needs his inflatable sea horsey to go scuba diving. Herman wants to impress his family at all times and be their hero but still have time to catch up on Little Orphan Annie. He’s 152 and in the prime of his life yet afraid a hair cut will ruin his rugged Steve McQueen look. Herman falls for every trick in the book, as in “Herman, the Tire Kicker” when he uses his $375 bonus to inadvertently buy a hot lemon for Marilyn. However, he laughs at his own jokes, too – which makes Herman all the more lovable whether the pun is stellar or corny. In “Will Success Spoil Herman Munster?” Herman plays guitar and sings a song, leading to radio stardom that naturally gets the better of him. Gwynne’s simplest slapstick actions and solo physical humor are always good fun, and this season the majority of episodes focus on Herman. He only cracks the mirror twice and school professors take Herman for a missing link in “Prehistoric Munster,” but when offered a happy hour drink, he agrees to a hot fudge sundae with pecans on top – and kicks back four of them. Although I wish we saw more of him at the funeral parlor, about his work Herman says, “I really dig it.” When promoted to driving the Hearst for “Herman’s Driving Test,” he discovers his license expired 20 years ago, which means good old law abiding Herman has been driving almost the entire series without a license! Tsk tsk. Of course, Lily gets unnecessarily jealous and easily angry at Herman despite their long lasting marriage – she wore a black veil and held their wedding reception in the family mausoleum. They aren’t seen in that shocking double bed together as much, but Lily keeps herself classy with braids, a black parasol, and an old fashioned bathing suit at the beach. Her iconic dress actually changes quite a bit, but hello, tiara! Lily puts out her best bone china for guests and makes everyone’s favorite owl egg omelet brunch complete with bat milk yogurt, salamander salad, vulture livers, and cream of buzzard soup. Ever the loving aunt, she calls home from the movies to check on Marilyn – if only because the western movie massacre was disappointing thanks to all the fake blood. Lily paints, sculpts, and although she enjoys having the lights out and needing a candle during nighttime storms, she also want the television back ASAP. She gets very upset when Herman turns handsome – er gruesome and often lays down the law with her family. While early on Yvonne De Carlo doesn’t have much to do besides yell at Herman, Lily has her spotlight when late Cousin Wolverine sends The Munsters a 10,000 inheritance in “The Most Beautiful Ghoul in the World.” Lily and Marilyn open a beauty parlor to rival Grandpa and Herman’s latest experiment, however Lily’s Old World beauty techniques make regular folks’ heads turn – and sue Lily for disastrous results.

 

Fortunately, ever wise Grandpa says there’s no sense crying over spilled blood! Even without his crystal ball, he knows Herman will goof up his experiments or turn his well intended pills and potions into a family mishap. While Grandpa does antagonize Herman with cowardly taunts and experiments on him even when he runs out of anesthetic, they also look through old photo albums together and their mad scientist team ups do help…occasionally. Grandpa turns into numerous animals, disguises himself to fool Herman, and uses his trick index finger as a lighter or key. We don’t often see his pet bat Igor, but Grandpa plays checkers with a ghost – who won’t pay up when he loses – and has some interesting Tesla style energy, wireless, and lighting designs that unfortunately backfire. When not focusing on Herman The Munsters does seem more rounded this season with ensemble moments and great wisecracks from Al Lewis. Grandpa loves the operations on Dr. Kildare and thinks My Three Sons is a “weird fantastic adventure,” but he gets lassoed into his own scam when a wealthy widow is searching for him in “Grandpa’s Lost Wife.” The yacht and thoroughbreds were too good to be true, and Grandpa goes back to sitting at the kitchen table reading “Playghoul.” What kind of message is that for dear Eddie? He buries Grandpa in the sand at the beach, has a surfboard in the shape of a coffin, and picks up a new pet snake named Elmer. Eddie also wins a track race on his own despite Herman wanting to take coaching credit or Grandpa cheating with magic. He’s reluctant to take mystery potions to improve his organ lessons, and such tricks yield unintended jazz results when Eddie is forced to play the trumpet in “The Musician.” While Eddie remains a plot point or moral example as needed, Butch Patrick still generally appears at the dinner table or for a pet mention and then disappears until the end of an episode. For every stride The Munsters makes in giving him something to do, the gags still take over any character development. Sure, he slides down the banister with his Woof Woof or takes a pole to the kitchen and has cool stairs in his room. However, home from school trouble is told rather than seen, and the robot companion in “Eddie’s Brother” becomes more about Herman playing favorites. Unlike other sitcoms of the era, The Munsters never adds more children to its nucleus – but the series also should have paid more attention to the youth it had. I suspect they could have written Eddie out as off to boarding school or with relatives in Transylvania and the series wouldn’t have changed much. 

Naturally, Pat Priest as Marilyn fairs little better, coming and going with off screen exposition despite providing sound advice amid the haywire. She listens to Lily’s this or that and has some funny moments with Grandpa – although the family whispers about what could have scared her pregnant mother into making her look like that. The Munsters have high hopes, however, making her dresses out of left over lining fabric from the funeral parlor and storing them in her hope chest made with cedar from the parlor’s “Forever Yours” casket model. When not helping in the kitchen and serving tea or sour lemonade, Marilyn stays home and studies rather than going out with the clan – but at least she has some scenes of her own and gets to say she is home for a big test instead of being name dropped as an afterthought. Why couldn’t Marilyn be the focus of the driving test episode? Even for her birthday in “The Fregosi Emerald” – complete with a cursed ring, sow’s ear purse, and a tarantula skin wallet with a picture of Herman inside it – Marilyn has the same old jinx and bad dates. Fortunately, she actually has a storyline of her own in “A Man for Marilyn.” Herman scares a boy by saying they would love to have him for dinner, but Grandpa turns a frog into a prince while Lily literally ropes in a passerby and dresses Marilyn up in a black lace wedding gown. After all, “Happy the bride the moon shines on, dear!” It’s a cute little episode that makes most of The Munsters’ built in Marilyn gag. This sophomore year there are also less guests with more self contained stories, but fun choice appearances nearer the end of the season include Dom DeLuise as Dr. Dudley, Harvey Korman again, Batman’s The Riddler Frank Gorshin, and mom Bonnie Franklin from One Day at a Time. John Carradine also returns as deadpan funeral director Mr.Gateman, telling “Mrs. M” he is in a gay mood and famous for his sense of humor – and he confesses that the parlor runs better without Herman.

 

The Munsters debuts new credits and a tricked out theme for Year Two, however the crash sound when Herman breaks through the front door is occasionally absent, and sometimes the show starts cold while other times a title card is presented. The volume is once again uneven, and some animal effects are better than others are. While make up and fashion changes are understandable, the special effects seem reduced this season, with less objects broken and cheaper looking travel facades, poor water and boat photography, silly rodeo footage, and seriously fake forestry. Fortunately, the Munster Mansion is less cobwebbed, making it just a little bit easier to see everything, including a new guest room with an upstairs candlestick phone that seems to be where Marilyn’s room was in the front gable. Herman and Lily’s master suite leads to the covered widow’s walk on the right of the house, and décor such as the trick knight at the top of the stairs, a growling tiger blanket, and a crooked, dusty “Home Sweet Home” sign set the quirky, quaint mood. That big house, however, has only has one bathroom hear tell. The cranky clock raven has a handful of snarky quips, but Kitty and its lion roar only appears a few times, erroneously as both a ginger and a black cat. However, sort of dragon, kind of dinosaur Spot and his tail are more visual this go round, with talk of him stealing car bumpers because he has an iron deficiency and other critical plot moments almost making him more important than Eddie! The pyrotechnics under the stairs come in handy grilling hot dogs, too, while the smoke, fog, and grayscale schemes keep the 1313 Mockingbird Lane lawn looking creepy fun for a nighttime dig. But hell, I want to open a shop with only $5,000 capital! And $20 bail? Hot damn. All the family’s ideas, information, and schemes come from their daily newspaper, too, and it’s easy to enjoy the nostalgia on The Munsters thanks to old laboratory gadgetry, flashbulb cameras, tape recorders, period radios, and giant bags of snail mail.

Strangely, Episode Seven “Operation Herman” is not included with The Munsters on Netflix. The doctoring may be unfunny, and Herman breaks the hospital rules to bring him Woof Woof when Eddie gets his tonsils removed, but even with the dose of laughing gas, it looks to be just a simple oversight rather than anything offensive. Streaming options, affordable series DVDS with perks, and retro reruns on networks like Cozi TV make it easy to catch The Munsters or the color follow up features Munster, Go Home and The Munsters’ Revenge. I am however hesitant to move on to the sequel series The Munsters Today. Despite running longer than The Munsters, I’m just too tepid about all that eighties neon! The Second Season of The Munsters starts with a lot of the same old same old. At times, the series seems out of steam and parodies its own parody with repetitive plots. Perhaps such simplicity is expected from a sixties show with so many episodes yet seemingly so few innate possibilities. Fortunately, The Munsters still has plenty of memorable delights in this second leg, and one and all can continue the creepy family fun marathon year round.

 

Kbatz: The Munsters Season One

 

The Munsters Debut remains Macabre Good Fun

by Kristin Battestella

 

Meet the lovable and naive Herman Munster (Fred Gwynne) – a 150 year old green skinned Frankenstein’s monster – and his vampire housewife Lily (Yvonne De Carlo) along with their Grandpa Count (Al Lewis), unfortunately normal niece Marilyn (Beverly Owen, Pat Priest), and young werewolf son Eddie (Butch Patrick) in the 1964-65 Season One debut of The Munsters. Though often derivative, gimmicky, and of its time, The Munsters jam packs these first thirty-eight episodes with gags, wit, and slapstick brimming with Halloween mood. 
Fittingly, “Munster Masquerade” begins The Munsters with young romance and cross culture social clashes. These high society dames are worried about misspelling “Munster as Monster,” but the titular kin think an uppity masquerade party complete with King Arthur and Little Bo Peep costumes is horrifying! The Munsters establishes its series tone and now familiar tricks early, however, such gags and reverse quips – we weren’t dug up last night, put the color back in your cheeks, not letting the lack of rain spoil the evening – are part of the spooky, for the laughs charm. One might not expect much in these short twenty-five minutes or less run times, but the horror tropes, sci-fi humor, and lighthearted morals are surprisingly well balanced. The Munsters may not realize what they are, yet they make a point of being kind because they know what creeps regular folks may be. As a redo of the previous two test pilots, “My Fair Munster” is almost a bottle episode of mean neighbors despite that Munster friendliness alongside rectifying Marilyn’s old maid status with Grandpa’s mistaken love potion. “Rock-A-Bye Munster” adds self-awareness with a trick television and mini Frankenstein’s monster toys, leading to a witty case of mistaken pregnancy and the birth of the Munster Koach. The robot is hokey and the clash with truant officers remains unrealistic, yet “Tin Can Man” provides great funeral jokes and fatal quips before Herman falls asleep in the backseat as their car is stolen for a bank heist getaway in “The Midnight Ride of Herman Munster.” His innocence ups the zany plot twists, as he is surprised they want to go to the bank at dawn – it’s too early to be open – and he won’t speed in a 25 miles per hour zone when they leave. Likewise “The Sleeping Cutie” piles on the hypnosis humor, a pill that turns water into gasoline, sleeping potions, and a suitor named “prince.” What could possibly go wrong? Instead of a night picnic in the cemetery, the family braves the fresh air so Eddie can camp like the other boys in “Grandpa’s Call of the Wild.” Naturally, the trip spells disaster for Grandpa – who brings his electric chair outdoors and almost ends up in the zoo. The clan teamwork continues in “All-Star Munster” when Herman is mistaken for a basketball star by redneck visitors misunderstanding the comparably well to do Munsters, and “Bats of a Feather” fully introduces the family pets – Kitty with its lion’s roar, Spot the dragon under the stairs, and that “spoiled bat” Igor. Hey, why isn’t their temperamental raven in the cuckoo clock considered for the pet fair? I protest.

 

Herman’s detective school moonlighting and fun disguises raise Lily’s jealous suspicions in “Follow That Munster,” and the lighthearted marital discord carries over in “Love Locked Out” when Herman is sleeping on the couch until both separately go to a marriage counselor for inadvertently competing advice. Eddie finally has a friend over in “Come Back, Little Googie” but he’s an insulting, nasty boy trying to trick everybody, providing for The Munsters special brand of cruel versus kind lessons. Relocating to Buffalo for Herman’s promotion in “Munsters on the Move” wouldn’t be a problem if they didn’t scare away potential home buyers – literally! Unfortunately, life insurance crooks are trying to kill Herman with on set accidents in “Movie Star Munster,” but such stunts don’t hurt him, forcing them to up their risks. Granted, there are scams like this practically every other episode on The Munsters – Herman always signs some kind of terrible contract in a quest for fame and fortune. However, the escalating trappings here are mad fun, and although diva Herman may be dumb enough not to read the fine print, but I’ll be darn he isn’t doing a scene if he doesn’t feel the character’s motivation! Fashion shows faux pas, a disastrous golf course, and snooty club members give everyone their moment in “Country Club Munsters” – complete with hatred and veiled statements reminding The Munsters how such bigoted people aren’t up to their kindly standards. “Love Comes to Mockingbird Heights” sees the family working both for and against a cad banker making moves on Marilyn just for the Munster gold, and say hey, Uncle Creature from the Black Lagoon pays a visit before a hilarious museum excursion leaves Herman locked in a sarcophagus for “Mummy Munster.” Women in the workplace jealousy anchors “Lily Munster, Girl Model,” and ridiculously fun Nutcracker spins and pirouettes have the whole family in on the magic act for “Munster the Magnificent.” Herman making friends and helping a little boy in “Yes, Galen, There Is a Herman” accents The Munsters with slightly serious Frankenstein movie parallels, and the eponymous boy’s disbelieving family takes him to a psychiatrist. Sure, today it is creepy the way Uncle Herman picks up a boy on the street and takes him back to his dungeon to watch Grandpa’s home movies, but the wink within a wink embracing fantasy versus destructive reality makes for a fine little finale on The Munsters debut.

Of course with so many episodes, The Munsters certainly has a few clunkers including the bickering couple using The Munsters for their own gain in Pike’s Pique” and the shocking townsfolk reactions and presumed to be celebrating Halloween excuses in “Family Portrait.” The harp and phonograph of “Far Out Munsters” are fun, as is the irony of The Munsters liking The Beatles despite being initially too old fashioned for rock n roll – “You know, they’re almost as good as Kate Smith!” However, although the Beatniks invading Mockingbird Heights accept The Munsters as all right, the capitalizing Fab Four covers miss the mark along with the ham radio and mistaken aliens of “If a Martian Answers, Hang Up.” Too many stunt episodes in a row like “Herman the Rookie” complete with Dodgers guest stars and get rich quick schemes like the desolate timeshare of “Herman’s Happy Valley” feel like we’ve seen this same old already. You don’t have to watch The Munsters in order, but when one tunes in for every episode, you know what you’re going to get. With so many one trick ponies, it’s somewhat amazing The Munsters lasted as long as it did, and the series also has numerous inconsistencies. The make up stylings are redesigned in the earlier episodes, and even the credits change halfway through this first season with Fred Gwynne moving from his last “and” billing to first. The juvenile crank speed running away in horror exits get old fast, and bungling cop jokes suggest more than a hint of Fred Gwynne and Al Lewis’ prior series Car 54, Where are You? The vampires on The Munsters adhere to no traditional undead rules, and how do a vampy wife and a monster man end up with a werewolf son, anyway? Throwaway dates, locations, and relations change from episode to episode with no clear show bible logistics. It’s no fun seeing so called regular folks trying to swindle the family, yet The Munsters relies on too many of these scam sitcom scripts when that contrast isn’t necessary compared to the titular topsy turvy perspective. Fifty years on, some jokes and pop culture references may not be understood by today’s audiences, and it is unfortunately very surprising to hear terms like wetback and gyp or Romani jokes alongside woeful Asian stereotypes in what is such a beloved and otherwise family friendly show. Honestly, I’m surprised these rare but jarring moments weren’t edited out for the video release.

 

Sure he works at a funeral parlor, however Herman Munster is a normal guy who wants his idyllic mid century family to be safe. So what if he’s a dunce at his might and stomps his foot when he doesn’t get his way. “Fiddlesticks!” is Herman’s go to exclaim, especially when he’s late for the carpool that picks him up in the back of the parlor’s Hearst – and he’s ticklish, too. Herman may crack the mirror – literallybut he’s more worried about his bills than being mistaken for the misspelled monster in the headlines crook of “A Walk on the Mild Side.” Always concerned about money, Herman tries a disastrous laundromat job in “Herman’s Raise” as well as wrestling on the weekends for extra cash in “Herman the Great.” However, he’s simply too sweet to be ruthless against the cheating competition. Herman won’t disobey a “Don’t Walk” sign but blows up the signal when he presses the button! Gwynne excels in solo physical humor scenes with few words as in “Dance With Me, Herman,” and he plays a suave lookalike in “Knock Wood, Here Comes Charlie” complete with a British accent and monocle. Fearful, finger pointing mobs may be played for laughs on The Munsters, but Herman makes sure his kin isn’t involved with the nasty folks in town, and more looking through the window Mary Shelley motifs are made humorous when Herman tries dieting at Thanksgiving in “Low-Cal Munster.” Herman and his wife Lily sit on the couch together and read, rock on the porch together during a storm, have a beach date on a rainy day, and – gasp – sleep in the same bed! Lily’s pussycat is more handsome than that unfortunate Cary Grant in her eyes. Although the family fears her wrath and she does get annoyed at his bungling when Herman and Grandpa are mistaken for burglars in Halloween masks in “Don’t Bank on Herman,” Lily easily forgives. She’s a good mom, too – sewing Eddie’s doll and raising Marilyn despite her niece’s “flaws.” Lily cleans nine rooms and a dungeon, vacuums with a vacuum set to exhaust the dust, and cooks oatmeal, pancakes, and Herman’s favorite cream of vulture soup. She plays the harp, sleeps with her namesake flower, and in “Herman’s Rival,” the 137 years young nee Dracula does palm readings at the local tea room. Although her white hair streaks and make up design varies at times, Yvonne De Carlo (The Ten Commandments) is always delightful thanks to bat necklaces, a werewolf stole, tiaras, iconic gowns, sparkling taffeta coffin capes, and “Chanel No. 13.”

Likewise, Al Lewis is all in good fun as that charming 400 year old widower Grandpa. The Count – known to turn into a wolf himself – has a werewolf son named Lester and still loves him some ladies despite having had over one hundred wives and falling for a mail order bride scam in “Autumn Croakus.” Occasionally, Lewis breaks the fourth wall, and these talking to himself asides or sight gags add self-aware wit. Grandpa hangs upside down in the living room, takes his eggs night side up, and roots against the Angels. Yes, there are a lot of hammy Dracula cliches on The Munsters – Grandpa’s cape and widow’s peak alone – but there is always a lovable quip or two to match his cool basement laboratory, potions, wacky inventions, and the latest money making scheme up his sleeve. Grandpa watches television and soap operas are his favorite comedy, but he has a naughty streak, too – tempting Herman with trick pens or food when he can’t eat. Unfortunately, their bemusing bromance does suffer in “Grandpa Leaves Home” when the feeling unloved Count runs off to perform in an ill-received magic club act. Grandpa’s tricks aren’t as good as they used to be, and such endeavors always have hair-brained results on The Munsters. Child star Butch Patrick’s Eddie hangs with his Grandpa the most, helping him in the dungeon when he’s not howling at the moon or playing in the fireplace, that is. Wolf look and all, “Edward Wolfgang Munster” is a gosh darn cute little boy with his little short pants, knee socks, pointed ears, and Woof Woof doll. He’s so tiny beside the seven foot Herman and no bigger than the golf bag when he caddies for his dad! Fortunately, his small stature means Eddie can hide in the cabinet or other fun places, and he has a pet door where one can deliver his bedtime glass of milk. Although he plays baseball with the other kids, they often don’t believe his stories about the Munster household – which unfortunately seem to happen mostly without Eddie. I’m glad The Munsters isn’t Eddie-focused in a Beaver Cleaver gone Halloween fashion, and the series was in fact envisioned as a parody on Leave it to Beaver by producers Joe Donnelly and Bob Mosher. However, Patrick often only has one scene even when the episode’s premise starts with him, and he’s most often seen with his back to the camera at the family table. Eddie’s Nickname” is his only centric episode, but we do get to see his room in detail alongside nice father and son time and some moral lessons. Besides, today he would have a far worse nickname then “Shorty.”

 

She’s supposed to be Lily’s sister’s daughter, yet Marilyn’s mother is never mentioned by Lily or Grandpa, and her last name is still somehow Munster. Yeah. It’s somewhat sad that The Munsters’ normal blonde niece is so underdeveloped that the Beverly Owens to Pat Priest casting change in Episode 14 is almost completely unnoticeable. The Munsters does at least make good use of Marilyn’s repeatedly scaring away dates right from the start, and each unsuitable suitor gone is for the better as far as her Aunt Lily and Uncle Herman are concerned. The family pities her for being so “ugly” or “hopeless” and think she looks better with the bags under her eyes when she can’t sleep. They insist she stay in school and get an education because she’s only going to get a boy to like her for her brain! Marilyn does get a kiss in “Love Comes to Mockingbird Heights” – where we see her girly bedroom inside the left gable of the Munster Mansion complete with floral wallpaper, a canopy bed, and dainty furniture which Herman finds “distasteful.” Though never shown having plots or hobbies of her own and mentioned as being off studying when not included, Marilyn is briefly seen playing the organ and being Herman’s talent show magician’s assistant. She doesn’t desperately fall for every wolf on the make, either, and can tell when someone is suspicious. Most of Marilyn’s scenes, however, are with Lily, and it’s apparent the character really only exists as a soundboard for the wife at home. Like Eddie, Marilyn has one scene and few lines per episode. On the rare occasion they are alone onscreen, the cousins are still talking about others rather than having stories of their own. Marilyn has one shtick and one shtick alone, but it is a fun one, and the would-be con artists who knock on The Munsters’ door deserve to find this innocent and demure decoy. For sure, The Munsters has its fair share of famous and recognizable guests including postman John Fielder (The Bob Newhart Show) and Bewitched’s Paul Lynde in several episodes as Dr. Dudley. Batman’s Commissioner Gordon Neil Hamilton is here, too, with Bill Mummy (Lost in Space), Pat Buttram (Green Acres), Barbara Babcock (Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman), Harvey Korman (The Carol Burnett Show), Don Rickles, and more. I must say, I would have certainly watched a spinoff featuring John Carradine as Herman’s undertaker boss Mr. Gateman!

Although the drag racing creation of the Dragula roadster in “Hot Rod Herman” will conflict with the later Munster, Go Home movie plots and a regular car driven by an unseen ghost is seen only once early on, the aforementioned Munster Koach is always good fun. Likewise, the cowabunga theme music remains as memorable as the always recognizable Munster Mansion – a great television house that has appeared in other films and television shows such as The ‘Burbs and Desperate Housewives yet continues to inspire builders who want to live at 1313 Mockingbird Lane. Sure, the kitchen is kind of drab. The décor is too derelict trashy and hellllooo dust mites rather than fancy Gothic sophistication – at Halloween one always strives for the latter and ends up with the former! However, that candlestick phone in the indoor coffin phone booth is yes please, and let’s throw in some nostalgic bells and whistles such as that $2 with a 50 cent tip taxi cab fee for good measure. Secret passages, creaking doors, and cobwebs spook up The Munsters as do phonographs, candelabras, cool spell books, and creepy potion ingredients. I wish the series had been in color – if The Munsters had lasted for a third year on CBS in the 1966-67 season, it could not have remained black and white. Thankfully, the smoke, fog, bubbling cauldrons, poofs of dust, and objects moving by themselves benefit from the eerie grayscale palette while setting the spooky Halloween funhouse atmosphere. Although the uneven sound is perhaps understandable, the laugh track and cutesy music effects feel like an intrusive insecurity today. The Munsters is a funny show, and the audience gets the puns a minute without the canned response – and we prefer our own spontaneous chuckles to being told we are too dumb to know good comedy when we see it. The pet jokes are much more fun on The Munsters thanks to some surprisingly not bad special effects. Not only are those opening stairs cool, but Spot’s flames and pyrotechnic gags, Kitty’s lion roar, wolf or animal filming, and bemusing bat work accent the horror humor. As to that grouchy cuckoo clock raven voiced by Mel Blanc…want!

All the mid-century so-called fantasy sitcoms have their gimmicks, and The Munsters is at once of its time with simplistic plots, stock character tropes, and lighthearted happy family motifs in costumed dressings. Too many episodes in a row can be tiring or annoying when every half hour seems the same. Fortunately, the very affordable Complete Series DVDs add to the fun with actor spotlights, behind the scenes features, unaired pilots and color versions – treats not available on current retro channel airings or streaming options. The Munsters uses every trick at its disposal to crank out its weekly humorous horror wheelhouse, and ironically, any derivative hang ups also make this debut easy to marathon for a weekend. Viewers can pay attention or casually tune in for the best gags or leave Herman, Lily, and the gang on to occupy the kids. Let the delightful family frights of The Munsters Season One play for a harmless party or Halloween mood any time of year.

Kbatz: The Oblong Box and Scream and Scream Again for April

 

The Oblong Box Along and Scream and Scream Again Dated, but All in Good Fun

By Kristin Battestella

 

The Vincent Price fest is never over, so along comes The Oblong Box and its double bill with Scream and Scream Again. Though not as special as some of Price’s previous Poe and Corman collaborations, this duet celebrates not one horror master, but two. Vincent Price, meet Christopher Lee.

Julian Markham (Price) has returned from his family’s African plantation with his cursed and deformed brother Edward (Alister Williamson) – who Julian keeps locked in an upstairs room. Despite the mysterious behaviors at his estate, Julian hopes to marry the young and beautiful Elizabeth (Hilary Dwyer). The Markham lawyers Samuel Trench (Peter Arne, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) and Mark Norton (Carl Rigg, Marked Personal), however, plot Edward’s escape and cure along with African witchdoctor N’Galo (Harry Baird, The Italian Job). Unfortunately, Edward is accidentally buried alive in their scheme. Once rescued by Dr. Neuhart (Christopher Lee) and his grave robbers, the masked Edward romances the pretties and plots his revenge.

 

He may be top-billed, but there’s not as much of our beloved, over the top Vincent Price (The Tomb of Ligeia, House of Usher) in 1969’s The Oblong Box. Although he’s less than a decade removed from the early success of American International Pictures’ Poe series, Price looks a little old for his leading lady Elizabeth. Fortunately, outside of these quibbles, there’s still plenty to love. Julian looks the worn, conflicted English noble. Can he dare to hope while he’s also walking a deadly line of guilt and destruction? Price makes the most of his given scenes, both as a disturbed brother and a charming husband. Again Hilary Dwyer (Wuthering Heights, Hadleigh) seems a little young, but this works in her tender relationship and naivety with Julian. Likewise, Sally Gleeson (Bless This House) looks and acts the pretty -if a little naughty-maid.

Hammer Horror alum and Lord of the Rings veteran Christopher Lee also doesn’t have as creepy a role as I might have liked, but his mad doctor is a high brow mad doctor. He pays slick swindlers to steal the bodies of the recently deceased for his research, but Neuhart does his doctoring while wearing a silk tie and waistcoat. He gets down and dirty with cadavers in the name of science, but Neuhart objects to Edward’s blackmail and murderous revenge. There isn’t much time for this stylized ambiguity in The Oblong Box, but Lee’s presence and voice command your attention in all his scenes.

 

Price, yes, Lee, lovely- but The Oblong Box is Alister Williamson’s (The Abdominal Mr. Phibes) picture. Yes, the masked man who’s true face you never even see and who the voice was actually dubbed steals this picture. It would have been intriguing for Price to play both brothers-or even Lee take a turn under the crimson hood- but the voice and style of both men are too easily recognized. Williamson and his Edward are mysterious, unknown. What does he look like under that hood? We know he’s been wronged and wants to see Edward find justice, but how far will his revenge go? Which side of the law is he on -and why do the ladies find him so irresistible? This is England, 1865 as only 1969 could recreate. Williamson gives Edward charm and tenderness with some ladies, then rapacious violence with others. He’s naughty, nice, misunderstood, and vengeful-not bad for our unknown, unseen, and unheard actor, eh?

The cast keeps The Oblong Box charming, but this very loosely Poe inspired adaptation from Lawrence Huntington (Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Presents) and Christopher Wicking (Murders in the Rue Morgue) isn’t as strong as it could be. Director Gordon Hessler (The Golden Voyage of Sinbad) spends too much time on the stereotypical mistreatment of colonial Africa and blaxploitation-like zooms and voodoo montages. If you want to talk about the unjusts of slavery, set the entire picture in Africa and let the actors go to their scary depths.

 

Thankfully, the visual mix of the sixties and Victorian styles ties The Oblong Box together. The color and costumes are great even though Americans might be a little confused by the English style. When we see 1865 on tombstones, we think hoop skirts and Civil War extravagance ala Gone with the Wind. Here, however, the ladies “be-bustled” in a more mid to late 1880s style. Nevertheless, there’s plenty of bawdy English taverns and cleavage bearing working girls. The outdoor locations are also a treat, and there are even a few daytime graveside scenes- a rarity in these old horror flicks.

The Oblong Box isn’t perfect, but there are a few filmmaking strides here, too. The early, up close, claustrophobic deaths are from the askew killer’s point of view. We want to look away, but can’t. Despite the story’s thin execution, the charm and classic stylings of the cast win out -along with the mystery at hand. We can’t help but watch just to see if our hooded killer is caught and unmasked. Freaky faces, scares, voodoo, and violence -we just can’t help ourselves, can we?

Thankfully, Hessler, Wicking, Price, and Lee reunited the following year for 1970’s Scream and Scream Again. Who could they possibly add to up the horror ante? Why, Peter Cushing, of course!

 

 

Superintendent Bellavur (Alfred Marks, Albert and Victoria) and fellow officer Sylvia (Judy Huxtable, The Touchables) investigate a string of vampire murders. Each victim has ties to local scientist Dr. Browning (Price) and his nurse Jane (Uta Levka). Before Bellavur and morgue assistant David (Christopher Matthews, Scars of Dracula) can solve the case, Intelligence commissioner Fredmont (Lee) must strike a deal with torturous foreign dictator Konratz (Marshall Jones, Crossroads), who wants the files detailing the vampire case. Konratz has overstepped Major Benedek (Cushing) and taken control of a very grim conspiracy that has its subjects screaming and screaming some more.

 

Vincent Price is another year older now, and his old style presence and charisma is a little out of place amid fast-paced Brit coppers. The juxtaposition of all these young go-go folks would make Price seem past his prime -even though we know he has another thirty years of solid work ahead of him. His scenes are few and far between, but his Dr. Browning is so slick. He proves his worth against the hip stylings with suave answers for our detectives and high Frankenstein ideals. He’s a mad scientist with the best of intentions and Price leads us to Scream and Scream Again’s big finish. If the body stealing doctor with the vat of acid isn’t our bad guy, that’s scary.

Well, our man Dracula, aka Christopher Lee, as a good guy police minister-surely this can’t be? Again, there’s not nearly enough of him in Scream and Scream Again, but it’s a treat to see Lee young, modern, besuited and fedora wearing! Fremont has all the lines and politicking needed, using Konratz and Browning to his advantage. Who will come out on top? Who’s really behind all our slim and shady? In the end, Lee’s dominating presence is delightful, as is the freaky style of Uta Levka, another alum from The Oblong Box. This nurse’s devoid eyes and lack of lines would make any patient shudder.

 

Fellow Hammer Horror veteran and Sherlock Holmes star Peter Cushing doesn’t appear for the first half hour, but it’s no surprise that he would be the Major in charge of a Nazi-esque dictatorship successfully taking over a small European country. Unfortunately, his suave class and control over such ugly business is all too brief for Scream and Scream Again. I don’t know who the rest of the people here are and I really don’t care -and it seems the marketing folks who put Price, Lee, and Cushing in bold print knew that. Don’t Wicking and Hessler realize we can handle Price, Lee, and Cushing at the same time-nay we want to see them, we have to see them, we need to see them in more than these briefities! Forget the teenyboppers and bell-bottoms already!

It’s annoying and misleading, yes, as it has little to do with the film; but you have to admit Scream and Scream Again is a crafty title. There’s a nice chase sequence ala Bond as well, but is this so titled flick hip action or horror? Scream and Scream Again has a very interesting concept of realistic, multiple storylines amid scares and fast pacing. Unfortunately, the non-linear and jumpy approach disjoints and unravels any strides made. Each story could have been its own film, and each isn’t given its full deserving depths here. The swanky 1970 music and British contemporary style are very dated now. Scream and Scream Again might have been served better as a traditional period piece, but that probably wouldn’t have worked with Peter Saxon’s source novel. Fans of the cast’s other horror work might feel a little alienated by these vague thoughts on science and conspiracy, and Scream and Scream Again spends too much of its time trying to be hip and avant-garde with its pop music and interweaving trio of storylines.

 

I’ve been critical of the dated styles and misdirection of Scream and Scream Again because it’s a lost opportunity to do something really spectacular with our trio of horror masters. Having said that, it is still a scary and freaky film-psychotic and experimental doctors, cops chasing pseudo-vampire killers, maniacal governments torturing its subjects. When you look at Scream and Scream Again like that, well, then any fan of old school horror should be all for it!

Although these double billed DVDs are an affordable, quick and easy bang for your buck; most of them are a little older, and often double sided. It’s kind of a pain to flip the disc, but it’s better to have these gems digitally restored than not at all. (Insert rant here about how half the films made before 1950 no longer exist and that all the classics that aren’t available on DVD should be restored before any more Disney Direct to Video drivel comes out, thank you.) There are subtitles here at least if no features beyond trailers. What’s really unfortunate for Prince and Lee fans? Their next collaboration with Peter Cushing-and John Carradine- 1983’s House of the Long Shadows, is not available on DVD. Thankfully, The Oblong Box is viewable online.

Though seriously flawed and imperfect by modern standards, both The Oblong Box and Scream and Scream Again make for a fun night of horror and camp. Both may be too bawdy or uninteresting for the kids, but horror enthusiasts and fans of the cast can have a fun, quick marathon for Halloween or any time of the year.

Kbatz: Victor Frankenstein (2015)

 

Latest Victor Frankenstein Unfortunately Disappointing

by Kristin Battestella

 

I had hoped Gothic dramatizations and Victorian horror were making a comeback. Unfortunately, with the cancellation of Penny Dreadful, the less than welcoming reception of Crimson Peak, and the disappointing result of the 2015 Victor Frankenstein, the potential for dark romanticism and steampunk gone macabre trends seems over before it could really start.

The hunchbacked Igor (Daniel Radcliffe) is rescued from the cruel circus and healed by the visionary but radical Doctor Victor Frankenstein (James McAvoy). Dismissed from his medical college, Victor is reanimating small subjects and intends to create life with a new man-made cadaver. Unfortunately, Inspector Turpin (Andrew Scott) is following the gruesome trail back to Victor, and he objects to Frankenstein’s amoral and godless plans – which need Igor’s raw medical talents to be completed.

 

Victor Frankenstein is slow to start with more telling than showing when the waxing on man versus monster making could all be seen rather than told. These talkative delays underestimate the audience, compromising atmospheric immersion and period mood with “little did I know” narrative breaks. Where’s the Victorian carnival flair and underlying horror? Victor Frankenstein has a unique angle on this oft told tale, but the action is styled for the cool circus escape with unnecessary slow motion and leaping over a box being highlighted as more important than freakish servitude and characters in peril. Viewers can see Victor observing Igor reading medical texts – we can feel the characters if you let us instead of cutting corners with fast moving dialogue, hectic editing, and shaky camerawork. Victor Frankenstein isn’t really sure how it wants to present itself because the required flashy becomes more important the the man versus nature, man versus man, and man versus himself horror possibilities. Mischievous animal part thefts and science montages happen quick with little time to enjoy the mad science. Of course, Victor Frankenstein isn’t true horror, yet the soft romantic scenes and rags to riches drama feels at odds with the macabre. Debates on magic and superstition versus emerging science and technology make for better drama alongside failed science presentations and medical mistakes letting us know where each character stands. Although the hissing monkey prototype has some creepy moments and could be a sinister step to the monster making, these scenes come off as a laughable detour. Real science probables such as two hearts and four lungs and numerous design montages become too busy, hindering the grossly fantastic and the character drama. Is Victor Frankenstein about Victor’s mad descent or Igor’s misused intelligence? If this is about Victor’s coming to this ghastly point, the story should begin before his experiments and conclude with the onset of his creation. If Victor Frankenstein really is about Igor’s role in the monstrosity, then the science should be nearer completion. Instead, Victor Frankenstein meanders for over an hour before London on the lamb and double crossings throw more wrenches into the quick monster finish. Past reasons why come too late, and tacked on narrations do nothing to explain what Victor Frankenstein is about beyond an opening ending in hopes of a sequel.

With his slick ‘stache and Victorian finery, James McAvoy (X-Men: Apocalypse) looks the titular mad scientist with an ulterior reason for inspiring Igor. Arrogant Victor thinks he’s too intelligent, admitting he prefers his vanity to being called a criminal and will speak slowly when talking to lesser people. Victor gets too far ahead of himself in belittling believers, life, and theology. He’s too excited over his own experiments and uses a fast talking wit to confuse others into not questioning his brilliance. Unfortunately, this flippant, condescending double talk effect is exactly how the audience feels when watching Victor Frankenstein. It’s more interesting to see Victor educate and raise Igor almost like he would do the monster. He doesn’t care about charity just control – Victor needs Igor’s talent to finish his life and death projects while he takes the credit. He fixes Igor’s hump in a gross, back cracking pinning while sucking the fluids out through a tube in one erroneously forced and homophobic scene, and comedic dialogue perceiving them as friends jars against the feeling superior Victor using Igor for his own devious ends. We meet Victor Frankenstein after the doctor has already left any morality questions behind and made his leap to madness, leaving what could have been an intriguing science versus soul debate as stubbornly unlikable assery. Victor’s motivation is revealed too late and very little consequences follow his actions. McAvoy is left doing more shouting than anything creepy, and his Scottish accent bleeds through into a not necessarily British, just toned down affectation akin to the meh at hand.

Fortunately, Daniel Radcliffe’s (Harry Potter) Igor is developed as a real assistant rather than an idiot in Victor Frankenstein. Despite learning nothing but cruelty from people as a circus hunchback, Igor is also a self-educated amateur doctor who cleans up nice and tries to remain loyal thanks to Victor’s kindness toward him. Of course, this Victor Frankenstein can’t be told wholly from Igor’s perspective as promised when he is absent from several scenes and critical information is given without him. Igor’s narration also comes and goes – oddly returning for his moon eyes over a girl when the fantastic science is afoot. Igor is also able to run, swim, and scale a rock cliff just by putting on a back brace after having spent a lifetime as cripple…okay. Staying entirely in Igor’s point of view would have helped Victor Frankenstein tremendously as his voiceovers or journaling montages could explain the number of weeks or months passing while giving the audience his private observations on the increasing madness. Instead, Igor flip flops too much to be the viewer’s anchor and changes his tune on Victor’s plans – first he’s reluctant to proceed due to a financial deadline and wants to discuss the peril of creating man in his own image but then he feels obligated to Victor for giving him life thanks to metaphoric contrivances. Igor knows the jealous Victor has become an embarrassment, used him, and interfered with his romance. However, the two hearts and two brothers parallels between bad Victor and good Igor seem more important that Igor’s fresh perspective, and the idea of Victor being a positive benefactor raising up life through Igor ends up too muddle to save Victor Frankenstein. However, the hunchback does get the girl in a hammy but surprisingly not exploitive sex scene. How often can you say that?

The supporting players in Victor Frankenstein sadly also serve as little more than stereotypes, including Jessica Brown Finlay as the pretty acrobat turned beard Lorelei. Despite potential for a would be love triangle, Finlay only appears in a handful of scenes looking too modern, out of place, and too small in her swimming costumes – and it’s all so odd because she was so good on Downton Abbey. Lorelei is merely used as a brightly color standout when some symbolism is necessary before inexplicably disappearing for the finale. While Andrew Scott’s (Sherlock) Turpin is a shrewd inspector not falling for Victor’s spin, the intriguing idea of his pursuit of Frankenstein for religious beliefs rather than legal prosecution is dropped for a standard case of lawman with manpain. Scott also feels either out of his depth or too much for the material, for his scenes seem like they come from another movie. Turpin may also loose an eye or hand at some point – but he ends up still having them both later anyway. Whoopsie! Elder Frankenstein Charles Dance (Game of Thrones) does add an element of stern class in his sacrilegiously short screen time. One frigging scene! The Baron gives Victor a good talking to with a well-deserved chastising and slap, and Victor Frankenstein needed much more of these father and son aspects.

 

Victor Frankenstein has sweeping Victorian scene setters with colorful circus tents, exterior facades, and zooming in entries – and viewers can tell it is all unnecessary CGI. What’s happening under the circus tent and inside the laboratory are cool enough thanks to nighttime gaslight glows, crackling electricity, and large gears. Up close foggy streets, bleak hospital interiors, and horse drawn carriages accent more alongside period medical sketches, Victorian zoos, steam gizmos, disembodied eyes, and more creepy specimens in green tanks. Mirrors and reflections mimic the duality in Victor Frankenstein, and overlaying anatomy lines, diagrams, body labels, and human schematics do better than any trite slow motion. Unfortunately, the mad science blueprints are used onscreen early, then dropped for most of the picture until the final monster design montage – almost to cop out on not actually showing any of the monster work. Daylight scenes in Victor Frankenstein reveal the color, costumes, golden rooms, and would be splendors of the time like heat and running water, but the bare minimum period setting remains Victorian light rather than fantastic steampunk. Top hats, a crinoline, and a few big skirt twirls don’t hit home the costumes, and modern tattoos can be see when wearing those strapless gowns. Victor Frankenstein never even says the year, and despite its obviously expensive intentions, this feels low budget messy and unfinished. Stormy, gloomy Scottish atmosphere comes too late in the final act – where the raising of the monster is an orchestration in action set pieces followed by a spectacular destruction. All that fiery, confusing hurrying and Victor Frankenstein limps into over five minutes of credits with little to show for it.

This not a horror movie nor a character drama, but Victor Frankenstein isn’t really science fiction and has no fantastic to its creation either. The rush to be modern cool or more Hollywood than nineteenth century British sacrifices any Gothic feeling, and the condensed script or production changes on the fly lack period finesse. It’s tough to view Victor Frankenstein as what it is but rather what it could have been, and the cast, setting, and story deserved better. While serviceable for audiences who haven’t seen any other Frankenstein adaptation, Victor Frankenstein makes older audiences appreciate the panache of the Hammer Frankenstein films all the more. If you’re looking for the book you won’t find it – like a game of telephone, Victor Frankenstein starts with Mary, passes through Universal, and quotes Young Frankenstein before this disappointing result that never takes its original possibilities to the next level.

Kbatz: Dragonwyck

Frightening Flix

Dragonwyck A Spooky and Charming Little Old Film

By Kristin Battestella

 

I was a bit surprised when I stumbled upon this 1946 title starring Gene Tierney and Vincent Price, for I had never heard of it before. Based upon 1944 novel by Anya Seton, Dragonwyck is a creepy little gothic tale of frightful mansions and murderous tendencies.

Miranda Wells (Tierney) dreams of bigger things than her family’s Connecticut farm, much to the chagrin of her devout parents Ephraim (Walter Houston) and Abigail (Anne Revere). When a letter arrives from Abigail’s distant and wealthy cousin Nicholas Van Ryan (Price), Miranda takes the offered opportunity to serve as companion to Nicholas’ daughter Katrine (Connie Marshall, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House) at the Van Ryan’s legendary Hudson Valley estate Dragonwyck. Once at the mansion, however, tales of hauntings, local unrest, and the uneven relationship between Nicholas and his wife Johanna (Vivienne Osborne) can’t deter Miranda from falling in love with Nicholas. But of course, he is married, and spends far too many nights in his secret tower room…

Though not a horror movie or thriller per se, Dragonwyck has many fearful moments and suspense-filled sequences, largely due to the simplest suggestions of intrigue. The black and white cinematography, creepy angles, spooky lighting, and haunting score by the famed Alfred Newman (How the West Was Won, The King and I, Camelot) give just the right amount of suggestion that not all is well at Dragonwyck. Screenwriter and first time director Joseph L. Mankiewicz (All About Eve, Guys and Dolls, Cleopatra) makes great strides in giving us the basis of the novel’s complex time and place, but some sequences in Dragonwyck do seem ill edited. Quick references to a change of time and place aren’t enough to indicate the move-sometimes it seems like you’re watching a film ‘edited for content and cut to run in the time allotted.’ Thankfully, performance and story win out with the help of great costumes and gothic sets.

220px-dragonwyck_film_poster

I don’t know much about Prince Aly Khan, except that he seemed to mentally ruin not one, but two Hollywood ladies- Rita Hayworth and Gene Tierney. Perhaps more well known today for her many romances, Tierney (Laura, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Leave Her To Heaven) was pretty and she could act. Maybe her beauty draws the viewer in, but Tierney’s expressions of innocence, naiveté, and love keep us interested in Miranda. We want her to find joy and happiness-even if the high society life at Dragonwyck clearly spells doom. Likewise, parents Walter Huston (Yankee Doodle Dandy, The Treasure of The Sierra Madre) and Anne Revere (National Velvet, The Song of Bernadette) are stern and respectable parents with only the best interests at heart. Observant viewers will also see a young Jessica Tandy (Driving Miss Daisy) as Peggy, the crippled Irish maid with a good heart.

It’s pretty plain to see that the ‘low’ farming folk have more values and morals than the ‘high’ Hudson folk, but Vivienne Osborne (Tomorrow at Seven) earns a piece of sympathy as Nicholas’ wife Johanna. She seems chubby and more interested in food than her daughter, but we feel that in some ways, this snotty style is not her fault. Her callous upbringing and lack of attention from her deceitful husband help blur the lines between this detailed look at the early Victorian lifestyle and Hudson society. But of course, Vincent Price (The Ten Commandments, The Pit and the Pendulum) plays a man who is not always what he seems. He’s thinner and more subdued than what we expect from the maniacal old horror maven to come in later films. Price’s Nicholas looks the waistcoat and top hat society man, we believe he can be respectable and a good love for Miranda-and yet we should know better. Price shows his range through Nicholas’ love, flagrant callousness, addictions, and other… nefarious… tendencies.

Dragonwyck is not a perfect film, and it is a little dated in some respects. Mankiewicz’ inexperience as a debut director also hampers some scenes. Nevertheless, gothic lovers and fans of classic suspense can enjoy Dragonwyck. Younger audiences may not understand some of the historical back-story about patroon landowners keeping tenant farmers in feudal like arrangements, but the spooky air is just right for a youthful scare or two. But of course, the DVD edition of Dragonwyck is now out of print. Thankfully, fans of Vincent Price can pick up a copy in several horror sets. It’s a strange placement, but fans of the cast and viewers who love a little bit of Bronte suspense will enjoy getting their hands on Dragonwyck. I’m tempted to find the book now, too!