FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Death Becomes Her

Deliciously Dark Death Becomes Her gets Better with Age

by Kristin Battestella

Mad?”

Hel!”

Writer Helen Sharp’s (Goldie Hawn) plastic surgeon fiance Ernest Menville (Bruce Willis) thinks Helen’s childhood friend Madeline Ashton (Meryl Streep) is an amazing starlet. Madeline has stolen Helen’s beaus previously and does so again, but fourteen years later, Helen achieves her revenge by looking stunning and wooing Ernest into her killer plans. Madeline will do whatever she can to compete – including visiting the mysterious Lisle von Rhoman (Isabella Rosselini) for a youthful elixir. Unfortunately, the costly potion leads to bodily disasters if you don’t take care of your beauty, and unlike these desperate ladies trying to stay forever young, the 1992 dark comedy Death Becomes Her only gets better with age.

Director Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future) and writers Martin Donovan (Apartment Zero) and David Koepp (War of the Worlds) open the surprisingly PG-13 Death Becomes Her with 1978 not so well received ritzy as Playbills are tossed aside and stage glory turns sour thanks to show within in a show awkward performances, bad choreography, caricatures on youth, and phony songs about you. Flirtatious winks, polite shade, through the teeth comebacks, and backhanded compliments are played straight as your frienemy steals your man, and Death Becomes Her wastes no time with backstabbing wedding bells and revenge decades in the planning leading to book party invitations and who’s looking swell versus who’s looking worse for the wear changes. The man looming above the frame is reflected in the mirror behind the woman – reverse revealing the personal disconnect as each says things they don’t mean alongside more symbolism and aggressive gestures. Hellish characters and murderous plans are both deliberate and measured yet flippant and off the cuff, as our plastic surgeon is dismissed as a ghoul for not healing but indulging vanity even in death. More quirky visuals layer the Hollywood commentary – what’s with that guy upside on the wheel at the spa? – and reflective camera shots create viewer double take. What if we did look twice and really paid attention beyond face value then what would we see? Death Becomes Her winks at the secret opportunities available to the elite behind closed doors amid insular they know that we know that they know that we know flattery. Confidence only comes with beauty, and the camera’s distorted angles and askew perceptions reiterate this frame of mind as wide shots have the face in the center but the subject at hand in the background. With such in camera staging, one need not resort to fast-paced editing later to compensate and piece together wit or tension because the bags full of makeup, screams overseeing oneself in the mirror without said makeup, and fake tears sprayed in the eyes while practicing crocodile speeches – in the mirror framed by defaced pictures of her obsession – speak for themselves. One woman equals sex while another demeans flaccid, and cuckold phrases reiterate the servile men and obedient dogs as demented one liners, frantic questions, and disturbing calm lead to top of the stairs teetering and the not so dead rising behind one’s back. Formaldehyde is bought in bulk on top of jokes on doing something “funny” with a dead wife and “It’s alive” homages. Eternal youth potions await in a scary, humbling castle where newcomers tiptoe so their heels don’t echo on the floor before sampling this hush-hush, ageless elixir to prove its price. Snake charmers admit the forever young will look suspicious if they don’t disappear, and Death Becomes Her is likewise self-aware of how lacking in self-awareness its desperate characters are when not heeding knives or warnings to preserve the facade. Women who for decades purposely inflict pain without actually harming each other let all the violence out and apologize – tag teaming the man they were fighting over because they need him to maintain their seemingly miraculous vitality forever. Twisted dream sequences, wide lenses, and zooms accentuate the preposterously clever scheme of tranquilizers on the wine glass and finishing dinner before planting the body in a car going off Mulholland Drive as quips about divorce in California, never seeing a neighbor in Los Angeles, and those with no talent for poverty orchestrating murder escalate the satire with handy hardware, bloody bodies in the lily pond, and a hole in the stomach big enough to right see through you.

Everything has to be taut and perfect for Madeline Ashton, and only Meryl Streep (She-Devil) can play a bad actress obsessed with wrinkles without winking and scene chewing for the camera. Madeline strikes the right pose, plumps the bosom, and remains pampered even if she hasn’t worked in some time and is no longer the breadwinner. In order to hide her impoverished past, she must show up Helen at all times and mere makeup won’t do. Despite her fame and wealth, Madeline’s ugliness shows in her mistreatment of the maid or any pretty supple ingenue. When rejected by her younger lover for not considering how he feels, she blames him for making her feel cheap. Even if the spa refuses to do a traumatic plasma treatment, Madeline demands the procedure money is no object because she fears younger women must be laughing at her. She’s shocked at Helen’s transformation and makes excuses about feeling terrible at having happiness at Helen’s expense, but Madeline doesn’t feel that terrible and she’s not really happy. Fortunately, her shady zingers return with her beauty, but Madeline says what she shouldn’t, leading to scary body bags and uncomfortable realizations – although she enjoys having no pulse because nobody can play dead better than she can. Goldie Hawn’s (Overboard) Helen is initially a shy and quiet writer compared to her old school rival Madeline, dowdy and twisting her handkerchief rather than expressing her anger. She warns Ernest that Madeline only wants him because she has him. Madeline has stolen men from Helen before and she wants Ernest to pass her Madeline Ashton test, but when he does not, Helen becomes a gluttonous cat lady obsessed with rewinding Madeline’s onscreen strangulation. Upon eviction, she ruins her therapy group by talking about Madeline before overcoming her outlook by vowing revenge and looking dynamite while doing it. Literary success follows, and Helen lies to Madeline’s face about never blaming her, kissing her cheek as she pits Madeline and Ernest against each other. Now a vivacious vixen, Helen claims sisterhood while plotting with her man – embodying the shade, deception, and fierce competition of the woman scorned even if she doesn’t really want Ernest anymore. She just wants to take him from Madeline and use him for her fatal revenge, and both ladies willingly become a Hollywood type of vampire, consuming the essence of a man for their own youthful survival. What does their undead beauty contest get them? Each other, stuck forever in an “I paint your ass, you paint mine” begrudging.

Ernest Menville was once a famous plastic surgeon, but now Bruce Willis’ (Color of Night) doctor is a postmortem fixer for the Hollywood dead between breakfast bloody marys. Life with Madeline hasn’t worked out, and she’s reviled by his bottom feeder, drinking himself to death existence. When complimented for his mortuary work, Ernest admits the secret weapon for coloring dead skin is spray paint, but he knows it isn’t real work and would sell his soul to really operate again. He argues with Madeline about who ruined whom and won’t take jokes about his clients being stiffer. Though unhappy, wishing to divorce, and easily swept up when Helen comes on to him with sexy words, Ernest is reluctant to go along with her plans, for he takes the change in Madeline’s temperature, pulse, and hair – because that’s what men notice – as a miracle. Ernest gains confidence despite his fear over what he has done, wanting to make Madeline his masterpiece, painting her and carefully mixing the turpentine. He won’t be rushed when her eyes must have artistic balance! Ernest will fix them and then go, but when the ladies need touch-ups, his sudden backbone becomes a problem. Death Becomes Her’s few daylight scenes are about Ernest realizing what took him so long to leave. He was willing to keep his marital promise in spite of the suffering and humiliation, but his obligations are fulfilled in her death do us part. The camera at the not all that it seems spa has to be switched off before Isabella Rosellini’s (Merlin) Lisle von Rhoman can be mentioned, but the million dollar price tag for her mysterious potion is relative to such elite clientele. Her stunning beauty and barely there clothes make it easy to soft sell her elixir – Lisle is sweet when charming a guest, telling them to follow spring and summer but avoid autumn and winters however she’s sassy when ordering her Tom, Dick, and Harry henchmen and intimating with her deceptions. She knows why her clients come to see her, for they are scared of themselves, their bodies, the lengths they go to in maintaining their secrets, and their inevitable failure. Life is cruel, taking away vitality only to replace it with decay, so we want to believe her sweet talking promise to defy natural and endorse the check despite her dominance. The camera heightens Lisle’s look fair and feei  foul with carefully orchestrated poses and frames. She’s centered perfectly in each shot with daggers, Dobermans, and amulets. Lisle crosses her legs in her throne chair and says “thank you” when someone exclaims about God, but her seductive wraps and high collared, witchy robes suggest an underlying evil. After imploring our plastic surgeon to now take the youth and beauty he gave to others for himself, Lisle’s full menace is revealed when he questions her on the nightmarish consequences of immortality. Of course, there’s a wink to Rosellini’s casting because she looks so much like her mother, and bemusing not so dead cameos include James Dean, Jim Morrison, Elvis, and Marilyn alongside appearances by Mrs. Zemeckis Mary Ellen Trainor (Tales from the Crypt) and poor doctor with a heart condition Sydney Pollock (Three Days of the Condor).

The naughty but sinister, frenetic strings of Alan Silvestri’s (Predator) theme set the mood for Death Becomes Her amid a dash of jazz, disco beats, and campy cues. Boas and colorful stage backdrops in the opening sequence establish an over the top, garish, tacky and lamé atmosphere before static on the old television, retro patterns, and poor clutter contrast the massive Beverly Hill mansion with gated entries, a grand staircase, hefty doors, and heaps of marble. The made to look ugly, old, and desperate makeup and bodily transformations are well done amid tears and soggy rain making a woman look worse before bemusing good skin versus bad skin comparisons and boob lifts. That pretty left hand with the giant rock ring is always prominently displayed! Subtle nudity is also reflected through windows and doors as supple butt shots provide curves to the sagging and wrinkles. The square nineties blazers and low buttons add masculine angles for the women, however low cut cleavage, deep blouses, and lace invoke feminine symbolism along with thigh-high slits, Egyptian life giving motifs, and our glowing pink potion. Death Becomes Her abounds with mirrors everywhere – frames within frames via television screens, snapshots, and gold portraits pepper every scene. Clever reflections, shadows, and silhouettes do double duty while red stands for passion, black for suspicion, and white for innocence as dramatic overhead drops, balcony dangles, thunder, and shotgun blasts apply terror in the killing scenes. Neck snaps, stairway rolls, holes in the gut, and backwards results are as disturbing as the decision to kill. Sure, some of the bumbling bodies and squashed heads may look poor now, but that also keeps them funny, and there are more intriguing or random visual gags to catch our eye – the doctor throwing away his stethoscope when he can’t get a heartbeat, the yuppie tennis couple with the bruised elbows, those weird ass gliding nuns. The pink pastels and green palm trees in the eighties upscale buildings are perfectly gaudy now, but the blue lighting, black marble, and arrows pointing to the morgue mirror how the characters are inevitably walking towards death. Michelangelo motifs and pools of water could be symbolic life renewals as one tries to escape the locked doors, gilded elevators, grand arches, maze like spires, and those ever present mirrors but Death Becomes Her’s beauty goes from svelte to garish with vampire pale, white out eyes, pasty skin, and gross peeling.

One may love or hate Death Becomes Her but there is no in between and it takes multiple viewings to study the dual nuances, comedic layers, and dark subtleties. Questions on immortality – or at least looking immortal – deepen the commentary on beauty and why women compete to look so enchanting even if it kills them. Today’s dark comedies often feel crass or too disturbing, but the great cast keeps Death Becomes Her mature with a tongue in cheek that doesn’t have to berate the obvious. While not in your face horror, the choice macabre moments and increasingly bleak palette illume our dread and fear of old age. We can laugh at the sardonic winks even as Death Becomes Her calls out Hollywood then and hello look at us on the ‘gram now, remaining delicious because its satire is unfortunately more applicable than ever.

Do you remember where you parked the car?”

For more Horror Comedies, revisit:

The Addams Family Season 1

The Munsters Season 1

Bell, Book, and Candle

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Tales from the Crypt Season 4

Tales from the Crypt Season 4 Continues the Scary Quality

by Kristin Battestella

Summer of 92’s fourteen episode Season Four of Tales from the Crypt once again sources the titular comics alongside Crime Suspense Stories, Haunt of Fear, and Vault of Horror for more choice frights, spooky guests, and cheeky thrills.

Director Tom Hanks cameos along with fellow The ‘burbs alum Henry Gibson and boxer cum grave digger Sugar Ray Leonard in the “None but the Lonely Heart” premiere as Treat Williams (Everwood) endures the old lady lipstick before a little poison and another funeral. Killing rich dames is good business, but he needs one more gal to make his fortune before his past comes back to haunt him. Unfortunately, anyone wise to the fatal gigolo might have his head smashed into the television or tie stuck in the paper shredder. Our Crypt Keeper host, meanwhile, is a ‘boo it yourselfer’ hitting his thumb with the hammer and building a swing set so he can ‘hang around’ for “This’ll Kill Ya” with scientists Dylan McDermott (Olympus Has Fallen) and Sonia Braga (The Rookie). Medicine bottles, insulin injections, long legs, and dead bodies in the trunk don’t mix! These radical experiments aren’t ready for human trials, but love triangles and mixing business with pleasure make for unreliable antidotes, erroneous injections, and steamy bad habits. Zooms, neon flashes, and rapid montages add to the virus paranoia, patient delirium, boils, and oozing skin. Although the initial edgy music and badass language fall flat to start director William Friedkin’s (The Exorcist) “On a Deadman’s Chest,” C.K. does his Elvis impersonation amid the heavy metal arguing and groupies in leather. Tia Carrere (Wayne’s World) is the new bride coming between the band, but freaky snake tattoos lead to a magical artist who says he can solve our musician’s problems. There’s more graphic sex and nudity this half-hour, and the old fashioned needling and talk of putting what’s on the inside on the flesh set off the voodoo-esque parlor as the music tensions spiral out of control with fatal bathtubs and gory skin peels. I dare say, there are also some slightly homoerotic themes, too, with mesmerizing snakes, a woman coming between men, a man unable to escape who he really is, and body dysmorphia horror. Likewise, older actress Mimi Rogers (Ginger Snaps) is being replaced by her younger, willing roommate Kathy Ireland (Alien from L.A.) for the behind the scenes meta of “Beauty Rest” with ‘Ball Buster’ perfume commercials and little creaky push-ups from the Crypt Keeper. The seductive, sassy start turns into pageant rivalries and poisoned cookies as the ladies argue whether sleeping to the top or killing to get ahead is worse – but the unusual contest questions and the secret winnings remind the ladies that it’s really what’s inside that counts. Shady landlord rocker Meatloaf pressures restaurant owner Christopher Reeve (Somewhere in Time) in “What’s Cookin’,” however bus boy Judd Nelson (The Breakfast Club) has some new barbecue recipes for the bodies hanging in the freezer. Local cop Art LaFleur (House Hunting) also develops a taste for flame broiled flesh at the booming steakhouse, and the superior turnabout is set off with red lighting, sizzling grills, and all the expected puns from our host.

Bad ratings and the threat of cancellation thanks to shock jock Robert Patrick (Terminator 2) leads shrink radio host David Warner (Wallander) to make an on-air visit with frequent caller Zelda Rubenstein (Teen Witch) in “The New Arrival.” His The Art of Ignoring Your Child book, however, doesn’t help the screaming girl thanks to the masks and booby traps in this spooky manor with dark stairs and a dangerous attic. Not to mention the attacker points of view, deadly twists, and ceiling fan mishaps. C. Keep is looking for a home on ‘derange’ marked ‘souled’ in “Maniac at Large,” but meek Blythe Danner (Huff) doesn’t feel safe in her library thanks to trouble causing ruffians and newspaper reports of a serial killer on the loose. Creepy music by Bill Conti (North and South) adds to the unease as late night cataloging and book piles in the basement build paranoia. Suspense editing and strategic lighting escalate the alarms, knives, vandalism, and possible intruders as the headline hype spirals out of control. Producer Joel Silver directs the memorable “Split Personality” as Joe Pesci (Goodfellas) romances twins by pretending he is also a set of twins where one always has to be away on business. Split-screen camera work and intercut conversations accent the double talk, but these possessive ladies are not to be taken advantage of by anyone. Everything has to be fifty-fifty, and despite swanky tunes and casino style, the luck is going to run out on this con thanks to Tales from the Crypt’s unforgettable brand of saucy, graphic, and cheeky. The Crypt Keeper has some therapy on the rack to open “Strung Along” because he’s ‘a little stiff every day,’ but recovering puppeteer Donald O’Connor (There’s No Business Like Show Business) is nostalgic for his old black and white kids show. Heart attacks and sentiment, unfortunately, clash with his younger, bikini clad wife. His creepy clown marionette also seems to have a life of his own, and increasingly dark designs set off the affairs, love letters, and shocking betrayals before the full moon of “Werewolf Concerto.” Chanting music and infrared animal perspectives add to the chases, howls, and hairy attackers as sexy guest Beverly D’Angelo (National Lampoon’s Vacation) is trapped in a hotel with wolf hunter Timothy Dalton (Penny Dreadful) amid piano compositions, double-crosses, and gunpoint standoffs. The werewolf revelations and race to beat the moonrise are superb, surprises again combining for some of Tales from the Crypt’s best winks, scares, and star power. The wilderness solitude for Kevin McCarthy (Invasion of the Body Snatchers) and the late Margot Kidder (Black Christmas) in the “Curiosity Killed” finale only acerbates the marital insults. However, their fellow campers have a special tonic that might curb the catty aging. Excellent interplay and fountain of youth sympathy build to the inevitable topper with night-blooming jasmine, bugs, graves, moonlight madness, disturbing gore, and all the irony to match.

Unfortunately, Tales from the Crypt does briefly sag midseason with the double-dealings, blackmail, and swindling resets of “Seance.” The candles, incantations, and Old World atmosphere of the psychic parlor are just a smokescreen for mid-century hustles and colloquial put-ons with Ben Cross (Dark Shadows) and even Crypt Keeper Investigations doing a Sam Spade spoof with ‘No headstone left unturned.’ The noir aesthetic looks great, but this is another typical crime plot with lawyers, money, and a tacked on supernatural bookend. Our Keeper’s wearing adorable little chaps and a cowboy hat as Tales from the Crypt producer Richard Donner directs “Showdown.” Sunsets, haze, bleak shadows, and dry orange vistas add a surreal, hellish look to the horses and gunslingers. There are quickdraws, snake oil tonics, and ghosts in the saloon, but this non-linear tale is dark and tough to see with a distorted passage of time and too much confusion about what should be an interesting question on who’s dead or alive. The pace both drags over nothing yet maybe it’s also a story worthy of more than a half-hour. Star power is also surprisingly lacking, however, the next episode “King of the Road” has Brad Pitt (The Counselor), hot rods, and disturbing street racing collisions yet also misses the mark. Even the Keeper is too busy doing ‘A Midsummer Night’s Scream’ instead. Both these episodes come from original scripts with loose ties to a Two-Fisted Tales movie adaptation, and the hooking up with the cop’s daughter, blackmail, kidnapping, and spiders in the mailbox are pointless torment. Cool veneer, music montage filler – it’s scarier that there are no English subtitles on the bare bones Season Four DVD set!

Thankfully, the full opening intro once again plays with each Tales from the Crypt episode, and macabre soul that I am, I love studying it for home décor ideas. Word processors, big old retro televisions, vintage cameras, video dating services, and VHS stuck in the VCR add to the mod eighties style, all-white designs, and old lady mauve. Older blue nighttime lighting invokes the cemetery mood, and purple hues or Art Deco black and white tones create flavor with very little. Forties styles, long stem cigarettes, and big hats go far while fire, candles, and thunderstorms provide atmosphere regardless of setting. Bright luxuries contrast the dark dated nineties clubs, but there are still high-waisted jeans and the occasional shoulder pads on the ladies alongside the lingering one giant earring trend and big blowout hairstyles. The language and gore are also a little tame to start the season – perhaps the producers were already thinking of the future syndication reruns beyond HBO. However, black lingerie, thongs, nudity, and further saucy actions are still somewhat risque. Jump cuts and repeat zooms both cover production corners as well as build onscreen intense while heart pulsing rhythms and sound effects accent the bloody prosthetics and horror makeup. Several practical monster effects remain surprisingly good, and creepy old homes, dangerous antiques, and spooky staircases join the slimy recently deceased or skeletons from the grave.

There are a few slip-ups in this short but otherwise choice season. However, once again Tales from the Crypt turns out a fun little marathon with Season Four’s campy chills and scary stars making for some of the series’ best.

Revisit more Horror Television:

Tales from the Crypt Season 3

Tales from the Darkside Season 1

Dark Shadows Video Review

Chilling Chat: Episode #180 – Paul Lubaczewski

chillingchat

Before deciding to take writing seriously Paul Lubaczewski had done many things–printer, caving, the SCA, Brew-master, punk singer, music critic etc. Since then he has appeared in95410396_1224073921261535_933279110472400896_n numerous science fiction, and horror magazines and anthologies. Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he moved to Appalachia in his 30s. He has three children, two who live in his native Pennsylvania, and one at home. Married to his lovely wife Leslie for twenty years, they live in a fairy tale town nestled in a valley by a river. Author of over 50 published stories, his Amazon Best Seller debut novel, I Never Eat…Cheesesteak, is available from Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and fine stores everywhere. 

Paul is a man of wit and imagination. We spoke of horror, writing, and the fine art of Kaiju comedy.
NTK: Welcome to Chilling Chat, Paul! Thank you for joining me tonight.

PL: Thanks for having me. 

NTK: How old were you when you discovered horror?

PL: Very young. When I was a little kid, for Halloween every year, my Mom would read the original Washington Irving “Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and we’d watch the Lugosi version of Dracula.

NTK:  Did this inspire you to write?

PL: I’ve read like a sponge, more or less, all my life. So, creating my own worlds was only a matter of time I suppose.

NTK: Do you have a favorite horror novel? Or short story?

PL: As of this exact moment, right now, today, I really loved Jeff Strand’s Pressure. Short will probably always be a tie between Lovecraft’s “The Rats in The Wall” and Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart.”

NTK: Who is your favorite horror writer?

PL: I think Horror is such a many faceted thing, it’s hard to pick one. Right now, I’m on a McCammon tear, all time would probably still be Poe. I had a copy of Tales of Mystery and Imagination when I was a kid. My next tattoo is going to be Arthur Rackham’s illustration for “Metzengerstein.”

NTK: Do you have many horror inspired tattoos?

PL: That’s the first piece I’ve gotten that’s directly tied to something, but I’ve wanted it for a very long time.

NTK: Do you enjoy comedy and horror?

PL: I’d better, I write it. Horror-Comedy is probably one of the most popular but most poorly served by the industry. Maybe it’s because it’s hard to write, and it is, but it seems to sell well, so people enjoy reading it. I tend to think it’s lack of enthusiasm on the industries part, they don’t know where to pigeon hole it, and that makes bean counters nervous.

NTK: You said it’s hard to write. Which is more difficult? Scaring people or making them laugh?

PL: Knowing when to turn on one fountain and when to turn on the other. You have to have some horror, but if you turn it on too hard, well nothing seems particularly funny now. And if you play everything for yucks, it makes it hard to slide back in to scary. It’s a balancing act. I find that generally it’s better to stay towards funny but have your scenes where you crack the coffin open wide.

NTK: What did you think of the old Roger Corman movies, particularly the ones with Vincent Price and Peter Lorre? Did they tread that fine line between horror and comedy for you?

PL: Well it helped that he had some absolute hams working for him and gave them a ton of free reign. Price was really a master of playing for yucks in the middle of a horror movie. The end scenes in House of Long Shadows are classic funny. I think my favorite from that era was Fearless Vampire Killers, I even have one of the original theater posters, which is huge.

NTK: What inspired Wild Witches of West Bygod?

PL: Witches is just a “where you live” book. Granny Witches are popular lore here.

NTK: Can you tell us a little about Cult of the Gator God? And what is Kaiju comedy? Are we talking about Kong and Godzilla here?

PL: Cult of the Gator God is a fish out of water comedy mixed with giant creatures who are also worshipped as gods by the locals. But yes, full-blown, old school kaiju in America, with jokes. I lived in Florida for a year, so, being from the North East, I could readily empathize with my main character Bob.

NTK:  Do you outline your plots or fly by the seat of your pants?

PL: Total pantser. It’s like the line from the Dark Tower books where King is yelled at by a fan for killing off a character and he says something along the lines of, “Lady, you found out it was going to happen right after I did.”

NTK: Do your characters have free will, then? Do they often take over your story?

PL: Let me put it this way, I have an upcoming collection, there’s a novelette in there called “The Lost Saga” It was supposed to be a gag piece at around 3000 words, after I had been worked over by the characters it was an eleven-thousand word, proper Norse Saga, with a full blown horror ending because…hey what do I know, I’m only the writer here.

NTK: Do you have a favorite horror movie? 

PL: You’d have to narrow that down to genre. I was the kid in school who took out all the tabletop books about horror movies out from the school library and the town library. I can go anything from silent, Caligari, to Hammer, Dracula Prince of Darkness, to slasher, currently Terrifier. Horror gets a bad rap, but it has WAY more range and depth as a film genre than anyone gives it credit for. 

NTK: Let’s narrow it down to scariest.

PL: I rarely get officially scared. I think the last one that made me really freaked out, like “We have to watch something really light so I can sleep tonight.” was probably Henry Portrait of a Serial Killer. The director knew all the rules of a movie, how things are supposed to go, and played them all against the audience.

NTK: Do you have a favorite horror TV show?

PL: If you’re including the Kolchak movies, them hands down. Night Gallery is something I’ve seen creep in to my short story writing though. That whole, “Your main character is scum, and he/she is going to get theirs all right” vibe. At this point I’m still watching the Walking Dead out of obstinance to see how it ends. 

NTK: What’s your favorite curse?

PL: Well my least favorite is definitely “May you live in interesting times” since we seem to be doing it, and it’s no fun. But let’s go back to The Wolf Man and it being treated like a curse, with it’s own cool couplet and everything, “Even a man whose pure of heart…”

NTK: What’s your favorite curse word?

PL: The f-bomb is the most versatile, you can use it from adjective to noun in any way shape and form. But gosh, I sure do say prick a LOT

NTK: (Laughs.) Paul, what does the future hold for you? Do we have more Kaiju to look forward to? What’s next on the book release agenda?

PL: Next off will be a collection with Dreaming Big Publications called A Spoonful of Sugar. After that, I’ll probably have something short again with St. Rooster. Wild Witches of West Bygod is all written and just waiting to be put into a release schedule so probably next year. There’s more after that, but a lot of it I’m still writing and editing.

NTK: Thank you for chatting with me, Paul! It’s been fun!

PL: Thank you, and it has been fun, thanks for that!

Addicts, you can find Paul on Facebook and Twitter.

 

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Tales from the Crypt Season 3

Tales from the Crypt Season Three Stands Out by Kristin Battestella

 

During Summer 1991, HBO’s Third Season of Tales from the Crypt delivered fourteen episodes adapted from the Tales from the Crypt, Shock SuspenStories, The Vault of Horror, and Haunt of Fear comic book canon – and nearly every half hour plot steps up the sarcasm, star power, and scares.

The ‘Honey, I’m home!’ opening of the “Loved to Death” premiere leads to something saucy in the kitchen but it’s just a bad script in progress by Andrew McCarthy (Weekend at Bernie’s) when he’s not fantasizing about his demanding actress neighbor Mariel Hemingway (Lipstick). Forget the old boombox and shoddy word processor – leather, lingerie, and boobs inspire his creativity and a watching big brother landlord speaking over the intercom braves him to knock on her door. Of course, she’s not interested until he’s successful, making for a bemusing mix of imagination and real world bitter from writer turned director Tom Mankiewicz (Live and Let Die). Unfortunately, subtle make up and costuming reflect the turnaround when a love potion makes the amorous too much to handle.

The Crypt Keeper, meanwhile is smoking in bed with a headless skeleton as the escaped Kyle MacLachlan (Twin Peaks) opens “Carrion Death” with dusty Arizona manhunts, motorcycle chases, and fiery accidents. The desert setting invokes a barren purgatory as a vulture waits amid the echoes, gunshots, race to the border, and loot blowing in the wind. The no water, talking to himself delirium may seem slow for some audiences, however the sardonic trek, gore, and just desserts escalate once the handcuffs are on and there’s no key.

Back to the Future star Michael J. Fox directs Terri Garr (Tootsie) in “The Trap,” for her nasty husband has a life insurance policy and a coroner brother-in-law who can help fake a death. Bemusing morgue saws, faux dead make up, and a bumbling cover story combine for over the top funeral wailing, cremation mishaps, and tropical hideouts. The askew trials, double crosses, and mistaken identity aren’t really horror, but the crime fits the screw here.

Likewise, the memorable “Abra Cadaver” opens with a black and white morgue, autopsies, pretty corpses, necrophilia quips, and dangerous practical jokes on Beau Bridges (Stargate SG-1) by Tony Goldwyn (Scandal). The color present has high tech lab equipment and research debts owed for these experiments on brain function after clinical death – studies done with ritual altars, folk medicine, and poisoned scotch. The distorted voiceover and overhead camera angles match this appearance of death as the acute senses remain to experience the meat locker, hooks, saws, embalming, and John Doe toe tags as the warped mix of science and revenge creates blood trickling down the screen twists.

The Crypt Keeper does a little Mashed to Pieces Theatre in “Top Billing” as desperate Jon Lovitz (Saturday Night Love) fails another audition. He won’t stoop to commercials like successful sellout Bruce Boxleitner (Scarecrow and Mrs. King), and this is an interesting commentary on the look being more important than the talent. Agent Louise Fletcher (One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest) says it’s commerce and product, not art, that sells tickets, winking to the viewer as oft comedian Lovitz is determined to play Hamlet with intense director John Astin (The Addams Family). Will he kill for the part? This little back alley theater at 895 ½ needs a real skull for its Yorick.

“The Reluctant Vampire” also begins with a traditional gothic atmosphere – before the alarm clock by the coffin and fang dentures on the night stand add modern humor as blood bank nightwatchman Mr. Longtooth Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange) dreads Mondays and The Keeper reads Vampirism Made Easy. Manager George Wendt’s (Cheers) donation numbers don’t add up, so our sensitive vamp – who doesn’t drink direct from humans so he can respect himself in the morning – attacks an old lady’s mugger to replace his martini makings in the vault. Certainly he asks if his victim has any blood born diseases before filling up the water cooler. He’s saving the blood bank and taking a bite out of crime amid newspaper spinning montages, Transylvania soil myths, lighting candles at the snap of the fingers, and dangerous squirt guns with holy water. Van Helsing descendants are on the local talk shows, and Tales from the Crypt manages to be gothic and cute at the same time. Of course, Little CK has a Betty Croaker cookbook while womanizing reporter Steven Weber (Wings) keeps a tape recorder under the bed to get what’s off the record when, as they say, pumping a source for information in “Mournin’ Mess.” Hard nose editor Ally Walker (Sons of Anarchy) wants the scoop not drunk excuses, but suave spokeswoman Rita Wilson (Now and Then) spins the rhetoric on cleaning up the streets as the homeless murders mount. Dead witnesses and some literal cemetery digging lead to tunnels, coffins, skeletons, and underground revelations on The Grateful Homeless Outcasts and Unwanted Layaway Society, ahem, GHOULS. Although this starts off run of the mill, Tales from the Crypt continues to push the envelope with its grotesque.

As a kid I loved director Russell Mulcahy’s (Highlander) “Split Second” and even had it on one of several made ’em myself Tales from the Crypt VHS mixes! Foreman Brion James (Blade Runner) seethes over his sassy waitress with a reputation turned hottie wife Michelle Johnson (Blame it on Rio) while her short shorts and tank top get skimpier for new lumberjack Billy Worth (The Lost Boys, you know, the “Death by stereo.”) Axes, chainsaws, and the inherent dangers on the job immediately hook the audience as the camera reflects the peril, speed, and saucy games people play – leading to new power tools, a violent comeuppance, and plenty of blood splatter.

“Deadline,” however, would see drunk newsman Richard Jordan (Logan’s Run) clean up his act for particular hooker Marg Helgenberger (CSI). Although the narrative bookends are unnecessary, the newsroom clickety clack adds nostalgic pressure, and his cranky editor wants a juicy murder headline or else. Fortunately – or unfortunately – Jon Polito (The Crow) gives him an exclusive, ironic scoop on a crime of passion gone awry.

Tales from the Crypt’s tongue in cheek is in full swing for “Spoiled” as bored housewife Faye Grant (V) loves the over the top scandals of her favorite soap There’s Always Tomorrow. Her married to his work husband’s basement experiments may make medical history, but they interrupt her fantasizing, too. Good thing ‘Abel with the cable’ repairman Anthony LaPaglia (Without a Trace) is there with all the connection in the bedroom innuendo, drafting a bemusing life imitating art mad science mix and self-aware commentary complete with Tales from the Crypt on the boob tube. Like the soaps, the saucy isn’t actually shown – letting the male input and female boxes speak for themselves once the lovers play out their part.

Series producer Robert Zemeckis directs the supersized “Yellow” finale with general Kirk Douglas (Spartacus), his lieutenant son Eric Douglas (The Golden Child), loyal captain Dan Aykroyd (Ghostbusters), and gritty sergeant Lance Henriksen (Near Dark) facing the no man’s land trenches, explosions, and limbs lost of 1918 France. Battle failures, breaks in the communication line, family expectations, and the titular cowardice risk the chain of command, for this solider son refuses to kill and doesn’t want to be killed, undermining his father’s position as the enemy nears. Panic on the mission results in more slaughter and church held court marshals layer the religious iconography. It’s okay for fathers and sons to be afraid to die, and one’s a fool or a liar if he claims he isn’t – especially when facing the firing squad. This is a serious parable about real fear and horrors, yet the episode is not out of place. Who says Tales from the Crypt has to be all cheeky all the time? Rather than the expected juicy or sensationalism, this unique choice sells itself with innate intensity and cruelty for one of the series’ finest.

Of course, there are several less than perfect entries sagging Tales from the Crypt mid-season, including the late Tobe Hopper’s (Texas Chainsaw Massacre) star studded “Dead Wait.” The thieves are arguing over small scale island plantations and pitiful pearl treasures, and should be tense chess conversations fall flat amid red hair superstitions, voodoo talk, and witch doctor suspicions. Jungle fever romance with red king takes black queen quips and sweaty sex with voodoo drums compromise the hanging ram heads and dead chickens in the bed – playing into the very exotical stereotypes that the dialogue warns one to respect. Each eighties era horror anthology series seems to have a problematic voodoo tale, but they are always about a white man looking for something sexy and dangerous with an obvious turnabout. The gore and creepy worms are fine – this isn’t a terrible episode, but it doesn’t zing as it should.

The late night spoof with Whoopi Goldberg (Ghost) as The Crypt Keeper’s guest is more fun. Painter Tim Roth (Rob Roy) doesn’t get the showing he was promised and fantasizes about killing his agent in “Easel Kill Ya,” but some accidental violence and nearby deaths inspire his art. He channels his darkness into some gruesome canvases and sells the paintings to a creepy buyer, but he can’t keep up with the killer demand for his art. Again the fatal twists and obsessive performances aren’t the worst, but this tortured artist cum murderer plot is nothing new.

“Undertaking Palor” also has obnoxious punks at the movies complaining about being one short in the Milk Duds box before they scare each other and capture it on camera. They break into the mortuary to raise the frights in their amateur film making and unfortunately discover twisted little practitioner John Glover (Smallville) using a Shop Vac for his latest embalming. The ironic classical music and Pepsi with pizza while the creepy mortician works makes for some delightful Tales from the Crypt grossness, but the juvenile found footage Nancy Drew mystery weakens what could have been wild had we seen the morgue conspiracy from the inside perspective. The Crypt Jam music video feature on the Tales from the Crypt Season Three DVD set is also a humorous little rap with babes, gore, and highlights from the year in a fittingly oh so nineties fashion both embarrassing and hysterical at the same time. The features also cheat slightly by listing two panel segments, for the first fifteen minute bonus recounting the history of EC Comics mid-century history and their ongoing relevance in horror is just pieced together from the second feature – which is the full half hour Comic Con discussion with voice of the Crypt Keeper John Kassir, producer Alan Katz, and additional crew telling more behind the scenes tales and answering audience questions. This DVD set also goes right to the menu without the “Kill Intro” theme playing only once per disc as in the previous video releases, and I like being able to see that spooky house opening per episode.

There are less fifties abstract and colorful comic designs for this season of Tales from the Crypt, but the seedy dark palette feels a little more nineties grown up to match the mayhem. Lots of familiar faces in supporting roles lend an extra sophistication with old televisions, rabbit ears, Polaroids, or T-n-A as icing on the cake per the humorous or grotesque plots as needed. That newfangled frivolous cable and HBO freedom allows Tales from the Crypt to exploit many women with then nudity, abuse, and victimizing. However, the series also has numerous working women in positions of power or ladies that give back all the ills deserved and never get naked to do so. Occasionally, the hammy over does it with stunt casting and humor falling flat, but bigger names, chilling stories, plenty of gore, quality production values, and heaps of ironic horror help Tales from the Crypt step up its winking formula for Season Three for a macabre and self referential but no less twisted good time.

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Bell, Book, and Candle

Bell Book and Candle is still Great, Witchy Fun

By Kristin Battestella

 

We may think all the young adult fantasy books, Potter-esque films, and shows like Charmed have cornered the magic market onscreen, but classics like 1958’s Bell Book and Candle have kept the kooky comedy and witchy situations innocent and fun all along.

Over Christmas, good natured New York witch Gillian Holroyd (Kim Novak) grows a little tired of her witchy ways and Aunt Queenie’s (Elsa Lanchester) magical games. When Gil falls in love with publisher and upstairs neighbor Shep Henderson (James Stewart), she uses her cat Pyewacket to cast a spell. Shep must fall in love with Gil and thus not marry her former rival and college classmate Merle Kittridge (Janice Rule, 3 Women). While all the love blossoms, Gil’s warlock brother Nicky (Jack Lemmon) assists writer Sidney Redlitch (Ernie Kovacs) in his new book ‘Magic in Manhattan’. Will Shep’s publication of the book expose the Holroyds’ witchy ways and ruin Gil’s romance with Shep?

Based upon the play by John Van Druten (Gaslight, Cabaret), director Richard Quine (Sunny Side of the Street) and screenwriter Daniel Taradash (From Here to Eternity) craft a charming look at the power and hijinks of magic and love. We often allude to love being like a bewitching spell in lyrics and poetry. Even though a spell is cast in Bell Book and Candle, we’re never quite sure where the magic ends and the true love begins. The fanciful and fun take on possible love from socially at odds groups-humans and witches-is lighthearted and still enjoyable today. We can make all the modern and hefty allusions we want about mixed romances or stereotypes about practitioners of witchcraft, but it’s nice to just take in a sweet movie with none of those pretenses. There are a few lighting effects, camera tricks, and the proverbial smoke and mirrors, but more than anything Bell Book and Candle allows its players the time and space to show the magical fun.

Yes, Jimmy Stewart (Harvey, It’s A Wonderful Life, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Rear Window, Anatomy of a Murder, need I go on?) is a little too old to be a leading man here against Kim Novak, but he’s still delightful as the straight man publisher caught in the magical mix of spells and romance. We believe a charming witch could get Shep all flustered, confused, and tongue-tied due to Stewart’s loveable slip-ups. His mix of enchantment and clueless nonsense when confronted with the world of witchcraft must have been great fun then-as it still is now to the modern viewer. Stewart’s old, and perhaps his performance is a bit Capra-esque old fashioned, but it’s a fun turn nonetheless. As wonderfully fooled as Shep is, Jack Lemmon’s Nicky is wickedly slick. His magic is all in good fun, too, but he can’t resist the spotlight. Nicky’s ill-attempted exposé writing collaborations mix the crazy ambition with the sardonic blend of wit and drama contemporary audiences expect from the late star of Grumpy Old Men and The Odd Couple. In a way, there is a touch of passing the torch between the graying Stewart and energetic Lemmon. Both men handled the romance, seriousness, and comedy of their roles before and after Bell Book and Candle with a style and class not often found in today’s young acting crowd.

Though not as famous as her male counterparts, its fun to see Kim Novak paired with Jimmy Stewart again after Alfred Hitchcock’s suspense filled Vertigo the same year. Novak’s good witch longing for love does take some getting used to after her deceptive dame in Vertigo, but her husky voice and dynamite eyes adhere to the femme and witchy vibe we expect. Her costumes are hip, with mostly spooky black or eye-catching reds- but what’s with the high, almost white hair? There’s not many close ups of Novak for some reason, but the ones we’re given are breathtaking. Fun effects and cat motifs add to Gil’s already enchanting ways, too. We believe her when she says she has the power to get things done, yet we feel for her wishes for normalcy. Likewise, Elsa Lanchester’s (The Private Life of Henry VIII, Bride of Frankenstein, Witness for the Prosecution) Aunt Queenie is great fun as the elder, kooky and mischievous sprite helping with some good natured interference and match making. Comedy maven Ernie Kovacs (Our Man in Havana, North to Alaska) is also a delight as author Sidney Redlitch – an ‘expert’ of modern witches among us who fails to see the warlocks right under his nose.

Part of Bell Book and Candle’s charm is its fun fifties color and style: the cigarettes, quirky music, Oscar nominated high-end fashion and nonchalant, cute effects. The high life of mid century New York is a delightful time capsule, and the pillow talk approach to witchcraft is in a way modern but no less sweet. However, part of this charm also irrevocably dates the portrayal. It’s 1958- the innocence of the post war years would soon be lost. Some of the whirlwind two-week romance is a little too innocent with no innuendo before the quick marriage talk, and even the colorful styles and titled fedoras would be on the fashion outs in a few years’ time. It’s as if the onscreen attitudes and styles are a final fifties hurrah before the turmoil and realizations of the sixties.

Now I’m sorry to say that I don’t know anything about current Wiccan and religious practices; but naturally modern pagans and witches looking for some seriousness and accuracy won’t find it in Bell Book and Candle. While not deliberately offensive, the clean cut fifties stylings goes for the traditional broomstick stereotypes. It’s great if you like films with some witchy fun, but there’s no realistic portrayal here. Classic film fans, however, can also enjoy the similar I Married A Witch (1942) starring Veronica Lake- both films are often attributed as the inspiration for the beloved television series Bewitched. Modern romantic fans tired of the same inane plots over and over will be charmed, too. Youthful audiences who still enjoy enchanting tales like Bewitched or Hocus Pocus can take in Bell Book and Candle at Halloween, Christmas, or any time of year.

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Krampus (2015)

Krampus is Disappointing Holiday Horror Fare

by Kristin Battestella

 

If you think your December is bad, consider the anti-Saint Nick killer of the 2015 horror comedy Krampus. Though starting strong with relatable holiday family sarcasm and budding snowbound scares, this PG-13 combination tale never embraces its unique monster potential and fizzles into disappointing, pedestrian fare.

Young Max (Emjay Anthony) wants his parents (Adam Scott and Toni Collette) to have some Christmas spirit again. Unfortunately, arguments with his visiting Aunt Linda (Allison Tolman), Uncle Howard (David Koechner), and his nasty cousins make Max tear up his ridiculed letter to Santa Claus – creating an invitation for the evil, ancient spirit of Krampus to descend their chimney instead…

 

Writer and director Michael Dougherty (Trick ‘r Treat) starts Krampus with promising seasonal satire and jovial Bing Crosby holiday tunes winking at the December mad dash shopping. The out of hand festiveness increases thanks to crying kids on Santa’s lap, stressed and glum employees, and fighting customers tasered by security while the crowd videos it all on their smartphones. A Christmas Carol is on the television, mom’s obsessing over the perfect crème brulee, and the War on Christmas peppers the news – Krampus is up front about its holiday honesty with debates over Santa being a cheap marketing ploy to sell Coca Cola and cruel tales of his crashed sleigh and Big Nick eating his reindeer to survive. Arguments at the table worsen every year, and the hope of the holidays being like they used to be can’t be overcome by one’s DNA. The destruction of an admittedly preposterous letter to Santa summons a thunderous snowstorm and blackout – no heat, water, or electricity and twelve crabby people. The usual holiday tiffs turn into worse bleak as mysterious snowmen surround the isolated house and thumps on the roof aren’t the sleigh they expected. Scary attacks from under the snowbanks and jack in the box decoys create suspense as do abandoned trucks, echoes lost in the blizzard, and footprints suggesting an upright goat walking on its hind legs. While under siege, the family re-discovers sentimental ornaments and recalls late relatives – there’s nothing like a monster attack to bring everyone together at Christmas! Gunshots break the silent holiday night and people go missing as the sub-zero temperatures drop. These are realistic scares, and the family asleep about the fire will soon be privy to the evil coming down the chimney with baited hooks and sinister presents to lure children for punishment rather than giving. Initially accurate wisecracks and understandable difficulty in believing Krampus is at work help the self-aware mix of interior drama and terrors amok. Unfortunately, Krampus is surprisingly lacking in its own folklore flair and descends into a busy, supposedly cognizant but unintentionally laughable lag trading what should be innate fears and the uniquely sinister for rowdy action or juvenile delays. The misleading comedy label becomes an excuse for silly animated accessories, undercutting the terror of Krampus waiting within the walls ready to emerge and abduct. Shooting at what they don’t understand, falling asleep when they must stay awake, not heeding the Krampus tale when they hear it – perhaps a united spirit or singing a carol might vanquish the monstrous invasion, but Krampus instead divides its family in a hollow finale asking for a do over on the sorry not sorry.

Likable dad Adam Scott (Parks and Recreation) isn’t traveling for work but he’s still on business calls, creating a supposed marital strain and leaving his son to watch Charlie Brown alone. Tom’s sardonic wanting to get the holiday over with turns into action as the scares mount, and he uses his town knowledge for a fighting advantage and plan of attack to proactively protect his family. Sadly, the adults in Krampus are under developed clichés –ironic place holders learning how to make sacrifices for a happy holiday just because the plot says so. We never know what Tom’s job is, where they live, or why the marriage is troubled, compromising any relatability the stars have. Toni Collette’s (United States of Tara) Sarah tries to make Christmas perfect by having everything super clean, but her decorating is considered to be “Martha Stewart threw up in here” over the top. She has some moxie when her kitchen or fancy food are criticized, but her angel on top of the tree saccharin doesn’t add the spirit Krampus needs. Though too brief, Krista Sadler (Lena Rais) provides Old World strength and wisdom as the German-speaking grandmother Omi, and she respects the past when cultural ethnicity and traditions mattered instead of celebrations without meaning. Omi crosses herself once – the only time Jesus is referenced in a Christmas parable about sacrifice – and does what needs to be done but Krampus remains too modern and mainstream bland, generic rather than Germanic. The titular potential is neutered by stagnant characters who never really learn but drop in quick succession – almost as if they knew the ninety minutes were up and an absolutely wrong time and place joke was due to deflate any meaningful foothold. I almost want to see Krampus from his point of view, watching as his nasty influence and take rather than give plan reveals everyone’s true colors.

Emjay Anthony’s (Chef) Max wears a bow tie, annoyingly repeats everything his grandmother says, and claims he’s smart and old enough to know what’s happening – never mind that his torn up and tossed to the wind letter is what brought the wrath of Krampus upon them. At thirteen he’s too old to believe in Santa Clause, and Max even gets in a fight defending the Jolly One before writing him seeking help for his family. If Max truly wanted Christmas to be as it was, he could have gone ahead with their traditions and reminded everyone of their holiday memories instead of bitching over his letter to Santa being read aloud. That’s the worst thing that has ever happened to him? That embarrassment is worth cursing your family to damnation? Unfortunately, Max thinks he can fix his fault by asking for a reset, and Krampus sacrifices its Scrooge scared straight possibility in favor of the very millennial blasé it warns against. Likewise, daughter Stefanie LaVie Owen (The Carrie Diaries) is irrelevant alongside too many gross, mean, disposable cousins and a baby who’s initially forgotten in a tricked out Hummer named Lucinda. I think the family dog gets more screen time than some of the non-speaking kids! Sarah’s sister Allison Tolman (Fargo) is made little woman simple while her redneck husband David Koechner (The Office) forges an odd friendship with Tom. He has useful skills and calls it like it is, but Krampus makes him smart or stupid as needed. Conchata Ferrell’s (Two and a Half Men) Aunt Dorothy gets through the scares with some peppermint schnapps – Krampus liking schnapps is never mentioned, boo – and her drunken sarcasm should be the only requisite quipping comedy. Unfortunately, Krampus goes overboard with ill timed laughs and puns in all the wrong places. Does this bitter family deserve what Krampus brings? We never know them as anything more than script proxies, so the audience can’t be sure.

Blowing snow, aerial shots, and weather effects give Krampus a fitting brr alongside holiday music and other bells, chimes, and diegetic sounds of the season. Fine blackout schemes and blue patinas work well – a chilly to contrast the yellow firelight and candlelit glows. While the leaping from house to house and rooftop flying effects are messy CGI, the thumping landings and howling echoes match the horned silhouette, giant hooves, and beastly furry cloak. Brief binocular sightings, unseen creatures attacking under the snow, and abandoned, frosty homes with trashed wreaths and destroyed fireplaces invoke fitting fears alongside trees on fire and ruined presents. Krampus uses practical designs and doesn’t reveal the full enormity of the monster – leaving the caressing, pointed nails and long, too close for comfort tongue to suggest the sinister. There’s minimal technology as well – tablets and smartphones are used until their power dies – but the gingerbread men effects are poor, even stupid along with unnecessary jesters and animated toys, hectic attic battles, confusing flue action, and intercut household sieges. Krampus himself doesn’t do very much as his trying to be humorous but ultimately laughable little minions run amok. The notion of his Santa mask having something hidden underneath is disappointing up close, and minimally used evil elves abducting children, a sack of souls collected by Krampus, and his ghoulish sleigh are better reversions on the theme. The retro animated flashback is also an old school anchor for Krampus, showing the bleak loss of seasonal spirit and giving in terrible times with a sad narration and the scared reaction of one little girl. Unfortunately, the fiery finale leaves some audiences confused, and the production mistakenly relies on alternate scenes or commentaries – absent on the rental blu-ray, naturally – and companion books to explain Krampus when a film must take care of itself.

 

Instead of wasteful ignorance and apathy, perhaps a prayer or some faith could have given Krampus a stronger battle of wills? The neither here nor there tone inadvertently embraces both anti-religion by not mentioning anything creche yet also admonishes audiences for treating Christmas like a going through the motions date on the calendar. A straight forward family holiday drama or full on horror one or the other decision may have served Krampus better – breathing room to trust its own dark, sardonic allegory instead of dampening good horrors with a humorous overload. What’s supposed to be so funny about Krampus anyway? This is a divisive, anti-Home Alone, and Krampus’ need for commercial safety, weak jokes, and trite action combines for an uneven parody and try hard “oops my bad” disappointment that inexplicably underutilizes its own ominous folklore.

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: I Married a Witch

I Married a Witch a Trickster Delight

By Kristin Battestella

 

While many adore the subsequent Bell Book and Candle or Bewitched, have had Peek A Boo hairstyles, or even know of Veronica Lake thanks to her sexy Oscar winning look-alike Kim Basinger in L.A. Confidential; it seems not many today appreciate the 1942 magical romp that started it all, I Married a Witch.

Burned at the Salem Witch Trials thanks to the testimony of Jonathan Wooley (Frederic March), Jennifer (Veronica Lake) curses Wooley and all his male descendents to be unlucky in love. Centuries later when lightning strikes a tree and frees their spirits, Jennifer and her father Daniel (Cecil Kellaway) continue to interfere with politician Wallace Wooley (also March), his campaign for governor, and his impending marriage to socialite Estelle Masterson (Susan Hayward). Jennifer plans to make Wally fall in love with her just to ruin him. Unfortunately, when she is injured, Wally mistakenly gives her the love potion she intended for him. Now that she’s in love with a mortal, Daniel disastrously interferes on his daughter’s behalf. Jennifer, however, has bigger plans now: using witchcraft to save Wally’s campaign.

 

I’ll get the bit of the bad out of the way first, for only the dated production here hinders I Married a Witch. The black and white looks somewhat unrestored, dark and tough to see sometimes. The historical montage opening the film also has poor period stylings or seems quick and on the cheap. Modern audiences might also be a little lost on some of the thirties mannerisms and dialogue, and the sound is often tough to hear. While kids might enjoy this partial inspiration for the television series Bewitched, viewers with short attention spans might groan at early scenes with only smoke, fire, and old speaketh voiceovers. However, having said all that, the light-hearted comedy and hijinks of love story from director Rene Clair (The Flame of New Orleans, And Then There Were None) and writers Robert Pirosh (Combat!) and Marc Connelly (Captain Courageous) win with magical charm and innocent fun.

Well then, let’s talk about that peek a boo queen herself, Veronica Lake. Although the diminutive star of Sullivan’s Travels and This Gun for Hire doesn’t actually appear for the first fifteen minutes, we like the off-screen witch Jennifer when we hear of her fun curses. Despite her initial vengeance and maliciousness, we enjoy her vocal tricks and thus are thrilled when we finally do get so see those famous blonde tresses. Lake may seem a one trick pretty, but her witchy ways are delightful and her comedic dialogue is right on time. Though the pair seem visually at odds and she spends most of the time being carried by March; Lake has the sardonic match and onscreen weight to be a 290-year-old witch testing Wallys’ heart. Jennifer’s supposed to be bad, purely a spiteful witch causing love trouble for the sake of a long ago wrong, yet she’s whimsical and adorable all the same. Likewise, Oscar winner Frederic March (Best Years of Our Lives, Death of a Salesman, The Desperate Hours) proves he’s more than the straight, heavy, and serious dramatic leading man we so often enjoy. Wally’s wedding day hysterics are almost side splitting- caught in a repeatedly false starting ceremony and running ragged over two women! March would be the exceptional straight man indeed- if not for his perfect balance of witty, proper performance and humorous presence.

 

While Lake’s luster may have fallen over the decades, the budding and future Best Actress Susan Hayward (I Want to Live, Reap the Wild Wind) is wonderful as the snotty socialite set to marry Wally. Any other time, we’d love to pedestal Hayward, but in I Married a Witch, the audience can’t help but appreciate her bearing the brunt of Jennifer’s tricks. Dads Cecil Kellaway (The Postman Always Rings Twice) and Robert Warwick’s (The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex) J.B. Masterson are also great fun as the at odds parents who similarly enough have their daughters- and thus their own- best interests at heart. Classic fashion and style lends a wonderful visual support, too. Not to be outdone by slim cut suits or tilted fedoras, the pre-war ladies’ costumes here are glorious. The lengthy gowns and puffy sleeves just add an extra touch of class not often found in today’s recreations. I Married a Witch was contemporary at the time, but now it is a wonderful period piece to us with great music, sweet looking cars, and great old houses. Sure, some of the flying brooms and objects moving by themselves look hokey, but most of the smoke and mirror effects are simplistically good. Thanks to a fine story and great performances, fancy effects aren’t required to suspend the belief needed for I Married a Witch.

Fans of the old school cast, classic films aficionados, or families looking for some wholesome witchy fun can certainly find a short 80 minutes for I Married a Witch. Naturally, it is full of pre-war magical innocence rather than proper Wicca motifs, but again, the delight here wins against any datedness of the time.

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: The Addams Family Season 2

The Addams Family Season Two is More Spooky Good Fun

by Kristin Battestella

 

Gomez Addams (John Astin), his wife Morticia (Carolyn Jones), children Wednesday (Lisa Loring) and Pugsley (Ken Weatherwax), Grandmama (Blossom Rock), Uncle Fester (Jackie Coogan), and butler Lurch (Ted Cassidy) all return for another thirty episodes of the 1965-66 Season Two of The Addams Family – bringing along the ooky other side of the family with Aunt Ophelia and Granny Frump.

Year Two steps forward by going back to explain how Gomez was supposed to marry Morticia’s sister Ophelia in the wonderful “Morticia’s Romance: Part 1.” It’s their “lucky” thirteenth wedding anniversary and this flashback recounts everything from Morticia bringing Kitty Cat and Cleopatra to the house to her curing Gomez of his chronic bronchitis with her French. While their mothers discuss the dowry, Morticia digs graves for her beheaded Anne Boleyn doll, and each side consults Uncle Fester and Cousin Itt on the dilemma. It’s great to see The Addams Family give their hallmarks a fresh spin, and the shrewd decision to make this two parts allows more time for the lovable internal hijinks. By “Morticia’s Romance: Part 2” Ophelia suspects Gomez is reneging on marrying her despite signing over his elephant herd and Brazilian nut plantation for $50,000. Excellent puns, family quips, breaking the fourth wall, and even a moral on telling the truth instead of hiding behind cowardice gives everyone their moment, combining for some of the best in the series. Thing finds romance too in “Morticia Meets Royalty” when Princess Millicent aka Aunt Millie from Iowa arrives along with her handmaiden Lady Fingers – whose father used to be Millie’s footman. She’s right, Thing is left, they’re the perfect match! It’s totally silly watching shy hands open and close boxes but darn it’s entertaining as The Addamses go out of their way to make their penniless royal relative at home complete with tiaras, cavalier capes, feathered caps for the whole family, knee pants for Lurch that split, and of course, Fester the Jester. Odd episodes that only The Addams Family can do are the best, and when the family moonbathing is interrupted by a call from the photographer for a man of the year magazine in “Portrait of Gomez,” Fester decides to capture the essence of Gomez himself with an unstable powder pop camera. Is the perfect DMV photo what Gomez needs? If only he could pass his driving test without Thing to handle the gearshift!

While some may dislike the mistletoe intruding on the spooky in “Christmas with the Addams Family,” it’s neat to see how The Addamses spin the holiday when a nasty neighbor says there’s no Santa. They can’t remember all the reindeer names, but presents like “Holiday Macabre” poison perfume for Ophelia, a gloomy bare tree with broken ornaments, and all the family together breaking the fourth wall ironically sum up much of the series. From a Deck the Halls sing a long with Thing on the hand bell to Santa Fester stuck in the chimney, this family sticks together no matter what. While this episode also repeats many of The Addams Family staples – a child dilemma, each relative tries to solve it, hysterics ensue – Pugsley and Wednesday figure out the delightful Addams twist. After all, when Itt arrives as Santa, the jig is up. Of course, every silver lining has its cloud, and two weeks of blue skies and sunshine give everyone cabin fever in “Morticia and Gomez vs. Fester and Grandmama.” Arguing over spoiling the kids with dynamite explodes into alligator wrestling and crocodile tears, leaving Lurch stuck in the middle of the dividing lines – literally. Fortunately, “The Great Treasure Hunt” reminds Gomez and Morticia that there’s nothing more romantic than a dark, chill attic with a porch swing during a thunderstorm, and upon discovering Peg Leg Addams’ sea chest and sextant, well, “My, wasn’t he the naughty one!” Fester’s game for adventure if money and rum are involved as the treasure map suggests, but captain of the family Gomez goes “aft to shiver me timbers.” The pirate put-ons are a lot of fun, but The Addamses debate sending their children to private school in “Addams Cum Laude” when their old principal rebuffs bringing dynamite to recess. Gomez drop $10,000 to skip the waiting list but ultimately buys the school to run it properly – with Fester as Dean of Demolition alongside Advanced Head Shrinking, Theoretical Taxidermy, Itt as School Speech Therapist, and Thing ringing the school bell. Seeing the family take over such a formal setting is wild, because what parents would object to their child learning Do It Yourself Dentistry?

The Addams Family does however have its fair share of inconsistencies, with Gomez writing Romeo and Juliet knockoffs and loving their great last three days and happy ending before being upset that they died in another episode. Spotty doctors, psychoanalysis, and relatives are referred to when their plots repeat, and incest jokes between Ophelia and Fester join Indian giver, Chinamen, and gypped talk. Gomez plays Samurai, Morticia sings random Japanese words, and broken Spanish misunderstandings hamper “Morticia’s Dilemma.” Likewise, casual suicide talk with reminders to leave a note may be inappropriate for young audiences alongside the hookah and screwdriver puns. While “Halloween, Addams Style” has everything from Cousin Cackle, a séance to call Aunt Singe, and a horse in the living room to bobbing for apples while perilous on a giant see saw, porcupine taffy, and bite size salamander sandwiches cut with the guillotine – repeat gags and regular folks taking over equal too many disappointments. Why do The Addamses need to prove there are such things as witches when both Morticia and Grandmama have had tricks up their sleeves? “Morticia the Sculptress” placed back to back with “Morticia the Writer” is also too repetitive, and there’s no need to call Sam Picasso for a rerun of Grandmama’s inspiration from last season nor give the fainting neighbors a Trading Spaces disaster in “Morticia the Decorator.” “The Addams Policy” sees the living room bear Smokey go up in smoke – only to have another outside insurance scheme and the bear back in the next episode – and The Addams Family simply uses the same plots too many times. In some ways, it’s amazing the show lasted as long as it did with this one trick writing, and I doubt the series would have lasted another season in color if it continued resorting to the same old same old. The production probably thought the episodes would never be seen again, but binge viewing makes such short sighted flaws much more obvious.

 

Even in black and white, Carolyn Jones’ big blue eyes shine when she is dressed like a twenty-two year old Wednesday complete with a headless Marie Antoinette doll for the “Morticia’s Romance” flashback. As a bridesmaid, Morticia gives her sister a bouquet of thorns, and she’s still making paper dolls with two heads and three legs. She has several different black night gowns or black lace veils to match her black parasol and paints during thunderstorms – capturing lightning perfectly when it strikes her canvas. Morticia loves the Supreme Court and their black robes, for “Black is such a happy color,” and when Gomez first sees her with her hair down in her black wedding dress, she vows to never wear another so long as it keeps driving Gomez crazy. Morticia prefers fried eye of newt and barbecued turtle tips, and although she finds Poe exciting, she’s terrible on the bagpipes. The Addamses play crochet together in the living room and Morticia does Gomez’s dentistry drilling, and while it looks like they sleep in the same double bed, we never see them in it together at the same time. Morticia also uses her husband to play Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board but I don’t think that’s what he had in mind. Gomez is also put off with “Book now, bubele later” when Morticia seeks to rectify books that defamed giants, goblins, and witches in “Morticia the Writer.” She takes the typewriter to the cave while dreaming of best sellers, but Gomez’s fears of literary fame going to her head leave him sabotaging her demented work with daisies and meadows.

Speaking of daisies, Carolyn Jones does double duty on The Addams Family this season as her white wearing, blonde with daisies in her hair older sister Ophelia Frump. While the duel trickery is apparent today, Ophelia’s absent mindness countering Morticia’s crossed armed cool is great fun. I don’t know why they didn’t include Ophelia from the beginning, for she receives more attention in five episodes than the children do all season. Ophelia is super strong and roughs up Gomez with Judo, contrasting her delicate, aloof sprite appearance. She loves water fountains, dampness, quicksand, and the sink – Ophelia’s supposedly a great cook but breaks dishes when she washes them – and although she sings in harmony, she’s terrible on the fiddle and lyre. Those flowers grow directly on her head, but Ophelia hates nightshade and poison sumac. She claims to weed her hair from ten to eleven, however it’s also said that Ophelia loves “weeds.” After she takes over their swing, Gomez says he didn’t realize she was such a swinger, and Ophelia loves sliding up and down the fire pole while insisting that blondes really do have more fun. Her man needs to like a romp in the swamp or he is too maladjusted, but in “Ophelia Finds Romance” Morticia and Grandmama don’t like her beau’s button up style. Gomez thinks he’s so perfect he must be phony and checks up on him while trying to fix her up with Cousin Itt. Unfortunately, Ophelia is still having love troubles in “Ophelia Visits Morticia” when a different fiance runs off with the Peace Corps – one of six to get away from her that year. Ophelia was ready with wilted lilies for the wedding but is left riding a golf cart around the yard instead. By The Addams Family’s final episode “Ophelia’s Career,” she has traded her man troubles and potential old maid status for a career search. Will she use science for some new discovery or just conjure another man? The series repeatedly reuses her Judo flip action, but Gomez’s reactions are delightful shade – “Have you tried offering them money?”

 

Fortunately, John Astin’s Gomez loves doing death defying balancing acts or fencing with his wife, and it was Morticia who initially gave him the idea to crash his trains. He hangs upside down from the chandelier when he’s depressed, and in the flashback Gomez wears short pants and a top hat, remaining a weak sniveling coward versus the muscular Ophelia – whom he hates and hides in a cave to avoid. Aristotle the Octopus was his pet, and Gomez’s favorite person in history is Ivan the Terrible, a choice Morticia agrees was “sweet.” Gomez eats yummy cold yak, makes cocktails with henbane, carves pumpkins, and plays bad mitten inside when not composing terribly at the harpsichord. The father of two insists he gives the orders at home, but allows that nobody has to obey them. When sleepwalking in “Gomez the Cat Burglar,” Fester says Gomez coming back with mud on his shoes is better than lipstick on his color, and the physical gags lead to some witty sleep escapades. Will snake charming or psychic control soothe Gomez or is yak stew to blame for his love of loot? Gomez uses Wizzo the family super computer to make himself a better scoundrel for political office in “Gomez, the People’s Choice.” Although not a bad episode in itself, the notion of a lark candidate running dirty mudslinging politics and saying whatever he pleases to gain the every man vote is a satire too close to home these days. It’s not as funny a farce as it should be when Wizzo predicts impeachment, chaos, mismanagement, corruption, and bankruptcy. Luckily, Gomez has dozens of his one best suit and puts on his favorite “Deadwood No. 5” cologne – so what if he can’t drive. The poor boy is also still being put off by Morticia no matter how much her je ne sais quoi stirs him. They don’t kiss the entire season again, and Gomez is pushing for some action right up until the last episode of The Addams Family. He suggests they go to the playroom and play…hockey! (Where are the gifs of this?!) Ultimately, Gomez does wonder where he would be without Morticia’s hand on the tiller of the good ship Addams. Wink.

Fester is specifically stated as Morticia’s uncle this season – he’s the one who shot the arrow that brought her parents together! He breaks the fourth wall and goes back up the fire pole as a shortcut to his bedroom full of mad scientist experiments that Fester calls his “chemistry set.” He also thinks one handsome devil in the family – himself with blonde hair – is more than enough, and a midnight picnic in the swamp with moonbathing after is his favorite outing. Fester wears a mini hourglass watch, waxes his head, walks on hot coals, motorcycles through the house, and remains trigger happy as ever whether he’s relaxing on a bed of nails or steaming in an Egyptian sarcophagus. He takes a correspondence course in brain surgery, too, practicing with a hammer and chisel alongside several antics and witty one liners so zany they have to be told rather than seen. Fester likes to keep an open mind, so good thing you can see in one of his ears and out the other. When not being sneaky or underhanded, he’s really a lovable softy, even writing to the bearded lady in “Uncle Fester, Tycoon.” Fester replies to her autographed picture with a marriage proposal – leaving Morticia to don a bearded mama disguise to convince him otherwise. After all, he doesn’t even have a nickel for the postage! The unworthiness inspires him to take a business course instead, providing Jackie Coogan with some great speeches on mergers and success. Though similar to pen pal plots from last season, Fester also gets fit in “Fester Goes on a Diet” with some wacky television exercise programs, personal trainers, and one of those vibrating belts to match his flickering light bulb.

Dear Lurch has been serving The Addamses since Gomez was a boy, nursing him but wearing ear plugs when Gomez plays the harpsichord. Lurch dislikes duets with Ophelia and prefers going to the movies with Thing. Unfortunately, The Addams Family doesn’t give him a spotlight until nearer the end of the season. The family realizes that between milking the octopus, brushing the alligator, filling the pillows with cement, and filing the beds of nails there’s too much for him to do in “Lurch’s Little Helper.” Gomez, Fester, and Pugsley build a custom second butler straight out of Lost in Space, and initially Lurch likes being head butler and the robot calling him sir. He rings for Assistant Smiley to do any of his menial tasks – giving himself time to put his feet up or wear a top hat to take an afternoon constitutional. Soon, however, Lurch objects to the machine doing better work, fearing for his job even though The Addamses recognize Smiley doesn’t have that special morose Lurch touch. This is another pleasing little episode that keeps The Addams Family at home with everyone involved. Likewise, the second to last episode “Lurch’s Grand Romance” has Lurch crushing on Morticia’s visiting school friend Trivia – who’s no relation to any of the named dropped Addamses called Trivia and different from the similar Cousin Melancholia matchmaking from Season One. Lurch finds her flapper style and showbiz hopes beautiful, and though Trivia finds him and his infatuation cute, there’s no time for love on the path to stardom. Can Lurch change her mind? Ted Cassidy’s nervousness and stumbling stature contrast her speedy hyper pep, and from Fester’s dainty handkerchief dropping rehearsals to Wednesday teaching Lurch The Droop, the entire clan helps in the courting. I don’t know that Lurch is my favorite, but his spotlights are some of The Addams Family‘s best, and it would have been fun to see Lurch and Trivia as a regular on/off couple in their opposite escapades.

Blossom Rock’s Grandmama is called Esther by the Frumps, and the old gal pulls out her own tooth for a bubbling cauldron ingredient. Unfortunately, she’s hardly present this season with no dedicated half-hour – Grandmama is more often said to be in the cellar wrestling alligators for her own selfish pleasure when not shooting the yak for the yak stew or making salamander puffs too rich for Lurch. She hides in a suit of armor when Morticia is trying her hand at the bull whip but can call the hoodwink via her crystal ball when she sees it. Grandmama may go off vacationing on Devil’s Island, but she won’t have anyone in the house who calls the black curtains ghastly, as any such guest isn’t a true Addams. While the more zany family mentions like two headed Cousin Crimp are too ridiculous to have appeared, The Addams Family ups the familial mayhem with Margaret Hamilton (The Wizard of Oz) as Grandma Franny Frump, Grandmama’s old friend from Swamptown High. She dresses very Victorian rigid and old fashioned to match her clipped manner, but Morticia insists her mother is pretty on the inside despite her harsh exterior in “Happy Birthday, Grandma Frump.” She wants to give her a beauty makeover for her birthday, but Granny Frump thinks everyone else looks worse for the wear. Fortunately, she does approve of the children playing Chinese water torture, for its a nice, clean game. The Addams Family often wastes too much time on derivative tropes when this episode is the perfect example of how to have a delightful guest and keep it all quirky kin. Hamilton has some great moments with the kids, leading to birthday secrets revealed and mistaken surprises. Granny Frump suspects Gomez is planning to put her away rather than an all expenses paid trip to a beauty farm, and more wonderful scenes follow as she and Fester plot revenge. I wish we could have seen her more – or that this kind of zest was used for Grandmama Addams and a rivalry between them.

 

Lisa Loring and Ken Weatherwax both seem to have had bittersweet lives after The Addams Family, and Wednesday and Pugsley also take a backseat this season, alternating appearances or being silent together in group scenes. School plots that begin with them often turn into something else, and if Cousin Itt was to be featured more, maybe they should have written the children off as staying with odd relatives. However, they do look just adorable in little matching stocking cap pajamas, and their favorite bedtime story is Murders in the Rue Morgue. At different times, The Addamses try to cheer up both kids with toys, but the macabre children know how to say please and thank you and agree to give items away when they get extra for Christmas. Though initially in favor of their guillotine, the brief governess Thudd turns out to be not “their kind of people,” a fraud with apples and sugar plums in her bag. Wednesday is disappointed that history class never tells them how many heads were lost in the French Revolution and prefers a bowl of sea slug for desert. Her poem says “a spider is a girl’s best friend,” and the way she teaches square Lurch how to be a groovy swinger is hysterical. “Feud in the Addams Family” becomes more about snobby neighbors and those “One-D” Adamses objecting to Gomez, but there are some wonderful Wednesday scenes as everyone tells her how to woe the boys – with a dress from her mother, dancing lessons from dad, a gun from Fester, and hair tips from Grandmama. While Pugsley spends time with his chemistry set i.e. dynamite, his crush on his teacher in “Gomez the Reluctant Lover” is full of adult misunderstandings instead. Gomez and Morticia get Pugsley a jackhammer as a toy – but Gomez thinks its for body building, Morticia finds its marvelous, and it leaves them both shaking and stuttering with wild innuendo. Fortunately, Pugsley wants to work for his money in “Pugsley’s Allowance,” leaving the ten-year-old’s parents to think he’s fallen in with the wrong crowd when $200 a week (!!) apparently won’t do. Gomez offers to make his business Addams and Son, but he can’t explain to Pugsley what they would actually do.

Thankfully, the handy Thing has been Gomez’s friend since childhood and is always ready with a hanky. While others find it too peculiar, Morticia calls Thing a charming helper, and it gets lovesick without Lady Finger after the decrepit, stealing hand Esmeralda replaces her. It seems there are a lot of hand servants, who knew? Thing signs for packages and never misses a phone call, but the zebra burger eating strangler plant Cleopatra is seen less often. Homer the spider and Aristotle the octopus are briefly mentioned, but there’s less focus on goofy pets save for “Cat Addams,” when The Addamses suggests a mail order lion for the feeling down Kitty Cat before planning a safari to take him wife shopping. The Africa talk, spears, and faux village scenes are stereotypical, but the big cat stock footage makes good for an entire episode. Either it was genius to do such a feature late in the season or at that point, The Addams Family was totally bereft of ideas. Luckily, Cousin Itt sweeps up the slack when not setting his hair in curlers and sitting under the car hood to dry. He shrinks briefly when Fester leaves him in the dryer, and though he’s thicker than blood or water, Itt is free as a tumbleweed and looks like one, too. Itt wants the lead in Romeo and Juliet in the “My Fair Cousin Itt” season premiere, but he must work on his super fast speech for regular folk to understand him – resulting in some bemusingly deep vocals. Itt gets a Hollywood attitude, but a threat to cut his hair and casting calls to star as a hairy beast in a sci-fi flick fix that. His big shaggy dog sleeps on Itt’s little bed in “Cousin Itt’s Problem,” and all the adults cram into his tiny attic room with Fester’s bald cure when Itt starts losing his hair. Where exactly do you put the thermometer to take his temperature? Gomez wonders what he is under that hair, and Itt answers, “roots.”

 

Year Two’s credits are the same save for a new featuring card for Jackie Coogan, and that sliding poll in the living room makes use of speedy moves and reverse footage. The double trickery with Morticia and Ophelia onscreen together is easy to spot save for one split screen scene stealer, and this series makes the most of that repeat train action. The cave has an echo with an on/off switch, and whimsical incidental music accompanies an education record on the phonograph. There’s more furniture, too – great settees and a park bench with a lamp post where Itt sits by the fireplace. There’s also a trampoline indoors, which Lurch says “has its ups and downs” Ba dum tish! The Addams Family is available on DVD in volume sets or as a complete series as well as streaming options, however the 1977 reunion special Halloween with the New Addams Family is currently available on Hulu only. The regulars return for this seventy-four minute color TV special – a potential new series pilot – but the house is seventies Gothic cheap with red hotel velvet. Cleopatra is also bigger, however the plastic greenery is obvious, and remaining black and white would have helped this tremendously. Everyone has their moment with naughty puns, black umbrella gifts, and prayers for clouds alongside Lady Fingers, Ophelia, musician Wednesday, and witch doctor Pugsley. Unfortunately, the new Grandmama and Mother Frump are played too hammy over cauldrons and cleavers, and odd outdoor daylight, unnecessary family members, and crooks in drag waste too much time on outside messes when all we really want to see is that Addams zing in color. It’s even the same lion! From bodybuilders in tiny speedos to a weird sing a long and the Saturday Morning Special flat feeling, this forgettable novelty is for The Addams Family completist alone.

With sixty-four shows overall, The Addams Family has a lot of episodes for its short Two Seasons. The repeat plotting and standard sitcom same old can be tiring at times, however the winking subtext, quirky characters, and standout episodes remain a fun marathon for the whole macabre family any time of year. This clan embraces their ghastly charm, and we can too with The Addams Family.

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: The Addams Family Season 1

The Addams Family Debuts with Quips and Quirky Good Fun

by Kristin Battestella

Neat.

Sweet.

Petite.

Thirty-four half hour black and white episodes from the 1964-65 television season introduce audiences to The Addams Family – Charles Addams’ lovable cartoons made flesh thanks to cigar loving Gomez (John Astin), his literally smoking wife Morticia (Carolyn Jones), their macabre children Wednesday (Lisa Loring) and Pugsley (Ken Weatherwax), electric Uncle Fester (Jackie Coogan), spunky Grandmama (Blossom Rock), and deadpan butler Lurch (Ted Cassidy). Of course, that’s not to mention Thing, Cousin Itt, Cleopatra, and many more quirky pets, relatives, and memorable circumstances brimming with quips, catchphrases, and ghastly good times. Snap your fingers now!

The Addams Family gets right to the spooky fun as Thing reaches from the mailbox in the “The Addams Family Goes to School” premiere. Truant officers knocking on the door are met with a roaring rug, a two headed tortoise statue, and more “we like it, it’s so nice and gloomy” décor – providing the viewer a shrewd tour of who is who or what, as it were. Fortunately, The Addamses are the ones who find the freaked school board members “weird.” Initially, they encourage the idea of a regular school. However, The Addamses become appalled by the violent Grimm’s Fairy Tales being read in the classroom and try to make the school officials see the light with a stretch on the rack to calm some nerves. While this macabre but wholesome charm is expected today, The Addams Family subtly makes its moral question of the establishment early in the series. The Addamses pick losing candidates like Adlai Stevenson, and Gomez goes overboard with family posters and campaign songs in “Gomez the Politician.” He’s completely unaware the supposedly respectable nominee doesn’t want their warped help, yet The Addamses are willing to tolerate their white picket fence neighbors in “The Addams Family Tree.” They assure the children remain modest, don’t flaunt their wealth, and have tarantula gifts on hand when Wednesday and Pugsley attend a birthday party. The Addams Family may ponder them writing rebuttal letter or turning the other cheek, but make no mistake, this family is ready to defend their honor when called “kooks.” Rather than outsider plots taking over, it’s more fun to see The Addams gang face normal confrontations or everyday worries with their own peculiar elan for the twist – with talk of duels, Aunt Blemish, Grandpa Slurp, Salem family history, and your otherwise average skulduggery.

Halloween with the Addams Family” brings the whole clan out with sharp pumpkin carving knives, bubbling potion punches, and worm cookies – even the kids are dressed in apparently normal costumes to “scare the wits out of people.” Of course, the innocent, bobbing for crabs family thinks that bank robbers are just getting money for trick or treat instead of apples. They are going all out for their favorite holiday, but The Addamses have never heard of hide and seek and find it too strange a game. Gomez and Morticia spa Pugsley’s pet octopus in the bird bath and hope an outdoor introduction happens in “The New Neighbors Meet the Addams Family.” The newlyweds next door could be imaginative Addams folk thanks to their giant cedar chest, but when they turn out to be straight laced and high strung, The Addamses are still willing to be friendly. Inexplicably, that two headed turtle as a housewarming gift and Uncle Fester popping up from a trap door in the floor just to say hello don’t go over too well, leaving our eponymous family once again confused as to why their good deeds and generous intentions go awry. Fortunately, Grandmama’s love dust and Morticia’s makeover do aide the jilted Cousin Melancholia in “Morticia the Matchmaker.” Rather than a fun name reference or preposterous ancestral quip, it’s great to see another family member come to the welcoming Addamses for a little romantic help – a guest who’s one of their own for Gomez to snag an unwitting business contact or reluctant local lawyer. Pugsley’s super antenna and radio gizmos, however, attract the authorities for “The Addams Family Meets the Undercover Man” when overheard references to a roaring lion and a man eating houseplant are mistaken for suspicious code talk. Reluctant postman decoys and frightened undercover plumbers may seem cliché, but it’s bemusing to see how the information on The Addams Family comes from listening to the radio or waiting for the snail mail. Each episode always ends with a post-Addams flown the coop letter or a gone crazy mention which the family always takes as a delightful vacation or adventure.

Unfortunately, things aren’t so rosy when Morticia and Fester think Gomez’s business has gone belly up in “Morticia, the Breadwinner.” Grandmama strikes out working at a beauty salon, the children’s “Henbane on the Rocks” drink stand gets sued, and Fester shockingly becomes an escort for rich widows. Morticia tries to give tango and fencing lessons without any students, and Thing pitches in selling pencils for five cents a piece – accumulating a whopping $1.30 wages among them. Naturally, the local bazaar fears receiving shrunken heads and headless dolls in “Morticia’s Favorite Charity.” However, the titular clan finds it tough to part with their treasures, and Fester’s reluctance versus Morticia’s enthusiasm make for some interesting debates. They want to give something important rather than get rid of things, but their sentiments backfire in an ironic bidding war for their beloved donations. Upside down gags accent the pros and cons as Gomez dictates a harsh letter, Morticia tries for diplomacy, and Fester threatens voodoo doll violence when the city evicts them to build a freeway in “Progress and the Addams Family.” There’s no caves, swamps, or quicksand on the new lot where the family intends to move their entire house, but they agree to be fair neighbors regardless of who those next door are. Of course, it is the city commissioner who’s willing to have the freeway rerouted if it means The Addamses won’t be his new neighbors. Fester also fears the worst when a magazine article in “Winning of Morticia Addams” says that couples who are too happy must really be miserable – so he enlists the entire family to make the couple fight “for their own good.” The Addams Family should have had more Grandmama and Uncle Fester led episodes, but this opposite focus with duels and dilemmas is a fun bonus to end the season.

Though much beloved, The Addams Family is of its time and may not always be friendly for any super young impressionable viewers thanks to talk of dynamite, hangings, cannons, and gunfire as games. The adults smoke a hookah and use inappropriate terms such as spook and midget alongside gypsy masquerades, American Indian racism, and Eskimo giver jokes mentioning a totem pole gift from Cousin Nanook. The Addams Family meanders in the first half of the season with run of the mill misunderstandings, leaving the you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all plots over-reliant on The Addamses quirky chemistry. So many cool name dropped family members and cartoon references get lost amid conflicting anecdotes and too many clichés in a row, and derivative sitcom plots or thin television stock tropes clutter the family charm. Instead of the local ladies invited to tea clutching their pearls at haunted house compliments, “Morticia Joins the Ladies League” wastes time over a gorilla on the loose. Pedestrian clichés and put on Eastern European accents in “The Addams Family Meets the VIPs” hamper the zany Addams display, and “The Addams Family Meets a Beatnik” looses its cool between The Addamses being unfamiliar with the dated slang and serious moments about yet another misunderstood stranger kindly accepted. You expect offbeat humor with The Addams Family, but the interesting lessons on gambling versus investing in “The Addams Family Splurges,” are riddled with off-putting talk of going to the dark side of the moon, using a super computer named Wizzo to beat the system, and casual mentions of suicide or shooting oneself. Likewise, trite insurance scams in “Crisis in the Addams Family” dampen quality Uncle Fester mentions of hearty Buzzard broth and gopherloaf. I’d like to have seen those!

John Astin (Night Court) receives second billing on The Addams Family as the cigar smoking, suavely dressed, head of the house, sword swallower, stock ticker extraordinaire Gomez Addams. This Zen yogi society member often stands on his head to read the paper and the born with a mustache, fiery Castilian loves crashing his train sets – but he’ll lay down the law with his wild eyed crazy when he must. His ultimate business dream would be to invent something costing ten cents to make, sells for a dollar, and is habit forming. Gomez’s favorite lunch may be broiled eye of newt but he’s revolted by daisies and fears his frightening effect on women. Despite sword play and whip practice, Gomez still carries his wife Morticia across the threshold. They had their honeymoon in a cave under Niagara Falls and can’t resist a good tune – pacing quickly turns to dancing thanks to every Spanish quip or French reference. In “Green-Eyed Gomez,” he’s happy the guest room has a homey mace hanging on the sconce and a hardwood mattress for a visiting former suitor but hires a frumpy maid to woo the rival away from their money. Of course, the most endearing part of The Addams Family is the then-surprising innuendo between Gomez and his “Tish.” This was still television’s separate beds infancy yet everything from her touching his cheek to helping put on his coat sets horny old Gomez aflame. It’s amazing the series got away with what they did – such as actually saying “make love” in this era of whoopee. While all lovably innocent querida now, the banter remains sophisticated and witty rather than today’s crass. Unfortunately, this husband and wife never kiss onscreen the entire season, and poor Gomez is always put off until “later, dear, later.” No wonder he is so crazy eyed and standing on his head! Then again, when Gomez hits his head in “Amnesia in the Addams Family,” he forgets Morticia is his wife, doesn’t want her wearing all black, and thinks their home is a depressing, condemned museum with Lurch as its gargoyle. It’s delightful to see one of their own be normal for a little while, and the entire family pitches in to get Gomez back on the rack.

 

Top billed Carolyn Jones (King Creole) wears a tight black dress and shimmies with her arms crossed as Morticia Addams – née Frump. There’s a black handkerchief up her sleeve and she won’t stand for bloodshed in her living room yet Morticia insists black curtains are cheerful and that “friend” looks better without the “r.” Whether it is in the playroom knitting three armed sweaters or the conservatory chopping the roses off the vase of thorns and feeding strangling plants, Morticia’s wicker peacock chair is always nearby for her to opine on the matters at hand – everything from her hemlock drooping because it needs more moonlight to reminding her family “a watched cauldron never bubbles.” The maverick Morticia paints, uses baking powder make up on her face, and wants to build an unwanted bats haven, but she always makes sure her children have clean, sharp nails as well as love and family time instead of harsh discipline. In addition to her renowned dwarf’s hair cobbler or eye of tadpole and yak casserole, Morticia’s giant black ring is filled with poison and her wolfsbane tea comes with salt, pepper, or cyanide. Fortunately, her delightful larks, deadpan delivery, and wholesome zingers are so sincere you simply must concur. She can light candles with her fingertips and has absolutely stunning eyes to contrast her demure voice of reason – Morticia always asks if anyone minds if she smokes and then…smokes. Although previously engaged to the beady eyed, curled lipped, long fingernailed Rupert Styx, Morticia says being married to Gomez makes her the world’s most fortunate woman. She gifts her husband with his and hers beds of nails and does animal imitations that send him a flutter. Morticia finds it impossible that blondes have more fun, and tells her “bubele” Gomez that every night is Halloween when they’re together. While her name appears in many of the somewhat misleading The Addams Family’s episode titles, not many storylines are truly Morticia-centric. However, this matriarch remains the star of every episode nonetheless, anchoring each dilemma or misunderstanding with a morose, moral core.

Silent film pioneer Jackie Coogan’s Uncle Fester likes to remind everyone that looks, charm, and personality aren’t everything when compared to carrying 110 volts or blinking a light bulb in your mouth. Fester plays cards and cooks with Grandmama, has a tree house where he likes to view the lightning, and enjoys cracking the family safe just to make something mundane an adventure. Though too proud to beg, too lazy to work, and extremely trigger happy and ready to shoot anyone in the back, he’s generous in spoiling the children with fresh Gila monsters. Green tongued Uncle Fester prefers science and electricity to mumbo jumbo, but he can chill a thermometer with his temperature and uses spray preservatives “just to keep.” Once, he fell asleep on a park bench and the police carried him to the morgue, but he prefers his homey bed of spikes. The Addams Family under utilizes Uncle Fester’s comic relief to start, reserving him for third wheel foil to Gomez and Morticia or standard illness and romantic plots as in “Uncle Fester’s Toupee.” Fester has been a little misleading in his letters to his French pen pal visiting from Paris, Illinois with embellishments about Cary Grant hair and athleticism necessitating a series of trial and error wigs for the wooing. While this is a very simple, stock sitcom premise, there’s enough charm, character personality, and even a whiff of scandalous as Fester adopts Gomez’s arm kissing flair. When Fester objects to the idea that his electric power is run down in “Fester’s Punctured Romance,” he mistakes the Avon lady as an answer to his personal ad and gets carried away with the potential for cobras and shrunken heads as wedding gifts. Gomez must call an electrician to fix a “devolting” in “Uncle Fester’s Illness.” Fester feels rejected for not being able to go neon or light his light bulb, and sour milk diets or inhaling smog are to no avail. Fortunately, this is another solid episode with the whole family getting in on the retro bathing suits, sunglasses at night, and mercury for the cure – because “a good moonbath is just the tonic you need.”

 

The song says “petite” but Ted Cassidy’s Lurch is difficult to refuse thanks to his imposing height and somber appearance. The Addamses’ butler drives their car, carries the kids, catches guest when they faint, and uses a mace to tenderize the meat for the sword shish kabobs. When not relaxing on the rack, he plays the harpsichord while Thing turns his pages. Lurch may only speak a line or two beyond his usual “You rang?” however his playing of the theme tune and incidental musics creates offbeat diegetic scene transitions. The family wants wallflower Lurch to accept his annual butler’s ball invitation for “Lurch Learns to Dance” and call on the local dance studio before Gomez teaches Lurch in some wonderful physical comedy moments. Pep talks from little Wednesday and some goofy ballet twirls exemplify how every family member helps each other in their own special way, making this one of the best episodes of The Addams Family. Lurch has written to his mother that he is head of the manor, setting up another most memorable entry in “Mother Lurch Visits the Addams Family.” The Addamses want him to be happy, and debate on Lurch playing dead or electrocuting his mother with the doorbell before ultimately pretending to be his servants for a charming, running the staff ragged role reversal. They also give themselves two “maybe three” days to build a replacement harpsichord after Lurch threatens to quit over his 1503 Krupnik being donated to a fishy museum curator in “Lurch and His Harpsichord.” He prefers Mozart to Fester’s up tempo requests, and emotional pantomiming and attempts at other instruments invoke more laughs until recording contracts and screaming crowds go to his head in the terrific “Lurch the Teenage Idol.” The normally shy Lurch gets really into his singing and harpsichord grooves while Wednesday does the Watusi!

Well versed in art, bagpipes, ballet, the occult, and arm wrestling Thing, Blossom Rock’s (Dr. Kildare) Grandmama Addams tutors Wednesday and Pugsley, plays darts, and sharpens her ax for when the taxman comes. She crochets a tea cozy from the hair off one of her shrunken heads, too. Unfortunately, this potentially richly storied character who voted in 1906 pre-sufferagettes because no women allowed wasn’t going to stop her is often referred to but seen the least on The Addams Family. If not for their original cartoon appearances, one could dare say Grandmama and one of the children aren’t even needed on the television series – Fester is already the zany relative and Lurch a child-like figure for sitcom lessons. Thankfully, Grandmama is happy to make candied porcupine but won’t get dish hands for anyone, and Fester thinks she’s getting selfish in her old age because she hogs the stocks in the dungeon when she wants to relax. She’s mentioned as off visiting relatives such as Grandpa Squint and Aunt Vendetta or being on spider hunts, and the children help her sort the toadstools from the mushrooms for her toadstool souffle. Grandmama also sets up a fortune telling scheme while the family is themselves away bat hunting in “The Addams Family in Court,” and her carnival tent in the living room complete with incense, hidden foot pedal tricks, a crystal ball taken from the chandelier, and $84 in tips leads to jail time and some courtroom antics from her son, Gomez “Loophole” Addams. When she needs help with her unique brand of painting in “Art and the Addams Family,” Grandmama calls their ancestral Spain to find Picasso – descendant Sam Picasso, a babysitting gigolo gardener with an unfortunately stereotypical, limp wristed gay inflection. This somewhat flawed entry ends up more about their guest than Grandmama, saved only by her bemusing Addams notion on how the torture room and suffering for one’s art are one and the same.

 

Ironically, the first Addams we meet is the well behaved, mannerly, and sweet little Lisa Loring as Wednesday Friday Addams. She cries when the knight in shining armor kills the dragon and looses her front tooth but loves spiders and gets spunky, punching a bigger boy who insults the family honor. Wednesday has no time for anyone getting sissy and plays autopsy with headless dolls. The character is very mature for her age, at times breaking the fourth wall to shrug at the audience or sitting in the tree to great visitors with strange little questions – fully aware of the twisted humor and demented quips at work. Wednesday has a tiny black tutu for ballet, plays chess with Thing, and Lurch teaches her piano. She may also have a boyfriend, but he’s the Invisible Man’s son Woodrow. When forbidden to play with her spider Homer in “Wednesday Leaves Home,” she runs away by hiding in Pugsley’s room so she can still be nearby and watch her parents suffer. It sounds diabolic but the delivery among the children is so cute you can’t help but chuckle. Her mother fears she will end up with the Brownies and a crabby police officer plot hampers the kids’ storyline, but Wednesday ultimately caves when a social worker promises to give her apple pie and read her fairy tales. Both children seem to alternate or appear in one scene each per episode more times then they are together, but they are always there for a lesson on not lying and knowing right from wrong. Dear Ken Weatherwax’s ten year old Pugsley fixes his sister’s doll by chopping off its head, and the baby vultures painted on his bedroom door match his dungeon-style playroom. His piggy bank is shockingly somehow a real pig that squeals away when it is time to retrieve money, and though smart with an awareness for parental psychology, Pugsley experiments with regular kid things – much to his parents chagrin. There’s little focus on the children, and The Addams Family has Pugsley go normal too soon in the second episode “Morticia and the Psychiatrist.” His parents wonder if they’ve pampered and spoiled him with too many readings of The Raven when Pugsley join the Boy Scouts, carries a baseball bat, and plays with a puppy in the sunshine. “My Son the Chimp” likewise ends up being more about everyone else than Pugsley. Thanks to one too many primates and a magical snafu, the family spends a convoluted, trite episode trying to fix what isn’t broken while Pugsley is actually content in a secret room reading comic books.

Billed as “Itself,” Thing T. Thing actually seems to appear more than some of the full bodied family thanks to its getting the mail, serving tea, turning down the volume on the television, and answering the phone. Despite the “Beware of the Thing” sign and a sometimes temperamental, tattle tale disposition; Gomez says it keeps the whole house together. When not traveling in the glove compartment of the car, Thing writes with a quill, uses Morse Code to talk, types for Gomez, and apparently loves music – it plays finger cymbals, tambourine, and flips the record yet isn’t interested in holding hands with anyone and is more than happy to hand guests their hats to leave. The Addamses realize how much they can’t do without Thing passing the salt in “Thing Is Missing,” leading to some finger pointing accusations and an ad in the paper seeking “their Thing.” Though a famed Addams character, Felix Silla’s (Buck Rogers in the 25th Century) all hair, derby wearing, pip squeaking Cousin Itt doesn’t appear until more than halfway through the season in “Cousin Itt Visits the Addams Family.” He’s a layman magician who likes to play the field but knows how to turn a colorful phrase, for “It’s not the joke, it’s the way he tells it.” Itt stays in a tiny attic room when seeking a new job in “Cousin Itt and the Vocational Counselor,” but his IQ of 320 and attempt at being a marriage counselor lands Gomez on the courting chair alone. While the rest of family moonbathes, Itt is also mistaken for a martian in “The Addams Family and the Spacemen.” The fifties G-men are somewhat trite, but The Addamses otherworldly oddness is surmised here with witty, tongue in cheek fun. Despite numerous guests, incidental coppers, and typical crooks, it feels like there are less famous guest stars visiting The Addams Family this season save for comedian Don Rickles as a bumbling robber and the wonderful Grandma Walton Ellen Corby as Lurch’s sassy little mother – who should have been a regular grumpy antagonist perpetually under the impression that her “sonny” is head of the house. Though oft mentioned, pets such as Aristotle the octopus, Kitty Kat the lion, Zelda the vulture, Homer the spider, Lucifer the lizard, and Tristan and Isolde the piranha couple are perhaps understandably more often unseen than the burger eating Cleopatra strangler plant – although anyone who doesn’t love an octopus is inhuman, and Kitty Kat dislikes the taste of people.

 

Now you know you know the song, whether the lyrics really rhyme or not, and the famous finger snapping rhythm sets The Addams Family’s quirky mood immediately. Lighthearted family clips anchor the opening titles, but only Jones and Astin receive star billing while the rest of the cast comes in the closing credits. The episode titles also never appear alongside cartoon creator Charles Addams, developer David Levy (Sarge), oft director Sidney Lanfield (McHale’s Navy) or regular writers Harry Winkler (The George Gobel Show) and Hannibal Coons and Phil Leslie (Dennis the Menace). Although sped up action or rewind speed are used sparingly in the twenty-six minute runtime, there is an occasional, stilted, slow motion effect. The canned laughter is totally unnecessary, and bells or whistle sounds are overused as if the audience wouldn’t notice any slight of hand or sight gags without an accompanying noise. Bemusing incidental music, a roaring cuckoo clock, a growling rug named Bruno, the foghorn doorbell, and the house rattling gong/bell pull noose are more whimsically in tune, and The Addams Family is better when less reliant on special effects and spectacles overtaking the offbeat charisma. We only see the Addams car a few times and the repeat footage of the live piggy bank is tiresome alongside gorilla circus hams, but the reused lion tape is understandable and more fun. Candlestick and sultan phones, retro pop cameras, the giant stuffed bear, suits of armor, and Gothic door make 0001 Cemetery Lane look more old fashioned upscale than haunted house – despite the self opening gate, the bedrooms and briefly seen kitchen are surprisingly normal. It does, however, seem like we see too little of what should be a vast house, not to mention that shabby Tudor in the backyard that’s big enough for the whole family yet is referred to as a “play cottage.” So what if they wear top hats and tiaras to the concert – with $10 court fees and $18 for the plumber, they can afford it!

At times watching too many of The Addams Family episodes in a row becomes annoying thanks to derivative sitcom fodder. It takes half the season for the series to hit its stride, however the family-centric bottle episodes get better as the debut progresses. Parents may need to warn partial young viewers about the fantastic violence not for imitation yet the fun atmosphere and overall innocent macabre is perfect for a spooky sleepover marathon. Bonus cheeky charm for adults, quirky cartoon carryovers, and memorable personalities make up for any dated humor or standard mid century trappings with built in nostalgic parody. For all their morbid veneer, this is a sentimental family treating everyone with kindness whether they are received in turn or belittled for their kooky style – reminding us that we can and should all be a bit more ooky with the first season of The Addams Family.

 

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.

 

#NGHW Winner of Commercial Spoof: Timothy Huguenin

And the winner of the commercial spoof challenge….

SPOOF 6 MONSTERMATCH.COM by Timothy Huguenin

Crickets and other night noises can be heard in the background

WOMAN: What a nice evening for a walk.

MONSTER: Uuungh!

WOMAN: Those websites usually set me up with stuffy rich dates. I can’t get to know someone when I’m constantly worrying about how to to hold my fork. But this is nice, the open night air. We can really get to know each other, no superficial things in the way.

MONSTER: Uuungh!

WOMAN: I’m sorry, I can’t understand a word you say through that hood. Here, let me help you… Wait… you’re… you’re…

MONSTER: UUUUNGH!

WOMAN: [Runs away screaming]

ANNOUNCER: Are you tired of dating websites always matching you up with the wrong type?

MONSTER: [sadly] Uh-hungh!

ANNOUNCER: Well now your love problems are solved, with MonsterMatch.com!

MONSTER: [intrigued] Uungh?

ANNOUNCER: It’s true! We use a comprehensive 300-point questionnaire covering all the important things, from hobbies, to religion! Scales, skin, or fur! Even your blood type! With MonsterMatch.com, you can be sure to be matched with a date that won’t run away screaming—unless you’re into that sort of thing!

MONSTER: [excited] Uungh!

ANNOUNCER: MonsterMatch.com—Beauty is in the eye… or antennae… or tentacle… of the beholder!


Listen to the contestants battle for points this season on HorrorAddicts.net

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.

David’s Haunted Library: Obfuscate

David's Haunted Library

 

obfuscate-final-cover

You might think that Cheyenne O’ Cuinn has an easy life but nothing can be further from the truth. She may be beautiful, have a successful career as a computer programmer and her own virtual reality game that she designed but she is also a vampire. Not too long ago she found out that mythological creatures were real and many of them were playing her game, ExsanguiNation. Since she found this out, her life has changed drastically and now she has three tasks ahead of her.

She has to Rescue her sister from cannibalistic vampires, eliminate the villain who threatens her family and hunt down the man who tried to kill her. You think you have it rough? Think again.   Luckily she’s not alone, she has a vampire, a werewolf and a dragon along to help her. This may seem like a situation out of her video game but the threat is real and she can’t get a do over if she fails.

Obfuscate by Killion Slade is like a supernatural pulp fiction monster mash-up on steroids. Dragons, vampires, werewolves, wendigos, black-eyed children and merfolk, Obfuscate has all these and more. This is the second book in the World Of Blood series but it does work as a stand alone novel. When you start to read this book, the best thing to do is to just sit back and enjoy the ride. The story moves along at a frantic pace and goes back and forth from being scary and serious to being ridiculous and bizarre. Which is a good combination to have in an action packed story. One scene towards the beginning of the book was a total surprise to me.

What I liked most about the book is the amount of mythical creatures that are in it and are presented as real. There is one scene in a hospital where a character describes the island where a rescue attempt took place as Lord Of The Rings because of all the trolls and elves on it. The fact that you know that anything is possible in Obfuscate makes it a more entertaining read. Another thing I liked was that all the main characters were a different creature, they all take on human forms at different times and they all work well together. I think it would be fun to see a stand alone story with Torchy the dragon. World Of Blood is a universe where lots of good stories can be told. Also on a smaller note I liked that this book has a reference section at the end that lists songs, videos, movies and places that inspired the book.

Obfuscate has a little bit of everything: “Romance, action and more mythological creatures then I’ve seen in any other novel, this is one fun thrill ride. I loved how it opens on an island of cannibalistic vampires and goes to several other locations before it’s done. Obfuscate is like a video game in book form. This book isn’t meant to make you think, its meant to be a fun read and it is just that.It’s a lot of fun with some memorable characters thrown in and I’m already looking forward to the next installment in this series.

Press Release: The House That Dripped Gore

(Slightly) New Horror Novel Released By Author and Independent Horror Film Maker, Dan West — The House That Dripped Gore

 

San Francisco-based horror author and independent film maker Dan West (Monsturd, RetarDEAD) is pleased to announce the release of his (slightly) new horror novel, The House That Dripped Gore

18492232    Welcome to the infamous Hull Family Mansion: a disgusting, squirming cesspool of horrific paranormal activity and murderous intrigue. The old rumors of the horrid house weave a salacious and sordid tale of demon worship, human sacrifice, cannibalism and Satanic sex orgies; just the sort of juicy material needed to entice an unethical, down-on-his-luck, paranormal investigator seeking a career-making case. Enter Stanley Matheson: parapsychologist and occult writer: a man referred to in his own professional circles as, “The mentally-defective ghost detective.”

Hired to lead the investigation of the awful, otherworldly activities taking place at the Hull Mansion, Matheson hastily assembles a team of fellow researchers whose strange eccentricities nearly rival his own. Reluctantly joining forces, this squad of bickering, mismatched ghost busters must unravel the murderous mysteries of the macabre mansion before each of them falls prey to the poisonous influence of the gruesome house of horrors.

Book Details:

The House That Dripped Gore

by Dan West

Published 12/01/2014

ISBN: 9781105641183

Pages: 185

Illustrated by the author

Genre: Horror/Humor

About the Author:

Dan West is a San Francisco-based comedy writer and comedy/horror filmmaker. He is the co-writer and co-director of the bottom-of-the-barrel exploitation films: Monsturd and RetarDEAD. The House That Dripped Gore is the very first of the Stanley Matheson Chronicles series, which also includes the chilling sequel And They All Died Screaming.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/dwesthorrorcom

Print: http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/danwesthatesyou

Kindle edition: http://www.amazon.com/House-That-Dripped-Gore-ebook/dp/B00DK0HD5C/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1438658276&sr=8-1-fkmr0&keywords=the+house+that+dripped+gore

Notable press quotes:

 “The House That Dripped Gore, spoofs The Haunting of Hill House and H.P. Lovecraft with a mix of reverence and full-steam-ahead insanity, aided by a hefty sprinkling of surreal tangents, dirty jokes, and obscure pop-culture references. You’ll laugh! You’ll cringe! You’ll wonder exactly what a ‘farting Ouija board’ might sound like!” (Cheryl Eddy) SF Bay Guardian

 “The House That Dripped Gore deserves to sit alongside the year’s best, like King’s, Joyland, Hill’s, NOS4A2 and Adams’, Deadbeat. It’s a remarkably entertaining piece of fiction that immediately yanks you right into the fold. It’s hard to escape.” (Matt Molgaard) – Horror Novel Reviews

 “Oh yeah … there’s also porn-loving corpses, demon-summoning secret societies, black magic cults, anally inserted puppets, metal reinforced bowler hats, and even Elton John. And Guess What? It all works beautifully and comes together in a really rich and layered story.”  (Scott Shoyer)—Anything Horror

Kbatz: Teen Witch

 

I Just Love Teen Witch!

By Kristin Battestella

 

I can’t help myself- I think I have the 1989 family friendly spookfest Teen Witch memorized.  Though seriously dated and trapped in the eighties time warp, there’s still plenty of enchanting fun here for young and old.

Soon to be sixteen, frumpy teen Louise Miller (Robyn Lively) doesn’t fit in with the popular crowd at school.  Her parents (Caren Kaye and Dick Sargent) are clueless, little brother Richie (Joshua Miller) is an annoying slob, and her big crush Brad (Dan Gauthier) doesn’t know she exists.  After a bicycle accident, however, Louise encounters Madame Serena (Zelda Rubenstein) and learns her true calling as a reincarnated witch.  With Serena’s help, Louise realizes her new found powers and casts spells to be the most beautiful and popular girl in school-but will there be consequences to these magical ways?

 

As if we haven’t seen the fantastical teen powers metaphor before, Teen Witch is for girls what Teen Wolf is for boys.  We begin with a bad music video dream sequence and it only gets more eighties bad greatness from there!  Director Dorian Walker (Making the Grade) keeps the comedy relatively innocent by today’s standards and Robin Menken (Young Lust) and Vernon Zimmerman’s (The Unholy Rollers) story is a fun, if typical plot.  The relatable scenarios and likeable cast create multiple layers of charm and wit with the sassy script.  Innocence and eighties stylings may hamper our fast paced, technological and violent or profane sensibilities, but this simplicity and youth also make Teen Witch’s memorable scenes all the more fun.

Despite recognizing her in plenty of other shows, Robyn Lively (Savannah, Chicago Hope, Twin Peaks) will always be known as the girl from Teen Witch, I don’t care what you say.  Her fun charm and comedic delivery establishes the heart of the film perfectly. Dan Gauthier also always recalls ‘Hey, the guy from Teen Witch!’ every time I see his guest appearance on Star Trek: The Next Generation.  It’s not easy to be the popular guy without being a jerk. These characters are fun and likeable, and the romance is reasonable despite the supporting eighties saxophone.   Lively is naturally lovely, and Gauthier has just enough of that eighties handsome to keep everyone looking pretty; but Amanda Ingber (Cheers) as Louise’s unhip best friend Polly is also a lot of fun.  She keeps it real when all Louise’s spells get out of hand.  I could however, do without her ‘Top That’ rap.  Oiy!

 

Maybe we are just really silly, but my sister and I can quote Joshua Miller’s (The Mao Game, Near Dark) Richie in casual conversation.  His pudgy and youthful appearance mixed with a sardonic, acerbic delivery and love of messy foods creates the perfect evil little brother on whom to cast spells. Of course, we can’t help but love the late Zelda Rubinstein (Poltergeist, Sixteen Candles) and her adorable Madame Serena.  She uses the young witch for her own gains, but she’s just too dang cute for it to be an issue.  Casting spells to make twenties and turn frogs into handsome men, we can forgive her those!  The rest of the teens, however, all look 30 and have some strange names- Randa and Kikki, anyone?  Lisa Fuller (Freshman Dorm) is the usual buxom blonde, and Megan Gallivan (Married People) and Tina Caspary (Can’t Buy Me Love) round out the bitchy eighties trio in proper fashion.

Sadly, Caren Kaye (It’s Your Move, The Betty White Show) and Dick Sargent as Louise’s parents Margaret and Frank don’t have a whole lot to do-or rather as much as I might have liked.  Nevertheless, they are a cute, yuppie, and oblivious couple who make the most of their scenes.  I mean, it’s the second Darrin from Bewitched!  Shelley Berman (Curb Your Enthusiasm, Boston Legal) is juicy and love to hate worthy as Mr. Weaver, and his nasty style and ruthlessness towards Louise is made all the more fun when he gets his hysterical comeuppance thanks to a voodoo doll.  Marcia Wallace (The Simpsons, The Bob Newhart Show) is also a delight as the flighty theatre teacher Ms. Malloy

 

Unfortunately, the music wasn’t super then; and to some, perhaps it’s worse now-although that makes the guilty pleasure of Teen Witch all the better, too.  ‘Never Gonna Be’ and ‘Finest Hour’ are still eighties catchy, yeah, but the hit here is ‘Popular Girl’. Maybe I’ve just heard these songs so many times that I’m used to the sound by now. I know some of the dance routines, too-that’s all I’m saying.  The early rap and beat box songs are, however, so sad. Maybe the super dated and niche styles of Teen Witch are an acquired taste to those who didn’t see it back in the day, but the nostalgia and time capsule here is still a lot of fun.  Do you need a big dance-off finale or musical montage or two? Teen Witch has ‘em!

Oh me oh my, even what’s supposed to be the hip look in Teen Witch is woefully eighties: the fluorescent colors, ruffles, layers of skirts with leggings, hideous patterns everywhere, too much denim with lots of glitter and rhinestones, and double slouchy socks with high heels!  Goodness me, the styles look way too old for high schoolers, and the frumpy look for Louise looks like the grandma section of the old Sears catalog. What was deemed sleazy onscreen is beyond tame to us now- a full coverage sweater and a skirt to the knees! What ever happened to that kind of modesty? And why do they all wear purple bodysuits for gym? The hair is just as bad, too.  Again, the feathered, over-sprayed high bangs of the popular girls no longer looks pretty.  Louise’s seemingly plain, wavy, and pulled back hair is actually more becoming than the styled tresses that come with her magical transformation.  This is why I don’t like to see too much popular fashion in recent films.  You know modern styles are going to seem just as hokey in a few years’ time. Even the sets, couches, and sports cars suffer here in Teen Witch. Just check out that wallpaper!

 

For being so dated, Teen Witch still has plenty of rewatchablity.  Unfortunately, the bare bones DVD is dang tough to find.  It took forever to come from Netflix, but cable airings are often found around Halloween.  There is one funny sex education scene dealing with condoms and a make out scene that looks like an old Obsession commercial that might make parents feel iffy, but otherwise Teen Witch sticks to its PG rating.  Magical girls will especially enjoy, but any family audience can spend the night with Teen Witch. I can’t believe there’s remake talk of this one when a proper video edition isn’t even readily available.  Yes, it’s horribly of its time, but Teen Witch still has a lot of charm to give the witchy folks of today’s generation.  Take in a virgin viewing or revisit the eighties with Teen Witch ASAP.

Suicide Forest and Shadeylight

23570089It’s hard to explain the human mind. Why are we drawn to places that have a history of death and that people say is cursed. Why would anyone want to go camping in a place called Suicide Forest? Perhaps it’s for a thrill or just to see a place that most people are terrified to go to. Suicide Forest by Jeremy Bates is a psychological horror story that looks at people’s fascination with death, why people commit suicide, the hardships of life, friendship and love.

The story is fairly simple, it follows a group of five people on their way to climb Mount Fuji in Japan. Their trip gets rained out, they meet two other hikers and decide to camp in Suicide Forest instead. Suicide Forest is a real place where hundreds of Japanese citizens go each year to commit suicide. The forest has a dark history, the area is considered cursed and is associated with demons in Japanese mythology. The place contains rocky caverns, trees twisted into strange formations and is absent of wildlife. The seven campers are hoping to see a ghost or perhaps a body but they get far more than they bargained for.

The thing I admired about Suicide Forest was that this is a book that didn’t have a lot of action until the end but still managed to keep me interested. I found the characters so intriguing that I couldn’t put it down. Even the characters that aren’t in the book long have fascinating back stories. This is a psychological horror story which explores some deep subjects in a horrific setting. As dark as it is it actually has some funny moments as well, such as when the campers talk about the quickest ways to die. It’s a heavy topic but even in a hard situation I felt this scene added realism because even in a life threatening situation you would make light of it to deal with the horror all around you.

This book is light on action but big on suspense. The reader is constantly left with a feeling of unease because you’re not quite sure what’s happening until the end. The only thing you know for sure is that entering the forest was a bad idea and all the characters seem to turn on each other at one point. This book made me think of The Blair Witch Project with the exception being that this takes place in what is believed to be a real haunted setting.

There were several things I loved about this book.  I liked how it looks at Japanese culture and how the setting is described. From reading this book I felt like I had visited the Suicide Forest myself. I also liked the discussions in this book on why people commit suicide, with some saying they understand it and others saying they don’t. I also loved when one of the minor characters makes a revelation about death that’s hard to disagree with. This is also reflected well in the end of the book when you see that two of the main characters are forever changed by the experience they had with one feeling one way and the other being at the opposite end of the spectrum. If you want to know what I mean read the book and find out, you won’t be disappointed.

24549934Another book I want to talk about is Shadeylight:Vella The Virgin Vegan Vampire by J.K. Elemenopy  with a little help from Kimberly Steele. This book answers the question of what would happen if 50 Shades Of Grey and Twilight were able to mate and have a love child. Shadeylight is the answer to that question and a very good parody of both best-selling books. This is a story that’s all told from a first person viewpoint of a self obsessed college age girl who wants nothing more than to protect her no no and promote the vegan lifestyle.

Vella is a proud virgin and the subject of many men’s fantasies. She attends the local community college and wants to be a writer. Everything changes when she meets billionaire Xavier Cash who just happens to be part unicorn/part vampire. Vella is not your average girl though, she has a secret that she is not fully aware of and also has split personalities. Vella constantly has to deal with her perverted inner goddess and overbearing vegan subconscious. To make matters even more complicated she has another man who is interested in her named  Jean-Pierre La Fine.

This is the kind of book that you don’t get because the story looks good, this is the kind of book you get because you think that with a title like that it has to be entertaining. Shadeylight is a pretty funny read and this is coming from a person who would never dream of reading Twilight or 50 Shades Of Grey. Despite not knowing the source material, I’ve heard enough about both books where I got all the references and all the gags.

Nothing is off-limits in this book, it makes fun of everything including a scene where one of the characters makes fun of the author of the book. It makes fun of self obsessed writers, bad writing and it looks at how hypocritical people can be. My favorite scene was when Vella and Xavier go to a  Hotties Anonymous meeting. Who knew that people who are beautiful get discriminated against because of the chronic condition of being hot. Shadeylight also has some strange sex scenes that would make 50 Shades Of Grey look like a G rated movie.

Shadeylight is more than just a goofy parody though. This is a story that is using humor to put forth a message about going vegan while showing how silly some books that are considered popular can be. At the same time it still doesn’t take itself seriously. Who can resist a book that has Bacon trolls, sex with Cthulu and a vampire with serious mommy issues. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.  Shadeylight is one bizarre read that you don’t want to miss.

 

Press Release: Turning Face: A Tale Of Horror, Comedy & Wrestling

turningface copyTurning Face, a new novella by Terry M. West, is the story of Tojo Smith, an undercover hate demon whose job involves creating hatred in the fans of a local wrestling promotion near Fort Worth, Texas. Portraying the masked heel known as the Crimson Demon, Tojo’s job is suddenly endangered when the fans begin to cheer his devilish antics. Soon after, Hell intercedes and Tojo finds himself on a mission to restore this imbalance before he faces the wrath of Satan himself!

“This is a story that has been knocking around in my head for a long time,” Terry revealed. “Wrestling was a fixture in my youth. I grew up in Texas and I watched a ton of World Class Championship Wrestling in the Fort Worth area. My heroes were the Von Erichs but I always had a soft spot for the heels (bad guys). The Freebirds, Macho Man Randy Savage, Ravishing Rick Rude… these guys entertained the hell out of me. They were the most interesting characters I had ever encountered. They did all of the hard work and had excellent mic skills. I think it is hard to make people despise you on that kind of level.”

And though Tojo Smith is a demon, West insists that he may be the most sympathetic character he has ever given life to. “Tojo is referred to as Eden-born. What this means is that he was born on earth. His parents are two pit demons, disguised as humans, who conceived Tojo topside. As a result, Tojo feels very alienated. He is just a lonely spectator, trying to figure humans out. But he also has no connection to Hell. He is an orphan, caught between two worlds and it is very difficult for him.”

Turning Face has its moments of humanity, but it is definitely a horror tale with a gory finale that defies description. “There is a lot going on with this novella,” West explains. “There’s humor, but not the slapstick kind. There is a lot of wrestling. The tale builds to a pretty gruesome third act. But I will say that Turning Face is the most original thing I have ever created. It is a love letter to old school wrestling and horror/comedies of the 80s.”

Turning Face: A Tale of Horror, Comedy and Wrestling! will be available FridayJune 12th as a Kindle e-Book with a paperback edition to follow shortly after. Here is a universal book link where you can reserve a copy: myBook.to/babyface

Kbatz: Dracula Dead and Loving It

  blog.paxholley.net

Dracula Dead and Loving It Witty and Full of Gags

By Kristin Battestella

 

I’m not a hardcore Mel Brooks fan, but I adore the 1995 spoof Dracula: Dead and Loving It.  Though perhaps not as classic as Brooks’ earlier delights to some, the whole family can have a fangtastic time here.

English Solicitor Renfield (Peter MacNicol) travels to Transylvania so his mysterious client Count Dracula (Leslie Nielsen) can sign the contract for the Carfax Abbey property.  Unbeknownst to Renfield, Dracula is a vampire! He makes the dimwitted lawyer his servant; and upon arriving in England on the Demeter, Renfield is committed to Dr. Seward’s (Harvey Korman) sanitarium. Dracula meets Dr. Seward’s assistant Jonathan Harker (Stephen Webber) and preys on his fiancée of five years Mina (Amy Yasbeck) and her sultry best friend Lucy Westerna (Lysette Anthony).  As the ladies weaken, Dr. Seward calls in occult authority Dr. Abraham Van Helsing (Mel Brooks) to thwart the vampire.

 

Largely a spoof of the 1992 Bram Stoker’s Dracula and other traditional Dracula films, director Brooks (Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Spaceballs) and co-writers Steve Haberman (Life Stinks) and Rudy DeLuca (The Carol Burnett Show) have plenty of room for repressed English jokes, latent Victorian innuendo, and stereotypical vampire myths. Though some of the humor does fall flat or seems like filler even in a short ninety-minute movie, most of Dead and Loving It sticks to a traditional Dracula retelling with witty anachronistic jabs and slapstick fun to lighten the tale.  Even the excessive, totally unrealistic gags work in the first viewing; the jokes smartly slide into the vampire frame with fourth wall breaks and individual wink wink and all in good fun performance.  While this obviously makes the film un-uber scary, there is a very pleasing element of goth atmosphere and spooky décor. I think it’d be a lot of fun to play dress up and fang out with this gang!

While not as perfect here as in classics like Airplane! and The Naked Gun, the late Leslie Nielsen is always a treat to watch. The script hampers him at times, but his physical comedy and mock Dracula hold Dead and Loving It together.  Harvey Korman (Mama’s Family) is also a delightfully stuffy send up as the enema obsessed Seward.  Wings alums Steven Weber and Amy Yasbeck do their best feigning at the stiff upper lip British cliché, and each have some great slapstick moments.  You can tell the cast was having a good time, and Lysette Anthony (Dark Shadows: The Revival) clearly enjoys being sexed up as Lucy.  Ironically, the person who seems the flattest here is director Mel Brooks as Van Helsing.   Perhaps he adds too many of his old school ethnic quips and quick nonsensical interplays, and this style doesn’t quite fit with the Dracula themes elsewhere in the film.  For me, he’s the least funny player here and actually, he becomes kind of annoying in the bumbling battle against the Count.  Thankfully, a goofy cameo by the Oscar winning Mrs. Brooks Anne Bancroft (The Miracle Worker, The Graduate) is unexpected and very bemusing.  In truth, Peter MacNicol (Ally McBeal, Ghostbusters II, ‘He is Vigo! You are like the buzzing of flies to him!’) is the one who steals all of his scenes. Perfect as the clichéd Englishman, MacNicol is a riot as Dracula’s insect eating squire. His simple yet over the top actions get me every time.

 

I know it’s usually a cop out to say a film is meant to look bad, but Dracula: Dead and Loving It really means it!  The cardboard sets are somehow accurate, yet stupid and fun.  The Victorian dressings all look well and good, even lush and to the hilt with big mirrors, bustles, and chandeliers.  However, we know Styrofoam columns, fake tombstones, and Astroturf greenery when we see it.  Dead and Loving It pokes fun at the cheapness of early horror predecessors whilst also making the basic smoke and mirrors work.  The classical music and up-tempo score also adds a layer of fun rhythm- along with the usual crackles of thunder and lightning for ambiance.  Though the costumes for the ladies are the Victorian satin sweets we expect- and they are very corseted and low cut- there isn’t anything major naughty here to shy away a family viewing.  Adults will notice some of the sexual repression and innuendo in the dialogue, but a lot of that is mostly harmless or will go right over tween and younger heads.   Yes, some audiences may find the entire picture an unfunny preposterous miss.  However, there are enough witty twists and amusing performances to keep Dracula: Dead and Loving It entertaining.  Fans of the cast or Mel Brooks completists can enjoy even if serious vampire audiences may want to skip the spoof and parody. Those looking for a lighthearted Fall viewing or Halloween party filmage can certainly sink their teeth in here.  Bad pun, I know!

 

The Music of Venus De Vilo

10168206_537520239700478_8594236322709315030_nI don’t consider myself to be a big music person but every once in a while I come across a musician that grabs my attention. Venus De Vilo is an artist that grabbed my attention. Venus is a rare bread, it’s not often that you find music that combines horror and comedy and can easily fits into genres such as goth rock, metal, acoustic rock and punk rock,  but her music does just that.

Venus De Vilo was described as the love child of Marilyn Manson and Amanda Palmer by the Goth Alternative magazine The Bite. She has also been described as The Voice Of Horror and Queen Of The Pumpkin Patch. She lives in Dublin Ireland and performs ghoulish themed weird concerts in metal bars, rock bars, and in cabaret and burlesque shows.

Venus’s first EP was released on Halloween 2012 and called Edgar Allen Ho. It included songs such as The Heartless Horseman and Miss Frankenstein and was well received by fans of horror and dark music. Her next release was Til Death Do Us Part in 2013.This one had a good mix of hard rocking songs that you could dance to and acoustic versions of the same songs with creepy lyrics to boot.

Venus De Vilo’s latest EP came out earlier this year and is called Handle With Scare. When I first heard this EP it put a huge smile on my face. I enjoy music that has a rawness to it but also has a passion to it and its obvious Venus De Vilo puts a lot of passion into her work. Handle With Scare has a psychobilly sound to it with a great acoustic guitar work and awesome lyrics. Listening to it, I thought that the lyrics must have been hard to record. Venus has a great voice and easily hits high notes and can sing in a low voice as well. All three of Venus De Vilo’s EPs are available on Sound Cloud and are well worth your time. My thoughts on each track on Handle With Scare are listed below:

1. I’ve Got 99 Zombies And A Witch Ain’t One: Good 5RiTGq29_400x400acoustic guitar work, The music is heavy with no electric guitars and some great vocal work.

2. Absinthe Makes The Heart Grow Fonder: This one sounds like it would be hard to sing live but I’m sure Venus can pull it off. I have to describe this as a love song with a bizarre twist.

3. BubbleGlum! Venus shows she has a great sense of humor in this song. I love the lyric “Misery loves bubbleglum.”

4. Dead! Dead! Dead! Great vocal work in this song and the music made me thing a little of mariachi surf music if that makes sense. I can see this as a good dance song.

5. The Dead Don’t Dance. This is a slower song with great singing.I love the harmonies in it.

6. Personal Satan. I think this is the best one on Handle With Scare. I love the clapping in the song, this would be a great live track.

In the future Venus De Vilo plans on releasing a full length album, a book of poetry called Creepy Like Sunday Mourning and she also has a comic out based on Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven. To find out more about her check out these links:

https://www.facebook.com/VenusDeViloSongsFromTheStalkersPointOfView

https://soundcloud.com/venus-devilo

https://twitter.com/VenusDeVilo

https://venusdevilo.bandcamp.com/

 

Dating A Zombie Review by C.A. Milson

dating-a-zombie

Dating A Zombie

Movie review by C.A. Milson

Stars: Jack Abele, Claudia Andrejuk, Glenn Balli

Directed by: Jack Abele

IMDB Rating: N/A

Plot: Clarence operates a Zombie termination service in Zombie Town. Believing true love can never be found he feels no remorse when he dates Zombies. To him Zombies never complain, don’t nag or talk back and are extremely happy with the way you are. Of course Clarence’s biggest love interest is Princess Betty the owner of a pet cemetery now accepting humans at discount prices. In between his romances Clarence finds time to hunt and eliminate nuisance Zombies called A-Listers. This is a hobby he thoroughly enjoys because he gets to chop the Zombie bodies up in his kitchen and sell the meat as a sideline. The action and humor keep coming as Clarence and his assistant Doofus chase and “pop” Zombies while riding around in their golf cart. You just can’t have too many Zombies running around Zombie Town when the government keeps failing to pass a Zombie retirement plan!

IMDB Tagline: A Zombie Termination Specialist tries to find true love in Zombie Town

My Tagline: Carry On Zombies…

Review: I really do not know where to start on this. For one, I do enjoy a comedy horror/spoof if it is done right. Some films of the genre do seem to break the mold when it comes to defining comedy. Other films miss the mark completely. In this case, Abele has tried to shoot for a horror comedy and missed the whole meaning of the genre “comedy”.

The film starts off, in a town riddled with Zombies. It seems that from the premise of the film, some keep zombies as pets, others just dump off the recently deceased at a fly-by-night pet cemetery-cum –funeral home.

As the plot suggests, Clarence operates an extermination company, focusing on extermination of zombies at random, and trying to get laid with every woman he comes across, living or dead. In his spare time (which he seems to have a lot of) he delivers zombie meat in pizza boxes to unaffected humans (wouldn’t the meat be contaminated?), and again, off he goes to try and get laid, with cheesy one-liners that were taken from every bad pick-up line ever.

Romance? If one defines romance as a person desperate to get laid and carrying on like a testosterone filled teen with blue-ball syndrome, then this hit the mark with that. Other than that, this flick was absolute rubbish. I could feel myself slipping into a coma watching this.

The characters were very one-dimensional at best, the props (arms, legs, and whatever else) were very amateur, and the acting? The only thing I can say about the acting is that it was obvious that the actors had very little to go on, judging by how poor of a performance they were putting on.

This film could have been a lot better for the reportedly $85,000 they spent on production.

VerdictWatch Evil Dead 3 instead

My Rating: -5 out of 10

**************


C.A.Milson is an award winning horror author of 4 books (and counting); Founder of ASJ Publishing, and seldom film producer. He resides in Melbourne, Australia and likes to spend his time in his backyard hobbyfarm of 13 chooks, and draws inspiration from the horrors that lay in wait in the darkness. C.A.Milson can be found at: www.asjpublishing.com and: www.facebook.com/C.A.Milson.Author

Cecil and Bubba Meet The Thang

cecilbubbathangcoverThere is a thin line between comedy and horror. In my opinion, horror should have a little comedy in it to lighten the mood once in a while, but sometimes it is hard for a book to be funny and scary at the same time. One book that manages to scare and make you laugh is Cecil And Bubba Meet The Thang by Terry M. West. Cecil and Bubba’s problems began when they ran over a drunken gypsy’s dog. The gypsy got her revenge by cursing the two men, saying that they would be plagued by strange and evil beings until the day they die. Their first run in with the supernatural was with a succubus named Hattie Mae, but in this story things get worse. It’s Halloween night and Cecil is working late in his father’s garage while Bubba is working as a bouncer at the strip club. Bubba gets the shock of his life when he finds out that Hattie Mae is now working as a stripper in the  strip club and she wants to help Cecil and Bubba lift their curse. Back at the garage Cecil has a couple of customers come in with a broken down truck, they leave the truck to be fixed and warn Cecil to not look in the back. Not being one to follow directions, Cecil looks in the back and an alien escapes to terrorize the town.  The only ones that can save the day now are Cecil, Bubba and Hattie Mae. For a short novella, there is a lot going on in this book. The characters are deep and the story has it all, including drama, comedy, science fiction and horror. The story draws you in from the beginning, making you feel a lot of sympathy for the main characters. Cecil has a heart to heart with his dad that doesn’t go well and we see Bubba at the strip club feeling lonely and not noticing that there is one woman who really likes him. We also get a glimpse of Hattie Mae and see her as a changed woman who is trying to start a new life and redeem herself. After Terry M. West gets us emotionally invested in the characters he manages to give us a great science fiction tale with a creature who could have easily came out of a 1950’s monster movie. The creature has long tentacles and wants to destroy earth and Terry does a great job of describing him. Some of the dialogue between the FBI agents and Cecil and Bubba was also great. There were some good funny moments such as the Plan 9 From Outer Space reference and some of the lines like “Maybe he will phone home.” This book has a lot of heart along with some laughs and good scares.

20330734Keeping with the Halloween theme, I also recently read One Hellacious Halloween from Horror Novel Reviews. This is a book of flash fiction with 30 stories in it all having to do with Halloween. This book has humor, horror and lots of quick quirky stories that would be fun to tell around a campfire. This anthology includes a story from Horroraddicts.net’s own Emerian Rich called “Soul Taker 2.0”. It’s about a game programmer named Tory who is designing an add on pack to an online game called Soul Taker. To play the game you have to sign over your digital soul and all your supernatural fantasies come true, but there is a price to pay. I felt like Emerian really put some research into this story which made it seem more real and I loved the ending. Terry  M. West also has a story in this anthology called “The Hairy Ones,” which is about religion and marriage and what kind of horrors people are willing to put up with for the sake of both. This was a story that managed to be disturbing using the power of suggestion rather than being violent. I felt that this was one of the better stories in the book. This book was a fun read and will do a good job getting you in the mood for Halloween. There were a lot of good ideas and stories in this book such as “Werewolf Dentists From Hell” and “The Halloween House”. The stories were so quick that you didn’t have a chance to get bored and it will introduce you to several new writers. Which leads me to the one thing I didn’t like about the anthology. There were no author bios, so if you like an author from this collection you will have to look them up to learn more about them. I think it would be fun to read a story from One Hellacious Halloween everyday in October to get you in the mood for Halloween, but these stories are entertaining all year-long.

HorrorAddictsCon: GothHaus – Creation

GothHaus started as a suggestion from one of my staff, David. He mentioned that he thought it would be cool to have a continuing story on HorrorAddicts.net that the listeners could follow. At first, I was against doing anything like this, because it would mean a lot of extra time and work for me which I didn’t have to give. But, about two months prior to the start of Season 5, I had a revelation. What if we did a spoof of a reality show like Real World on MTV? They never have goths on those shows – not sure why – but I thought it could be really funny of six goth characters had to live in a house together and get along. I had written about six episodes when I asked Camellia Rains (voice of Jez) to come over and record the episodes I had. By the end of the recording session, we had ad-libbed almost all of the rest of the episodes. I asked a few more friends to fill in voices, including the multi-talented M. J. Hahn, podcast powerhouse Rhonda R. Carpenter, and podnovelist Kirk Warrington, and GothHaus was born. I find it funny that Star is the most requested character because she was just one I threw in for comic relief. I thought listeners would really embrace the dark and lovely Lord DarkBlood and Mistress Raven, and they did, but nothing thrills listeners more than the most popular episode – #6 The Eyeliner Incident – which includes the big fight between Fang and Jez. Later today, you will be able to listen to this episode and the entire first season of GothHaus on an upcoming post. Until then, here are messages from some of the cast and links to find out more about their work:

********

“I have done alot of things in the podcasting world but GothHaus is the most fun I have ever had. I love the show!” ~Rhonda R. Carpenter
Rhonda R. Carpenter is the founder of Lifefirst.com. She is an Author, Clinical Hypnotherapist, Handwriting Expert, Dream Analyst, and Professional Psychic. Her first novel, “The Mark of a Druid” is available in audio, Ebook and print. Rhonda is the co-founder of www.Podioracket.com where you can learn all about the new Podiobooks.com authors and Indy-Authors from all over the world. Rhonda was awarded the coveted Wicked Women Writer’s Award in 2010 for her Sexy short horror story, “Barring Lilith” She lives on a secluded ranch in Southeastern Oklahoma where she enjoys raising chickens and cows. She is happily married and the mother of 4 boys, all grown and on their own and recently a first time Grandmother.

********

Hey Star, how about a spritz of SuperShinySpray on my parasol? I calculate that would raise the reflective quotient exponentially. ~ Dan Shaurette as Professor Pendulum
From the first episode of GothHaus season one I was hooked. I used to watch reality competition shows so the concept it posed to poke fun at goths in said genre was pure awesome. I was incredibly psyched when I was given the chance to give voice to a new character for season two, the profound and prolific (and potentially pompous) Prof. Pendulum. With Pendy, M.J. Hahn seemed to channel me and created a clever caricature. I actually found it difficult to ad-lib because I thought he did such a great job scripting essentially a spot-on parody of myself. (I got in one ad-lib though, which was the sonic screwdriver bit inspired by Fang’s asking for a Doctor.) I am thrilled to hear about season three and so glad to be involved again.
Dan is a goth-geek and has been a fan of horror (especially vampires) ever since seeing Bela Lugosi’s “Dracula” as a young child. He recently podcasted his vampire novel, LILITH’S LOVE, and also hosts the Out Of The Coffin podcast. While vampires are his horror addiction of choice, Dan does not limit his preternatural proclivities to them. He is a fan of most sub-genres but prefers those that have a dark tale to tell versus pure shock-schlock. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. You can find him online at DanShaurette.com.

********

Tristy Taylor (voice of Kat an Aneshka) hails from Sonoma County, where she lives with her big bear of a husband and two tuxedo kitties. She was overjoyed to be a part of Goth Haus, as it was the perfect outlet for her inner Russian supermodel. She truly enjoyed playing a role in M.J. Hahn’s fantastic tale and hopes she can always play a part in future M.J. productions. When not recording weird and wonderful character voices, you can find Tristy doing improv with various Bay Area troupes or accosting people with puppets. You can find out more about her work atwww.createwithspirit.com.

********

“I really enjoyed playing Baz. I like him, and I liked being him. And if he’s ever set to make a comeback in GothHaus, I look forward to being him again. I only hope next time he does something truly dastardly!” ~ Mike Bennett

Mike Bennett grew up in London and Windsor and spent many years in Brighton where he wrote his first novel, ‘One Among the Sleepless.’ He published ‘One Among the Sleepless’ through his own company, Seed Publishing, in 2002. He podcast ‘One Among the Sleepless’ from 2006 – 2007, then his short story collection , ‘Hall of Mirrors’ from 2007 – 08. He is currently writing and podcasting his second novel, ‘Underwood and Flinch’. He is married and lives in Sussex,England. Underwood and Flinch has been running for nearly two years and is currently on it’s 39th Episode from Mike’s sites and iTunes. Also Underwood and Flinch has just started at Podiobooks.com. To find out more about Mike, go to: www.MikeBennettPodcast.com  /  www.UnderwoodAndFlinch.com

********

“I enjoyed working on GothHaus. It really brought out the inner BUM in me.” ~Kirk Warrington
To find out more about Kirk Warrington, go to: www.kirkcast.com

********

 

GothHaus was a great idea. When Emerian brought it up to me I loved the idea of giving the whole reality tv bit a gothic make over. I was always good with coming up with charactors and plots and when we got together to record the first parts of season one, the rest just flowed out naturally between us and we know we had something good. I loved having the chance to play Jez. It allowed me to channel my inner bitch and criminal and say and do the type of things that I wouldn’t do in my everyday life. I had mentioned the show to a couple of friends right before we did those first sessions and one of them who is a big reality tv buff said we had to do it. She thought and still thinks, that there should be a real GothHaus show. LOL! If only…

Camellia Rains earned her BA in Philosophy and Religion at SF State. She is a San Francisco born, lifelong resident of the Bay Area and has always had an interest in the darker side of life. She’s been a part of Eastern Contra Costa’s first Roller Derby team- The Undead Bettys since shortly after its inception in 2008.  She lives in the East Bay with her beloved black cat Voodoo and is currently the resident office goth at her work. When not trying to emulate her heart throb hero Penn Jillette of Penn & Teller, she can be found playing with her vast make up collection, hanging out with her derby team or at the local watering hole The Red Hat in Concord making friends and listening to very loud punk music.

To find out more about GothHaus and get a full listing of cast and characters, got to: www.gothhaus.wordpress.com

Zombies, Vampires, and Cursed Skulls

I love all genres of literature but my favorite genre to read is horror. I especially like horror mixed with comedy and I’ve read three books recently that fit that category. The first book I want to talk about is The Sinister Mr. Corpse by Jeff Strand. The story is about a man named Stanley Dabernath who was a regular guy until he became the worlds first living zombie.

Stanley’s movie company, Demented Whacko’s Video is not successful. In fact he is $60,000 in debt, was recently evicted from his apartment and lives off a diet of  Ramen Noodles that he stole from the grocery store. His luck changes one day though when he is run over by a milk truck and drowns in the milk.

Death is not the end for Stanley. His body is rescued from the morgue and he gets brought back to life on national TV by Project Second Chance. Now Stanley has everything he could ever want, he has money, fame, product endorsements, action figures and he’s a hit on all the talk shows. Stanley has the life he has always dreamed of, but it comes at a price, he has to take injections to keep from rotting any more then he already has, Project Second Chance owns his body and there is a group of religious fanatics that want to prove that he’s a fake.

After two failed attempts to kill him, being hounded by the media and having a man decide to build a religion based on him; Stanley escapes project Second Chance and heads to New York to become a super hero. Things don’t go well and he gets kidnapped and held for ransom. He then finds out what happens when he doesn’t get his injections and the secret behind how Project Second Chance brought him back to life. I’ll give you a hint, it wasn’t science that resurrected him.

The Sinister Mr. Corpse is an action packed horror comedy filled with twists and turns. What I enjoyed most was the dialog in the book, all of the characters had great personality and if the book had no action and was made up entirely of dialog between the characters, I would have still enjoyed it. Another part that really stuck out with me was a fight between Mr. Corpse and an assassin near the end which unexpectedly moves from drama to comedy. Despite the fact that this book is meant mainly for laughs, it does make a good point about how we should be careful about idolizing celebrities.

If you need any more influence to buy The Sinister Mr. Corpse, check out the reviews on Amazon from Jeff Strand and J.A. Konrath and after your done check out their book of humorous horror stories called Suckers. I have to say up front about Suckers, its definitely not a great work of literature, but I found myself laughing quite a bit. In the books the authors themselves describe the book as “Men have weiners, he he he.” That should tell you what your getting into if you buy it.

Some of the short stories in Suckers include A Bit of Halloween Mayhem, where a couple of people break into a haunted house on Halloween and get more then they bargained for and The Necro File which follows Detective Harry McGlade as he investigates some strange happenings in a cemetery.

The main story in Suckers was written by both authors and includes two characters that have been in some of the novels that they have written in the past. Detective Harry McGlade  is called to Florida to find a kidnapped girl. As he is breaking into the house where he believes the girl is being held, he runs into Andrew Mayhem who was only trying to bring a jar of spaghetti sauce to his wife. Afraid Mayhem will call the cops on him, Harry makes Andrew enter the house with him and discovers a house full of wannabe vampires  who want to make McGlade their lunch. If you have a strong stomach and need a good laugh, pick this book up.

The last book I wanted to mention is one I’m currently reading and since it was in the same vein (pun intended) as the others I wanted to mention it. The book is Draculas by Jeff Strand, Jack Kilborn (pen name of J.A. Konrath), F. Paul Wilson and Blake Crouch. The story is about retired millionaire Mortimer Moorecock who is dying of cancer. In order to survive his disease Mortimer has bought a skull found in Romania that is believed to have belonged to Count Dracula. When Mortimer gets the skull he clamps its jaws on his neck and goes into convulsions. He is rushed to the hospital where he dies and rises again as a vampire.

The description of this book describes it as Dawn of the Dead in a hospital but with vampires in place of zombies. These are not the kind of vampires with feelings, they’re the blood thirsty killing anti-Twilight kind. Each Author in this book took a character in the story and wrote the most intense black comedy horror story they could. If you know of any good books combining horror and comedy please leave a comment.