FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Tales from the Darkside Season 3

More Scares to be had in Tales from the Darkside Season 3

by Kristin Battestella

The 1986-87 Third Season of Tales from the Darkside features twenty-two more episodes of horror and oddities beginning with “The Circus” premiere written by series producer George Romero. In a series that usually puts the bizarre first, this episode truly feels like a horror tale as Showman William Hickey (Tales from the Crypt) promises mummy and vampire spectacles to a journalist trying to debunk the smoke and mirror ghouls. The bloody feedings and hungry dogs, however, make for some disturbing showmanship – a creepy little parable done with very little, using one setting and power of suggestion scares for a fitting twist. Covered furniture and a murderous history don’t deter a couple from their spooky new home in “Florence Bravo.” This is supposed to be a fresh start, but the wife – who was put in an institution by her husband after a nervous breakdown – isn’t taking her pills as the rocking chair moves by itself and ghostly visions escalate. The haunted house set up is familiar, but she loves their spooky old home and her adulterous husband will pay the price for the house’s evil ideologies with bloody floorboards, gunshots, and killer ghosts. A suspicious dollhouse in “The Geezenstacks” comes complete with the eponymous doll family, and their morbid playtime whispers come true as the cracks begin to show with implied domestic violence and dire real-world consequences. The bemusing bizarre here is less annoying than other kid-centric episodes thanks to creepy toys and that quintessential Tales from the Darkside quirky likewise seen in “Black Widows.” Our homebody knitting mother insists enough company comes to her, like salesmen and ministers knocking on the door. However, visitors who squash and kill a spider in her house will pay the pincer price – even the fiance who’s not good enough for her daughter. He’s too thin and the web-like laundry hangings add to the obvious, but there’s a sardonic wit to the family secret. Unfortunately, the eerie mood escalates for an unscrupulous yuppie art dealer in “Heretic” when the inscriptions on a valuable Inquisition painting would have him learn the error of his ways. The torture and warped religion lead to terrible twists on life imitating art with pain and fiery consequences.

Warnings to behave and not do anything you wouldn’t do on network television accent the homemaker quaint in “A Serpent’s Tooth.” Mom insists she nags because she loves, however her teen daughter and college drop out son’s choices will be over her dead body. She receives the eponymous charm with a warning to be careful what she wishes for – because she may get it. The television, radio, and telephone disappear when she threatens how inconvenient life would be without them, and when she tells an obnoxious kid next door that his face will get stuck that way it does. Talk about a salty lesson! By contrast, a greedy advertising executive sees a New Orleans bakery and its intoxicating cookies as a golden opportunity in “Baker’s Dozen.” The secret ingredients of a thirteenth specialty make for twisted connections between men, dough, and gingerbread in this tasty voodoo turnabout also written by Romero. Of course, the kids in “Seasons of Belief” are at the age where they don’t believe in Santa Claus – but their older, festive parents warn them of a more terrible figure called The Grither. While disbelieving in Saint Nick only makes your presents under the tree disappear, The Grither is the most awful thing in the world, and they’ve called him by saying his name out loud. Tales from the Darkside provides a certain warped amusement here with a holiday episode featuring a deliberate act to scare kids, twisted carols and all. A mannequin trades places with a burglar for “Miss May Dusa,” and creepy shadows accent the seedy subway and what goes on after hours sunglasses at night. Our cursed lady doesn’t remember who she was before, but a jazzy street musician tries to guess, making for an interesting twofer with sadness, despair, and bitter realizations layering a more serious drama on the horror of loneliness. Little Chad Allen (Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman) says if you leave him a note, the milkman will give you presents in “The Milkman Cometh,” and a family in debt that has lost a baby is rewarded with another pregnancy. Was it a response from the ‘While You Were Sleeping Dairy’ or a coincidence? Increasing conflict, financial struggles, and drinking lead to eerie silhouettes and blue lighting making what was once a normal neighborhood visitor totally creepy with bizarre revelations and eponymous winks.

Jeff Conway’s (Grease) typing his latest in “My Ghostwriter – The Vampire,” and he’s happy writing hack vampire tropes for the money – until Dracula shows up on his balcony. He’s there to prove his powers, proposing sanctuary in exchange for his nine hundred years of bloody details. The toothy secrets lead to literary success, and the traditional vampire motifs with eighties spins are great fun. However Dracula wants his share of the spoils, and there’s an underlying ominous thanks to dining in on the maid neck bites and handy silverware. Robert Bloch’s (Psycho) “Everybody Needs a Little Love” starring Jerry Orbach (Law & Order) has noir mood with cigarettes, Truman posters, and vintage pubs. Our barfly friend brings home a mannequin, drinking, dancing, and taking a week off from work to cook dinner and sit ‘Estelle’ at the table. Who needs a nagging broad when you can have a classy dame who just sits there and smiles! He insists she’s no prude, adding to the old fashioned creepy and lively twists with a hint of something more sinister as her look or positioning seems slightly different from glance to glance. An old crone and her young-looking friend reunite for a bitter 1692 anniversary in “Auld Acquaintances” amid talk of burning houses, lightning strikes, poisoned cats, and puritan flashbacks. Evil chants, talismans, chokings, and threats set off the zany performances alongside Salem imagery and some intense 1987 shocking language on whores and devils. The bargains in blood and pacts to live forever are well done in this confined two-hander. More spell books, enchantments, and boils in “The Swap” don’t impress the young wife of a man who can’t compare to his mama – the greatest conjurer Louisiana ever saw. So long as she ‘plays house’ each night, his wife will get all their millions, and she goes upstairs with her revolting husband rather than be poor. Of course, she’s secretly with the hunky handyman, and Tales from the Darkside gets a little saucy with talk of ‘gentlemanly pleasures,’ handcuffs, and bottles forced into a man’s mouth. The twisted little threesome escalates with poison, wills, and stipulations on who the wealthy widow must marry next. By contrast, it’s all idyllic mid-century sophistication in “The Enormous Radio” with martinis, classical music, and period touches raising the unique horrors. Do our eavesdroppers interfere when they adjust the dial and hear their neighbors or is it none of their business? Unfortunately, the addictive gossip gives way to heated arguing, and the sad, depressing strain of hearing the whole building’s troubles ultimately overwhelm our once perfect couple.

Early in Year Three, however, back-to-back kid tales sag Tales from the Darkside thanks to an annoying little girl disliking her engaged sister’s kisses with her jerky fiance in “I Can’t Help Saying Goodbye.” The titular premonitions lead to explosions, funerals, and a whiff of religion versus innocence but the crappy attitudes can’t make a thin script more eerie. “The Bitterest Pill” offers another petulant kid and nasty dad, and the family remains pissy even after they win the lottery. The in your face speed talking over the eponymous drug that provides total recall takes the investments over the top and the fittingly harsh turnabout drags on too long. Southern charm schmoozing over the politician at dinner in “Deliver Us From Goodness” also repeats the be careful what you wish for come ups that were done better several episodes prior, and the religious hypocrisy gets lost in the out of control humor and off the mark obnoxiousness. “My Own Place” may have $285 rent control, however, there’s a semi-mystical roommate that won’t leave – despite the yuppie renter’s curry jokes, Calcutta insults, and racist slurs. Such demeaning isn’t scary, and our jerky new tenant realizes he’s getting what he deserves too late. A stereotypical gold-digging femme fatale widow cut off from the company stock in “Red Leader” adds to the slow, generic corporate talk of cooked books and shady real estate as hellish minions from below debate over the same old evil businessmen tropes. Yawn. Likewise, a greedy young apprentice tries on a pair of magically crafted shoes in “The Social Climber.” He can really go places in this fancy pair, but his shoemaker boss warns him there will be a price. Unfortunately, the magical elements can’t disguise the transparent end, and today some viewers may be completely baffled by what a cobbler even is. A drunk having a heart attack to open “Let the Games Begin” leads to mirrors on the ceiling, hellish shadows, and heavenly echoes arguing over who gets to claim his soul. Both try to entice him by appearing as his angelic best friend and his vixen sister-in-law. However the askew angles, sardonic tricks, and heart beating suspense are too uneven, attempting too much between humor and cynicism in a plain story that gets irritating fast. What is scary are those yuppie styles – plaid sweaters tied over the shoulders, tube socks, and dated feather hair on top of crimped ponytails, neon fashions, and Like a Virgin fishnets. The Tales from the Darkside title card was changed for this season, the menu design on the Season Three DVDs is slightly different, and there are no subtitles. Cramped eighties trailer homes, small sets, and single locations with red lighting and dark dressings may be cheap, however, the claustrophobia is also very effective amid atmospheric thunder and that indelible, chilling Tales from the Darkside theme. Sound effects accent the monster makeup, blood, gothic archways, and older Victorian styles. Retro kitchens, typewriters, and big boob tubes harken a mid-century housewife mood – pink wallpaper, dusty rose doilies, and old bag vacuums contrast the giant eighties portable brick phones and pathetically dated computers. These ladies have to take off a clip earring to use the rotary phone and count the teaspoons to make that old fashioned coffee! While such a long season has its ups and downs thanks to dated or hammy half hours that are weird rather than scary, Tales from the Darkside Season Three once again provides creepy, chilling, and atmospheric parables for a nostalgic horror marathon.

Revisit Tales from the Darkside  Season 1 or Season 2 and read up on our Tales from the Crypt Reviews Seasons 1, 2, or 3, too! 

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Tales from the Darkside Season 2

Tales from the Darkside Season Two Provides More Bizarre by Kristin Battestella

Producer George A. Romero’s 1985-86 Second Season of Tales from the Darkside is the series’ longest year with twenty-four episodes of oddities, scares, and morose mood. Of course, the night club comedy act in “The Impressionist” is stale – but mysterious G-men offer a has-been comedian a special job communicating with gestures amid secret labs, spaceships, and sympathetic aliens. Our slight of hand performer picks up the interstellar mimicry but refuses to reveal the alien’s secret to fusion power. While the weak effects are a little laughable, this alien touch gives a once sarcastic man a piece of something more. It’s business as usual, however, for harsh workaholic Bill Macy (Maude) in “Lifebomb” until an insurance salesman presents a deal on an unique medical safety device that’s too good to be true. After sudden chest pains, he accepts the titular offer, but that little implant on his back leads to scarier medical situations and company control over what could be life-saving technology. This is an interesting plot on stress, aging, and our career servitude made fantastic before inventor John Heard (Home Alone) recounts the earthquakes and mini volcano rising through the floor to deliver extraterrestrial Penelope Ann Miller (Carlito’s Way) for “Ring Around the Redhead.” The jailhouse frame condenses the pace for the romance, reduces the need to show action the series can’t afford, and grounds the what-ifs with electric chair shadows and noir mood. Remodeling and rent control versus eviction unfortunately carry a touch of racism in “Parlour Floor Front” as the upstairs alligator on the polo shirt snobs insults the elderly voodoo practitioner downstairs. A few curses lead to damaged antiques, broken wrists, and falls off the ladder. Mischief, disrespected coffins, and evil-tainted gold escalate to fatal lies as Tales from the Darkside does a lot of scary with very little. Likewise returning director Tom Savini’s “Halloween Candy” adds vintage costumes and candy bags to the holiday hate and cranky old dad hoping the kids have a sugar overdose on the doorstep. Threats to call the police or telling the trick-or-treaters to go to hell result in an incessant doorbell buzz and a devilish little goblin peeking in the window. Broken watches at midnight, bugs in the candy, blue hues, and freaky monster masks stand out thanks to the well-edited suspense.

Romero himself pens “The Devil’s Advocate” starring ornery radio show host Jerry Stiller (Seinfeld). He makes his callers cry amid vintage soundboards and flashing red studio lights, but the engineer falls asleep, the studio grows increasingly darker, and call-ins come from all over history before a chat with the boss from below himself in this superb one-man parable. A man in shades also has an exclusive offer to revive an old sixties network series for the film within a film of “Distant Signals.” The show Max Paradise was unfortunately terrible, but a hefty gold investment reminds the crusty Hollywood suit, writer’s block writer, and drunken actor how inspiring television really is. Although this nice Galaxy Quest story follows several scary tales, it’s made all the more bemusing thanks to today’s reboots and revivals ad nauseam. By contrast, the self-involved yuppie parents in “Ursa Minor” don’t believe their daughter when she says her antique teddy bear is responsible for the household mischief. Occult experts warn them of Native American magic and ancient worship of the eponymous bear constellations, but the muddy little paw prints and tool mishaps create some chilling moments before the faulty gas stove, ambulances, crutches, and karma for “Effect and Cause.” Starving artist Susan Strasberg (Scream of Fear) believes in synchronicity, tarot, and astral charts, leaving her reluctant to paint over unusually awful found canvases. Unfortunately, the esoteric heavy and chaos debates leave her trapped, helpless in a home that’s working against her in this Mandela Effect meta mind-bender. Baby Seth Green (Buffy) has something creepy under the bed on Christmas morning in “Monsters in My Room,” too. The boy prays against tentacles, saw blades, and boogie men in the closet out to get him with scary nighttime lighting and every toy, ticking clock, or floorboard creak adding to the terror. However, his stepdad wants to toughen him up, giving him beer and trying to make the boy a man in a whiff of subtext as real-world and horror merge.

Shakespeare quotes and an antique telescope invoke a renaissance touch for “Comet Watch” – a lighthearted entry obsessed with the cosmos once an Edwardian babe pops into the attic after taking a long celestial trip. The dated science and charming love triangles set off what was then a timely January 1986 airing ahead of the forthcoming Halley’s Comet. Yes, this again far beyond the Darkside theme. However, this is probably the last time a genre television series could address such fanciful fears with such innocence as we’re too scientific and overly cynical these days. “A New Lease on Life” provides a new apartment with all the trimmings and supposedly no catch for an uber-cheap $200 a month. Unfortunately, the wall groans when an against the rules nail is hammered in, and handymen against newfangled microwave radiation fix the bleeding sheetrock with peroxide. Neighbors denied water warn our tenant while cries within the walls and giant garbage disposals suggest there’s a price to pay for eating meat. One could have it all forever if he just follows the rules and does what he is told, making this a freaky little statement on human horrors and arrogance. The desperate writer with the empty refrigerator in “Printer’s Devil” follows an ad to one creepy agent’s office where voodoo dolls, mystic tomes, and animal sacrifices promise Pulitzers. Publication and success soon follow, but the so-called inspirational pets also increase as the literary riches must be maintained. When his new girlfriend starts sneezing over his apartment zoo, well, our devilish agent suggests one final sacrifice. “The Shrine,” by contrast, presents a mother offering her estranged daughter milk and cookies. She doesn’t want to talk about the past or her daughter’s breakdown, but she keeps her daughter’s room in untouched childhood perfection – yet phantom winds and nursery rhymes suggest someone else is living among the ribbons and pom poms. Can a mother be so disappointed in how a child grew up that she would try again with the same daughter? The who does mommy love more contest could be silly, but the warped women’s roles are played serious amid the taboos. Motel manager John Fielder (The Bob Newhart Show) reluctantly lends the Room 7 key to a cruising salesman for “The Old Soft Shoe,” and a vintage radio plays jazz while a woman in black lingerie draws a steamy bath. She calls our salesman by a different name and insists they’ll never be apart while they dance cheek to cheek. However, 1950 newspaper clippings and dusty corsages lead to gunshots and jilted dames as the nostalgic personalities and ghostly femme fatales bring the blood and stockings full circle.

On Thanksgiving eve an ingenue waits on the desolate platform for the late train in “The Last Car.” Once onboard, the eponymous passengers warn her she can’t travel between cars – they fear the upcoming tunnels, nobody likes to talk about time, and the so-called train to Providence isn’t stopping like it should. Lost watches, a shoebox full of all the foods they desire, and a nonsensical conductor create an askew Twilight Zone perception with memorable revelations before a cocky doctor is happy to diagnose mob boss Abe Vigoda (The Godfather) with cancer for “A Choice of Dreams.” Fortunately, a more radical scientist offers him power over death for a cool ten million. Ticking clocks count down as the murderer faces his own mortality while black and white offices with futuristic technology keep the brain alive as the memories flashing before our criminal’s eyes catch up to him. The 1935 noir, moonlight, pale skin, and hints of red in “Strange Love” tell us what fangs are afoot. Marcia Cross (Melrose Place) has no heartbeat and a cold touch to match her seduction, power, and beauty as this saucy love triangle leads to betrayal, a double wide coffin, and a bloody good time. The video will be left by a fire and brimstone televangelist for his sister Connie Stevens (Hawaiian Eye) in “The Unhappy Medium,” however, isn’t the riches she hoped. The hypocritical pretenses and greedy true colors come out thanks to neon lighting, purgatory traps, and devilish possession. The family that sins together, stays together in this timeless Tales from the Darkside parable. Meanwhile, the empty army recruiting office receives an unlikely man not signing up but asking for sanctuary in “Fear of Floating.” He unbuckles his boots and floats every time he lies – a gift the army would love to use between the zany standoffs, tall tales, delusions, deceptions, and one low hung ceiling fan. Splattered sheets and bloody babes set off frequent Tales from the Darkside director Frank de Palma’s finale “The Casavin Curse” amid homicide detectives, suspect servants, and ancient gypsy curses turning a tiny heiress into a deadly demon with killer claws. She always ends up hurting the one she loves!

Tales from the Darkside’s half hours often center around one or two characters, and episodes are slightly better when there’s a more recognizable name to anchor the fun. Indeed, viewers have to take these gonzo tales with a sense of humor, for even amid the serious parables there are laughable things. Scribble on a piece of paper isn’t an alien language nor is one earring and a few crystals in a gal’s hair outer space couture – actually, it’s just totally eighties! A calm granny offers chicken soup to the possessed little girl who’d rather eat souls in “The Trouble with Mary Jane,” and local amateur exorcist cum con artist comedienne Phyllis Diller is going to use tea leaves and tarot cards to put this demon into a pig and make her fortune. This could be something scary, but it’s tough to tell if the humor is intentional and we should roll with it or just laughably bad. Several juvenile shows and household scares in a row sag mid-season, and daughter Lisa Bonet (A Different World) tries to inspire her angry composer father in “The Satanic Piano.” His record company is unhappy with his latest album, but a mysterious man offers the family a computerized keyboard with telepathic connections and a sinister price to pay. Can a machine capture the purity and essence of one’s soul and music? This contemporary tale is waxing on something innocent, however, the execution is off the mark in a series where youth in terror befits the Darkside content. Dated phrases like “rad,” “far out,” or “right on” I can dig, yet I can’t say the same for “Dream Girl” as film shoots and pin-ups help a creepy janitor live out his sexist misogynist fantasy. While fog, distorted angles, and fake props set off the warped titular haze, the Inception play within a play meta is too nonsensical and confusing with abusive shouting and characters trapped in an overlong, dry predicament. Certainly, the computers and alien designs are primitive. The empty sets are grayscale abstract with wild faux marble luxury meant to be eighties high end but it’s all so obviously cardboard fake today. One may argue the backdrops beyond those false windows create a more stage-like setting allowing the bizarre per tale to shine, however, the redressed cheap is often too apparent – an office from one episode is easily a jail cell the next. Most special effects seen are also hokey but brief with major fantastics largely left to off-camera imagination. Though the jury may be deliberating on the eighties silk blouses and pussy bows back in vogue, those bright yuppie pinks and thugs in sport coats with the sleeves rolled up were never good looks!

While there may be no subtitles for the Tales from the Darkside: The Complete Series set, the always chilling greeting and opening theme speak for themselves. Old tape recorders, rotary phones, and typewriters add nostalgic décor alongside retro ice boxes, doilies, and static on the big boob tube. Blue lighting, silver accents, moonlight silhouettes, firelight, and candlesticks invoke mood as increasingly dark schemes, shadows, dreamy photography, and cigarette smoke frame the spooky atmosphere. Some of that white leather furniture and mauve pastiche does have the right swanky, and Tales from the Darkside’s production values increase slightly during the season with latter episodes featuring real homes and locales rather than mere set walls. Tiny white lingerie and steamy nightgowns and some side boob close calls also push the envelope, yowza! Art Deco tone on tone designs add an Old Hollywood simmer while choice reds and brains in jars never let us forget the horror at hand. Sure, Tales from the Darkside has a certain amount of dated silliness. Bemusing weirdness is more often featured than full-on frights. However, the scares are superb when they happen and the spooky fun doesn’t overstay its welcome. Tales from the Darkside Season Two is easy to marathon for nostalgic creepiness and all manner of bumps in the night.

Read our more risque Tales from the Crypt reviews or catch up on Tales from the Darkside Season 1, too! 

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Ciao, Horror!

Ciao, Horror! By Kristin Battestella

These Italian set and produced chills provide retro horror and unique creepiness to spice up your staycation.

Blood and Roses – Mel Ferrer (Falcon Crest) leads this 1960 French/Italian Carmilla influenced production brimming with lovely outdoor locations and lookalike relatives mixing romance and Karnstein history. Though the currently gathered descendants scoff at vampire myths and stories of peasants taking stakes into their own hands centuries ago; familiar names, 500 year old Mircalla voiceovers, and a costume party in a ruined abbey add period piece mood to the modern suits, fifties frocks, and swanky cocktails for a slightly baroque blend. While not as lavish as the later Hammer pictures, this is indeed colorful thanks to quality titular motifs, white wedding dresses, and red fireworks. Peppering creepy words accent the smoke, crosses, tombs, heartbeats, and vampire spirits ready to possess anew. Mirrors, screams, and zooms make for some suspenseful moments – unseen vampire deceptions escalate over the discovery of bodies with neck wounds. However, there is a symbolic sensuality, implied saucy, and very Bava-Esque pretty in the surreal, black and white dream sequence winking with water, sanitariums, naked mannequins, and nurses with bloody hands. It’s a bittersweet, medieval feeling with all kinds of lesbian vampire shade, blonde versus brunette rivalries, and so close you want to be her Single White Female innuendo. Director Roger Vadim (Barbarella) certainly liked his statuesque blondes, and there are fine personality changes for his then-wife Annette Stroyberg (also of Vadim’s Les Liaisons dangereuses) as the bewitching, possessed Carmilla – she’s minuet dancing, can’t work the record player, and horses misbehave around her. Elsa Martinelli (Hatari!) is also divine in several portrait-like stills paralleling Carmilla’s feminine desire to be loved as much as her necessity for blood. Different edited or longer versions affect the plot here, but the dubbed seventy-four minute edition is currently available on Amazon Prime. While it won’t be scary for modern audiences, this sophisticated and creepy but no less tender tale is impressive and worth seeing.

The Church – Three films claim to be Demons 3 in the somewhat confusing Italian Demoni series. Fortunately, this 1989 Dario Argento produced stand alone sequel opens with galloping knights versus witches, scary organ music, demonic signs, prophecy, torches, and head chopping slaughter. So what if it is kind of small scale, the helmets look like spray painted buckets, and kids literally have baskets on their heads! Crosses, stonework, church bells, Gothic spires, and gargoyles bring the medieval ecclesiastic yet sinister atmosphere to the modern day prayers, Biblical quotes, maze-like catacombs, and dusty library tomes. The titular temple was built to sanctify mass burials and keep evil caged below, and the tale sticks almost exclusively to the sanctuary setting as Indiana Jones temptations for buried treasure lead to coded parchments, architectural clues, suspicious altar sounds, and ghostly horses. A crusty old bishop, the new librarian reading backwards Latin, an art restorer cleaning morbid murals, the rebellious custodian’s daughter – innuendo, icky saucy, and nasty behaviors increase as evil seeps out over this interesting variety of trapped people also including a school trip, one bickering old couple, and a couture photo shoot. Even dripping water becomes suspect once the bloody spouts, blue smoke, booby traps, gruesome deaths, and reptilian hands spread evil manifestations and infestations. Frightening confessions, decaying bodily possessions, literal bleeding hearts – today’s audiences may not appreciate the slow burn one by one, but knowing it is just a matter of when adds to the robes, stained glass, rituals, and chanting. How can one fight the bestial Satan when he’s entered the hallowed itself? Although the past and present connections can be confusing and remain unexplained beyond a happened before and will again warning, the skeletons, gory bodies, wings, and horns make for a very wild finale. This picture is not shy with its imagery nor its parallels – the demons only escape because human corruption was already there, using unleashed horrors to remind us that it’s safer to leave well enough alone. 


The Ghost – Skulls, storms, candles, deathbed cripples and melancholy music to match immediately set the Gothic mood and Scotland 1910 period stylings of this colorful 1963 Italian haunt starring Barbara Steele (Black Sunday). The dubbing is off kilter – the occasional dubbed Scottish accent is especially bemusing – and the innate video quality isn’t the best. However, syringes, séances, poisons, and risky medical research mixed with black magic possibilities add to the up to no good atmosphere and twilight surreal. Illicit meetings, gin, revolvers, straight razors – the scheming lovers are getting desperate and antsy waiting for those in the way to die. Steele is divine in white furs and lace to start before switching to black mourning veils for the reading of the will. It’s tough not to hear her voice, but some sensuous melodrama accents the suspenseful tone, tolling bells, howling dogs, and foreboding Psalm 23. Is the missing key to the safe in the dead and buried’s coat pocket? Eerie sounds, shadows, and wheelchairs moving on their own escalate to ghostly callings and spooky music box playing while the hysterics, a suspect housekeeper, and creepy apparitions intensify the macabre treasure hunt even when there is only one person onscreen. Contemporary viewers may find the ninety-five minutes slow, and this is rough around the edges – a derivative scandal and haunting that should have been tighter. Too many late but wait there’s more twists border on preposterous, yet the increasingly trippy specters do make for a few surprises. The audience dislikes the phantom, but turnabout upon the adulterers is fair play with chilling irony, mysticism, double crossings, crypts, and coffins. We know a set up is coming, but it’s tense good fun in getting there thanks to some ambient captions such as “Sound of someone knocking,” “Creaking Door,” “Sound of Footsteps,” and “Clap of Thunder.” Oh yeah. 

Macabre – It’s murder and passion via New Orleans in this atmospheric 1980 Italian swanky from director Lamberto Bava. The colorful locale is part of the plot with river boats, historic architecture, street corner jazz, and romantic melodies. The lush décor is both tacky seventies with velvet curtains and tawny patinas as well as of old thanks to gilded wallpaper, candelabras, and cluttered antiques. Cigarettes, cocktails, and pearls set off the easy to slip out of satin as illicit phone calls make mom leave the kids to babysit themselves during her dalliance. Moaning and heavy panting overheard by the white knuckled blind neighbor are intercut with child terrors, bathtub horrors, shattered glass, bloody beams, and vehicular shocks before an institution stay and return to the love nest becomes suspicious self love with altars to the deceased, ghostly footsteps, and unseen phantom encounters. Through the banister filming, windows, mirrors, and similar posturing add to the naughty mother and creepy daughter duplicity while our blind virginal musical instrument repair man must listen to the saucy and toot his own horn, so to speak, as the silent awkwardness and martini music provide emotion with little dialogue. The narrative may over-rely on the score, meandering on the pathetic situation too much, but there’s enough weirdness balancing the mellow thanks to the cruel temptations and nasty bedroom suggestions as white negligees become black sheers and candlelit interiors darken. The effortless jazz switches to pulsing, scary beats as some serious unexplained ghost sex, undead voodoo, or other unknown witchcraft escalates the decapitation innuendo and like mother, like daughter warped. Our blind audience avatar hides to not be seen, others unseen can sneak passed him, and we’re all unable to see behind closed doors – layering the suspense, voyeurism, and two fold bizarre amid bedroom shockers, ominous tokens, overcast cemeteries, and one locked refrigerator. The saucy, nudity, and gore are adult sophisticated without being vulgar in your face tits and splatter a minute like today, and tense toppers don’t have to rely on fake out scares. Granted, there are timeline fudges, some confusion, and laughable parts. It’s probably obvious what’s happening to most viewers, yet we’re glued to the screen nonetheless with ironic puns, turnabouts, kitchen frights, and titular twists. I guess edible and sexual horrors don’t mix!

For more Foreign Horror Treats, check out Our Mario Bava Essentials!

FRIGHTENING FLIX by Kbatz: Tales from the Darkside Season 1

The Tales from the Darkside Debut Still Has Memorable Frights

by Kristin Battestella

 

The late George A. Romero produced the 1984-85 syndicated debut of Tales from the Darkside, a twenty-three episode anthology of original and short story adaptations with familiar faces and plenty of memorable half-hour frights. The Complete Series DVD set, however, begins with the original 1983 “Trick or Treat” pilot written by Romero and starring Bernard Hughes (The Lost Boys) as a Scrooge-like lender profiting from the ruin of others with his to the penny bookkeeping. His wealth is in money bags instead of banks, and come Halloween, he hides the IOUs from his desperate share croppers for their children to find and thus absolve their family’s debt. Parents drum up their scared children to brave the annual house of horrors and the devilish wizard behind the curtain orchestration. Justly, the turnabout on this modern Dickensian spin is fair play when real horrors best our miser at his own game. More businessmen are smoking cigars and offered scotch to celebrate the latest deal in “The New Man.” Unfortunately, when a little boy shows up at the office telling his father to come home, the man doesn’t recognize him – unlike his wife and older son, who are appalled by dad’s mistake and refer to an alcoholic history of repeated moves and lost jobs. His life spirals back to the bottle in a surreal mix of horror and addiction, and though confusing with distorted timelines and resets, the real life consequences remain relatable. More cocktails, limousines, bribery, and homicide anchor “I’ll Give You a Million” as two sophisticated old gentlemen play billiards and raise the stakes to a million dollars for one’s soul. Is it tomfoolery to bet on a nonexistent property or is there something to a bad liver, senile behavior, and foul play clauses in the contract? A terminal diagnosis, however, changes the with interest and buy back offers on the deal as storms, power outages, and fatal phone calls set off the Marley-esque visitations. Likewise doctor Farley Grainger (Strangers on a Train) has a radical solution to a laid up husband’s back problem in “Pain Killer.” Muscle relaxers, two weeks off from work, and acupuncture are to no avail – but maybe its his nagging wife that’s really the constant pain…

Some Tales from the Darkside episodes have similar financial bargains and devilish killers, however such pay it forward macabre creates a connective undercurrent for the anthology, and a mysterious man in a white suit breaks the bookies with his lucky streak in “The Odds.” The back booth seedy and congested, smoky mood forgive the colloquial betting talk as the ticking clock counts down when the fatal stakes are due. In “Slippage,” a graphic artist loses his birth certificate, paycheck, and portfolio. His reunion invitation never comes either, and it’s almost as if he doesn’t exist at all when his yearbook photo disappears. No one, not even his wife, remembers him – but is it a set up or the supernatural? Horror make up artist turned director Tom Savini (Dawn of the Dead) brings the creepy hands, terrible eyes, and ghoulish reveal for “Inside the Closet” as taxidermy and a small locked closet in a rented room live up to the Tales from the Darkside name alongside skeleton keys, mouse traps, and spooky dolls. Slide protectors, atmospheric music, under the bed shadows, and swift editing for the creature attacks elevate this warped twist. Meek out of work writer Bruce Davidson (X2) wishes his late genius nephew was his in fellow Creepshow collaborator Stephen King’s “The Word Processor of the Gods,” and the boy’s custom built word processor has an execute button convenient for creating Spanish doubloons – as well as one big red delete key that comes in really handy. Retro text, warning phone calls, fearful confrontations, and fiery overloads accent the consequences while Bibles and organ music set the funeral scene in Robert Bloch’s (Psycho) “A Case of the Stubborns.” Unfortunately for young Christian Slater (Mr. Robot) and Brent Spiner (Star Trek: The Next Generation), grandpa Eddie Bracken (Hail the Conquering Hero) doesn’t recollect being dead and is too stubborn to admit it despite no heartbeat and a death certificate. The too much rouge becomes pasty skin peeling and the Board of Health doesn’t like the smell, but the local voodoo woman offers a solution – pepper.

 

Tarot readings for a deceptive old lady swapping the card decks spells doom for Dorothy Lyman (Mama’s Family) in “In the Cards.” The desperation increases as thrown away cards reappear and even setting the deck on fire can’t prevent the tellings foretold. Are these predictions coming true a gift or a curse? Disbelievers and rival madams combine here for a mystical meets real world darkness. At least nagging wife Alice Ghostley (Bewitched) knows the way to her husband’s heart is his favorite stew in “Anniversary Dinner.” It’s the empty nesters’ twenty-fifth, and they take in a young hiker, offering her a celebratory sherry in their hidden room with a hot tub and some taxidermy. Sure, this one is obvious, but Tales from the Darkside serves up a twisted good time nonetheless when a drunken teacher tells off the headmaster because he’s going to win the lottery in “Snip, Snip” thanks to the perfect number – 666. Unfortunately, 667 rewards hairdresser Carol Kane (Taxi), and a talkative parakeet named Lucifer interrupts an attempt to steal her winning ticket. Appearances, however, are deceiving, and the tense but sardonic banter questions which spirits truly have the answers – astrology or distilled. Then again, a little horseshoe phone never looked so ominous as in one of my Tales from the Darkside favorites “Answer Me,” where subletting Jean Marsh (Upstairs, Downstairs) hears the incessant ringing of her neighbor’s telephone. The apartment’s been empty since the last tenant died, and the casual, effortless talking to oneself turns into frantic chatter as the noise next door won’t stop. Increasingly dark rooms, scary shadows, and twisted telephone cords live up to the series name in this taut one woman play. For “Madness Room,” an older man, his younger wife, and their handsome lawyer uncover tales of murder and treasure maps via a Ouija board, and the sophisticated puzzle builds with a little drywall demolition, secret doors, a one hundred year old diary, and some ghostly gun play on the comeuppance. Likewise “If the Shoes Fit…” puts a political candidate in an eerie hotel on his latest campaign stop where his tactic is to gain votes by making people smile. The charm, of course, is all for show, and he admits the pomp and circumstance is all so the best actor can win. Ironically, this circus commentary on politics, clown suit and all, remains a surprisingly relevant farce.

Though seemingly hokey with carnival magicians and harmless tricks, “Levitation” has a few surprises up its sleeve with fatal magic and foolish teens wanting to know all the behind the scenes secrets. There’s a sorrow amid the throwing knives, applause, and slight of hand – but our heckler gets what he wishes for when a little ‘Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board’ goes awry. The very expensive laundry service in “It All Comes Out in the Wash” guarantees the rinsing of a customer’s sin and guilt, leaving pleased with themselves clientele free to divorce or order vendettas while waiting on the latest laundry delivery. Unfortunately, when the prices triple and the order is late, one’s soul may be the final cost for services rendered. Quitting smoking has also never been tougher than in “Bigalow’s Last Smoke.” This high tech cage has bars on the windows, a television watching you, and punishments for striking a match. The only way out of the full proof program is to stop smoking – making for another memorable and psychologically chilling Tales from the Darkside parable via the most common addiction concepts. “Grandma’s Last Wish” also tackles the horrors of reality with ungratefulness, aging, and ageism. When this obnoxious family ignores Grandma, they learn what it’s like to be old in this witty turnabout. The bus station at Christmas is filled with superstitious warnings, almost walking under a ladder, tea leaves, and horoscopes in “The False Prophet” season finale. A fortune telling machine predicts a gullible Ronee Blakley (A Nightmare on Elm Street) will meet the love of her life on this trip. However a newer, futuristic male voiced machine wants her to get touchy feely for his advice, warning her to beware of false prophets when a flashy minister arrives with all the platitudes. Which one should she believe? Eerie lighting, personality, and wolf in sheep’s clothing subtext top off the unlucky deceptions.

Of course in this lengthy season of old Tales from the Darkside has a lot of hours to fill, and a few meh plots stray into the offbeat or weird rather than fitting the series’ spooky theme. The eponymous boy and girl twins of “Mookie and Pookie” address newfangled computer ghost in the machine fears with Justine Bateman (Family Ties) and Tippi Hedron (The Birds) the same way The Twilight Zone addressed spaceflight paranoia. However, the giant old PC, radical programs putting the brother in the network, and a dad not down with the tech times are totally hokey today. Colleen Camp (Clue) and all-star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar also can’t save Harlan Ellison’s (Star Trek’s “The City on the Edge of Forever”) “Djinn, No Chaser.” The straight jacket asides and to the screen therapy confessions compete with the flashback recounting a genie lamp, disembodied voices, and silly objects flying about the room. What could have been a cautionary wish fulfillment tale stalls with flat humor bordering on the ridiculous. “All a Clone by the Telephone” boasts agent Dick Miller (Night of the Creeps) and down on his luck writer Harry Anderson (Night Court), but the too cool for school little answering machine with a better life of its own takes itself too seriously to be avante garde bizarre. Likewise, perpetually emotional Jessica Harper (Suspiria) meets the mysterious Victor Garber (Legends of Tomorrow) who can capture her teardrops with his ancient Chinese wisdoms in “The Tear Collector.” The glass swan vessels, tear trophy rooms, and consequences for breaking the collection seem to build toward something, but all the ominous tears and broken glass just end up…happy? Boo, hiss! Fortunately, dark lighting, green hues, and shadow schemes do fit the eerie alongside nostalgic animatronics, old school prosthetics, and classic horror make up. Without a huge budget or today’s film making technology, Tales from the Darkside does a lot with less – and the series didn’t need anything beyond those smoke and mirrors, thunderstorms, and distorted voice effects creating its sinister mood. Sure, some obvious sets may be cramped or barren, but that lends to a stage-like parable and other episodes make the most of outdoor scenes. Several entries may have a period or old fashioned setting, but the slightly earlier seventies feeling makes it tough to tell what’s past or present and no dates are given to break the warped reality. Then again, the boob tubes, rabbit ears, Walkmans, waterbeds, VCRs, and Ma Bell accent the prophetic talk of computers being the way of the future. Forget the diskettes, typewriters, retro kitchens, and dated patterns! I’ll take some of those vintage hundred dollar bills though, and look at those eighties yuppies talking a stroll down memory lane with their 1965 yearbook!

While some of the Seasonal DVD releases have music rights issues and the Complete Series set is packaged somewhat plainly, there is a commentary from Romero included with “Trick or Treat,” and Tales from the Darkside is also currently available on Shudder. The series may not be super famous to younger horror fans, but mention Tales from the Darkside to us of a certain age and you hear tell of an opening theme that terrified youngins back in the day. Its pretty sunshine, happy trees, and rustic imagery turn black, white, and red – a negative image with sinister notes to match narrator Paul Sparer’s warning of the dark underworld therein where we must doubt all we believe. Such bleak is immediately immersive compared to the dark comedy or more fantastic comic book tone of Creepshow and Tales from the Crypt. This debut is dated, often weird, usually unexplained, and not without hiccups. It hurts the series that audiences today have seen it all and may find the twists boring. However, Tales from the Darkside’s First Season makes the most of its old school effects and vintage style for heaps of atmosphere and memorable harbingers.

 

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Full Eclipse versus The Howling II

Bad, Bad Dog: Full Eclipse and Howling II: Your Sister is A Werewolf

By Kristin Battestella

Somehow, I managed to stumble upon not one, but two questionable tales of wolfdom- the 1985 sequel Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf and the 1993 HBO original movie Full Eclipse. Ruh-roh!

LA detective Max Dire (Mario Van Peebles) loses his wife and his partner and can’t quite deal. Fortunately, new special officer Adam Garou (Bruce Payne) invites Max to join his exclusive criminal task force- composed of other quality, but struggling cops like Casey Spencer (Patsy Kensit) who take the law into their own hands. The team injects themselves with a special serum designed by Garou, giving them superior prowess against the crime on the street…and a few werewolf tendencies.

Director Anthony Hickox (Waxwork) and writers Michael Reaves (Gargoyles, Smurfs) and Richard Christian Matheson’s (The A-Team, and yes, son of Richard Matheson) standard, undeveloped cop story has its share of script issues as it weakly deals with all the typical detective traumas like alcohol, empty marriages, and corruption. More repeating clichés and meandering plots waste far too much time for a 90-minute movie. Worse still, Full Eclipse never decides whether it’s a cop movie or a horror film- this wolf unit is supposed to be so total justice and badass, but the entire idea is just too preposterous even for fantasy. The dark realism attempt comes across as totally hokey, and a lot of the poor design work is too dark and tough to see anyway. Though dated by the nineties fashions, the lingering low budget feelings and mismashed plots are worse than any of the old motifs. ‘Looks old’ you can forgive if the tale holds up, but this nineties badass isn’t really that badass at all thanks to too much useless, bad action and slow motion police work. And all this is before all the cheesy werewolf mess! There’s simply not enough mystery or scares to accept the crappy effects, wolverine like wolf claws, and cops suited up like cannibal superheroes.

Fans of Mario Van Peebles, thankfully, can find a few things to enjoy in Full Eclipse. Granted, Peebles (Damages, All My Children, New Jack City, Heartbreak Ridge, Posse, Solo, I’ll stop) is kind of just being himself as always, but it’s juicy, cocky, and fun to watch as expected. Likewise, Bruce Payne (Highlander: Endgame) is freaky fun. The script and goofy wolf serum plot don’t serve him well, but some might enjoy his violent creepy, disturbing as that it is. Unfortunately, it’s Patsy Kensit (Emmerdale, Lethal Weapon 2, music chick and rocker wife) who drops the ball most in Full Eclipse. Yes, there’s plenty of nineties rowdy English rose pretty, but she’s also pretty obvious and absolutely unbelievable as a cop- much less an action hero with hairy secrets or a meaty attitude. Actually, there’s no chemistry among the cast, and Full Eclipse isn’t nearly as sexy as it could have been. And that ‘love scene’ between Kensit and MVP is just pathetic. I’ve never seen people bump and grind whilst being so far away from each other!

Likewise, fans of that horror titan himself, Christopher Lee, can attempt the badly bizarre novelty of Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf. But of course, Sir Christopher’s voice is great as always- and I do so love the way he insistently repeats that subtitle! He certainly looks the classy werewolf hunter, or excuse me, the ‘occult investigator’. Big C always comes to play even in a bad, bad movie such as this, but the classy older Lee going for those funky white sunglasses and red leather jacket for some undercover eighties clubbing is just….no. In some scenes, it’s like there’s Christopher Lee, and then there’s everyone else- and to top it off, he has the Holy Grail in his wolf arsenal. I kid you not. Lee’s Occult expert Stefan must convince reporter Jenny (Annie McEnroe) and Ben White (Reb Brown, Captain America) that his sister- the reporter Karen White from the 1981 film The Howling– is now a werewolf needing to be staked in her crypt. To stop all the virile werewolves from rising with the full moon, the trio must travel to Transylvania and destroy the ancient wolf queen Stirba (Sybil Danning) before she makes hairy werewolf love in a spectacular eighties light show. I repeat, I kid you not.

Truly, this cast is so, so bad (I made a mistake when I typed my notes and wrote ‘sos’ bad, as in ‘S.O.S’, wow!) Annie McEnroe (Beetlejuice) is a totally unrealistic and mousy reporter with pathetic delivery. In her scenes with Lee, it feels like he would have been better off talking to a wall because it is that one-sided of a conversation. None of it sounds right, especially the bad howling during the weird wolf sex. While I love the idea of a sexy and badass black wolf chick stealing the show, Marsha Hunt (Dracula A.D. 1972) isn’t given the proper treatment. Her makeup and over the top wolf plots are too eighties to be sexy, and the full doggy getup ends up looking more like a drag queen. It’s an utter injustice for what could have been hot hot hot. Thankfully, Sybil Danning (Amazon Women on the Moon) is totally fetching despite that scary and violent leather bodysuit. The incredibly weak script gives her nothing to say but growls and gibberish- was that aged 10 millennia did you say, really? Danning looks perfectly perky and kinky in her prime, but if only we could have seen more of her and Lee together in something more Hammer juicy. Alas, instead we get the very disturbing Little Person Werewolf Hunter Jiri Krytinar (Amadeus), who unfortunately gets his brain imploded by Stirba before turning Don’t Look Now. Ouch.

 

This utterly preposterous story from director Phillippe Mora (A Breed Apart) twists source novelist Gary Brandner’s mythos and also goes by Howling II: Stirba- Werewolf Bitch. Well, I may as well stop reviewing right there, for there isn’t anything major wolfy or bitchy here. This 1985 sequel is a far cry from its cult treat predecessor, with nasty werewolf implications that don’t go far enough and awkward, reaching ties to the original film. Too many changes to the werewolf essentials almost turn Howling II into a vampire move. These Transylvania wolves are immune to silver and can only be stopped by titanium stakes through the heart. Every eighties horror shtick possible is used – fire magic wolves get their powers binded by Big Christopher in what is a completely random and unfulfilling attempt at sexy horror and wolf comedy. Everything about Howling II is mistaken, from the bad, unnecessary eighties music over taking everything to the low of the lowest budget 1985 design. The punk teen Euro wolfy fashions, horrible lycan effects, awful zooms, and disastrous attempts at what you don’t see horror- really; these werewolves toss crates to ensnare their victims! Likewise, they themselves are caught in some bad action scenes and get captured with fishing nets!

I’m harsh, yes, but Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf and Full Eclipse can be entertaining believe it or not- if you really, really like bad wolfy movies or are seriously jonesing over the leading men. It’s ironic because Mario Van Peebles and Christopher Lee are probably as far from each other in the leading man spectrum as you could get, but both deserve to be in a quality wolf horror movie. Nonetheless, their fans can still have fun here. However, if you are a highbrow fright connoisseur and expect some sense of credibility or logic in your lycan films, then move along doggie.

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Friday the 13th The Series Season Three

Friday the 13th: The Series Loses Steam in Season 3

by Kristin Battestella

The 1989-90 final twenty episode leg of Friday the 13th: The Series sputters as Micki Foster (Louise Robey) and Jack Marshak (Chris Wiggins) continue to retrieve cursed objects sold from the Curious Goods shop. Ryan Dallion (John D. LeMay), however, can no longer confront the evils they face, and Johnny Ventura (Steve Monarque) doesn’t fully comprehend the magical wrong doings of their terrible quarry.

Crosses, Madonna statues, religious paintings, and church festivals create Old World feeling in “The Prophecies Parts 1 and 2” as Jack is off to France claiming he’s researching spiritual phenomena – which isn’t that far from the truth. Creepy long nails, sharp teeth, evil eyes, and demonic voices accent 3:33 a.m. bells, prayers, and eponymous readings as priests cross themselves against possession, hell hounds, and evil tomes. If Lucifer can do his work in a holy place, what hope is there for the rest of us? Family reunions are bittersweet between miraculous visions, foretold fallen angels, and whispers of demons wanting a soul. Frightful falls, a pilgrimage blasphemed, scripture versus scripture – is the faith of a child enough to trap this evil in the protected Curious Goods vault? Though the good gone bad themes feel rushed in the second part, fiery thunderstorms and disturbing violence set off the big terrors for this opening twist. Upsetting injuries, gang violence, and shocking car accidents continue in “Crippled Inside.” It’s difficult to cope with the wheelchair bound result – until an antique pushchair provides some healing astral projection and gory doppelganger payback. What’s a little acid or a short walk off a tall building among rapists? This dilemma on an cursed quarry’s justified usage happens almost without the regular trio, establishing a pattern this season where our collectors are excused away or stumble onto the curio after an otherwise anthology style tale. Gross boils and a bloody hearing aid worming its way deeper anchor “Stick It In Your Ear” alongside magic tricks, blindfolds, guessing game schemes, and the ability to hear people’s thoughts. Camera revelations, scary editing, and vivid sounds make the audience fear this evil little amplifier! Had Friday the 13th continued, it would have been neat to see one elusive object reappear each season, and the standout “Bad Penny” revisits the ominous coin from Season Two’s “Tails I Live, Heads You Die.” The piece is found in the rubble with a skeleton or two alongside cops in the back alley, informant prostitutes, laundered briefcases, and shootouts. Jack and Micki are understandably upset to battle this piece again, and tender moments come between mistakes, conflicts, trauma, and car chases as a cop raises the wrong ghoulish person from the dead with dark magic he doesn’t understand.

 

Whoopsie, a car radio is sold from Curious Goods without checking if it is on the evil manifest while vintage automobiles, confederate flags, and redneck racism set the tone for “Hate On Your Dial.” Our villains were already nasty before the sale, using derogatory terms and shooting at children for funsies, and such murderous blood on the dashboard is a time travel catalyst for a black and white Mississippi trip. Again the social statements are mostly developed without the series stars, and the fictitious fears wrapped in real world horror is somewhat uneven thanks to the back and forth editing between the color present and the black and white past. The appalling racism issues, however, are both dated yet still relevantly disturbing. The eighties may have been thirty-five years from this past depiction, but we aren’t much better in the near thirty years since. More silver screen clips and vintage film reels provide a fallen Old Hollywood glitz in “Femme Fatale” as an aging actress’s screenwriter husband tosses young starlets into his cursed print. How many pretty face fatalities will it take for his wife’s young onscreen self to permanently exit the frame? The eighties does forties mood goes all out with film within a film classic movie retrospectives on lost youth and escapist ingenues willing to do anything to be in pictures. Samurai swords and family honor bring the 1945 Tokyo start of “Year of the Monkey” full circle with sensei instruction, a poisonous tea set, and our trio on the trail of some creepy little see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil monkey statues. As is often the case, the Japanese motifs are slightly cliché exotic with calligraphy, rice paper screens, and guest Tia Carrere (Wayne’s World). Fortunately, the generational lessons and revenge mysticism prove themselves with each statue testing the telepathy, teleportation, and ritual suicide for a promised immortality. Satin lined coffins, somber organs, and Polaroids for the company scrapbook open “Epitaph For a Lonely Soul” between fluids, tubes, classical music, and some sherry while working on the gory wounds and ghoulish purple tissues. Vintage embalming equipment can reanimate bodies, and the candles, grave digging, and undressed corpses suggest a twisted desecration. Memories, decomposition, and the trauma of life renewed hold the undead pretty captive – and Micki may be next for our lonely mortician.

Perilous kids and dogs are quite graphic with very little for “Repetition” and the missing posters, confessionals, and hidden bodies add to the immediate guilt and personal dilemmas caused by a life trapping cameo necklace. Ghostly echoes and desperate kills repeat this swapping cycle as drinking and homeless shelters crisscross over dead mothers and fatal trades. Ironically, Micki isn’t even pursuing the locket and Curious Goods merely bookends the hour. Despite a reversed episode listing order, The Complete TV Series DVD Set has “Spirit of Television” next complete with swanky parties, thunderstorms, seances, and a madame calling on the deceased through a suspect vintage television. Unfortunately, the seemingly happy chats with the departed are followed by upset ghosts, and the subsequent blown up boob tubes and electrocutions in the bathtub renew our madame’s youth. The fantastic conduit, static white noise, and spooky nostalgia accent the psychic fraud as the team must both debunk and retrieve the cursed set – doing what Friday the 13th should with this supernatural late season redeemer. Likewise, the poolside bullies and strong arming of “Jack-in-the-Box” lead to floating bodies and one of Micki’s friends among the deceased. The surviving daughter acts out and rightfully slams the adults responsible. However, the titular toy turns her innocence and grief into vengeance. Drowning in alcoholism parallels set off the ghostly visits and fatal vignettes, but our curio trio can’t endorse this creative revenge no matter how justified. Ancient Gaelic languages, candles, charms, and oak trees open the 1984 prologue for “The Tree of Life,” but when a husband objects to this so-called mumbo jumbo as part of the prenatal regime, these druids cum nurses keep the baby. A present pregnant couple shopping for dolls at Curious Goods is also scheduled at this rigid clinic, and our collectors involve themselves in this sisterhood of spells and solstice sacrifices. Too bad Last Season’s white versus dark coven rivalries weren’t tied in among the disagreeing team and women versus women cult extremes. A shady professor also tells his female students to get in touch with their dark side in the series finale “The Charnel Pit,” and the blindfolded nightcaps lead to a two-sided, time traveling painting said to be done by the Marquis de Sade in blood. Torture, shackles, and a little loving pain leave Micki trapped in the eighteenth century disguised as a duchess and writing of her alluring predicament with Mr. MdS. The boys, meanwhile, must figure out which of the painting’s victims are from the past by looking for a lack of dental work. Fancy dressings add to the courtly facade, dungeon gallery, and willfully sinister charm, for after all, one learns a person’s true colors with a whip. Fortunately, there’s just enough room for one more cursed antique in the vault.

Friday the 13th’s previous two seasons certainly had some duds, and there aren’t as many super bad clunkers in this shortened year. Most of these episodes are okay or decent, but no one really puts everything totally together to zing like the memorable years prior. Dated surveillance equipment and Aliens wannabe trackers in “Demon Hunter” are hammy early with hokey moonlight silhouettes and more Predator commando knockoffs. Power outages at Curious Goods, a museum returning a sacrificial dagger, and further dark secrets hidden beneath the vault that could have been explored more are shoehorned in like an A/B plot behind the laughable family vengeance meets monster puppet, and R.G. Armstrong’s annual Uncle Lewis appearance is sorely missed this year. The series also randomly plays with inconsistent time travel and flashback aspects with one episode’s flashbacks in black and white but another time travel hour in color. Rather than previous innovative technical attempts, the style doesn’t seem to matter. We also never spend enough time at Curious Goods, and “Midnight Riders” has our team star gazing while teens necking in a nearby car are accosted by a try hard phantom gang and local Sleepy Hollow biker legends. A ghoulish headless biker reattachment can’t save this one – oh, and Jack’s mysterious sea captain dad not seen in ten years is somehow in this backwoods on top of those annoying teens who, it turns out, are siblings! o_O A late night swimming pool in “The Long Road Home” is also an excuse for a juicy underwater lip lock between Micki and Johnny amid storm warnings, terrible flirting, and a tacked on yin yang charm with body transferring properties. Highway diners, cliché taxidermy, and country killers can be found elsewhere in horror, and Friday the 13th strays from its virtue once the protagonists use the evil object and its hammy body swaps when it suits them. The trio is actually more present and capable than usual in deducing the preposterous selfishness in “My Wife as a Dog” when a miraculous leash helps a whiny fireman make his ailing dog and soon to be ex-wife one and the same. Curious Goods being cited for not being up to fire code is the better story, and this is an unlikable, perverse little episode with major mixed messages on making your woman a bitch and moving your dog into the bedroom. Again, O_o

Our Micki may get groceries or stay at home and research, however she also continues on a case without Jack or Ryan and it is dumb to have her repeatedly call Johnny for unnecessary help when we’ve seen her face plenty of evil on her own. It’s also surprising she would let a man follow and attack her just to get an object – as if, not that it is her only plan, but rather just the best the writers could do. Micki is either the lovely victim or referred to as minding the store and doesn’t always have very much to do either way. “Bad Penny” has Jack give the past exposition rather than show Micki speaking about the experience herself, although she’s right to be afraid of dying in this fight against evil. The trio is also closer to the terror and within the investigation sooner for “Mightier Than the Sword” thanks to execution protests, pardons, and a pen that lets the author write what the guilty party will do while he gets the subsequent crime writer exclusives and literary glory. Jokes about word processors versus the good old pen and paper write themselves amid nom de plumes and slashers who don’t remember their fatal deeds. Unfortunately, Micki struggles to resist the scripted urge and uses a discreet straight razor to scratch her new murderous itch. She’s briefly smitten by a vampire again, trapped in a gangster movie, and sucked into a hellish painting for some 1790 saucy, too. There are consequences and nightmares as a result, but it’s understandable to see Micki snap – wouldn’t we all? Despite a brief Roxette mohawk meets I Love Lucy updo, one of those fake ponytail braids a la Madonna, and some lovely baroque feathers and period frocks; most of the time Micki’s style is maturely toned down with more nineties turtlenecks and business blazers. By the end of the season, she is once again independently strong, breaking in places and confronting people rather than letting these evils continue.

Once again, Jack’s continental battles have one wondering what Friday the 13th would have been like with him alone on the evil relic hunt. We don’t even get to see it when he’s said to be off recovering the Shard of Medusa from Year Two! The devil punishes him for all his good works, but Jack officially becomes part owner of Curious Goods on paper nonetheless. He’s the reluctant treasurer of the Antiques Association, too, but doesn’t like having its swanky party at the store when the other snobby dealers belittle his occult focus. Jack takes the lead in most cases, researching all aspects and utilizing his magic act connections or Druid knowledge. He also looks more nineties suave in more suit styles rather than his somewhat quirky trench coat and hat. Jack’s there for Micki as a fatherly shoulder, telling her to not let evil defeat her and even getting harsh with her when he has to be. He brings Micki food when she’s on a stakeout, too – even if that’s more about delivering some exposition. Jack waxes on good, evil, the gray between, and how their job never seems to get any easier in “Night Prey” thanks back alley bites, impromptu stakings, and one killer crucifix. Granted, some strobe effects are hokey, however those vampires floating outside the church’s stained class windows are eerily effective. If the show insisted on branching out from the object of the week format, it could have been cool to see Jack team up with such vampire hunters more often. This lone wolf monster vendetta with misused medieval relics feels like a rare Jack-centric episode, but the team is two steps behind as usual and Jack dictates information just as much as he gets in on the conflicted action. He admits that in their line of work, doing the right thing can be a little too weird sometimes, and Jack gets caught in the middle with twisted romance, then shocking innuendo, and murdered priests. It’s 1990 but these vamps are pretty indiscriminate on who they bite.

Unfortunately, Ryan is clearly over all the death in his life, and close to home battles versus Lucifer interfere with a new chance to bond with the mother who abandoned him. Seriously, how do you explain this line of work to mom? Demonic corruption, violence that can’t be undone, guilt, and final heroics send the character off in an eerie and unique, if far fetched exit. It’s at once cathartic to see innocence win in a series where evil can’t always be defeated, however, continuing Friday the 13th with two thirds of the regulars and a tacked on pal shifts the show’s dynamic considerably. Johnny Ventura suddenly becomes Micki’s sounding board but he feels more like an intrusion rather than helpful. The hood from a few episodes last season is now supposedly the hero as if a stranger dropped in with no explanation when the series had other opportunities to involve better mystical support. Whether Johnny stays at the store or has his own car is inconsistent depending on if he is called for a lame reason or if his wheels are part of the plot. He remains a non-believer in the paranormal even as Jack tells him to make himself useful and warns Johnny to take these dangerous curios seriously. Johnny can’t retrieve an object alone nor mind the store without selling the wrong item, and takes an ax to an indestructible evil object when not trying to use the evil for himself. For being the young muscle, he gets knocked out a lot, too. Johnny does write fiction by getting ideas from the tabloids – which Jack calls rubbish even though earlier in the series he said the rags were the best place for tips. They discourage him from writing about the store, but an underground publication angle might have been neat instead of pushing this new character at the expense of the others when Jack and Micki get on as a duo just fine. Thankfully, Johnny is put to use climbing outside to adjust the television antenna. Heck, Jill Hennessy (Law and Order) pops up three times as a sultry vampire, snotty secretary, and a lifeguard. She could have kept around as an undercover regular disguised per antique.

Orange lighting, distorted bells, white out eyes, and wolves leaping through windows keep up the horror intensity alongside foggy cemeteries, stone crypts, religious iconography, fires, and red devils with the horns to match the ghoulish skeletons, gory flesh, and melting oozes. Underground tombs, torches, demon altars, rune manuscripts written in blood, and pentagrams beneath the vault help make Curious Goods by lantern light even creepier, and there’s a stained couch with a body in the pullout cushion! Mirrors assure those vampires have no reflection, there’s holy water on the shelves at Curious Goods, and the store’s business cards give its address as 666 Druid Avenue. Hearts pounding and distorted camera angles set off veiny prosthetic gore even if the period flashbacks and foreign locales are slightly under budget old looking. Fortunately, the retro designs make the most of the horror effects, building that patina mood with frock coats and frilly collars for some provincial time travel or green lighting, cigarettes, and noir styling for the vampire nightclub. The swanky cars, station wagons, mothers in sweaters and pearls, and thirty year old high schoolers with bad perms keep the nostalgia in the forefront, compensating for reused sets and locations or that same Tudor house used for everything. The early computer snooping is also somewhat fake. You couldn’t just type in a name on blank screen and get clues back in the day! What do they think this is, Google? This was the era of phone booths when folks still had black and white televisions, and Friday the 13th gets then edgy by using ‘bitch’ a lot – although such grit feels hollow when wearing those big eighties blazers and tiny bolero ties. Men in tight jeans, long scarves, duster trench coats, and mullets isn’t so timeless nor are the seriously purple eighties mod bathrooms with black fixtures and bloody bathtubs. Of course, rather than due to any letdown in syndication popularity, Friday the 13th: The Series was canceled at a time when sponsors and advertising were swayed by complaints on television violence and how far shows could push the envelope in prime time. In retrospect, it’s an ironic end knowing everything seen here is almost friendly fair compared to the excessive shocks across all the television viewing platforms today.

Season Three strays from the Friday the 13th formula as cast changes and a larger focus on plots of the week loose the ability to fully capitalize on the spooky ideas presented. Fortunately, enough late hour gems keep these terrible little tchotchkes entertaining for old school horror audiences and series completists.

FRIGHTENING FLIX by KBATZ: Dead Calm

 

Dead Calm Old, But Still Kind of Creepy

By Kristin Battestella

 

My Mother gets the wiggins every time she watches the 1989 thriller Dead Calm. A very young Nicole Kidman and then popular Billy Zane date this drama on the high seas, but there’s enough chills to keep you on the edge of your seat.

After the death of their son, John Ingram (Sam Neill) and his young wife Rae (Kidman) take time to grieve and bond anew as they sail back to Australia. After a month at sea, they encounter an unresponsive ship, then its lone survivor Hughie Warriner (Zane) on a dinghy. Neill leaves his wife to care for Hughie on their ship while he tries to save Warriner’s damaged vessel. Unfortunately, once Hughie has Rae alone, his true nature is revealed.

 

Natural suspense goes a long way for Dead Calm. There’s plenty of violence and disaster to get into on a lonely boat on the high seas. Director Phillip Noyce (Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger, The Bone Collector) does well with the vast dangers of the sea as well as the tight, claustrophobic, and confined interiors. Who doesn’t love all that bottomless water along with all the wood and mechanics to use, abuse, and on which to get hurt? Even the dog aboard ship is used intelligently. The fine story by Terry Hayes (The Road Warrior, Payback) – based on the 1963 novel by Charles Williams- is also complete and well done in the under two hour time frame. There’s a ticking clock of rescue and seafaring desperation in Dead Calm that appeals to all our fears. Today the powers that be would make a huge action disaster picture full of computer-generated squalls and people in bikinis. While not lacking on action or congested fight scenes, Dead Calm focuses on what would happen when we add the worst of human nature to the sea.

Sam Neil (Jurassic Park, The Tudors) is a little old for his wife, and this strain-along with the death of their child goes a long way in Dead Calm. Neil’s authentic as a former Navy man who knows the ocean. We trust him, like him and his instincts. If John feel’s something fishy, we worry with him. We don’t doubt he loves his young and saucy wife, but John’s rigid style might not keep Rae for long.

 

But of course Dead Calm uses all it can of the young and pretty Kidman (The Hours, Moulin Rogue, To Die For) in her first big picture stateside. Her accent, style, and mannerisms are not the elegant lady we know today-in fact, her delivery might be difficult to understand for some. At first, it doesn’t seem there’s a lot to Rae beyond the clichéd young and grieving wife and mother. However, Kidman shows her future talent with charm and chemistry with both her leading men. As Dead Calm progresses, Rae wisens up and uses her short, beachy outfits to her advantage. Naturally, a certain sexuality comes into play-and it’s all good and ambiguous. We don’t doubt Rae’s grief and devotion to her husband, but she is younger and all alone with a hot and scary guy.

Billy Zane does bad guys best: Titanic, yes, The Phantom, not so much. Built and bizarre, you don’t blame the Ingrams for being suspicious when they meet Hughie. Sure, the tale he tells of violence and marooning on the high seas might make anyone a little flaky; but Zane sells every piece of Hugie’s psychotic bend. His paranoia, quick obsession with Rae, explosives speeches, and creepy dancing seep into everyone one of our fears-we’d be afraid to be alone with Hughie at all, let alone sailing away into the worst that we can imagine. Then again, I’m sure there is an audience that will find Zane’s portrayal sexy as hell. Despite his mental instability, Hughie is vital and in control, and yes, it is rough and kinky.

 

Dead Calm’s styles-much like Billy Zane’s popularity, have however, waned. The clothing styles are very dated and Kidman’s bushy hair isn’t all it could be. The score by Graeme Revell (Sin City, Daredevil, The Crow) is too overbearing and obvious as well. There’s also not much rewatchability once you know all of Dead Calm’s twists and turns. Some of the naughty scenes, however, can be studied and re-interpreted time and again.

Fans of the trio will enjoy-although, this picture is not for any one who has water or boat phobias, I must say. There’s nudity of course for Kidman and Zane lovers, too. They’ve gone on to bigger and better things, but Dead Calm has all the makings of a scary, psychological thriller. Dated, perhaps, but sex and fear never get old. Look for this high seas adventures on DVD or blu-ray.