Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years A Slave) and Winston Duke (Black Panther) star in Jordan Peele’s (Get Out) 2019 doppelganger chiller Us. Warnings of underground unknowns, VHS, retro boob tubes, and ye olde 1986 commercials for Hands Across America set the scene before Santa Cruz carnivals, Thriller t-shirts, dark beaches, thunderstorms, and funhouse horrors. Her parents’ banter was already strained before the trauma, and the now-adult Addy hasn’t told her husband of the experience, either. They return to her family home, but their daughter’s too busy with her phone, the son’s really too old to be playing with toys, and her oblivious to her discomfort husband wants to keep up with the Joneses with a cool boat. The spooky basement, cabinets big enough to hide in, and mirrors with reflections that seem to look back at you lead to the same eerie funhouse, crazy beach folk, repeated twin moments, elevens, jinx, and double jinx. Peering through dark windows and talking with your back to a person layer visuals and dual suggestions while our husband jokes about what was in the hall of mirrors coming to get Addy and their rich white friends remain out of touch snobs more interested in alcohol and plastic surgery. Our Mr. thinks he can handle trespassers with threats and a baseball bat, but power outages and unresponsive lookalikes banging at the door make for a fearful home invasion. This unarmed, mid-century beach house and its many windows aren’t exactly secure, and the entire break-in happens in real-time without frenetic cameras and zorp boom music. Croaking, unaccustomed to speaking accounts tell tales of the tethered and shadowed receiving pain below while we have light and warmth above, and each of the underground confronts their compatriots with disturbing torments, freaky pursuits, and mimicking pantomime. Ironic Beach Boys cues and sardonic smart home devices are no help at all! Addy starts timid, but this threatened mother turns badass, angry, and desperate to save her son as the bizarre deaths and replacement reveal escalate with distorted reversals, fractured experiences, and not quite right through the looking glass. The timely titular we and the American initialization mirror the united privileged for some but underbelly torment for many. We kind of know what’s going in here and the wither to and why fros aren’t as important as the underlying social statements. However, drawn-out, unnecessary moments, and repeated, uneven showdowns make this a little long. Chases, defeats, and hard violence are easy or contrived depending on if the tethered is conveniently primitive and animalistic or agile and adapt as needed. Elaborate underground talk and random fights don’t explain how big this takeover is. Police are called but never arrive, both a horror trope as well as a commentary on the system, but the supposedly self-aware genre send-ups make characters stupid or erroneously humorous. Homages don’t upend but play into the horror cliches as car keys are forgotten, no one worries about food or weapons bigger than a fireplace poker, and they get out of the car in the middle of the woods. And how did they get so many pristine, matching underground supplies? The final act explanations and intercut dance parallels descend into stereotypical horror with quick editing and that obnoxious Zorp boom music, but with so many great things here, there’s no need for generic horror designs. There are flaws, the audience must take a lot of leaps, and final twists should have been told in the big reveal rather than montaged at the end. Our writer/director/producer needed a tighter edit in the last act, but the excellent foreshadowing, dual visuals, and social commentary make for repeat viewings and scary entertainment.
Thought Provoking and Mature A Christmas Carol (2019)
by Kristin Battestella
To allow himself rest in the afterlife, the deceased Jacob Marley (Stephen Graham) aides The Ghosts of Christmas Past (Andy Serkis), Present (Charlotte Reily), and Future (Jason Flemyng) in orchestrated a change for good in his soulless, corrupt business partner Ebenezer Scrooge (Guy Pearce). Scrooge’s bitter ways effect the health, happiness, and welfare of his clerk Bob Cratchit (Joe Alwyn) and his wife Mary (Vinette Robinson), but confronting Scrooge’s horrible life may not be enough to redeem the miser…
The 2019 BBC miniseries A Christmas Carol produced by Ridley Scott (Prometheus) and Tom Hardy (Venom) is a darker imagining of the perennial Charles Dickens tale with episodic chapters originally called “The Human Beast,” “The Human Heart,” and “A Bag of Gravel” airing stateside on FX as one three hour event. Director Nick Murphy (The Last Kingdom) and writer Stephen Knight (Peaky Blinders) obviously have more time to fill than the more traditional, idyllic, paired-down tellings. Rather than the same old saccharin “God bless us, everyone!” these days viewers expect television to bring on the relatable Victorian bitterness. We often glorify the past, but this A Christmas Carol doesn’t underestimate an audience intimately familiar with weighing every action by gain mentalities and who you know and how much money you have getting you anywhere in life uphill struggles, abuses, and humiliation. Urination, grave desecration, bastards, and F-bombs immediately set this adult tone before ominous winds, crows, eerie graveyards, and a frosty ethereal London 1843. Church bells, purgatory supernatural, and almost Shakespearean asides accent the six feet under coins on the eyes, and no rest in peace as hellish forges, chains, and swinging coffins invoke a much more grim penance. Phantom sleighs dragging the chained behind lead to echoes between the counting-house and the spirit realm. Rattling in the fireplace and cutaways to the point of view from an empty chair realistically lay the forthcoming between worlds – embracing the Victorian off-kilter faerie parallel rather than just a sudden, mere holiday intervention as is often portrayed. Time is taken in A Christmas Carol with handwashing a la Lady Macbeth and ghostly versus guilt-ticking clocks. Hypocritical analysis digs deeper than humbug archetypes, and great horror imagery sets off the familiar but transposed text delivered deftly and naturally without any try-hard ye oldeth. Villainous silhouettes grow darker when we get the famous workhouses, prisons, and let them die disturbing. Shadows and black horses take the place of the locomotive on the stairs as other animal kindnesses born out of cruelty and hopeful lantern flashes contrast the creaking gate and ghostly door knocker. While most adaptations have a quick start or only run eighty minutes themselves, here it takes an hour before we even get to the Scrooge and Marley encounter. This A Christmas Carol simmers and broods, for these apparitions have been a long time coming with thumps in the night, groaning houses, clicking locks, and guilty consequences. Chilling reasons for that scarf usually around Marley’s jaw become macabre shocks as A Christmas Carol takes the hallmarks of a story that’s tough to do wrong and runs with the one-on-one encounters, twofer deliveries, and fiery flashbacks. Faulty subcontracts and bribing officials led to bloody workhouse disasters, gas explosions, and coal mine collapses while Scrooge passed the blame and forged those symbolic chains.
The First Chapter of A Christmas Carol is excellent as is the second. However, when expanding such a short novella, the balance is bound to be uneven. Here Christmas Past is featured for almost an hour and a half – leaving twenty minutes for The Ghost of Christmas Present and only ten minutes for The Future. After such depth with The Past, viewers wonder why Andy Serkis just didn’t play one composite spirit? Upon moving on from him with only forty-five minutes left, suddenly this A Christmas Carol is rushed, running out of time, and on the same pace as any other adaptation. Onscreen Christmas Eve 1843 openings don’t match Marley’s 1842 grave marker and the supposed seven years since his passing, but nor do the 1851 death dates. The melancholy focus will tiresome audiences, yet the quick finale feels like this should have been longer – a four-hour, two-night event. All that Past just opened Scrooge up so The Present can show warmth by making him wear a scarf and tinge his heart in a third of the time? The often excised Ali Babi brings a dash of childhood wonder into such grim, but making The Ghost of Christmas Present a woman to soften up Scrooge negates the progressive gender change and defeats the purpose of ditching young Scrooge’s for love or money choice. While losing the seemingly essential festive Fezziwig works wonders, the exclusion of eavesdropping on Nephew Fred’s is a missed opportunity when you’ve made his mother The Ghost of Christmas Present. The Past repeatedly tells Scrooge this is not a game – long after Scrooge stops making passive-aggressive asides – but Fred’s mocking his uncle and Scrooge’s family resentment would have fit in well with this bitter A Christmas Carol. Viewers begin to notice famous wording and elements missing. Did we skip an episode? Did the editor lose a reel? My favorite moment with Ignorance and Want is also excised when the decrepit child motifs would have fit these acerbic themes, and the casting lots on the bedclothes bargaining is another profiting on death horror that is surprisingly absent as if the writers simply didn’t finish adapting the fourth stave of the book or the production plum ran out of time and money. At times A Christmas Carol doesn’t seem to trust what it has in these exceptional performances and the timeless source material, adding in extra dialogue when looking at the camera directly implies the fourth wall is already broken and the spiritual work is coming for us next. Some truly good or innocent and in tune characters are said to see the usually invisible Scrooge and company – a haunting provocation wonderfully bringing this seeming radical A Christmas Carol right back to Dickens, for “I am standing in the spirit at your elbow.”
Occasionally Guy Pearce (Brimstone) looks top hat debonair as Ebenezer Scrooge, but the greased hair, liver spots, curled lip, and scratchy voice are looking foul decrepit to match the black ink said to run through his veins. According to Scrooge, gifts are falsely sought and dressed in ribbons to create artificial happiness and fake grins. No one really means their tidings of joy, and the December 25 dates, wise men, and snow in Palestine “facts” are just more perpetuated lies revealing who we presume to be and who we really are on Christmas or any other day. If such yule transformations were true, then why aren’t we such lambs every day with one day of misery to say what we really mean? Scrooge remains isolated in his office, looking out his window on the noisy world as time is taken for his extrapolated soliloquies on pretense and humbug. However, even the camera pulls back when he approaches, recoiling at his despicable holiday honesty. Scrooge is obsessed with counting, an OCD itemizing when he’s frustrated by poor fools and pesky specters. After talking to himself and almost missing Marley, Scrooge is angry at the deceased’s appearance, defiant, and regrets nothing. Although put in his place early with scary past confrontations, he uses his history to justify why he is this way but not that he needs to change. Shrewd Scrooge buys liquidating businesses under price before selling them at true value and smiles at the wheeling and dealing done in his prime. He even tells The Ghost of Christmas Past to write off a new coat as a business expense if subjects keep clawing and crying on his robe. Repeatedly rationalizing every profit over human cost and exploiting all opportunities despite any anguish, Scrooge revels in dangling the keys to his safe before the desperate. Once defensive and refusing to look, he grows ashamed of his actively cruel behavior in an excellent dual performance contrasting past and presents Scrooge side by side. Scrooge practices positive greetings in the mirror but looks more creepy doing so. He doesn’t know how to change even if he admits he may do things differently if given the chance, for it was his own innocence sold that spurred this solidarity with money. Scrooge regrets and apologizes, trying to break the spirit rules and interfere yet he refuses redemption. He accepts he was wrong and deserves to not be forgiven as softer hair and nicer skin suggest his revitalization. Scrooge runs through the street like George Bailey, closing his business and giving away money. Payoffs won’t make everything right but he has to start being a better person somewhere. Don’t we all? Although I wish we heard some of the traditional wording from him – and I want to make his long dress coat – once again I ask where the awards are for Guy Pearce. Sometimes, he also looks like Sean Bean here. I hadn’t noticed this before and now I demand they play brothers in future yearly gothic holiday adaptations. Van Helsing, Jekyll and Hyde, yes please. Please please please please!
Instead of just saying he sat beside Scrooge and tried to reach him, Stephen Graham’s (This is England) restless Jacob Marley has much more to do. Marley anchors the transitions between counting-house and underworld as the realms bleed through like a double negative. He wants his own absolution and needs Scrooge to get him such Clarence-esque wings, deepening the potential penance via his own encounters with the Ghost of Christmas Past. Anguished Marley thinks he’ll be stuck in purgatory forever if his redemption hinges on Scrooge. He believes their reality was a choice, also appearing after the spirits to admit how wrong they were in life, and it’s fascinating to see his realization as the culmination rather than the impetus of A Christmas Carol. Andy Serkis (Lord of the Rings) looks like an undead, ancient Santa as the Ghost of Christmas Past – a cranky minder of souls perpetually burning forgotten holiday hopes. The character also appears as the evil Scrooge Senior in pure horror torment as well as the literary friend Ali Baba in bittersweet moments. His eerie hood is not the sentimental sprite we expect, and the dried wreath on his head carries a crown of thorns, Christ-like innocence lost. Instead of the distinguishing cap, a zoetrope hat casts past shadows on the wall in an excellent visualization of the then-new to see the old. Weary over Scrooge’s excuses, The Past sends progressive Ghost of Christmas Present Charlotte Riley (The Take) in the guise of sister Lottie Scrooge in a lovely change again deserving of much more than repetitive family exposition and narrating already seen actions from characters that could have said everything themselves. Logical Lottie understands Scrooge’s past pain, combining the scientific and sensitive to confront Scrooge before the mouth sewn shut, grave digger-esque Jason Flemyng (X-Men: First Class) as The Ghost of Christmas Future enters tolling a broken bell. He’s said to be the most terrifying of the spirits and the one who ultimately decides Scrooge’s fate, but unfortunately, he doesn’t really appear to do anything but provide the disturbing Tiny Tim fate. The Past had equally frightening moments, and The Future merely disappears as Scrooge ultimately amends on his own.
Joe Alwyn (also in Mary Queen of Scots with Pearce) doesn’t really stand out for me among the numerous lookalike blonde boy band-type actors abound these days. His Bob Cratchit seems somewhat young, weak, and ineffectual, but that is fitting for an overworked father trying to keep his meager family together. Scrooge thinks four lumps of coal is more than reasonable despite his clerk’s frozen ink and continues to rag on him for a word misspelled once five years ago. Exasperated Bob insists he doesn’t get angry and does his work perfectly to spite Scrooge. He doesn’t hate his employer and remains kinds to Scrooge, asking if he is himself when they have such surprisingly frank conversations on this peculiar Christmas Eve. Bob has to toe the line between passive-aggressive asides and really talking back or standing up to his boss. He tells Scrooge he knows indeed how precarious his situation is, making us wonder why “situation” as synonymous with “job” fell out of terminology when the family to feed or ill health reasons that one toils should be paramount. Vinette Robinson’s (Sherlock) Mary Cratchit is frazzled and snippy, making excuses to her husband and sketching stories for Tiny Tim because they have no money for books. Only having two little Cratchits and a relative aptly named Martha tightens the familial focus, and Mary resorts to terrible secrets and forgoes her pride in a desperate need to save her son. She prays to be forgiven for what she has to do and asks Jesus to turn his head over such blackmail and lies. The holiday means Mary has to revisit one terrible Christmas every year, repeatedly going outdoors rather than face the congested weight and manifested guilt as the spiritual influences come full circle. Rather than the usual poor but happy brevity, A Christmas Carol develops The Cratchits as conflicted people, embodying how the one who has to power to alleviate their suffering can cause more oppression without having to lay a creepy hand on anyone.
The titular icicle script ekes out the ghostly etching with a cold nib to match the frosted windows and meager candle flame frigid. Snow abounds alongside carriages, street lamps, sleighs, ice skating, and crowded streets. However, there are precious little signs of Christmas in A Christmas Carol. No holly, few wreaths or plain garlands, no old fashioned merry, and the only jolly comes in brief carol notes and fiddle melodies cut short. While the night time blue tint is easier to see, the over-saturation may be intentionally noticeable and otherworldly. There are also some unnecessary swooping pans over the cobblestone streets but fortunately, these are only used early on to set the Londontown bustle versus the paranormal underbelly. Stage-like blocking, lighting schemes, and careful attention to detail visualize characterizations with gleams of light shining through the windows as natural, hopeful rays or framing dark silhouettes as needed. The counting-house office is divided between a brighter front and a darker back office with a wall of ledgers between rooms that the clerk must repeatedly go around to talk to Scrooge. Intercut foreshadowing between worlds leaves onscreen space for characters on another plane, subtly establishing Scrooge and Marley’s partnership even if the men are technically not together in the same scene. Echoing footsteps, bells, chimes, and creaking invoke period as well as horror amid hellish red fireplaces and disturbing imagery. Pox marks and sullen pallors match the tattered gloves and shabby bonnets on the poor while slightly more refined styles set the wealthy apart with top hats, ascots, waistcoats, pocket watches, and frock coats. A Christmas Carol looks at the early Victorian part without relying on the expected women’s silhouette thanks to fantastical cloaks, steampunk touches, and choose special effects. Dark upon dark schemes set off the horror visuals and cave-ins as the fog and frigid grow inside as well as out in the largely empty interiors. Groaning walls and a growing bed are ominous without being overbearing. The optical tricks are simple with slow zooms or camera cuts to where a spirit might be, leaving the chill up the spine carried by one’s looking over his shoulder and frightful reaction shots – as the scares should be.
Certainly, there are more genteel family-friendly adaptations of A Christmas Carol, and this decidedly darker spin won’t be for those seeking any lighthearted Dickensian comforts. It also takes planning to settle in for the whole three-hour block stateside. Although the chapter title cards are retained and once we’re on this retrospective journey it’s tough to stop, having had the original UK episodic format would solve the dreary, dragging complaints. I watched this multiple times to pause and take notes, and there are more insights the more you watch. Despite an uneven weakness rushed in the latter half, the redemption arc fits this darker tone. Here there’s no overnight exuberance, and it makes the viewer consider how fast and superficial other interpretations now seem when the longer television format allows for such grim, thought-provoking extrapolation. It leaves one wanting more of this A Christmas Carol, and its unabashed look in the mirror is watchable beyond the holiday season – paralleling the words herein to be the best person we can be daily rather than just faking it at Christmas.
Read on for more Holiday Horror:
A faded pink $8 Goodwill Little Tykes car shall be revitalized as a Cinderella pumpkin coach for the year-old family princess! Orange and green paints, dollar store accents, and thrift ingenuity combine for whimsical stem and vine motifs in this magical, affordable makeover! While the paint dries there is even more trash to treasure crafts – including glitter stockings and faux holiday candles. Let’s throw in a costume, tiara, and wand to match because why not?
Many would see a faded Little Tykes Princess Coup and think nothing of it. However, when I spotted this $8 Goodwill find, I immediately thought PUMPKIN! Ironically, procuring the right shade of orange spray paint was the toughest part, as most home improvement stores only carry the fluorescent construction orange. Ultimately, I ordered an elusive $20 six-pack of “Rustic Orange” online but only used three cans for the car body. The steering wheel and four base wheels were taped and papered as they would remain black, but the two coats of orange went well save for some drips when I titled the car to cover the undersides and odd angles. This coup model was also missing the removable floorboard which enables a child to be initially pushed before moving the car themselves Flintstones style, but fortunately, Little Tykes offers replacement parts. This likewise spray-painted orange floorboard actually cost twice as much as the thrift car price thanks to shipping, but as this Cinderella coup is for my one-year-old niece, and the floorboard allows the car to grow with her.
Touch-ups around the eyes and steering wheel were done with an acrylic orange, a slightly different color for dimension on the car’s little smiley face front. I picked up three cans of Seaweed green spray paint for the accents, but to get in all the tight spots the can have to be much too close – leading to problematic drips and a switch to an acrylic Spring Green from my stash. Two coats of this fresh, bright green and a gloss spray sealing coat leftover from my Halloween Cat House Makeover later and this little custom coach came together in a weekend at $44 compared to the $60 plus for a brand new but less unique coup. While the paint dried, I worked on a whimsical stem to top off the pumpkin transformation, using masking tape and cardboard shipping corners cut into various heights to create texture and a curly-cue end shaped with a pipe cleaner before hot glue both secured and added gnarly dimension as seen in my Cardboard Candle Clusters and Halloween Mystery Staff. Varying coats and blends of brown and white paint made for a warm and realistic if bemusing look.
Now while the stem dried, Christmas Elf Kbatz also worked on a personalized glitter stocking for our rescue cat and faux holiday candles. After contemplating doing oversize candy cane-style candles out of Styrofoam or pool noodles,I made us of several Pringles cans that I had previously taped together and hastily painted but didn’t quite like or know what to do with at the time. The light brown and white paint mix became a primer before two white coats and dollar store red tape spirals. Light bulb toppers from the dollar store were painted yellow ochre in the same technique as the Dark Shadows Sconces before being secured with hot glue faux candle wax drips. With the $4 candle detours complete and all touch-ups dry, it was time to attach the stem to the pumpkin car with more glitter green hot glue embellishing the root-esque base and blended painting to match. Dollar store green mesh tubing and $5 Goodwill ivy became pumpkin vine spirals and leaf accents, and for that extra Bibbidi Bobiddi Boo, a $7 thrift Cinderella costume, tiara, and wand await!
Outside of lucking into the car and waiting on spray paint drying times in mild December weather, this came together in four days. For crafty parents looking to make a unique themed vehicle or families seeking a fun holiday project, the second-hand imaginative possibilities here are priceless.
Revisit More Kbatz Krafts:
Spooky Ride by Twin Musicom is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/ Source: http://www.twinmusicom.org/song/250/spooky-ride Artist: http://www.twinmusicom.org
Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/ Source: http://incompetech.com/music/royalty-free/index.html?isrc=USUAN1100270 Artist: http://incompetech.com/
Italian Morning by Twin Musicom is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/ Artist: http://www.twinmusicom.org/
Possessor is a Sophisticated Sci-Fi Parable by Kristin Battestella
Writer and director Brandon Cronenberg’s (Antiviral) 2020 British/Canadian co-production Possessor is a stylish science fiction tale combining unethical psychological dilemmas and invasive horror as assassin Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough) jacks into unwitting hosts with the help of handler Girder (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to orchestrate elaborate murder/suicides and advance their company’s billion-dollar agenda. Despite difficulties at home, Vos takes on their next big contract – killing data mining mogul John Parse (Sean Bean) and his daughter Ava (Tuppence Middleton) under the guise of Ava’s boyfriend Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott). Unfortunately, glitches and a degrading time window make this takeover complicated – blurring the lines between host and possessor.
Bloody plugs squish into the scalp and Possessor immediately catches the audience with bittersweet tears and gunshots breaking the silent luxury. Medical awakenings lead to vomiting and severed links with the host, but there are no lingering side effects or anomalies – supposedly. Memory debriefings and artifacts from childhood help our assassin adjust before returning to the modest home and family, but the dinner conversation is a lie, detached just like the news reports of the preceding crime. The scientific chats, however, are cold but honest, for one can’t really bring these experiences home. Surveillance begins for the next project alongside practicing mannerisms, abducted subject prep, and scheduling details. Three days and no room for error add ticking clocks and technicalities to the personal amid the fantastic crimes and dual performances. After spending time in our assassin’s point of view, now Possessor has her inside the man who will unwittingly kill his lover for someone else’s corporate gain. Exterior spying and interior simulations layer the invasive intimacy as multiple sensations and minutia overstimulate our host – leading to fractures in the mind and body connections. Friends and lovers blur as hiding in a social situation is easier than facing the coupled dishonesty. The woman in a man’s body reversal acerbates the rough sex and suppressed consciousness as the slow burn suspense and initial hesitations culminate with kills both calculated and messy. Editing matches the close quarters blows while brutal scenes play out – taking their gory time without special effects exaggeration. Glitches make retrievals difficult as the violence and science go wrong and unforeseen problems like willpower blend our personalities together. We are with both characters at the same time, and in the need to survive question who is dominant. Possessor enters a mental surreal as the personas fight each other, one donning the distorted mask of the other as corrupted memories and homicidal guilt bleed together. The killings intrude on the home and family sacred with sad but disturbing predatory revelations, and the psychology, performances, and physicality merge as the cruel turnabouts come full circle.
Vos says she’s fine but we know she’s not, and Andrea Riseborough (The Devil’s Mistress) is pale and sickly, rehearsing being herself and pretending to be glad after a work trip. She wants to take time off and fix her marriage, but Vos is detached even during intimacy and the use of Tas at home but Vos at work shows her conflicted identity. It’s easier to be someone else than herself, but the complications are increasing and Vos chooses more violent weapons like knives and fireplace pokers over easier guns. She lies that there are no disruptions yet spies on her family as her subject, realizing the choice between work and home that’s holding her back. Unwitting host Christopher Abbott (First Man) as boyfriend cum killer Colin Tate is initially a sassy lover, but he makes mistakes, hesitates, and loses control as Vos emerges. Tate is weakening outside but fighting in their mind, forcing conflict as Possessor presents two people playing the same character. We feel for both in this fascinating twofer because they need each other to survive and end their torment but their relationship will never be mutual. Swanky, hobnobbing, corporate big wig Sean Bean (Sharpe), however, and his saucy daughter Tuppence Middleton (Dickensian) fight about her dating a nobody like Tate. Parse has elaborate parties but living it up is not enough and he’s taking his data mining tech to the next level. Both he and the seemingly devoted Ava treat Tate as the latest plaything, but they have no way of knowing Vos’ influence – leading to disturbing payback. Initially, handler Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight) seems to care, too, debriefing Vos and reclining beside her during the assassinations with tips and tech support. A former assassin herself, Girder wants Vos to eventually replace her, but she thinks her star performer would be better off if she didn’t have real-world attachments. Girder sends in a fixer to assure this critical contract is fulfilled – doing what she has to do to see the mission accomplished.
Exotic hotels provide a futuristic mood thanks to red lights and a reflective black sheen. Rather than excessive CGI sci-fi world-building or wasting time with future city skylines and rad technology, smart use of color and mod chairs in the otherwise sparse briefing room offer enough cool without contemporary omnipresent technology to eventually date Possessor’s timeless concepts. Calibrations and scientific dossiers let us know the dangerous perimeters while jack-ins, the melting away self, and flashes of the takeover invoke a seventies science fiction arty as one person molds into another. Possessor is shocking but pretty with blurs, distortions, dual echoes, and overlays showing the inside another person’s mind intimate. Practical effects and in-camera action create an audience tangible to the within dilemmas. Classic cars are both a sign of wealth and a visual throwback while vaping instead of smoking also feels niche and elite. Grandiose architecture, fresco ceilings, and marble staircases symbolically ascend while blunt gunfire, squishing stabs, and merging pools of blood pierce the senses. Lighting schemes and mirrors allow us to see multiple characters in one at the same time – an eerie but simple self-awareness amid invasive big brother televisions, cameras, and screens paralleling the who’s watching whom and who is really in control familiarity. Some enjoy the voyeurism, upping the sex and nudity when they know there’s spying while Possessor winks at the cinematic experience itself. Ironically, the censorship between the R and Unrated versions is more about erections than gore, adding intrigue elements regarding women predators versus macho men, ambiguous sexuality, and gender identity. The rental blu-ray also features deleted scenes with extra character details and lengthy behind-the-scenes conversations, but when I went to buy the elusive Possessor Uncut blu-ray, it was an “only one left” click, and my purchase was ultimately canceled. 😦
Possessor may be slow for viewers accustomed to science fiction action and high tech in your face cool a minute. The well-done gore is brutal yet this is not outright horror for those expecting formulaic scares. The chilling what if invasive is disturbing, and old school touches accent Possessor’s bizarre. This looks like one of dad David Cronenberg’s (Rabid) films, and that isn’t a bad thing. Fine performances carry the science fiction pains, and the personal intelligence and sophistication keep audiences thinking about the consequences long after Possessor ends.
Read more Frightening Flix Sci-Fi and Family Horrors:
The Seventh Day is an Exercise in What Not to Do.
Young priest Daniel Garcia (Vadhir Derbez) is recruited by the Archbishop (Stephen Lang) to join unconventional Father Peter Costello (Guy Pearce) in exorcising a possessed boy in the 2021 Training Day meets The Exorcist horror tale The Seventh Day. Father Peter has his own rocky past learning the ropes from Father Louis (Keith David), but writer and director Justin P. Lange’s (The Dark) film doesn’t take its own advice – suffering from thin storytelling and not so shocking giveaways.
1995 prayers, recitations, and Pope John Paul II footage open The Seventh Day as the crucifix is ineffective against rattling beds, child possessions, evil temptations, and terrible consequences. Though off to a disturbing start, wise horror viewers know where we’re going from here. Demonic possession reports are on the rise across the country, and while the Vatican is generally against controversial exorcisms, a few dedicated rogue priests have vanquished in private. The Seventh Day does a lot of telling rather than showing – treating this intriguing history as throwaway exposition for our rookie’s one-day exorcism test. Evil is said to be clever, unpredictable, hiding in unexpected places, and ready to multiply, but the begrudging teamwork, contrived field exercises, and devilish ruses lead to ridiculously easy encounters. Characters don’t mention a critical plot element about a boy murdering his family until they drive up to the crime scene, waxing instead on who’s up to the task or cowering like a regular Sunday sermon priest. Our young Father can see flashbacks inside the killer house, but are these taunting visions, a conveniently intuitive recruit, ghosts, or just movie-making magic? Though admittedly freaky, the apparitions noticing the priest watching them cut off their clues, delaying what viewers can already deduce. They need proof of possession in this murder case for an official exorcism blessing, but the Archbishop already said this is unofficial and a little boy pinning down our young priest and talking creepy while our scared recruit shouts for help isn’t that much evidence anyway. We know the movie-making rites of exorcism and this is supposed to be Be Gone Training 101, however, the rules herein aren’t clear – demon names are given freely, supernatural doorways open or close, and a Ouija board comes in handy. Although filming scenes out of order is expected, many sequences play as if they have no idea what was said in the scenes prior thanks to contradicting plot progressions, repeated character flip-flopping, and everything thrown at the screen in world logic be damned. The Seventh Day detours with typical dark haunted house explorations, flashlights, and boo shocks under the bed. Flickering lights, spooky reflections, loud music, and killer montage visuals are for the viewer, not the character’s experience, and weak, fiery flashes poorly frame the child trauma, eerie tapping, and possessed levitation. Priests inexplicably intrude on the police interrogations and psychological evaluations as gun-toting cops are sent to handle the evil – because that’s going to turn out so well! Buzzing alarms, growling effects, zombie police, and strobe corridors problematic for sensitive viewers add to the supernatural extraneous as The Seventh Day finally dons the sacraments only to drop the actual exorcism for whooshing across the floor, jump scares, and bathtub ghosts. Yet more cinematic contrivances in the last twenty minutes hand the characters the hello Agatha the audience has known from the beginning, and there’s no devil lying to divide and conquer reverse twist on the twist or any deeper complex catharsis.
Despite a fast-tracked academy record hailing him as their finest, Vadhir Derbez (How to Be a Latin Lover) as Father Daniel Garcia is admittedly anxious about his new position and immediately admonished by Father Peter. If he can’t handle a day in the field seeking evil, how does Daniel expect to fight demons? Daniel can’t answer why he wants to be an exorcist, yet he contests every exercise rather than being open to any tips and experience possible just because the plot says our priests must be opposites. Wouldn’t you want to be on the same page against evil? Daniel can’t spot the devils in disguise, worries about trespassing at a crime scene, and can’t talk casually to people like even a regular priest should. He continually fails to see the bigger picture but changes his tune as The Seventh Day says, ready to do whatever Peter wants after a few scary words from a possessed child. Maybe viewers are meant to feel the disjointed jumping around as an in over his head whirlwind, but it’s terribly frustrating when we pick up critical things Daniel does not. Rather than any kind of self-awareness, his sullen approach and repeated mistakes become inadvertently humorous. There’s no character growth, realizations, or recognition because Daniel doesn’t suspect anything until the plot says he should. He falls for evil tricks and has the big twist pointed out to him in a montage, reciting helpful platitudes instead of the prayers and exorcism rites he’s supposed to know so well. When faced directly with demons and a house of horrors, the audience finds it tough to believe Daniel can handle any attack, much less knows what to do with evil once it’s released. The Seventh Day’s focus on his rookie point of view is quite simply the wrong one, and the finale setting up some kind of sequel for him as a badass hunter-killer priest out to save the possessed is unfortunately laughable.
Unorthodox Father Peter Costello is dismissive of these wet behind the ears priests and sends Daniel to get him coffee. He sings to the car radio, smokes, curses, and wears a funky patterned jacket rather than a clerical collar. Guy Pearce has a lot of exorcism exposition and Peter’s edgy fast talking accent doesn’t really give us much besides making him more harsh versus Daniel’s timid. However, he’s upfront about his past exorcism failures and grizzled attitude. For Peter, it’s about settling the score not the greater good, and he flings the possessed around – a commanding exorcist getting serious with the rites. Audiences know not to underestimate Guy Pearce’s kick-ass and The Seventh Day lacks whenever he’s off-screen. Unfortunately, Peter’s teaching methods are also total crap. He drives them all around town but sends Daniel in to chat with a demon alone while he reads a comic book in the waiting room. If this is such a serious case with a child at risk, why is Peter letting Daniel willy nilly learn on the fly? Such contrived actions break the viewer immersion, for it’s easy to tune out when we know there is a built-in answer in the script. Peter’s training exercises are easy and random. Audiences wonder why he isn’t just doing the dang exorcism. We have every reason to suspect why while the film ignores the inevitable, yet somehow Pearce almost makes The Seventh Day bemusing. He remains chill in the face of the preposterous, leaving sardonic clues even as Peter’s pushing Daniel so hard one moment only to act concerned for him in the next scene. Although Pearce has had a string of missteps in our rueful 2020s, coughDisturbingThePeacecough, I don’t mind his recent streak of making genre schlock. Guy Pearce has turned in enough excellent performances in quintessential, groundbreaking films, and I’m still going to watch everything he does, obvious cloak and disappointing dagger or not. Fortunately, there’s still a certain deliciousness when as always, Guy Pearce gives us what we want – if all too briefly when The Seventh Day should have been about Peter’s self-reflection and the burdens he carries. I’d eat that shit up if this had been a weekly silver fox, Father Peter, battling demons I can’t lie.
Poor Archbishop Stephen Lang (Avatar) doesn’t even get a name, and although he says the decisions aren’t up to him…he’s the one making the decisions? He also says he has hope in these desperate times but wonders if their new recruits can handle the increasing possessions before chastising Peter and Daniel for putting themselves in danger – when the Archbishop knows of Peter’s risky methods. Such precious few contradictory scenes give no indication on whether he knows what’s really afoot, and Keith David’s (Gamer) Father Louis is also unfortunately brief despite his great delivery and presence. In fact, the Archbishop spends more time telling us what a faithful and courageous man Father Louis was, and if both were going to be so underutilized, they could have been combined into one character. Even after the 1995 opening, The Seventh Day still feels older thanks to boob tube televisions and big old cars. Smog, dirty concrete, retro jailhouses, dark roller rinks, and empty corridors make for a downtrodden, anonymous cityscape, however, once we have a few opening aerial shots, we don’t need padding overhead views for every scene transition. Voiceover wisdoms on the evil preparations acting like this is some kind of demon heist get old fast when we could have seen characters speaking. However it is amusing to hear not so angelic kids with F-bombs and foul mouths to match the distorted smiles, demonic voices, creepy tongues, eating glass, and dislocating jaws. Ominous echoes and rotten fruits accent burning flesh, cemeteries, and haunted houses, but the out-of-place vignettes try to up the scary ante with unnecessary, typical horror shocks. The Seventh Day’s style is very generic with little pizzazz and arms-length shooting more interested in moving on to the next scene – via an overhead shot of driving across a bridge – rather than focusing on the characters at hand. One might think names like Daniel i.e. the lion’s den and Peter like the apostle cum first pope crucified upside down mean something, but The Seventh Day is surprisingly lacking in its ecclesiastics with no Legion Mark Chapter Five reference amid the demon army talk nor even a swine joke.
IMDb says The Seventh Day was written in ten days, and it shows. Rather than focusing on the scars of its elder priests, The Seventh Day deflates itself with a weak rookie element. Viewers are supposed to ignore any unreliable ambiguity until the film tells us we’re supposed to be shocked, but long time horror audiences won’t be surprised. While the premise is intriguing on paper, billing oneself as Training Day meets The Exorcist makes for a thin elevator pitch, and it’s easy to suspect the twist in The Seventh Day when the trailers all but confirm it. Oops.
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Yes, it’s November, Thanksgiving, Christmas! 🎃🦃🎄 However after my Halloween Mystery Project turned out to be such a delicious costume, I decided to repeat the process and make a more streamlined seasonal dress. Using leftover black materials from my stash and a thrifted $4 Halloween panel, materials that were once curtains and slipcovers can become an ensemble with sophistication and whimsy! Despite a few late hiccups, adjustments, and design changes on the fly – I won’t call them mistakes! – this unique ensemble came together quickly, is basically free, and feels good!
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In true Poe fashion, when we moved to our a new home, our cat jumped behind the dry wall in the basement. Although the walls are finished, the ceiling is not, so he climbed inside the top and we bashed some holes in the wall and removed the sheet rock to free the totally nonchalant little devil!
I’ve since rearranged my Decorating Like Dark Shadows basement craft space and put metal storage shelves under this ruined soffit. Once this year’s Christmas presents started piling up there, too, I wondered if there was a better way to conceal this problem area? Instead of cropping photos or shooting around everything, why not make complete use of the odd overhang and storage inlet? Hanging curtains to hide the tucked away shelving could be expensive for the right hardware, and so much fabric near the plumbing above could be an issue. Enclosing the area entirely in some kind of sliding panels or folding door system would likewise be costly and more intensive than a simple aesthetic fix to ideally match my Gothic Cardboard Window Backdrop. Fortunately, in perusing the Dollar Tree website (as one often does once their Halloween merchandise rolls out) I discovered Halloween “wall murals” in an “eerie stone wall” design. These sheets are about three feet by six feet, similar to printed plastic tablecloths, and probably only meant for one or two brief uses. Similar castle stone scene setters online looked smaller for twice as much money with negative reviews on their poor quality.
Could decorative plastic be hung on a long-term basis? For $1 a sheet, I began hunting at several local dollar stores until I found the stone wall motif – the graveyard, cat, and cauldron, and skeleton styles also available weren’t the ones I wanted, as their designs couldn’t be taped together for one running pattern like stone could. Besides, it matched my Dark Shadows panache! To cover my problem wall, I calculated needing about six sheets, so when I finally found the stone version, I bought all nine in stock! Opening several and laying them out on the floor, I could see they had the width, but about two and a half were needed to cover the wall height. I taped them together and then taped the top across the soffit, letting the plastic drape all the way down to the floor. It looked so gosh darn spooky cute, I decide to continue with a sheet above my Cardboard Window backdrop and down over another ugly metal shelf. Here, however, there was no drywall but wood beams above, so I simply used thumb tacks and made sure there was enough slack for the slightly longer drape. I can lift up any part to access the storage, but by doing the entire area, it looks like I just happen to have a Halloween scene setter on my wall. You can’t tell there is a hidden space with tools, Christmas baking supplies, and holiday gifts – but no peeking!
It’s been over a month since putting up my “eerie stone wall” and there have been no problems yet. If the sheeting does begin to fall, fresh tape and thumbtacks should keep it secure – unless as my husband put it bluntly, the cat decides to do something about it! Thankfully, I only used five sheets, leaving four extra for any rips or replacements. Unless the camera catches a glare from the fluorescent lights, you can’t immediately tell this is just plastic. Was this $9 plus tax the absolutely cheapest way to cover a wall? Yep. Do I expect this to actually last long term? Probably not. Certainly, there are better, proper solutions for this odd soffit, but for a few months of multi-tasking decoration and secret storage, why the heck not?
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It’s time to put on the curtains – yes curtains! – beads, tulle, draping, tassels, and bells together to accessorize the Halloween Mystery project! Find out why Kristin Battestella aka Kbatz has been calling this a mystery as the final product is revealed! Not that there isn’t some doubt, mistakes, and craft regrets. Only $7.50 for new ribbon and trim went into this project, which still comes in under $55 in legacy stash and prior thrift finds. When forced to think outside the box and dig deep in your craft closet for patchwork surprises on Halloween, something magical is possible! Roller skates are also involved in full disclosure. Thank you for Watching!
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Dark Hallway by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/ Source: http://incompetech.com/music/royalty-free/?keywords=Hallway&Search=Search Artist: http://incompetech.com/
Hot Swing by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/ Source: http://incompetech.com/music/royalty-free/index.html?isrc=USUAN1100202 Artist: http://incompetech.com/
Spooky Ride by Twin Musicom is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/ Source: http://www.twinmusicom.org/song/250/spooky-ride Artist: http://www.twinmusicom.org
Kristin Battestella aka Kbatz peruses a thrifted Halloween Costume Pattern Book for ideas on the extra bells and whistles for the Halloween mystery sewing project! Unfortunately, both welcomed four-legged guests and another unwelcome guest interfere with the construction, accessories, ribbons, and bat trim. Are there too many embellishments? Experimenting with hot glue and lighting surprises may or may not work, too. I’m getting a little sick of sewing, but the mystery’s all coming together wonderfully! Did you guess what it was?
If you’re interested in Sewing Supply Hacks, check out my latest Thrift Haul: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f-WBcm6DL3o
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Der Kleber Sting by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/ Source: http://incompetech.com/music/royalty-free/index.html?isrc=USUAN1100612 Artist: http://incompetech.com/
Hot Swing by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/ Source: http://incompetech.com/music/royalty-free/index.html?isrc=USUAN1100202 Artist: http://incompetech.com/
I Like Peanuts by Audionautix is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/ Artist: http://audionautix.com/
It’s seams, more seams, and seam some more before ruffles, ruffles, and more ruffles as the tulle hem comes together on the striped orange panels! It’s almost time to find out what this mystery sewing project is thanks to heaps of gathering, questions about making do with short trim or spending for embellishments, and draped Halloween scarves! There are cats involved, too.
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Cinematic (Sting) by Twin Musicom is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/ Artist: http://www.twinmusicom.org/
Danse Macabre – Busy Strings by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/ Source: http://incompetech.com/music/royalty-free/index.html?isrc=USUAN1100556 Artist: http://incompetech.com/
Bad Ideas Distressed by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/ Source: http://incompetech.com/music/royalty-free/index.html?isrc=USUAN1100488 Artist: http://incompetech.com/
Kristin Battestella aka Kbatz continues to utilize every inch of Halloween printed scraps and remnants, sewing some finite areas by hand before a lot and did I say a lot of ironing on the lengthy striped orange panels. Basting, measuring, and math actually lead to a surplus of materials, but a leaky iron and daunting, fraying seams are making a lot more work! Any ideas yet what will this mystery sewing will be?
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Amazing Plan – Distressed by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/ Source: http://incompetech.com/music/royalty-free/index.html?isrc=USUAN1100738 Artist: http://incompetech.com/
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Kristin Battestella aka Kbatz is ringing in “Haulloween 2021” with a collection of dollar store raids, Goodwill shopping, and thrift hauls! Costumes? Check! Skeletons? Check! French maid accessories and potential for a laurel wreath tiara? Why the heck not?! Put on your spiderweb hats for everyday wear and dive in to these seasonal finds!
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Don’t be shy about shopping cheap or letting people know your wish list wants and gift card needs! Kristin Battestella aka Kbatz shares some discount craft supplies and Dollar Store finds alongside sewing-related gifts and making good use of a hobby store gift card. What a haul!
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What are YOU sewing for Halloween? Kristin Battestella aka Kbatz is putting some old, worn, and miscellany Halloween pants, fabrics, ribbons, scarves, and more to good use in a mystery sewing project! To start, beloved Halloween pajama pants must be salvaged and seam ripped, making the most of every inch of usable material while trying to placate two cats and use the pieces to pattern new pajama bottoms. Every scrap will be saved!
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Star Studded Tales from the Crypt Season 5 remains Memorable.
by Kristin Battestella
The Fall 1993 Fifth Season of Tales from the Crypt is a star-studded season full of familiar faces and frights to remember beginning with Tim Curry (Clue) and Ed Begley, Jr. (She-Devil) in “Death of Some Salesmen.” Our unscrupulous cemetery plot salesman snoops in the obituaries, preying on old widows like Yvonne De Carlo (The Munsters) with a rural, door to door con as the humorous winks, overalls, and southern gentility contrast the risque sex, bloody secrets, and murderous traps. Headless revelations offer a quirky, if disturbing grain of truth on swindling salesmen getting what they deserve, but the revolting comeuppance had both me and my husband gagging and laughing at the same time. Our Crypt Keeper host is taking calls on KDOA Radio as Hector Elizondo (Chicago Hope) suspects young wife Patsy Kensit (Full Eclipse) of having an affair in director Kyle Maclachlan’s (Twin Peaks) “As Ye Sow.” Unfortunately, Adam West’s (Batman) upscale surveillance firm says she does nothing but go to church everyday – to a controversial priest tossed from his last parish. Debates on the church as living organ, throbbing with his flock in his arms provide juicy winks as the power of suggestion has our paranoid husband fearing betrayal and jumping to the wrong conclusion. An unreliable point of view imaging what’s going on in the confessional makes for a controversial mix of sacrilegious horror, but it’s cheaper to hire hit men than get a divorce. War photographers Steve Buscemi (Boardwalk Empire) and Roger Daltry (Highlander: The Series) likewise fight over Lysette Anthony (Dracula: Dead and Loving It) in “Forever Ambergris” while The Keeper himself shoots for Vicghoulia’s Secret. Anything can happen during this Central America assignment, and villages contaminated with germ warfare create an elevated dramatic mood amid macho guns versus the camera, mercenaries, and screaming convulsions. Bubbling flesh, oozing blood, squishing eyeballs – what’s a little imbued chemicals once you steal the award winning photographs and get the girl?
In “Two for the Show” bored, adulterous wife Traci Lords (Cry Baby) wants more passion. However, her husband is worried her leaving will make him look bad at the corporate banquet, leading to strangulation, scissors, knife play, and stuffing the body into a bedside chest even if it just won’t fit. Suspicious cops, dismemberment, and a heavy suitcase provide suspense with shades of Hitchcock in the overhead parallels and two shots of men on a train hypothetically debating about killing their wives. The crime has already been committed, yet there’s a classy, potboiler tense to the garbage disposal twists. Of course, the audience is on trial with the barrister wig wearing ‘Honorable Judge Crypt Keeper’ presiding over “House of Horror” as Wil Wheaton (Star Trek: The Next Generation), Kevin Dillon (Entourage), Brian Krause (Sleepwalkers), and more eighties teens are all grown up and trying to join the fraternity with paddles, humiliation, kneeling, and scrubbing dog poo with a toothbrush. The sister house is here for their final initiation at a haunted fraternity house with a murderous past, and one by one the plebs must make it to the attic with all the tricks, gags, screams, chainsaws, and turnabouts along the way. Assistant Maryam d’Abo (Bond Girls Are Forever) is unhappy when magician Billy Zane’s (Dead Calm) show isn’t a success in “Well Cooked Hams.” While The Crypt Keeper is taking French lessons for his trip to ‘gay Scaree,’ the turn of the century magic scene is cutthroat and our magician will kill to get ahead when not stealing the Box of Death trick from fellow hunchback illusionist Martin Sheen (The West Wing). Inserted knives, sulfuric acid, burning ropes, and handcuffs add to the magic rivalry and period mood as the disguises, reflections, and smoke and mirrors leave the audience screaming. The difference, you see, is in not when the crowd is aware of the ruse but when they actually believe it. Slick Anthony Michael Hall (The Breakfast Club) tries to outwit the mummy legends and sacrificed princesses in “Creep Course,” however his attempt to steal the mid-term answers leads to statues, tombs, torches, and a sarcophagus from the professor’s private collection – courtesy of some grave robbing family history. The jocks versus academia double crossing twists provide gross embalming techniques, through the nose icky, and projectile vomiting for a fun atmosphere with good old fashioned wrappings in contemporary mummy spins.
Big CK is a flight attendant on Tales from the Crypt Scarelines for “Came the Dawn,” but the bimbo in the bathroom and the bloody ax murderer have other dismembering ideas. Good thing suave in his Porsche Perry King (Melrose Place) picks up broke down Brooke Shields (The Blue Lagoon), taking her to his cabin on a stormy night – after stopping for oysters and champagne, of course. Medieval décor with executioner artifacts and weapons accent opera, fireside candlelit dinners, and jewels. Unfortunately, tales of adultery begat black stockings bondage interrupted by an ex-girlfriend shouting at the door. Wise Tales from the Crypt viewers will figure out what’s happening easily thanks to taxidermy and ladies clothing in the closet. However, that obvious doesn’t make the revealing attacks any less chilling. Con artist couple Lou Diamond Phillips (La Bamba) and Priscilla Presley (Dallas) dig up their buried alive cohort and the money with him in “Oil’s Well That Ends Well” – a fellow con who happens to be the man behind the Crypt Keeper John Kassir in his only onscreen Tales from the Crypt appearance. She wants another con and shows her authority at the rowdy bar, taking on the nasty boys with a great speech on how strong women are called bitches, screwed, fucked, and screwed again. Oil claims help swindle the local rednecks into drilling under the graveyard, with explosions and self-referential quips setting off the who’s screwing whom. More bemusing dialogue mixed with suspense and surreal shootouts elevate “Till Death Do We Part.” Although this is another crime drama and love triangle more about violence than horror, gigolo John Stamos (Full House) and mob dame Eileen Brennan (Clue) provide diamonds, dice, jazz clubs, and saucy betrayals – leading to limos in the woods with guns, bodies in the trunk, rubber aprons, and axes. Crook Robert Picardo (Star Trek: Voyager) is just so polite in making the vomiting, fainting lady stand up and watch the quartering! Our KRPT sportscaster Crypt Keeper, meanwhile, is on the radio with the World Scaries featuring the Fright Sox versus the Boo Jays. Which team will keep their winning shriek alive?
This is a short, mostly solid season, however, there are a few less than stellar episodes of Tales from the Crypt such as Ernie Hudson’s (Ghostbusters) “Food for Thought” with its carnival warped, saucy dessert metaphors, and perverted quid pro quo abuses between a mind reading couple. The racial implications among the freaks, conjoined twin ladies naked in the shower, illicit fire eater romance, and a jealous girl gorilla make for fiery consequences, yet the revenge is thin, with most of the circus designs just for show. The fourth and ghoul Crypt Keeper quarterback also can’t save the uneven crimes in director Russell Mulcahy’s (Highlander) “People Who Live in Brass Hearses.” Violent ex-con Bill Paxton (Aliens) and simpleton younger brother Brad Dourif (Child’s Play) are out for revenge, harassing the suspicious ice cream truck driver before bloody hooks, murderous mishaps, gory gunshots, and safe cracking gone awry. There are some twists, but the sardonic humor and quirky characters can’t carry the heist amid unenjoyable outbursts and obnoxiousness. Ghoulish bodies, morgue drawers, and colorful goo open “Half-Way Horrible” and the Keeper is shrinking heads in the dryer at his scare salon while a detective asks Clancy Brown (Highlander) about his chemical company’s proprietary ingredients. These rare herbs were of course stolen in the jungle amid tribal drums, native secrets, and zombie rituals. Voodoo dolls come back to haunt the corrupt chemist, and once again it’s just rich white guys learning the err of their appropriating ways – told from the sympathetic point of view of said rich white guys. It’s not surprising and doesn’t make us feel bad when he gets his due. As The Keeper says, ‘he needed to learn rot from wrong a little fester.’
Fortunately, old fashioned kitchens, cameo jewelry, and country strings accent the rural settings of these tales again based on Haunt of Fear, Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror, Shock SuspenStories, and Crime SuspenStories. Cha-ching money sounds, stormy nights, and other audio bells and whistles set off the vintage video, VCRs, old televisions, giant tape reels, transistor radios, huge ass car phones, and hi tech nineties corporate contrasting the old school noir, file folders, and black and white photographs. Warped camera angles, dark lighting, shadow schemes, and colorful touches keep the on location production values top notch amid effective jungle horrors, gross make up, blood, and disturbing gore. Downtrodden circus tents and lanterns provide golden Victorian patinas while haunted houses and cobwebs create congested scares. Train tensions begat outdoor ominous and penultimate zombie gross, and though front loaded with juicy nudity, later in the season the steamy lingerie isn’t as important as the swanky bling, period costumes, or Egyptian motifs. Tales from the Crypt’s horror prosthetics really allow the cast per episode to sink their teeth into the role or multiple roles whether playing to or against type. Tales from the Crypt Season Five starts strong with some of the series’ finest humor and horror with sardonic sexiness and star studded scares. This shorter year shines with relatively few poor outings – a precursor to today’s brief, quickly digestible fall horror and anthology seasons. Tales from the Crypt Season Five is a creepy, fast marathon for Halloween or anytime of year.
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Revisiting Dark Shadows’ 1897 Storyline by Kristin Battestella
Let’s celebrate with Dark Shadows as we are so often wont to do! Though arriving in the middle of the macabre sixties soap opera, the 1897 storyline is the series’ longest time travel jaunt at 183 episodes. Its Victorian turn of the century vampires, werewolves, and panache make this plot the perfect place to sample what the eerie endurance of Dark Shadows is about as our company stock becomes all new characters for the period mayhem. Thanks to video releases and streaming options broken down into forty-episode seasonal Collections, viewers new or old can easily jump into this Dark Shadows breadth. Here’s a recap of said Collections covering the 1897 ghosts, secrets, and curses.
When the Ghost of Quentin Collins (David Selby) drives the entire Collins family from Collingwood, governess Maggie Evans (Kathryn Leigh Scott) and her two possessed charges (David Henesy and Denise Nickerson) flee to the Old House as Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid) and Dr. Julia Hoffman (Grayson Hall) search for answers to rid them of the poltergeist and stop Chris Jennings’ (Don Briscoe) werewolf transformations. When Barnabas and Professor Stokes (Thayer David) discover Quentin’s I Ching wands, Barnabas uses them to will himself to the year 1897. Once in the past, he introduces himself to Judith Collins (Joan Bennett) and investigates Quentin’s secrets. Unfortunately, Barnabas harbors a secret of his own – he has been unchained from his coffin and is once again a vampire.
Collection 13 begins with Episode 696 from February 1969, just before the nineteenth-century switch, and concludes with a wallop for Number 735. Opening narrations get the viewer up to speed on the scandals and ancestral players after the Episode 701 transition, and the paranormal tricks work well with the soap opera mysteries. We’re like the newly arrived vampire Barnabas indeed – at the mercy of unfolding mysticism, scheming gypsies, heirs at each other’s throats, and missing wills. Why is the maid Beth Chavez still on at Collingwood if her mistress Jenny Collins has left? Where is Edward Collin’s wife Laura and what does she have to do with Quentin’s banishment? Why does governess Rachel Drummond see lights in the empty Tower room? Borrowing from classic literature on Dark Shadows is apparent with this Jane Eyre symbolism, yet the familiar gothic tropes anchor the spooky changeover. Iconic Dark Shadows music accentuates the shockers, and Robert Cobert’s morose motifs and creepy cues help build character suspense. Scary shadows, fake cobwebs, spotlights, darkness, and candle effects invoke careful mood and ominous set design even as Dark Shadows remains notorious for its fly-by-night production cheapness. Thankfully, the antiques, colorful frocks, microphone shadows, and set bloopers alike set off the quality storytelling keeping us on the edge of our seats with illicit twists, fiery whodunits, and Martinique zombies. Episode 705 has a sweet, fatal climax, and plenty of red herrings and tower mysteries makes for some great undead kickers and fainting frights – especially Episode 723.
The mysterious Laura Collins (Diana Millay) returns to Collinwood determined to take her children Jamison (David Henesy) and Nora (Denise Nickerson) away from Reverend Trask’s (Jerry Lacey) strict boarding school. Her former lover Quentin Collins, however, has other occult plans for her. Barnabas Collins also battles Laura with the help of gypsies Magda (Grayson Hall) and Sandor (Thayer David). Unfortunately, his unraveling of Quentin’s secrets has deadly consequences, and Barnabas must help family matriarch Judith in the 1897 past to save the Collins’ 1969 future.
Dark Shadows adds even more supernatural elan with children in peril in Episode 736 and wolfy foreplay thru 775. The 1897 action interweaves bizarre dreams and eerie prophecies as the ensemble tackles several well balanced plots at once. Unlike slow soaps, something happens each episode with real-time half-hour pacing. First time viewers are treated to surprise connections and cliffhangers regarding the murders, blackmail, and poisons. Certainly, there are melodramatic hysterics, but the lycanthrope suspense, meddling witches, and phoenix – yes a phoenix – storylines remain unique. The impish Quentin is oh so suave, calculating, and full of love to hate charm as he causes trouble in every way possible. Paranormal layers populate Dark Shadows with bats, doppelgangers, Egyptian motifs, and psychic torment. Cool crypts, wolf howls, and chilling knocks at the door invoke atmosphere while the wobbly Styrofoam tombstones and visible boom mikes are drinking game-worthy. Poor Barnabas Collins, stuck in a foreign time and dealing with ghosts, wolf investigations, and vampire victims all at the same time. His flub, “My cousin, Uncle Jeremiah…” is certainly understandable! We can laugh and forgive such same day tape mistakes because Dark Shadows comes together so effectively – creating intense, ambitious daytime action with complex characters to match.
While werewolf Quentin Collins and Magda the gypsy who cursed him seek a cure for his lycanthropy, time-traveling cousin and vampire Barnabas Collins tries to keep their paranormal secrets from fellow family members Edward (Louis Edmunds) and the newly married Judith Collins Trask. Corrupt Reverend Trask has all but taken over the Collinwood estate and soon seeks to cleanse the family of its evils once the mysterious Count Petofi (Thayer David) and his magical cohorts come to town.
After nearing over 100 hundred episodes in the 1897 storyline, Dark Shadows lends itself a hand by adding even more vengeful ghosts, gypsy curses, and freaky talismans to the gothic storytelling. 1969 names and plots are mentioned to remind the audience of this 1897 excursion’s original purpose, but the time travel troubles, shockingly bloody vampires, and expanding werewolf yarns lead to a zany off-screen shootout and elaborate action sequences. Character shakeups and spooky developments keep the paranormal fresh; no player is superfluous as each wrench contributes to the complex immediacy amid witches, zombies, and disembodied hands. Steamy dream sequences, psychics, and undead secrets come to a head as disposable policemen, jailed werewolves, and possessions provide tension and suspense. Manipulated wives mix with supernatural causes, and the infamously inaccurate Collins Family History book means anything can happen. The Picture of Dorian Gray twists delight along with a crazy finale in Episode 816. Of course, that monkey’s paw style hand leads to some wildly bad makeup and pasty skin effects that are actually ghoulishly fitting, and the black and white kinescope versions of Episodes 797 and 813 are more disturbing thanks to chilling séances and ghostly overlays. When the panning cameras, zooms, booming screams, coffin creaks, slamming doors, fog machines, and lights out cooperate, it’s the exclamation on all the fearful gothic mood. Certainly, the gypsy material here is stereotypical and cliché. For some audiences, Dark Shadows may seem comical in its juicy horror camp. However, today many shows seem to easily unravel with less material over shorter amounts of time. There’s even been a small Victorian cum steampunk resurgence onscreen, but Dark Shadows has been doing this kind of entertainment all along.
Vampire Barnabas Collins is re-entombed in his coffin by the warlock Count Petofi who is intent on escaping 1897 by traveling to the future with werewolf Quentin Collins. Unfortunately, the witch Angelique (Lara Parker) has marital plans for Quentin, leaving the possessed Charity Trask (Nancy Barrett), jealous maid Beth Chavez (Terry Crawford), and painter Charles Delaware Tate’s (Roger Davis) perfect woman come to life Amanda Harris (Donna McKechnie) with brokenhearted, violent, and trigger happy threats.
1969 time travel goals lay the 1897 exit groundwork as skeletons, full moons, gunpoint confrontations, and confessions spearhead the intersecting supernatural tangents, unreliable I Ching attempts, and astral projections gone awry. The vampires, vendettas, paradoxes, and possessions are no longer secret thanks to prophetic harbingers and fatal deadlines. Hooded executioners provide suspense and vicious murders push the daytime television envelope while deceptive visions create an eerie mix of who is who, past or present, and living or dead. Vampires can’t help against unique spells during daylight nor is the werewolf available during the full moon. Characters learn of their own suicides from their future ghosts as villainous malice and emotional anchors swell with sword-wielding terror. Spectral toppers, paranormal visuals, and dark romanticism balance the traditional two-shot soap opera conversations. Although the performances are sincere and earnest, the cast tries not to laugh over crazy dialogue, infamous flubs, and teleprompter glances. Enemies sit together over brandy, waiting for who will blink first before the witch hypnotizes a man to put the pistol to his temple. That’s Twisted! Hidden letters written in 1897 are read in 1969 just in the nick of time – bringing the ominous facts full circle with bloody bright red flashbacks, cyanide, and jealous women. Redemptions and rejections lead to dying for love morose, and mystical bargains trap the afflicted via voodoo effigies, shackles, or black magic. Episode 839 would seem to resolve this fatal past with all is well second chances but the lycanthrope troubles and bodily possessions then and now linger. Stolen portraits, magic rings, late messages, and all aboard whistles add to the diabolical in Episode 850, and unknown prices must be paid. On Dark Shadows, most characters accept the fantastic rather than balk. However, no one ever really escapes from Collinsport.
Barnabas Collins travels from 1897 back to 1796 with Countess Kitty Soames, the reincarnation of his beloved Josette DuPres (Kathryn Leigh Scott) after seemingly defeating the vile Count Petofi – who has switched bodies with the now immortal Quentin Collins in order to travel to 1969. Unfortunately, ancient Leviathan interference and an evil antique shop run by the enthralled Megan Todd (Marcia Wallace) upset numerous events past and present for Dr. Julia Hoffman and the rest of Collinsport.
Body swaps, mistaken identity, and abused I Ching hexagrams open Episode 858 amid bitter marriages, magical portraits, and blackmail. Enemies become allies as characters must prove who they are thanks to skeleton keys, psychic visions, and mystical ruses. Inner monologues matching the real person in the wrong body curb confusion as well as garner sympathy while buried alive threats and haunted punishments result in kidnappings and failed rituals. Dubious lawyers and lookalike vampire encounters ramp up the scares in Episode 868 as suspicious relatives and antagonizing ministers plot with buried suitcases and decoy burglaries. Will power over evil, cliffside desperation, and deadly shockers in Episode 876 up the intensity before 879 adds double-crosses, stranglers, poison, and fresh cement. Climatic scandals keep the paranoia and graveyard chases on track as victims must stay awake lest spells overtake them. Green screen mistakes and innate camera flaws may make the magentas look garish, however, the distorted hues are terribly effective for gaslight ambiance and ghostly overlays. Cursed people are packing, gold diggers are making plans – there’s a sense that 1897 is a wrap and 1969 is imminent thanks to psychedelic dreams, astral interference, and time travel technicalities. Unfortunately, the fiery 1897 finale fumbles thanks to a shoehorned in 1796 detour before the much maligned leviathan storyline with its naga lockets and necronomicons. After three odd colonial episodes, the vampire brides and meddling witches are also left hanging for torches and snake altars before the return to 1969 in Episode 888. It’s a big WTF that today would have audiences immediately tuning out and complaining on Twitter. If Dark Shadows had directly taken the I Ching back to 1969 and then revealed the unusual Lovecraft-inspired leviathan abstracts as a subplot to what happens with our 1897 immortals; the ancient rituals and cult incantations might have been received differently. A lot happens on Collection 17, but Dark Shadows has plenty of juicy left to come, and the 1897 escapade remains perfect for a spooky marathon.
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Spanish Netflix Horrors! By Kristin Battestella
At times, it’s tough muddling through the foreign Netflix content and re-branded continental originals padded with run-of-the-mill scares. Fortunately, this trio of short and long form international Netflix productions featuring Basque witch hunts, Mexican demon hunters, and transatlantic wartime mysteries provides plenty of unique thrills.
Coven of Sisters – Burning pyres and whispers of witches communing with Lucifer jump right into the 1609 Basque torment in this award winning 2020 international/Spanish Netflix production. Seventy-seven executions and counting mar the beautiful cliffs, picturesque ships, and moss forests as royal judges seek out maritime towns where women have been left alone and apparently up to no good. Excellent carriages, armor, frocks, and stoneworks provide a period mood as our happy girls weave and dream of far-off places. They are captured and stripped with bags over their heads and fear is evident thanks to questions about summoning Beelzebub. The girls point fingers at each other – wavering from confident of their innocence and nonchalant about the witch accusations to quivering and afraid after beatings and shaved heads. Tension builds in the one-room unknown as suspicions and confessions raise the frazzled interrogations and double talk entrapment. Guards ask if they offer themselves to Lucifer while prodding with needles and searching their bodies for any devil’s mark. Where did the devil stick his tail in them? Did they dance? Dancing spreads fanaticism! There are no fast intercut montages or fake outs toying with the audience, just in scene interplay with eerie screams and uninterrupted singsong. They make up chants and have their jailers procure oddities for this supposed sabbath ritual, but it isn’t a game when those sinister captors devoutly persecuting every blasphemy readily jump to devilish conclusions. Men wonder if they are bewitched by the tempting supple, pressing the weary girls into saying what they want to hear, and these daughters stall to avoid the stake, hoods, torches, and shackles until their sailing fathers return. They hope to escape during the full moon, so one tells a wild tale with preposterous twists in hopes of taking the blame to save the others. Supposedly learned, religious men bemusingly believe every fantastic turn, and after witnessing all our recent stateside strife, it’s not surprising how this kind of pitchfork hysteria and mob idiocy spreads. If they want to see a witch’s sabbath, the girls may as well make fools of them complete with mushrooms, contortions, and flying. This is an excellent presentation on allure, hypocrisy, and consequences in a unique, horrible history setting made easily accessible thanks to several subtitle and language options.
High Seas – The twenty-two episode 2019 Spanish murder mystery Alta Mar jumps right into the action with stowaway suspense, albatross omens, and murder aboard a post-war luxury cruise liner en route from Spain to Brazil. High-end period detail including hats, gloves, brooches, satin, stoles, frocks, and cigarettes matches the Art Deco splendor, sumptuous colors, inlaid woodwork, and divine staircases. Impressive ship visuals and Titanic engineering specs provide scale alongside maze-like halls, askew angles, turbulent waves, and thunderstorms. Jazzy ballads and grand ballrooms create mood before intrepid writers, telegrams, cryptic conversations, and suspicious midnight rendezvous raise the disappearances, accusations, and blackmail. In debt Lotharios, lecherous in-laws, and handsome officers clash with underbelly workmen and disgruntled servants, and the episodic chapters allow time for plots high and low. Course changes and defying orders question who’s in charge – the aging captain, wealthy owners, angry shareholders, or the slimy ship detective? Ominous cargo holds, stolen lipstick, lockets, typewriters, and ransacked rooms escalate to man overboard emergencies, fires, and promises to take one’s secrets to the grave. Intertwined crimes are resolved as new twists and turns are well balanced between the dramatic love triangles, faked accidents, and fishy business deals. Microfilm clues and poisoned cocktails reveal previous conspiracies, past motives, and Nazi gold. It’s dangerous to wander the secret passages amid power outages, red lights, and increasingly dark corridors, yet surprising deaths aren’t what they seem thanks to mad doctors and tick-tock countdowns. Blinding blows, chases, castaways, and an SOS start Season Two alongside tarot cards, psychic clues, and seances. Crackling intercoms, bloody bodies on the bed, ghosts, dead women walking on deck, spooky phone calls, and more paranormal are not out of the blue, but rather a natural progression of the escalating circumstances. However, is the vintage Ouija an elaborate ruse or are there really evil spirits starboard? The ship becomes a character of its own with messages on the mirror, old fashioned spy gadgets, lifeboat rigs, and daring escapes. Too many lies, betrayals, and forged letters acerbate wedding shocks, secret pregnancies, and business takeovers. There are some soap opera slaps in the face, too! Shipwreck deceptions and bodies in trunks culminate in one final kicker before Year Three takes a new course from Buenos Aires to Mexico. Our writer published a novel about the cruise experience, but strange suitors at the bookstore and a spooky antique shop lead to British Intelligence and objectives to track down an incoming passenger who’s really a Nazi doctor carrying a deadly virus. It’s fun to see who’s back for better or worse – same crew, servants in new ship staff positions, fresh crisscrossing romances. A second sister ship will travel behind with expensive cargo, but a man is shot on the first night out and bodies end up in the car boot in the hold. Do you up security and alarm the passengers? Those who know about incriminating notes are indisposed via fevers, injections, and Luger murder weapons. Bandaged patients aboard provide intrigue amid suspicious radio transmissions, magic disappearing acts, and dark room suspense. Missing photographs, doppelgangers, and torturous know-how, make for shady alliances, but one can’t worry about scruples after an innocent man is dead. Code decryption, trick lighters, and secret cameras uncover planted evidence, sinister green tubes, and ruinous revenge as gaslighting, threats, and mutiny lead to armed standoffs and shocking gunshots. Concentration camp survivors recall sadistic doctors who enjoyed what they did, but evil lookalikes slip up thanks to disguises and a scrumptious masquerade ball with perfect lighting, glam, and gowns. Life or death maydays raise the outbreak finale, yet it is strange to see vintage masks, quarantines, and plague panic these days. Rescue warships would rather sink than save, but vaccines come in the nick of time – with a twist or three. The destination pacing and cliffhangers are easy to marathon, but it’s a pity Netflix turned its back on this series. Nothing here is superfluous thanks to Shakespearean asides, whispers in the gallery, and well done mysteries. Obviously, this not being full-on horror may disappoint some, however, the period atmosphere, sweeping melodrama, and gothic twists remind me of Dark Shadows’ earlier years.
Netflix also has a bad habit of not promoting its branded foreign content. It’s apparent their current model is quantity over quality, populating its catalog with as much original and proprietary premieres as possible – presuming you’ll binge one and stay for the next recommend similar click and chill. Remember, it’s in their best interest to keep you streaming. Sometimes that works and you find great shows! However, more often than not it means unique movies get lost in the shuffle, and shows that deserve more time are dropped after a few seasons. This leaves a lot of unfulfilling filler – especially in the horror and genre categories which seem to have the most flotsam and jetsam.
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Still Enough Gems in Tales from the Darkside Season Four
by Kristin Battestella
The 1987-88 Fourth season of the George Romero produced Tales from the Darkside provides a darker horror bizarre in its final twenty episodes beginning with the smuggled artifacts, Egyptian statues, and golden sarcophagus in writer Robert Bloch’s “Beetles.” Although the premise is familiar, the petrified corpse, gem eyes, and eponymous scarabs create a great atmosphere and ominous warnings – return the mummy to its tomb or suffer the cursed consequences. The unheeded desecration leads to more hysteria, insects, and death throws, setting the mood for the season alongside the dolls, mannequins, and stuffed animals of “Mary, Mary.” These are our lovely photographer’s friends, and the photoshoot trickery for the video dating service calls is weird, pathetic, and sad. A real-life friendly neighbor is too scary – she can’t hide behind any facade and live vicariously in this orchestrated illusion. However, the warped horror escalates once the dummies start talking back. The new owner of an infamous haunted townhouse in “The Spirit Photographer” also intends to use rare technology and mysticism to prove the paranormal to his rational friend. They’ve spent their lives seeking evidence or to debunk, obsessing over life after death and paranormal explanations in an interesting two-hander mixing real science, ectoplasm gadgets, and ghostly images. Some of the supposedly irrefutable photos and phantom wails are laughable, but the eerie messages, stakeout suspense, and deceased drain on the living provide great ambiance. “The Moth,” by contrast, is brimming with rural mood thanks to a humble cabin and spellbooks that won’t burn. Debbie Harry’s (Videodrome) stabbed by a jealous wife and her angry mother thinks she is a wicked girl for the water rituals, broken clocks, branches, and circles in blood. Our daughter intends to come back – so long as her mother captures the moth that comes out with her dying breath. The religion versus the devil, who’s right and sinister, is well-done thanks to counting the sand to keep out evil, creepy conversations, and deadly twists. Writer Clive Barker (Hellraiser) adds holiday melodies, trees, and presents to the underlying menace in “The Yattering and Jack” with angry apparitions, cracked mirrors, and apparent poltergeists. Unexpected family visits escalate the supernatural and pleas to Beelzebub as carols turn to fiery smoke and devilish demons debate the rules found in Job regarding tormenting a good man into admitting evil exists. Tales from the Darkside presents another disturbing December demented–possessed turkey dinner and all.
A horror writer dad videotapes his scary movie adaptation for his squabbling kids while mom’s on a long-distance call in Stephen King’s (Creepshow) “Sorry, Right Number.” Flashing call waiting buttons and desperate pleas for help, unfortunately, leave mom worried. She knows the voice but it isn’t their collegiate daughter nor sisters or grandma. Our husband thinks it was a prank or wrong number, and the family dynamics change thanks to the understandable apprehension. The bad feeling continues in the night with damaged door locks and well-developed suspense that keeps viewers invested right up to the twist. A passive-aggressive bill collector in “Payment Overdue” threatens unpaid folks and enjoys scaring kids who answer the phone with how their parents are going to jail – getting the job done with no exceptions until she receives a raspy call from a supposedly dead claim. It turns out she doesn’t like being on the receiving end of the harassment, and the fearful frustration phone acting isn’t phoned in like today’s television with abrupt smartphone conveniences. A mysterious man delivers the payment from the deceased dialer – an avenging angel forcing our overly confident go-getter to face the chilling pleas before it’s too late. Tales from the Darkside has several similar stories in a row here with devils and telephones, but the excellent turnabouts make for a strong mid-season before a plump lady who’s tried all the guaranteed weight loss gimmicks in “Love Hungry.” Amid talking to her plants and crumbs everywhere, she spots an ad for ‘your weight is over.’ Soon a small earpiece arrives allowing her to hear the painful screams of the foods being ingested. It’s both an amusing and disturbing way to ruin dinner, and it’s amazing no one else has thought of the horror of considering body, environmental, and self-worth statements from the fruit pleading not to be eaten. Now that she has a pair of glasses revealing the food in question, it would be murder to eat them but she has to eat something – leading to hunger, paranoia, guilt, and a bitter finale. Period clothing, spinning wheels, and old-fashioned décor belie the 1692 Colonial Village in “The Apprentice” as a contemporary student applies for a re-enacting job. The magistrate insists on no sign of the twentieth century allowed, but our coed doesn’t take her apprenticeship seriously. Smoking, flirting and telling the puritans to lighten up and not have a cow lead to stocks, hangings, and debates on using so-called witches as a scapegoat to bind a struggling society together. Horror viewers know where this has to go, but it’s a real treat in getting there.
“The Cutty Black Sow” continues Tales from the Darkside’s late superb with trick or treating, fireside vigils, and an ill grandma who doesn’t want to die on All Hallows’ Even. Scottish roots and Samhain lore combine for deathbed delirium about the titular beast and warnings to stay safe inside the stone circle. The young grandson is left to make sense of the ravings, trying to finish protection rites he doesn’t understand in this unique mix of candy, masks, and contemporary Halloween fun alongside old word spells, rattling windows, glowing eyes at the door, and home alone frights. The spooky darkness and chilling what you don’t see is dang creepy even for adults! However, a cranky old wife is unhappy with her husband’s junk in director Jodie Foster’s (Flightplan) “Do Not Open This Box.” She wants new things – including the titular package that a strange mailman says was delivered by mistake. He insists he’ll pay anything for the unopened box’s return, and our browbeating lady sees an opportunity for a reward. While she shows up her friends with ostentatious jewels, her husband only asks to invent something useful to others. Our carrier also has a midnight deadline and a limit to his gifts, and his repossession notice exacts a fiery turnabout. In returning director, Tom Savini’s “Family Reunion” dad Stephen McHattie (Deep Space Nine) does whatever it takes to find a cure for his son – taking the boy from his mother and remaining on the move as chains, snarling, shadows, and howls handle the surprise. Prior torn shirts and accidents send mom to child services; and despite nightmares, pain, and the urge to run free, the boy wants to be with his mother, leading to wild confrontations, hairy threats, and superb revelations even if you already know what’s what. Barking dogs, parakeets, kitchen timers, coughing, and ominous toys also foreshadow the noisy horrors for the babysitter in “Hush.” Her charge has been experimenting in his father’s workshop – creating a noise-eating robot with one freaky suction-like hose. Initially, the primitive gadgets seem hammy and the premise simple, but the accidental activation and broken controller lead to heavy breathing, beating hearts, and some quite disturbing, slightly sexual imagery.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Tales from the Darkside without a few awkward entries including the impromptu champagne and sensitive puppeteer forced into a private performance for a hammy gangster in “No Strings.” Cliché accents, vendettas, dumb shootouts, and sexism litter an already silly premise, and the supposedly scary pantomime is just dull. Yuppies also get what they deserve in “The Grave Robber” – another Egyptian piece with hieroglyphs, explosives, a creaking mummy, and yes, strip poker. It’s laughable in all the wrong ways, and Divine (Hairspray) likewise can’t save the corny jokes, offensive portrayals, and stereotypical visions seeking the obnoxious titular leader of “Seymourlama.” Will these terrible parents sell their indulged son for shiny trinkets? Although disturbing, the attempted mix of satire and sinister misses the mark. Downtrodden scriptwriter Bradley Whitford (The West Wing) also doesn’t believe his innocuous neighbor with a dog named ‘Diablo’ can help him achieve movie-making power in “The Deal.” Hellish quips contribute to the deja vu, for we’ve seen this plot previously on Tales from the Darkside as well as in other horror anthologies. This isn’t bad in itself, just derivative. The shutter clicks and outsider point of view trying to solve humanity’s mystery in “Going Native” is stilted and drab, too. Our photographer regrets joining this bizarre reverse therapy group with dark robes, rage, aggression, and creepy innuendo. It’s all trying to be lofty about the human condition with on-the-nose debates about why we let advertising dictate what we value, obsess with wish-fulfilling television, and use sex to alleviate solitude but everything falls flat. For its time maybe this was provocative, however, it’s run of the mill after better Tales from the Darkside episodes, and the steamy, alienated analysis could have been better explored on Tales from the Crypt. Unfortunately, from Nicky and Ruthie to the bad accents and red hair, the I Love Lucy spoof in“Barter” is just plain bad. A rambling, ammonia-drinking alien salesman gives mom a gadget to freeze her son – providing some peace and quiet amid all her good gollies and household hints. Of course, everything goes wrong, and the attempted parody completely drops the ball as Tales from the Darkside ends with two clunkers. Likewise contending for worst in the series is “Basher Malone.” Its gritty music, seedy crowd, and wrestling cliches are terribly dated alongside some macho, blue lasers, and a masked man coming out of a portal behind the soda machine?
Fortunately, that Tales from the Darkside introduction is as creepy as ever, and the crawling bugs, icky corpses, gory faces, choice monster effects, and ghostly overlays remain effective. Hellish red lighting, dark silhouettes, nighttime eerie, fog, and thunder invoke horror despite small-scale sets and one-room storytelling. There are often only a few players per episode, too, but the acts flow as conversations rather than relying on flashing editing or visuals over substance. Through the frame views, mirrors, reflective shots, and basic camera ruses accent good old-fashioned corded phones, big cordless phones with those giant antennas, answering machines, long distance calls, operators, and Ma Bell references. There’s big old computers, tape decks, record players, radio reports, boob tubes, and the rush to find a blank VHS for the VCR amid nostalgic antiques, retro lamps, classic tunes, and period piece clutter. The obligatory eighties cool with big hair, excessive make-up, lots of pinks, and terribly glam fashions, on the other hand, woof! Strangely, the Tales from the Darkside DVD Special Features includes two more episodes – odd spin-offs or backdoor pilots that sadly went no further. Wills and flirtations mix with black roses and exotic pursuits in “Akhbar’s Daughter,” for sheer near nudity, steamy silhouettes, and threats about what happen to the last suitor add to the sense of forbidden danger. By day, the tantalizing lady is not what she seems at night – leading to ominous portraits and gross consequences. Instead of wasting time on silly entries, it would have been interesting to see Tales from the Darkside grow into this more mature vein, and “Attic Suite” has a desperate paycheck to paycheck couple contemplating how to get rid of their elderly, costly aunt and gain her insurance policy. Auntie herself wishes she could starve herself to death for them, and we believe how sad and bitter the options are as the dire needs escalate in another serious, demented, and twisted plot. These two extra entries should have replaced the last two clunker episodes, which send an otherwise fine season and overall perfectly demented series out on a cheesy note. Compared to timeless horror series before like The Twilight Zone or upping the saucy Tales from the Crypt after, Tales from the Darkside is steeped in low-budget eighties sinister. Season Four’s eerie goods live up to the series name, and Tales from the Darkside remains watchable with memorable if bizarre vignettes and frightful storytelling.
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These contemporary horrors both foreign and domestic tackle suburban scares, refugee horrors, family vengeance, and home haunts.
His House – Horror follows a Sudanese couple relocating to England in this 2020 Netflix release starring Wunmi Mosaku (Loki), Sope Dirisu (Black Mirror), and Matt Smith (Doctor Who). Perilous refugee boats begat detention, weekly asylum stipulations, and finally a newly assigned address – a dirty tenement they are lucky to have all to themselves. Despite having already been through so much, our couple laughs until they cry over their gratitude, hopeful for a new start before eerie echoes and shadows that move by themselves suggest there is more afoot than faulty electricity, peeling wallpaper, and holes in the plaster. Well done lighting schemes and dim sunlight through small windows create a moody palette for the background apparitions, ominous hands, kitchen oddities, and eyes watching from within the walls. Flashes of past troubles, childhood fears of the night witch coming to get them, and new scary experiences build tension. Husband and wife both have encounters they don’t admit, and tearful conversations with dark door frames in the background put the viewer on edge with our characters. We think we see or hear something rather than having everything given away thanks to flashlights, masks, tool mishaps, and disorienting figures in the dark. Cultures clash amid the horrors as our refugees struggle to be part of the community, reluctant to use tableware and getting lost in the maze of lookalike attached houses. Cruel neighborhood kids shout “Go back to Africa” and a kind but clueless doctor doesn’t know how to listen to the pain of tribal wars, butchered families, and doing what you have to do to survive. Our couple insists they are good people but must remain on guard against deep-seeded racism even in such crappy conditions. Lazy office workers complain that their falling apart house is “bigger than mine” so they shouldn’t be dissatisfied and “biting the hand that feeds them” – forcing the fearful to retract any moving request and hide the truth about apeth witches and ghostly torments. Although the Dinka dialogue is unfortunately not always translated, it’s superb that this is told from the appropriate angle. This isn’t a yuppie white couple choosing to ignore the spooky house warnings just to get out of the city and play unreliable scares with the audience. Eerie visuals, surreal waters, fog, and candlelight visions combine the personal horrors, supernatural, and real world frazzled as the demands to repay what they owe escalates from wet footprints and flickering light switches to monsters in the floor. Deceptive happy moments and psychological experiences take us to other places without leaving the congested house – reliving why with upsetting revelations that can only be put right with blood. This is a tender story about living with your demons; an excellent example of why horror from other perspectives need to be told.
The Housemaid – Covered furniture, candlelight, staircases, slamming doors, and screams get right to the gothic afoot in this 2016 Vietnamese tale. The grand French plantation in disrepair is out of place among the beautiful forests – reeking with a deadly history of cruel overseers, abused workers, shallow graves, and angry spirits. Rumors of mad wives, dead babies, decaying corpses, drownings, and bodies never found provide horror as the titular newcomer obediently does the housework during the day before the power goes out at night. It’s forbidden to speak of the dark family history, and mirrors, lanterns, and dramatic beds infuse the creepy with Jane Eyre mood. Arguments over sending for a distant doctor or using Eastern medicine for the wounded man of the house give way to sheer bed curtains, sunlight streaming through the window, and a touch of Rebecca in the steamy fireside romance. Unfortunately, a snotty, two-faced, racist rival addresses the awkwardness of the help pretending to be the lady of the house amid resentful servants, war intrigue, classism, and the vengeful ghostly Mrs. roaming the halls. The cradle draped in black rocks by itself, but it’s only for effect as jump scare whooshes, flying furniture, roar faces in the mirror, dream fake-outs, old photos research, and visions of the past create an uneven contemporary intrusion when the period atmosphere is enough. Roaming in the scary woods just for the sake of bones and panoramic ghouls is unnecessary when we should never leave the congested house. Indeed, the horrors are superior when anyone trying to leave the manor encounters a terrible but deserving end. Questionable retellings, confusing ghostly revenge, disbelieving interrogations, and flashbacks within flashbacks play loose with point of view, but a not so unforeseen twist clarifies the demented duty over love begggeting the horror. Some viewers may be disappointed that the movie trades one kind of horror for another and has too many endings. This has its faults and uses western horror motifs as needed to appear more a mainstream rather than low budget foreign film. The social statement characterizations are much better than formulaic Hollywood scares, and the throwback Hammer feeling, period accents, and gothic mood combine for unique horror and drama.
A Haunted House – I’m not a fan of found footage films, so this 2013 horror comedy parody from Marlon Wayans (Scary Movie) mocking the genre seemed like it would be fun. Plain text warnings of recovered recordings, assorted camera angles, and onscreen timestamps open the winks as the new camera and young couple moving in together don’t mix thanks to his dog, her boxes, his arcade games, and her dad’s ashes. Affection, sass, and bemusing stuffed animal foreplay are ruined by hair in curlers, open bathroom doors, and awful farts in the night – making for refreshingly real relationships and humor. No blind spots in the video coverage mean catching the maid up to some saucy, and racist, voyeuristic security camera guys who want your passwords. Fetishizing friends want to swap, the gay psychic wants to know if they’ve had same-sex encounters – all the white people are envious opportunists and that’s nice to see in a genre so often dominated by such caucasity. Sleepwalk dancing and what happens during the night silliness caught on camera escalates with getting high and mocking the usual sheets, smoky imagery, whooshing, and Ouija boards. Our couple jumps to conclusions about the haunting over noises, misplaced keys, doors moving by themselves, and kitchen mishaps, but neither is a catch and a lot of incidents are more about their own faults and problems. They probably shouldn’t be together horror or not, and some of the not addressing their own issues is too on the nose serious or uneven alongside the humor. The misogyny is akin to women often being haunted and not believed in horror, but nothing is scary because the overtly comedic attempts are out of place against the formulaic encounters. There’s an imaginary friend, pervert ghost, demons, a deal with the devil for Louboutins, and the final act is an old hat exorcism meets Poltergeist parody crowded with male ghost rapacious and more unnecessary homophobic jokes. There’s promise in how the camera brings out the voyeur in us all, changing us once we’re in front of it by revealing our true selves or why we’re weary of the lens. A taut eighty minutes with bemusing commentary on the genre’s flaws could have been a watchable, but the dumb and offensive shtick goes on for far too long – becoming the monotonous horror movie it’s trying to send up thanks to a surprising lack of personality.
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What Could Have Been with Kindred: The Embraced
by Kristin Battestella
Based partly on the Vampire: The Masquerade role playing game, Fox’s 1996 Kindred: The Embraced is an eight episode miniseries cut short despite enticing vampires and gothic atmosphere. Ventrue vampire Julian Luna (Mark Frankel) is prince of San Francisco and ruler of the Kindred clans – a precarious alliance between Lillie Langtry (Stacy Haiduk) a Toreador nightclub patron, underground Nosferatu Daedalus (Jeff Kober), and Brujah mobster Eddie Fiori (Brian Thompson). Their masquerade to live among humans is threatened by detective Frank Kohanek (C.Thomas Howell) and reporter Caitlin Byrne (Kelly Rutherford) – who falls for Julian, further complicating the interconnected love triangles and vampire peace.
Rooftop chases at dawn open the hour-plus premiere “The Original Saga” alongside quick detective exposition and gunshots intercut with ledge leaping culprits, stakings, and victims set on fire in the sunlight. It’s a very nineties, busy start crowded with back and forth cop and vampire perspectives. The charred body is enough to start the investigation without the cheap action, and you need a flow chart to figure out who everyone is thanks to the world building and clan intrigue dropped in the dialogue – who belongs to the Gangrel gangs or Brujah mobsters, who are moving in on another Kindred’s territory, which ones abide by the masquerade rules to hide from humans, which clans are loyal to whom. Fortunately, the steamy vampire dinner date with steak very, very rare leads to one drop of blood on the white dress, sneaky scalpels, morgue drawers, and chilling kills. One-on-one conversations and hypnosis add to the tasty and sensuous, invoking the gothic atmosphere amid graveside vigils, moody mirrors, and shaving mishap temptations. In its early hours, however, Kindred: The Embraced is dominated by guests of the week and newly embraced vampires when the main Phantom of the Opera forbidden romance in the third episode “Nightstalker” is a much nicer bittersweet. Uneven A/B plotting and sagging police arguments hamper the superior Kindred stories as vampire killers are held for psychiatric evaluation. There’s a fine line between schizophrenia, blood lust, enchantments, and predators. Saucy shadows reveal our Kindred ills and charms as precarious clan war talk escalates to action halfway through the series – finally turning Kindred: The Embraced where it needs to go with guns drawn, vampire standoffs, and mob strong arming that should have come much sooner than the sixth episode, “The Rise and Fall of Eddie Fiori.” The Kindred front at the Dock Workers Union seems pedestrian and this arc was made to wait as if it were less important than the police plots, but clan peace is bringing down the business for Brian Thompson’s (Cobra) Brujah leader Eddie Fiori. The Brujah clan prefers carnage to reason, and Eddie sets up crimes only to act like the Kindred would be safer if he were in charge. Shapeshifting killers, head choppings, decoys, stabbings, and assassination attempts caught on camera provide enough gothic horror without resorting to more of that intrusive cop drama. A vampire using a private investigator is unnecessary in a blood feud, but it’s superb when the rival ladies get to sit face to face as the Kindred point fingers over who has blackmail photos or is sleeping with a journalist. Council meetings and swords resolve any broken vampire rules – damage the peace and you will pay.
Ironically, the wire tapes, moles, and crazy cops in the second episode of Kindred: The Embraced “Prince of the City” contradicts the pilot movie. You wouldn’t know this show was about vampires as enemies suddenly become friends over a cup of coffee and traitors are discovered or forgotten from one scene to the next. It’s a terrible entry and probably deterred a lot of viewers from continuing with the series week to week. “Live Hard, Die Young, and Leave a Good Looking Corpse” is also a great title, but an anonymous, obnoxious Kindred is embracing groupies and leaving them in the streets, again wasting time when the regular players have so little. Kindred: The Embraced could have opened with a newly turned against her will vampire learning the ropes point of view, but debates that could delve further into such assault parallels somehow end up boring and repetitive here. Police dismissing the monster stole my baby claims in the second to last hour “Bad Moon Rising” are unnecessary, too, as evil and ugly Nosferatu vampires abducting babies for blood sacrifices and Druid rituals are terrifying enough. Our vampires fear this banished Kindred wishing to return the clans to a more primitive sewer dwelling state no masquerade needed. Why demand vampires wear suits and drink blood in wine glasses when they can take it all? Kindred explaining their own rules to a sneering cop every single hour gets old fast compared to female Nosferatu, Carmilla references, chains, and ceremonial blades. “I only drink red” quips and garlic braids in the kitchen winks add to the Kindred: The Embraced mythos – some vampires can feed and go out in the sun while others gain more powers under the full moon. Direct questions about who’s making love or poisoning whom lead to tender moments among humans and vampires waxing on whether it’s them or us who are the real monsters. Suave Kindred fang out for both moonlit showdowns and juicy fireside passion as rivals try to exploit the clan war opportunities while the prince is away at the vineyard in “Cabin in the Woods.” Angry Brujah are determined to put bodies in the empty family cemetery plots while hooting owls, creepy forests, and eerie fog accent fiery flashbacks, attacks in the woods, white wolves, and Kindred truths too fantastic to believe. Past betrayals coming to light and vendettas are revealed, but only the precious healing blood can save the sacrifices and sad choices. Here at its end is where Kindred: The Embraced finds how it should have always been.
Of course, the series should have never strayed from it’s true and unfortunately gone too soon star Mark Frankel (Leon the Pig Farmer) and his Kindred prince Julian Luna. He keeps a tenuous peace between the clans, but Julian’s conflicted about being their judge, jury, and executioner. Despite his slick widow’s peak and cool control, it’s easy to see what gets to him, as Julian continually protects humans and associates with the descendants of his family from before he was embraced. He makes others toe the line about the masquerade yet Julian is sentimental himself, often going with banishment or failed punishments that force more finite, deadly resolutions. Although everyone tells him otherwise, Julian thinks we all can coexist, and he actually might not be that great a leader if his rivals can push his buttons with personal vendettas in hopes of inciting a full out clan war. Fortunately, Julian is nothing if not shrewd. He commands loyalty and respect, orchestrating ploys against his enemies that leave them out in the sunlight and begging to get into his trunk. No matter the pain or peril to himself, Julian does what he has to do to keep the peace above all else. He admits he was a violent henchman in the past, but his loves and human attachments make Julian want to be a better man. Journalist Kelly Rutherford (Melrose Place, but with whom I always confuse Ally Walker from Profiler, and also with Amanda Wyss briefly on Highlander: The Series. Nineties genre blondes, man!) is writing an article about Julian being a mysterious and powerful businessman, but he never gives interviews. He buys the newspaper and makes Caitlin editor, but she doesn’t sit behind the desk, seeking out the hot cases herself and dismissing the spooky connections that lead back to Julian. Caitlin struggles to listen to her conscience when he’s around, foolishly more curious despite how little she knows. The relationship is stagnant at times, never really advancing until the finale, but the chemistry forgives the blinded by love stupidity as truths and tearful revelations make for well done human versus vampire emotions. Stacy Haiduk (SeaQuest DSV) as Toreador leader and Haven club owner Lillie makes loose alliances as needed, using her allure for power, jealousy, and to support the arts. Her club is a sanctuary and Lillie saves a young musician with her embrace, but rock stars aren’t super discreet. She protects the wrong vampires and Julian insists they are no longer lovers but she makes her presence known by spying on Caitlin when not biting, flirting, and having her dalliances, too. Ultimately, Lillie still loves Julian and dislikes when he lies, expecting the truth after what they’ve been through together. This is a complex character – Lillie will stab a person in the back and do it with a smile and we don’t blame her. She deserved more time and Haiduk’s eyes are fittingly enchanting I must say.
Detective C. Thomas Howell (The Outsiders) is top billed on Kindred: The Embraced, but Frank Kohanek is a terribly over the top eighties does forties cum nineties, generic copper. The edgy delivery and angry scene chewing jars with everything else, and point blank the series would have been better without him. Frank starts so full of hate and thinks all vampires are monsters even as he is helped and protected by Kindred, but turns a vampire killer over to Julian because his law can’t handle them. His entire police element is unnecessary since the Ventrue already has Erik King (Dexter) as their inside cop Sonny, but he isn’t featured half as much. Sonny’s reveals happen way too soon, leaving him to ride shotgun with Frank as the stereotypical Black cop partner, and Kate Vernon’s (Falcon Crest) seductive Alexandra also has her melodrama cut short when Kindred: The Embraced sets up her supposedly great romance with Frank but then tears it apart in one episode. Channon Roe (Bio-Dome) as perpetually scowling Gangrel biker Cash doesn’t think being embraced is all it’s cracked up to be, and he’s actually not that good of a bodyguard because he’s always making moon eyes with leather jacket bad girl Brigid Walsh (Army Wives) as Sasha. Although the motorcycle double entendres are cliché, Julian doesn’t want his last human descendant to be embraced, forbidding the romance between Sasha and Cash. She doesn’t believe the hear tell monstrous, but Sasha is quickly caught between the love of one clan and the hate of another. We know what to expect from an episode named “Romeo and Juliet,” but the secret rendezvous, gang killings, and family payback does what it says on the tin in fitting vampire style and shows what Kindred: The Embraced can do. Jeff Kober (China Beach) is immediately excellent as the Nosferatu leader Daedalus, decrepit and living underground but suave in a smoking jacket as he does Julian’s dirty work. Daedalus loyally does the series’ scary with a calm and quiet chill but falls in love with a beautiful singer. The “Nightstalker” hour should have been devoted to him, and we notice his absence in weaker episodes. Kober isn’t made up to be that much of an ogre, but Daedalus is ashamed of his own clan and dabbles in alchemy to enchant and change his appearance, for who would love him? He disposes of a nasty vampire doctor for hurting children and befriends an ill boy who asks if he is a monster. Daedalus wants to embrace him, but it is of course against the rules. It’s another fascinating dilemma that deserved more time on Kindred: The Embraced but c’est la vie.
Although there are no subtitles on the two-disc DVD edition of Kindred: The Embrace and the full-screen picture is flat; unlike today’s overly saturated digital grading, the nighttime scenes aren’t uber dark thanks to practical lighting and ambiance. Some shaky cam zooms and herky-jerky handheld aren’t so smooth now, but contrived police action is brief and choice dolly zoom horrors and great vampire eyes forgive poor fire effects. Picturesque Golden Gate Bridge scenery and San Francisco skylines at dusk contrast charred bodies, morgue toe tags, lunar motifs, and wolf overlays. Lavish wallpapers, draperies, artwork, water fountains, and grand staircases make up for that then luxurious nineties pink marble while creepy underground lairs, candelabras, and scary paintings create an edgy industrial. Red silk, purple satin, crushed velvet, and suave men’s suits provide allure; women’s fashions are both nineties runway sheer and flowing old fashioned with tantalizing slips and camisoles rather than then taboo nudity. Beheadings, skulls in the incinerator, heartbeats, and flexing jugulars provide chills while brooding nineties music invokes a sexy, classy simmer. Stained glass ruins, graves, greenery, and roses create a sensuous, romantic melancholy as Kindred: The Embraced remains a fine mix of modern debonair and gothic mood. That beeper though, with the fake giant screen and super easy to read analog text…lol. With eight different writers and six different directors, obviously, no one thought of having one cohesive narrative back then. Maybe twenty-five years ago cross-medium interactive content was unfathomable, but today such a franchise with books, games, official social media, and RPGs would be massive. Kindred: The Embraced was caught in the middle – a series that didn’t stand on its own but nor did it satisfy the built-in audience of Vampire: The Masquerade. Having gaming source material may have even contributed to viewer confusion as Fox shuffled the airings around and potentially out-of-order episodes seemed lacking in information. Of course, had Kindred: The Embraced stuck to its roots instead of wasting time with nineties cop show intrusions, the vampire love triangles, and intriguing clan wars wouldn’t have been so crowded. Revelations that could take several seasons happen in the first hour, and it’s tough not to shout at the what-ifs and ponder what Kindred: The Embraced could have been. Fortunately, Kindred: The Embrace is easy to marathon, remaining entertaining as a fun introductory piece for younger horror lite audiences as well as vampire fans and nostalgic viewers looking for gothic panache.
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Big city undead sexy for the adults and hip horror for the whole family face off in this bemusing vampire showdown! Which do you choose?
Vampire in Brooklyn – Lonely vampire Eddie Murphy wants Angela Bassett (Black Panther) as his willing bride in director Wes Craven’s 1995 horror-comedy opening with talk of ancient Nosferatu out of Egypt feasting on those lost in the Bermuda Triangle until vampire hunters bro movie must rely on Murphy’s retreads from Coming to America. Excellent “I would love to have you for dinner” winks, sexy bites, and a simmering score betterught the undead to extinction. Now that’s a backstory I’d like to have seen! Foggy harbors, bloody bodies, and a scary wolf invoke Dracula while black and white televisions, hard language, and R attitudes provide refreshing throwback humor. Leaps in the air, breaking through the windows stunts, an unnecessarily elaborate ship crash set piece, and poor visual effects cement the nineties tone, but the Blacula references, monster transformations, no reflections, and itchy gunshots add tongue in cheek to the vampire fangs, pointy nails, and eerie eyes. That wig, though, wolf! The full moon, day servant ghouls a la Renfield, and a heart ripped out of the chest bring the vampy to the street as horoscope warnings, chases, and gore set off the urban creepy afoot. Viewers expect a camp aside or pithy comeback in every scene, but the witty matches the serious horror thanks to little things like, oh say, an ear found at the crime scene that serves both laughter and atmosphere. Increasing ghoul mishaps, “RIP” license plates on the smooth ride, and “Whatta Man” montages set off the dangerous coffin retrievals, but faith versus snakes and vampire lore in a murder investigation are too unbelievable for our tough cops to consider. Unfortunately, the apparently obligatory Murphy disguises are totally out of place. Awkward preacher fakery ruins the vampire build up before another offensive Italian stunt, and the makeup for both is terrible. The evil is good allure could have been better presented with vampire suave rather than dragging the film down with overlong laugh out loud send ups that make viewers wonder where all this is supposed to be going. Why torment this strong woman via stupid delays when you can just charm her instead? The blood pulsing temptations, supernatural flirtations, nightmare paintings, love triangles, and saucy roommates come to a complete stop as if the accent character dilemmas over eternal life, predatory pursuits, and rough seductions. Horror attacks, candles, and juicy vamp outs lead to serious character decisions and tense one on one revelations before a wild finale with a fitting chuckle. I’d have loved a sequel with ghoul turned cool Julius Jones! This is oddly similar to Craven’s Dracula 2000 in several ways, and there are many flawed elements here – pointless narration, meandering focus between the humor and scares, datedness, and uneven try hard that wants to be both niche for Black audiences yet mainstream hit acceptable. Fortunately, overall the late night fun here is still entertaining; a great re-watch with mature, modern vampire chemistry.
Vampires vs. the Bronx – Sirens, flickering neon signs, new construction buyouts by Murnau Properties, and paperwork sealed with fangs and screams open this PG-13 2020 Netflix original. Suave tunes, multiple languages, and cultural blends set off the summer heat, bicycles, and friendly neighborhood bodega, but missing persons fliers, Vlad the Impaler logos, and Polidori references provide ominous. Adult gravitas anchors the youthful ensemble, but the realistic kids aren’t trying hard for the camera. These boys just want to impress the older girls but end up embarrassed by mom wanting to get a babysitter. Narrations and video angles a la Tik Tok balance church bells and scripture quotes, developing the locales and characters well as the youths face local gang pressure to do things they don’t want to do. The new white woman in town insists she isn’t one of those types who will call the cops, and the genre mirror to nature commentary is superb. It’s not the hood the kids fear, but the nasty white folks who’ve come
to suck the life out of town. Vampire vows to wipe them out like vermin are all the more chilling because we recognize the gentrification and racist mentalities. What would the authorities care if vampires are pecking bad guys off the street in the Bronx? A wealthy white man writes a check so no one notices those made to disappear, and such a forgotten, downtrodden place is perfect for vampires who want to stay under cover. Friendships are tested when some want to do good for their community and others are right to be wary. Neighbors disbelieve the hear tell vamps dressed like Hamilton taking out the local thugs while humor alleviates suspenseful close calls – the vampire was just coming in to buy…sanitizer of course. Daytime nest explorations and homages to The Lost Boys accent the self aware genre winks while a bemusing montage establishes the lore herein complete with that cookie they hand out at church that doesn’t taste very good aka the “eucharist” and watching Blade. Single mothers try to keep their kids on the up, but the boys are trespassing for vampire proof and stealing holy water in a Sprite bottle. Skeleton keys, coffins, ringtones rousing the dead – what’s worse then being chased by vampires and caught in the backseat of the cop car? When their mothers come to get them but the vampire didn’t show up on your camera. Fun zooms for youthful actions and watchful eyes match creepy red lights, growls, and hypnotic kills as Haitian history preparations and shootouts don’t stop the undead. The kids take the crucifix off the wall and hope tia doesn’t notice, but the powdered garlic comes in handy and calling the Bronx a shithole is the last straw. Although a little short at under eighty-five minutes with credits, the swift solidarity doesn’t stray from its goal. Rather than underestimate the audience with stereotypical obnoxiousness, this refreshing contemporary take is great for young audiences as well as fans of wise and wise-cracking horror.
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Horror comes in many forms thanks to these cults, witches, clergy, pagans, and rituals – and some of these contemporary films and period settings are better than others.
The Heretics – Kidnappings, ritual symbols, altars, torches, and cults lead to freaky masks, chanting, demons, and sacrifices in this 2017 Canadian indie. The nightmares continue five years later despite group therapy, volunteer work, and an overprotective mother who won’t let her daughter walk home alone. Assaulted and abused women are meek and apologetic, comforted by time heals all wounds hopeful, but others don’t want to be touched, refusing to be victims and tired of lies that don’t make it better. Would they go back and change their experience or seek revenge? Our female couple supports each other with realistic conversations and
maturity – not horror’s typical angry lez be friends titillation solely for the viewer gaze. Unfortunately, creepy campers, chains, and a scarred abductor ruin necklaces and birthday plans, leading to skull entrance markers, an isolated cabin, and flashbacks of the original attack with hooded dead, white robes, and flowery dresses marred in blood. Sunrise deadlines, whispers of angels, fitting Gloria names, and religious subtext balance faith, doubts, God, biblical aversions, and horns. What’s a delusion and who’s delusional? Who’s right or wrong about what they believe? The multi-layered us versus them, who’s really involved in what sinister, and what is truth or lies aren’t clear amid threats, stabbings, whips, and history repeating itself. Men versus women innuendo and who needs saving attempts add to the less than forthcoming police, lack of answers, and obsessive searches. Who is trying to protect whom? Violence begets violence thanks to fanatical beliefs in the ritual and long-awaited ceremonies. This demon is deceptive, growing stronger and more tantalizing despite a gross, uncomfortable sex scene. Occasionally the boo monster in your face jumps are forced, but the fine body horror, creaking wings breaking out the back, squishing sounds, and black sinews make up the differences. Fevers, convulsions, hairy clumps, and visions increase along with the realizations of what is happening before candles, pentagrams, burns, and one more final sacrifice. Viewers know where it all has to go, yet this remains entertaining getting there via escalating horror invasive, ritual complications, and one ready and waiting demon.
Loon Lake – David Selby and Kathryn Leigh Scott (Dark Shadows, people, Dark Shadows) anchor this 2019 Minnesota set indie opening with 1880 screams, witchy curses, multiple chops, and bloody heads. An unnecessary contemporary driving credits montage restarts the farm country rural as a drunken widower renting an empty home takes the cross off the wall. Distorted camera angles set off the horror as well as pictures of the deceased and the sense of numbness amid the pretty fields, pleasant breezes, overgrown cemetery, and eerie trees. Details on accidental deaths attributed to the witch and the bad luck that follows if you cross her grave three times come at the local diner, and Selby is quite distinct as the pesky old neighborhood kook and his conflicted minister ancestor. The bereaved, unfortunately, don’t believe in ghosts or witches despite tales of church fires, saucy spells, and bound rituals. Flashbacks provide last rites, fresh graves, and refused nastiness alongside spirits in the window, thunder, tolling bells, and number three repetitions. Conversations on grief versus faith are nice, if heavy handed, calming moments before figures in the cornrows, apparitions of the dead, phantom noises, and creaking floorboards. The past sequences, however, are out of order. That may be an attempt at leaving the history open to interpretation or making a case for crazy with guilt unreliable, but the audience has seen independent, over the top evidence of the witch, so we know it’s not all in his head. Despite surreal visions, alluring forest encounters, willing temptations, dead birds, power outages, and spooky lights; it’s also difficult to be on our modern man’s side. He keeps saying “Let me explain” after grabbing a woman when waking rather than admitting he had a nightmare about the witch, still wants to talk it out when threatened for attacking her and completely ignores a full gun rack because screaming at an intruder is apparently the better thing to do. Maybe this is about his learning to believe in both good and bad, but it’s tough to feel for a guy claiming he didn’t deserve this when the witch didn’t deserve what happened to her either. Convenient writing seen in a dream provides an end to the curse, but he doesn’t try to make it right, insisting he doesn’t care what went down – which isn’t the best course of action when she’s naked and bathing in blood. Putting on a cross makes for instant faith, but the seemingly sunny ending and false fake outs are obvious. Although this makes the most of zooms, music, and in-scene scares, once again the flaws here arise in too few people wearing too many production hats, and the imbalance shows by time our man pain protagonist is literally swinging at thin air. While entertaining for both the good as well as the bad, this really feels like two stories in one, and the elder period tale is better of the two.
You Make the Call
The Ritual – Robert James-Collier (Downton Abbey) and Rafe Spall (Prometheus) plan an all bros adventure in this 2018 Netflix original. None of that been there, done that will do, and hiking an obscure trail in Sweden becomes the honorary guilt trip after they stumble into a liquor store robbery gone wrong. This cliché start could have been skipped in favor of the brisk mountain trail memorial toasts directly, for we learn all we need to know thanks to out of shape complaints, new $200 hiking boots, sprained knees, and the realization that they didn’t even climb very far and can see their luxury lodge from the pretty peak. Despite questionable maps, a faulty compass, rain, and no reception, they of course take a shady shortcut through the ominous forest, and if we haven’t seen this movie already, we’ve certainly seen others like it. Rather than the injured and another stay while the other two return for help, logical ideas, talk of bears, and abandoned items from previous campers are dismissed by these husbands and fathers who are a little too old to be acting so stupid. The unrealistic actions dampen the animal carcasses, thunder, and eerie trees as mysterious symbols and carvings lead to a convenient spooky cabin where they can stay the night. They break in, trespassing and ignoring runes and effigies they presume are “pagan Nordic shit” on top of strange roars and growling in the forest. Unnatural lights and distorted dream visuals intermix with bedwetting and sleepwalking frights, and in the morning the men follow a path they know is in the wrong direction just because it’s there and nobody is supposed to talk about what’s happening. More creepy cabins, monsters in the woods, screams, and blood begat missing friends and gory tree hangings before arguments, contrived guilt, and false hopes lead to torches, folk music, and chains. In the end, suddenly brave men make big declarations about their wives when earlier they cowered, passed blame, and couldn’t wait to get away from their families. We know horrors are going to happen, but the giving it away title spoils the supposed surprise. The ninety minutes plus feels overlong because it took so long to get to the creepy death warmed over people and actual sacrificial parts, yet the past looking rural and ancient mythology revelations are the story we should have had. Viewers don’t get to completely see what could be an awesome monster, and the unique Norse legends, pagan worship, and immortal bargains that should have been the focal point seem tacked on after we wasted all that time watching dumb dudes literally going around in circles in a tired guilt versus the supernatural metaphor. The familiar, predictable derivatives are shout at the television entertaining, but it’s tough to overcome the feeling that we should have been seeing the eponymous history perspective while these intruders get what they deserve.
I Didn’t Finish It
We Summon the Darkness – It feels like we’ve seen these rad chicks on the highway before complete with music, talk of make up and sex, and it’s 1988 via 2019 thanks to crimped hair, Madonna bangles, recent vehicles, and modern skinny jeans substitutes that look like dress up for the costume party. Gas station stops, old man innuendo, and televangelist fire and brimstone add to the cliché teases while convenient murder reports on the radio detail satanic symbols found at the crime scene. The jerks on the road are likewise weak with terrible mullets and everyone measuring each other’s meddle with their metalhead expertise gets old very fast. The flashing lights and concert bouncing up and down are also brief and lame tropes alongside the good girl peer pressured into everything cool and crazed, annoying exaggerations. Maybe if you look at this as a parody or if it had been a comedy the tone and style would make sense? The highway home to the rich house is instantaneous compared to drawn out start, and the Never Have I Ever chatting around the fire drinking binges goes on and on when it’s obvious the guys want sex and the girls are disinterested. Who’s really after whom and for what purpose turnabouts are interesting, but not unexpected thanks to the ritual foreshadowing and upside down cross jewelry leading to the drugged and bound. A gender reversal on the horror is supposed to stand out, but one girl’s character development is that she has to pee all the time and everyone is stupid, unlikable, knife playing drunks. You see, this isn’t really about the occult aspects, just a congregation trying to instill fear of the devil by committing murders that look like cult killings. Idiotic interrogations that waste time bothering to explain all this make the threats feel hollow, and I’m so, so tired of so-called righteous assholes giving decent people a bad name. We have enough of that at the top these days, so this didn’t need to be set in an eighties Midwest for the religious hypocrisy commentary. In fact, it might have come across as something deeper if the first half wasn’t wasted on faking period window dressing that doesn’t work. Stepmothers, bloody bodies found, police chases, lone officers who don’t call for backup, psycho daddy pastors – the contrivances just go on and on, escalating until I eventually stopped paying attention.
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Re-blogged from 10/14/2014
Apparitions is a Fine Spiritual Thriller
By Kristin Battestella
What if Mother Teresa was possessed and died during an exorcism? So begins Apparitions, a 2008 6-part British tale chronicling a modern day exorcist caught between the bureaucracy of Rome and the demons running amok in London. Who knew?
Father Jacob (Martin Shaw) tries to help a young family in fear of demonic possession, despite Cardinal Bukovak’s (John Shrapnel) insistence that Father Jacob is over stepping the bounds of his archaic exorcism office. Sister Ruth (Siobhan Finneran) is placed as Father Jacob’s secretary to keep an eye on him, but she begins to question the strange goings on around their parish – and their mysterious patient Michael (Rick Warden), himself a victim of possession in Satan’s master plan to birth new and powerful evil on earth. Can Father Jacob unravel these demonic intentions and save the lives and souls of those around him, or will his own institution and the non-believers inside and out inadvertently allow evil to triumph?
Blasphemous suggestions, debates on canonization, and behind the scenes church happenings are immediately intriguing to start Episode 1 of Apparitions. However, series writer and director Joe Ahearne (Ultraviolet, Doctor Who) and co-creator Nick Collins (Murder in Suburbia) also smartly endear the cast and plots with quickly relatable young girls with possessed dads and seemingly inspired Leprosy healings. There’s a pleasing attention to detail as well through battle of wits dialogue, historical dates, and specific examinations. Are the saints as active in earthly work as demons – even in prisons and with rapists seeking repentance? Perfumes versus foul scents, appearing and disappearing eerie figures, and more devilish implications create a paranormal but religious CSI design with no need to resort to nasty priesthood innuendo. The flaws of the church, however, are certainly acknowledged; exorcisms are recognized as medieval hokey, and the misbelieving even make some Hammer Horror jokes. Are such non-believers all possessed by evil? Of course not, but are all men of the cloth touched by grace? Nope. Apparitions confronts the whole lot of grey in between thanks to multiple storylines and layers of legion; the longer serial format gives room for deeper demonology dimensions, legal issues, social services, church hierarchy, government battles, and family debates by Episode 2. A film would have one monstrosity excised with the confrontation against evil resolved in several hours, but Apparitions offers a possession infrastructure to mirror the church’s chain of command. Who knew being a priest was such dangerous work? Apparitions remains self aware with quips – “Don’t make many enemies in your line of work?” “Only Satan.” – and provides fantastical but honest discussion on humanity being the battleground between good and evil where our flaws, temptations, and those to which we would or would not do harm are used against us. Casualties and sacrifices happen in this spiritual warfare, and Episode 3 raises the stakes as Apparitions uses its individual hours or multi part arcs to tie its larger plot together. It was probably tough to watch Apparitions from week to week thanks to the somewhat rolling cast and changing righteous or evil affiliations, but binging several episodes at a time keeps the soulful character dilemmas in focus.
Demonic pregnancies and abortions gone awry push the exorcism twists further in Episode 4, but these upsetting, controversial themes remain delicate and compelling. Where is the line between deformity or evil showing upon one’s person, disability, mental illness, and possession? Do we encounter demons daily but remain unaware as we argue the fine line between medical rights, patient privacy, and religious need? No one wants a priest interfering with healthcare, but interesting commentary on how medicine was once thought of as superstition helps plead the spiritual case. Demons, of course, thrive on perversion and seek to be born in emulation of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ. Even people who think they believe are shocked when they encounter the possessed on Apparitions. Episode 5 mixes Islam and supposed visions of the Blessed Mother with hopeful, miraculous moments, and this good standing tall balance keeps Apparitions from being too somber or serious. Can we recognize these good or ills among us? Do we invite the devil in while supposedly differing religions recognize our common evil enemy? Apparitions poses a lot of questions and can be lofty at times in hypothesizing whether humanity is inherently bad or good, and some secondary people or plots end up forgotten and unresolved by the Episode 6 finale. Several excellent supporting players don’t have any follow up time, and this one series could have perhaps been 8 or 10 hours instead of 6. Fortunately, great guest stars and core characters facing their own demons provide more thought provoking muster. Could you work for evil just once to save millions? The needs of the masses certainly outweigh the cost of one’s own life – or soul. The finale pieces together all the significant dates, anniversaries, and births to up Apparitions’ ante, testing its faithless by having them perform exorcisms and face their own catastrophes. Once you open the door to hell, can it be closed? Does God let evil in only to prove good’s triumph? For all its doom and gloom on evil and possession, Apparitions is a powerful spiritual show about the underlining good needed for the job, cloth or no cloth.
Apparitions producer and star Martin Shaw (Judge John Deed, Inspector George Gently, The Professionals) looks the mature, priestly part as Father Jacob and is certainly up to the credible, experienced, and soft spoken but kick ass task. His rapport with young Romy Irving (Public Enemies) overcomes her fear and ours as Father Jacob puts pressure on and pursues his investigation for the true cause – there’s no time to pussyfoot around when souls are at stake! Father Jacob firmly believes Satan is amidst our daily lives but must continually defend his exorcism office even to fellow church members who think he is relic of the past. Father Jacob embodies an interesting debate – he doesn’t want people to suffer to prove his point, but the possessed are the exact people he must excise. How much pain is saving the world going to take? You don’t need to believe to enjoy Apparitions thanks to Shaw’s everyman alone style and the doubts cast upon him by others. Why do so many immediately resist the opportunity for his help or take extremes to spit in his face? Is it easier for people to run from faith when they should fight evil or help good to happen? Father Jacob is an anchor for his office, yet Shaw also provides excellent internal conflict and silent reflection. His line of work always leads to death, but Father Jacob must continue to fight the good fight. A very strong script also helps Shaw take it to the next level – he always has a good comeback or the right thing to say to the possessed, the believer, or the church that is both for and against him. Father Jacob has to break the rules and does what he has to do, and Apparitions is a worthy ride because we want to see Father Jacob succeed against all this dang earthly red tape just as much as we root for his quest against supernatural evil.
Are these miracles on Apparitions done for good or ill? Guest priest Elyes Gabel (Game of Thrones) adds more conflict and temptation while addressing homosexual ideologies within the Catholic Church. Are the ones concerned with what is thought to be the unclean or questioning their faith and role in the church the ones closest to God that the demons seek to trick and enter in? David Gyasi (Interstellar) as prison chaplain Father Daniel wants to take action and is a resourceful ally for Father Jacob, but doubts what he witnesses during exorcisms. Wouldn’t you? Shaun Dooley (Red Riding) also represents a realistic father trying to handle divorce and parenting before possession becomes a factor. Why does he have to justify his family to the church, indeed? Rounding out the ensemble is Rick Warden (Band of Brothers) as the perfectly disturbing, demonic, and desperate Michael. His Holocaust parallels and waxing on why God allows evil to happen are sickly good television. The devil is, after all, a master wordsmith and persuasive little fellow who exploits our fears and weaknesses. Michael’s struggles with his possession are eerily correct in many aspects – cast out one demon on Apparitions, and another takes his place. Ultimately, Satan wants your soul, or better yet, the best soul he can find. The higher evil can climb, all the better. Thus is the battle on Apparitions.
Some of the female characters on Apparitions, however, are somewhat under written as either helpful, bitchy, or obstacles as needed and could have stayed around much, much longer. Sassy nun Michelle Joseph (Eastenders) feels under utilized as the good counterbalance to numerous cliché non-believing beotches, but detective Stephanie Street (20 Things to Do before You’re 30) does better as a strong sensible lady seeking answers to these crimes. Can justice be served legally and spiritually or does one office trump the other? Likewise, abortion clinic doctor Claudia Harrison (Murphy’s Law) is willing to consider Father Jacob’s theories whilst also seeing to her patients needs, and psychologist Claire Price (Rebus) seems objective but her atheist stance and evaluations for the church clash just a bit. Cherie Lunghi (Excalibur) also provides a very interesting debate on the devil as seduction, and it is such a loss that Apparitions didn’t continue for a second season. Just seeing Lunghi and Shaw go toe to toe in this ongoing good versus evil war would have been delightful enough! Thankfully, Siobhan Finneran (Downton Abbey) is a strict but fun Sister Ruth with worthy wit to match Shaw as Father Jacob. She starts out an unofficial spy for the suspicious, jerky but juicy, and career advancement seeking John Shrapnel (Gladiator) as Cardinal Bukovak, but Sister Ruth is wise enough to make up her own mind in whether she is for or against what’s happening. She certainly plays with that vow of obedience as needed! Again, this evil fighting priest and nun tag team antagonism would have been fun to see in a Series Two. Pity.
The look and feel of Apparitions is appropriately foreign and ecclesiastical, too, with plenty of priestly robes, aged buildings, and inspiring or brooding locales from London to Rome. Smart uses of Latin prayers and Italian dialogue also accent the drama, which doesn’t go for shocking full on horror in its solid 55-minute shows. Of course, there are disconcerting touches of gore, blood, and skin – and not as in nudity skin, either – and subtitles will be necessary for these soft-spoken accents and multiple languages during the tense moments of exorcism, violence, and surprises. Despite old world candles, chapels, and rituals, the medieval rite in the modern realm also makes amusing appearances. Oh, a second priest isn’t handy for an exorcism? Let’s just call him up and put on the speakerphone! Excellent intercutting, uses of light and dark photography, colored lighting, and zooms up the intensity, and music, prayers, and near chanting rhythms heighten simultaneous action. People do shout or talk over each other, but this works when the languages or prayers are being translated – or when taunting demons are causing mayhem while those unseeing speak on, unaware. Fiery fantastics and walking on water spectacles do have their moments in the final two episodes, but most of Apparitions relies on the cast in action or reaction before special effects. Sometimes the imagery of the possessed tapping on the church gates waiting to enter in is really all you need to send your demonic tale home.
Some audiences may be put off by the totally steeped in religion setting of Apparitions, and the variously heavy subject matter is obviously polarizing. This is however an intelligent presentation of a frightening implication, a word of warning on the dilemmas both internal and external akin to the classic “The Howling Man” episode of The Twilight Zone. Despite sensational topics and a dabble in the supernatural realm, Apparitions does not go for the scandalous or shocking but remains a mature analysis on body, mind, and soul – you won’t find everything wrapped in a pretty bow here like other exorcism films that declare all is well. The plots remain personal with small people amid the institutional framework solving mysteries and using clues in this tormenting game against evil – a game evil wants to play with you. Mainstream sophisticated viewers, casual horror fans, and even the non uber religious can enjoy the good versus evil drama of Apparitions.
Alien: Covenant – the latest film in the Alien franchise and the 2017 sequel to Prometheus – struggles with its franchise identity crisis, leaving the potentially interesting science fiction parables and body horror monsters wanting in the confusion.
When the colonization vessel Covenant is damaged by passing neutrino blasts, the android Walter (Michael Fassbender) must wake terraforming chief Daniels (Katherine Waterson) and the rest of the crew. After receiving a nearby signal from a mysterious, too good to be true planet much closer than their original vetted destination, leader Oram (Billy Crudup) decides to investigate. Unfortunately, inhaled alien toxins on the surface birth beastly parasites, and David (also Fassbender) – the android survivor of the lost research vessel Prometheus – has been living alone on the planet for the past ten years, studying the remaining Engineer evolution techniques and perfecting their monstrous designs with terrifying results…
Whether it’s Prometheus 2 or Alien 5, Alien: Covenant is immediately frustrating. If this is really an Alien movie, then Prometheus never should have held anything back in hopes of a sequel and just told its tale in one movie. However, returning director Ridley Scott and screenplay writer John Logan (Penny Dreadful) play it both ways as Alien: Covenant opens with android quizzes on The Statue of David, Wagner gems, and Valhalla. Such meaning of meaninglessness threads from Prometheus will confuse viewers who didn’t see it, and Alien: Covenant restarts with the titular colony vessel and its android custodian, Mother computer, and crew in stasis almost as if it’s trying to reboot said predecessor. Fortunately, pod fatalities, charred bodies, memento mori, and offline systems build suspense while radio chatter, spacesuits, and rogue transmissions create a science fiction atmosphere. Eerie forest destruction, Pompeii-like remains and crashed ships add mood but drop ships and lost contact are similar to Aliens while inconveniently convenient planetary storms mirror Prometheus. An entire team trots off for an expedition – leaving only one person behind to make lander repairs – before separating further so a careless guy taking a leak can get infected by some spooky alien particles. Educated people ask obvious questions to which they should already know the answers, adding stilted dialogue on top of back and forth scenes deflating the body horror when not acting stupid for the plot to proceed by willfully scratching and sniffing mystery polyps and not reporting when they feel sick. Friends insist on taking the infected back to the ship, but there’s no procedure amid the hectic radio calls and blood splatter. Women are on the mission just to whine – one tries to lock in another when both are equally contaminated and the visual hysterics don’t let the viewer actually see the out of control. Cutting to what’s happening elsewhere is a mistake when it leaves the bloody reveal a blink and you miss it special effect. It’s scarier when people are trapped with a fast growing monster building claustrophobic fear toward fatal ship explosions. However, the paired off crew members react so over emotionally to death yet barely at all to the creature shocks, necropolis infrastructure, and the suspicious survivor found there. Flashbacks and exposition detailing the pathogens, crashes, and destruction post-Prometheus ten years prior is really where Alien: Covenant should have begun, but we’re watching a woman strip down to wash her open wound in what hopefully isn’t contaminated water instead. After objecting to flying the colony ship down to the planet, minutes later the crew changes their minds once the route is more dangerous while fast action scenes, convoluted lingering, and rushed quality scenes contribute to the unevenness, hampering creepy encounters with new aliens, familiar eggs, and delicious face-hugger revelations. From the prologue to the ship and the planet to the necropolis, rival androids, and onboard terrors; Alien: Covenant is an overlong and confusing two hours with cargo bay trucks, out the airlock solutions, and unnecessary sexy showers littering a nonsensical Aliens copycat finale. What should be wonderfully chilling – gagging up mini alien eggs for the incubator to the Ride of the Valkyries – treads tires because between all the Prometheus rewrites, the four credited writers here, and who knows what more behind the scenes meddling, nobody mapped out where this disappointing prequel plot goes.
There was a time when I was excited for whatever film Michael Fassbender did next. Unfortunately, somewhere around Macbeth or Steve Jobs, Fassbender sold out with all these non-starters and uninteresting flops. Despite this superb dual performance as the poetic, T.E. Lawrence obsessed android David and the clueless but loyal and supposedly inferior model Walter, it’s difficult to look back at Hunger and believe this is the same actor who once so bled for his craft. It’s totally obvious what David is going to do, and the entire homoerotic flute fingering sequence is the invisible car of Die Another Day franchise rock bottom. Surely, there was a better way to show Walter as a stunted childlike machine designed as lacking creativity expressly because David was so disturbingly human in his desires. It might even have been more interesting to not reveal Walter as an android until the xenomorph acid destroys his hand when he protects Daniels. Walter naively thinks he can gain the details from David regarding their creator Weyland and how the Prometheus survivor came to be on this planet. However, David waxes on Lord Byron and thinks himself Crusoe, admonishing Walter for serving the unworthy, dying humans. He preys on Walter’s potential, saying it is love, not duty he feels for Daniels, revealing himself as an abuser who already destroyed the life on this planet. David wants to communicate with the neomorphs and earn their respect while he experiments with the hybrids. Walter knows this is wrong, but David is pleased with himself for creating the perfect organism – and he’s very disappointed in Walter for standing in his way. David has at last procreated, and it’s chilling to see his views realized in several wild births, radical experiments, and violent assaults. Sadly, Alien: Covenant’s clunky exposition and trite script ruin the intriguing android developments with ridiculous encounters and not-so-secret switcharoos leaving no resolution for Walter when both characters deserved more. Alien: Covenant may awe over David’s ambition and chew on the possibilities, but there’s so much happening the audience doesn’t have any time to revoltingly enjoy the villainy.
Although Sam’s daughter Katherine Waterston (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) is supposed to be the lead, Danny doesn’t do a lot beyond wearing her deceased husband’s iron nail around her neck in a messianic loose thread similar to Shaw’s cross in Prometheus. She’s made less pretty than the other women, and when she officially protests stopping at this perfect planet, she’s presented as a moody bitch only sharing her emo grief misgivings because there’s no point in a home now without her man. Naturally, all the men are allowed reckless manpain over their ladies while Danny easily discovers what David has done when the script bothers to have her look. By the final act she conveniently wants a 2,000 strong colony ship to rescue her just because the plot says it’s time to let the xenomorph onboard and make her a kick-ass action hero. Billy Crudup’s (Inventing the Abbotts) reluctantly in charge supposed man of faith Oram only decides on this planet to prove he’s up to snuff and doesn’t realize he messed up until it personally affects him. Tennessee cool pilot Danny McBride (Your Highness) recognizes John Denver music in the alien signal amid all his sexist jokes before risking the entire mission for his woman – whom viewers already know to be dead. Of course, shortly thereafter, he’s laying the groundwork for his next hook-up. A brief prologue appearance from Guy Pearce (Brimstone) returning as Peter Weyland should have come at the end of Alien: Covenant to fully accent David’s twisted achievements, and Noomi Rapace’s Elizabeth Shaw is unceremoniously written off post-Prometheus with only a few effigies. We’re told she put David back together, he loved her for her kindness, and that’s that. The movie should have started with the Prometheus characters on this unknown planet and then met the colony ship only upon their arrival. Alien: Covenant is from the wrong perspective and overcrowded with far too many unnecessary characters – mostly screwing up husbands or similar looking wives raising the body count. Anonymous people being in relationships may make excuses for their behavior but it isn’t character development and doesn’t give viewers a reason to care. Showing two guys with matching wedding bands as an attempt at gay inclusion is also embarrassingly homophobic when their only scene is one dying after ejaculating a neomorph from his mouth. Sneaky James Franco (Tristan & Isolde) moments are silly as well because… it’s just James Franco in a promotional campaign for Alien: Covenant.
Thankfully, Covenant is a cool looking spaceship with solar sails, blue hues, green lighting, touch screens, and interface graphics along with red alarms, spooky chains, dangerous ladders, and perilous equipment. Unfortunately, fiery damage leads to CGI spacewalks and noticeable animation intruding upon the interstellar fantastic. Crowded submarine style rooms and music motifs from Aliens are also apparent amid waterfalls and mountain vistas borrowed from Prometheus. It’s also flat-out dumb to waste time on a cool drop ship water landing when there is terra firma everywhere, and what’s with all the dang hoodies? Blood, gore, and creative reverse alien births are appropriately disturbing, however, the surrounding CGI is again weak. Dark scenes and hectic firefights also make it difficult to see all those potentially intriguing hybrid creatures, twisted deliveries, and scary designs. The contrasting advanced ship technology and stranded apothecary research are likewise nice touches that deserved more time – embryos and stasis versus dissections and bestiary drawings. Facehugger scares, acid effects and freaky attacks are always fun to see, yet more than anything, these Alien homages cum knockoffs make one miss the originality and practical design advancements from Aliens. The spaceship action is very messy in Alien: Covenant with pointless, drawn-out action sequences littering the narrative, and it’s not surprising to read interviews with the film’s editor recounting the post-production struggle to balance these multiple storylines each playing at their own pace. Alien: Covenant needs to be re-watched for all its Alien movies pieces trying to bring together the creation theories from Prometheus via confusing Engineer goo, deacons, or xenomorphs yet this entire piece is also in dire need of a re-cut.
Instead of running with what was good from Prometheus, Alien: Covenant plays with its Prometheus connection the way Prometheus played with its Alien connection. Unfortunately, such inconsistent and contradictory carrots string along loyal franchise fans and won’t gain viewers who haven’t seen Alien. As with Prometheus and Alien 3 before, Alien: Covenant can’t serve both its masters and ultimately provides little repeat value, which ironically can be said for Alien 3 and Alien: Resurrection. Once again, we have no connection to LV-426 when all people ever wanted to know was how the Space Jockey got there in the first place. Frustration on such could haves or should haves being saved for yet more sequels compromises Alien: Covenant’s potentially entertaining science fiction, religious warnings, and monstrous possibilities with ennui.
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Campy Monster Fun
by Kristin Battestella
Nestle in with this bemusing array of mid-century monsters and cheesy frights!
The Beast of Yucca Flats– The notorious 1961 SF horror here starts off fun and scary with a toweled pretty, strangulations, space race secrets, communism fears, and nuclear fallout. Unfortunately, this hour is held together by a very dodgy narration which unnecessarily replaces what should be dialogue. It’s mistake numero uno– hardly anyone talks and this makes for the least amount of character development possible. No performance happens; it’s a story being told. While that’s fine in cartoons perhaps, aren’t you making a film because of the show don’t tell possibilities? It’s unrealistic to expect a serious science fiction or spooky adult audience to sit through something like this-which is as is really nothing more than a naughty children’s short. That’s Rule 2: don’t underestimate your audience. Did I mention the music is also much too much? Yes, this ‘film’ is seriously flawed, and to some, that is its very appeal. Fans who enjoy the hokey of the day will love the cars, pace, and weak fifties filmmaking style, and drinking game fans can have a wonderful time with the utterly fake shoot-out and car chase. It’s like they’re kids with pop guns spinning the wheels of parked cars! This one must be seen to be believed, indeed.
The Giant Gila Monster – It had been ages since I’ve seen this 1959 hokey! Though everyone has probably scene clips from the fiery finale, I’d forgotten how much fun this mix of sock hop, classic tunes, cool cars, fifties nostalgia, and creature feature effects really is. The bemusing doom and gloom introduction and opening deaths are accented with some over the top scary music to match the silly premise, and the real lizard footage is downright charming! Sure, nothing is frightening because of the ridiculous production values, but the simple A to B to C execution proceeds at an entertaining little pace. And man, Don Sullivan (Teenage Zombies) and his tow truck are always handy! This teen not only looks 35, but he helps strangers, loans books to the sheriff, and sings to crippled little girls. Of course, the Mexican portrayals are a bit offensive if brief, and though the supporting greasers are totally limp acting-wise, drunken DJ Ken Knox is on form corny at his protest over $2 for a tow. The fifties redneck colloquialisms might be tough for some young viewers to understand today. However, this is all just great for audiences looking for such dated vehicular vernacular- a mid-century Texas time capsule captured before the turbulent sixties began. Yes, it’s completely hokey, but it works, and works damn amusingly!
The Monster Maker – Lovely piano concertos set up the gothic mood, eponymous twisted science, and good old-fashioned lovelorn obsession in this hour-long 1944 science fiction horror tale starring a juicy J. Carrol Naish (Beau Geste) and Ralph Morgan (Magnificent Obsession) as his forcibly misshapen and sympathetic victim. The then-contemporary designs and cool science lab are also a treat- except for the ape, of course. Why must there always be a man in a monkey suit in these old capers? A few scenes do drag or feel slow and long despite the short length, and the formula plays a little obvious at times. However, the fun, over the top style works. Women scream, get manhandled, and blackmail. It’s of its time, but entertaining nonetheless.
The Wasp Woman – It seems Roger Corman really likes his women, and this 1959 creepy is The Fly for chicks. Though not saucy or purely for ogle value- which is both good and bad depending on your point of view- the outdoor values, regular Fred Katz music, and scary buzzing sounds set off the more mature science fiction thoughts and laboratory desperation. One chick does get to slap another hysterical chick, yes, but the concepts here are just as fun. How far will we go for beauty? What cost is too high? The suggestion of bees and wasps is also chilling for those who dislike insects and simply terrifying to anyone allergic to bee stings. The sound is tough to hear in some spots, and the added prologue is slow in establishing the freaky premise of using wasp extracts as the fountain of youth. Some animal testing scenes are iffy, too. Thankfully, the fun labs and haywire science keep this one interesting.
Elizabeth Taylor does Horror in Night Watch
by Kristin Battestella
Upscale housewife with history Elizabeth Taylor thinks she witnesses a murder in the creepy abandoned house next door in the 1973 British thriller Night Watch. Unfortunately, her broker husband John Wheeler (Laurence Harvey) nor her carefree best friend Sarah (Billie Whitelaw) believe her. The police are tired of the increasing phone calls and neighborhood hysteria, but the terror escalates thanks to stormy nights, pills, alcohol, and slit throats.
Director Brian G. Hutton (Where Eagles Dare) and writers Evan Jones (The Damned) and Tony Williamson (The Avengers) adapt the Lucille Fletcher (Sorry, Wrong Number) play with flowers, quaint English gardens, and smiling rapport. The swanky drinks before dinner and lingering sixties style, however, contrast the looming gothic manor next door. The grounds are said to be poison where nothing will grow, but someone is digging in the backyard on stormy nights, and vivid dreams of speeding cars, accidents, and morgue terror distract from the snobbish talk of avoiding lesser neighbors. Late night waxing on the fatal past invokes a wee small hours limbo – traumatic memories and two characters who’ve lost touch make for fine drama before raging storms and screams reveal something horrible across the way. Dead men and cutthroats disturb the classical music, but inspectors find nothing in the congested, maze-like condemned as Night Watch relies on performances and mood rather than sensationalism for its taut, through the shutters peering. Pills or brandy are suggested to keep calm, but flashlights, clutter, and foreground objects layer the visual frame. Viewers are looking for something – questioning what we see or didn’t see. Could it all be an honest mistake? The police think it’s nothing but “money and menopause” on top of brief nudity, shower saucy, and hotel room trysts. Newly planted trees aren’t enough evidence, but nuggets of information trickle out from the ensemble. Suspicious neighbors find it exciting that there’s hear tell of a dead body nearby yet refuse to have their bushes dug up as part of the official search. Red herrings add to the creepy commentary about disliking neighbors who were there before you just as much as the friends you choose living even closer. Who’s watching whom and from which house questions layer the voyeurism alongside debates on hallucinations, eidetic images, and convincing oneself that what you see is real. Old mementos thought lost suddenly reappear, leading to arguments about gaslighting and being deliberately terrorized as more police calls, chases, and curiosity create a ‘burbs mind your own business across the hedge. Despite lights next door, the case is closed – inspectors and doctors both strongly suggest everything go back to normal amid awkward dinners, screams, and more off-screen witnessing. Revelations about what had really happened in previous accidents and shock over-identifying bodies found in flagrante delicto provoke more tension in the increasingly crowded quarter. Eventually, the police laugh and roll their eyes, proposing our housewife contact the building owners herself or hire a private detective. All the paperwork is ready for a trip to “rest” in Switzerland, too – accounts, legalese, and power of attorney but that’s all just routine. Confrontations, secrets, and lies will out thanks to hide and seek twists inside the derelict. Night Watch gets its horror on in a spooky multi-layered finale of blood, violence, crazed attacks, and frenetic turnabouts. Who exactly was really planning what and when? Seemingly early and obvious giveaways make room for more surprises, and Night Watch ensures the shocking schemes are ultimately completed with skill and gravitas.
Flowing gowns, glam necklaces, rock rings, and coiffed hair assure Elizabeth Taylor (Cleopatra) looks classy as well to do housewife Ellen Wheeler. She dresses for dinner, drinks, and does jigsaw puzzles, for she needs patience to give her something to do when she’s so often alone. Her ritzy life should be nothing but grand, however, the insomniac Mrs. is up all night fascinated by storms and thinking about her father’s bad poetry. She’s been spoiled yet feels restrained and bored. The watch during the night is for all the things you can’t make sense of during the day, says Ellen, and she’s increasingly returning to memories of her late first husband Carl. Dreaming of his accident keeps her awake – she vividly recalls the fatal scenes and blood the viewer never sees but doesn’t remember previously dealing with the police and feels nervous about talking to them. However, Ellen also doesn’t want to be coddled or hear this witness is all in her mind, and she’s angry when no one believes her, even more hysterical over the disbelief than upset by the crime she apparently saw. Without support, Ellen is increasingly frazzled, pathetic, and paranoid. Will she voluntarily go to the doctor so he can tell her the dead body is all in her mind? What happens when she thinks she sees another one? Mrs. Wheeler’s wheels turn as she suspects her pills, beverages, and if someone is deliberately making her recall Carl’s demise. Despite her full house with husband, friend, and maid, Ellen fears someone else is watching her. She repeatedly calls the police and eventually agrees to see the psychiatrist, and though desperate, she is not stupid. Ellen is quite intelligent and recognizes when she’s being lied to or signing the wrong papers. She’s damn shrewd in seeing what’s what, and Night Watch’s madness begins to make sense as only Dame Elizabeth could make the clicking of the retractable pen so sassy and defiant before refusing to take the last tranquilizer in the bottle. Long drags on the cigarettes and strategic pauses emphasis the deliciously dark camp, and I’m surprised Night Watch feels so obscure when Taylor’s performance is so chill.
Laurence Harvey’s (The Manchurian Candidate) stocks and bonds big wig John Wheeler wants to know why his wife can’t sleep. He works long hours, but wonders what he’s done to upset her even if she says it’s not him. John takes care of Ellen, babying her with warm milk the way a daughter goes from father to husband to protect her. However, John does not believe she’s seen anything. He won’t call the police over a false alarm and insists the inspector not upset his already not well wife. John won’t stick up for her claims, yet he warns the police to not dismiss Ellen. Although he’s worried over the dangerous mix of alcohol and sleeping pills, John’s more concerned about possibly being sued by an angry neighbor. He dislikes when the police want him to control his wife and encourages her to see their doctor friend once he’s tired of her bringing up her late husband. John agrees she is right when Ellen suggests they take a holiday – but she says we and he only wants her to take a vacation. He has all that “spa” paperwork ready! Swanky best friend Billie Whitelaw (The Omen) on the other hand, is the houseguest who won’t leave. She keeps saying she’s moving on to Scotland and debates running away with her latest on and off conquest Barry but may have other tête-à-têtes, too. Sarah stays to look after Ellen, providing tranquilizers and hot chocolate while waxing on all the adventures she could be having and the excuses she can make up to get away with them. Although she tries to avoid topics that will upset Ellen – like Carl – they always creep back into the conversation. Sarah insists Ellen can’t go on like this, but as the third wheel in the marital house, her companionship is automatically suspect. She lies to spare Ellen but also apologizes for her tall tales. Doctor Tony Britton (The People That Time Forgot) must also tread lightly with Mrs. Wheeler. He doesn’t want her to be committed but needs her to voluntarily trust his help. Above all, he insists that she must get out of this house before it’s too late.
Spooky black branches, dark blue skies, boarded windows, banging shutters, and overgrown vines contrast the mirrors, red leather couch, white staircase, and swanky record players next door in Night Watch. Creepy statues and artwork, blue lighting, ticking clocks, and swirling cigarette smoke add ominous to the hip turtlenecks, lux lamps, decanters, and manicured gardens. Knives in the kitchen, rain splatter on the windows, and vintage blue sirens create pulsing tension while gates, flashlights, and condemned interiors set off the congested mood. Horseshoe phones, switchboard operators, and retro trench coats should be cozy nostalgia, but the colorful outdoors disappear as the peering through the blinds and drawn shades invoke agoraphobia. Distorted dreams and intense flashes of past car accidents lead to dead bodies and hospital Disturbia thanks to low camera angles and spotlights. Night Watch has subtle, choice visuals with reflections of the scary house on the fine townhouse window overlaying all action inside and out. Well done cinematography provides dark scares as well as focuses on Taylor’s face as zooms hone in on critical images and objects. Thunder punctuates arguments as the rhythms escalate, and through the gate, chases move the action to our spooky neighbors amid barren beams, peeling plaster, creaking stairs, and exposed woodwork. Violent struggles in the dark and shocking silhouettes allow for what we don’t see suspicion and final revelations. Wise viewers may pick up on the mystery here for there are too many similar stories to Night Watch before and since. Audiences looking for full-on horror a la Hammer of the day will be disappointed, too. Fortunately, the psychological chills, spooky twists, and superbly unraveled cast do get their scary on in an entertaining end. Night Watch is a fun late night tease worth seeing more than once to catch all the whodunit winks.
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Period Piece Horror Ladies by Kristin Battestella
What’s more wonderful than a gothic woman in fancy clothes and delicious settings experiencing crimes and ghosts with a dash of scandal, saucy, and the supernatural?
Angelica – A Victorian couple spirals into paranormal horrors thanks to puritanical repression in this brooding 2017 tale starring Jena Malone (The Neon Demon), Janet McTeer (Albert Nobbs), and Ed Stoppard (The Frankenstein Chronicles). Ghostly photography, flashbulbs, and empty chairs contrast the bustles, parasols, and formalities before lanterns, carriages, fine townhouses, and storms. Bedridden confessions lead to earlier courtings with circus sideshows and talk of Darwinism versus the stiff upper lip British tapering their animal appetites. The microscope revealing disease causing organisms is almost as fantastic as the camera capturing spirits, and while it’s okay for a young lady to work in a stationery store selling nibs and ink, she can’t see her future husband’s laboratory. Our humble orphan now in elaborate red dresses is called a counter jumper by the aristocratic ladies, and she’s fearful of the bridal bed before enjoying it in a scandalously active montage. Bells toll amid talk of losing a mother nor wanting to be one, and this birth is graphic, not maternal bliss thanks to scalpels, screams, and both lives at stake. Unfortunately, the doctor says another pregnancy is not worth the risk, and the couple should “desist entirely” and close her garden. Our husband doesn’t want to seek pleasure elsewhere, but she can’t get into other..options…and favors their toddler over him. Soon, she’s completely revolted by her husband and obsessively attached to the child, and the wife is made to feel guilty about her health and desires by everyone in tense Victorian melodrama. Men in suits have no trouble warping her mind, but they are shocked to see a woman enter the medical theater amid animals in cages, exposed brains, and disturbing experiments that put the creepy back into the complex characterizations. Strange noises, visions of germs in the air, bugs in the woodwork, and wardrobes that open by themselves lead to more anger as the husband dislikes the chaos his overprotective wife is causing in their home. She won’t let these apparitions prey on her daughter – who also sees this floating ectoplasm man in her room. Is she putting more notions in the imaginative child’s head? Is this mental illness or is the repressed sexual energy seeping into the house itself? The maid calls in a scam artist spiritualist to ring bells, burn sage, and banish the banshees. Rather than a charlatan taking advantage, however, there’s a woman to woman understanding and courage – a protection spell is more like peace of mind somewhere between being a modest mother and the shame of enjoying sex. There are also unspoken lesbian veils, entertaining women while your husband’s away, putting their feet on the table, showing their legs, and drinking his best port. Drunken undressings provide laughter instead of rattling doors, swarming entities, prayers, and fires against evil. If he is not at home, who is festering this supernatural activity? The drama before the horrors may be slow to viewers expecting in your face scares a minute, but the intriguing characters are intertwined with the fear. Our mother needs to destroy the snake manifestations and demon man coming for her daughter before her husband sends her to Bedlam, and the once beautiful interiors become stifling as ghostly sexual encounters escalate to mind and bodies becoming one with blood and penetrations of a different kind. Although the bookends are unnecessary and this seems caught between two audiences – too much drama for horror fans and intrusive paranormal activity for period piece viewers – such Victorian horror drama with a touch of LGBT is perfect for fans of gothic mood and psycho-sexual dreadfuls.
Lizzie – Maid Kristen Stewart (Twilight) gets steamy with the titular turn of the century murderess Chloe Sevingy (American Horror Story) in this 2018 biopic accented with fine costumes, rustic lighting, and vintage Victorian interiors. Six months before the screams and blood, the buttoned-up, repressed daughter is already defiant against the patriarchal oppression by going to theatre parties unaccompanied where low cut, colorful frocks contrast the tight collars and immediate sexual tension at home. The Bordens can’t have anything too extravagant despite being able to afford it, and Lizzie prefers the barn and animals to people, reading aloud in an innocent but antisocial loneliness. While some dialogue is a little too modern, our eponymous lady has a progressive, forceful, even masculine energy that can’t be contained with fainting spells. Our old maid is called a lesbian abomination but in turn rightfully calls her perverse, abusive father a lying coward before creaking floorboards, broken mirrors slid under the door, revenge injuries, and burned documents reveal the truth. The up-close camera often peers through the window, catching the glances as each lady looks at each other – the audience is in on the intimate possibilities but when your employer suggests his servant leave the door to her hot attic room open, she can’t exactly say no. The strict orders and behind closed doors implications are uncomfortable enough without the often seen exploitative, degrading visuals, and the women bond during intimate undressings and corset tightenings. Theft and rebellious acts increase amid suspicious business deals, threatening letters, and whispering relatives. The women have to eavesdrop to learn what the men are planning for them before violent punishments and one and all sitting at the dinner table like nothing has happened. Is murder the only way out of the hypocrisy? Were the violent tendencies always there or could you be crazy in love enough to kill? The ax is shown throughout the potboiler, and although the stifling camerawork may be disorienting to some viewers, it mirrors the closeness when it is both welcomed by the women or invaded by nasty men. Regardless of height, the unprotected ladies must look up to the creepy uncles, diminished and fearful of physical violence. Retro photo pops accent the bludgeoning editing before jail and witnesses on the stand provide the fallout from this infamous hatcheting. Premeditated accomplices, church bells, deliberate nudity, and out of control horror are worth the wait once the finale reveals the symbolically sexual posturing, vomit, and splatter. Some people just don’t have the stomach for this sort of thing while others so smooth have thought of everything. There is some unevenness with the characters – probably from when the project was envisioned as a television piece with bigger roles – and the killer romance meets Victorian women’s lib messages are mixed. However despite liberties suggesting what went on in this congested house and a decidedly quiet, not mainstream style that won’t be for everyone, this interesting perspective will have viewers studying this disturbing murder case with a sympathetic, personal anew.
Rebecca – Artistic ingenue Emilia Fox (Merlin) – companion to wealthy gossip Faye Dunaway (Don Juan DeMarco) – is smitten by the suave yet mysterious Charles Dance (Bleak House) in this 1997 three hour Masterpiece adaptation of the Daphne Du Maurier novel. Sublime style, flapper headbands, candlelight, and long stem cigarettes add to the whirlwind 1927 Riviera’s scenic drives, classic convertibles, and charming hats. Unlike the immediately gothic grayscale of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 version, vivid color and visual depth layer this initially idyllic romance. Our unusual couple have each been shy, lonely, and sad, but Maxim de Winter admires this young lady’s innocence and honesty compared to the gilded aristocracy. Picnics, boat rides, a silly girl, a foolish old man – can they make a go of their differences? The dangerous curves and perilous drives suggest something slightly sinister brewing amid glimpses of the unforgettable and beloved by all Rebecca. It’s been a year since her death, yet everyone must remind Maxim of his late wife upon this surprising second marriage. The newlyweds return to the lovely English gardens and proper decorum at Manderley, the estate where the Emmy winning Diana Rigg’s (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) icy housekeeper Mrs. Danvers won’t let go of the first Mrs. DeWinter’s memory. The household reception is awkward and chilly – the coastal brightness turns darker thanks to shadow schemes, lighting changes, and the looming silhouettes of both Mrs. Danvers and Rebecca. Despite being a large estate with a west wing facing the sea, the hefty staircases, huge windows, and great fireplace feel congested, closing in on the new, nervous Mrs. as she gets lost wandering the shuttered parts of the house, breaks priceless statues, and hangs her head like an admonished little girl. She doesn’t fit into the upper-class routine, but the brooding, often misunderstood Maxim doesn’t want her to become like those other cruel, aristocratic dames. Everyone is so heavy handed, formal, and not just unhelpful but resentful of how unlike Rebecca she is, and the couple regrets returning home to the rocky cliffs, beachside cottages, and distrustful staff. Crazy hermits, past gossip, vogue cousins too close for comfort, recreating previous fancy dress balls, and one big costuming faux pas strain the relationship further, but she can’t exactly ask her new husband about why the pieces on how Rebecca drowned aren’t coming together. Her room is still kept as is, almost in worship where our devoted housekeeper can express her creepy vicarious and pathetic intimacy, re-enacting brushing her madam’s hair and laying out her perfumed nightgown. Was Rebecca really so perfect? If she wasn’t would anybody actually say so? Her presence is overwhelming – not because of any actually supernatural mood or ghost, but because the obsessed Mrs. Danvers won’t let anyone forget, placing the fanatical pressures of her devotion on the second Mrs. de Winter. Foreboding strings add more ominous, however, the suspense is certainly helped by Maxim’s not coming clean on his life with Rebecca at the start. While some scenes are very similar to Hitchcock’s vision, this is also closer to the novel, and even if you’ve seen other adaptations, viewers are swept up in wondering how the secrets will play out in the finale. Fog, vintage boats, watery evidence, mistaken identities, inquests – the circumstances surrounding Rebecca’s life and death come to light, but our servant oversteps her bounds with cruelty, jealousy, and bullying suicidal whispers just to assure Rebecca everyone thought they knew and loved won’t die. Though more romantic than true crime, the fresh love, and warped liaisons are told swift and honestly as the scandalous true colors are revealed with fainting spells, medical discoveries, fiery rescues, and kisses in the rain. Indeed all the gothic staples are here with period mood and performances to match.
The Turn of the Screw – Downton Abbey alum Michelle Dockery joins Dan Stevens (again) and Nicola Walker (MI-5) in this ninety-minute 2009 BBC adaptation of the Henry James askew moving the repressed ambiguity to 1921 institutions with post-war doctors analyzing our governess’ infatuation with her employer, the topsy turvy male shortage, and of kilter Bly Manor. Fashions, hats, sweet automobiles, fine woodwork, and hefty antiques sell the refreshing setting, however, the nonsensical strobe flashes look amateur on top of the time-wasting, disjointed doctoring add-ons, and unnecessary narration. Visions of dalliances that initially upgrade the Victorian scandalous soon hit the viewer over the head one too many times as the governess imagines her master and his saucy approval. She insists she’s not the nervous type, but the dark interiors, maze-like staircases, and distorted camera angles add to the strange noises and creepy country manor unease. She’s in charge, above housekeepers and maids, but there are too many flighty women doing all the work in this house. Parasols and summer white contrast eerie fog and trains as her boy charge is expelled from school without explanation. The cheeky children whisper about their previous, pretty governess – unbothered by screams, accidents, or dying maids. Melancholy piano music, graveyard echoes, dark figures amid the trees, and faces in the window build on the female isolation, yet all insist there are no ghosts – surely she’s just hysterical, overwrought, and obsessed with men. Rumors of suicide and a woman ruined by her lover seem proved by hidden pictures of the master’s up to no good valet, and tales of his violence among the unprotected women are better than seeing suspect flashbacks. The prim style degrades to loose hair and nightgowns as our governess jumps to dire conclusions and possessive delirium, but the shouting about it afterward with her doctor interruptions break the tainted picnics and frantic tension. We don’t need his sounding board to deduce her fears, just let us see the abusive violence and water perils. Crazy laughter and disembodied voices escalate as the phantoms, repression, and projection possibilities culminate in a one on one battle for the truth. The deviations here are flawed, and while the horror lite is fine for gothic period piece fans, some viewers will expect more than to have it both ways attempt at the ghosts and crazy ambiguity. This isn’t the best version but thanks to the cast and unique setting, it can be a good introduction for audiences who haven’t seen The Innocents.
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Thanks to the faux stained glass windows on the Halloween Cat Shelter and a serendipitous black drapery seen in my Halloween Thrift Haul video, my ideas for a fake window room divider can now come to fruition! Can cardboard be painted like stained glass of olde? Will a Goodwill curtain create the perfect backdrop? Can Kbatz work on the floor without the cat stepping in paint? Yes, yes, yes!
After not saving much cardboard over plague fears, I finally kept two large boxes that were too good not to re-purpose – cutting the flaps open and taping the folds with masking tape to create an accordion style divider that can stand on its own. This is both tall enough to hold the thrift valance above me as a photo backdrop (a black curtain behind black clothes wouldn’t help very much!) yet short enough to move under the rafters in my Dark Shadows Basement Studio. I laid the cardboard on the floor, using a thrift yardstick and an old school protractor to measure and draw grid lines for the window panes. Working with the cardboard folds created window squares or rectangles either eight or ten inches – a simple pattern in that Dark Shadows spirit mimicking both the stained glass windows at the top of the Collinwood foyer stairs as well as the fake studio window of the drawing room. Did you expect anything else from me? 🙂 The pencil line panes were retraced in black marker and then a coat of black paint, but the perimeter cardboard will be brown to match my wall color. Before committing to painting the window directly on the cardboard, however, I practiced in Photoshop with some random but symmetrical color patterns of red, green, yellow, and orange panes to compliment the majority faux glass blue. Once I was certain on my template, I marked each pane color before multiple, darkening coats of the red, yellow, and orange – mixing each with brown for a deep but faded hue a la ye olde. New Spring Green and Caribbean Blue paint colors were mixed with a darker Cobalt Blue for their depth, and after a day of drying time, it felt like forever touching up all the black grid lines, but it was really only two days.
Now it was time for the black valance, which was too short for my tall divider so two similar dollar store table runners were cut in threes and sew back together to match the panel widths before being sewn to the bottom of the curtains themselves. The runner lengths didn’t quite match either, but when drawn back with simple black ties, their tiered length creates a fine layered drape. While these fabrics are not durable quality for a real curtain in an active area – and the seam fraying, jammed threads, and bobbin breaks might discouraged beginning sewers – they work perfectly for a backdrop facade. The valance was loosely gathered and glued to the top edge of the cardboard using my preferred hot glue. Rather than a tougher adhesive or stapling, hot glue makes for an easier removal if needed, and the curtain sides are simply taped in the back so they can remain adjustable. The fabric can flip behind the cardboard if it needs to be out of the way, and tassels or faux vines or other ~aesthetics can be added as needed. While not everyone may need a large divider like this, the faux window painting technique is perfect for adding a gothic frame anywhere in your space and the kids can have some cardboard fun, too. Thanks to a $4 curtain, $25 in paints, $1 masking tape, $2 table runners, and free cardboard, a gothic vision came together with a clutter-hiding chef’s kiss.
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It’s one thing to discuss Victorian Memento Mori but it is quite another thing to sew several memorial pillows and a quilt out of t-shirts and sweatshirts for friends and family – especially during the Holidays. In 2020. In Pandemic Times. 😦 Enjoy the music as I stuff, pin, sew, and sew some more while discussing the pros and cons of making this kind of sentimental gift when you don’t really know how to quilt or have all that much Eagles green thread.
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Yes it is Freaky Foods December and no it isn’t Halloween but that doesn’t mean you can’t carve a pumpkin! Out of practice farm girl Kristin Battestella aka Kbatz gets out the sharp objects to get good and messy first in gutting a pumpkin then using that puree mushy to bake some easy box muffins. Seeds will be saved for planting, too! How do you think we got pumpkin pie back in my day? Sit back and enjoy the festive sounds of the season calorie free while I set the blender smoking in the quest for some kind of gross but tasty holiday treats. Messy kitchen and black clothing mishaps included!
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Kbatz Kraft Banner by Emerian Rich.
Carol Of The Bells by Audionautix is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/ Artist: http://audionautix.com/
Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies by Kevin MacLeod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/ Source: http://incompetech.com/music/royalty-free/index.html?isrc=USUAN1100270 Artist: http://incompetech.com/
It’s your put earrings in your ears reminder! Kristin Battestella aka Kbatz is breaking out the tacky and gaudy orange bling for a little chat about jewelry making basics, where to get affordable beading supplies, cheats for those of us with dexterity issues, and the endless possibilities of making your own earrings, necklaces, or bracelets to coordinate with your style. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to add personality to your wardrobe – even if that’s just orange and black beads to go with Halloween pajamas in December! Terrible camera angles and talking Italian hands that spill the bead tray are included free of charge.
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Kbatz Kraft Banner by Emerian Rich
Real World Trauma Acerbates the flaws in The Strain Seasons Two and Three
by Kristin Battestella
After an unraveling end to the First Season of The Strain, it took me a long, long while to return to the thirteen-episode 2015 Second Season. Childhood flashbacks recounting fairy tales of nobles with gigantism and quests for the curing blood of a gray wolf start the year off well. Horrific blood exchanges lead to village children vanishing in the shadow of the creepy castle before we return to the present for secret deals with The Master, alliances with the Ancient Ones, and blind telepathic feeler vampires canvassing the city. Scientists Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll) and Nora Martinez (Mia Maestro) contemplate vampire vaccines while former antique dealer Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley) pursues a rare strigoi text and rat catcher Fet (Kevin Durand) prepares their explosive defensive. Government officials like Justine Feraldo (Samantha Mathis) fight back against the zombie like masses despite shootouts in infested laboratories, double-crosses, and sentient, disguised as human foot soldiers. Old fashioned black and white Mexican horror reels add personality and history to our reluctant heroes while more superb action and flashbacks standout late in the season with “The Assassin” and “Dead End.” Unfortunately, early on in Year Two, my main dilemma with the First Season of The Strain returned– you can read all of this, but it is much too much onscreen. Unnecessary timestamps and location notations clutter reintroduced characters, new problems, old problems, and unintroduced newcomers. There are too many separated characters with unbalanced screen time who must repeatedly explain who they are. Enemy’s enemy is my friend mixed motivations create confusion – multiple people hunting The Master individually making promises to his fellow ancient vampires with little background on who these chained monsters chilling beneath Brooklyn are. Cryptic double talk and real estate transactions may be filler or meandering developments, but it’s a toss up on which one will drag on or disappear. The past stories are often more tantalizing because our team isn’t much of a team. It took so long in the First Year to get everyone together, yet each is still toiling over what to do in this vampire zombie apocalypse. After previous fears over any tiny contagion, one and all shoot, blast, slice, and splatter at will. They hand out fliers with the monster details and warn the community, yet unaware police are shocked to find vampires in a dark alley.
Maybe The Strain is meant to mirror how no one is on the same page in a crisis – we are now witnessing that chaotic misinformation mistake first hand indeed – but the plot is all over the place, too. It’s been a few weeks onscreen since The Strain began, however, life is upside down for some while others seem totally unbothered. Again, this is a foreboding parallel to our real life pandemic with the poor working man much more deeply impacted than the wealthy ease of access, but here there’s no sense of the storytelling scope despite opportunistic orchestrations and tough women securing the five boroughs. Slick villains talk of great visions and master plans, but tangents diverge into a dozen different threads and multiple dead ends. Is The Strain about a doctor experimenting on the infected to test scientific theories or weird do nothing telepathic vampires and slow strigoi chases? Are we to enjoy the precious moments between our little people struggling on the ground or awe at the zombie outbreak turned vampire mythology? New people and places are constantly on the move, jumbled by an aimless, plodding pace as too little too late politicians talk about quarantines when The Strain is past containment. Confusing, pointless storylines take away from important intrigues and significant elements tread tires amid random threats and dropped crises. The conflicts on cruel science for the greater good grow hollow thanks to constant interruptions and changed emotions. Provocative diluted worm extracts taken for illness or ailments are used as control by the strigoi or when necessary for our heroes, but the scientific analysis of such a tonic or hybrid cases is never considered. Infecting the infected experiments and vampire free island security only take a few episodes, yet viewers today who can’t pay the rent are expected to believe it takes weeks for a market free fall and runs on banks? “The Born” starts off great, but often there’s no going back to what happens next regarding cures and Roman history as contrived messy or blasé action pads episodes. Rather than driving away in a cop car, dumbed down characters run into a church for a lagging, maze-like battle that kills an interesting minority character. When the community comes together for “The Battle for Red Hook,” unnecessary family pursuits ruin the sense of immediacy while the hop, skip, and jump to Washington D.C. for two episodes of scientific effort gets ditched for glossed over vampire factions and historic relics. Both the lore and science are interesting, but these mashed together entities compete for time as if we’re changing the channels and watching two shows at once. Instead of the rich detail we crave, The Strain continually returns to its weakest plot with shit actions and stupid players causing absurd consequences.
The Strain, however, does look good, and the ten episode Third Season provides coffins, gore, goo, and nasty bloodsucking appendages. The vampire makeup, creepy eyes, monster sinews, and icky skin are well done. Occasionally, creatures scaling the wall and speedy, en masse action is noticeable CGI, but the worms, tentacles, and splatter upset the body sacred. Sickly green lighting invokes the zombie plague mood while choice red adds vampire touches alongside silver grenades, ultraviolet light, and ancient texts. Sadly, Season Three opens with an unrealistic announcement that it’s only been twenty-three days since the outbreak started. The uneven pace makes such time impossible to believe, and tricked out infrared military are just now arriving three weeks into the disaster. Mass manufacture of The Strain’s bio-weapon is also never mentioned again as the science is now nothing more than a home chemistry set. Instead, step by step time is taken to siphon gas in a dark, dangerous parking garage – which could be realistic except The Strain has never otherwise addressed food, supplies, precious toilet paper, or the magically unlimited amount of silver bullets. Once again, everyone who fought together goes on to separate allegiances on top of hear tell global spread, Nazi parallels, control centers, and messianic symbolism. It’s all too clunky thanks to people made stupid and contradictions between the onscreen myths, technology, and abilities. Too many convenient infections, Master transformations, tacked on worms, and excuses happen at once – cheapening Shakespearean touches and monster worm bombs with redundant failures. Montages wax on human history while voiceovers tell audiences about government collapse, glossing over arguably the most interesting part of the catastrophe for drawn-out experiments on microwaves. There’s no narrative flow as the episodes run out but suddenly everyone is sober enough to use the ancient guidebook to their advantage. After such insistence over sunlight and ultraviolet, those safeguards are inexplicably absent when needed. No one maximizes resources and opportunities in “Battle for Central Park,” and people only come together because they accidentally bump into each other. In “The Fall,” a carefully orchestrated trap and prison plan is finally put into action against The Master, but ridiculous contrivances stall the operation before easy outs and one little effing asshole moron ruining it all. Again.
The cast is not at fault for the uneven developments on The Strain, but if Ephraim Goodweather is only there to be a drunken bad parent failing at every turn, he should have been written off the show. If we’re sticking with Eph and his angst before science, then his pointless strigoi wife and terrible son Zach should have been tossed instead of hogging the screen. Cranky, obnoxious, budding sociopath Zach’s “Why? No! Don’t!” lack of comprehension is unrealistic for his age, and everything has to be dumbed downed to appease him. Onscreen The Strain is continually talking down to viewers like we are five and it gets old very fast. Previously compassionate characters are reset as cold marksmen, and Eph claims he no longer cares about the cause when he was once at its epicenter. He complains he has nothing to do, bemoaning the lack of a feasible vaccine before gaining government support in creating a strigoi bio-weapon only to ditch it for microwaves and vampire telepathy. Zach ruins each plan anyway, and by the end of Season Two, I was fast forwarding over the Goodweather family plots. Nora Martinez is also nonexistent as a doctor unless convenient, relegated instead to babysitting, and Samantha Mathis’ (Little Women) Justine Feraldo likewise starts off brassy before unnecessarily overplaying her hand and failing bitterly because of others. Initially The Strain had such a diverse ensemble, but by the end of the Third Season, all the worst things have happened to the women and minorities. Ruta Gedmintas’ Dutch wavers from the cause for a conflicted lesbian romance that disappears before she returns to the fold as Eph’s tantalizing research assistant when she’s not being captured and rescued. I won’t lie, I only hung on watching The Strain as long as I did for Rupert Penry-Jones (MI-5) as the thousand year old hybrid Quinlan. He uses his conflicted history with The Master to help Setrakian and sees through Ephraim while developing a distrustful shoulder to shoulder with Fet. Unfortunately, his vampire super powers come in handy unless he’s forgotten about when it’s time for the action to sour or let failures happen, and nobody tells officials about this almost invincible half-strigoi who could be useful in a fight. Setrakian, Quinlan, and Fet make for an ornery, begrudging trio, living in a luxury hotel while pursuing Abraham’s relics whether they agree with the plan or not – mostly because Fet accrues all manor of weapons and is happy to use them. Setrakian has some crusty wisdom for them, but his battle of wits with Jonathan Hyde as the at any price Palmer provides great one on one scene chewing. The double crosses and interchangeable threats feel empty, and Palmer also has an odd romantic side plot that wastes time, but Richard Sammel’s Nazi vampire Eicchorst remains a deliciously twisted minion. “Dead End” and “Do or Die” reveal more personal history as the mature players provide intriguing questions on immortality, humanity, and barbarism. Miguel Gomez’ Gus finally seems like he is going to join the team, but then he’s inexplicably back on his own rescuing families and refusing to accept his mother’s turn in more useless filler. He and Joaquin Cosio (Quantum of Solace) as the absolutely underutilized fifties superhero Angel are conscripted to fight vampires but once again, they remain wasted in isolated, contrived detours.
Streamlining Fet, Dutch, Quinlan, and Gus as vampire fighters testing methods from Setrakian’s texts and Eph’s science funded by Feraldo could have unified The Strain with straightforward heroes versus monsters action we can root for in an apocalypse. Watching on the eve of our own real world pandemic, was I in the right frame of mind to view The Strain unclouded? Thanks to creators Guillermo de Toro and Chuck Hogan and showrunner Carlton Cuse’s foretelling social breakdowns between the haves and the have nots, maybe not. That said, The Strain terribly executes two seasons worth of source material. An embarrassment of riches with a scientific premise, mystical flashbacks, assorted zombie and vampire crossover monsters, and intriguing characters fall prey to uneven pacing, crowded focus, and no balance or self-awareness onscreen. The Strain may have been better served as television movies or six episode elemental seasons – science in year one, vampire history the second, relic pursuits, and a final battle. Disastrous characters and worthless stories compromise the meaty sacrifices, crusty old alliances, and silver standoffs – stretching the horror quality thin even in a shorter ten episode season. Rather than a fulfilling mirror to nature parable, The Strain Seasons Two and Three are an exercise in frustration, and even without the real world horrors, it’s too disappointing to bother with the end of the world reset in Season Four.
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Mexican and Spanish Vampires, Oh My! By Kristin Battestella
The Bloody Vampire– The English version of this black and white 1962 Mexican import El Vampire Sangriento opens with eerie slow motion, silent carriages, tolling bells, howling wolves, and creepy forests to set the macabre mood. The candles, Old World Feeling, secret crypts, great architecture, and period costumes counter the almost comically out of place and unmatched dubbing, but there are some eerie good effects, thankfully. Fun Bats, zooms, and coffins mask the fact that once again, there isn’t much of the titular blood. However, the religious arias are a bit out of place and too reverent for the subject. Likewise, some of the sound effects are more fifties UFOs than scary. Fortunately, a few corsets and kinky bedroom threats accent the household violence, vampy bitch slaps, and whips. Although, I’ve never heard a vampire tell his victim/bride to put some clothes on before! It might have been neat to see a South American set tale rather than the standard Eastern European mold, but the English translations add to the gothic horror homage. Count Frankenhausen has a maid named Hildegard “The servants must call me Frau” and a daughter Bronehilda at his cave the “Haunted Hacienda.” Yes, and did I mention that “Vampirina” is the blood of a vampire? The English track is tough to hear, and it’s all back and forth wooden exposition on deadly flower roots, grave robbings, early autopsies, science versus death, vampire mythos, and secret vampire hunting family histories. It might be a dry translation or stilted from the innate Espanol, but at least this isn’t in the over the top telenovela styling we expect today. The pace does pick up for the last half hour, and once you’re past the niche logistics and morbid humor, then this is a good little hour and a half.
Crypt of the Living Dead – There’s isn’t a lot of information available on this black and white 1973 tale also known by the wonderfully bad title Hannah, Queen of the Vampires. Andrew Prine (V) looks so young and the architecture and medieval religious designs are well done, yes. But sadly, the drab, colorless photography hampers the fun, gothic atmosphere. Was this later day black and white filming done by production plan or necessity? The editing is also either very poor or there has been some unfortunate film damage, and the plot is a little slow and silent to start, with too many setups and tough to hear dialogue when we do have it. The nighttime action is almost impossible to see as well, and the frantic camerawork and extreme close ups make what should be straightforward scares somewhat confusing. All this production doom and gloom and yet the script and cast actually aren’t that bad. The music and eerie effects are sinister enough, and there’s a historical spin on the then-contemporary skepticism and ethical debates. Die-hard vamp fans looking to have a fun nighttime viewing will enjoy this. However, the finale is a bit overlong and repetitive for horror lay folk, and those low budget values will hinder the natural fears and good scares for today’s more visually treated audiences.
The Vampire – With such a confusingly plain title, I had to look up this 1957 Mexican horror El Vampiro starring Abel Salazar and German Rubles to make sure I hadn’t already seen it. Fortunately, there’s no mistaking the foggy villa courtyards, Gothic Victorian interiors, hypnotic eyes, and fangs afoot here. This original tale gets right to the screams and neck nibbles, and the black and white patina perfectly matches the don’t go out after sunset warnings. Even the fake bat doesn’t feel hokey amid the fifties train and ingenue in white visiting her sick spinster aunt. The boxes of soil from Hungary, suspicious cape-wearing count, and carriage at the crossroads may seem Stoker-esque to start, however there are some undead surprises – and an older aunt who remains young and reflection-less but thinks all this vampire talk is ridiculous. Torches and tolling bells invoke some medieval funerary alongside crypts, superstitions, and fearful folk crossing themselves. The recently late are buried with crucifix in hand while creepy crescendos accent the phantom ladies in black about the cemetery. Ghostly effects, well-framed shadows, and spooky lighting schemes heighten the ruinous haciendas as well as the suspenseful count and his then-shocking vampire bites – sudden falling books or slamming doors also help build the dangerous mood unlike today’s fake out jump scares. Rather than detract from the horror, just the right amount of humor and a whiff of romance accent the fine dialogue – although despite DVD commentaries and a variety of caption or audio options, the English subtitles don’t exactly match the español. Secret passages, dusty books, and otherworldly singing provide more flavor for a wild finale combining stakes, sunlight, and fire. To be sure, this toothy little number wins with heaps of atmosphere.
The Vampire’s Coffin – Salazar and company returned for this 1958 sequel aka El Ataud del Vampiro, and the two pictures can be found together on the generically named The Vampire Collection set for more howling cemeteries, grave robbers, and disturbed vampire tombs. Of course, it’s amazingly easy for two men to remove such heavy headstones and take a giant coffin to the local hospital for a scientific study, but hey, me want that sweet fifties Hearst! Skeletal reflections, giant wooden stakes – the Gothic creepy moves into unexplained science territory but the old-fashioned hospital retains a gray, mod feeling with scared kids and a cross above the bed. What can modern medicine do compared to a determined monster? Sharp shadows and dark angles add Expressionism accents while staircases and noir pursuits akin a Val Lewton aesthetic. Although a missing vampire about the ward could be laughable, spooky effects, a dark cape, and hypnotized victims add macabre. There is, however, a lacking finesse here thanks to a busy narrative crowded with swanky theater glamour and gruesome wax museum hideouts. Disbelieving medical directors, ritzy routines, and torture devices are all well and good on their own, but one moody, fully embraced locale would have been better. Convenience and poorly choreographed fights aside, the fun finale packs in plenty of rituals, chases, and guillotines, as you do. Ironically, it feels like pieces of this film are borrowed in more recent cliché horror, and despite a general bloodlessness and try hard approach, bared fangs and la Sangre talk keep up the theme.
The Vampire’s Night Orgy – Spanish director Leon Klimovsky (The Dracula Saga) uses an unusual widescreen format for this hour and twenty minutes from 1974. The color is very washed out, too, and unfortunately, the picture is often too dark or tough to see. Like most of the foreign or obscure horror of this era, there are edited versions and lost prints, and some scenes are regrettably dated and look the likes of seventies porn. Thankfully, those are about the only problems here. Crazy funerals, wild music, and a nutty countess add to the demented ambiance of ticking clocks, creaking doors, and spooky sound effects. The dubbing is actually in sync and performed well, too, with a few words of un-translated Spanish adding to the Euro flavor. From the interesting premise – an en-route house staff’s bus breaks down in a seemingly abandoned town that really has an all too generous blood drinking population – to a bit of kink, nudity, and cannibalism, the screams and foreboding build up are solid. Sure, most of the men look the same with huge mustaches and I’ll be damn, there isn’t a lot of blood to be seen. However, the child actors aren’t annoying, and the vampire violence is well played. One by one, victims are taken down in fast, almost gang rape terror, and the chase finale and twist ending earn top marks. Though in serious need of a restoration and some may have trouble getting past the dated look, this is a nice little scary movie.
The Werewolf vs the Vampire Woman – Never ever do an autopsy on a supposed werewolf on a moonlit night! Just one of the many warnings from this 1971 Spanish treat, the fifth in the loose Waldemar Daninsky series from writer and star Paul Naschy. Director Leon Klimovsky tackles then-contemporary disbelieving science versus superstition with good screams, fun growls and fangs, zoom attacks, and slow motion eerie. There’s a good quality of blood, too, and a twisted medieval flashback establishes the satanic ritual roots. Of course, the nighttime photography is almost impossible to see, and the handheld forest camera action is poor. The werewolf makeup and effects may be a bit hokey but considering the low budget foreign production, they suffice. The flowing fashions and happy vamps running thru the glen can seem more like Frodo Lives hippie, I know. However, it is nonetheless very unnerving and effective. Actually, the pop references in the dialogue – such as man walking on the moon, James Bond, and the obligatory “Dracula! Ha ha.” – feels more dated amid the fine gothic history and Euro-style. A touch of lingerie, bloody shackles, and crazy girl on girl suggestion keep the run of the mill acting and yell at the TV moments bemusing. Cap this eighty plus minutes with unusual monster relationships and cool mod clothes and you have a picture that’s a cut above the standard dollar bin foreign horror. Naturally, multiple video releases, unavailable uncut editions, international reissues, and title changes can make pursuing Naschy’s horror repertoire extremely frustrating. For fans of retro Euro-horror, however, this is worth the hunt.
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Despite budget and moments of doubt, Kristin Battestella aka Kbatz adds storage and dark flair to the multipurpose guest room with a classic changing table, skirted ottoman, and a dramatic bed frame as progress is made on turning the vintage carriage into a deer themed bassinet. The cheeky wildlife, however, remains somewhat elusive.
Kristin Battestella aka Kbatz has finished the carriage to bassinet transformation as well as the daybed and trundle assembly. Handmade bolster pillows add to the lush bedding as red and black patterns and textiles add classic comforts alongside sewing custom baby linens, practical accessories, and a feline guest.
Kristin Battestella aka Kbatz completes the Victorian guest room with affordable artwork, family friendly touches, baby essentials, sentimental accessories, handmade princess costumes, and a dramatic closet curtain creating a newborn alcove – which is easier said than done.
After virus worries, discussing the final budget, and the Victorian guest room’s zones for adults, babies, and room to grow with a forthcoming crib, it’s finally time for an emotional reveal with the visiting mom-to-be!
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Where Are All the Mid-Century Mexican Horror Films by Kristin Battestella
From The Witch’s Mirror to The Curse of the Crying Woman and more, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the mid-century Mexican horror productions I’ve seen from the forties, fifties, and sixties. I would wholeheartedly like to see more, but where did all these Mexican horror movies go? Read on for my rant about the frustrating difficulty in finding these quality classic scares.
Why so inaccessible?
Thanks to directors such as Rafael Baledón or the likes of Abel Salazar’s filmography, one can filter, search, and find dozens of Mexican horror films on IMDb, Wikipedia, and more. We know they exist, so where are they and why aren’t they readily available? Ten or fifteen years ago, a budget DVD set with twenty or fifty so-called horror classics was a get what you pay for way to find a few old horror gems amid the so bad it’s good obscure, public domain scares, and cheap VHS quality rips. This was how I first found some Spanish horror delectables. Today, however, those sets aren’t really viable compared to affordable streaming options. Unfortunately, be it the free horror channels, discount streaming tiers, or the big mainstream options, none of them have any of these films. Back when we had Xfinity and could browse all the thousand channels on the guide including the Spanish cable package, I used to see some great horror films listed on the Peliculas de clasicos channels. I’d write down great titles like Museo de Horror, El Beso de Ultratrumbo, La Cabeza Viviente, and more but can’t find any of them anywhere. How with today’s instant access to everything are these films still so inaccessible?
Cultural Drift is No Excuse!
It takes a lot of digging and research to find these titles, and although it’s easy to search with Spanish language filters, that creates its own set of problems. Sure I’ve been able to find a few Salazar sixties horrors or Mexican movies, but those searches also yield a lot of Paul Naschy pictures from Spain (and searching for his Waldermar werewolf films is another aggravating not all available pursuit). Soon, these lists skew to Spain, European productions, Jesus Franco, Dario Argento, and Mario Bava. Seventies Italian Giallo pictures are not what we’re looking for, and finding the right version of a film with different releases, run times, and different titles per country only adds more fuel to the frustrating fuego. Sometimes you think you are getting the right movie and it turns out to be something else, or worse a film you’ve already seen under a different name. I myself am guilty of putting all my Spanish horror viewing lists and recommendations together because it’s so tough to find just the Mexican scares. Of course, Spain and Mexico are different cultures with different español and different identities, and it’s problematic to presume they are interchangeable. Many years ago I had a vehement argument on an online film forum when a commenter said he wanted a role to be cast with Penélope Cruz or Salma Hayek or “one of those types.” This person could not see why I objected to these actresses being lumped together as one and the same. On a non-horror note, I highly suggest the Maya Exploration Center’s Professor Edwin Barnhart’s Great Course lectures including Ancient Civilizations of North America, Ancient Mesoamerica Revealed, Lost Worlds of South America, and Exploring the Mayan World to educate oneself on the history of Southwest, Central, and South American communities.
The Classics are Better.
What irritates me most is the perception that because Hollywood or mainstream horror is more prevalent, that means it must be better. In my recent viewings, however, that’s been far from the truth. I’ve enjoyed the majority of independent Australian, New Zealand, Irish, UK horror, and European productions, sure. Canadian pictures, on the other hand, have been more mixed bag. When the festival finds are true to themselves, they’ve been good – but you can tell the difference when a north of the border production is compromising itself in hopes of an American sale and wide distribution, catering to the formulaic and cliché. I had such high hopes for The Curse of La Llorona. It starts well with colonial Mexican scares so viewers think we’re in for some period piece Hammer flair, but sadly the film – written and directed by white men, because of course – degrades into the typical kids in peril with whooshing entities and trite jump scares. Cultural fears are dismissed and protective warnings are treated like Mysticism 101, and the entire time I was waiting for it to end, I had one thought, which was that The Curse of the Crying Woman was better. There’s an entire Wikipedia page called “Golden Age of Mexican Cinema” but where are all the films? Netflix if you’re lucky has one DVD copy, and when that breaks, it’s just saves and unavailables.
It’s Frustrating and Offensive.
For viewer looking for quality horror of any kind, it’s disturbing how unique storytelling, different cultural scares, and the many horror stories to be told must be bent to serve white mainstream horror. The fact that these films are not widely available almost feels like an intentional burying – the way a great Asian horror film won’t see the light of day stateside because the rights were bought up and it is being deliberately suppressed until the rich white blonde jump scare cliché remake is released first. Why aren’t these classic, quality films being celebrated? Why are they not freely available to watch at any time? A black and white picture? So what! Spanish subtitles or a bad English dub? Big deal! Is it because they are not in English that white America suspects releasing these films properly won’t be profitable enough for them? Well that’s just too damn bad because I want to see these films. Do you have an inside source on where to find some classic mid-century Mexican horror movies? ¡Damelo!
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By Kristin Battestella
The Witch’s Mirror – Oft spooky actor Abel Salazar (The Curse of the Crying Woman) produced this black and white 1962 Mexican horror treat with Isabela Corona (A Man of Principle) as a creepy housekeeper amid the excellent smoke and mirrors and titular visual effects. From a macabre prologue and illustrations to Victorian mood, candles, and rituals, El Espejo de la Bruja has it all – love triangles, jerky husbands, revenge, betrayals, grave robbing, and ghoulish medicine. The plot is at once standard yet also nonsensical thanks to all the sorcery, implausible surgeries, ghosts, fire, even catalepsy all building in over the top, soap opera-esque twists. The sets are perhaps simplistic or small scale with only interior filming, but this scary, play-like atmosphere is enough thanks to wonderful shadows, gothic décor, and freaky, sinister music. Several language and subtitle options are available along with the feature and commentary on the DVD as well – not that any of the dubbing, subtitles, or original Spanish completely matches. The audio is also messed up in some spots, but the script is fun and full of cultish summonings and medical fantasies. Maybe this one will have too much happening for some viewers, as every horror treatise is thrown at the screen here. However, this is a swift, entertaining 75 minutes nonetheless and it doesn’t let up until the end.
Kristin Battestella aka Kbatz discusses the tools required and $200 budget for the initial plans in outfitting a curbside playhouse as a Halloween cat shelter before assessing the on hand hardware, pallets, and assorted plywood. After a garage clean up and power washing of the playhouse, it’s time for the interior insulation installation (say that three times fast!) The design, however, changes on the go as doubts and deadlines mount – removing plans for interior cleats, dividers, and platforms in favor of possible multi-use as a garden shed. After all, the cats may not appreciate the labor intensive assembly!
Now that the windows are weatherproofed, the base floor is attached, the insulation is installed, and some seemingly daunting setbacks are overcome; Kristin Battestella aka Kbatz works on the playhouse’s Halloween exterior in time for October 31. New color schemes, multiple acrylic coats, and hand painted trim turn the old plastic shutters into faux stain glass spooky to be preserved with a clear top coat finish. House cat inspection and approval required! Next, it’s time to spray paint the roof gloss dark gray and the walls with satin granite to create a tomb-esque look, coming in at $70 for an online order of spray paint and $5 for a comfort grip nozzle. Six cans of each color should be enough, right?
Rather than the initial notion to completely close the interior with a fixed replacement door on the playhouse turned Halloween Cat Shelter, Kristin Battestella aka Kbatz uses found pallets and plywood to make a new working door thanks to a crowbar and reciprocating saw. A smaller cat door is cut out with a jigsaw, and $15 worth of rustic hinges, a door pull, and a lion knocker provide interior access as well as Dark Shadows motifs to match the mausoleum design. With touch ups, trim work, and a total cost coming to exactly $100; it’s time wrap up and add catnip for a feline guest or two! (Unless there’s a rain delay!)
Enjoy the spooky sounds and shadows of the night in this All Hallow’s Eve Eve reveal of our curbside playhouse turned Halloween cat shelter!
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When one spots a bag of loose Halloween skeleton bones at Goodwill for $5, one snatches it before anyone else! Like an archaeologist on a discovery, opening the bag revealed large femurs, skulls, spines, and bony hands perfect for a towering Pot O’ Bones!
These odd, incomplete skeletons, however, were two different colors, and a brown paint dry brushed gave the bones a cohesive color before a second coat of a yellow and brown muddy added to the dug up and weathered theme. An unused skull meant to go with the collapsed Shakespeare Cardboard Tombstone and a pair of skeleton arm tongs from the dollar store were also doctored with aging paint and tossed into the collection. Initially, a found terracotta pot served as the tower base, but it was too big, requiring more backyard stones to secure the inner cardboard tower roll re-purposed from an upholstery fabric sale. The hole in the bottom of the pot meant a stabilizing stake could run through the pole, but since this isn’t weather proof anyway, the stake and the increasingly heavy terracotta were swapped for a smaller rusted metal pot.
With the stand fixed, the bones were strategically set using semi-adjustable hot glue rather than a mega strong adhesive that doesn’t allow maneuvering. Once the large femurs were in place, the cardboard base was painted brown just in case any gaps showed. More leaves, sticks, or stones as fillers between the angular bones were an option, but two bags of dollar store moss completed the decrepit look. Although one could paint the post and even moss the entire tower before adding the bones, that also creates unnecessary work in spots that might not show. This assembly could be done quickly in a day, but I did the bones and moss in stages and made adjustments. Like a Christmas tree, I keep seeing gaps were there should be less moss or another bone and wasn’t quite pleased. Fortunately, the discarded bottom halves from my 3D Skeleton Frames project provided more bones.
Obviously, long term outdoor use requires different materials, but with on hand paint supplies, found materials, $5 for the bones and $2 for the moss, this was much cheaper than the luxury skull towers online. Bags of bones themselves run between $15 and $30! This same model can be applied to family friendly leaves and pumpkins or more birds and bats morose, and a Pot O’ Bones Tower is perfect for a foyer statement, autumn porch, or cemetery sentry.
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It’s the Autumn of Bones for Kbatz Krafts! What’s one to do with the smaller bones left over from my Pot O’ Bones Tower? Why make a morbid little wreath of course!
A dollar store metal frame was wrapped in brown yarn for the base, as I intended to finish off the glued on bones with some twine ties for a rusted look. However, this fourteen inch wreath seemed too big for the angular bones. Unlike more traditional wreath items like leaves or pine cones, the bones didn’t seem to fit with too much yarn and twine showing gaps between the bones. Fortunately, switching to a smaller diameter wreath frame meant the bones could be the star of the design, going off the edges of the round. Gluing onto the smaller wire frame, however, proved difficult with bones teetering on too few glue spots. Thankfully, switching to a nine inch willow wreath finally did the trick! This natural base that didn’t have to be hidden opened up the possibility for more raffia ties and small black branches sourced from more dollar store florals.
An additional bag of dollar store mini bones were tossed into the mix, too – again painted with the same dry brush brown technique as the Pot O’ Bones Tower to take off the new plastic edge while creating a cohesive, rustic look. After trying the bones in different positions and doubting if this wreath was meant to be because none of the arrangements looked right, I realized it was the largest bones that were the most troublesome. Without them, the smaller femurs and mini bones created a much nicer jointed and angular shape. Now that the placement was at last settled, each was hot glued on to the wreath with the black branches adding macabre but natural pop as well as hiding some of the glue globs. The slightly darker raffia loosely wrapped in symmetrically asymmetrical spots also hid the assembly. This bony wreath looks like the branches and ties are what’s holding it together, and a twine hanging loop sets off the natural motif.
Unlike a traditional wreath where any arrangement comes out complimentary, these morbid materials took some trial and error addition, subtraction, and experimentation. Fortunately, this afternoon project packs a demented little punch for a modest under $8 for supplies that were already in the craft closet – except for those extra Halloween season only mini bones! Compared to expensive skulls and florals, this macabre bone wreath is much more fun and affordable.
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Way back in February 2019, I posted about a Goodwill Halloween boon on our Horror Addicts.net Facebook group – two lenticulars stuck together! That Mr. and Mrs. were cut out and placed in traditional frames for my Lenticular Gallery, leaving two spooky, empty frames ideal for some breakout three dimensional skeletons!
Unfortunately, these frames had to wait until skeletons the right size were found. An expensive often $60 or more full size skeleton would be too big, I needed two, and was only going to use the upper torso anyway. Dollar Store twelve or sixteen inch skeletons or mini skeletons garlands were cheap, but entirely too small. Eventually, two three foot skeletons found at Big Lots for $30 fit the bill, and their bottom halves went toward the Pot O’ Bones Tower and a small Bone Wreath – maximizing the price in multiple projects. As backers for the frames, purple damask Halloween paper place mats from a clearance ream with a variety of creepy styles were glued onto cardboard cut to size and hot glued in place, creating a sturdy structure to anchor the skeleton toppers.
Of course, these His and Hers Bones needed some flair! A red rose from the floral stash and a stringy Dollar Store princess hair headband were perfect for her, and a $2 clip on boys tie from the Salvation Army Thrift Store worked for him. These accessories were red to match the DIY candles to be in their skeletal hands – tall paper towel rolls done again like the T.P. Candle Bunches. A mini top hat for my bony fellow, however, was easier said then done. To buy one seemed more costly then it was worth, so the shapes needed for a mini hat were cut out of black scrap fabric and sewn together. A matching band cut from a piece of the adjustable neck on the boy’s clip-on tie set the hat off, and stuffing the top with some plastic bags gave it some padded structure. This jaunty skelly hat didn’t have to be perfect, but the brim, unfortunately didn’t sit right on the skull. Despite double fabric layers, it flopped on his face and bunched in the back, both limp and stiff in all the wrong places! Fed up, I cut the brim off the main top, resorting to a protractor and a cardboard piece painted black so the brim could stand at a firm angle. After all, “A hat’s not a hat ’til it’s tilted!”
At last with the accessories hot glued in place, it was time to likewise set the torsos in the frames and position their arms and candles for a fun leaning display above the mantle. Though inspired by $3 Goodwill luck, the total cost here was under $40 for both pieces, which is still cheaper than most of the breakout Halloween wall art seen at exclusive online retailers. Not just for Halloween, these skeletons work with year round bone décor or as a Day of the Dead buffet backdrop and can be customized by the whole family with other holiday themes and interchangeable accessories. I may just put some Santa hats, a beard, and spectacles on mine come December!
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I’m not a painter, but spotting assorted size canvases at the Dollar Store inspired me to get my spooky art on with a little multi-dimensional Halloween décor! Often shadow boxes or keepsake frames are designed inward with elaborate motifs and objects that you can’t see unless you’re up close. These, however, are certainly noticeable, oh yes.
A $2 Goodwill Halloween craft paper block became the canvas backdrops – assorted patterns with damask skulls, spider webs, orange harlequins, and purple owls fittingly named “Dark Shadows.” Clearance Halloween paper placements also backing the 3D Skeleton Frames provided bats and candy corn designs for the larger canvases, and rummaging through my craft stash provided plastic lizards and scorpions, mini pumpkins, bone parts, weird looking potpourri pieces, and small holiday signs tossed into the potential pile as three dimensional art. Laying out my canvases, creepy papers, and morose objects helped match the right designs, bugs, and canvas sizes – eliminating patterns and items that clashed or didn’t fit while creating stand alones or series themes. Using papers and canvases both horizontally or vertically added variety, and now it was finally time to wrap each canvas like a present, folding the corners around the edges and hot gluing the the paper directly on the plain backs. The medium size canvases were a little larger than the square craft paper, so two pieces were seamed together – tape tested to carefully match the paper’s pattern before gluing down the line.
The small signs were only painted on their fronts, so they received some matching black or orange paint around the sides before being centered and glued on the large canvas fronts. The hangers on the back of these signs were removed, too – reused on the backs of the medium canvases now likewise redressed in proper batty fashion. When folding my wrapping too tight, the paper ripped on one, but Kbatz can roll with the punches and glue on more bat bling to fix anything! Not all the canvases nor patterns were perfectly square, however, and some uneven corners or abstract crooked have to be gotten over quickly. The square paper just came to the end of the smallest canvases, so their edges were painted black and the inside rim of the papers were lined with black marker to match the black and white backgrounds. Two red coats gave the bugs a unifying pop, and that foam mini pumpkin was cut in half and touched up around the edges before they were all mounted. Although the larger canvases can be hung themselves, the smaller ones are flat pieces probably meant for a tabletop easel display. A fitting orange yarn could anchor this small trio in a rustic, ladder style banner; but after taping the yarn on the backs, adjusting the placements, gluing the yarn in place, and securing it all with more masking tape, this attempt at hanging art looked totally terrible!
Between the weight of the canvases and the forward leaning objects, the series was no longer uniform as one leaned one way or titled the other. Recovering these canvases in fun prints and using zinger toppers is a family friendly project, but this looked like bad child art that mom has to stick on the refrigerator nonetheless. After getting some aggression out tearing off the yarn, necessity took over in the form of cardboard plucked right out of the recycling. I hadn’t yet used the last place mat pattern, a fun geometric Halloween design, and now it wrapped the cardboard as a new backer to a row of canvases. Though cute, it felt plain. Looking about my craft studio again for more trash to make treasure, I found the black frames removed from the new pictures for my Lenticular Gallery. They weren’t quite the right size for this wide series, so I cut the frames and re-squared them around the new artwork, again taping and gluing the surround in place. You can see the seams of this frame if you look closely enough, and I’m not sure if I totally like it. More creepy crawlies or traditional Halloween webs and creepy cloth drapes would hide these flaws, but all that seemed too busy. Fortunately, this canvas turned cardboard art does hang nicely with its orange yarn swag.
This Halloween Canvas Art was a lot of fun thanks to the craft inspirations and found affordability. For $7 I have five new Halloween displays – even if they didn’t all go as I expected. It also seems like a lot of materials and steps went into these, but having the craft basics to do this makes it wonderfully easy for a fall family night or an at home classroom project. Have a newspaper, special gift wrap, or small memento mori you want to save? Sentimental items or morose shockers make you an artist here!
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I was going to wait and do this project as a morose February Valentine, but after my His and Hers Three Dimensional Skeleton Frames, I was too excited about this Love is Love Skeleton Wreath!
Despite dollar store skeletons in hand, part of the delay here was originally seeking an oval frame – two skeletons, a few roses, an ornate black surround, goth splendor, fin. However, new thrift frames went to the latest additions in the Lenticular Gallery, and the large wreath frame dismissed from the Mini Skeleton Wreath now took center stage. The floral stash provided red flowers, purple pop, and black leaves, but when I came upon my feathers drawer, I knew this was destined for rainbow flair! The black elements were ditched in favor of green leaves and green feathers stolen from a St. Patrick’s Day boa to go with the abundant orange, yellow, blue, and light purple feathers. Wrapping the frame in red tulle also found in the craft stash provided a solid base for hot gluing the red flowers and green leaves around the top half of the frame. Next came the skeleton couple, who were surprisingly cumbersome folks! The legs were removed, but an arm on either one was also displaced so their rib cages and skulls could be glued together. Without so much surface area on their little bones, it took a lot of hot glue pressed and held in place until the skeletons set. Rather than distinct hair or hat, this hugging, universal, eternal couple was glued as is to the bottom of the wreath with their arms bent and glued in place for more love and support.
The rainbow spread was arraigned and laid out before the purple flowers were glued along the bottom to finish the frame coverage and hide the skeletal ends. Working from their center across helped keep the assorted blooms semi-symmetrical before the orange, yellow, blue, green, and light purple feathers filled in the gaps. The red flowers already stood out with goth glam, leaving no need for red feathers, but the two different purplish shades became the requisite indigo and violet. Being one who prefers black or dark aesthetics, I didn’t have more colorful rainbow motifs, but that’s okay. Using what was in the craft stash required more outside the box thinking, and by eliminating black accents that would scream Halloween, this colorful goth décor can be hung up for fall, February, or Pride. At $3 for the frame and skeletons and maybe $7 worth counting flowers and feathers cost, this done in a day whimsical wreath is affordable, unique, sentimental, and fabulous!
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Who doesn’t love a Halloween T-shirt? But what’s one to do once your frightful favorite gets too small, stained, stretched out, or ruined? Never fear Kbatz is here to help you turn discarded October shirts into fresh Fall pillows!
1) Be brave and snip snip! Once you’ve selected your T-shirt retirees, cut off the sleeves and necklines, leaving the front and back of the shirt as your new pillow fabric. If there are out of the way soiled spots or extra bottom length, consider cutting those, too. We want to save the fun Halloween designs, so the prints we’re preserving dictate the size or shapes of the pillows. Many will be straightforward squares, but others with wide across designs can be smaller, lumbar sized pillows or a left logo becomes a memorable mini. Go with what your facade allows. Do remember though, that the pillow fabric may seem big when ironed flat, but consider how much room there will be once it is a stuffed three dimensional object. Give yourself a few inches of room or seam allowance to keep your Halloween swag centered. You don’t want any fun phrasing running off the side!
2) Turn your fabric inside out and get sewing! Your two “good sides” should face each other, pinned or basted in place with a quick stitch. Go around your material perimeter and sew three sides closed. The biggest mistake you can make here is getting carried away and sewing the whole pillow closed, but that’s totally fixable! If you are going to use a pre-made pillow form to stuff your new Halloween cover, leave the bottom completely open. If you are using other stuffing means, then you can sew the bottom partway if you desire – just leave enough for your arm to do the fillings. Matching thread works best on your final stitching, but if you need help seeing your basting stitches and want to use a zany color, well that’s fine, too. Try using pins or chalk marks if you need guidelines while you stitch. When hand sewing, a basic running stitch will suffice, the smaller the stitch the better. There is, however, no formal or right way to do it! This is just a pillow. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s okay to make mistakes. That’s no cheat, either – this is basic sewing for you and the kids to practice and have a good time. When you’ve done your three sides, turn the pillow right side out, make sure your design isn’t off the edge, unsightly, or crooked. If you have to break in a seam ripper and do a side again, that’s no problem.
3) Know your T-shirt or tool needs. T-shirt materials are often stretchy knits, so if you are sewing on a machine, check your thread, tension, or stitch, for a zig zag setting may be better on some fabrics than a straight line. If you intend to use your Halloween pillow year round or expect it to earn a lot of bed or pet rough and tumble, reinforcing your seams with more than one machine pass provides strength compared to a quick hand stitch line for an October occasional. As your handling your fabric – especially if it is already something older, stretched, or delicate, be careful not to tug and pull against the machine and create any uneven bunching. Knowing my machine gets tension issues with thicker fabrics, I sewed a former Halloween sweatshirt turned pillow by hand, first with a basting stitch and then going back around with a nicer, straight line finish. If you have trouble hand sewing, use a thimble or consider your needle size or thread weight if your thread keeps breaking or you poke your fingers. Remember this is a great way to learn some sewing basics if you’re interested in advancing to more ambitious projects.
4) It’s stuffing time! How you stuff your pillow is entirely up to you – soft, firm, overstuffed, whatever your comfort needs. A tired throw pillow can be revitalized as new Halloween innards, store bought pillow forms come in a variety of sizes, and natural or organic alternatives are available, however Poly-Fil is probably the most fun. A seasonal pillow that isn’t for sleeping or bedding use can be stuffed firm with plastic bags, disused towels, or fabric scraps, especially if you are light on real Poly-Fil or want to spread it around in combination with other materials. Heck, even dryer lint! My Halloween pillows were for decoration, so an outer layer of Poly-Fil smoothed the shape but within the interior of the pillow were plastic bags and recycled denim insulation from food deliveries. Don’t want to admit you are cheap and calling it recycling (like me)? As a pillow flattens with use or as you purchase proper stuffing, one can always refill or change a pillow later. The more advanced seamstress might even add a zipper closure to the pillow bottom so it can be continually stuffed with more fabric cabbage. Who’s going to know what’s inside the pillow anyway?
5) Don’t toss the leftovers! Remember those cut collars and excised sleeves? Use ’em for that stuffing! The sleeves from the T-shirt pillows on our game room bean bag became Stuffed Pumpkins, and long sleeves can become arm warmers. That extra shirt bottom can become its own plain practice pillow or be folded over to make a mask. Two of my Halloween shirts had small vampish designs, so I made these masks instead of pillows. Initially, they were way too big for my face, but I went around the edges again and folded the sides to make a channel for the ear elastics. I think I was overcompensating in trying to preserve the Halloween statement by trying to shape the mask to the design, which turned out to be unnecessary. Maximize every inch of your materials when possible. Get into outside the box thinking habits and ask yourself, “What else could this be? How else can this be useful?” Use these scrap materials to practice more easy sewing projects!
Halloween pillows are one of the most popular October items today. Toss one in any room and your decorating is done! Even when they aren’t super elaborate, however, designer seasonal pillows are pretty expensive. If we don’t even spend $25 on a bed pillow used every day, why are we spending just as much on some kind of beaded burlap decoration? For the same price, you can buy the Poly-Fil for two or three homemade Halloween pillows – and you get to control the comfort, use, style, and sentiment. Preserve a bemusing T-shirt as a Halloween pillow and get the whole family involved in the sewing skills and stuffing fun.
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The Frankenstein Chronicles Season Two is Brimming with Monster Quality
By Kristin Battestella
The 2017 six-episode Second Season of The Frankenstein Chronicles picks up three years after the twisted events of its Debut Series as Sean Bean’s supposedly dead Inspector John Marlott pursues Lord Hervey (Ed Stoppard) for his monstrous science while Sergeant Joseph Nightingale (Richie Campbell) investigates the gruesome murders of several parish officials as new mad machinations and corrupt officials collide.
It’s 1830 and disturbed flashes of what has transpired match the Bedlam catatonic in “Prodigal Son.” Jailers think this case is hopeless, for the angry, rattling chains can’t tell of the heartbeats, fires, agony, and horrors. Silent screams, gory garrotings, and escapes lead to the abandoned laboratory with cracked mirrors, empty bottles, and lingering phantoms. The Frankenstein Chronicles refreshes the audience whilst the characters themselves struggle with the previous experiments, former pain, and fresh dilemmas as a murdered archdeacon sends fear through the local parish. The poor cannot feed their families on faith alone, but the Dean maintains his luxury by hampering the police with jurisdiction technicalities. New cemetery bills don’t stop grave robbing schemes, and cruel high versus kind lows are firmly established in the multi-layered mysteries and investigations. Despite a sophisticated period mood, church fires, eviscerating shocks, and eerie figures with lone candles always remind viewers of the morose horror drama. London is run amok with slicing and dicing nobles on The Frankenstein Chronicles, and there’s no solace for “Not John Marlott” as more bloody crimes begat missing organs, epidemics, and piled bodies. Creepy dreams and laughing visions add to the on edge, ghosts approach former friends, and headlines say the escaped lunatic is responsible for these unholy murders. Local parish watchmen rebuff inspectors, and back-alley deals lead to corpse bearer job opportunities and intriguing new characters. Desecrated bodies are dug up and moved to pits – clearing the graveyards for people who can pay more for sacred ground. Mirrors and reflections create more soulful questions as the dead man walking sees the naked, animalistic internal monster. Shrouds, vaults, torches, and coffins keep The Frankenstein Chronicles on the morbid move in “Seeing the Dead.” Our former detective has his own underground investigation amid the church bells, empty steeples, and plague-ridden alongside tender moments and a real life famous name or two. Dead children abound, and families that can’t afford consecrated burials paint crosses on their doors to honor the deceased while a carnival caravan arrives with freaks and re-enactments of Frankenstein. Politicians argue about burial taxes, and motives for the murders include selling off church properties, twisted science, and blaming the devil. Who’s clearing the slums and pocketing the money? It isn’t God who’s brought this pestilence, but men of science playing with God’s power. Black horses, night owls playing the piano by candlelight, and men talking of the final nail in the coffin add symbolic subtext while dreams, monster memories, and ghosts provide clues. Superstitious fears and wrongful medicine clash thanks to sewers, sailors, on stage within Frankenstein horrors, and knife fights behind the curtain. Autopsies, methodical precision, and poisoned pumps hone in on the contaminated truth – revelations perhaps made more disturbing by the water crises happening in America today.
Old inspectors and suspicious aristocrats meet face to face in “Little Boy Lost” amid fancy balls and false sermons waxing on demons and souls. Unfortunately, the truth is blasphemy, and quarantined ships send the sick to die in abandoned buildings behind chained doors – making for some silently terrifying scenes of garish dead haunting the corridors. Messengers from religious officials come baring knives in the back, leading to bloody struggles and gurgling groans. The innocent must flee in chases through the streets and leaps across rooftops, contrasting the footmen and tête-à-têtes on the ballroom balcony. Lifelike machines and automaton displays escalate the mad science amidst more grief, twists about who is real or phantom, and dead babies in jars. Thanks to town mobs and persecutions, circus folk with cut out tongues are arrested just because they fit the description of monsters, but ominous staircases descend to bright laboratories, creepy equipment, and shocking revelations with touching supernatural moments linking our characters. Politicians using the poor and too good to be true health plans in “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” again mirror the contemporary political climate as scary ideologies hide in plain sight. Be it illness or slit throats, people in this era don’t live very long, and officials double-cross each other to fill the void left by the dying King. Likewise, constables and the press are at odds over evidence and thin leads as all roads point to monstrous men throwing their own to the dogs if it suits their toys, tears, and conspiracies. Blocks of ice are used to store organs alongside secret formulas, memento mori, psychic encounters, and plans to escape to the continent. Chilling confrontations trap the unwilling in the choice to be reborn, for more things are possible than what God can do according to our seemingly sacrosanct gentleman. Stone towers contain romantic rooms draped in white soon to host some serious butchery, transformations, and abominations. Why wait to rekindle what one’s lost in God’s time when life’s mysteries can come full circle now? Wounds and spirited intervention culminate in “Bride of Frankenstein” as lies, gags, and convulsions reunite our firstborn with the reanimation process. Life-giving elixirs, breathing apparatus, and unique tissues lead to coastal visions and life or death limbo. Our murder victims got in the way of political ambitions so now their bodies are being put to good use. There’s no need to make apologies when sacrificing for science! Once again The Frankenstein Chronicles builds its crimes and mysteries before escalating to full-on horror. Raids, arrests, and eponymous resurrections mean nothing when death is not the end for men who live forever in a world without God. However loose ends must be tied up, and another corpse on the church steps leads to confessions, ironic justice, and science preventing the dead from staying deceased in an excellent denouement of amoral horrors.
He’s angry, doesn’t know his own strength, and vows revenge, yet Sean Bean’s former inspector John Marlott remains haunted by his past. Initially he doesn’t speak much, only “I was abandoned by God,”– which sums up The Frankenstein Chronicles quite well. Marlott insists he isn’t who he was, for whether he was a man of kindness and justice or not, he received neither. Marlott feels forsaken since his family has gone on without him, yet he finds solace and a clean bed in a church and recognizes psalms of mercy when he hears them. Unfortunately, he can’t look himself in the mirror, and any peace is quickly ruined by tragedy. Marlott moves on, pushing away the living because everyone around him winds up dead. He becomes a corpse bearer and calls himself Jack Martins, revisiting places he once frequented to prove his innocence despite nightmares that seem to indicate otherwise. Marlott is disturbed by all the death he sees and talks to ghostly guests from Series One, but he’s more upset that he cannot see the spirits of his own wife and daughter. Marlott gives his coins to orphans and poor families so they can bury their dead properly and helps the sick households by doing their cleaning and hard labor, becoming the ironic hero of Pye Street roaming the slums at night – a foreboding grim reaper silhouette escorting a wagon of the dead to their mass grave. He tells people to flee the plague but ultimately ends up communing with their lingering spirits in superbly haunting moments. He cannot help the ghosts who torment him, but Marlott is deeply sorry for all the souls he seemingly damned. Forgiveness, however, may be found in the darkest places, and Marlott comes to accept he can live to do good even if he is not blessed. The Frankenstein Chronicles provides fascinating winks at Bean’s walking spoiler onscreen image amid chilling declarations, strong demands for vengeance, and tearful displays. Granted I am biased – and I still think Marlott is Sharpe – but Sean Bean seems to have become a better, more seasoned actor with age, and it is a pity The Frankenstein Chronicles received no awards notice for his excellent performance.
Though now a sergeant, Richie Campbell’s Joseph Nightingale is assigned to a seemingly routine escape from Bedlam rather than a murder higher up officials want forgotten. He’s a lot like Marlott, actually, getting praised for his initiative, punished for his insistence, and circumventing orders to find out about Marlott’s surprise reappearance. Joe must still deal with racism from above and below and knows he’s being stonewalled once victims’ bodies are removed before he can inspect them – leaving Nightingale no choice but to get the truth at a terrible price. Ryan Sampson’s fast talking Boz is still a reporter for the chronicle, chastised by Nightingale for writing outlandish reports to scare the public but shocked when the dead Marlott comes to see him. He wants Marlott’s surely fantastic story, and remains unfettered in his outrageous reporting, because the truth that victims are having their hearts cut out is supposed to scare people less? Although grossed out by the autopsy reports, he’s reluctant to give up his sources until their differing private exams prove they want him to print lies. Boz believes Marlott when he tells him there is a poisoning scheme in the works, but says he should do the talking when they poke around at the inquest. Charles Dickens ends up bombing around London with Frankenstein’s Monster – one of many fascinating what ifs on The Frankenstein Chronicles. Laurence Fox’s (Lewis) Mr. Dipple, meanwhile, is a creepy, reclusive aristocrat overly concerned with weird marionettes, music boxes, machine models, and masks. He’s become enamored with contraptions because he is afraid to live, seemingly tender or sensitive but suspect when he asks guests to keep an open mind about what they see. The character embodies several contemporary ills viewers will recognize – saying one thing but doing another for his own purpose , which is to have power over death and grief. Sadly, Maeve Dermody (Carnival Row) as kind, widowed seamstress Esther Rose is unknowingly caught in the middle when taking in Marlott while commissioned to make dresses for Dipple’s dolls. She buys clothes off the dead to re-sell to poor, not so particular customers and gives Marlott back his own effects. There’s not much difference between her craft and stitching him up when he’s injured, either. She’s glad to have him protect her shop, for Esther thinks she is weak, afraid to live, and too nervous when invited to a ball showcasing her work. She’s glad when Dipple calls her designs exquisite and doesn’t believe he has ulterior motives despite Marlott’s warnings. However, Esther insists she is not part of Dipple’s collection, vowing to be no man’s property despite her loneliness.
Lily Lesser as (Wolf Hall) Ada Byron, Lord Byron’s mathematician daughter, also dislikes Dipple’s obsession with “toys.” She’s interested in automatons for the future and power for women, debating Dipple about whether a man building machines means he has power over God. Men’s power pollutes what it touches, demanding obedience and stifling genius – leading to slavery and humans as the automaton. Although at times the character seems too modern, her progressive ideals aren’t wrong, and it would have been intriguing to see more of her. Corpse bearer Francis Magee (Game of Thrones) knows Marlott is too shrewd for this job, but then again so is he. Spence is a former priest who criticized the Dean for his greed, and now he fears he is in danger. Nonetheless, he does his gruesome job and stands by his convictions, returning to his Bible even to his own detriment. Unfortunately, Kerrie Hayes (Lilies) as Dipple’s orphan maid Queenie is also scared of her employer, his contraptions, and the locked doors deep inside his manor. She and Nightingale grew up in the foundling home together, and she clearly has a crush on him, telling him not to be consumed by blaming Marlott. Queenie wants to help Joe’s investigation, but her curiosity gets the better of her. She knows the police won’t believe what she’s seen, but eventually, Queenie finds tell tale tokens as proof for the police. Locating Ed Stoppard’s rumored to be dead Lord Hervey, however, isn’t so easy. He’s as in pursuit of his creation as Marlott is, but is he truly connected to the current crimes or is Marlott’s wishful seeking of justice involving the not so good doctor? Hervey is said to be here or there, off in the carriage, or just missed him – pinning his gruesome actions on others as it suits his plans. He’s happy to offer the choice of transformation to those who want it, developing a sick delight in what he does. For Hervey, there is no such thing as God’s will, only indifferent science. Sir Robert Peele, however, wants to build new closed burials and give the poor the right to a Christian interment, but Tom Ward’s Home Secretary has to move fast on his reforms before losing the ailing George IV’s favor. Peele seeks cleaner cities where nearby decomposition isn’t going back into the water and objects to the circumvention of his authority, for Guy Henry’s (Rogue One) Dean of Westminster lords over everyone with his stranglehold on the police as well as the church. He squashes murder investigations, pockets burial fees, and uses Martin McCann (The Pacific) as parish coroner Renquist to do away with the bodies privately. For his dirty deeds, Renquist rightfully fears he’s going to be the fall guy, just another of many corrupt officials on The Frankenstein Chronicles.
Fallen leaves and overcast skies create a perpetual autumn feeling for The Frankenstein Chronicles while barren coasts invoke a bleak limbo. Storms, mud, moors, and fog contrast the carriages, top hats, walking sticks, and frock coats. Careful editing, silence, and natural sounds parallel the horror realizations amid dank cells, chains, spooky lanterns, and autopsies. There are fancy stone manors and slum streets, but the graveyards and churches are somewhere in between – grand, old, but empty cloisters despite the cross’s symbolic shelter and arched windows providing rare light. Wax seals, lockets, quills, waist coats, and cravats birth mechanical innovations, clockworks, masks, and uncanny valley eyes, layering the creepy science what ifs alongside the innocent flowers, lace, and painstaking embroidery attention to detail. Fair fiddles and carnival acts provide morbid bemusement, yet our star is often alone in the center of the camera frame or on the outside looking in at the action through doorways or arches. Then again, golden sconces and grand libraries can’t compare to decomposing bodies as the gasps and covering mouths provide shock and stench for the audience. Sometimes the blue and night time drab are too dark, however, firelight adds a realistic touch so often missing from overly saturated shows. Oil lamps and disturbing harpsichord music accent syringes, hissing gears, leeches in jars, elixirs, tubes, catalysts, and beakers. The candlelit laboratory almost has an enchanting glow, but who knew blocks of ice could be so..well…chilling? Oddly, neither director Benjamin Ross nor writer Barry Langford are involved in Season Two – all new writers join director Alex Gabassi (The ABC Murders). With previouslies and credits, these episodes are also slightly shorter at forty-five minutes, however it is more annoying that Netflix wants to skip both with seconds to spare. The Frankenstein Chronicles Season Two doesn’t use Mary Shelley as a character or the William Blake interconnected themes from the First Season, either. Fortunately, the personal morals, monsters dilemmas, and new mad science elements expand the drama and performances. Although this year ends well, it’s a pity there is no word on a Third Season for The Frankenstein Chronicles. There’s still time and the series deserves more. In reviewing, I must multi-task, pause, and take notes. The Frankenstein Chronicles, however, is a can’t look away parable that’s easy to marathon and superbly blends period piece aesthetics, mystery, and horror.
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‘Tis the Autumn Season! Kristin Battestella aka Kbatz shares a recent Halloween Thrift Haul aka a “Haulloween” because that’s what I get for filming on October 1 Harvest Moon 2020 at 2 a.m. when the pumpkin brain turns to mush. This show and tell includes Halloween clothing, pajama bargains, and affordable name brand baby costumes that can be re-purposed when the child grows as well as supplemental gothic shoes and accessories.
Fashionable gloves don’t have to be expensive, and fun items like tiaras and veils add to the craft stash mayhem! Second Hand shopping is an affordable necessity for alternative year round finds to be altered or to suit retro, vintage, or sophisticated needs. It takes a little luck and getting to know your local shops, but the second half of this video features bargain corset analysis, weighing the pros and cons of cheap costume quality, taking in larger lingerie styles, problematic zippers versus proper closures, and taking apart $5 corsets for the learning what not to do examination guilt free. The cat gets involved in the shenanigans, too.
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Cast a spell and make some magic any time of year with your very own mystical orbs! Except when you attempt a Pinterest method that results in disaster that is. Read on for both how to paint and how not to glitter your own crystal ball DIY.
The ingredients to make your own affordable, family friendly orbs are surprisingly pedestrian – clear plastic ball ornaments from the dollar store, broken lamp bases for suave pedestals, and two of each to test two different mystical how-tos. One lamp turned orb stand had already been Painted Black and separated into smaller candle holders but now the reunited pieces are dry brushed with yellow ochre for a bronzed look while the second solid lamp base is painted with yellow and brown for an aged vintage. A glittery orange ball to go with the brown was the Pinterest attempt, however, the seemingly simple food dye for orange water, plenty of glitter, and cotton balls combined inside the ball were a complete failure. Although the shine and the color were great, there was either not enough cotton balls or too much water, maybe both because everything just sat there in one ugly clump. Once the soaked gunk was drained out again, I tried painting the outside of the ornament with a mix of yellow paint and coppery glitter, but this too was unsightly and unsuccessful.
Frustrated, I temporarily abandoned this orb in favor of the much more pleasant second attempt. This time blue, white, and purple acrylics were mixed together, varying the colors and brush strokes for a textured, marble effect followed by a glow in the dark paint topcoat. Once dry, the ornament was glued in place on its base – splendidly contrasting the dark bronze pedestal and vindicating my painting method. I went back to the disastrous ball and likewise painted it with a varied yellow and orange. This orange is not opaque like the Dark Shadows Candle Sconces, but a shiny vintage top with the dark brown base. Twine wrapped around the glue seams set everything off, and although it’s tough to photograph them glowing in the dark, they do!
While craft experimenting can be good wholesome fun, it can also lead to time, supply, and cost consumption that isn’t always a day well spent in tough times. Here, my first instinct was correct compared to a dreaded Pinterest fail – one in which discouraged kids, liquids, glitter, and supplies can end up a messy ruin. Fortunately, by reusing found objects and dollar store finds, anyone can paint their own colorful crystal ball orbs.
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Scary Movies and Scary Dreams! By Kristin Battestella
These, sleepers, mind benders, and franchise twists provide plenty of dreams and distorted realities. Unfortunately, some are scary good and others are scary bad.
Insidious: The Last Key – After the thin, uneven, seemingly nowhere left to go Chapter 3, I’m surprised there’s room for this 2018 sequel aka Chapter 4. There’s headache inducing volume issues once again with soft voices versus incredibly loud excuses to make you jump if the scares don’t. Fortunately, penitentiary gates, latches, and skeleton keys disturb the nearby 1950s families. Lights flicker during every execution, and young Elise insists ghosts are in the bunk bend and playing with their toys. Dad, however, gets out the switch for talking nonsense and locks her in the basement bomb shelter where child voices taunt her to open a special red door – leading to evil claw hands with keys for nails, ghostly possessions, and hanging consequences. Grown up Elise Lin Shaye dreams about the past as her Spectral Sightings team moves in with their semi-working technology and a tricked out ghost hunting van. When the latest call for paranormal help is her old address, she’s initially reluctant to return to the house she fled with scars on her back. Though some of the emotion seems rushed or superficial – actual ghosts and ghosts of the past metaphors, we get it– the mix of sardonic, nerdy banter, and friendship ground the trauma, lingering cobwebs, and bibles. Night vision and point of view cameras provide shadows that some see and others don’t while microphones and phantom whistles create one yes, two no communications that are more chilling than unnecessary references to the prior film. False walls and hidden keyholes reveal chains, crawling entities, and creaking demons approaching the paralyzed in fear. Awkward confrontations with brothers left behind and meeting grown nieces create personal touches amid the metaphysical and psychological horrors as the family is lured back to the maze like levels of the house. Tunnels, old suitcases, and skulls address both the personal demons and the underlying sinister as spirits need to be freed from the dark. Metronomes lead to eerie fog, lanterns, underworld jail cells, and risky confrontations in The Further. Detours with real world violence, loud action, guns, and police, however, are time wasting filler when the ghosts still have to be faced. After the fine demon reveal strengthening our family connections, everything degrades into typical whooshes, television rattling roars, and a deus ex machina that’s the same deus ex machina from Chapter 3 complete with winks to the First Insidious for good measure. Although there are problems when the plot strays from the tale it’s supposed to be telling, this was more entertaining than the ultimately unnecessary third movie.
You Make the Call
All Light Will End – Thunder, rustic cabins, and a scared little girl in white saying there’s a monster in her closet open this 2018 scary before folk songs, creaking doors, and hiding under the sheets with a flashlight to keep the growls at bay. However, rather than building on these chills, the story restarts twenty years later with a fat redneck cop chastising a rookie black cop as they answer a call about a severed forearm. We’re told the little girl is the sheriff’s daughter before restarting again with her big city rise and shine complete with taking pills while looking in the bathroom mirror, edgy ballads, and posters for her titular bestselling debut. Multiple driving montages, radio chatter, cliché talk show interviews, and therapy lose more momentum – arbitrarily going through the motions while giving everything away in the first fifteen minutes. Her medication can cause disassociation or a fugue state mixing dreams with reality, and flashes of previous conversations, nightmares, and suicides provide guilt, blame, and inner demons. Alarms, flashing lights, green hues, and eerie tunnels accent the hospital nightmares, and the best scary moments allow the potential frights behind each door to play out with darkness and screams. Unfortunately, these quality night terror vignettes delay our writer’s six-hour drive home to face her fears, and it takes more than half the movie for any forward action to happen. We’re at the wrong point in the story, and viewers who haven’t tuned out will wonder why we’re watching now when all the story seems to have happened then. Bungling cops jar against the severed limbs, creepy gas stations, suspected abuse, and campfire tales, but the grieving family moments and women mulling over telling secrets or keeping them and losing your sanity are better than the try-hard pals with beer. The blurring of dreams versus reality are intercut well when we finally do get to the cabin, mirroring the mental disassociation with similar nighttime lighting, mind-bending jumps, distorted voices, blindfolds, and bloody trails. People are missing, searchers are separated, and woods and whispers blend together. Prior arguments between mother and daughter are revisited with negative portrayals, sacrifices about what it takes to be a writer, and doubts about who wrote what escalating to blackmail and crazed, violent reactions. Although there are some choice twists as well as a reason for the disjointed, non-linear telling, the structural flaws make it tough to enjoy this story. Key points are both obvious thanks to that front-loaded information and muddled with unanswered plot holes and abrupt resolutions. The possibilities devolve into hammy actions, unnecessary running at the screen with open mouth screams, and strolling through the woods in bloody lingerie. With four minutes of end credits, this really is an eighty minute movie that should have traded the first half hour for a half hour to resolve everything properly.
Mara – Sleep paralysis statistics and fears of demonic possession open this 2018 thriller starring Olga Kurylenko (Centurion) amid children’s bedroom terrors and behind closed door screams. Ticking clocks and blue lighting set off the creepy drawings, mental evaluations, and witnesses recounting their sleep demon experience – weighed down on the mattress and unable to breathe. Unfortunately, there are too many of those Horror Movie Cliches I’m Tired of Seeing contrivances interfering with what should be an interesting story. Character sympathies and our strong woman psychologist in a tough policeman’s world jar against the forced scary elements, making the titular ominous as laughable as the overly dramatic slow motion, arias, and ripped teddy bear on the floor. At times this wants to be a standard procedural using jump drives, CCTV, crime scene notes, and tablet technology, but then our gal goes off to a mysterious address without notifying police and listens to sleep-deprived crackpot theories to learn about the sleep demon rather than just, you know, Googling it. The detective is right to remind her she’s out of bounds, for this psychologist is easily bothered by what seems like a routine case. After hearing sufferers admit this sleep demon sounds like crazy talk, we’re not surprised when the trapped sleep and stilted breathing happens to her – there’s never any doubt this is a monster, not delusion or delirium thanks to early reveals and unnecessarily spooky compromising any innate suspense. From a divorcing couple and their child to prayer freaks, disturbed veterans, and our psychologist with a crazy mom past, everyone who sees Mara has other issues yet nobody wonders what’s really causing their sleepless nights. Hypnotic ceiling fans, fiery deaths, and gasping paralysis build scares, but bemusing bloodshot eye markings and demon mythology deflate the terror. Mara doesn’t kill you right away but comes in four assault stages that can’t happen if you only sleep in twenty-minute shifts. Predictable encounters and dream jump shocks tread tires while our agitated sleepless victims are more annoying than believable. With today’s technology, no one sets up a camera for proof? The notion to involve more science and sleep monitoring comes too late, and the doctors blame The X-Files and pop culture for scaring people anyway. Weak paranoia and guilt metaphors provide no payoff to the psychologist’s suicidal schizophrenic mother backstory, but Olga’s look becomes increasingly frazzled – physically changing her appearance rather than addressing her turmoil. Car accidents and fighting to stay awake chases in the finale could have been the entire strung out focus, but time is wasted on the demon doing both in your face screams and taking its sweet, creaking time to inch toward the victim. When we finally get to the desperate cutting off of the eyelids, it’s just gore and a thin idea run out of steam. Although this could have been much better and seems content to be repetitive and Elm Street derivative, it can be a mildly entertaining late-night watch or bemusing drinking game if you aren’t looking for something really scary or expect any real sense of dread.
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Is DIY Decoration and Halloween How-To really worth it compared to the expensive store-bought accessories? Does your project hold up compared to “the real thing”? Can you fix what’s broken in a weekend? Kristin Battestella aka Kbatz makes minor repairs on a DIY Cardboard Coffin alongside therapeutic painting techniques and positive Halloween philosophy.
Day Two of the Halloween DIY repairs continues for Kristin Battestella aka Kbatz with hot glue guns and some Frankenstein sewing to fix an Oversize Pumpkin Ottoman before the finishing touches on the DIY Cardboard Coffin and the reconstruction of the fallen Shakespeare Cardboard Tombstone. Not everybody can go and purchase everything new, new, new all the time – especially with recycled, unique projects like this!
Is masking tape good enough? In today’s buy, buy, buy mentality we often forget a lot of things need regular cost saving tune ups. Minor, expected maintenance on Halloween DIY Projects is realistic, affordable, and just as fun the second time as Kristin Battestella aka Kbatz waxes on morbid reading recommendations and faux stone painting tricks as the repaired Shakespeare Tombstone is finished.
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Deliciously Dark Death Becomes Her gets Better with Age
by Kristin Battestella
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?”
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After picking up some sweet candelabra lamps at the Habitat for Humanity Restore for $15 each – as seen in my Dark Shadows Inspired Studio videos – the search began for retro shades to match. Unfortunately, big barrel shades of yore are few, far between, and expensive. Modern cut shades are too small, but two contemporary barrel shades from Goodwill for $5 almost fit the scale, and with some glam doctoring, these swanky lamps can once again zing!
These pure white shades aren’t old school mood, but painting the canvas would dim bright task use, so trimmings must handle the transformation. Compared to goth black ribbon or heavy brown elements often seen on mid-century shades, here golden swag matches the candelabra’s leafy metalwork and vintage glow – marrying the present shade with the classic warmth. A $2 roll of yellow ribbon with delicate scroll edging softens and elongates the top of the shades when hot glued around the perimeter. Unlike an oversize vintage barrel, these contemporary cuts are slightly short, however a delicious gold fringe at $8 for enough yardage can be glued along the bottom edge for maximum length dangle, oh yes.
Even without pandemic lockdowns, it takes a little luck perusing local thrift haunts to find the right classic lamps or shades to match as well as shopping online or at the craft store for the right trims and accessories to fit one’s sophisticated aesthetic. Fortunately, an illuminating hunt and a few hours’ glue gun cost far less the expensive made to look old lamps. Rather than considering how such a common object can make a statement – I myself kept delaying this glam because it was something decorative and unnecessary compared to other larger projects – we often accept lighting for it’s cheap, plain, and utilitarian musts. However, for $40 these dynamic pieces shine in personality and purpose. How many bland, generic lamps in your home could use a little embellishment? Go wild, child!
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Kristin Battestella aka Kbatz puts together the finishing touches in the Dark Shadows inspired basement including draperies, vintage artwork, and sconces with a focus on the multi purpose desk, workspace, and mobile sewing area. Bonus jewelry making storage, sewing machine tips, and notion organization!
With a creepy lenticular gallery, medieval tapestry switcharoo, glam lampshades, illuminating accessories, and an unimpressed cat, Kristin Battestella aka Kbatz completes the Dark Shadows redecoration journey with a little gothic fortitude and a new appreciation for tackling large room projects during a pandemic.
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