FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Tales from the Crypt Season 3

Tales from the Crypt Season Three Stands Out by Kristin Battestella

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advertisements

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Water Perils!

Water Perils! by Kristin Battestella

If you aren’t afraid of water, you may be after these moist movies and wet frights.

Cowabunga!

The Reef Sunrises and sunsets, stunning blue water panoramas, and lovely reef life create coastal bliss for this 2010 Australian fright loosely based on a true story. Shark teeth foreshadowing, statistics about the likelihood of shark attacks, and an inexperienced crewman aboard invoke the ominous to come alongside natural water fears, racing to beat the tide, trouble raising the anchor, and leaky rafts. Capsizing thuds, flooding, and underwater hectic don’t need any herky jerky action cam as the innate water movement makes the audience feel like we are there amid the missing keel, sinking hull, no supplies, and outdated distress beacon. It’s frightening when viewers can just make out the shark silhouette beneath the surface for themselves, but headless turtle shocks and false suspense moments go for cheap thrills. Instead of keeping us on edge with every chop in the water, over the top music tells the audience when something bad is happening.

Unlikable characters inspire little conflict amid a lot of childhood friends and lookalike blonde cliches – they are completely unprepared for any aquatic disaster and there’s no sense of ocean vast, the slow passage of time on the water, sunstroke, or thirst. These helpless followers holidaying on this deliver the yacht job are also over reliant on their macho, supposedly world water traveling leader who messes up tide times, can’t find north, and thinks they can maybe swim to an island perhaps twelve miles away. Wishy washy, don’t know they are in a horror movie stupidity compounds the uneven pacing as the strong girl, suddenly in tears, stays behind while others risk this uncertain swim before she changes her mind thirty seconds later so they wait in the possibly shark infested seas. The women rightfully call out the guy who orchestrated the trip under false pretenses before apologizing that its not his fault but yes it is. Weak men say they are tired and laugh over sex stories, breaking the swimming scenes to stop and stand on reef rocks rather than shape any kind of epic endurance risk.

Fortunately, seeing the nonchalant great white cruising past the hysterical people as they flounder and panic both justifies the yell at the television aspects and makes the viewer recoil. Mirage visions of land and thought they saw something paranoia frays the group as one by one they must leave the dead behind in the ocean. The fatal attacks are well done, and eventually – disturbingly – those remaining can see land but can’t get to it. Despite loose characterizations and an uneven narrative in need of taut focus – again all the negatives in low budget horror appear due to one writer/director wearing too many hats – overall this is well filmed with several quality sequences featuring fine scenery and practical shark work perfect for a late night scarefest.

You Make the Call, Addicts!

Black RockChildhood friends Kate Bosworth (Blue Crush) and Lake Bell (Boston Legal) revisit a Maine island with co-star/director Katie Aselton (The League) in this 2012 survival tale from writer Mark Duplass (of the 2014 Creep). Hip music, packing inventories, and crass jokes join the scenic drive to the horrors, but one has invited the other two ladies without telling each one, lies about having cancer, and admits she wants an we’re all dying anyway last hurrah.

Fortunately, the speedboat, cold water, and barren coast are already chilling as the women revisit a childhood map with old forts and time capsules. There are no distinguishing characteristics such as jobs or even last names, but it’s easy to see why the two similar brunettes dislike each other – none of them really seem like friends but they go along with their pushy blonde leader anyway.

Despite tough hiking and mosquito complaints one brunette can’t get over the other sleeping with her douche boyfriend six years ago. They shout and nearly come to blows as the blonde between them insists she isn’t taking sides just as she confers with one and not the other. Instead of discussing their problems, the conversation is of men and childhood lesbian crushes amid try hard cursing every other word.

Of course, there are three suspicious dishonorably discharged soldiers turned hunters on this island and the women are obviously their game. Fireside flirtations with drunken blow job talk reveal the once shy brunette as a tease liking attention who thinks a make out session will suffice. Unfortunately, these guys don’t play by the rules or take no for an answer, and assault becomes a typical plot point as each trio falls into bullying peer pressure from its strong arming leader. Our sexually dominate alpha male has a meek black follower and his white pal is perhaps so in love with his commander that he is impotent without the rifle he uses against the women. Rather than exploring catty women snapping in the isolated horror, men hit and bind them while the helpless girls say they fear rape – putting the sexual violence back in the minds of the weak trying to prove they are real men.

Though directed by a woman with an understanding of shit men, this is written by her husband as a male fantasy. These women are called cunt slut bitch and said to be getting their deserved symbolic impalings and kicks in the crotch for denying the superior war-fighting male his pleasure. Graphic gunshots, action filming, and chases in the woods are well done, and up close camerawork draws in the fear or intimidation. However, the mixed message on whether the violent men or the teasing woman is at fault takes away from the tense women’s point of view.

The jealous blonde insists they can’t escape and dislikes her previously at odds pals working together when they don’t need her to fight back – which becomes more male viewer titillation as the lookalikes strip off their wet clothes, panties and all, in the itchy woods with killer men in pursuit! The brash gal with the masculine nickname quivers as her once meek pal slaps her, and the cheek to cheek, heavy breathing, and hair pulling is almost sex scene coy. They walk around in the woods naked, bonding while making spears, yet for all the girl power, this becomes less about defending oneself over an assault and more about two women psyching each other up to slit a guy’s throat. Instead of a horror movie by women, for women, this becomes a bizarre he said, she said. It’s worth a viewing discussion, but it skews toward male tropes disguised as a women’s piece.

Versus

Lake EerieA widow moves to a too good to be true lakeside house in this 2016 ghost and genre bender. The white chic and bright windows should be quaint, but creepy furniture, old pictures, phonographs, and 1969 décor draft an increasingly spooky atmosphere. Old archaeology, retro phones, and voices on the radio add more bizarre while no cell reception, power outages, and doors opening or closing by themselves escalate the tension. Ghostly winds blowing out the candles and phantom figures in the hallway make not knowing where everything is and searching for the matches or kitchen knife heavy – simple but effective fears amid sandy footprints in the house, locked drawers, and undiscovered museum relics.

Concerned dad Lance Henriksen (Pumpkinhead) is only in a few scenes, but quirky neighbor Betsy Baker (The Evil Dead) knows a bit too much about the forty year vacancy, experiments, ancient amulets, and Egyptian mysticism. Attic searches and nightly visions create twists, and the inter-dimensional fantastic isn’t all it seems. Exposition told rather than seen, however, becomes suspect mumbo jumbo – the fantastical technicalities, time limits, and mystic jewelry get a little too preposterous. The dark underworld finale is silly, tossing in a nonsensical maze that unravels all the spooky happenings that were doing just fine. Rocking camera pans, loud music, and ghostly POV strobes are unnecessary annoyances. Poorly delivered voiceovers contribute to the amateur acting, and rather than help hide the weak performances, the directing and editing calls attention to them. This family production certainly isn’t perfect and ends up falling apart as it goes on – it’s obvious from the start but might have enough intrigue and fun bemusement if you can take this ghost cum mystical story twist for what it is.

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Forest Frights!

Forest Frights! by Kristin Battestella

Here’s a round up of wooded perils and forest fears – as if the ticks weren’t bad enough!

Bird Box Foreboding radio reports, risky rapids, blindfolds, and children not allowed to talk belie the lovely rivers and still forests of this 2018 Netflix thriller directed by Susanne Bie  (The Night Manager) starring Sandra Bullock (Practical Magic), Sarah Paulson (American Horror Story), Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight), John Malkovich (Shadow of the Vampire), and B.D. Wong (Awake).

Nothingness point of views from behind the blindfold accent the backpacks, lead lines, titular pets, riverside boats, and rowing toward the dangers unknown. If you look you will die, and mom means business as fog and water perils add to the lack of sight unease. Five years before, our mom-to-be is arguing with her sister and painting art full of disconnected, lonely people.

These women have realistic conversations with layered dialogue and familial quips, but the relatable doubts about motherhood and everyday big decisions degrade into mass crowds, suicide reports, sudden hysteria, and panic as something seen by some but not others results in slow motion car accidents, road rage, and shocking deaths. Unlikely strangers fearing demons or religious judgment and arming themselves are thrust together amid busy signals, screaming cell phone calls, no media, and no military help. Is this some new biological warfare making people see something that kills themselves?

Birds sense the danger and a faint growling, but cameras are to no avail and our family on the river will only remove their blindfolds when huddled under blankets as the story goes back and forth between their journey with static on the radio and our previously housebound survivors concerned with rationing and the pregnant women among them. It’s tough to think about baby names when electricity, supplies, and shotgun shells won’t last. No one was prepared for the apocalypse to happen that day. Do they let others inside their abode or listen to voices on the riverbank saying it is okay to take off the blindfolds? Desperate runs to the nearby supermarket for essentials such as canned goods, toilet paper, diapers, booze, and electronics use GPS only, with windows blacked out, tape over the cameras, and proximity sensors to warn when something comes near.

The slow burn suspense allows time for these disparate strangers to forge late friendships amid fears they are all going to die and debates about living versus surviving in these topsy-turvy circumstances. Some briefly consider staying in the supermarket – leaving others behind while they maintain all they need despite the escalating violence outside. Whiskey talking admits how bleak the situation is while others hope things may get better.

However, five years later our mother is still rowing toward the unknown possibility of safety as the family dangers on the boat increase. Of course, a few people do some foolish things, and there may have been other options than taking the most dangerous course of action. The supposedly helpful birds are useful or forgotten as needed alongside somewhat obvious metaphors about the people being who’s actually box-bound and resorting to new, heightened senses. Understandably, the tension escalates when outside influences are let in – one by one people are lost as suspicious newcomers knock and hopeful possibilities end with appropriately blunt gunfire and shootouts. Training to survive without sight becomes paramount while terror in the home, outdoor separations, and family sacrifices test the temptation to look.

Thanks to the courage and drama here with frights real and fantastic, there’s no need for any spoon fed twist, toppers, scary movie cliches, or bombastic  horror in your face. The multi-layered studies and suspense are well-interwoven, progressing naturally as the isolated settings allow the performances and storytelling to carry the must see intensity.

It Comes at Night Gas masks, bodies in the wheel barrow, and backyard executions open this 2017 thriller as rough and bearded Joel Edgerton (Loving) does what he has to do for his wife and son. It’s excellent to see an interracial family front and center – horror needs to stop being blonde babes all the time – but we know things won’t bode well for the family dog! The lone lantern light and shadows traveling through the expansive but boarded up log cabin add a certain sadness to match the sans electricity, long dark hallways, plastic sheeting, and one red door to enter or exit.

Pictures of good times line the walls – the days before this unexplained plague necessitated rifles, the defending of one’s castle, and shoot first ask questions later mentalities. What do you do when another family of three is in need of food and shelter? Flashlights, outdoor sweeps, and night time blues aide the tense family protection amid gory dream scares, body horror, and tied up intruders. Interrogations provide talk of precious water, sickness in the city, going off the grid, and trading for supplies. Men can understand these desperate measures when seeing to their families, but can they trust each other? A family conference votes to welcome the new trio in their secure homestead, yet the skeptical, suspicious, on guard feelings remain thanks to the desolate roads, car crashes, and gunshots outside.

There are rules to the home, too: they eat together, always travel in pairs, and never go out at night.The families bond over chores and even laugh when reminiscing about desserts or liquor, but barking, noises in the woods, and sleepwalking encounters keep everyone on edge. Testy accusations lead to separations and putting others at risk to save one’s own family. No one here is a bad person, but such extreme situations make good people do terrible things.

This claustrophobic parable remains tense and doesn’t overstay its welcome – but it didn’t need the extra horrors or double dream fake outs as the social examination scares and siege stress are enough. Although the unexplained elements continue the debate after the picture ends, it also seems like important staples go unclarified. Were they sick all along? Is there something supernatural at work or not? Some audiences may find the lack of answers a waste, but the subdued chills and bleak statements remain intriguing.

The Passion of Darkly NoonThe titular Brendan Fraser stumbles injured upon the unwittingly tempting Ashley Judd and her mute but charming boyfriend Viggo Mortensen in a surreal wood for this 1995 psychological thriller. While the DVD has low volume and an odd aspect ratio, there’s a golden glow and crisp country white to match the pretty outdoors and should be quaint cottage. Minimal music parallels the natural cricket sounds and rainstorms – but the idyllic springs and hidden grotto are no match for ostracized Judd’s tight tops, tiny dresses, and sweaty mellow.

“Extremist Ma and Pa picked my name from the Bible,” Fraser stutters over past cult persecutions. We don’t see the trauma he recounts but immediately sense the disturbed attraction and late blooming Oedipal complex as “Lee” remains buttoned up in the heat and standoffish, not hearing the notion to leave strict religious groveling for not necessarily sinful ideals.

There’s much to explore, a fresh start on a new homestead, but he’s too distracted by the nineties Skinamax. The naughty atmosphere rises with obsession turning into mea culpa harm, but Viggo (“He is Vigo! You are like the buzzing of flies to him!”) does well with no dialogue as the tensions mount. Backwoods colloquialisms add to the kooky yet friendly characters, but what’s with the literally flaming, giant, glittering shoe floating down the river? A Circus, elephants, apples, religious stewing – viewers must be in the right mood to digest this slow burn symbolism.

Hear tell of who’s crazy; a witch, or the monster of the woods adds to the secrets and rival testimonies. Is it an evil bewitchment when your husband has a heart attack over a tempting woman appearing in the forest? Fear mongering, curses for one’s sins, justice, punishment – where’s the happy medium beyond the escalating blood, barbed wire, and bizarre visions?

The brooding drama becomes increasingly unreliable as this purgatory cycle repeats, for each fanatical person entering this Eden-like grove ruins it a little more. A savage siege leads to red warpaint, hellish flames, and howling in a fine performance from Fraser, who is perhaps more known for his comedies rather than dramas. While this could have been totally horror or straight steamy, some serious, tender, or scary scenes are dated, laughable, and bemusingly infantile. Fortunately, this character study on passion as both sex and sacrifice is an interesting in limbo morality play with saucy fun and tempting extremes perfect for a late night trippy.

Pyewacket – Playing the daughter, Nicole Munoz (Defiance) invokes the eponymous evil to kill mom, Laurie Holden (The Walking Dead) in this 2017 Canadian parable featuring creaking forests, goth rebels, and can’t take it back terrors. Our widowed mother is doing her best to keep it together and wants a fresh start, but moving is the worst thing for a teen with awkward crushes and an inseparable BFF.

Relatable conversations on support versus instability, transferring schools, driving, and bad influences endear both ladies to the audience – even her friends insist parents are just as screwed up as teenagers. Music is in the background rather than overwhelming viewers, a realistic rather than Hollywood choice. As the camera follows this goth gang through the school hallways. We’re the fifth member of the group and caught in the middle from the backseat as the vengeful spell casting looms.

Pizza, a relatively small cabin, mom needing a weekend job, and say hey, a Latina lead, yes please – it’s as if writer and director Adam MacDonald (Backcountry) had a list of horror cliches and insists on how not to incorporate them. Although it’s not expressly said to be Halloween, fallen leaves, pumpkins, cawing crows, sage, chants, binding rituals, and blood bowls and owl motifs accent the occult primer. Despite the careful preparation and craft materials, there’s an underlying sense of a not listening teen doing something she shouldn’t – especially when mom apologizes and the gals bond over memories of the deceased. Her friends think this is all just acting out for attention, but soon enough indeed our daughter regrets the ritual. Unfortunately, a locked door can’t keep out Pyewacket. Ominous knocks and creepy attic access escalate to vehicular frights, and innocuous shots – shadows about the house, rustling in the woods – become suspect while we wait for the subtly disturbing entity.

Overhead slow spins and gradual zooms build unease as friends disappear before the camera shakes with unreliable delirium thanks to unfinished rituals, unexplained appearances, and darkness. Is this evil trickery mounting or is a scared teen roaming in the disorienting woods? Are forgiveness and reverse spells enough to put everything right when this festering horror was summoned in spite of, “be careful what you wish for,” warnings? Visions of the dead, distorted vocal inflections, rattling doorknobs, and pleas to be let in provide terror as this freaky manifestation is revealed. Some may not like the quick finale, but knives, gasoline, fiery mistakes, and a bitter comeuppance create a creepy atmosphere that does what it is says on the tin. Those skinny pants, however, are not going to look good in a few years.

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Thriller Season 2

Though Flawed, Thriller’s Second Season Remains Frightful

By Kristin Battestella
In 1961, Boris Karloff returned as host for Year Two of the spooky and suspenseful anthology series Thriller. With 30 episodes a season, the mixed focus on scares and scandal runs thin at times. However, several thrilling and frightful gems –with a few from Big K himself – keep this season entertaining.
Disc One of Thriller’s Second Year opens with an ill wife, an easy to suspect a husband, and pretty younger sister in “What Beckoning Ghost?” Directed by Ida Lupino (The Hitch-Hiker), the suspense, coffins, premonitions, wills, and funerary wreaths escalate the gaslighting versus supernatural possibilities. Smart shadow placement and quality editing on the toppers combine for a nice mix of both scary and crime – a positive blend in the identity crisis that will continually hamper Thriller. Also directed by Lupino and adapted by Charles Beaumont (The Twilight Zone), “Guillotine” sets the French flavor with slicing practice, dark prisons, and jingling shackles. The delicious intro from Karloff, crimes of passion, simmering pace, and seduction anchor the sinister poisons versus ticking clock executions. Although the plot boils down to a straightforward crime, the unique period piece tone and final twists make up the difference, and “The Premature Burial” ups Thriller in full on, macabre Poe fashion. Boris himself is involved with this dreary Victorian tale, its elaborate tombs, questionable deaths, and catalepsy – and this episode aired before the release of the 1962 Roger Corman film adaptation. The larger than usual cast, great costumes, and fancy sets add to the deceit, unfaithfulness, and obsession while the black and white accents the morbid fail safes, bells, turnabouts, and demented performances. More statues and fortune tellers highlight “The Weird Tailor,” written by Robert Bloch (Psycho) and also later adapted in the 1972 Amicus anthology film Asylum. The deadly sorcery mistakes here can’t be amended, but the special eponymous request leads to marital dysfunction, one unusual sewing dummy, and fine social drama amid the occult intensity.
Elizabeth Montgomery (Bewitched), Tom Poston (Newhart), and John Carradine (Bluebeard) start off Disc Two with the lighthearted, perfect for Halloween farce “Masquerade.” From a writer on a honeymoon and a stormy night breakdown to ominous music, the Psycho house setting the scene, and rumors of vampires afoot – even Karloff’s introduction is unabashedly in on the spooky winks, tongue in cheek tone, and self aware repartee. Maybe the vampire cliches are too hammy for some viewers expecting true scares, but fortunately, the haunted house kooky and maze like bizarre contribute to a delightful kicker! “The Last of the Sommervilles” – again directed and also written by that oft Thriller gal Ida Lupino – has hastily buried bodies as garden fertilizer as well as Karloff once again making a slick appearance alongside Martita Hunt (Anastasia). This greedy family has plenty of crazy aunts and hidden relations with inheritance double crosses and Victorian irony. The actual murder how tos are a little loose, but sinister bathtub suggestions and fine interplay raise the suspense. Intense silhouettes, a bemusing score, card game puns, and old ladies with binoculars make the crimes in “A Third for Pinochle” all seem so quaint in this quid pro quo social etiquette meets hatchets tale. The belittling frumpy wives and unassuming killer neighbors ala The ‘Burbs is perhaps too similar to Season One’s “A Good Imagination” also starring Edward Andrews (Sixteen Candles), however, there’s enough whimsy to accent the hi-jinks while thunderstorms, slamming windows, a spooky castle, dungeon cobwebs, and great costumes up the scares in “The Closed Cabinet.” The medieval riddles sound like nonsensical hyperbole, but the 1880 flair, disbelieving lineage, and a superb black and white mood add to the ghostly beckoning, gothic dressings, and ye olde medieval harmonies.
For Disc Three of this Second Season, Thriller finally caught on with the need for more in on the game Karloff and serves up two tales both featuring Boris in different roles for “Dialogues with Death.” Morgue slabs, afterlife questions, skeptical reporters mocking the idea of asking the departed who killed them – and that’s the first half before more American Gothic swamps, flooded mausoleums, and catalepsy. Thriller can seems redundant or as if its running out of content with too many family scares in a row, especially so if every episode had been this kind of multi-plot variety, but writer Richard Matheson (The Twilight Zone) picks up the slack with a crazy uncle and his unusual internment requests in “The Return of Andrew Bentley.” The shrill sounds effects are terrible, indeed, however, familiars, necromancy, and occult warnings on tampering with the perimeters of death add to the moody marital discord. Wow, Jo Van Fleet (Wild River) looks so beautiful and evil alongside pup Bruce Dern (The ‘Burbs) and the again suspicious John Carradine in “The Remarkable Mrs. Hawk.” The quaint farm, cute piglets, weird whimsy, and county fair gentility belies the ruthless thieves and deadly rural. This toes the too goofy line, but there are some fun chess battles had here. More creepy voices, shadows, nightmares, and a noose start “An Attractive Family” before Leo G. Carroll (Spellbound) and Robert Long (The Big Valley) duel over crafty but thwarted spousal accidents that keep the audience guessing to the end.
“Waxworks” leads Disc Four with uncomfortably realistic designs and what you think you see tricks setting the mood for another Robert Bloch tale. The cops are trite, however French flavor adds to the Old World atmosphere, double take scares, unexpected violence, and noir style – making for another pleasing combination of the crime and paranormal parents on Thriller. Ursula Andress (Dr. No) looks divine for “La Strega,” making the viewer care for the peasantry even if the Italian setting is slightly stereotypical and somewhat Spanish thanks to Ramon Novarro (Mata Hari) and Alejandro Rey (The Flying Nun). Once again director Ida Lupino builds an Old Country and foreign horror feeling with witches, familiars, and a dangerous mix of beauty, curses, and superstitions. Operatic orchestration accents the romantic tragedy and inevitable pursuits that can’t be outrun while creepy crones ascend toward the camera with their dread uninterrupted. More screams, black cats, and solitary perils elevate the standard premise, understandable fears, and expected suspicions in “The Storm.” Pesky cabbies and unheeded warnings escalate toward frightful power outages, deadly downpours, animal knee jerks, natural scares, and a fine topper. “A Wig for Miss Devore” begins with past executions and fatal beauties before film within a film aging starlets and movie magic deceptions featuring John Fiedler (The Bob Newhart Show). It’s interesting to have seemingly contemporary talk of parts for 25 year old fresh red heads only and a 38 year old has been who was finished at 32 – a swift social commentary on desperate charms and Hollywood extremes. Thriller is on point when the crimes are supernatural, period set, or elevated with more cultural dimension as in “The Hollow Watcher.” Backwoods murder and Irish mail order brides lead nosy but fearful townsfolk, local legends, and phantom vengeance with scandalous touches and schemes compensating for anything that may appear comical now. Besides, scarecrows are already disturbing enough, right? The series peaks here with what may be the single best disc in the complete Thriller collection.
Karloff’s final in character appearance in “The Incredible Doktor Markesan” leads Disc Five with excellent slow, stilted moves and a sunken, deathly veneer. Suspicious medical university secrets, a kitchen with food so old its turned to dust, and inquisitive nephew Dick York (Bewitched) accent the no trespassing signs, old newspapers, and eerie meetings. Terrifically terrifying makeup and music ala The Gentleman from Buffy highlight this mix of murder and science, going for the scares as Thriller should have done all along. “Flowers of Evil” brings yet more ghoulishness with skeletal props and Victorian flavor. How does one come into the business of procuring bad luck bones to sell, anyway? coughmurdercough. Though overlong in some spots, budding forensics, cadavers, and dissection keep the gruesome mood afloat. Robert Bloch pens the western set “Til Death Do Us Part” with a fortune hunting undertaker in a town where the dead body business isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. The comedic music is overdone, but the unique setting, murderous intentions, and eloping in a horse drawn Hearst are much more fun when played for the macabre bigamy gone bad. “The Bride Who Died Twice” has torture, creepy Mexican generals, and unwilling marital alliances with a wonderfully different setting, epic music, and lovely costumes accenting the star crossed lovers and corruption from director Ida Lupino. Despite the horrors of revolution, fine cinematic flair, and all around period delightful, ironically this strictly dramatic hour doesn’t seem like it belongs on Thriller. Fortunately, Mary Tyler Moore sings Cole Porter in “Man of Mystery,” setting a swanky, urbane feeling for this whodunit full of playboys, money, secrets, and escalating obsessions, and Ida Lupino bows out her Thriller directing on Disc Six with sulfuric acid, animal trophies, timid librarians, iron fisted new bosses, and play within a play winks for the dual femmes in “The Lethal Ladies.”
Since it took so long for Thriller to get its full on horror, it’s tempting to give several pedestrian episodes a free pass. As the spelling suggests, “God Grante that She Lye Stille” serves up ye olde burning at the stake declarations before more familiar moonlight curses almost pull off all the horror stops. Unfortunately, the odd, interchangeable combination of witches and vampires doesn’t quite fire on all cylinders. The room to room opening and closing doors in “Letter to a Lover” feel like an old Scooby Doo montage, complete with repetitive, nondescript country manor suspicions, subservient minorities, subterfuge, and murder. Someone even nearly says, “And I would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for you kids!” “Portrait without a Face” has a neat premise, but John Newland (One Step Beyond) starts with a hammy Vincent Price imitation before one annoying, cackling old lady and a slow double talk investigation that can’t fill up the 50 minute runtime. “Cousin Tundifer” repeats the Edward Andrews humor and comical music, missing the teleportation and topsy turvy time irony and opportunity on laughter and yet another nephew trying to get rich while “Kill My Love” also rinse repeats murder, adultery, and gas leaks. Young George Kennedy (Dallas) can’t save the obvious and disposable Burke and Hare plots of “The Innocent Bystanders,” and as to the crooks and cops of “The Specialists”…yawn. For such a short run, Thriller over relies on too many of the same witches, suspicious couples, amoral families, murderers, and profiteers, and in retrospect, the series seems reluctant to fully embrace its built in horror mantle. I suppose mystery and adultery of the week were simply cheaper to film than weekly macabre. That doesn’t mean that the suspense and crime episodes aren’t entertaining – Thriller provides a little something for everyone across the spectrum from witty to scary and everything in between. Through today’s lense, however, Thriller appears to play it safe more often than it should.
Thankfully, mid century furs, pearls, old technology, fedoras, cool cars, and classy interiors add charm alongside somewhat simplistic but atmospheric and fitting ghost effects – which were probably pretty elaborate for a time when $3, a cup of coffee, or 20 cents a mile paid the cab driver and real operators connected the phone line. Thunder, lightning, fire, mirrors, and black and white ambiance accent the 17th century through Victorian times. Again, it probably wasn’t cost prohibitive to always be period set, but more mood and effort seems to grace the historical pieces, and those well dressed interiors and gothic feelings carry Thriller regardless of the time period onscreen. The series may not be as immediately recognizable as The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits, however, Thriller does have a universally spooky atmosphere. Part of that may be Karloff’s lure, but he’s still having a good time doing the introductions, even occasionally getting into it with more spunk on the weaker episodes – popping in amid the sets more like Serling this season and quoting Shakespeare in the cemetery! Although the soft voices and sometimes bombastic sounds on this Complete Thriller series set are still obnoxious, more fine Jerry Goldsmith scores add ambiance and can be isolated on select episodes alongside commentaries and other treats.
This second season lags across the middle discs, and a shorter season with more Karloff would have been so sweet, but I’m happy Thriller righted itself this year with a more scary focus. I’d love to see the earlier Karloff series The Veil for comparison, but unfortunately, those sets appear incomplete, elusive, and unavailable on Netflix. Today, a show like Thriller would have been continuously tweaked into its short ruin with all half horror horrors reaching for stunt casting guests and anything and everything shocking in a desperate grab for ratings. Overall, Thriller’s attempt at a suspenseful and scary middle ground is uneven and divisive, leaving audiences to skip around the scary or pick and choose the scandal. However, I’m glad the series didn’t cater to the lowest audience with cheap horror, and thus, Thriller remains sophisticated fun be it murder or macabre.

Kbatz is Going to NJ Horror Con!

 

Yes it’s true! Your Friendly Neighborhood Kbatz is going to the New Jersey Horror Con and Film Festival March 29-31. 

 

All local macabre folk are invited to join us and book your tickets at Newjerseyhorrorcon.com!

However, if you are one of our far away Horror Addicts, you can still take part in all the con shenanigans in several ways:

Chat long form about the NJ Horror Con with us on our HorrorAddicts.net Online Writers Conference Thread or follow along in our Horror Addicts Facebook Group. Remember to bookmark NJ Horror Con on Facebook too for instant photos and celeb announcements!

During Con weekend, look for raw videos on my Kbatz youtube and check in on our HorrorAddicts.net blog for photos and post write ups. We can talk about all our NJ Horror Con treats come Podcast Season, too!

See you soon!

FRIGHTENING FLIX: Dark Shadows Video Review

 

Kristin Battestella aka Kbatz is very excited to at last ramble about the highs and lows and ways to watch the gothic sixties soap opera Dark Shadows! In this introduction to the series, learn about the storylines, technicalities, and monster mayhem!

 

 

Get involved in the kitschy conversation on our Facebook Group!

 

To read even more of Kristin’s Dark Shadows Reviews, visit I Think, Therefore I Review.

 

Thank you for being part of Horror Addicts.net and enjoying our video, podcast, and media coverage! Next month look for our coverage from the NJ Horror Con and Film Festival March 29-31. Can’t wait!

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: The Haunted Palace

The Haunted Palace is a Creepy Little Treat.

By Kristin Battestella

In all my Vincent Price, Roger Corman, AIP, and Poe celebrations, it’s been quite tough to find The Haunted Palace again.  Though this 1963 tale borrows much more from Lovecraft than it does Poe, all the creepy, freaky moods and twists are here in fine form.

In the 18th century, Arkham townsfolk burn the warlock Joseph Curwen (Price) for using the Necronomicon and local women in sadistic experiments- but Curwen vows to return and curses the village descendants. 100 years later, Charles Dexter Ward (also Price) and his wife Anne (Debra Paget) inherit Curwen’s mansion and return to the New England ruin. Dr. Willet (Frank Maxwell) informs the couple of the town’s twisted history, but the rest of the villagers fear Ward as local strange occurrences and bizarre deaths increase.  They use their deformed children to frighten Anne, and she begins to suspect the spirit of Curwen is indeed trying to take over her husband.  Unfortunately, their caretaker Simon (Lon Chaney, Jr.) knows more than he’s saying…

Writer Charles Beaumont (The Twilight Zone, Premature Burial, The Masque of the Red Death) teams with director Roger Corman (House of Usher, The Pit and the Pendulum) for this Lovecraftian adaptation that got unfortunately shoehorned into American International Picture’s Edgar Allan Poe cycle. Yes, it’s based on H.P. Lovecraft’s The Case of Charles Dexter Ward more than any reaching at Poe titles or poetry- which might automatically put off the Poe faithful or the Lovecraft purists alike. However, the spooky moods and sinister atmosphere are here from the onset, with great traditional jumpy moments and heck, it’s actually scary in some scenes.  Even if you expect the smoke and mirror twists, it’s still dang suspenseful as the sinister past increasingly takes hold.  Indeed, the Necronomicon back story and Cthulhu allusions could be better explained, and the revenge plotlines are similar to later films like The Abominable Dr. Phibes.  There’s reused fire filmmaking for the finale and the end is somewhat abrupt, too, but overall, this is an entertaining and scary little picture.

Naturally, the resemblance between Curwen and Ward is uncanny! Our Man Vincent differentiates the two men nicely to start, allowing a slow possession to brew. The naughty implications, man handlings, and great outbursts build perfectly as the Victorian gentleman Ward becomes increasing overtaken with the ruthless warlock Curwen.  The tender scenes and inner torment as Ward realizes the takeover is happening are well done, too.  Again, I don’t see any over the top acting. Price’s subtle inner conflict and physical alterations are quite the opposite in fact. The pacing on the possession is good, but I do wish the film were a bit longer, as Debra Paget (The Ten Commandments with Price) as Ward’s wife Anne does become a bit typical. She’s active, suspects, and doesn’t scream too much, but it just seems like they ran out of time in developing her suspicions on Curwen overtaking her husband. Of course, Paget looks wonderful- and looks good scared, that’s not always an easy thing to master.  The Wards also sleep in the same bed, whoa! Anne ends up the good little woman, but their tender relationship and its explosive breakdown are well done, and it adds an extra personal dimension to the twistedness at hand.

Instead of the usual stock company throwaways, the supporting village men in The Haunted Palace lift up the horror here. Lon Chaney, Jr. (The Wolf Man) is perfection as the creepy and most definitely not so innocent caretaker Simon.  Of course, he knows more about Curwen than he lets on to the Wards, and his scary introduction is great. Frank Maxwell (Our Man Higgins) does fine work as the would be voice of reason among the otherwise superstitious townsfolk, but again, I wish there were more of his Dr. Willet and town scaredy cat Elisha Cook Jr. (The Maltese Falcon, House on Haunted Hill). Leo Gordon (McLintock!) is also a lot of fun, as are the weird, deformed, and disturbed village descendants. Oh, girls with no eyes or freaky eyeless men and worse shouldn’t be so scary, but when used in full force here, it’s downright frightening.

Although the Cthulhu- like tentacles and dungeon scenery leave something to be desired, the other period styles and designs establish The Haunted Palace wonderfully. The spider web motifs over the credits will be dang freaky for arachnophobes, and the opening colonial mayhem looks on form. The fog and lightning create all the atmosphere needed, and eerie music tops off the titular mansion’s décor, red candles, and sweet candelabras.  Those dungeons, however, are a little too dark to see- even when its daylight. Of course, the video is due some restoration, and the matte paintings supposedly providing scope are fairly poor, but that is to be expected.  Thankfully, the Victorian standards, ornate frocks, and wispy nightgowns more than make up the difference.

Unfortunately, The Haunted Palace is dang tough to find. Netflix is mum and its double bill DVD release with Tower of London is downright elusive. For Price Fans, Corman completists, and old school horror fans, however, The Haunted Palace is well worth the hunt.  Catch it whenever you can or delight again on a spooky late night whenever you need that hint of Lovecraft. Or Poe for that matter, hehe.