FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: The Addams Family Season 2

The Addams Family Season Two is More Spooky Good Fun

by Kristin Battestella

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: The Addams Family Season 1

The Addams Family Debuts with Quips and Quirky Good Fun

by Kristin Battestella

Neat.

Sweet.

Petite.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Friday the 13th The Series Season 2

More Freaky Good in Friday the 13th The Series Season Two

by Kristin Battestella

 

The 1988-89 Second Season of Friday the 13th The Series boasts twenty-six more episodes featuring antiquing cousins Micki Foster (Robey) and Ryan Dallion (John D. LeMay) alongside occult expert Jack Marshak (Chris Wiggins) as they face increasingly scary retributions in their ongoing quest to retrieve the evil objects sold from the Curious Goods store by the late Lewis Vendredi (R.G. Armstrong).

The snakes, violent patients, and rowdy mental wards escalate in “And Now the News” as one greedy doctor uses an innocuous looking old time radio to scare patients to death and pin the rising fatalities on those in the way of her medical glory. Retro hospital greens and white uniforms add to the paranoia, analysis in fear, and suspicious research for a warped dose of self-fulfilling prophecy. Sure there’s electroshock therapy, but our collectors have become a little more professional, making an appointment, handing out business cards, and explaining how they buy back antiques for their shop – if not why. Grave diggers and thunderstorms accent the robes, chanting, torches, and rituals of “Tails I Live, Heads You Die” while one handy gold piece raises decomposing bodies from the dead. Black masses and alchemy history hit home the occult danger and gruesome horror movie atmosphere for our bold team as backward prayers and coin tosses determine one’s fate. Granted, the concert with a ghoulish monster below in “Symphony in B#” immediately screams Phantom of the Opera knockoff. However, the masked, mostly hidden and morose villain matches the well-edited suspense, and the cursed violin music creates a melancholy theater mood as doubts about a lovely violinist luring Ryan put him and Micki on opposite sides of the case. More behind the scenes strife, jealousy, and temperamental stars make for a fun picture within a picture in “Master of Disguise.” Curious Goods rents their non-cursed décor on set, and the dolly zooms, soft focus, and back glows play with the movie making charm while a handsome actor with a sinister make up kit is desperate for fresh blood. Gossip rags, lookalike costumes, toasters in the bathtub – the Chaney ‘Man of a Thousand Faces’ and William ‘Karloff’ Pratt references wink at the steamy smoke and mirrors and life imitating art. Only on Friday the 13th could one drop studio lights on an extra’s head and bludgeon an actress with her own award.

 

Wax Magic” pulls out all the Freaks meets House of Wax eighties carnival stops with Gravitron and music montages updating the familiar horror themes for this boys night out including eerie effigies, Lizzie Borden weapons, and murderous handkerchiefs. The sculptures hide warped love, magic tricks, and some good old fashioned murder, but it’s nothing a little fire and icky good melting special effects can’t fix. Ventriloquist dummies in horror are always suspect, and this one takes on a sassy little life of his own for “Read My Lips” by getting too fresh with his handler’s fiancee and driving him to murder and madness just to keep their act in the spotlight. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you! Is it the dummy itself – there’s no such doll in the Curious Goods manifest – or killer clothing used to reanimate something monstrous? Naturally there is some bemusing dummy violence with heads in the freezer and puns to match – “Death is easy, it’s comedy that’s hard” – but while some delight in their cursed objects, most are destroyed by them indeed. Elaborate bee boxes, swarming visuals, and buzzing audio lead to rural honey stands, proprietary blends, and killer insects in “The Sweetest Sting.” Although this perhaps isn’t an unusual plot – and the real thing is frightful enough to many – the youth elixirs come with elaborate elevator deaths and fatal farm equipment mishaps. The abusive home of two destitute children, unfortunately, is just as bad as the deceptive allure of the titular Victorian charmer in “The Playhouse.” Ominous facades and warped fun house visuals answer the desperate necessities of the tender young players, making this curse a not so cut and dry reluctance with true to life horrors, abductions, and inept investigations. Will the police believe the evil truth? How’s that big, indestructible playhouse going to fit in the Curious Goods vault anyway?

Confederate letters, battlefield hospitals, and a greasy doctor who’s really a contemporary collector stealing Civil War artifacts anchor “Eye of Death” as an evil lantern’s three hour visits to the past creates some greedy antiquing competition. Rather than black and white, this episode has a gritty wartime and old photograph patina to match the captured moment in time and the power trip it provides. Instead of being an episode any series can do, Friday the 13th shows its unique investigations and eerie artifacts with the well done history and horrors here. Likewise, “Face of Evil” returns to the killer compact of last season’s “Vanity’s Mirror,” although enough is happening with models fearing wrinkles and has been status without the flashbacks to the previous episode. The team races to stop the photo shoot disasters and on set accidents while addressing our ageism obsessions, for a few lines and second best won’t do. Of course, there’s nothing a wicked syringe can’t solve in “Better Off Dead.” Classical music irony accents the science abominations, brain fluids, and creepy transfusions for the AIDS era while a wild tumble down the staircase, shocking car accident, and freaky experiments threaten Micki and company with twisted serial killer medicine and Jack the Ripper tools. Along with winking clips from The Wolf Man, “Scarlet Cinema” provides more film within a film scares, school lectures, youth escapism, and old fashioned projector glows. The mockery of nerdy students and onscreen lycanthropy debate early film superiority and underrated horror film milestones while addressing the blatant rip offs and copycatting homages even as the episode does the same thing. Although the emo student can be annoying, and maybe Friday the 13th does rely too much on the archival footage, the vintage cameras, gray-scale touches, and retro framing techniques reveal the killer wolfy in a bemusing be careful for what you wish for turnabout. Plus that silver nitrate film comes in handy!

Swanky jazz, hot dames, risque kills, and then steamy near nudity spice up “Mesmer’s Bauble” alongside the late singer Vanity, a music montage or two, and wow look at that record store! A lucky charm making an obsessive fan’s dreams comes true isn’t all that different from today’s star worship in new mediums coughtumblrcough, but being a talented artist and selling a lot of records are not necessarily the same thing – except to the number one fan who’s not like all those other crazies. Screaming crowds knock each other over to be one step nearer, and our trinket inches toward Single White Female in her skin insanity. Buenos Aires crimes, passions, and a rare snow globe also spell trouble for “Wedding In Black.” The devil is pissed that Curious Goods is collecting his tricks, and a disembodied voice, hellish scenery, and inside or outside the snow globe twists escalate the vengeance. Although this episode has an unusual format, it might have been neat to see this evil rival trio out to undo our team more often, and it’s superb to see a cast-centric hour dealing with the consequences of their collecting complete with rapacious revenge and what you don’t see worse. The eighties modern interpretative dance and off the shoulder Fame get ups in “The Maestro” won’t be for everyone. However, the ballet scenes are lovely – if fatal as this eponymous choreographer drives his talented but imperfect subjects to risk life and limb with music from an old symphonia. Is sacrificing for great art and success worth it? This music box embellishes a ruthlessness already present, and it’s deadly demands cross the line between brilliant artistry and abusive fanaticism. Satanic effigies and parallel white magic up the ante in the “Coven of Darkness” season finale, pitting shaman energy and protection spells against Uncle Lewis’ former coven and a witch’s ladder omen. A little cut from a witch’s ring or some blood on a ritual handkerchief and our trio is arguing on who’s bewitched, whether they are safe in the store with their evil relics, or if one of them has possible magic powers. Did they expect no retribution for their good works against evil? Possessions, counter spells, candles, and great horror imagery strengthen the character focus, and I wish Friday the 13th had spent more time with its players rather than the curses of the week. Warring covens fighting to get their cursed curios back and developing psychic strengths for the battle could have been ongoing storylines. But hee, calling the object of your incantation on the telephone right in the middle of the chanting, oh how eighties!

Yet this Sophomore Season is tough to get rolling with a rocky “Doorway to Hell” premiere referring to the First Season’s finale, which was itself a bottle episode clip show with a weak frame. Ghostly reflections, broken mirrors, cobwebs, and dark realms fall prey to stereotypical gas station crimes and nonsensical goons. Likewise, the Caribbean clichés, unacceptable racial misunderstandings, exotical fetishism, and snobby white boys playing at real magic in “The Voodoo Mambo” gets lol wut with a montage explaining voodoo like its something rare and mysterious. The what would you do with an extra hour premise of “13 O’Clock” is very cool with a fine technical execution mixing color, black and white, stills, and film movement for its freeze frame pauses in time. Unfortunately, the seedy music, back alley bludgeons, and standard daddy’s princess gold digger with a side piece planning murder compromise the freaky pocket watch with eighties obnoxiousness. I mean, gangs having dance offs on the subway platform? Such filler makes Friday the 13th feel like it should have been a half hour show with only the good horrors necessary. Traditional in store antique sales and Uncle Lewis connections are lost among the laughably bad acting, chicken races, hot rods, and cursed car keys in “Night Hunger,” and the killer zapping qualities of a 1919 World Series ring in “The Mephisto Ring” are just goofy. A bum villain and anonymous heavies beating up old ladies over bad betting tips can’t carry the double duty sports and crimes, and too much is happening between the odd A/B plots in “A Friend to the End.” Is this about the bittersweet sepia and undead child tales or the edgy pain as art with a sculptor turning models to stone? These aren’t the worst stories – though the middle school bike tricks are silly and the evil lesbian subtext typical – but the curses here are stylistically too different and each deserved its own hour. There’s merit in the bickering surgeons and alternative Native American medicines with “The Shaman’s Apprentice” and an Indian grandson caught between his calling as a native healer and his job as a white man’s doctor. However, the outsider belittled for his ideas is a repetitive story with redskin insults, warpath jokes, and dated racism on top of another misfire object and ethnic spins made evil.

The crimped hair, victory rolls, and retro fads also don’t do Louise Robey justice, and former gymnast Micki puts on some giant glasses to go undercover as a journalist when not skimming the fashion magazines for new looks. She repairs and redecorates the store, doing the research and leaving the boys to the big action, but Micki says Curious Goods has no charm. She still hopes to get on with her life, be happy, and not battle evil forever. Her visiting BFFs often pay a terrible price, and each loss is tougher on Micki than the next. Her nephew is also ditched at the store by her divorcing sister, and the family interference in the curio collecting could have been dealt with more. Micki’s jealous and sometimes suspicious of Ryan’s dalliances, but her saucy times are filmed in much more romantic detail. Unfortunately, she is attacked by a creepy mental patient, leaving Micki throwing up and quite shaken before more terrible close calls late in the season. I don’t like that Friday the 13th went there – the fantastics are enough without real world violence. However, these experiences give Micki more doubts about if what they do and the risks they take are worth it, and she even argues the morality of letting an evil doctor die so her friend can live in a slightly uncharacteristic but consequential request. The eighties white shirts with big belts and skin tight pants early in the year also switch to loose fitting darker fashions, big overcoats, and objects in front that seem like television hiding pregnancy tricks. It’s a noticeable one-hundred and eighty degree change, yet it’s nice to see Micki become more than just being there to look sexy with psychic opportunities and white magic potential in the season finale.

Everyone always presumes John D. Le May’s Ryan Dallion is Micki’s boyfriend, and although he apparently carries her picture in his wallet, he’s always ready to party or romance the lady of an episode. He’s bored at the symphony and afraid he’ll fall asleep – until he spots a babe at second violin, that is. Ryan gets over one girl and moves onto the next one in a few episodes as required but can move even quicker, sometimes putting on the ritz in the same show! Thankfully, he does get into vinyl, putting on some records for his music education, and he dresses up eighties fancy, too – with a then rad ear piercing. Though prominent in the weak cool cars hour, it does feel like Ryan is here much this season. However, he doesn’t suddenly become a Civil War expert when he’s caught in the past. Some future knowledge would have helped him for sure, yet he can’t remember anything but the burning of Atlanta. He’s strangely reluctant to believe in werewolves even after all they’ve seen, but he can still be reckless – like climbing the fence of a high security institution and getting electrocuted. He says he remains so loose and celebratory after facing such evils because they got through it, but Ryan is seriously effected when loved ones are presumed dead. He blames Jack and increasingly contests what they do and why. The characters here don’t stand pat, as Friday the 13th plays with their fates early and often. Ryan says Curious Goods puts him through enough pain and he’s had enough of these cursed antiques and the deaths they cause.

 

The late Chris Wiggins’ Jack Marshak saves the day to start Year Two but is referred to with a postcard by the third episode, and his absence is apparent in several weaker shows mid season. Jack’s reputation as an occult expert precedes him, but the heavy mantle of their righteous collecting often puts him and his friends in mortal danger. Despite the risks, he puts on a brave face, often rescuing our cousins – who are somewhat aimless without him – or sends them to cover while he handles the beastlies alone. Jack dictates the course of action and delineates the team, however, he can be wrong about the object they seek and what it does. Fortunately, his old magician ties and show biz connections are more fun, and the trio has a lighthearted, teasing banter – sick in bed Jack is stuck with the paperwork but he rings a bell so Micki will wait on him but his awkward stuffiness drags down his boys night out on the town with Ryan. It would have been neat to see more of their in store dynamics, and why does Jack get the crappy cold room downstairs next to the vault? Occasionally his absence isn’t even addressed, but brief mentions of him off collecting Nazi materials remains interesting. I would have loved to see these occult aspects or secret societies and paranormal investigation plans as Friday the 13th allegedly intended to include, and “The Butcher” provides such German quotes, period accents, Norse mysticism, frozen Nazi escapes, and resurrection amulets. Torturous dreams delve into Jack’s World War II past as he’s reluctant to investigate the strangulation revenge, Neo Nazi thoughts, and extremist talk show hosts turned politicians unfortunately eerily relevant today. It’s a frightful mix of real world horrors and fantastics explaining why Jack does what he does at Curious Goods and there should have been more episodes like this.

Unfortunately, Steve Monarque’s (Under the Boardwalk) appearances as Johnny Ventura in two episodes this season don’t bode well for his regular status to come in Season Three. It’s odd to place “Wedding Bell Blues” back to back with a similar title, as the episodes are drastically different and the empowered pool cue, smoky billiard halls, and big haired bridezilla spend too much time away from team. The cliché hustling and filler, almost a spin off tone are apparent and so is Johnny’s street wise attitude. He says he’s not some dumb kid and wants to immediately know all the curse details – but he looks eighties old and figures out the secrets by breaking doors down, asking questions later, and missing the body in the freezer. The brief mention of Ryan and Jack on the hunt for evil snow shoes sounds more interesting than this laughably bad debut, for the best thing about this episode was my husband and I debating whether a mere pool cue stab through the torso could actually be so quickly fatal or if a good jam through the eye into the brain would have been better. Of all the ways for Friday the 13th to bring on a new character, the basic cool guy is the lamest way to go, and the robberies, shootouts, and penitentiaries gets worse in “The Prisoner.” Inmates trading a bloody invisibility bomber jacket, oh my! Johnny’s nondescript in the joint solving a phantom murder over double crossed loot, everybody talks like James Cagney, and I don’t care about a ridiculous crime of the week with a curse afterthought. R.G. Armstrong’s lone appearance as the late Uncle Lewis is better trouble in the uneven premiere, and Elias Zarou’s Rashid should have become a regular, creating a second mature duo with Jack to investigate more Old World occult. Likewise, Joe Seneca (Silverado) deserved more as a recurring voodoo expert. Certainly the budget was low, but more Curious Goods staff would have made recovering artifacts faster and built in more adventures to keep Friday the 13th going with the forthcoming cast changes.

 

Understandably, the Friday the 13th: The Series – The Complete TV Series DVDs are not perfect remasters with an often dark print and uneven, low volume. The then-rad cars, bedazzled leather jackets with sleeves rolled up, and big sunglasses at night are still eighties steeped alongside tight white leggings, off the shoulder shirts but giant shoulder pads, and high-waisted acid wash jeans. But wow those poofy huge wedding dresses and patterned ties on top of super shiny dress shirts and striped sports jackets – woof! When not faced with crimped side ponytails and convertibles driven by yuppies with yellow sweaters tied over their shoulders, the forties-esque glam and Stray Cats mini fifties revival create a neo noir mix with moody red lighting, blue neon, flashlights, and spooky fog. Basic green screen effects, old school shadow schemes, and the somewhat unfinished looking visuals remain eerily effective while the gray-scale moss, webs, and vines hit home the swampy underworld design. Sepia tints, snap shot still frames, and old style filming techniques add to the retro reels, classic clips, and pop music photo shoots – and folks had to go to a camera shop to rent a giant camera! Piles of papers, dusty old books, undeveloped film rolls, newspapers, mini cassettes, and tape recorders did research pre-internet the hard way, but record players, horseshoe phones, hefty televisions, and big answering machines invoke a bemusing nostalgia. Listening to the radio for news! Pharmacies that deliver? That car phone is just a receiver with a cord?! Look at that old five dollar bill as evidence one is from the future! Although some houses and locations are clearly revisited and the Fred Kreuger pizza face gore is good but common, the slightly cheap and fun styling embraces its low budget horror roots. That racy lingerie on the prostitutes, however, is actually a lot of clothing compared to today’s uber skimpy!

Friday the 13th’s Second Year is slow to start with more of the same cool cursed objects of the week repetitiveness thanks to a lot of episodes and a few letdowns. Despite its syndication success, the series missteps slightly by not going far enough with character developments or the full potential of its evil love, greedy wealth, and eternal youth opportunities. Fortunately, Friday the 13th‘s mix of horror, humor, nostalgia, and dark morality plays remains impressively ghoulish for old school audiences and scary anthology fans.

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: SCHOOLGIRLS AND FAMILY FEARS!

 

School Girls and Family Fears!

By Kristin Battestella

 

Back to school season can’t save these recent or retro kids, teachers, and families from the macabre at home!

 

The FallingGame of Thrones‘ Maisie Williams leads a group of hysterical English schoolgirls in this 2014 period mystery complete with creepy folk tunes, beautiful landscapes, and old time school bells. The similarities with Picnic at Hanging Rock are also apparent with latent BFFs, a budding blonde, the awkward brunette, the chubby girl playing an instrument, and a science girl in glasses. They sit outside with umbrellas with their pretty teacher, swans, and stopped watches while resentful older crones roll their eyes, and its discomforting to see virgin girls in pigtails discuss orgasms and solving one’s pregnancy problems via spells, knitting needles, and a medical book – with icky tips from your brother, too. Maisie’s Lydia talks sophisticated but remains a little girl hiding in a nursery cupboard perhaps unaware of why she wants her pretty friend to herself. She browbeats her smoking, washed up mother – the unrecognizable Maxine Peake (Silk) – and is too full of herself to consider her mother’s reasons. There should have been more of the adult perspectives bolstering the school and religious structure against the natural, tree loving girls growing up too soon. These teens are trying to be shocking, rebellious, and acting out vicariously – regrets, sexual activity, unhealthy obsessions, and experimentation escalate into fainting fits and faux orgasmic hysteria. Unfortunately, unnecessary music video styled transitions, subliminal strobe inserts, and modern meta interference detract from the repression and grief while external music and spinning cameras make the fainting spells laughable. Did they practice falling? How many flopping on the floor takes were there? Characters calmly step over the girls on the floor, and bemusing “thud” closed captioning accents Lydia’s falling and taking everything off the table with her. The middle aged women have a good laugh over these young kids thinking they are older and misunderstood, and faculty debates on science and attention seeking are much better – are the occult, local lay lines, nearby supernatural trees to blame? Do you ostracize one or hospitalize the entire class? Faking or follower questions layer the second half alongside school consequences, perception versus reality, lesbian whispers, and sexual violence. Although the medical testings feel glossed over, the intercut eye twitching, body language, and question and answer psychiatry suggest more – as do other shockers dropped in the last ten minutes. Writer and director Carol Morley’s (Dreams of a Life) long form narrative does get away from itself, and this try hard can’t always be taken seriously. However, this tale both glorifies femininity and vilifies budding women and the spinster the way society both pedestals and shames, adding enough food for thought to some of the inadvertent chuckles.

 

Goodnight Mommy – Lullabies and divine outdoor locations quickly turn ominous with dark caves, deep lakes, nearby cemeteries, and underground tombs accenting this 2014 Austrian psychological scare featuring twin boys and a mother under wraps. Despite the bunk beds, wise viewers will of course immediately wonder if there are really two sons – one always hides or jumps out while the other calls, and their mother only acknowledges one boy amid talk of an accident and a separation. Mirrors, windows, blurred portraits, and odd artwork embellish their cool mod home, and eerie visuals heighten the freaky surgery bandages, prying peering, twisted dreams, and creepy bugs. Close the blinds, no visitors, total quiet – the twins become increasingly suspicious when such strict recovery rules and more unusual behaviors don’t compare to sing-a-longs and loving tapes made pre-surgery. Naturally, English audiences have to pay attention due to the German dialogue and subtitles, however viewers must also watch for silent moments and visual clues as this TV host mom’s obsession with her surgery results increases and the boys’ talking back turns into some rough encounters. The sons research videos online and find strange photos while hidden baby monitors and timer tick tocks up the suspense. Who’s right? Who’s overreacting? What if we could see things from the opposite point of view? They want proof she is their mother and contact the local priest, but these seemingly innocent boys play some gruesome games, too. The situation becomes more and more claustrophobic, becoming trapped indoors and locked in one room with homemade defenses and cringe-worthy torture done with something as simple as the magnify glass with sunlight trick. The audience is swayed with evidence one way before being presented with new unreliability, familial violence, and pyromaniac tendencies in a fiery topper. At times, this feels more like a sad drama than a horror movie and some elements might have needed a bit more clarification. However, the horrible stuff herein and debating on the what ifs lasts long after the viewing, and this is a fine isolated tale using slight of hand power of suggestion for its slow burn unraveling.

 

The Hearse – Divorced teacher Trish Van Devere (The Changeling) deals with nosy realtor Joseph Cotten (Citizen Kane) not to mention ominous headlights, dark roads, phantom winds, visions in the mirror, and a freaky uniformed chauffeur in this 1980 spooky. There is an initial proto-Lifetime movie feeling and the picturesque Golden Gate Bridge vistas remain just another driving to the horrors montage as our jittery dame heads to the recently bequeathed home of her late aunt for the summer. The Blackford neighbors, however, are unwelcoming gossips, and the minister says any standoffishness must be her imagination. Of course, her shorts are very short and despite a flirtatious sheriff, cat calls while jogging, and compliments about the resemblance to her aunt, all the men must help her roadside and make women driving jokes while doing so. Those trees just jump out into the road! Thanks to whispers of past pacts with Satan, they don’t expect her to stick around long, either. The then-edgy music knows when to be quiet, adding to the isolation, crickets, and woman alone creepy. Covered antiques, leftover fashions, period pictures, and attic relics invoke a museum mood – an intrusion by the living justifying the faulty electric, slamming doors, creaking stairs, rattling pipes, and ghostly faces in the window. A music box plays on its own while a mysterious necklace, ironic radio sermons, and the titular highway pursuits escalate along with footsteps, intruders, and shattering glass. The tracking camera pans about the house in an ambiguous move that’s both for effect and someone – or something – approaching. Likewise, reading the diary of her devil worshiping aunt alongside a new whirlwind but suspicious romance creates dual suspense – which can certainly be said for that Hearse when it pulls up to the front porch and opens its back door. The black vehicle, white nightgown, and choice reds increase with candles, coffins, and funerary dreams. Pills and long cigarette drags visualize nerves amid bridge accidents, disappearing bodies, rowdy town vandals, and gaslighting decoys. The solo reading aloud and talking to oneself scenes will be slow to some viewers, and at times the car action is hokey. The mystery can be obvious – it feels like we’ve seen this plot before – yet the story isn’t always clear with low, double talk dialogue. However, it’s easy to suspect what is real with interesting twists in the final act, and the adult cast is pleasing. Well done clues keep the guessing fun, and several genuine jump moments make for a spirited midnight viewing.

 

 

The House on Sorority Row – Pranks and murders on campus, oh my! This 1983 cult slasher opens with a risky pregnancy, pulsing heartbeats, and emergency scalpels before trading the stormy past and blue patinas for some sunny eighties happiness. Everything is so young, beautiful, and babealicious when you graduate from college! It’s still fun to see retro cars or rad vans, huge cameras, records, waterbeds, fluorescent fashions, and colorful wallpaper – though there’s too much teal and pink for my tastes. Coiffed older women also look quite forties with floppy satin bow shirts and stockings, visually creating a generational divide to represent the living in the past mentalities or old fashioned thinking – they’ll be no goodbye parties, beer, or horny and useless frat boys in this house! While there is no chubby gal with glasses, there are some ugly guys used for humor and splatter, and in true eighties horror movie requirement, there is a girl too old to be in pigtails alongside the sex and boobs. Why don’t these graduated girls just leave instead of pranking the old lady that wants them to abide the rules of her house? Not to mention they are some pretty poor party hosts – one should always wait to kill somebody till after the festivities so arriving guest don’t interfere in your getting rid of the body blundering. Creaking rocking chairs, nursery rhyme music, creepy jester dolls, and a nasty looking cane perfect for bludgeoning accent the good girl versus bad girl slaps, gun play, and deserved turnabouts. Granted, there are some chuckles thanks to stupid actions, some identity of the murderer obviousness, and an overall tameness on what is now a cliché genre formula. Perhaps the one by one kills are predictable – there’s a dame alone in the dark basement, because, of course – however the suspense, shadows, and unseen killer editing are well done. The primary location intensifies the bathroom traps, warped mothering, and well paced pursuits while surprise color, angles, and apparitions add to the solid final act. Although the gore isn’t elaborate for the sake of it, there are some bloody, creative moments, and this fun, half a million dollar ninety minutes does everything it sets out to do without resorting to today’s in your face spectacle.

 

Orphan – Grieving couple Vera Farmiga (The Conjuring) and Peter Sarsgaard (Flightplan) adopt the precocious Isabelle Fuhrman (The Hunger Games) in this 2009 thriller with bloody pregnancy gone wrong dreams, snowy landscapes, a frozen lake, isolated woods, tree house perils, and mod cabin architecture. These yuppies eat off square plates, but nun C.C.H. Pounder (The Shield) is stereotypically reduced with the same old black person in horror sage and sacrifice treatment. Other trite genre elements such as evil foreigners, the internet research montage, useless police, and false jumps complete with the cliché medicine cabinet mirror ruse are lame and unnecessary – as are the dated Guitar Hero moments and a jealous son with a porn magazine stash like it is 1999. The twisted horror suspense builds just fine with realistic threats and mature family drama amid the escalating child shocks. The Sign Language and silent subtitles create a sense of calm and innocence for the youngest deaf daughter, contrasting her mother’s drinking temptations as the old fashioned dressing Esther says everything their parents want to hear. She wants to sleep next to her new daddy, and the couple is intimately interrupted with who’s watching photography and peering perspectives – not to mention that is some luxury playground equipment with crazy bone-cracking injuries! There’s Russian roulette, razor blades, vice grips, vehicular close calls, and fiery accidents. The adoption history doesn’t add up and the children are clearly terrified by their titular sister, but of course dad doesn’t believe his wife’s theory that Esther is at fault. Do you confront your new daughter or take her to a therapist? At times, the adults act stupid just to put the kids in peril, and these two hours feel a little long – how many disasters are going to happen before someone gets a clue? This isn’t as psychological as it could be, dropping its uniqueness for a standard house siege and apparently leaving more pushing the envelope elements on the page to play it safe. However, the female familial roles are an interesting study with surprises and an unexpected reveal. Choice gunshots and broken glass accent the silence and maze interiors, using the home, weapons, and weather for full effect. Though partly typical and not scary, the dramatic interplay, thriller tension, and wild performances give the audience a yell at television good time.

 

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Brimstone

 

Brimstone a Disturbing yet Must See Parable

by Kristin Battestella

 

I want to write an entire opus on the 2017 European co-production Brimstone, starring Guy Pearce as a hellbent minister and Dakota Fanning as Liz, the mute midwife afraid of him. The layered statements from writer and director Martin Koolhoven (Schnitzel Paradise) are heavy handed and uncomfortable – many may find Brimstone at best over long at two and a half hours plus and at worst, the picture will be trigger inducing to sensitive audiences. However, with those caveats said, I don’t really want to summarize much else nor especially spoil this western thriller, as it is best to go into this must see genre bending parable cold.

The bleak narration and biblically steeped onscreen chapter titles hit home the seasoned frontier, rough childbirth, and rustic farms. The white church and cross atop the steeple stand out as a sense of order amid the natural wilds, and sermons warn of false prophets, wolves among the sheep, and hellish retributions worse than one can imagine for those who stray into lawlessness. Breach births mean choosing between the mother or the child, creating an ostracizing, easy to manipulate divide. Is such a delivery up to God or the midwife’s fault? Whispers of evil doing can quickly sway a community to fear and violence. Fiery calls for retribution and paying for one’s sins add to the fear and grief of an unbaptized stillborn not finding salvation. Reverse persecution is disguised as divine, and the wolf in sheep’s clothing is almost the devil himself indeed. Why be afraid of a reverend and not welcome him into your home? The foul afoot need not be said, and Brimstone doesn’t underestimate the audience, letting the drama play out with gruesome animal paybacks, abductions, and torturous injuries. The simmering suspiciousness allows the audience a sense of stillness, time to focus on the characters while the iconography builds suspense. The man in black before the burning building or dragging a girl in white through the mud and calling her unclean are allowed to speak for themselves. Brimstone uses a western setting of creepy brothels, servitude, and no justice for working women to tell a medieval morality play – an already damned purgatory epic a la Justine’s virtues made vice with shootouts, dead horses, and all the abuses we can infer. Brimstone’s pursuits may be taking place in an abstract limbo, beyond time and space with different girls who are one and the same, perpetually chased by the same terror with precious few other devil or angel on the shoulder characters. The out of order segments change the settings as they advance the tale, behaving more like acts themselves where the audience is at first unsure if this is what happened before or what comes next. Brimstone keeps viewers interested enough to see how the vignettes tie together; we trust the unique constructs are part of the juxtaposition highlighting how the code of the brothel and the rules of the fanatical minister aren’t very different and both inescapable can even be one and the same. Obey the nastiness of the patriarchal for body and soul or you are guilty and will be punished. Whatever the origin of her sinful behavior, a girl should be ashamed – it’s her fault that menstruation makes her Little Red Riding Hood fair game. Once there is blood there is no innocence, and the vicious cycle continues with twisted irony, fateful orchestrations, and sins that cannot be out run. We’d like to think this was just how it was ye olde back then, but not much has changed has it?

Many actors today simply would not take such a role, but Guy Pearce puts on an incredible presentation in Brimstone as this extremely unlikable manipulator. Our foreboding minister justifies his grooming righteousness with warped scripture, remaining nameless beyond his title or fatherly names – respected monikers advantageously misused along with creepy chapter and verse and touchy feely, uncomfortable familiarity. He knows when Liz is hiding near him and taunts her on how she as such a terrible murderess can sleep at night. This minister has come to punish her and will use her husband and daughter to do it. He immediately expresses a shuddering attachment to her little girl, and after initially claiming his actions are of God, this minister festers into an unstoppable, almost immortal embodiment of the sins made flesh carrying him. Hellbent and beyond salvation, this Big Bad Wolf howls and embraces his brutal scourge. I’m not often disappointed in Pearce’s work despite learning early on thanks to superior quality like The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert, L.A. Confidential, and Memento (For shame on those who discovered Memento and Christopher Nolan so late, and why is Snowy River: The McGregor Saga still not properly available in the U.S.?) However, this may be his darkest, finest performance, and it’s surprising no awards followed. Likewise, Dakota Fanning (The Secret Life of Bees) looks the pioneer part. She’s kind in an unforgiving landscape, mute and disliking guns, but strong and we immediately root for her survival at every struggle, be it a neighbor’s cold shoulder or a freezing last stand. There’s never a doubt that she’s in the right, doing what she has to do – her lack of a heard voice lets her actions speak louder than words. Emilia Jones (Utopia) as the younger Joanna is also a spirited girl who learns of her own strengths the hard way. Despite all the abuse and persecution in Brimstone, these ladies are not victims. The Minister believes a woman can’t out run what a man has in mind for her and she will pay the price for her resistance, but Joanna flees to the frontier for her freedom. She continues to outrun evil in all its disguises whether it is a losing battle or not, and Liz repeatedly take matters into her own hands, refusing to surrender regardless of all that’s taken from her.

The ensemble behind the leads in Brimstone really is a supporting cast helping or hindering, well-intentioned or misused, stepping stones and catalysts. Carice van Houten’s sorrowful mother and helpless wife Anna is completely relatable. The audience wants to protect her from her husband or see her stand up and do something for Joanna, but her weakling mother who can’t do anything contrasts the strong woman alone daughter we see later. This minister’s wife won’t do her wifely duty, thus she needs to be gagged in an iron mask for not holding her tongue and whipped until she can gain the Lord’s favor. Hers is a pathetic existence, and this bittersweet role is the complete opposite of Van Houten’s Game of Thrones ruthless. Fellow Thrones star Kit Harrington is also featured in Brimstone for Chapter Three – perhaps mostly for the financing incentives and audience appeal after several casting changes – for his accent is terrible and he looks a little too pretty boy modern rather than a gritty cowboy. Although we don’t doubt his anti-hero outlaw’s earnest or sincerity toward Joanna, his masculine intrusion is the first of many would be hopeful sparks used against her. Fortunately, Carla Juri (Wetlands, but more importantly, the gal plays ice hockey!) is a fun and feisty prostitute when it comes to the disagreeable male clientele. She’s tender with Joanna, and they plan to leave together as mail order brides after one too many pimp abuses. Viewers hope for their escape from the cathouse – even if we know better. The leaning toward lez be friends because of male hatred innuendo and sacrificial BFF turns may be slightly cliché, but the ladies are likable and charming with turn about twists right up to the end.

 

Brimstone is visually aware of its bleak tale, contrasting the gunfire, outhouses, hangings, and blood on snow with birds chirping, hymns, and the sunshine. Fine cinematography accents the international locations with overhead angles and camera work that knows when to move but also how to be still and let the action happen. The sign language, costuming, horses, and wagons add authenticity, and the color schemes don’t feel digital or over saturated. The natural outdoor palette and interior patinas reflect the chapters being told – a rustic harvest autumn, the hot summer and barren saloons, the budding fertile spring of a New World congregation, and a frigid, snowy twilight with cleansing water bookends. Ironically, Brimstone was shot in relatively chronological order with Three first, then Two, and later chapters One and Four, and the impressive looking blu-ray release includes lengthy behind the scenes interviews and detailed sit downs with numerous cast and crew members. Brimstone is recognizable as a western yet when and where it takes place isn’t definitive. There are no cowboys in white hats or other familiar archetypes, only a desolate mood and lawless atmosphere that doesn’t shy away from the period brutality. While not horror per se, Brimstone has many horrific scenes to match its warped attitudes, telling its difficult to watch tale in its own time with no genre limit to stop it from going too far – a refreshing lack of cinema restraint which again, for many audiences, will cross the line. Brimstone is difficult to watch, yet there’s little vulgarity, no unnecessary visuals, and no major nudity. Corsets and pantaloons invoke enough saucy, leaving the story and characters to tell the numbing brutality instead of today’s desensitizing flash in the pan in your face style. However, I must say I don’t think I’ve ever seen that kind of… um… creative… use of intestines in a movie, ever.

So many Hollywood movies go through the motions, and Brimstone’s negative stateside reviews may be because American audiences aren’t accustomed to this kind of hardcore storytelling. Period piece horror dramas transcending genre like Brimstone such as Bone Tomahawk and The Witch are being made, however, their statement-making frights inexplicably remain elusive festival finds outside mainstream release. Spoilers aside, I didn’t cover all the details here simply because I didn’t take many review notes. I was too busy paying attention to the not for the faint of heart as Brimstone strips the viewer mentally and emotionally with its offensive no holds barred. Maybe rather than shying away from the viewing conversation, we should be embracing a quality motion picture that wouldn’t be any good if it didn’t push us to our limits as Brimstone does.

 

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: BONE TOMAHAWK

 

Bone Tomahawk is a Wonderfully Horrific Western Road Trip

by Kristin Battestella

 

For audiences that don’t like westerns or straight, terse drama, the opening half of the 2015 genre bender Bone Tomahawk will be too slow. However, for viewers seeking gritty period pictures and horror films set in unique places, this is definite yes!

While tending to the crazed and wounded outlaw Purvis (David Arquette), Samantha O’Dwyer (Lili Simmons) is abducted by a mysterious, hear tell tribe of nameless, ruthless cave dwellers the local Native Americans fear and avoid. Nonetheless, Bright Hope Sheriff Franklin Hunt (Kurt Russell), his elderly deputy Chicory (Richard Jenkins), and local gunslinger John Brooder (Matthew Fox) mount a rescue. However, foreman Arthur O’Dwyer (Patrick Wilson) is also determined to join the mission to save his wife despite a broken leg that has kept him off the work trail. It’s a dangerous ride with raiders, injuries, and rough terrain testing the posse’s prayers, convictions, and mettle – yet more primitive, gruesome, bone chilling horrors are in store…

 

Not Your Average Western

Flies buzzing” is the first caption of writer and director S. Craig Zahler’s (The Incident) two hour and thirteen minute festival darling, and those words set the tone for the throat slicings, body crunching, and bleak western horrors viewers aren’t supposed to see coming. This is just the lawless ways of the 1890s frontier – robberies and thieving never mind those skulls on torches and Indian burial grounds. The people in this era were gun belt wearing badasses, nothing more than the Wild West is supposed to be happening, right? Howling wolves and spooked horses invoke a western realism, and we expect to see this ironic but charming Old West gritty. The nearby Bright Hope pioneer town provides quaint Victorian interiors, polite men escorting women at night, and a laid back, boots up, playing checkers comfort. However, Bone Tomahawk has no rousing music and sweeping pans or thriving, progressive hustle and bustle to its town. Despite respectful and articulate mannerisms, there’s a gruff to these voices. The empty edge of white civilization is relatively silent with no ritzy to its saloon and a drunken piano player in need of whiskey to finish his ten cent tunes. Although side actions are told rather than seen, that hearsay unreliability adds to the lack of knowing what really occurred, and excising this surplus action builds surprise for when abrupt shootouts and violent confrontations do happen. Suddenly, missing livestock, mysteriously empty jail cells, and torn up bodies add to this isolated town’s crimes and scares.

Arrows in the dark and shadowy figures suggest Indian suspects to the frontier folk, but even friendly Native American scouts fear this no language, nameless troglodyte tribe with behaviors more beast-like than of men. Although everyone looks the part in Bone Tomahawk and we believe these rugged but civilized men forming a revenge posse can handle what’s out there, these old fashioned heroes on white horses are facing some untold, cave dwelling ruthlessness. Bone Tomahawk is very well acted with quality players audiences may not expect would do this kind of seemingly smaller western or horror fair. Hopefully, one recognizes a good script when he sees it, for time is taken to get to know these excellent characters as individuals. Strong banter and a period sense of courage add dimension among the not so unblemished men before the primitive horrors add new terror to the traditional western rescue. Prayers about the campfire, dry humor, personality – viewers quickly come to like these boys, and we’re rooting for them in a pursuit already struggling against the usual trail perils such as gangrene, raiders, and dead horses. There’s a simmering, on edge at night when the posse bed downs. We don’t know what’s going to happen next any more than they know what awaits in the dark. Will such ongoing strain and the agony of travel get to one of them? The exhaustion and hopelessness add tension, arguing, pointing fingers – this is a terse, escalating journey whether the troglodyte horrors are ahead or not. Difficult group decisions must be made amid cynical thoughts and suspicions on what heavy tolls are inevitably happening to the captured. Of course, those horrors are worse than the rescuers of Bone Tomahawk could ever imagine. Survival is slim all around, yet they forge on to face the intense man versus man, man versus nature, and man versus himself battles.

Nail-biting pocket watch ticking and ominous horns blowing in the wind make the audience pay attention as Bone Tomahawk switches from bright tumbleweeds, dangerous expanse, and western perils to dark caves, trapped interiors, sudden sieges, otherworldly screeching, and harrowing wounds. Yes, there is an hour and a half onscreen before the film horrors arrive – that’s the length of most quick horror productions. One could also argue there is no need for an entire movie’s worth of western study ahead of such horror. Some viewers may want to see the western in itself alone without a horror finale or vice versa. There are several flaws in the final act regarding logistics and implausibilities as well, but the onscreen terrors in Bone Tomahawk forgive any contrivances. We appreciate the deaths, sacrifices, and final cigars before the goodbyes more because we are totally invested in seeing these characters through whatever comes at them in final forty minutes. All that has happened is summed up in few terrifying sentences – arousing all our fears of violation, injury, and desecration and leaving all the heroics we have previously seen for naught. The unpleasant nudity will not be soon forgotten by anyone who sees this movie, and a countdown of kills adds to the hopelessness. Who’s next? The tedium of waiting is at times far worse, and silly discussions fill the interim between the unknown time when life and death is imminent. The horror and fantastics may be tough for the realistic western audiences to accept, however, Bone Tomahawk is a brilliant and complete before, during, and after emotional experience with rubber necking can’t look away and a realistically cringe worthy not often seen in today’s cinema.

A Fine Ensemble

Despite a calm exterior and seemingly quiet post, Sheriff Kurt Russell (Overboard) has the mustache to match the grit in Bone Tomahawk. Franklin Hunt is a wise, relaxed, old fashioned lawman who’s good at his job but nonetheless indulges his old deputy when a stranger’s manner is suspicious. Sheriff Hunt doesn’t think there’s much hope in rescuing those abducted, and his wife objects to the journey, too. However, he is going to see his mission through regardless. Hunt prepares as best possible – he knows they need to care for themselves, their horses, and keep their wits about them to trump any thieves or beasties and do what needs to be done. Polite even when the circumstances turn barbaric, Hunt also knows Arthur O’Dwyer shouldn’t come on this rescue with a broken leg, yet he doesn’t bother asking for the objection. Russell gives a wonderfully poignant performance, and it’s bittersweet to see a man unchanged, doing what he sets out to do, and keeping his word whether the beholden are there to know his convictions or not. Likewise, Patrick Wilson (The Conjuring) has become a pleasing go to horror actor. Arthur’s a strong foreman not used to being laid up at home thanks to injury – nor his doctor’s assistant wife being on top in the bedroom. Arthur doesn’t share his emotions well and has difficulty talking with her, but his love and tenderness are unquestionable. He rides on this mission, learning how to handle his broken leg and show his tears while on the move. Wilson brings to life Arthur’s contradictory behaviors as the desperate husband comes to rely more on opium than prayer to go forward. How can he continue as his injury worsens? We may not think of such breaks, splints, and pain as being so difficult today, but in this wilderness, love is not enough to mount a rescue – or is it?

Arrogant and vain but no less witty and likable gunslinger Matthew Fox (Lost) is the suave, white suit wearing sophisticate of Bone Tomahawk. John Brooder says he’s the most intelligent man there and this rescue needs his smarts, fast shot, and fancy gunnery. Though not always as right as he thinks he is, there is a grain of truth to his tactics when it comes to making camp or taking defensive positions. Unfortunately, his suspicions on outsiders, potential theft, and his shoot first, ask questions later mentality doesn’t always help. Eventually, there are consequences to this quick draw attitude, and while he has good reason to hate certain Indians, Brooder gains sad respect for his horse and learns to trust his compatriots. By contrast, aged deputy Richard Jenkins (Six Feet Under) is not on his game but Chicory will continue to do his duty nonetheless – even if he can’t figure out something as simple as how to read a book in the bathtub without getting the paper wet. He talks too much, sometimes adding dry humor and reflection or philosophical speculation, but again, such seemingly random conversation helps fill the idle and take one’s mind off the impending horrors. Chicory is slightly off his rocker yet remains the voice of reason and moral center of the group – a lovely audience anchor pondering what we too are thinking. Although their scenes may seem slightly out of place, humorous but ruthless and hands on killer David Arquette (Scream) and expert throat slitter Sid Haig (House of 1000 Corpses) have some warped fun to open Bone Tomahawk, and their offbeat charm bookends the horror.

Fine older white men though they are, Bone Tomahawk is unfortunately a picture populated with precious few women. Despite being a respectable wife and doctoring assistant named Sam, Lili Simmons (Banshee) is nude fifteen minutes into the movie and feels out of place compared to the more developed male characters. Broadly swinging the pendulum from tender wife to bitchy snob, Sean Young’s (Blade Runner) uppity, domineering mayor’s wife is addressed on the situation instead of her little husband. These frontier women are tough pioneers yet remain sickly or put in their place with sex from their man, and even with these injun abducting the womenfolk fears, the audience sees too little of them to feel a personal investment. Big shocker – the few African American stable hands and servants are killed early in Bone Tomahawk, and Mexican moments or brief Spanish words are treated with xenophobic suspicion. Horses are more important than questioning the death of foreigners, but there are onscreen arguments about whether such reactions are right or wrong, fortunately utilizing the ills of the time for layered social commentary. More importantly, Bone Tomahawk makes the distinction between its horror neanderthal savages and local Native Americans, recognizing this is not normal tribe behavior whilst also implying the Manifest Destiny trespassing of the so called Bright Hope should have left the area alone. Locals knew to steer clear, but did the supposedly smart and superior white man? Nope.

 

Must See Looks

Old fashioned suits, cowboy hats, and late Victorian décor add to the frontier town woodwork and simplicity in Bone Tomahawk. Proper beds and an oil lamp patina with quills, books, a magnify glass, and period ephemera create a would be civilized and golden interior. I almost wish this was a television series to revisit and explore! However, natural sounds, horses, creaking wood, and swinging saloon doors add a lawless atmosphere alongside the beautiful, but untamed outdoor scenery. Precious few weeping strings and fiddlery accent choice bittersweet moments and echoing gunshots. While animal action, well edited attacks, and on the move tracking shots do capture the restlessness when it happens, Bone Tomahawk is a simple tale simply shot with no need for the sweeping panoramas and whirlwind camerawork often seen in expansive westerns or period pieces going for scope rather than inward terror. Gruesome frontier surgeries, scalping, disemboweling or worse provide enough horror gore while the briefly see beastly men leave room for the audience to imagine more fears. Their natural camouflage, animal trophies, horned masks, and primal, swift moving resistance to bullet grazes completes the disorienting civilized versus uncivilized frights. Subtitles are necessary for any whispering, but the Bone Tomahawk blu-ray release also provides plenty of deleted scenes, featurettes, and film festival Q&As with cast and crew. Unfortunately, it is just baffling when finely crafted pictures such as this are overlooked by the major movie awards. Tsk tsk.

Though worth seeing for the uniqueness alone, this R/Unrated horror is not for everyone. Instead of a cheap slasher with teens in minimum Victorian dressings, this is a niche western brimming with scares we don’t expect. Granted, Bone Tomahawk has many of the same flaws seen again and again with a one and the same writer/director who has no soundboard on what to do or not do. The lengthy run time could have been trimmed further and some scenes should have been more swiftly paced. Bone Tomahawk is also oddly structured as two halves of two different movies – leading with a western character study uninteresting to audiences expecting fast shootouts, boobs, and horror a minute. In fact, most viewers will be unaccustomed to having time dedicated to such full embodied and well developed characters. However, we should embrace this kind of ingenuity not bury it and push pictures like this to fringe audiences, and I would rather have a few slow scenes with extra time to achieve a cinematic vision than a butchered PG-13 picture sacrificing its meaty for maximum cinema screenings and more almighty millions. Despite a blink and you missed it limited box office release, Bone Tomahawk is currently available on several rental and streaming options. Go into Bone Tomahawk cold for full immersion into the fine performances, western drama, Deliverance effectiveness, and entertaining horror.

 

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: TEEN HORRORS

 

 

Summer Teen Horrors

by Kristin Battestella

 

Prom, dolls, murder, and monsters – will teens never learn?

 

The Blackcoat’s Daughter Haunting melodies, terrible news, and subtitles like “silence” and “eerie ambiance” open this chiller from director Oz Perkins (I am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House) along with suggestive lion and lamb lyrics, crosses on the wall, priestly substitutes, and father figure innuendo. Rather than emo angst, the bad girl pregnancy scares and awkward acting out are handled maturely, with a Picnic at Hanging Rock weirdness. Dark filming against bleak windows or open doors makes us unsure what side we are on, capturing the dreary mundane as two girls are stuck at school during winter break. The intertwining build of events may be slow to some, but each act follows one girl in distorted, compelling vignettes. Common bathroom echoes and creaking doors add to the spooky orange boiler room and what we think we saw contortions while change for the pay phone, maps, bus stops, and red tail lights create helplessness and traveling dangers. And you know, parents saying a teen can’t have one has to be the best excuse yet for a lack of cell phones. Who stole the laptop? Do you trust the stranger offering a ride? Is being happy an ulterior motive or will the god-believing good Samaritan find it is the devil that answers instead? These young ladies are filmed not for titillation as in slasher T-n-A horror but with a sense of innocence and fragility. Rather than in your face mayhem, suspect conversations, sinister changes, and non-linear storytelling give the audience intriguing pieces of creepy doubt. Is a crazy student after the headmaster’s attention or is that really a reflection of horns and a shadowy devil in the frame? The surreal atmosphere makes viewers peer deeper at the screen, wondering if the devil, possessions, or unreliable impressions are playing tricks on us. Editing splices match the bloody stabbings, with nonchalant mentions of forensics having to find which head matches which body. Static, distorted voices, and vibrating sound invoke more unease amid an isolating, hoodwinked power of suggestion. The audience sees the reaction on a police officer’s face rather than the terrible shocks he witnesses – doing the worst horrors imagined with a subtle reveal instead of pulling the rug out from under the viewer and calling it a twist. Although spoon fed audiences may want answers immediately instead of open to interpretation confusion and arty pretentiousness – Perkins may need an outside eye on his writing and directing to clarify this pizzazz for the masses – once you wrap your head around it, this is a straightforward story taking its time with a unique mood and special characters for full gruesome effect.

The Boy – Eccentric British parents hire a babysitter for their son – who just happens to be a doll – in this 2016 bizzarity. There’s padding opening credits driving the young American woman in a foreign country to the kid horrors, because of course, and there’s a no wif-fi, no neighbors phone call to her sister about a nasty ex, too. Fake boo moments, dream shocks, and phantom phone calls are unnecessary, as is the psychic grocery delivery man who reads gum and guesses wrong. I kid you not. The introduction to the little doll – err son is laughable as well, but our nanny must play along with the well paying delusion and make sure he sits up straight during their poetry lessons. Creepy portraits, strange noises, prayers, thunderstorms, and taxidermy create an eerie atmosphere for this warped hook while a great Canadian castle stands in for the cluttered English estate. Old toys, phonographs, candles, windows painted shut, and traps to keep rats out of the walls add to the freaky doll moments, but our babysitter waits until the doll uncovers itself and the stereo-typically locked attic doors open by themselves before following the house rules. She also never bothers to explore or investigate, but there’s an obligatory local who knows the dead little girl past and eight year old died in a fire back story – tossing in cliché details along with lost pregnancies, love triangles, and taking a shower trite. If you’re going to go into the ominous attic in nothing but a towel or have a doll listening to the sex in the next room, then don’t be a soft PG-13 but embrace that winking R. The eponymous frights should be stronger, and although we smartly don’t see any silly doll moving effects, the traditional filming style doesn’t do justice to the oddity. Rather than embracing the bizarre bonding afoot, the standard horror formulaic wastes too much time – this unusual premise could really shine if the flip flopping world rules didn’t detract from the aloof charm. A WTF siege veers the finale into something more preposterous, calling it a twist while holding back as late night horror lite for people who haven’t already seen any similar scary movies.

Lights Out This 2016 feature adaptation of the popular 2013 short is still a little short itself at eighty minutes and keeps restarting with a working dad on skype, mom talking to herself, a little brother not sleeping, and a bad attitude big sister with a sensitive rocker boyfriend. Fortunately, employees locking up for the night lead to crackling electricity and shadows that blink closer with each flick of the light switch. What would you do if you turned out the lights and saw a silhouette that isn’t there when the lights are on? We know something is in the dark, but not what, and the old school light means safety rule works amid the almost GIF-like now you see it now you don’t. Ominous tracking shots, red spotlights, neon signs flashing, and black lights create enough mood without unnecessary transition pans, bones cracking, and scratching sounds. A young boy with spooky afoot and a mother who may or may not be crazy are more interesting than time wasting millennial emo, and Maria Bello (A History of Violence) as the unstable wife dealing with shadows real or imagined a la The Babadook should have been the lead here. Naming the shadow, having her talk, and the constantly changing backstory gets laughable at times – as do slides across the floor and zooms on the ceiling. The research montage is a convenient home office snoop for a cassette tape from the doctor and a few photographs with retro jumpy footage snips patchworking the light sensitivity, skin disorder, institution experiment gone wrong, and psychic ghost happenings. There’s inconsistent UV light and physicality excuses, too, but if you aren’t going to give the audience a concrete explanation – i.e. saving it for the inevitable sequel – then there shouldn’t be any attempted information at all. Is this multiple personalities, a basement relative, or a childhood lez be friends BFF that won’t let go even in death? Why not call in the institution doctor or present your evidence to the sniffing child services instead of just yelling at your mother? There’s a kid so afraid he’s sleeping in the bathtub with the flashlight shining on his face, something’s tugging on mom’s sweater from behind the door, and quality under the bed threats rekindle timeless fears. There’s no need to add convoluted characters or ever leave the unique Tudor house standoff, yet one can tell where the trite dialogue and thin story were stretched to appeal to the mainstream teen horror public – complete with an L.A. setting, rich white blonde people, and a made stupid black cop and his Hispanic female partner. The short film didn’t have to explain its narrative the way a feature does, and this isn’t the worst recent horror film, but the good ending is a little too quick, playing it safe, serviceable, and ticking the standard contemporary horror boxes rather than really zinging. One should either stick with the original short or take this as a separate late night chiller for full bump in the night enjoyment.

 

Prom Night – Talk about kids being cruel! Morbid child’s play leads to deadly chases in this 1980 slasher – complete with one brat making the others swear to never tell, pathetic still seventies dudes, ugly vans a rockin’, station wagons, transistor radios, drive-ins, and obscene phone calls. Remember those? Although a few silly voiceovers could just be said out loud and some of the intercut flashes dump information in a quick reset, we know who is who for this eponymous anniversary vengeance. Six years later the killer has the names on his list and he’s checking them twice amid whispers of neighborhood sex offenders, creepy janitors, and mirrored innuendo. There’s terrible matching stripes, flared bell bottoms, knee socks, feathered hair, and side ponytails, too – not to mention escaped mental patients and a fatherly cop not telling the locals what’s afoot. This all must seem like Halloween deja vu for twenty-two year old high schooler Jamie Lee Curtis! Disco ball glows and red lights add flair, and there’s a sardonic humor with principal dad Leslie Nielsen (The Naked Gun) so awkward on the lit up floor before the big dance off, oh yeah. If there was going to be a Saturday Night Fever nod, they could have at least sprung for Bee Gees music instead of generic disco that’s honestly a little late. The prom king and queen ruses are i.e. Carrie as well, however these snob teens deserve what’s coming to them. How can a guy say he loves a girl when he helped kill her sister? We may laugh at some of the sagging datedness or bemusingly preposterous – violence in the gym showers and nobody in the school gives a hoot? However, a lot of horror movies and teen flicks are still using these borrowed staples. There’s a sense of small town swept under the rug paralleling the prom and sex calm as the ominous school hallways escalate to bloodied virgins in white dresses, lengthy slice and dice chases, rolling heads, light show disasters, and fiery vehicle attacks. This isn’t super gory and there’s no groundbreaking horror effects, but the well filmed checklist vignettes and shrewd cut corners editing build suspense alongside the red herrings and obvious killer guessing game. This isn’t super intellectual on the mentality of the killer or the full psychology of the crimes, either, but the misunderstood whys and psychosis seeds suggested continue the conversation long after everything plays out right on the dance floor with a power ballad topper.