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.

 

FRIGHTENTING FLIX BY KBATZ: MORE KID FRIGHTS!

 

More Kids and Family Frights!

By Kristin Battestella

 

Because there are just so many tales of twisted teens, killer kids, and paranormal abnormalities!

 

Alice, Sweet AliceFrantic Hail Marys, church bells, rectories, and crosses in nearly every scene steep this 1976 slasher in layers of iconography alongside matching yellow jackets, similarly named long hair lookalikes, sisterly favoritism, and saint versus sinner parallels. Little Brooke Shields (Suddenly Susan) is fond of her priest, goes to confession, and is gifted with a crucifix necklace while twelve-year-old Paula Sheppard (Liquid Sky) wears a mask to scare the cook. The ceremonial crown, veil, and white dress feel medieval bridal amid the Latin sanctity and old fashioned Sunday best formality – composed women in hats, gloves, pearls, and Jackie O suits are soon hysterical once murder blasphemes the sacred within its very walls. Creepy hints of the strangling attack, feet dragging beneath the pews, and a charred fate intercut the kneeling at the altar and passing wafer, turning the white confirmation into a black funeral. The uptight roosts point fingers, cast blame, and belittle husbands, but the parents are also too busy to notice the gluttonous downstairs neighbor obsessed with cats promising not to bite Alice if she visits him. Out of wedlock, divorced, and remarried taboos squabble while hidden periods and no longer playing with dolls maturity layer the well-done shocks and mask scare. Intense lie detector tests, cold yes or no questions, and scary needle movements add atmosphere along with thunderstorms, bugs, and basement hideaways. This murder acerbates a preexisting family strain, and such repressed attitudes would almost rather there be a grief approved death than admit to potential schizophrenia problems. Retro cameras, typewriters, big phone booths, classic cars, old school police, and formal psychiatrist interviews reiterate the mid-century rigid while prank calls, cramped stairs, and penetrating stabs invoke a frenzied response with violent twists. Do some of the victims get what they deserve? Confessions, warped revelations, mother Madonna saintly and Magdalene whore shaming cloud the case, and the children pay for the sins of the father indeed. This is a taut little thriller with fine scars, mystery, and parables made horror.

The Cabin in the WoodsBradley Whitford (The West Wing), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), and more recognizable faces anchor this 2012 horror satire written and produced by Joss Whedon. Droll corporations and mysterious technological surveillance parallels the intentionally cliché coeds off to a lakeside weekend – the blonde, a jock, a virgin, the fifth wheel jester filled with zany pot wisdoms. Naturally, the GPS goes haywire amid retro Rving, backwoods confrontations, throwback tropes, and nods to old school slashers. The hokey isn’t meant to be taken seriously, but eerie mountain tunnels and hidden systemworks add suspicion. Though at times cryptic for cryptic’s sake, it’s pleasing to have the experiment aspects up front – trick paintings, double mirrors, camera observations, and a cabin that’s bigger on the inside than outside. Useless scenes, comedic quips, and windblown characters that delay rather than inform are annoying, and the attempted Buffy for the big screen tone is apparent with social commentary and upending the genre expectations. Ironically, these Initiative knockoffs never feel urgent or dramatic. Some viewers may wish this was either straight horror or totally from the scientific parody perspective. The global fright-creating branches are often more interesting than the typical teens disregarding warnings to not read Latin aloud amid zombies, free for all monsters, fun house mayhem, and meta on meta horror that plays into stereotypical scares just as much as it lampoons them. Fortunately, a self aware attitude adds intrigue – despite being up to something sinister, the technicians cast bemusing bets and celebrate their wins over predictable spooky cellars, creepy antiques, fanatical pasts, and ominous diaries. Occult prayers, bloody rituals, and creative set piece kills accent the inevitable price to be paid. While slow to start for longtime horror viewers, often silly or derivative, and uneven in its multi-layered execution, the familiar ensemble has a good time with this spooky puzzle. Youthful audiences tired of the same old scary movie banal or casual, horror lite fans can enjoy the uniqueness here.

 

PhenomenaJennifer Connolly (Labyrinth) and Donald Pleasence (Halloween) star in this 1985 Italian production from director Dario Argento along with Walkmans, a giant computer, overhead projectors, retro school buses, huge headphones, big boob tube TVs, off the shoulder sweatshirts, and crimped hair. The horseshoe phones are so hefty one breaks through the floor when it falls, and top heavy metal names such as Iron Maiden anchor the score. Pretty but bleak Swiss scenery, foreboding roads, suspicious chains, and an isolated cabin speak for themselves with blood, shattered glass, cave perils, scissor attacks, and strangling violence contrasting the rural vistas and scenic waterfalls. The on the move camera tracks the scares, panning with the staircases, chases, and penetrating knives rather than hectic visuals working against the action – leaving heartbeats, ticking clocks, and rage music to pulse the frenetic dreams. Congested tunnels, dark water, and rotting heads build tension alongside sleepwalking shadows, blue lighting schemes, and saintly white symbolism. Insects, monkeys, and bizarre medical tests collide with missing teens, amnesia, and an old school sense of being lost in the foreign unknown. Despite the young protagonist, the horror remains R without being juvenile or nasty. Although necrophilia and rape are implied amid girls in short shirts, dirty old men, and killer penetrations, the innuendo isn’t like today’s overt teen T-n-A exploitation. Doctors and a strict headmistress suspect epilepsy, schizophrenia, or drugs before the otherworldly but friendly communication with animals – cruel schoolmates and religious extremists view such talents or swarming commands as demonic rather than embracing the literal fly on the wall fantastics. Would you follow bugs to the scene of the crime to see the decomposing victim through their eyes? The notion to be in tune with nature and commune with insects as allies is unique in a genre usually reserving such crawlies for scares, and cool bug eye viewpoints, covered mirrors, freaky dolls, and maggots accent the deceptions, twists, and escalating revelations for some gruesome surprises and a wild finish. And oh my gosh there is a classmate wearing a Bee Gees t-shirt. Want it!!

Tale of Tales – Salma Hayek (Frida), Vincent Cassel (Black Swan), Toby Jones (Infamous), and John C. Reilly (Chicago) star in this international, R rated dark fantasy bringing three Italian parables to life with medieval castles, vintage plazas, and divine forests. Colorful period costumes add to the carnival atmosphere amid jugglers, fire eaters, and traveling wagons entertaining at court. There is, however, a sinister to the bemusement with youth and beauty versus old age, life and death bargains, nudity, and sexual undertones. Parallel fates, duality, and mirror imagery accent the charlatan fortune teller promising a sea monster’s heart cooked by a virgin and eaten by the queen will ensure pregnancy. Good suspense, underwater effects, gory slashes, choice red, disturbing violence, and bloody carcasses escalate the action without making the fantasy a ridiculously overblown spectacle. Ogres, funeral processions, albino twins, and creepy old ladies share in mystical connections, enchanted springs, separations, and temptations. Precious offspring are mere extensions of their parents’ rule, but man that is one freaky giant pet flea! We don’t notice the two hours plus length thanks to unexpected circumstances, ironic riddles, and brutish suitors. This is a beautiful looking movie with a little bit of everything remaining entertaining even in its darkest moments with caves, terrible bats, and deceptive appearances. Changing one’s skin may not change what’s inside, but some people will help or hinder fate for their own selfishness and there are consequences for trying to change what’s meant to be. This is sad at times and not scary for many – most may not like the collected meanwhile in the realm style either. However, Hollywood would Princess Bride frame these Basile tales with narrator bookends toning down the brutal and not shy with a Disney gentrification. This is period accurate and elaborate for adults but no less a fantasy with darkness and charm bringing the well paced, quality stories full circle. The lessons are learned without being as exploitative or nasty as Game of Thrones, and I wish there more mature baroque fantasies like this instead of the same old cutesy.

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: SUMMER VAMPIRES!

 

Summer Vampires, Oh My!

By Kristin Battestella

 

It’s SPF 1000 for these pale undead tales!

 

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night – The black and white patina of this 2014 Persian language spooky invokes a specific fifties or spaghetti western mood. Retro cars, big old TVs, and greaser styles are transposed to a modern, mid-century rundown and post-industrial bleak with kids begging on the street, unusual hookers, an old man injecting “medicine” between his toes, and icky drug dealers. Arash is already paying for his father’s mistakes and taking guff from the rich – but a deadly vamp with a demonic voice and a belying angelic appearance rolls into town, cleaning up Dodge and making things better for the downtrodden. Fine scoring with carnival music touches and rhythmic, edgy throwbacks contrast the stillness and topsy turvy gender roles, for the fallen pimp, collapsing father figure, and absent mothers have created a vacuum for our eponymous mystery and the dark power hidden under her chador. We know the fangs and deservedly gruesome will happen amid the slow build drama or drug and sex frenzy but not when, leaving brief squishing effects, mild blood splatter, and attacking crescendos to speak for the minimal dialogue. A well-behaved stray cat parallels the titular feline predatory, yet sardonic skateboarding adds humor. Arash dresses up as Dracula, gets some bad ecstasy, and meets the real thing but retains his innocence and kindness among the cruelty – the simplicity of homemade ear piercings is much more charming compared to today’s wham bam sex or moon eyes romance. It’s an unconventional mix of straight drama and simmering horror, however at times writer and director Ana Lily Amirpour seems unsure which storyline is priority. The quirky vignettes and dialogue are nice while other scenes are pointless and the silence or music does more. This should have been a short feature or a limited series – viewers want to know The Girl better but this picture can’t rely on earlier unseen shorts or companion comic books. With 100 minutes to fill here, the structure should have been tighter, perhaps with labeled character chapters and our vamp in both senses of the word connecting them. A sagging middle dampens the impact of critical scenes, and this feels more indie cool than truly foreign film – it’s almost faux foreign with no real cultural references. Audiences accustomed to frights a minute will also be disappointed in the handful of horror moments amid the isolated interplay and justifiable girl power. Fortunately, this unusual world gets better as the protagonists go forth. Her bad frees his bad, is that a good or bad thing? There really should be a vampire drama category, and despite its flaws, this unique tale using horror to address social contradictions is worth a look. And there’s a Bee Gees poster, people. ¡The Bee Gees!


Kiss of the Damned – This 2013 vampire tale feels much older thanks to a seventies style opening, video stores, Old World names, European accents, retro clothes, and bonus Montgomery Clift movies on the television. Ominous music, moody candlelight, and a bleak seaside house foreshadow the blood spilling to come, and the property comes complete with an un-tempting, blood disorder maid taking phone messages for her mistress – a lonely translator who’s never available during the day and indisposed until evening thanks to a “medical condition” where she can’t be exposed to sunlight. Wink. Intercut, handicam vamp violence and edgy, intrusive music or over-emphasizing flashes, however, are unnecessary, and melancholy pain with choice pop moments or ironic classical cues do better. Blue lighting, headlights, and golden interiors accent nighttime filming, creating a stylish mature alongside the frank conversations addressing how to chain a girl to the bed. Sexy turned killer teeth, wild eyes, askew angles, and violent thrashing elevate the alluring but dangerous as the heavy petting escalates in spite of the consequences. Reluctant Djuna knows this romance could be doomed, but Paolo wants to get sucked dry at both ends. (¿¡?!) Such erotic yet creepy may be too weird for some, but this realistic vampire relationship is refreshing and fast moving – the vampire turning happens early and the entire picture isn’t a dying for love question. More time is taken for the lifestyle details on living forever, heightened senses, and the charming couple that preys together stays together. Problematic sisters and centuries old sibling rivalry parallel the role reversals and too good to be true good vampire behaviors. Biting on the club scene versus love and living posh, sisters forgetting their mother’s face, cocktail parties and a close-knit vampire community discussing why inferior humans reign and synthetic blood isn’t FDA approved – there’s just enough gore and blood to recognize the messy brimming beneath the gilded surface. The tense debate on whether they are monsters or not and why they shouldn’t self-loath gets better as it goes on with bloody slip ups, saucy conflicts, sunlight perils, and deliberate virgin blood trickery. Although some scoring and editing are rough around the edges and debut writer and director Xan Cassavetes packs a lot of flash early on in the film to lure audiences, the likable cast and fine drama don’t need anything else. This would have made a fine long form series, and I’m glad the vampire genre is growing up again with films like this.

 

Twixt – Washed up horror writer Val Kilmer (The Doors) stars in this 2011 Francis Ford Coppola directed askewer set in a sleepy town featuring zany Sheriff Bruce Dern (The ‘burbs) and a belfry with seven clocks each telling a different time. One hear tells of twelve ghostly kids playing at midnight and a thirteenth child damned, and bodies in the morgue are free for the viewing since the serial killer’s calling card is a giant wooden stake. Bat houses are totally different from bird houses, and the abandoned hotel once sheltered Edgar Allan Poe. Val’s ponytail, Fedora, and drinking hit home the hoofing it, down on his luck author – his bookstore signing is in the bookshelf half of the hardware store! He’s asking for advances so his estranged wife won’t sell priceless literary collectibles, and Joanne Whalley’s (Willow) angry video chats tops off the backwoods humor. Old fashioned lanterns, fax machines, radios, split screen calls, tolling bells, clockwork groans, and wonky camera angles accent the weird nighttime blues, silver patinas, eerie woods, and decayed buildings. Distorted movements, slow motion fireplaces, skyline perspectives, exaggerate neon signs, specific red accents, and individual lighting schemes become increasingly distorted, and Elle Fanning’s (Maleficent) a mysterious porcelain doll-like girl. At times, the Sin City-esque style seems odd for odd’s sake, but the onscreen editor wants a vampire book with a story not just bullshit visuals, and a portable table and chair, ritual writing space, and blank computer screens wink at the select all delete that perhaps only writers can understand. Yes, it’s obvious we may be in an onscreen fiction thanks to the maybe maybe not dream quality, moonlit breakfasts, and imaginary conversations with Ben Chaplin’s (The Truth about Cats & Dogs) Poe blending the titular sense of time together. Is this the creative subconscious, a story in progress, or a purgatory limbo for our author? The interpretive subtext layers the warped atmosphere, but the busy tale within a tale, life imitating art twists end abruptly with typical creepy minister prayers, snakes, mea culpa, and literary catharsis. This isn’t perfect and probably too full of itself – nobody is going to red pencil Coppola – but this didn’t deserve to be a festival blink with a delayed video release. In fact, Coppola’s intentions as a live interactive film with different versions depending on audience reaction remain intriguing, making the picture either all dream, all reality, or all inside story rather than a patchwork narrative with pieces of each. Today, this choose your own adventure concept would be a water cooler Netflix event! Of course, the industry doesn’t embrace out there film making, and one also needs Coppola’s Godfather clout and financial freedom to do this kind of hobbyist release. Many will hate such uneven indulgence, but the oddities here are worth a look.

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: SWEET RECENT SCARES

 

Sweet Recent Scares

by Kristin Battestella

 

Ghosts, vampires, and cults, oh my! This trio of recent tales get the scares right!

 

I am the Pretty Thing that Lives in The House – Ruth Wilson (Luther, The Affair) stars in this 2016 Netflix original written and directed by Oz Perkins (The Blackcoat’s Daughter). Poetic voiceovers tell of a house being borrowed by the living while dark screens and period silhouettes come in and out of focus, creating an aged feeling for our colonial house, ailing horror author, and her jilted live in nurse Lily – who must always wear white, can’t be touched, and slaps her own hand for snooping. Certainly there are obvious implications with repeated phrases, solitary scenes, one side phone calls, whispering voices, and no outdoor perspectives to disrupt our attention from the suspect footsteps and undisturbed décor. Old music with ironic lyrics, cassettes, rotary phones, typewriters, static TV antennas, and Grateful Dead shirts also invoke a trapped in the past mood implying that the thin veil between life and death is soon to be broken. Shadowed, almost black and white shots and doorways framed in darkness make the audience question which side of the looking glass we are on – slow zooms peer into the dark frames or blacked out night time windows. There are shock moments, but the one woman play design is intense without being loud or in your face. Blindfolds, old fashioned dresses, mirrors, musty papers, and mysterious boxes increase amid moldy walls and suspicious characters from our author’s 1960 novel The Lady in the Walls – creating slow burn literary flashbacks, parallel self-awareness, ghostly uncertainty, and feminine duality on wilted old age blooms versus forever beautiful flowers. Is this a linear story or are the past, present, living, and dead blending together? Again, the answers are apparent with book titles and name hints hidden in plain sight. No one eats, sleeps, or bathrooms yet this ghostly rot and repetition may take multiple viewings for full discussion, interpretation, and analysis. Although there are some pretentious arty for the sake of it moments – not the papa Anthony Perkins scenes on the TV! – knocking on the walls, a flipped up rug, buzzing flies, and a will requesting another woman writer come to chronicle this “House of Stories” are atmosphere enough without run of the mill wham bam effects. This individual horror experience remains can’t look away intriguing for old school horror fans not expecting thrills a minute and those who enjoy a seventies, no concept of time mood.

 

Midnight Son – An aversion to sunlight, skin conditions, and the need for human blood make for a deadly quarter life crisis in this 2011 indie gem from Scott Leberecht (Life After Pi). There’s not much dialogue early – and the DVD has deleted scenes, interviews, and commentaries but no subtitles – yet the visual storytelling doesn’t need anything uber talkative. Interesting schemes denote the false night time light with yellow lamps, neon accents, string bulbs, blue kitchen designs, and choice reds as the doctor diagnoses anemia, jaundice, and malnourishment. Rare steak isn’t doing the trick, but the sight of blood on a bandage at the ho hum night security job gets the heart racing for something tasty. Early Google research moments get out of the way in favor of painting memories of the sun, solitary vampire movie watching, checking for fangs, testing for a reaction to crosses, and having a laugh at the clichés. Loneliness, street peddlers, deadbeats, and debt – life’s already down on its luck so what’s a little vampirism? The vampire vis-a-vis for drug use and life sucks may be trite today, but this allegory has an older, working protagonist stopping in the corner butcher for some blood by the pint to hide in his coffee cup. Companionship and fantastic possibilities can be found in unlikely places, and it’s neat to see just how many things a basement dwelling vampire can really do at night. Although I like his bed with the blackout curtains, this is a potential turned bleak world – the natural awkwardness is understandable and casually realistic. Jacob’s smart, talented, and just hampered by his…health problems…and an ER opportunist is willing to trade blood for a price. Rather than shock horror exploitative, we have an intimate, invested view for the increasing slurps, bloody makeouts, and desperateness. Quick camera flashes leave room for suggestion as bodily changes, night vision, infections, and love bites interfere with potential relationships, murder investigations, gallery possibilities, and you know, trying to get somewhere in life. Can you be a good and normal vampire or is amoral violence the only answer? Though plain to some with nothing super unexpected, the simple constructs echo the mature progression, honest drama, and self-aware focus without the need for horror spectacle. This is a fine story with a small but well rounded, multi-ethnic cast, and it’s one of the best same writer/director pictures I’ve seen in a very long while.

 

Sacrifice – Radha Mitchell (Pitch Black), Rupert Graves (Sherlock), and David Robb (Downton Abbey) star in this 2016 adaptation of Sharon Bolton’s novel beginning with brisk New York pregnancy emergencies before moving to Scotland’s great mountains, rocky coasts, and end of the world island isolation for an adoption. Standing stones, jokes about mistaking “runes” for “ruins”, and talk of Druids, Normans, and ritual sacrifice pepper the scene setting job interviews, hospital tours, and dinner with the wealthy, well-connected, but secretive in-laws. A dead animal on the property reveals a buried body, and our lady obstetrician butts into the police investigation of this bog discovery, studying creepy photos and x-rays of the corpse to suggest the victim had recently given birth before her insides were excised. Quality science, Tollund Man references, and flood clues jar against trow myths, unique folklore, and inscription evidence. The authorities don’t want to hear any of that old sacrificial talk, but these mothers and lady cops are intelligent women talking about history and murder rather than men or gossip. While the well-paced, multilayered investigations may build the spooky versus facts with suspicions and tense cloak and dagger, this is not an overt horror picture. The story here feels caught in the middle when it should have been either a straight crime drama or gone with all out fantastics. There are some plot confusions as well – who is who and all the details aren’t totally clear, leaving an abrupt end with serious unanswered questions. Fortunately, surveillance, shadows, chases in the dark office at night, and lights going out add suspense. Late wives, a clinic full of pregnant but anonymous women – who doesn’t want this medical mystery solved and why? This is a small island, and not being in on its secrets can prove fatal with dangerous bridges or fiery car accidents. Body switches, clandestine interviews, identifying tattoos, hidden passages, and bagpipes tossed in for good measure seemingly tidy the case, and a likable, mature cast anchors the maternal fears and cult demands of this unique little thriller.

 

But Skip

White Settlers – A city couple moves to a too good to be true Scottish fixer upper on a medieval battle site in this 2014 British snoozer also called The Blood Lands. After the usual cool opening credits, are we there yet driving to the horrors, a somewhat shady estate agent, no phone signals, and a move in montage; the very unprepared wife realizes she’s afraid of being in an isolated handyman house without power. Of course, her jerk husband makes Scottish jokes, refusing to let up on his bullshit attitude even when there’s a scary break in and unseen attackers. The outdoor saucy, surprisingly immature and incompatible couple, and nighttime suspicious are typical clichés, and the divine scenery, historical references, and great house are never used to their full potential. When the description refers to ancient battles, one sort of expects something wild like ghosts or cults and past meets present horror – not guys in pig masks angry at the new neighbors. It’s tough to feel any of the supposed English versus Scottish subtext because the horror is so substandard. Eden Lake had better us versus them twists, and I swear I just saw this terrorizing hooligans in animal masks trope in at least three other horror house siege movies. Although flashlights and fog make it difficult to see much of anything here, and our wife has to apologize to her asshole husband for her being afraid even while she’s the superior fighter. Maybe this isn’t that bad on its own, but it’s certainly disappointing if you are expecting anything more than Brits chasing some other Brits through the woods in the dark. Nothing here is horror sentient – people go back to check the still body, bads talk rather than act to create a contrived victim escape, and who trusts the creepy little boy for help? Hello, McFly. If you didn’t want any English buying your Scottish property, why not blame the real estate lady who sold it to them? Or the bank that made the price so high? How is unrealistically terrorizing and ridiculously kicking out the new owners so you can move in going to get rid of any of the real world consequences?

Kbatz: Buffy Season 7

 

It’s Very Messy, but Buffy Season 7 Ends Right

by Kristin Battestella

 

The seventh and final 2002-2003 twenty-two episode season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer certainly has its ups and downs with new slayer potentials creating multiple storylines amid the nostalgic series reflection. Most of the year is uneven at best with too many characters and a plodding pace. However Buffy’s big finale remains a sentimental must see for long time fans.

Vampire Slayer Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) is hired by Principal Wood (D.B. Woodside) at the new Sunnydale High school where her sister Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg) attends. Unfortunately, there’s little time for construction manager Xander Harris (Nicholas Brendan) to work or reformed witch Willow Rosenberg (Alyson Hannigan) to return to college, for ex-watcher Rupert Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) reports that potential slayers all over the world are being killed by The First Evil. The Hellmouth beneath the high school is stewing, putting vengeance demon Anya (Emma Caulfield) on the outs with the evil community and testing vampire Spike’s (James Marsters) inability to deal with his newly earned soul. As the public abandons Sunnydale, the small Scooby army is joined by former Trio hostage Andrew (Tom Lenk) and Slayer bad girl Faith (Eliza Dushku) to fight against the ancient Turok-Han vampires and The First’s ruthless disciple Caleb (Nathan Fillion).

The seventh season opener “Lessons” is a pleasing re-introduction to Sunnydale High School, its creepy basement, and the suspicious new principal with an office directly above the Hellmouth. There’s certainly some residual energy on the grounds, and it might have been interesting to stay with this renewed school paranoia. Let Buffy be the occasional adult as new school evils and fresh characters arrive to replace those departing. Scenes from the earliest seasons haven’t been in the opening credits for some time, but numerous references to prior Buffy years pepper the foreshadowing, soul revelations, and demons under pressure. Although the plot is convenient, “Same Time, Same Place” perhaps admits last season skewed too dark – the gang is down to Buffy, Xander, and Dawn before the Scoobies come together again for more yellow crayon reminders. Our main girls help each other heal in similar but parallel separations, and this unique episode with no billed guest stars shows what Buffy can do with a total bottle episode. “Help” also mirrors Buffy’s beginnings with invisible girls unnoticed and hanging at the morgue on a school night. The bullying and suicide conversations are slightly after school special, but in Sunnydale, it’s easier to consider the slayer way or something spooky rather than normal human resolutions. There are demonic twists for sure, but the cryptic predictions build real world life and work better than all the dark metaphors. “Him” does the high school love spell again, complete with the old Sunnydale High cheer leading uniform and A Summer Place music. Despite annoying Dawn moments and dated then cool lingo, this is a self-aware revisit with all involved in the crushing gone awry. In contrast to these lighthearted back to Buffy roots, “Conversations with Dead People” halts the paranormal life moves on potential with a solid mix of supernatural catharsis and deceptions. The isolated vignettes layer multiple foundations while the tension, possessed house, and too good to be true afterlife conversations remain intimate angst and personal horror.

Sadly, most of this season Buffy is disjointed with anonymous potentials detracting from the core gang. With only one big bad lacking the usual Buffy seasonal structure, this could have been a much shorter year, yet the previouslies each episode get longer. That two minute recap eats into an already short forty-three minutes with credits, providing less time for the important things amid ominous cliffhangers and toiling games. Cluttered characters and too much exposition add to the increasingly messy timeline – some episodes continue right where the action leaves off while others never acknowledge gaps in time. Continuity also plays willy nilly with a non-corporeal baddie touching people or objects, leaving viewers to weed out what is fact, error, important, or meh. It’s tough to appreciate the taunts and changing face of The First as actual badness thanks to tired scripts and an over it apocalypse feeling. Such convenient even lazy writing is surprising when Buffy is usually so well interwoven. Season Seven is undecided on whether this is a reset with the global youths or an inward goodbye wrap. Buffy is welcome to do either, but the apathy on choosing makes it easy to tune out now just as it did when the season originally aired. “From beneath it devours” mantras come up empty, and “Beneath You” is a filler attempt at combining good character conversations with monster of the week unnecessary. This is supposedly the bad before bad was even bad, yet it hasn’t been mentioned since Season Three and Buffy doesn’t realize this is The First until “Never Leave Me.” Pieces of episodes have great scenes, but “Bring on the Night” is all talk. Real world school cancellations and residents leaving town finally come in “Empty Places,” but Faith takes everybody to the Bronze, Giles doesn’t trust Spike, Spike doesn’t trust Giles, and peeps be disrespecting Andrew by stealing his Hot Pockets!

Fortunately, the girl power confrontations and women in charge conversations about much more than boys increase the Hellmouth consequences in “Get It Done.” Who The Slayer is and how the job can be redefined finally get back to the First Slayer roots – although such good pieces can be tough to swallow when the obvious First Slayer answers from earlier seasons are selectively ignored. Past slayer angst, vampires both friend and foe, period William the Bloody flashbacks, and motherly conflicts do right in “Lies My Parents Told Me” with deep seeded memories and oedipal mother/slayer sons kink. Not to mention the self-aware jokes on the speeches and confusions about the chip, a trigger, a soul, which one the military gave Spike, and which one is off, on, or making him kill again but not anymore. The wasting time arguing on how to argue comes to a hilt with “Touched,” but not before a speech from Spike interrupted by a speech from Willow cut off by a speech from Faith saying the time for speech giving is done. Thankfully, this entry is about each couple having their moments before the end, and it is indeed touching as well as groundbreaking with steamy interracial sex scenes and equal lesbian action unheard of on American television lo these fifteen years ago. Though commonplace now, it’s another reminder of how important Buffy The Vampire Slayer really is, and “End of Days” takes up the mantle with Sword in the Stone inspiration and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade old lady guardians. The bombs and magic weapons are slightly episodes of the week for Buffy rather than penultimate heavy, but old friendships are reconnected and everyone has their time with what’s really important – like explaining what happened to Mr. Kitty Fantastico! The series is able to say goodbye with a message on whether you win or not being up to you, but there’s a chuckle. too: “What’s your name?” “Buffy.” “No, really.” The prophetic gems and potentials come full circle in the “Chosen” finale by facing the fear of being alone with an eponymous army changing the call to fight against evil. Naturally, it wouldn’t be a Season Seven drinking game without one more speech, but a course of action is finally taken and Dungeons & Dragons is played in the calm before the battle. While some fighting and effects are hokey or crowded, there’s also a cinematic flair with superb moments from the original Scooby Gang – save the world and go to the mall. The slayers make the rules, take it to the evil, and kick ass. It’s an excellent culmination to the series with huge tearjerker moments and a totally fitting goodbye to the Hellmouth, “Welcome to Sunnydale” sign and all.

Kind of sort of counselor Buffy almost has a real job, yet she looks like she did in the first season – just with better symbolic white clothing. High school is a familiar setting, but she’s older, wiser, able to deal and admits to dating hottie dead guys. Buffy has some undead therapy, too, a sit-down examination on her inferiority complex about her superiority complex. The Slayer must always isolate herself, and Buffy feels unqualified for any proper life position. Good thing she has bigger Hellmouth concerns! She doesn’t want any legacy, for what she does is too important for the world to know about it, and Buffy becomes increasingly snotty and defiant despite doing little to fight The First. Her catatonic breakdown late in Season Five seemed a better crack under pressure with fewer roundabouts and rogue fighting getting people killed, and this disservice pulls Buffy a touch too far astray. Deep down she’s still not over killing Angel way back when, and it understandably takes Buffy sometime before trusting Spike again. Luckily, she comes to defend and rely on him, inadvertently confessing she previously had feelings for Spike. The audience has to conveniently forget that Spike told her about Nikki Wood in great detail as Buffy also seems to forget, but amid all the apocalypse crazy, these relationship pauses give Buffy the clarity she needs. Yes, it is a speech about unbaked cookie dough, however, it’s easy to forget how young Buffy really is because she’s been through so much. This time the end of the world is coming round and Buffy realizes she has her whole life ahead of her and it’s okay to not be ready for whatever else there is. She doesn’t want to be the one and only, so she faces self-doubt, embracing a new comfort in her own skin alongside a mature frankness with Spike. Of course, Buffy never was much with the damseling, but now she has to learn how to be just like everyone else.

 

Vampire Spike is on the case trying to unravel what’s happening in his own head in “Sleeper.” Double Spikes and The First’s non-corporeal switcharoos are confusing, but Juliet Landau’s Drusilla disguise helps make The First feel more real as Spike isn’t handling the remorse of his newly acquired soul too well and hanging out near the Hellmouth for The First’s taunts add to his torment. Spike’s crazy basement talk comes in handy, however, and his brief past with Anya is addressed amid multiple questions about his chip, evil brainwashing triggers, and his soul reprieves. His previous attack on Buffy is put front and center to start the season, as Spike knows he has no right to ask for help from her. It’s eerie to see him biting people again, reminding the audience his struggle over his previous villainy will get worse before it gets better. Does he still need to be on a leash or should his chip be removed? Spike drinks to avoid all the household’s human temptations but insists he is there to become good enough and do what Buffy wants. The Initiative chip was done to him, but he sought his soul, and Spike feels good fighting bad guys. He wants Angel’s pretty charm that calls for a champion strong enough to wield it. Spike, a hero, whodathunkit?! He remains loyal to Buffy, literally sniffing her out when she’s tossed from the house, and he’s not fooled by her seeming acceptance of defeat. Spike and Buffy have it out once and for all, coming to a deeper understanding of who each is and what they are together. Even if you aren’t a Spuffy fan – I love both characters but still don’t know if I like them together – there are some endearing late-season moments between them.

Unfortunately, I don’t feel sorry for Willow learning her lesson via a mystical English retreat, and it’s incredibly frustrating that this uber powerful witch who can poof anything better is knocked out of the fight and made awkward again over contrived can’t or won’t magic hang ups. Let her face the bad memories at home and get back into a lighthearted academic usefulness as in the earlier seasons, for Willow has no right to distrust anyone or call out others for any evilness. If potential slayers are making ready, then where are all the other magic experts and trainees for Willow to host or join? If all these characters are doing nothing, why not school other magically inclined people like Dawn, Anya, or Andrew to Wicca power? It’s as if Buffy doesn’t know what to do with Willow’s magic beyond the lesbian sex metaphors, but at least her relationship with Iyari Limon as Kennedy can be realistically portrayed without that wink. Sassy Kennedy acts tough, but the superior potential attitude feels try hard, and the spoiled rich girl is taken down a notch after pushing Willow to do more non-sex magics. Likewise, the uneven “The Killer in Me” is riddled with unnecessary Initiative throwbacks and a repressed grief Willow as Warren hex due to the new lady romance. Been there, done that, and still “So, so tired of it!” Thankfully, Xander has mellowed in his old age, becoming a single parent figure comfortable with himself, his job, and driving everyone to school. His past jerk behavior isn’t forgotten and Xander objects to still being called Buffy’s boy, however, he’s a firm voice of reason, fortifying the house in construction as well as alleviating fears with humor. Xander relates to the potential girls waiting to be chosen, knowing their struggle to be so near but just outside the spotlight. He repairs his relationship with Anya and trusts Buffy even as he pays a hefty price for his loyalty and refuses to let Willow magically heal him. Through it, all Xander’s in good spirits and ready to be there at the end – if only because it is his job to bring Buffy back to life after each apocalypse.

Anya isn’t doing too well as a vengeance demon and spends the early episodes as a magical support plot point before the bemusing Old Norseth speech, subtitles, and period flair of “Selfless” complete with a cute revisit to “Once More with Feeling” and an explanation about the bunnies contrasting her dark and gruesome vengeance deeds. Demon fun with Kali Rocha as Hallfrek and consequences from Andy Umberger as D’Offryn or not, Anya must decide which side she is on with wild spiders, lingering feelings for Xander, and head to heads with Buffy coming to the hilt. I’m not sure where in the series, but we should have had her backstory episode much sooner instead of Anya as merely Xander’s girlfriend who admittedly does little but provide sarcasm. She uses her demon connections, gets into the interrogations, and applies her poor bedside manner when telling how ripe and overcrowded the house is. Her hair changing stir crazy leads to some fun moments with Andrew, who agrees her hospital supply robbery with Jaws quotes makes her the perfect woman. Sunnydale is all kinds of screwed, but Anya isn’t leaving town for this apocalypse. Besides, she’s spot on in saying Dawn isn’t good for anything. The teen still needs to be rescued or babysat a few times, but she does seem to find her place as a junior watcher style researcher. Of course, that doesn’t mean her information is well received, and her idea of developing a demon database based on detective work rather than last season’s out of hand use of magic is ignored. She’s growing up and has some humorous moments, but it makes no sense how her mystical same blood of Buffy means she is not a potential slayer. Despite wise youth observations about no one asking for help when they need it or that is isn’t evil that makes vampires with or without souls love or hate slayers, there are just too many people making speeches already, and if Dawn was mentioned as being secreted away to safety with the unseen good witches coven in England, her absence would not have been noticed.

D.B. Woodside’s (24) Principal Wood is quite interesting for Buffy, a character not quite friend or foe who should have been used more – even as a suspected mini bad for the first half of the season. Wood knows more about Buffy than he admits, calling her school record checkered while he describes himself as a snappy dressing, sexy vampire fighting guy. He knows Spike is a liability but lets his personal history with the vampire cloud his judgment as they begrudgingly fight alongside each other. Sadly, Wood ends up just kind of there, with too much busy and inconsistency in “First Date” interfering with his revelations. I still also want more of Eliza Dushku as Faith, an inexplicably late arrival to Season Seven who’s right that she should have gotten the FYI on The First. Faith opines that Buffy protecting vampires makes her the bad slayer and now she is the good one who chose to serve her time. It’s delightful to see her really meet Spike not exactly for the first time, and their bantering about who is the more reformed bad – not to mention Faith’s chemistry with Spike and Wood – was spin off worthy for sure. The best parts of “Dirty Girls” are the ones without Buffy, and the good and evil religious parallels add to the saucy and Faith’s kinky reminiscing. Buffy should have used the lingering resentment between who is the real slayer in charge to the fullest, and The First appearing as Harry Groener’s Mayor Wilkins helps Faith face her past. She admits she enjoys being part of something bigger, even if a weapon that could be hers of course really belongs to Buffy, and in the end, Faith goes from defensive about her slayer burden to encouraging the man interested to “have a little faith.”

I recall Nathan Fillion’s (Firefly) Caleb as being more important than he actually is, and his evil priest with the dirty slayer girls metaphors also could have been a mini bad face to The First early in the season instead of a mere five episodes late. Caleb has some great warped sermons with evil reversions on the Last Supper, communion, wine, and blood. His misplaced righteous defines who’s good, bad, clean or bad folk. Unfortunately, the hammy quips are too tired, and explanations on his mergings with The First to gain his super strength are almost an afterthought in the second to the last episode. So, The First wants to make all humans soulless with such merges but needs a buried ancient weapon to do this slayer mojo reversion. We could have used that information just a little bit sooner. Likewise annoying, sorry not sorry to say, are the potential slayers – Amanda, Annabelle, Molly, Kennedy, Rona, Vi, Chao-Ahn, Chloe, Eve, Colleen, Shannon, Laverne & Shirley. Even Buffy can’t remember the names of what is said to be thirty odd cardboard placeholders with iffy accents and terrible style. Their number, abilities, who they are, where they sleep, and who did or didn’t tell who what and when remains ridiculously confusing. The potentials admit to having squat in “Showtime,” and the desperately unprepared girls are a terrible little army with entire scenes of fearful debates on their said unpreparedness. Buffy takes too long to realize the slayer line changes and First impostors infiltrate the unknowns far too easily. By “Potential” Spike’s trigger is still in doubt yet he gets neck and neck with these girls during their little slayer boot camp. School and training are unrealistically balanced, as are bruises and injuries so serious one episode but gone the next. As the first episode aired after the series’ winter break, “Potential” also resets any strides made with more round and round vampire studies that ultimately go nowhere.

Outside of the perhaps understandably absent Oz and Tara, nearly everybody who has ever been on Buffy has a goodbye moment, including each Big Bad, Elizabeth Anne Allen as evil witch Amy, and James C. Leary as the fun and floppy eared demon Clem. Special guest star Anthony Stewart Head’s authority as Giles is desperately needed, but brief suspicions about him regarding The First are unnecessary and hollow. His usual voice of information is mishandled as well, with Giles’ Watcher wisdom cast aside for plot contrivances. Fortunately, David Boreanaz’s brief crossover as Angel has more clarity with mystical tokens given and pissy jealously over his no longer being the only vampire with a soul. Bittersweet moments come with Kristine Sutherland as Joyce Summers and Danny Strong as Jonathan, however, I am completely over Adam Busch as Warren and The Trio as villains. Tom Lenk’s Andrew starts weak with lingering what’s his name Tucker’s brother clichés, and my word Buffy gets ridiculously finite with too many pop culture references and geeky fan service, making this annoying character annoying indeed. Thankfully, Andrew – a “guestage” who bakes as his reform from evil – is not wrong when he says this season is Episode I boring, and props to his Dalton as Bond appreciation! Though a fun departure before the big final episodes, “Storyteller” uses Andrew’s video camera point of view for more meaning than it lets on underneath the Masterpiece Theatre ironies, retro video style, and need to document the slayer legacy with embellished liberties. Some B plotting out of the unique viewpoint loses steam, but Year Seven could have opened with the in media res here. This hour captures Buffy’s not taking itself too seriously tone despite the demon bads – something this toiling season often forgets – and everything gets up to speed with revelations to the camera confessor as it should be.

But say hey, it’s 2003 and they have cell phones now! Well, one shared flip phone that’s left behind by teen girls and gets reception in the basement – yeah right! – but it’s those corded landlines where you must remember the numbers to dial that are really scary. Series from this era were probably the last ones where world building could be so isolated with no newspapers or television reports necessary. Online police scanners could have been handy, however primitive internet searches result in nothing but unhelpful Geocities web pages. People need to explain what Googling is, and looking up “evil” on your work computer is never a good idea. The Bronze and its hip music moments should have been retired a long time ago, and certain fashions and weak monster effects shout Y2K. Buffy also strays from its own style with borrowing from Vertigo or The Terminator. Fatal opening montages featuring worldwide potentials strive for exotic edgy but end up mere Run Lola Run copies. The scoring is also embarrassingly noticeable, swelling for each of those redundant speeches. There are some fun splitscreen effects to visually accent the hysteria, but the perpetually beat up yet unrealistically repaired Summers House is too crowded and inadvertently symbolic of this busy Buffy season. Camping out in the damaged Magic Box could have interesting, and maybe Xander’s apartment on that higher floor might have been a bit more secure against the anonymous Bringers, lame Turok-Han vampires, or demon of the week easy. At least they admit one bathroom in the house is a problem, and hehe, Zima.

Today, Buffy’s final leg would have been twelve episodes tops – eight with no punches pulled. I want to zoom over all the superfluous with only a viewer sense of loyalty to carry through the forgettable hours yet can only take so many episodes at a time. However, it’s odd to complain that Buffy doesn’t know what to do with itself this season since the series is must see exceptional television overall. Year Seven makes me want to go back and marathon my favorites, and I repeatedly stopped and started this rewatch several times – only going forth with the last few shows once Buffy was expiring from Netflix as a lazy excuse to continue. Season Seven is both nostalgic good and rocky tough, but all the negatives know when to take a backseat as Buffy The Vampire Slayer ultimately ties itself together in one final, pretty bow. 

 

Kbatz: The Munsters Season Two

 

The Munsters Uneven Second Season Still Full of Fun Treats

by Kristin Battestella

 

At once The Munsters seems like a short-lived show with two seasons worth of spooky shtick – if you’ve seen one episode with lovable monster Herman, vampire housewife Lily, The Count Grandpa mad scientist, unfortunately normal niece Marilyn, and little werewolf son Eddie then you’ve seen them all. However, with thirty-two episodes for the Second 1965-66 season, The Munsters both strays from its affable formula yet provides enough hair-brained fun for triple the time of today’s shorter, ten or thirteen episode seasons.

Lying down on the job, getting mistaken for a customer – The Munsters‘ funeral parlor jokes continue this season in “Herman’s Child Psychology.” The family gathers around the dusty organ for a sing a long and nice father and son moments turn into bemusing reverse psychology as peer pressure puts Eddie in a mini rebellion phase. It’s a simple premise, but this cool refresher even kids that these kinds of things are supposed to work on Leave it to Beaver. Likewise, everyone struggles to all fit on the couch for a family photo and end up victims of the powder poof in “Herman Munster, Shutterbug.” Lily knows Herman dabbling in photography will be botched somehow, and sure enough, the clan ends up humorously held hostage after Herman inadvertently snaps bank robbers in the act. Of course, the crooks can’t handle The Munsters at home, but Grandpa sides with Herman and Marilyn with Lily when the couple both secretly take second jobs to buy each other 1865 anniversary gifts in “Happy 100th Anniversary.” Not only do they scare the employment agency, but the two end up working side by side – but in their welding masks. Granted, The Munsters repeats on the moonlighting jobs, and gosh it sure was easy to get work for a week back then. However, parallel scenes, charming quips, mistaken hijinks, and men versus women in the same workplace combine for some preposterous, memorable laughter. Grandpa says the dripping with class Munsters must frighten the common man and that’s why they can’t get a renter for their guest room in “Lily’s Star Boarder.” Of course, jealous man of the house Herman objects to the idea, snoops, and jumps to a totally wrong conclusion about their secretive guest. Rather than a crooked swindle, here The Munsters smartly puts an outsider in the mansion and lets the happenstance ensue. Unfortunately, the court thinks Herman hitting his head and getting amnesia is a Candid Camera stunt in “John Doe Munster.” Lily and Grandpa must go to the adoption judge over comic book reading Herman – who doesn’t recognize his family. However, he does think Mrs. Munster is a cute cookie and is willing to go home with her if he gets his own TV set!

Meetings with the Mayor, creature sightings, and pesky reporters make for an interesting mix of humor and politics when Grandpa’s anti-voting machine and Spot’s running away clash in “Underground Munster.” Whispers of corruption, red tape, and a politician really throwing dynamite on the situation add to the race against the clock, and The Munsters gets better midway through the season as secret passages in the dungeon lead to the discovery of an old fort in “The Treasure of Mockingbird Heights.” Labels such as “playpen” and “hobby room” on the ye olde prison stocks delight Herman and Grandpa – not to mention the map to buried pirate treasure. After all, the boys agree such luck doesn’t happen to this kind of nice, normal family. Teamwork, humorous obstacles, surprises, and suspicions keep the two-hander cracks fun. Unfortunately, Eddie’s being bullied and Herman faces practical jokers at work in “Herman’s Peace Offensive.” While doing the right thing, not resorting to violence, proper parenting, and standing up to bullies are basic sitcom topics, The Munsters’ unique brand adds witty gags alongside parlor zest and father/son boxing gone awry. The lessons are learned – although innocent Herman mixes with horse racing bookies instead of discouraging Eddie from gambling in “Herman Picks a Winner.” Fred Gwynne also goes sans monster makeup after “disfiguring” stray lightning in “Just Another Pretty Face,” making for one of the most memorable Munster episodes. It’s Herman complete with all the same mannerisms, but the repulsed family takes him to the doctor and considers plastic surgery. Poor Herman feels Hollywood flashy in a regular suit and too embarrassed to go to the parlor, but his original Dr. Frankenstein blueprints and some mad scientist twists bring rectifying delights. Likewise, “Zombo” provides great horror within the horror as Eddie becomes obsessed with the titular host’s show – only to be shocked and disappointed at the behind the scenes fakery and “This is television” cardboard veneer. Here The Munsters uses the spooky bad horror expected of the era to wink at their own comedy as well as the still relatively new vogue of television.

Viewers also get to see more of the funeral parlor after Herman’s publication of “Going out to Pasture” in “The Mortician Monthly” for “Cyrano de Munster.” When he turns to ghost writing love letters for a co-worker and Lily finds out, well, The Munsters add its own spin on the familiar theme. And imagine, back then, one had to look up people’s addresses in the phone book! Dr. Frankenstein IV stops by in “A Visit from Johann,” and Gwynne does double monster duty again as the eponymous but less sophisticated Herman lookalike. Johann, however, escapes the dungeon and ends up on a switcharoo honeymoon weekend with Lily. Alas, it’s Herman ruining Grandpa’s go kart birthday gift for Eddie that brings the father and son-in-law to war in “A House Divided.” Booby traps and elaborate alarms lead to the divvy of mansion property with competing televisions, rival organ music, and newspaper squabbles. Instead of cruel crooks, the bemusing nasty stems from the territorial escalating, and rather than some kind of scam, the car accident victim of the jaywalking Herman tries to settle in “Herman’s Lawsuit.” Her lawyer sees their lifestyle and thinks The Munsters destitute, but the out of touch family doesn’t realize they are the ones being paid! The unplanned series finale “A Visit from the Teacher” sees Grandpa’s crazy invention to save electricity, Herman electrocuted while trying to fix the toaster, and Eddie’s school essay about his zany family – bemusingly summing up The Munsters in a little episode about nothing but them being themselves. Of course, the school officials think it is all just a disturbing fantasy until they end up trapped in the coffin phone booth, and The Munsters think it is nothing but plain old jealousy when others don’t appreciate their good-natured hospitality.

 

Generally, The Munsters’ episodes have a Munster moniker in their title, and the names of each half hour pretty much giveaway that show’s entire plot. However the titles aren’t shown in the episode’s credits this season, and Year Two is slow to start with the same unnecessary gimmicks and dancing bears. Repeat bank heists and people fleeing in super speed get old fast and detract from the family humor this show does best. Rather than takings cues from its own brand, The Munsters relies on too many then-references and jokes that will fall flat for audiences mid-century unfamiliar. Quoting other television shows in attempted self-awareness doesn’t work when the family themselves behave inconsistently and out of character from episode to episode. One and all happily go to the beach without negative comments on sunshine and nice weather, Herman says he never won an award when he just did win the episode prior – isn’t grilling wolf burgers a little cannibalistic? Dated stereotypes and an evil Russian trawler in “Herman the Master Spy” add to the unevenness in the first half of the season, almost as if the show doesn’t know what to do beyond putting the family in outlandish stunts such as “Bronco Bustin’ Munster.” Fun individual moments like Herman’s clumsy, house damaging, not so athletic grace in “Herman, Coach of the Year” are like every other sports episode, and attempted, ahead of their time comments on gay marriage, cross-dressing, and male to female body switches come off as woefully unsmooth. The hypnosis and hiccup gags in “Herman’s Sorority Caper” do enough alongside the drive-in showing “The Beast That Ate Lower New Jersey,” however, frat boys abducting Herman and sorority shower traps dampen the fun, and The Munsters often resorts to such dumb turns rather than fully embracing its potential for unique, spooky horror treats. Big Heap Herman” piles on stereotypical Native American portrayals – with Native Americans complaining about their faux village tourism and putting on stereotypical Native American portrayals. There’s promise with tiny cabin births and little ladders for physical gags, but somehow it all comes down to two vampires walking through the desert. Say what?

He may speak a bit of Spanish and basic French, but Herman Munster’s family knows he is a big boob who can get lost on the way home and needs his inflatable sea horsey to go scuba diving. Herman wants to impress his family at all times and be their hero but still have time to catch up on Little Orphan Annie. He’s 152 and in the prime of his life yet afraid a hair cut will ruin his rugged Steve McQueen look. Herman falls for every trick in the book, as in “Herman, the Tire Kicker” when he uses his $375 bonus to inadvertently buy a hot lemon for Marilyn. However, he laughs at his own jokes, too – which makes Herman all the more lovable whether the pun is stellar or corny. In “Will Success Spoil Herman Munster?” Herman plays guitar and sings a song, leading to radio stardom that naturally gets the better of him. Gwynne’s simplest slapstick actions and solo physical humor are always good fun, and this season the majority of episodes focus on Herman. He only cracks the mirror twice and school professors take Herman for a missing link in “Prehistoric Munster,” but when offered a happy hour drink, he agrees to a hot fudge sundae with pecans on top – and kicks back four of them. Although I wish we saw more of him at the funeral parlor, about his work Herman says, “I really dig it.” When promoted to driving the Hearst for “Herman’s Driving Test,” he discovers his license expired 20 years ago, which means good old law abiding Herman has been driving almost the entire series without a license! Tsk tsk. Of course, Lily gets unnecessarily jealous and easily angry at Herman despite their long lasting marriage – she wore a black veil and held their wedding reception in the family mausoleum. They aren’t seen in that shocking double bed together as much, but Lily keeps herself classy with braids, a black parasol, and an old fashioned bathing suit at the beach. Her iconic dress actually changes quite a bit, but hello, tiara! Lily puts out her best bone china for guests and makes everyone’s favorite owl egg omelet brunch complete with bat milk yogurt, salamander salad, vulture livers, and cream of buzzard soup. Ever the loving aunt, she calls home from the movies to check on Marilyn – if only because the western movie massacre was disappointing thanks to all the fake blood. Lily paints, sculpts, and although she enjoys having the lights out and needing a candle during nighttime storms, she also want the television back ASAP. She gets very upset when Herman turns handsome – er gruesome and often lays down the law with her family. While early on Yvonne De Carlo doesn’t have much to do besides yell at Herman, Lily has her spotlight when late Cousin Wolverine sends The Munsters a 10,000 inheritance in “The Most Beautiful Ghoul in the World.” Lily and Marilyn open a beauty parlor to rival Grandpa and Herman’s latest experiment, however Lily’s Old World beauty techniques make regular folks’ heads turn – and sue Lily for disastrous results.

 

Fortunately, ever wise Grandpa says there’s no sense crying over spilled blood! Even without his crystal ball, he knows Herman will goof up his experiments or turn his well intended pills and potions into a family mishap. While Grandpa does antagonize Herman with cowardly taunts and experiments on him even when he runs out of anesthetic, they also look through old photo albums together and their mad scientist team ups do help…occasionally. Grandpa turns into numerous animals, disguises himself to fool Herman, and uses his trick index finger as a lighter or key. We don’t often see his pet bat Igor, but Grandpa plays checkers with a ghost – who won’t pay up when he loses – and has some interesting Tesla style energy, wireless, and lighting designs that unfortunately backfire. When not focusing on Herman The Munsters does seem more rounded this season with ensemble moments and great wisecracks from Al Lewis. Grandpa loves the operations on Dr. Kildare and thinks My Three Sons is a “weird fantastic adventure,” but he gets lassoed into his own scam when a wealthy widow is searching for him in “Grandpa’s Lost Wife.” The yacht and thoroughbreds were too good to be true, and Grandpa goes back to sitting at the kitchen table reading “Playghoul.” What kind of message is that for dear Eddie? He buries Grandpa in the sand at the beach, has a surfboard in the shape of a coffin, and picks up a new pet snake named Elmer. Eddie also wins a track race on his own despite Herman wanting to take coaching credit or Grandpa cheating with magic. He’s reluctant to take mystery potions to improve his organ lessons, and such tricks yield unintended jazz results when Eddie is forced to play the trumpet in “The Musician.” While Eddie remains a plot point or moral example as needed, Butch Patrick still generally appears at the dinner table or for a pet mention and then disappears until the end of an episode. For every stride The Munsters makes in giving him something to do, the gags still take over any character development. Sure, he slides down the banister with his Woof Woof or takes a pole to the kitchen and has cool stairs in his room. However, home from school trouble is told rather than seen, and the robot companion in “Eddie’s Brother” becomes more about Herman playing favorites. Unlike other sitcoms of the era, The Munsters never adds more children to its nucleus – but the series also should have paid more attention to the youth it had. I suspect they could have written Eddie out as off to boarding school or with relatives in Transylvania and the series wouldn’t have changed much. 

Naturally, Pat Priest as Marilyn fairs little better, coming and going with off screen exposition despite providing sound advice amid the haywire. She listens to Lily’s this or that and has some funny moments with Grandpa – although the family whispers about what could have scared her pregnant mother into making her look like that. The Munsters have high hopes, however, making her dresses out of left over lining fabric from the funeral parlor and storing them in her hope chest made with cedar from the parlor’s “Forever Yours” casket model. When not helping in the kitchen and serving tea or sour lemonade, Marilyn stays home and studies rather than going out with the clan – but at least she has some scenes of her own and gets to say she is home for a big test instead of being name dropped as an afterthought. Why couldn’t Marilyn be the focus of the driving test episode? Even for her birthday in “The Fregosi Emerald” – complete with a cursed ring, sow’s ear purse, and a tarantula skin wallet with a picture of Herman inside it – Marilyn has the same old jinx and bad dates. Fortunately, she actually has a storyline of her own in “A Man for Marilyn.” Herman scares a boy by saying they would love to have him for dinner, but Grandpa turns a frog into a prince while Lily literally ropes in a passerby and dresses Marilyn up in a black lace wedding gown. After all, “Happy the bride the moon shines on, dear!” It’s a cute little episode that makes most of The Munsters’ built in Marilyn gag. This sophomore year there are also less guests with more self contained stories, but fun choice appearances nearer the end of the season include Dom DeLuise as Dr. Dudley, Harvey Korman again, Batman’s The Riddler Frank Gorshin, and mom Bonnie Franklin from One Day at a Time. John Carradine also returns as deadpan funeral director Mr.Gateman, telling “Mrs. M” he is in a gay mood and famous for his sense of humor – and he confesses that the parlor runs better without Herman.

 

The Munsters debuts new credits and a tricked out theme for Year Two, however the crash sound when Herman breaks through the front door is occasionally absent, and sometimes the show starts cold while other times a title card is presented. The volume is once again uneven, and some animal effects are better than others are. While make up and fashion changes are understandable, the special effects seem reduced this season, with less objects broken and cheaper looking travel facades, poor water and boat photography, silly rodeo footage, and seriously fake forestry. Fortunately, the Munster Mansion is less cobwebbed, making it just a little bit easier to see everything, including a new guest room with an upstairs candlestick phone that seems to be where Marilyn’s room was in the front gable. Herman and Lily’s master suite leads to the covered widow’s walk on the right of the house, and décor such as the trick knight at the top of the stairs, a growling tiger blanket, and a crooked, dusty “Home Sweet Home” sign set the quirky, quaint mood. That big house, however, has only has one bathroom hear tell. The cranky clock raven has a handful of snarky quips, but Kitty and its lion roar only appears a few times, erroneously as both a ginger and a black cat. However, sort of dragon, kind of dinosaur Spot and his tail are more visual this go round, with talk of him stealing car bumpers because he has an iron deficiency and other critical plot moments almost making him more important than Eddie! The pyrotechnics under the stairs come in handy grilling hot dogs, too, while the smoke, fog, and grayscale schemes keep the 1313 Mockingbird Lane lawn looking creepy fun for a nighttime dig. But hell, I want to open a shop with only $5,000 capital! And $20 bail? Hot damn. All the family’s ideas, information, and schemes come from their daily newspaper, too, and it’s easy to enjoy the nostalgia on The Munsters thanks to old laboratory gadgetry, flashbulb cameras, tape recorders, period radios, and giant bags of snail mail.

Strangely, Episode Seven “Operation Herman” is not included with The Munsters on Netflix. The doctoring may be unfunny, and Herman breaks the hospital rules to bring him Woof Woof when Eddie gets his tonsils removed, but even with the dose of laughing gas, it looks to be just a simple oversight rather than anything offensive. Streaming options, affordable series DVDS with perks, and retro reruns on networks like Cozi TV make it easy to catch The Munsters or the color follow up features Munster, Go Home and The Munsters’ Revenge. I am however hesitant to move on to the sequel series The Munsters Today. Despite running longer than The Munsters, I’m just too tepid about all that eighties neon! The Second Season of The Munsters starts with a lot of the same old same old. At times, the series seems out of steam and parodies its own parody with repetitive plots. Perhaps such simplicity is expected from a sixties show with so many episodes yet seemingly so few innate possibilities. Fortunately, The Munsters still has plenty of memorable delights in this second leg, and one and all can continue the creepy family fun marathon year round.

 

Kbatz: The Munsters Season One

 

The Munsters Debut remains Macabre Good Fun

by Kristin Battestella

 

Meet the lovable and naive Herman Munster (Fred Gwynne) – a 150 year old green skinned Frankenstein’s monster – and his vampire housewife Lily (Yvonne De Carlo) along with their Grandpa Count (Al Lewis), unfortunately normal niece Marilyn (Beverly Owen, Pat Priest), and young werewolf son Eddie (Butch Patrick) in the 1964-65 Season One debut of The Munsters. Though often derivative, gimmicky, and of its time, The Munsters jam packs these first thirty-eight episodes with gags, wit, and slapstick brimming with Halloween mood. 
Fittingly, “Munster Masquerade” begins The Munsters with young romance and cross culture social clashes. These high society dames are worried about misspelling “Munster as Monster,” but the titular kin think an uppity masquerade party complete with King Arthur and Little Bo Peep costumes is horrifying! The Munsters establishes its series tone and now familiar tricks early, however, such gags and reverse quips – we weren’t dug up last night, put the color back in your cheeks, not letting the lack of rain spoil the evening – are part of the spooky, for the laughs charm. One might not expect much in these short twenty-five minutes or less run times, but the horror tropes, sci-fi humor, and lighthearted morals are surprisingly well balanced. The Munsters may not realize what they are, yet they make a point of being kind because they know what creeps regular folks may be. As a redo of the previous two test pilots, “My Fair Munster” is almost a bottle episode of mean neighbors despite that Munster friendliness alongside rectifying Marilyn’s old maid status with Grandpa’s mistaken love potion. “Rock-A-Bye Munster” adds self-awareness with a trick television and mini Frankenstein’s monster toys, leading to a witty case of mistaken pregnancy and the birth of the Munster Koach. The robot is hokey and the clash with truant officers remains unrealistic, yet “Tin Can Man” provides great funeral jokes and fatal quips before Herman falls asleep in the backseat as their car is stolen for a bank heist getaway in “The Midnight Ride of Herman Munster.” His innocence ups the zany plot twists, as he is surprised they want to go to the bank at dawn – it’s too early to be open – and he won’t speed in a 25 miles per hour zone when they leave. Likewise “The Sleeping Cutie” piles on the hypnosis humor, a pill that turns water into gasoline, sleeping potions, and a suitor named “prince.” What could possibly go wrong? Instead of a night picnic in the cemetery, the family braves the fresh air so Eddie can camp like the other boys in “Grandpa’s Call of the Wild.” Naturally, the trip spells disaster for Grandpa – who brings his electric chair outdoors and almost ends up in the zoo. The clan teamwork continues in “All-Star Munster” when Herman is mistaken for a basketball star by redneck visitors misunderstanding the comparably well to do Munsters, and “Bats of a Feather” fully introduces the family pets – Kitty with its lion’s roar, Spot the dragon under the stairs, and that “spoiled bat” Igor. Hey, why isn’t their temperamental raven in the cuckoo clock considered for the pet fair? I protest.

 

Herman’s detective school moonlighting and fun disguises raise Lily’s jealous suspicions in “Follow That Munster,” and the lighthearted marital discord carries over in “Love Locked Out” when Herman is sleeping on the couch until both separately go to a marriage counselor for inadvertently competing advice. Eddie finally has a friend over in “Come Back, Little Googie” but he’s an insulting, nasty boy trying to trick everybody, providing for The Munsters special brand of cruel versus kind lessons. Relocating to Buffalo for Herman’s promotion in “Munsters on the Move” wouldn’t be a problem if they didn’t scare away potential home buyers – literally! Unfortunately, life insurance crooks are trying to kill Herman with on set accidents in “Movie Star Munster,” but such stunts don’t hurt him, forcing them to up their risks. Granted, there are scams like this practically every other episode on The Munsters – Herman always signs some kind of terrible contract in a quest for fame and fortune. However, the escalating trappings here are mad fun, and although diva Herman may be dumb enough not to read the fine print, but I’ll be darn he isn’t doing a scene if he doesn’t feel the character’s motivation! Fashion shows faux pas, a disastrous golf course, and snooty club members give everyone their moment in “Country Club Munsters” – complete with hatred and veiled statements reminding The Munsters how such bigoted people aren’t up to their kindly standards. “Love Comes to Mockingbird Heights” sees the family working both for and against a cad banker making moves on Marilyn just for the Munster gold, and say hey, Uncle Creature from the Black Lagoon pays a visit before a hilarious museum excursion leaves Herman locked in a sarcophagus for “Mummy Munster.” Women in the workplace jealousy anchors “Lily Munster, Girl Model,” and ridiculously fun Nutcracker spins and pirouettes have the whole family in on the magic act for “Munster the Magnificent.” Herman making friends and helping a little boy in “Yes, Galen, There Is a Herman” accents The Munsters with slightly serious Frankenstein movie parallels, and the eponymous boy’s disbelieving family takes him to a psychiatrist. Sure, today it is creepy the way Uncle Herman picks up a boy on the street and takes him back to his dungeon to watch Grandpa’s home movies, but the wink within a wink embracing fantasy versus destructive reality makes for a fine little finale on The Munsters debut.

Of course with so many episodes, The Munsters certainly has a few clunkers including the bickering couple using The Munsters for their own gain in Pike’s Pique” and the shocking townsfolk reactions and presumed to be celebrating Halloween excuses in “Family Portrait.” The harp and phonograph of “Far Out Munsters” are fun, as is the irony of The Munsters liking The Beatles despite being initially too old fashioned for rock n roll – “You know, they’re almost as good as Kate Smith!” However, although the Beatniks invading Mockingbird Heights accept The Munsters as all right, the capitalizing Fab Four covers miss the mark along with the ham radio and mistaken aliens of “If a Martian Answers, Hang Up.” Too many stunt episodes in a row like “Herman the Rookie” complete with Dodgers guest stars and get rich quick schemes like the desolate timeshare of “Herman’s Happy Valley” feel like we’ve seen this same old already. You don’t have to watch The Munsters in order, but when one tunes in for every episode, you know what you’re going to get. With so many one trick ponies, it’s somewhat amazing The Munsters lasted as long as it did, and the series also has numerous inconsistencies. The make up stylings are redesigned in the earlier episodes, and even the credits change halfway through this first season with Fred Gwynne moving from his last “and” billing to first. The juvenile crank speed running away in horror exits get old fast, and bungling cop jokes suggest more than a hint of Fred Gwynne and Al Lewis’ prior series Car 54, Where are You? The vampires on The Munsters adhere to no traditional undead rules, and how do a vampy wife and a monster man end up with a werewolf son, anyway? Throwaway dates, locations, and relations change from episode to episode with no clear show bible logistics. It’s no fun seeing so called regular folks trying to swindle the family, yet The Munsters relies on too many of these scam sitcom scripts when that contrast isn’t necessary compared to the titular topsy turvy perspective. Fifty years on, some jokes and pop culture references may not be understood by today’s audiences, and it is unfortunately very surprising to hear terms like wetback and gyp or Romani jokes alongside woeful Asian stereotypes in what is such a beloved and otherwise family friendly show. Honestly, I’m surprised these rare but jarring moments weren’t edited out for the video release.

 

Sure he works at a funeral parlor, however Herman Munster is a normal guy who wants his idyllic mid century family to be safe. So what if he’s a dunce at his might and stomps his foot when he doesn’t get his way. “Fiddlesticks!” is Herman’s go to exclaim, especially when he’s late for the carpool that picks him up in the back of the parlor’s Hearst – and he’s ticklish, too. Herman may crack the mirror – literallybut he’s more worried about his bills than being mistaken for the misspelled monster in the headlines crook of “A Walk on the Mild Side.” Always concerned about money, Herman tries a disastrous laundromat job in “Herman’s Raise” as well as wrestling on the weekends for extra cash in “Herman the Great.” However, he’s simply too sweet to be ruthless against the cheating competition. Herman won’t disobey a “Don’t Walk” sign but blows up the signal when he presses the button! Gwynne excels in solo physical humor scenes with few words as in “Dance With Me, Herman,” and he plays a suave lookalike in “Knock Wood, Here Comes Charlie” complete with a British accent and monocle. Fearful, finger pointing mobs may be played for laughs on The Munsters, but Herman makes sure his kin isn’t involved with the nasty folks in town, and more looking through the window Mary Shelley motifs are made humorous when Herman tries dieting at Thanksgiving in “Low-Cal Munster.” Herman and his wife Lily sit on the couch together and read, rock on the porch together during a storm, have a beach date on a rainy day, and – gasp – sleep in the same bed! Lily’s pussycat is more handsome than that unfortunate Cary Grant in her eyes. Although the family fears her wrath and she does get annoyed at his bungling when Herman and Grandpa are mistaken for burglars in Halloween masks in “Don’t Bank on Herman,” Lily easily forgives. She’s a good mom, too – sewing Eddie’s doll and raising Marilyn despite her niece’s “flaws.” Lily cleans nine rooms and a dungeon, vacuums with a vacuum set to exhaust the dust, and cooks oatmeal, pancakes, and Herman’s favorite cream of vulture soup. She plays the harp, sleeps with her namesake flower, and in “Herman’s Rival,” the 137 years young nee Dracula does palm readings at the local tea room. Although her white hair streaks and make up design varies at times, Yvonne De Carlo (The Ten Commandments) is always delightful thanks to bat necklaces, a werewolf stole, tiaras, iconic gowns, sparkling taffeta coffin capes, and “Chanel No. 13.”

Likewise, Al Lewis is all in good fun as that charming 400 year old widower Grandpa. The Count – known to turn into a wolf himself – has a werewolf son named Lester and still loves him some ladies despite having had over one hundred wives and falling for a mail order bride scam in “Autumn Croakus.” Occasionally, Lewis breaks the fourth wall, and these talking to himself asides or sight gags add self-aware wit. Grandpa hangs upside down in the living room, takes his eggs night side up, and roots against the Angels. Yes, there are a lot of hammy Dracula cliches on The Munsters – Grandpa’s cape and widow’s peak alone – but there is always a lovable quip or two to match his cool basement laboratory, potions, wacky inventions, and the latest money making scheme up his sleeve. Grandpa watches television and soap operas are his favorite comedy, but he has a naughty streak, too – tempting Herman with trick pens or food when he can’t eat. Unfortunately, their bemusing bromance does suffer in “Grandpa Leaves Home” when the feeling unloved Count runs off to perform in an ill-received magic club act. Grandpa’s tricks aren’t as good as they used to be, and such endeavors always have hair-brained results on The Munsters. Child star Butch Patrick’s Eddie hangs with his Grandpa the most, helping him in the dungeon when he’s not howling at the moon or playing in the fireplace, that is. Wolf look and all, “Edward Wolfgang Munster” is a gosh darn cute little boy with his little short pants, knee socks, pointed ears, and Woof Woof doll. He’s so tiny beside the seven foot Herman and no bigger than the golf bag when he caddies for his dad! Fortunately, his small stature means Eddie can hide in the cabinet or other fun places, and he has a pet door where one can deliver his bedtime glass of milk. Although he plays baseball with the other kids, they often don’t believe his stories about the Munster household – which unfortunately seem to happen mostly without Eddie. I’m glad The Munsters isn’t Eddie-focused in a Beaver Cleaver gone Halloween fashion, and the series was in fact envisioned as a parody on Leave it to Beaver by producers Joe Donnelly and Bob Mosher. However, Patrick often only has one scene even when the episode’s premise starts with him, and he’s most often seen with his back to the camera at the family table. Eddie’s Nickname” is his only centric episode, but we do get to see his room in detail alongside nice father and son time and some moral lessons. Besides, today he would have a far worse nickname then “Shorty.”

 

She’s supposed to be Lily’s sister’s daughter, yet Marilyn’s mother is never mentioned by Lily or Grandpa, and her last name is still somehow Munster. Yeah. It’s somewhat sad that The Munsters’ normal blonde niece is so underdeveloped that the Beverly Owens to Pat Priest casting change in Episode 14 is almost completely unnoticeable. The Munsters does at least make good use of Marilyn’s repeatedly scaring away dates right from the start, and each unsuitable suitor gone is for the better as far as her Aunt Lily and Uncle Herman are concerned. The family pities her for being so “ugly” or “hopeless” and think she looks better with the bags under her eyes when she can’t sleep. They insist she stay in school and get an education because she’s only going to get a boy to like her for her brain! Marilyn does get a kiss in “Love Comes to Mockingbird Heights” – where we see her girly bedroom inside the left gable of the Munster Mansion complete with floral wallpaper, a canopy bed, and dainty furniture which Herman finds “distasteful.” Though never shown having plots or hobbies of her own and mentioned as being off studying when not included, Marilyn is briefly seen playing the organ and being Herman’s talent show magician’s assistant. She doesn’t desperately fall for every wolf on the make, either, and can tell when someone is suspicious. Most of Marilyn’s scenes, however, are with Lily, and it’s apparent the character really only exists as a soundboard for the wife at home. Like Eddie, Marilyn has one scene and few lines per episode. On the rare occasion they are alone onscreen, the cousins are still talking about others rather than having stories of their own. Marilyn has one shtick and one shtick alone, but it is a fun one, and the would-be con artists who knock on The Munsters’ door deserve to find this innocent and demure decoy. For sure, The Munsters has its fair share of famous and recognizable guests including postman John Fielder (The Bob Newhart Show) and Bewitched’s Paul Lynde in several episodes as Dr. Dudley. Batman’s Commissioner Gordon Neil Hamilton is here, too, with Bill Mummy (Lost in Space), Pat Buttram (Green Acres), Barbara Babcock (Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman), Harvey Korman (The Carol Burnett Show), Don Rickles, and more. I must say, I would have certainly watched a spinoff featuring John Carradine as Herman’s undertaker boss Mr. Gateman!

Although the drag racing creation of the Dragula roadster in “Hot Rod Herman” will conflict with the later Munster, Go Home movie plots and a regular car driven by an unseen ghost is seen only once early on, the aforementioned Munster Koach is always good fun. Likewise, the cowabunga theme music remains as memorable as the always recognizable Munster Mansion – a great television house that has appeared in other films and television shows such as The ‘Burbs and Desperate Housewives yet continues to inspire builders who want to live at 1313 Mockingbird Lane. Sure, the kitchen is kind of drab. The décor is too derelict trashy and hellllooo dust mites rather than fancy Gothic sophistication – at Halloween one always strives for the latter and ends up with the former! However, that candlestick phone in the indoor coffin phone booth is yes please, and let’s throw in some nostalgic bells and whistles such as that $2 with a 50 cent tip taxi cab fee for good measure. Secret passages, creaking doors, and cobwebs spook up The Munsters as do phonographs, candelabras, cool spell books, and creepy potion ingredients. I wish the series had been in color – if The Munsters had lasted for a third year on CBS in the 1966-67 season, it could not have remained black and white. Thankfully, the smoke, fog, bubbling cauldrons, poofs of dust, and objects moving by themselves benefit from the eerie grayscale palette while setting the spooky Halloween funhouse atmosphere. Although the uneven sound is perhaps understandable, the laugh track and cutesy music effects feel like an intrusive insecurity today. The Munsters is a funny show, and the audience gets the puns a minute without the canned response – and we prefer our own spontaneous chuckles to being told we are too dumb to know good comedy when we see it. The pet jokes are much more fun on The Munsters thanks to some surprisingly not bad special effects. Not only are those opening stairs cool, but Spot’s flames and pyrotechnic gags, Kitty’s lion roar, wolf or animal filming, and bemusing bat work accent the horror humor. As to that grouchy cuckoo clock raven voiced by Mel Blanc…want!

All the mid-century so-called fantasy sitcoms have their gimmicks, and The Munsters is at once of its time with simplistic plots, stock character tropes, and lighthearted happy family motifs in costumed dressings. Too many episodes in a row can be tiring or annoying when every half hour seems the same. Fortunately, the very affordable Complete Series DVDs add to the fun with actor spotlights, behind the scenes features, unaired pilots and color versions – treats not available on current retro channel airings or streaming options. The Munsters uses every trick at its disposal to crank out its weekly humorous horror wheelhouse, and ironically, any derivative hang ups also make this debut easy to marathon for a weekend. Viewers can pay attention or casually tune in for the best gags or leave Herman, Lily, and the gang on to occupy the kids. Let the delightful family frights of The Munsters Season One play for a harmless party or Halloween mood any time of year.