FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Bell, Book, and Candle

Bell Book and Candle is still Great, Witchy Fun

By Kristin Battestella

 

We may think all the young adult fantasy books, Potter-esque films, and shows like Charmed have cornered the magic market onscreen, but classics like 1958’s Bell Book and Candle have kept the kooky comedy and witchy situations innocent and fun all along.

Over Christmas, good natured New York witch Gillian Holroyd (Kim Novak) grows a little tired of her witchy ways and Aunt Queenie’s (Elsa Lanchester) magical games. When Gil falls in love with publisher and upstairs neighbor Shep Henderson (James Stewart), she uses her cat Pyewacket to cast a spell. Shep must fall in love with Gil and thus not marry her former rival and college classmate Merle Kittridge (Janice Rule, 3 Women). While all the love blossoms, Gil’s warlock brother Nicky (Jack Lemmon) assists writer Sidney Redlitch (Ernie Kovacs) in his new book ‘Magic in Manhattan’. Will Shep’s publication of the book expose the Holroyds’ witchy ways and ruin Gil’s romance with Shep?

Based upon the play by John Van Druten (Gaslight, Cabaret), director Richard Quine (Sunny Side of the Street) and screenwriter Daniel Taradash (From Here to Eternity) craft a charming look at the power and hijinks of magic and love. We often allude to love being like a bewitching spell in lyrics and poetry. Even though a spell is cast in Bell Book and Candle, we’re never quite sure where the magic ends and the true love begins. The fanciful and fun take on possible love from socially at odds groups-humans and witches-is lighthearted and still enjoyable today. We can make all the modern and hefty allusions we want about mixed romances or stereotypes about practitioners of witchcraft, but it’s nice to just take in a sweet movie with none of those pretenses. There are a few lighting effects, camera tricks, and the proverbial smoke and mirrors, but more than anything Bell Book and Candle allows its players the time and space to show the magical fun.

Yes, Jimmy Stewart (Harvey, It’s A Wonderful Life, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Rear Window, Anatomy of a Murder, need I go on?) is a little too old to be a leading man here against Kim Novak, but he’s still delightful as the straight man publisher caught in the magical mix of spells and romance. We believe a charming witch could get Shep all flustered, confused, and tongue-tied due to Stewart’s loveable slip-ups. His mix of enchantment and clueless nonsense when confronted with the world of witchcraft must have been great fun then-as it still is now to the modern viewer. Stewart’s old, and perhaps his performance is a bit Capra-esque old fashioned, but it’s a fun turn nonetheless. As wonderfully fooled as Shep is, Jack Lemmon’s Nicky is wickedly slick. His magic is all in good fun, too, but he can’t resist the spotlight. Nicky’s ill-attempted exposé writing collaborations mix the crazy ambition with the sardonic blend of wit and drama contemporary audiences expect from the late star of Grumpy Old Men and The Odd Couple. In a way, there is a touch of passing the torch between the graying Stewart and energetic Lemmon. Both men handled the romance, seriousness, and comedy of their roles before and after Bell Book and Candle with a style and class not often found in today’s young acting crowd.

Though not as famous as her male counterparts, its fun to see Kim Novak paired with Jimmy Stewart again after Alfred Hitchcock’s suspense filled Vertigo the same year. Novak’s good witch longing for love does take some getting used to after her deceptive dame in Vertigo, but her husky voice and dynamite eyes adhere to the femme and witchy vibe we expect. Her costumes are hip, with mostly spooky black or eye-catching reds- but what’s with the high, almost white hair? There’s not many close ups of Novak for some reason, but the ones we’re given are breathtaking. Fun effects and cat motifs add to Gil’s already enchanting ways, too. We believe her when she says she has the power to get things done, yet we feel for her wishes for normalcy. Likewise, Elsa Lanchester’s (The Private Life of Henry VIII, Bride of Frankenstein, Witness for the Prosecution) Aunt Queenie is great fun as the elder, kooky and mischievous sprite helping with some good natured interference and match making. Comedy maven Ernie Kovacs (Our Man in Havana, North to Alaska) is also a delight as author Sidney Redlitch – an ‘expert’ of modern witches among us who fails to see the warlocks right under his nose.

Part of Bell Book and Candle’s charm is its fun fifties color and style: the cigarettes, quirky music, Oscar nominated high-end fashion and nonchalant, cute effects. The high life of mid century New York is a delightful time capsule, and the pillow talk approach to witchcraft is in a way modern but no less sweet. However, part of this charm also irrevocably dates the portrayal. It’s 1958- the innocence of the post war years would soon be lost. Some of the whirlwind two-week romance is a little too innocent with no innuendo before the quick marriage talk, and even the colorful styles and titled fedoras would be on the fashion outs in a few years’ time. It’s as if the onscreen attitudes and styles are a final fifties hurrah before the turmoil and realizations of the sixties.

Now I’m sorry to say that I don’t know anything about current Wiccan and religious practices; but naturally modern pagans and witches looking for some seriousness and accuracy won’t find it in Bell Book and Candle. While not deliberately offensive, the clean cut fifties stylings goes for the traditional broomstick stereotypes. It’s great if you like films with some witchy fun, but there’s no realistic portrayal here. Classic film fans, however, can also enjoy the similar I Married A Witch (1942) starring Veronica Lake- both films are often attributed as the inspiration for the beloved television series Bewitched. Modern romantic fans tired of the same inane plots over and over will be charmed, too. Youthful audiences who still enjoy enchanting tales like Bewitched or Hocus Pocus can take in Bell Book and Candle at Halloween, Christmas, or any time of year.

FRIGHTENING FLIX Horror Holiday Gift Guide Video

Kristin Battestella aka Kbatz discusses what type of affordable, family friendly, or full on scary Frightening Flix to give this Holiday season included Bela Lugosi and Universal Horror, Tales from the Crypt versus Tales from the Darkside, and more!

 

 

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Horror Addicts.net Online Writers Conference Feb 24-28, 2019

Attention Literary Horror Addicts, Wicked Women Writers, Masters of the Macabre, and any fellow demented author folk!

HorrorAddicts.net is having our very own Online Writing Conference in February 2019!

Authors, Editors, Agents, Publishers, Readers, and Writers are invited to take part in the Horror Addicts.net Online Writers Conference and learn HOW to hone their literary craft thanks to interactive online forums, live chats, writing exercises, and more FREE opportunities to sharpen your skills wherever you are and whatever you write. Yes, the HOW Conference is open to any genre and general writing topics, not just horror!

What kind of workshops are we looking for at HOW, you ask?
  • Interactive forum based workshops, worksheets, writing exercises or prompts in any genre or writing skill level
  • Articles and essays with writing tips, experiences, or references, again in all genres or on technical tips, formatting, grammar, etc
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  • Articles and tips on marketing, networking, promotion, and social media for authors
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Have an idea? Don’t hesitate to ask! If it is technologically possible, we want to do it at HOW!

Register now on our Free Forum at http://horroraddictswriters.freeforums.net for more Information or to chat RIGHT NOW in our open Pre-Conference area with your fellow writers!

To participate in HOW,  you must register at our Online Writers Conference Forum. Don’t worry, it’s free and Easy! During the week of the conference February 24-28 2019, the Workshop boards will be open. Each board will contain the workshop threads, conveniently sorted by genre so our experts can present their tips, worksheets, brainstorming, and more. All you have to do interact – host your workshop, browse the forum, participate in one, two events or as many aspects as possible and get inspired with HOW!

Workshop Applicants should submit their workshop proposal no later than February 1 to horroraddicts@gmail.com. Please use the subject heading Horror Addicts Online Conference Query so we recognize your message.
A general outline of your workshop should be included in the body of the email, along with details about any worksheets or technical materials you may need or will be using. If you would also like to schedule a Shout Box chat as part of your workshop or any other kind of live or daily event rather than or in addition to a stagnant forum workshop, let us know.
Of course, please include your contact information so we can respond with any questions about your workshop or confirm your approval as part of HOW.  Please allow up to a week to reply to your application query. If you don’t hear from us by February 7, please contact us again or join the Pre-Conference area of the HOW forum for the latest information.
Thank you for your participation and we look forward to seeing you at the Horror Addicts.net Online Writers Conference!

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Krampus (2015)

Krampus is Disappointing Holiday Horror Fare

by Kristin Battestella

 

If you think your December is bad, consider the anti-Saint Nick killer of the 2015 horror comedy Krampus. Though starting strong with relatable holiday family sarcasm and budding snowbound scares, this PG-13 combination tale never embraces its unique monster potential and fizzles into disappointing, pedestrian fare.

Young Max (Emjay Anthony) wants his parents (Adam Scott and Toni Collette) to have some Christmas spirit again. Unfortunately, arguments with his visiting Aunt Linda (Allison Tolman), Uncle Howard (David Koechner), and his nasty cousins make Max tear up his ridiculed letter to Santa Claus – creating an invitation for the evil, ancient spirit of Krampus to descend their chimney instead…

 

Writer and director Michael Dougherty (Trick ‘r Treat) starts Krampus with promising seasonal satire and jovial Bing Crosby holiday tunes winking at the December mad dash shopping. The out of hand festiveness increases thanks to crying kids on Santa’s lap, stressed and glum employees, and fighting customers tasered by security while the crowd videos it all on their smartphones. A Christmas Carol is on the television, mom’s obsessing over the perfect crème brulee, and the War on Christmas peppers the news – Krampus is up front about its holiday honesty with debates over Santa being a cheap marketing ploy to sell Coca Cola and cruel tales of his crashed sleigh and Big Nick eating his reindeer to survive. Arguments at the table worsen every year, and the hope of the holidays being like they used to be can’t be overcome by one’s DNA. The destruction of an admittedly preposterous letter to Santa summons a thunderous snowstorm and blackout – no heat, water, or electricity and twelve crabby people. The usual holiday tiffs turn into worse bleak as mysterious snowmen surround the isolated house and thumps on the roof aren’t the sleigh they expected. Scary attacks from under the snowbanks and jack in the box decoys create suspense as do abandoned trucks, echoes lost in the blizzard, and footprints suggesting an upright goat walking on its hind legs. While under siege, the family re-discovers sentimental ornaments and recalls late relatives – there’s nothing like a monster attack to bring everyone together at Christmas! Gunshots break the silent holiday night and people go missing as the sub-zero temperatures drop. These are realistic scares, and the family asleep about the fire will soon be privy to the evil coming down the chimney with baited hooks and sinister presents to lure children for punishment rather than giving. Initially accurate wisecracks and understandable difficulty in believing Krampus is at work help the self-aware mix of interior drama and terrors amok. Unfortunately, Krampus is surprisingly lacking in its own folklore flair and descends into a busy, supposedly cognizant but unintentionally laughable lag trading what should be innate fears and the uniquely sinister for rowdy action or juvenile delays. The misleading comedy label becomes an excuse for silly animated accessories, undercutting the terror of Krampus waiting within the walls ready to emerge and abduct. Shooting at what they don’t understand, falling asleep when they must stay awake, not heeding the Krampus tale when they hear it – perhaps a united spirit or singing a carol might vanquish the monstrous invasion, but Krampus instead divides its family in a hollow finale asking for a do over on the sorry not sorry.

Likable dad Adam Scott (Parks and Recreation) isn’t traveling for work but he’s still on business calls, creating a supposed marital strain and leaving his son to watch Charlie Brown alone. Tom’s sardonic wanting to get the holiday over with turns into action as the scares mount, and he uses his town knowledge for a fighting advantage and plan of attack to proactively protect his family. Sadly, the adults in Krampus are under developed clichés –ironic place holders learning how to make sacrifices for a happy holiday just because the plot says so. We never know what Tom’s job is, where they live, or why the marriage is troubled, compromising any relatability the stars have. Toni Collette’s (United States of Tara) Sarah tries to make Christmas perfect by having everything super clean, but her decorating is considered to be “Martha Stewart threw up in here” over the top. She has some moxie when her kitchen or fancy food are criticized, but her angel on top of the tree saccharin doesn’t add the spirit Krampus needs. Though too brief, Krista Sadler (Lena Rais) provides Old World strength and wisdom as the German-speaking grandmother Omi, and she respects the past when cultural ethnicity and traditions mattered instead of celebrations without meaning. Omi crosses herself once – the only time Jesus is referenced in a Christmas parable about sacrifice – and does what needs to be done but Krampus remains too modern and mainstream bland, generic rather than Germanic. The titular potential is neutered by stagnant characters who never really learn but drop in quick succession – almost as if they knew the ninety minutes were up and an absolutely wrong time and place joke was due to deflate any meaningful foothold. I almost want to see Krampus from his point of view, watching as his nasty influence and take rather than give plan reveals everyone’s true colors.

Emjay Anthony’s (Chef) Max wears a bow tie, annoyingly repeats everything his grandmother says, and claims he’s smart and old enough to know what’s happening – never mind that his torn up and tossed to the wind letter is what brought the wrath of Krampus upon them. At thirteen he’s too old to believe in Santa Clause, and Max even gets in a fight defending the Jolly One before writing him seeking help for his family. If Max truly wanted Christmas to be as it was, he could have gone ahead with their traditions and reminded everyone of their holiday memories instead of bitching over his letter to Santa being read aloud. That’s the worst thing that has ever happened to him? That embarrassment is worth cursing your family to damnation? Unfortunately, Max thinks he can fix his fault by asking for a reset, and Krampus sacrifices its Scrooge scared straight possibility in favor of the very millennial blasé it warns against. Likewise, daughter Stefanie LaVie Owen (The Carrie Diaries) is irrelevant alongside too many gross, mean, disposable cousins and a baby who’s initially forgotten in a tricked out Hummer named Lucinda. I think the family dog gets more screen time than some of the non-speaking kids! Sarah’s sister Allison Tolman (Fargo) is made little woman simple while her redneck husband David Koechner (The Office) forges an odd friendship with Tom. He has useful skills and calls it like it is, but Krampus makes him smart or stupid as needed. Conchata Ferrell’s (Two and a Half Men) Aunt Dorothy gets through the scares with some peppermint schnapps – Krampus liking schnapps is never mentioned, boo – and her drunken sarcasm should be the only requisite quipping comedy. Unfortunately, Krampus goes overboard with ill timed laughs and puns in all the wrong places. Does this bitter family deserve what Krampus brings? We never know them as anything more than script proxies, so the audience can’t be sure.

Blowing snow, aerial shots, and weather effects give Krampus a fitting brr alongside holiday music and other bells, chimes, and diegetic sounds of the season. Fine blackout schemes and blue patinas work well – a chilly to contrast the yellow firelight and candlelit glows. While the leaping from house to house and rooftop flying effects are messy CGI, the thumping landings and howling echoes match the horned silhouette, giant hooves, and beastly furry cloak. Brief binocular sightings, unseen creatures attacking under the snow, and abandoned, frosty homes with trashed wreaths and destroyed fireplaces invoke fitting fears alongside trees on fire and ruined presents. Krampus uses practical designs and doesn’t reveal the full enormity of the monster – leaving the caressing, pointed nails and long, too close for comfort tongue to suggest the sinister. There’s minimal technology as well – tablets and smartphones are used until their power dies – but the gingerbread men effects are poor, even stupid along with unnecessary jesters and animated toys, hectic attic battles, confusing flue action, and intercut household sieges. Krampus himself doesn’t do very much as his trying to be humorous but ultimately laughable little minions run amok. The notion of his Santa mask having something hidden underneath is disappointing up close, and minimally used evil elves abducting children, a sack of souls collected by Krampus, and his ghoulish sleigh are better reversions on the theme. The retro animated flashback is also an old school anchor for Krampus, showing the bleak loss of seasonal spirit and giving in terrible times with a sad narration and the scared reaction of one little girl. Unfortunately, the fiery finale leaves some audiences confused, and the production mistakenly relies on alternate scenes or commentaries – absent on the rental blu-ray, naturally – and companion books to explain Krampus when a film must take care of itself.

 

Instead of wasteful ignorance and apathy, perhaps a prayer or some faith could have given Krampus a stronger battle of wills? The neither here nor there tone inadvertently embraces both anti-religion by not mentioning anything creche yet also admonishes audiences for treating Christmas like a going through the motions date on the calendar. A straight forward family holiday drama or full on horror one or the other decision may have served Krampus better – breathing room to trust its own dark, sardonic allegory instead of dampening good horrors with a humorous overload. What’s supposed to be so funny about Krampus anyway? This is a divisive, anti-Home Alone, and Krampus’ need for commercial safety, weak jokes, and trite action combines for an uneven parody and try hard “oops my bad” disappointment that inexplicably underutilizes its own ominous folklore.

Fiction and Genre Panel – 3rd Indie Author Day Event

Moderator and horror author Brian McKinley is joined by science fiction writer William Gold, humorist Loretta Wish, mystery and thriller author J. Lauryl Jennings, dark fantasy author Kristin Battestella (yes that’s me! Your trusty Kbatz!), and urban fantasy storyteller Laura Kaighn for the Fiction and Genre Panel at the 3rd Indie Author Day hosted at the Heggan Library in Sewell, NJ.

You can see the entire 7 part video below or also view the Childrens and Non-Fiction Panel from the Indie Author Day.  For more photos and author events, visit the South Jersey Writers Conference, Facebook Page.

 

 

 

How Not to Make a Spooky Spell Book – A Kbatz Kraft!

How Not to Make a Spooky Spell Book

by Kristin Battestella

Inspired by having extra tea stained pages from my Spooky Bottle Labels project, Old Kbatz here decided to make a Spooky Spell Book. Not having some of the right materials, however, led to some time consuming mistakes.

First I selected a book to decorate. Many bibliophiles and macabre folks love the idea of these often expensive stacks of creepy looking books but none of us really want to damage a book to make one! You can go to a local library sale of thrift store and choose an old outdated encyclopedia or reference book. However, even after purging my books for a move, I still had several cookbooks I wasn’t using.

 

This one was large enough on the front to do the design I had in mind on the outside and I intended to stick my tea pages in the middle of the book. In theory, it’s still perfectly usable as a cookbook should I ever need some kind of hamburger recipe that can’t be found online. I sketched out my wording with a marker and then traced over the lettering with Tacky Glue. Maybe the hot glue gun would have been quicker, but Tacky Glue allowed me a little more time with a toothpick as I perfected the letters. If you’re doing this with the kids, it might be easier to paint first and then make some lettering with a more friendly glue and some glitter, however I didn’t want this to be sparkly glam, just an old innocuous book with a goofy plastic scorpion I glued on the front.

Once the glue was dry, I colored over the white glue with black marker so it would stand out more as I painted the rest of the book. It was okay if I got some on my letters or scorpion, because I intended to go over them at the very end with a final coat of black. Using red paint, I went over the book cover. Unfortunately, the red paint peeled and chipped off as it dried, and another coat did the same thing. I wondered if there was a sheen to the book that should have been sanded first or if it was the paint itself. I liked the contrast of the bright red with the black, but this poster paint kept peeling and never had good coverage. I debated doing a third or fourth coat and having to go buy some kind of artist spray sealant. By time I did all that, I could have just bought a spooky spell book!

The next day, I let all the red paint chip off and decided to try using a smaller tube of acrylic paint I had called Berry Wine. I did small sections on the back of the book and let them dry – sticking and with better coverage! I like the aged, deeper color more than the bright red, but I thought because I had a smaller quantity that there wouldn’t be enough for the book. Instead, the acrylic paint covered more and went further without all the terrible peeling. After a few coats of the berry paint dried, I went over the lettering and scorpion with one coat of black. Lesson learned: I’m not an artist at all, and knowing which materials work together and having the right supplies to do a project is paramount.

Now I was able to work on my interior pages. At first I was going to trace assorted ye olde symbols, but that is also out of my artistic area of expertise and I didn’t want anymore mistakes. Instead I wrote Macbeth quotes on the pages in colored pencil making slightly oldeth calligraphy style lettering before going over the wording again in brown marker. Here I was careful of the order I wanted for the pages and which quotes I wanted to be showing when the book was opened flat. I also didn’t use both sides of the pages or use the marker when they were stacked together lest any ink bleed through. It was back to the Tacky Glue as I made a line down the left side of the pages one at a time, gluing them together to be inserted in the exact middle of my cookbook. I trimmed the right side of the pages so they wouldn’t stick out as much and made a line of glue on the inside of the book to insert the pages.

This was a spur of the moment project that took several days longer than it should have thanks to my painting errors. It looks great now that it is complete, and once I realized which paint worked best, I was able to make another spellbook that took less than a day. Although I had gotten rid of several old Writer’s Market editions in my move, I still had a beat up hardback 1997 edition on my shelf that was thick enough to do some spine wording. Again I sketched my letters and traced them in glue. This time I used a green marker to make the lettering stand out, for I was painting this book with black acrylic paint that covered in less than two coats. For the letters, I wanted a contrasting yellow, however, the yellow paint and green marker have blended together to create a creepy looking color. I may go over it again to make it more golden, but I kind of like the icky look. This book I can also use again if I wanted, however I’m tempted to use it as the base of a spooky cloche – but that is another Kbatz Kraft!

Batty for Bats – No, Really!

Batty for Bats – No, Really!

By Kristin Battestella

 

 

I knew I couldn’t stay for the whole program, but when the Free Public Library of Monroe Township posted about a special presentation called Batty for Bats, well I knew I had to take a gander!

Ms. Mary, a naturalist from the Rancocas Nature Center, 794 Rancocas Road, Westhampton, NJ 08060, quizzed local children at the library on what they knew about bats and tested them with some true or false statements. When I asked Ms. Mary if the kids attending these programs were usually creeped out, she said that the snakes and reptiles were actually quite popular – and the youths tonight agreed that bats were “cool.” After all, bats groom themselves just like cats do!

The children – and let’s be honest the parents there, too – were curious to see some of the bat materials on display. Facts on bats such as wing span and heartbeats per minute were hit home for the kids by donning some costume wings to test their own wing spans and putting on stethoscopes to hear their own heartbeats in a “How a Bat Compares to Me” activity. Everyone had a good laugh while learning the basics about bats from Ms. Mary – who confessed to not actually being a bat expert because she prefers bugs.

Based in Burlington County within the 200 acre Rancocas Park and formerly part of the New Jersey Audubon Society, The Rancocas Nature Center puts on a variety of nature and educational programs in South Jersey. For more information, visit rancocasnaturecenter.org or follow facebook.com/FriendsofRNC to support their programs.

 

And no, there are no vampire bats in New Jersey, thanks for asking.

 

A very special Thank You to Ms. Mary, the Rancocas Nature Center, and the Monroe Library for allowing me to stop by the program and take a few pictures!

Creepy Cloches – A Kbatz Craft!

Creating Creepy Cloches – A Kbatz Kraft!

By Kristin Battestella

Kristin Battestella aka Kbatz here again to show our Horror Addicts Community how to make your very own Spooky but affordable cloches for Halloween or year round macabre décor!

For us alternative folks, it really pays to shop at thrift and second hand shops to find off the beaten path accessories. I lucked into finding two actual cloches, one large and one small, at two different Goodwill stores. The smaller cloche was $1 and already had the orange floral décor inside, so I put a fun orange spider from a Dollar Store party favor pack inside, keeping the orange theme for Halloween rather than something more realistic like a black spider.

The larger cloche was $3 – a steal when more elaborate Halloween cloches in stores cost $10 or more for whatever generic creepy is inside them. This actually had an unusual Good King Wenceslas doll inside that looks slightly creepy itself. I don’t trust him, so he’s going right back inside a homemade Christmas cloche! Once he was out, I put a Dollar Store skull on a pedestal inside and used hot glue to surround the skull with glittery Dollar Store branches and stems. I originally wanted to fan the branches all the way around, but obviously, the glass lid has to fit over the design, so the branches became a more compact bunch with smaller pieces in front going inside the skull’s open mouth for full effect.

Naturally I intended to have a bat perched on top the skull, but it was too big for the glass and I used a plastic ant instead. Next I used Dollar Store moss to cover the pedestal base. Some of it sits where I need it, but other places I again hot glued strategic moss in place. As this is a three dimensional glass display, the back must look just as nice as the front. I planned a realistic spider below in front to create visual balance. However, I found the large stick inside my moss bag and went with it as a perch for a bug from my spooky favors assortment. I could have gone outside and used natural leaves, moss, and branches, but I’m quite pleased with how this cloche came out. It looks like a skull was once preserved, but it’s as if something grew around it and died – a pleasingly morose display I might keep out year round!

In addition to these two lucky finds, I also saved several large party mix plastic barrels to make homemade Halloween cloches. Truly, the most difficult part of all these DIY crafts was getting the darn labels off these jugs! Fortunately or unfortunately, the most expensive thing in all these projects for my wallet and waist was eating these snacks! Instead of trying to fit everything through the jar opening, I cut the top off so I could turn it upside down. The edge didn’t have to be perfect because I would cover it with moss, but I did get cut doing this. It’s official, I’ve bled for HorrorAddicts.net! I put a Dollar Store glow in the dark skull on top of more natural green moss with glittery green branches and added glow in the dark spiders. My base for this was a simple plastic plate, and it is a little flimsy compared to the wood bases of the real cloches. In the future I might get wooden plaques available at the craft store or natural rounds. One can set a homemade cloche on something fancy like a silver platter or cake stand, but obviously we’re not permanently gluing the base with those.

To cover the lingering label lines on my jar, I strategy placed more moss as if it was growing up the outside and top of the cloche complete with a glow in the dark bat as the piece de resistance. My idea here is that this was something alive but now overgrown. Naturally, the cutting and hot glue are not family friendly crafting, and different materials can be used if a child has any allergies. Since this is fairly lightweight, I wouldn’t put it where kids or pets may knock it over or keep it out year round – and be warned the moss may attract real spiders and the like! I quite like how this cloche turned out, however, side by side with the real glass cloches, you can tell it is plastic and homemade. Then again, in cutting off the tops of two party mix jugs and putting them together, I ended up with a bonus orb which, as I posted on our Horror Addicts.net Facebook community, I was unsure how to use.

I debated using bloody drips to make it look like something bloody escaped or filling it with spider webbing like there was something cloudy and unseen inside before filling it with assorted plastic bones. I glued brown ribbon on to cover the jar rims and seams and then tied rustic yarn around it for an apothecary style, adding a ‘Do Not open until October 31’ tag and leaving off the top lid. My theory is that something was alive inside, but opening it early turned what was within to bones. Although that might not be immediately apparent, the beauty here is that it was a free bonus project that can be changed next Halloween.

By being thrift savvy and using affordable materials, I have several creepy cloches providing the most bang for my Halloween buck, and I hope you have some ideas for your own one of kind cloches, too!

Tea Stained Labels and Spooky Bottles – A Kbatz Kraft!

How to Tea Stain Labels and Make Spooky Bottles

by Kristin Battestella

Who has the money to buy all those fancy potion bottles and apothecary accessories in stores? Kristin Battestella aka Kbatz is here again to show how YOU can make some customized, old fashioned labels and aged Halloween bottles for your spooky display.

First, let’s focus on making the creepy labels, Eye of Newt and Toe of Frog and all that. I made up some Shakespeare inspired labels with a few clip art pictures and printed them. Of course, stark white printer paper doesn’t work for our aged apothecary, so we need some tea staining.

I brewed a pitcher of tea – using a few ginger flavors that I don’t really like, which actually left the paper with a nice spice smell! I dabbed the steeped tea bags all over the pages, soaking them to different degrees. Some of them I went over several times to darken them more, or to make even more aged lines and stains. You probably did this as a kid to make some kind of old looking paper, and it is totally effective for Halloween décor!

 

You can see I stained the whole pages, rather than cutting out all the labels first. Cutting them would have left a lot of paper to waste, and by staining the whole piece, it gave me scrap paper that was also tea stained after I cut out my labels. Now I have extra if I want to hand write some tags and do something else fancy!

I left my pages to dry, and in fact, had enough tea left over that I went ahead and stained some more blank pages, inspiring me to make up some kind of old fashion spooky spell books – but that is another Kbatz Kraft!

Once my labels dried and I cut them out, you can see some of the places where the ink ran. For some of them, it did ruin them as too illegible, but for others, it was just a little old touch that added unexpected character. Most of these I intended as labels, but a few others I planned on making tags to tie around my bottle necks.

Well, what bottles, do you ask? You can go to the thrift store or dollar shop and get some plain or unique bottles, but really, if you save some of your household bottles, you can recycle them into something spooky. I’ve spent the last few months saving anything unusual looking – from medicine bottles, shampoo, and bubble bath to wine, bug spray, and candle jars.

I still have some spice bottles and stained paper left over, and initially planned to match specific bottles with labels before wondering if I should mass theme everything by spray painting them all a uniform gloss black or old fashioned brown. Instead, I took each bottle one at a time, using craft paints in several colors and foam brushes. Some bottles were already nice colored glass and I just went over them with a bit of dry bush to dab an etched, age glass kind of look. I’m not an artist and it took me some trial and error do overs on some before I was happy, but others I simply had to paint the whole bottle one color to cover up a label, more stark white, or an ugly bottle cap.

Once my bottles were painted, I began matching them with labels. Some shapes and sizes I had in mind didn’t go together and I ended up switching them around. Some labels became tags, and other labels that were too big ended up with the written label on the bottle as well as the matching picture as a tie tag. It maybe wasn’t as I had intended, but a happy accident as Bob Ross says, as the bottle colors, assorted labels, and extra tag ties created more variety in my little apothecary collection.

I’ve mixed the bottles I made in with some fancy bottles as well as other wine and soda bottles that I had put on other store bought labels. I’ve put them all across the top of my refrigerator, giving my kitchen a bit of a Halloween double take. By not being overtly all black typically Halloween looking from a far, guests get a little WTF when they are up close and see Tooth of Wolf, Baboon’s Blood, or the eyeball I put in one of those amber medicine bottles!

In addition to collecting the bottles and making up some of the labels in advance, this took me about a weekend. I spent a couple evenings painting the bottles with acrylic paints, then a Saturday doing the tea staining, and a Sunday using tacky glue and yarn for the labels and tags. This is family friendly or classroom safe Halloween fun as well, just perhaps messy with maybe the adults handling the hot tea or any strong smelling paint or glue.

I hope this gives you some ideas on how you can recycle what you already have and print out something to make look ye olde without having to spend a lot of money to look potion proper. Heck, I may just leave my bottles out year round!

 

How to Make Stuffed Pumpkins – A Kbatz Kraft!

 

Kristin Battestella aka Kbatz steps outside of her Frightening Flix beat at HorrorAddicts.net to show how YOU can make your very own Affordable, Stylish Stuffed Pumpkins! 

 

 

“Puffed Stumpkins” by Kbatz!!

 

Since you can’t see all of the pumpkins in the video frame, here are a few pictures of my pile:

 

 

How to Make a Pumpkin Cat House – A Kbatz Kraft!

How to Make a Pumpkin Cat House – A Kbatz Kraft!

By Kristin Battestella

When doing some of our seasonal Halloween Shopping, I’ve seen several types of fabric cat houses in assorted pumpkin shapes. Some are just orange tent styles and other are more rounded, so I decided to give it a go and make my own sort of insulated cat house. It didn’t come out perfectly like I expected, however I hope this gives you an idea on how you can make something fun and fall inspired for your pet.

First, I had to gather my sewing supplies and cut my fabric. I made a football-shaped pattern to create a dozen ovals, sewing them together to make the outer section of the pumpkin. For the bottom I cut two circles from the orange baby blanket I bought at Goodwill for $4 (Don’t judge me, fertile people without four legged children!) One circle was sewn to the outer sections, then the other was sewn on top and I stuffed between the two with styrofoam to make a little padded base before sewing it closed.

Next I sewed the inner flat wall along the bottom circles’ rim. This left a channel that I could being stuffing with plastic bags – insulation along with heaps of catnip sprinkled inside the sections as I went. I began sewing the top of the inner wall and the outer section top together as I stuffed, adjusting to make the outer sections plump like a pumpkin on the outside while the inside remained flat and smooth. Once I was satisfied with the stuffing I sewed the entire top of the walls closed. Of course, you don’t want your wall to go all the way around – there has to be an opening for the cat, Poe fans!

Finally, I sewed another circle of fabric to the top of the walls and went around with the last of my fabric on top of that. Like the base I stuffed the top before gathered the fabric closed. I glued artificial leaves on top of my seam and added coiled pipe cleaners for whimsical stems and tendrils.

As I said, there were a few places where I was somewhat unhappy with the project, mainly some of my seams in the front that were a little unsightly and the final gather at the top. At first I thought it looked okay to be a little off to one side – a little off center whimsy! However, it just looks…off center.

Of course, you may expect something designed for a pet to get chewed on or messy perhaps, so I figured it doesn’t matter if there are a few less than perfect spots in this a quick weekend project you may only use for a few months out of the year. Unfortunately, my familiar is a very finicky little feline…

He doesn’t like his pumpkin cat house and won’t go in it!

 

FRIGHTENING FLIX by Kbatz: Tales from the Darkside Season 1

The Tales from the Darkside Debut Still Has Memorable Frights

by Kristin Battestella

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

FRIGHTENING FLIX by Kbatz – Kong: Skull Island

Despite Narrative Flaws, Kong: Skull Island is a Rip Roaring Good Time

by Kristin Battestella

 

Without a doubt the 2017 MonsterVerse cum 2014 Godzilla prequel Kong: Skull Island has its flaws. One shouldn’t expect perfection or deep thoughts with this fun jungle ride brimming with action and big monsters. But heck yeah let’s over-analyze the shit out of it, shall we?

Bill Randa (John Goodman) recruits ex-SAS tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and anti-war photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) to join the secret government group Monarch’s expedition to the elusive Skull Island alongside Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard’s (Samuel L. Jackson) elite helicopter escort. Landsat officials and mission science teams use seismic charges to map and study the island – awakening ancient monsters friend and foe, government conspiracies, and personal vengeance as the team rescues crashed World War II veteran Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly) from the fantastic isle protected by King Kong.

 

Kong: Skull Island’s opening World War II crash transitions to newspapers, archive footage, and period photography on the mysterious Monarch organization as audio quotes from Truman and Kennedy lead to bleak 1973 DC protests and ironic quips about the screwed up time in Washington. Monarch needs funding to mount this satellite mapping expedition and its under the rug search amid ominous whispers of ship eating monsters and Bermuda Triangle fantastics surrounding this uncharted Pacific island. Fiery explosives reflect in the aviator glasses, animals flee the seismic bombs, and distorted music is drowned out by the destruction. People who think they are so big are made small by Kong’s giant hands and teeth – an excellent introduction with superb monster graphics and motion capture. Warped gunfire and thumping helicopter blades add foreboding to the mighty monster silhouettes as separated civilians, stranded scientists, and angry military argue who takes orders from whom. Nixon winks, geek references, and “Hold on to your butts!” keeps the old school cool coming early and often alongside minute to minute action montages with diegetic classic rock, first person shooter video game angles, and intriguing camera shots. Skull Island is an embarrassment of riches with too much to see in one viewing thanks to wild giant spider impalements and more well done personal horror vignettes with blood, gore, and brain splatter nods to Cannibal Holocaust and Evil Dead. Slow motion over the shoulder fears, creaking animal approaches, that giant log come to life – aren’t walking sticks bad enough?! The rush to repair a salvaged airplane turned riverboat adds more flying monsters and aerial fatalities to the adventure. Kong is an angry mother, but he didn’t do anything wrong in protecting his home from the dangerous creatures man has stirred, and the mission only has its bombing in the name of science to blame. Fortunately, culture shock jokes create lighthearted fun, since it’s more of a cold war with summers off, a man on the moon is eating Spam after sipping Tang, and The Cubs are never going to win the World Series. Likewise the excellent graveyard sequence combines all Skull Island’s divided and united people with scene stealing visuals, action, and monsters. Retro picture flashes and rewind clicks accent gritty zooms and intense monster filming with green gas heightening the sense of smelly vomit, skulls, bones, and gas masks. Deadly cigarettes, flames, lighters, and fumes add to the swords and machine guns poised atop the triceratops skull as man comes to regret the cruel and violent destruction he has caused.

Of course, Skull Island is also a very messy movie with an uneven dual focus. This should be either a Vietnam, horrors of war, military monster Apocalypse Now with a photographer and a scientist OR the scientific monstrosity adventure a la Jurassic Park with one ex-SAS tracker but not BOTH plots giving nobody their fair share. The us versus them scientists in blue and military in green sitting on opposite sides of the briefing is never capitalized upon but redundantly introduces everyone by name after the port of call arrivals already suffice. Likewise, conflicting, convoluted information dumps on hollow earth inklings, monsters exist proof, nature taking back the planet subtext, and more conspiracies are lost amid who’s doing the suspicious underground mapping or using dangerous seismic charges – and none of it is as important as the visual destruction despite precious little time to enjoy the awe-inspiring views. Increasingly intrusive hip highlights and filler montages distract viewers with busy, loud hyperbole, and fine jokes aren’t needed to alleviate tension because intercutting between separated characters walking to and fro for action fodder never leaves the audience with anyone long enough to appreciate their peril. Casual wonder, superficial dear family letters, and featherweight Icarus speeches can’t keep up with the up up up piecemeal quest, soldiers rightfully spazzing over the giant monkey are paid dust in favor of repeated clicks west or evac north fluff, and one trek in the wrong direction for a dead man proves pointless on top of unnecessary revenge. What should be somber shipwreck history and ancient monster worship become tossed aside double talk, and the science dialogue, monsters, and mission objectives change as people act stupid from scene to scene as needed. Littering the narrative with so many excuses that we just don’t care how each group of people and their monster attacks tie together is incredibly annoying because there is so much more potential to the friend or foe ominous and native people glossed over with photos and peace signs. Slo mo hold me back man tears turn laughable thanks to all over the place point of view voiceovers with no time for a breather properly addressing the nonsensical. Quotes about an enemy not existing until you make one get squashed between more meandering, on the nose rock montages while blow torches are convenient in one scene but forgotten the next. Our two women never talk to each other, and Skull Island can’t stick to telling its story well because it’s so desperate to appeal to as many bang for its buck viewers as possible – leaving the World War II radiation and ancient cave paintings hodgepodge to do nothing but set up the inevitable sequel.

 

All the people should have been listed in the blurb at the bottom of the Skull Island poster because no one character is fully developed – least of all top billed Tom Hiddleston as tracker James Conrad, who spends more time giving repetitive exposition on clicks, radius, or distance and unnecessary let’s go, no time to waste obviousness. It’s also noticeable that the character concept was changed when T. Hiddy was cast – perhaps in a Legendary twofer contract with Crimson Peak or during filming, for the grimy shirt jaded and gritty bearded wanderer is traded for a sunshine blonde matinee idol buff. It’s like a different guy shows up for the mission! When meeting Conrad in the bar, he’s ruthless with a cue stick. However, on the island, he’s the team negotiator, going from a rugged bad ass asking for five times the mercenary money to…Tom Hiddleston. Viewers see him as himself in Skull Island and The Night Manager rather than his Loki visage – maybe because it looks like he’s wearing his own clothes again onscreen – but someone should have been in charge of his eye candy fitness as his increasing muscles or shrinking wet shirt vary throughout the adventure. The mysteriously decommissioned tracker also suddenly cares, sneaking into restricted areas to check out the bombs and question the mission even though Conrad never gets to use this seemingly new found good guy muster. His great line, “I suppose no man comes home from war, not really,” and brief mentions of his lost father – Tom, please, no more characters with daddy issues! – go unredeemed save for dad’s handy lighter to rectify a lifetime of searching for something you can never find. Instead of calm, problem solving Conrad challenging Packard, our expert tracker gets lost and seeks higher ground before taking charge anyway after useless self sacrifices. Despite his name, there’s very little Heart of Darkness to Conrad, yet the character remains overly serious and that divine accent feels out of place – taking longer and prettier to say his exposition in a different, formal rhythm amid all the fast, casual slang. Although he has the best gas mask glory moment in Skull Island and some of the samurai choreography is reminiscent of the first advance in 300, our would be hero has no winking Indiana Jones moment nor does he take off his shirt. Why hold back when you can go all the way? But hey, those biceps aren’t enough to forgive the fact that Conrad wears a gun in a shoulder holster and never uses it!

With our rugged man and Brie Larson (Room) as anti-war photographer Mason Weaver, Skull Island feels very The People That Time Forgot. However, Weaver doesn’t cry out for her camera’s safety or click away as much as she perhaps should. She never runs out of film and such gear perils or mishaps could have been an ongoing gag, but Conrad seems to look out for her camera more than she does. There is rightfully no overt romantic plot further crowding Skull Island with unnecessary saccharin, yet their feeling each other out banter should have been utilized more – Weaver interrupts Conrad’s hero zoom by motioning for him to move over on the helicopter seat and he does. All these charming, award winning thespians have so little room to breath, leaving Weaver with lame one liners and nothing to do. The “Bitch, please!” retort for her to have several seats isn’t the right response, but her trite platitudes won’t get all these macho men pointing guns at each other to stand down either. Fortunately, her outfit isn’t uber skimpy, and Larson’s modern earthy look is perhaps the most seventies style in the cast. Weaver goes from skeptical equals Pulitzer to island believer saving injured animals too quickly with no depth to her island connections if any before ending by saying she will expose their information rather than keep this precious ecosystem secret. She could have been a hippie tree hugging activist woman alone in tune for peace with Kong, but Weaver’s touching moments with the ape are too few and far between. Whether there is some kind of native spirit and island good to counter the evil creatures below isn’t explored, and while all the scientists pick up guns, Weaver shoots with her camera only – a nice statement that just leads to her getting rescued by Conrad in every dangerous situation. A brief moment of her refusing a gun and more of her resourceful ingenuity as with Conrad’s handy lighter would have added better character strength and humor. Sadly, Skull Island has both Weaver taking pictures to expose Monarch and John Goodman’s (The Big Lebowski) underutilized Bill Randa recording film for his secret organization’s posterity. What is the point of having both such rival documentarians on the trip when they never even have the chance to object to each other onscreen?

 

But why you gotta be mean like that to Kong, Nick Fury? Despite the Vietnam withdrawals underway and orders to head home, Samuel L. Jackson’s Colonel Packard isn’t ready for the war to end. He wonders what this the fight was all for – accepting this final mission without considering the families and day jobs waiting for his Sky Devils stateside. Packard resents the camera and the media’s influence on the war as more dangerous than a gun, and objects to calling the battle lost. He’s upset at Kong for destroying his helicopter team, blaming the ape and demanding payback when he’s the one who ordered them to fly through the island’s nonsensical storm front. There’s room for more psyche, but other plot contrivances compromise Packard’s fanatical. His insistence on taking out Kong instead of the more deadly skull creature continues even when his reason for pursuing one over the other is proven more fatal, and Packard gets around the island just fine without the obligatory SAS tracker, gutting any tension the two are apparently supposed to have. After aimlessly walking for half of Skull Island, Packard needlessly divides the group when they actually come together, and any deeper hates the monster because he hates himself guilt about man’s supposed superiority is never fully explored. Certainly the Lieutenant Colonel did nothing wrong in ordering his men and defending his homeland from the horrors of war, but he takes the extinguishing the wrong monster too far and doesn’t learn from any of the mission’s bureaucratic stupidity, ultimately using napalm to flush out more creatures than he can handle. Likewise his soldiers – family man macguffin Toby Kebbell (Control), headband wearing Thomas Mann (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl), and letters to his mama Jason Mitchell (Straight Outta Compton) don’t listen to local information on avoiding island perils. At once they decide it’s all for one and one for all while telling others they will be left behind if they don’t like the plan, and none of them go against the Colonel even when he is wrong and the chain of command has broken. Although dead pan Shea Whigham (Boardwalk Empire) eating in the face of giant apes is good levity, the too crowded Skull Island keeps these military men stereotypically hip with shirtless photo sessions and no questions asked until after the fact rather than developing any killer edge e.g. Predator.

There are simply so, so, so many superfluous people in Skull Island that you can argue almost anyone doesn’t really need to be here. Landsat fraidy cat John Ortiz (Fast & Furious) deserves more than ticking the Hispanic check box with his own personal homage to Jurassic World. This looks like a diverse ensemble with representation from all walks of life, but it isn’t diversity if each monster fodder minority has five cliché lines while the white people save the day. Geologist Corey Hawkins (24: Legacy) and biologist Jing Tian (The Great Wall) look like they filmed their scenes separately from everyone else. Their brief conversations happen with no one else around and they don’t really interact with anybody on the island – simultaneously missing the opportunity for statements on the struggles of a well educated black man with a radical theory while nonetheless desperate to appeal to Asian markets with an intelligent but meek biologist who barely speaks. Hawkins’ Houston Brooks objects to the titular craziness with almost the exact same words as Mann’s Slivko, and eventually, the scientists are told to go back to the boat – which they easily find and operate without Conrad holding their hands. The post-credits scene likewise has them repeating Randa’s words on the monsters to come while again telling us not much of anything on Monarch’s intentions. Fortunately, John C. Reilly’s (Chicago) kooky World War II castaway Hank Marlow is the most dynamic character in Skull Island. He’s happy these new found people are real because he’s more than ready to get home to beer, hot dogs, and the Chicago Cubs, becoming the only fish out of water in this crazy habitat that receives any narrative payoff. I also dare say Marlow’s opening cross cultural duel turned bond with Japanese singer Miyavi as Gunpei Ikari and their subsequent hear tell eight attempts to leave the island during their forced twenty-eight year sabbatical may have been the more dramatically interesting tale – “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra” and all that.

 

Fine gunfire, brief World War II designs, aerial action, and impressive photography also pepper Skull Island. A variety of cool ships accent the beautiful, tropical, misty, hot locations from Hawaii, Australia, and Vietnam amid lovely waters, deadly swamps, and killer jungles keeping everyone good and sweaty. There are dangerous rocks, mountains, vegetation, and animals, too – but that giant water buffalo thing has a cute nose! Unique patinas, golden sunsets, neon, bright blues, red lighting, and choice zooms set off every frame in Skull Island, and a fiery haze makes the night time battle with Kong befitting of the island’s devilish face shape. However, despite all the old school touches, Skull Island doesn’t feel as aged as it could be. A 1973 Life Magazine and a record player don’t a la the past when everybody looks so today. The money here is rightfully spent on the badass ape kids will dig, but younger audiences probably won’t notice the early computers, retro televisions, dark room photography, old reel frames, slide projectors, or rotary phones and period references. Fortunately, these creatures are so big that director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (The Kings of Summer) must pull the camera back – we can see the well choreographed rumble without hiding behind panoramic swoops and hectic editing. Kong breaking free from a shipwreck’s chains is a fine homage, and the deleted scenes with more platoon camaraderie and a bristling introduction between Conrad and Packard should have been kept. Of course, Skull Island is available in different video editions with seller and regional behind the scenes exclusives. An official comic book also continues the adventure, but I wish the background material or what happens next wasn’t relegated to extras or waiting on another picture in the franchise. Although, ironically, Skull Island might have made a great limited television series with fulfilled episodes dedicated to our mad military man, lost tracker, photographer, castaway, or scorned scientists.

Kong:Skull Island seems like it began with storyboards of cool things for Kong and company to do with everything else as filler to meet the feature length duration. There’s no time to stay on Skull Island and explore its myths or monsters, and this does indeed feel like one mere stepping stone toward the inevitable Godzilla vs. Kong anticipation in 2020 thanks to postscript MonsterVerse revelations. Though entertaining, the forties bookends are abrupt and in between viewers are spoiled for choice of eye candy. Skull Island is meant to be a monster money maker and it shows with this sweet but shallow action. It wants to be man versus man, man versus nature, and man versus himself, but superficially potlucks all the deep possibilities. Thankfully, Skull Island is not a film meant for critical eyes and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Despite its narrative flaws, there’s just so much fan service that Kong: Skull Island was bound to be an enjoyable success.

 

FRIGHTENING FLIX by Kbatz: Mummy Movies!

Unwrapping a Mummy or Two!

By Kristin Battestella

 

Seen any good mummy movies lately?

 

Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb – Based upon Bram Stoker’s The Jewel of Seven Stars novel, this 1971 Hammer outing gets right to the saucy, sexy mummies, colorful jewels, tombs, and classic Egyptian designs not through spectacle of production but via subdued lighting, firelight, soft music, foreboding curses, and a silent, dreamy start. The intriguing father and daughter dynamic between Valerie Leon (The Spy Who Loved Me) and Andrew Kier (Quartermass and the Pit) is both endearing and suspicious – straight jackets, psychics, ominous constellations, cluttered museums, and sinister relics likewise contribute to the visual mixing of old, Egyptology styles and early seventies designs. Pleasing hysterical fears, snake scares, uneasy reunions, and power struggles unravel the reincarnation tale nicely. It is tough, however, to see some of the night sky transitions, and the simmering 94 minutes may be too quiet or dry for today’s speedy audiences. Subtitles would help with the exposition as well – especially for the fun homage character names like Tod Browning that may be missed otherwise. Brief nudity, one by one deaths, the collecting of killer artifacts, and a resurrection countdown also feel somewhat rudimentary at times, predictable before snappy and missing some Hammer panache in cast or direction. Considering the on set death of director Seth Holt (Taste of Fear) and the departure of Peter Cushing – both briefly discussed in the DVD’s features – the film’s flaws are certainly understandable. Besides, this is still most definitely watchable with an enjoyably moody atmosphere and fun, subjective finish.

 

The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb – Hammer producer Michael Carreras (Maniac) wrote and directed this 1964 sequel to The Mummy, and it’s a well shot piece with plenty of Egyptian color, tombs, flashbacks, artifacts, humor, and film within a film carnival spectacles. The 1900 designs are also period fine, but some scenes are obviously on-set small scale and lacking the expected all out Hammer values, making this follow up feel like some one else’s beat for beat B knock off rather than an authorized continuation. Opening blood and violence, characters at each other’s throats in fear of the eponymous threat, brief debates on traveling sideshow exhibitions, and scandalous belly dancing can’t overcome the slow, meandering pace while we await the well wrapped and perfectly lumbering Mummy violence. Jeanne Roland (You Only Live Twice) is very poorly dubbed, and beyond the over the top, annoying, love to hate Fred Clark (How to Marry A Millionaire) as a sell out American financier, the rest of the cast is interchangeably bland with no chemistry. The somewhat undynamic writing is uneven, with twists and mysteries either out of the blue, too tough to follow, or all too apparent. Though the sinister deaths aren’t scary, it’s all somehow enjoyably predictable because we’ve seen so many rinse and repeat Mummy films. This isn’t a bad movie, but it takes most of its time getting to the Mummy scenes we want to see – and we can see a lot of fact or fiction Egyptology programming today. It’s not quite solid on its own and feels sub par compared to its predecessor, yet this one will suffice Mummy fans and fits in perfectly with a pastiche viewing or marathon.

 

The Mummy – Karloff, Karloff, Karloff! The drawn, crusty, and dry opening makeup and mummification designs looks dynamite- accenting OMK’s tall, imposing, sullen, and stilted presence. His silent up close shots are indeed hypnotic and powerful- even if modern audiences might find this one more fanciful fantasy than truly frightful. Even though there is some tell, not shown off-screen action, the plot is well paced, with nice dialogue and support from Zita Johann (Tiger Shark) and Edward Van Sloan (Dracula). Some of the 1932 style or mannerisms, foreign languages, and customs of the time might be strange to us now, but the mysteries and iconography of Ancient Egypt look delightful. An action packed pseudo silent styled flashback also works wonders. The CGI spoiled may of course find things here slow and dated compared to the 1999 The Mummy, but seeing a film done when Egyptology was arguably at its height allows a little more of all that onscreen glamour and gold to shine through. Actually, I am usually completely against it, but I’d love to see this in color- at least once anyway. Sweetness!

The Mummy (1959) – Hammer perennials Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee team again for this well paced if somewhat familiar plot. Though he looks like the Creature from the Black Lagoon in some scenes and is styled more like a Bond henchman doing the evil deeds of late Victorian villain George Pastell (also of The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb); Lee’s reanimated and mummified priest Kharis is dang menacing but no less tragic in his violence and lost love. His overbearing stature works wonders against the intelligent and suave archaeology gentleman Cushing- whether he’s in the dirty wraps or decked out in great Egyptian costumes, color, and brightness. The sets, however, could use some work, as the exteriors are a bit, well, plastic looking instead of mighty stonework monolith. Yvonne Furneaux (Repulsion) is also a lovely but slightly lightweight façade that’s a little out of place with Cushing’s take action and dueling wit. Fortunately, the musical charms accent the Egyptian suspense and cap off the scares beautifully. Toss in some humor and great fun and this version equals total entertainment.

 

The Mummy’s Curse – Stay with me now – this 1944 hour long Universal sequel marks the final appearance by Lon Chaney Jr. as Kharis after The Mummy’s Tomb and The Mummy’s Ghost, which follow the 1932 original and The Mummy’s Hand. Got that? Of course, the timeline and locales are all over the place at this point anyway! We open with a French sing along to set the inexplicably changed Louisiana setting here before getting to the expected accursed mummy swamp recovery, investigating archaeology professors, and screaming dames. It’s amusing to see all the fearful and faux French accented locals, and reused stock footage from prior Mummy films creates further humor. But why is this exact same story being told to us again? Again but in a Louisiana swamp? A swamp that lies below a conveniently abandoned chapel where the Mummy hides? Fortunately, once the audience takes these leaps, Chaney’s resurrected and deadly, limbering monster can be enjoyed thanks to well done shadows, lighting, and crisp black and white photography. Virginia Christine (Tales of Wells Fargo) also has an excellent entrance as the revived Ananka, with eerie music, stilted movement, and great horror editing. Despite the spooky bayou atmosphere, this isn’t as scary movie as it should be – somehow Chaney’s crippled, dragging Mummy seems sad and used more than frightening. Poor thing misses a victim or two thanks to them, you know, walking away from him! Thankfully, the quick fun here is still watchable for fans, especially in a Mummy or Chaney viewing marathon.

 

The Mummy’s Hand – Be he curse protector or resurrection accomplice, George Zucco (Dead Men Walk) is slick as ever in this 67 minute 1940 Universal sort of sequel that’s otherwise lacking in the expected Mummy stars such as Karloff or Lon Chaney, Jr. These different characters create more remake than follow up feelings, and after awhile, these Mummy films do seem somewhat the same anyway. There’s a little too much humor and bumbling rivalries away from the titular action for this installment to be scary, too. Who has the money for the expedition? Who doesn’t want the archaeology to happen? What’s pretty daughter Peggy Moran (King of the Cowboys) doing pointing a gun at folks? Wallace Ford (The Rogue’s Tavern) is also an unnecessarily fast talking swindler sidekick for by the numbers Dick Foran (The Petrified Forest), and the then-modern Cairo pre-war styles and colloquialisms slow the plot down when there’s no time to waste. Fortunately, despite the black and white photography, the opening Egyptian flashback provides the expected regalia and spooky curses. Perhaps this entry is typical or nondescript in itself, but its fun for a classic marathon. When we finally do get to the tomb robbing action and Tom Tyler (The Adventures of Captain Marvel) as the murderously lurking about Kharis, this becomes a pleasant little viewing with a wild finish.

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Penny Dreadful Season 3

Penny Dreadful Season Three a Disappointing Finale

by Kristin Battestella

I loved me some Penny Dreadful. Previously, I watched the First Two seasons twice or more before writing my reviews a few months after I had simmered in the immersion of all things sophisticated Victorian macabre. I re-watched the entire series again when finishing this obviously late review, but Season Three’s still blindsiding finale and haphazard resolution of the series undermines the glorious potential that was yet to be found in Penny Dreadful.

Year Three hits the ground running with some delightful circumstances in “The Day Tennyson Died.” Our quirky little family of evil fighters – Vanessa Ives (Eva Green), Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton), Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett), Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway), and His Monster (Rory Kinnear) – is scattered about the globe from London to the Old West and Africa to the frozen north. Their townhouse base is shabby with covered furniture and piled mail before the titular solemn and lovely poetic references reconnect old friends with tenderness and sympathy. After all they’ve been through, those in London are allowed to stew and cry – unlike the unforgiving railroad and lawless land of the New Mexico Territory. Though blindingly bright compared to the British bleak, there’s an underlying ominous to the witches and werewolves among the lawmen. Letters from Africa with burials made right also find Chiricahua Indians in the most unlikely Zanzibar alley while faraway frozen trawlers debate cannibalism and melodies remind monsters of when they were men. Famous names face racism at Bedlam as pale minions with anemia excuses lurk. Penny Dreadful has a lot to do but does it with superb conversations, new allies, and bloody vignettes. “Predators Far and Near” adds vintage photography, jurisdiction technicalities, a modified barber’s chair for experimenting on patients, and fear of the gramophone cylinders recording one’s sin. Therapy confessions recount prior indiscretions, but the prescription for godless loneliness is doing something innocent and happy no matter how small. Women debate on light and dark souls while men bond over their love of daughters and a son not birthed to them but bound with their suffering. Talbot family history, ritual chanting, and colorful vision quests counter the sophisticated Victorian science lectures and whimsical memories of adventures the likes of 20,000 Leagues under the Sea. Unfortunately, our dreadfuls are more familiar with lunatics and monsters rather than childhood heroes, with Jekyll and Hyde-esque transformations on crazed victims, deceptively charming courtships, a wise Apache woman reminiscent of the fortune teller in The Wolf Man, and a desert full moon to aide one’s bone cracking escape.

Unholy alliances between witches and the Wolf of God continue in “Good and Evil Braided Be.” Is it the beast or angel, good or evil that’s the real persona? Does the mind create phantoms and demons to explain the darkness and pain? Do you bury the animal inside or unleash it? Between the werewolf curse, divided locales, tug and pull father figures, and hints of Hyde, Penny Dreadful creates superb dual themes alongside several racial moments and of the time derogatory Native American comments. Sophisticated light and dark visuals and good and evil motifs are interwoven against crudeness, triumphing over those who define what’s black and white or right and wrong solely based upon skin tone rather than soul. The audience isn’t hit on the head with the social commentary, but one scene beautifully addresses the sadly still lingering attitudes upfront. New, risky hypnosis techniques further retrace past darkness and despair in Episode Four “A Blade of Grass.” Memories and present offices blur in a dreamy act with current doctors and familiar faces in unexpected places uncovering new revelations of a forgotten padded white room. In camera foregrounds and backgrounds accent the confined or expanded four walls as needed with overhead views, zooms, face to face close ups, and wide angle warped. Finite descriptions of precious few details, amplified sounds, and demon shadows match the kindness of an orderly or the evils that await. Precious blankets are taken away amid growling, crying, straight jackets, and water torture. Can God find you in a place like this or are you alone? Our patient fears the evil within and wants to die over the betrayals and sins committed, yet the tender bonding with her jailer turned poetic advocate provides an unlikely compassion. Whether you can face yourself in the mirror or not, these fugue state manifestations overcome evil with the truth at Christmas in one excellent parable. The least amount of effects, minimal characters, and few locales leave nothing but the emotion and anguish upon their faces. It’s divine, just everything television should be and perhaps the best episode of the entire series.

And then, somehow, Penny Dreadful went to shit.

Series writer and creator John Logan hands Penny Dreadful over to new writers mid season – a maneuver suggesting a viable transition rather than leaving unknowns to resolve your planned finale with rushed characters and compressed stories. Andrew Hinderaker (Pure Genius) pens “This World Is Our Hell” with The West as a barren purgatory full of symbolic multi-layered pursuits on who the righteous should save or whom the evil would kill. Water is scarce among the grave sins and shame worn as redemption; forgiveness versus temptation comes in revealing fireside chats recounting past ambushes and the difficulty of serving multiple masters – fathers, duty, Lucifer. Unfortunately, these lofty topics are undone by nonsensical mysticism. Witches can summon snakes to conveniently wipe out pursuers but cannot heal injured mounts or conjure water and dying people somehow have enough energy for awkward evil sex after days of thirst. The Victorian mad science and desert shootouts jar in an anchor-less back and forth when the confrontations between our converging father figures are more interesting. Lengthy exposition on past horrors feels odd in a series that often shows rather than tells. Why not have an entire Talbot past hour the way “Closer than Sisters” showed us how Penny Dreadful really began? Otherwise the audience is left confused over who’s really at fault for the faithful turning evil. It was Ethan’s dad’s fault for making it the army’s fault who made the Apaches to blame??? Penny Dreadful always had pacing issues and uneven characters, but this Old West excursion could have ditched the dead weight characters and been back to London in half the time. I don’t think it is necessarily Hinderaker and newcomer Krysty Wilson-Cairns’ fault, but “No Beast So Fierce” throws even more at the screen with too many threads regarding who’s evil or who’s the law amid busy shootouts, vampire minions, Bedlam serums, how to kill a man tutorials, Egyptian wonders unrealized, and new steampunk introductions. What’s supposed to be important – monsters being kind to sick children or sassy sword wielding new characters? If the key to defeating evil is holding fast to loved ones, why has our family been apart all season? Perhaps one writer should have been responsible for one set of characters the entire year, as Dracula’s apparently content to wait out the cowboy adventure while other isolated and aimless immortal plans go round and round and pull Penny Dreadful apart at the seams.

Penny Dreadful has an innate melancholy – cemeteries, grave digging, mourning shrouds – but the dark romance is used for unnecessary preachy in “Ebb Tide.” Separated characters finally meet, but one knock on the door and a brief scene reconciling the past and present is not enough. Friends that could fill this empty manor and fight the bloodshed are pushed away while our team in the West doesn’t heed ancestral warnings. Despite insisting London is home, characters remain obstinate just for the sake of creating drama, leading to contrived betrayals and more speeches begging for the fast forward button. Touching conversations on who will bury whom are interwoven with weaker plots, straying from the core and repeating exposition we already know. Visions unite players who have been apart but such mystic conversations and wisdom on rescuing one another from darkness should have happened much sooner – two episodes ago, nobody cared. Krysty Wilson-Cairns writes the quick at forty-three minutes “Perpetual Night,” and it’s the shortest episode of Penny Dreadful when the series desperately needed more time. The boys rush back to Londontown amid foggy cityscapes, morbid voiceovers, tasty frogs multiplying, and rats amok. Dead wolves and toothy minions everywhere require swift blade work and fireplace pokers to stave off vampire infections – but no one thought to call Dr. Frankenstein away from Bedlam’s dungeon when people are said to be dying by the thousands? Penny Dreadful bites off more than it can chew, takes too long to achieve what matters, and spits out the excess when there’s no time left. Ironically, the “The Blessed Dark” finale also delays, saving choice moments with its stars rather than going full tilt with the dream hazy, bodies on hooks, and bats as sad lullabies over the special credits recap the sad state of our separate characters. It’s very exciting to see the reunions and werewolves fighting vampires in true monster mash up fashion as it should be – Dr. Jekyll passes by as Dr. Seward hypnotizes Renfield! As a season finale, this hour provides closing moments on some toiling plots. However, as a series finale, it barely resolves anything. Brief mentions on her destiny, his destiny, and previous prophecies don’t make sense anymore, and Victor literally bumps into the gang at Bedlam. The team is together again by accident! Major moments with his monsters earn one scene each, and none of those super strong immortals join the End of the DaysTM battle. Instead, bad ass walking down the street filler and a few ridiculously outnumbered pistols struggle with conveniently confusing action choreography. Bitter ties to the First Season become unrealized tangents, and new characters are inexplicably more steadfast than our original crew. Four episodes ago, life was worth fighting for but now isolated characters give up because the script says they should in a one hundred and eighty degree turn that’s painful to see end this way.

Vanessa Ives begins alone, a recluse living in squalor before rising thanks to words and wits with her therapist. Eva Green’s heroine cleans up and humbly restores the manor. Despite losing her faith, Vanessa is inspired by Joan of Arc’s confidence and says she will remain resolute. Oddly, she doesn’t seem as psychic or intuitive anymore and fails to recognize evil tendencies she previously pegged so astutely. It’s sad to see Vanessa open herself, revisiting innocent things that make her happy or having a man’s company once again end in terror. She’s willingly hypnotized to face her repressed psychiatry treatment, addressing her past doubts, regrets, and battles with Lucifer. “A Blade of Grass” shows her at rock bottom before a ray of hope and renewed prayers – if you believe in evil, then you must believe God is there to defeat it. Unfortunately, Penny Dreadful squanders the Lucifer issues, fast tracks Dracula, and circumvents Vanessa’s body and soul versus the fallen brothers with a past event cheating viewers out of a current victory. Vanessa can sense and see Kaetenay when the plot says so, but her lack of psychosexual possession and failed insights inexplicably have her give up despite knowing overdue help is on the way. Green saves this sloppy writing and deserved more hardware for Penny Dreadful. I don’t blame her if she recognized the tone had changed and was ready to depart. The series could have continued in searching for an evil Vanessa as an absent lead a la Blake’s 7 rather than two scenes with bad girl red eye shadow trying to make up for rushing to resolve Vanessa’s story. Josh Hartnett’s Ethan “Lawrence Talbot” Chandler is also not only reluctant to see his real father, but he’s angry at being adopted as Kaetenay’s Apache son. Ethan knows there is blood on his teeth and his soul deserving of punishment and wears his guilt on his sleeve. Unfortunately, his history comes from three different sources – so for all this New Mexico excursion, we don’t get a clear picture. The Wolf of God also spends about fifteen minutes being evil, standing up for Hecate over Malcolm because he won’t repent and belongs in hell. Ethan speaks evil prayers at the dinner table, but isn’t this the guy who’s Latin single-handedly exorcised Vanessa? His reciting of the Lord’s Prayer in the finale feels hollow thanks to his satanic reversal just a few episodes earlier. Was Ethan’s western escapade and Vanessa’s evil each meant to be it’s own season storyline? They both have a scene or two of darkness, and one moment in the finale doesn’t make up for Ethan’s back and forth. Meanwhile, Sarah Greene as Hecate travels in white, an unassuming Gibson girl who loves horses and animals but loathes people. She wants to be evil beside Ethan, but her powers are both handy or nonsense as needed. Hecate kills unnecessary to teach him a lesson and lingers too long in this uneven capacity – crowding an already busy Penny Dreadful while not being a character in her own right. The English Sean Glider (Hornblower) may be an unusual choice as a U.S. Marshall, but his crusty ways balance the British tidiness of Douglas Hodge as Inspector Rusk as they pursue Our Mr. Talbot. Rusk may ask for tea in the bar car and insist Scotland Yard Inspectors do not carry firearms, but he doesn’t underestimate the ruthless West. He begins to believe the Occult upon his case and does take up more violence as the blood on their path increases – before a thankless end, of course.

The beard is back for Timothy Dalton as Sir Malcolm, and even if he doesn’t know all the details, he’s ready to respect Wes Studi’s (Geronimo: An American Legend) Chiricahua Kaetenay if it will help save Ethan. Like an oasis in white in the mostly unlikely place, it’s wonderful when Malcolm and Ethan finally meet up for some shootout action. However, Malcolm really doesn’t have a whole lot to do this season beyond listening to Kaetenay. Most of his dialogue is responsive filler, and even before the surprise series finale, I suspected Dalton would not be returning for Season Four. You don’t keep a talented name without giving him quality writing, and Malcolm ends up repeating the same plot. Chasing after lost lamb Ethan, fighting a vampire to rescue Vanessa – he’s again saving his family even as his travels keep him from his home and any relationship with Victor. Malcolm could have returned to London post-Africa, maybe to meet Catriona sooner or dislike Dr. Sweet, as it’s a disservice to reduce him to little more than Kaetenay’s sidekick. That said, yes please to more of Studi’s set in his ways Apache. He still scalps because old habits die hard, but he doesn’t drink and believes one can’t die until his purpose is served. Granted, Penny Dreadful is trading the mystical negro trope for the mystical Apache stereotype, but the moonlight visions and enigmatic destiny talk tie the blood, suffering, and wolves together. Kaetenay pushes on after Ethan no matter what – he and his people have endured much but he’s prepared to face this darkness over London. There should have been more time for his revelations, and Penny Dreadful only makes use of Kaetenay when needed. It takes seven episodes for Ethan to heed his warnings about what is to come, and he should have mystically connected with Vanessa from the start. As Ethan’s father, Brian Cox (Coriolanus) also has some great one on one’s with Malcolm. They are wonderfully alike, right down to the conquest map on Jared Talbot’s wall, the mountains named after him, and an empty home as the cost. However, a boat load of family history that Ethan already knows is repeatedly told rather than seen, leaving Talbot Senior unevenly written with sorrowful or crazed exposition amid one gunshot and stand off after another. Had we seen the first terrible shootout that has him so angry, then this second battle in his ranch chapel would have had much more meaning. Kaetenay provided connecting visions when necessary, so why not have some kind of mystic Talbot dream that showed the betrayals and horrors causing all this pain?

Fortunately, Rory Kinnear’s Creature aka Caliban aka John Clare has some superb redemption on Penny Dreadful. He won’t harm a dying cabin boy, recalls more about who he was, and realizes who he may yet be after touching moments in the Fourth and Fifth episodes showing his life before his death and resurrection. He is again at the window or in the eaves, on the outside peering in on those that think he is dead. The Creature risks rejection and reaches out despite the pain, blossoming from being an angry violent child to almost the man he used to be. His resurrection allows Caliban to find his family – only to loose it again thanks to innocence versus the unnatural. This season, Clare is almost totally separate from everyone else, alone on this sympathetic journey beyond too brief moments with Vanessa, erroneously on the fringe without even seeing Dr. Frankenstein. He may piece together his past, but not enough was done with the connection between Vanessa and the Creature. She recognizes him, but not him her, and Penny Dreadful cops out by resolving their past in a flashback. Again, just because we the audience saw it does not mean the characters themselves received any current resolution. Why didn’t Caliban ever knock on Malcolm’s door? He would have been welcome in this misfit family dang nabbit! Reeve Carney’s Dorian Gray and Billie Piper’s Brona cum Lily Frankenstein, however, should have stayed home. By his very nature, Dorian is a supporting character that never changes. They aren’t missed when absent but Penny Dreadful uses him and Lily to shoehorn in some kind of modern feminism vengeance that goes nowhere fast with repetitive, ad nauseam speeches. Whether it is justified man hate or not, the appearance of Jessica Barden (The End of the F***ing World) as Justine perhaps a la the de Sade wastes time with back alley torture, nudity, and bloody threesomes. The warped justice is all over the place with even less to do Dorian getting stabbed for funsies before he gets bored from having seen such depravity already. Episodes grind to a halt with their round and round male behavior psychoanalysis, briefly tossing in suffragettes and violence that makes them just as bad as the abusers from who they claim to rescue women. Penny Dreadful has done better psychosexual themes, and compared to Caliban’s soul searching, Lily realizes her humanity too late in one great soliloquy that should happened the moment she was reborn, and Ethan never finds out Brona has been resurrected!!!!

Harry Treadaway’s junkie Victor Frankenstein becomes a mopey little piss ant bent on proving his superior science can conquer death, and he arrogantly thinks he can perfect on Jekyll’s methods. Maybe there’s a parallel between his wanting to create angels instead of monsters and Lily’s superior woman army, but their uneven storylines barely intersect beyond a few redundant stalker scenes and never factor into other plots. Victor goes about getting Lily back in the worst way possible, becoming like his originally angry Creature in a fitting poetic justice. He’s deluded in thinking Lily owes him anything, and it should be a great destructive character arc. However, rather than having him freaking call on Vanessa while they are both in London twiddling their thumbs, Penny Dreadful treats Frankenstein as an afterthought before one last lesson on how to be a human rather than the monster. One poetic voiceover from Victor such as, “Sir Malcolm, I hesitate to confess it now, but I must inform you I have a singular talent for defeating death as we know it…” could have ended Penny Dreadful in a uniquely twisted vein. Sadder still is that Shazad Latif (Mi-5) as Dr. Jekyll somehow turns into a handing Victor the scalpel lackey. He has history with Dr. F. – roommates and dare I say something more – and faces much “half breed” Victorian racism. Jekyll despises his white father but wants his acclaim and title to help prove his serum on anger and duality. Simply put, there is no way he was intended as a throwaway character and we deserved to know him more. Although scheduling conflicts necessitated the departure of Simon Russell Beale as Mr. Lyle, his being written off as going on assignment to Egypt just begs to be told! Did everyone forget all the prophecies on Amunet and Lucifer or the hieroglyphics carved onto the vampire bodies? Of all the friends still about London who never bother to visit, it’s Lyle who draws Vanessa out and into therapy because thanks to his closeted sexuality, he understands what it is like to be unique and alone. Of course, he might have mentioned Perdita Weeks’ (The Tudors) thanatologist Catriona Hartdegen when they were studying all that Fallen Angel and Mother of Evil stuff. She’s a woman of occult science fencing and wearing pants who doesn’t blink at the thought of Dracula being in London. Her one on one scenes with Vanessa are well done with possible replacement or lover vibes, “It’s ‘Cat’ for you, as in cat o’ nine tails.’” Wink! She calls Malcolm “Sir M” and I would have liked to see more of them together, but Catriona’s style provides a steampunk cum The Time Machine and albeit meaningless potential. Her cool fighting skills are ultimately convenient and inexplicable – if we weren’t going to learn more then all these superfluous characters should have never been introduced.

We are however given some divine new characters with Patti LuPone returning to Penny Dreadful as Dr. Florence Seward – an alienist said to have distant Clayton ancestry due to her resemblance to LuPone’s previous cut-wife role. Though rigid and progressive, Seward is there to heal the ill, who aren’t bad or unworthy, just ill. She calls out every politeness or mannerism, pegging Vanessa’s loss, isolation, and depression in delicious two-hander scenes with award worthy dialogue and delivery. A moving session recounting Vanessa’s tale, however, makes the doctor strike up a cigarette. She refuses to believe the paranormal causes or that vampires are after her patient, but she does understand pain and has some murderous history of her own. Samuel Barnett’s (Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency) seemingly innocent Renfield is Dr. Seward’s secretary, but his red light district cruising leads to bloody encounters and insect snacks. Where Penny Dreadful initially had to dance around the Stoker limitations, these superb character interpretations deserved more than this season’s rushed attention. Christian Camargo (Dexter) as zoologist and charming widower Alexander Sweet is a man smitten using rapid fire science references to woo Vanessa, but his reveal as Dracula is too darn early. This romance seemed so happy and Sweet is almost empathetic, but evil lurks in the House of Mirrors of all places! He doesn’t want Vanessa’s submission, just to be seduced by she, the Mother of Evil and serve her. Sadly, unraveling toppers instead go unresolved. After admitting he was directly responsible for Mina’s demise and all of Season One, Penny Dreadful lets Dracula exit stage right and we aren’t supposed to notice? What is worth noticing are the trains, dime western action, and steampunky flair alongside our usual penny blood, gore, buzzing flies, broken necks, and bat silhouettes. The cobwebbed and boarded manor opens the windows and clears the dust as the camera focuses on the period touches – vintage motion picture cameras, spectacles, brandy decanters, nibs, and ledgers contrast the hay, canteens, wagons, saw dust, and Native American motifs. The fashions are a little more modern, but the museums, taxidermy, skeletons, and specimens in jars invoke Victorian sciences amid the carriages, cobblestone, and tolling bells. Although some CGI backgrounds are apparent with a foreground actor and fakery behind, the desert vistas, mountains, and ranch compounds create bright lighting schemes to contrast the British grays, developing a unique style like nothing else on television.

Unfortunately, with NBC’s Dracula long gone, Crimson Peak’s less than stellar box office, and Penny lost too soon, the promise of more Victorian horror and a new dark romanticism appears short-lived. Whether the cast or Logan wanted to depart or Showtime disliked the production expenses, something behind the scenes was the final nail in Penny Dreadful‘s coffin. The two hour finale burned off the last episodes yet advertising promoting the event as a season finale later backtracked with the series’ fate. More merchandising opportunities never seemed capitalized upon, and there was little award campaigning. Having had Season One available on other streaming platforms might have helped the show find more audiences, however Penny Dreadful wasn’t available on Netflix until after its cancellation in a tidy Three Season binge package. The series’ props have been auctioned off, so it appears no one shopped Penny Dreadful to any other networks. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but in late 2015 while this Third Year was filming was also when Tom Cruise swept in to take over The Mummy and start Universal’s highly anticipated but ultimately D.O.A. Dark Universe monster revival. Did somebody squash the competition? Maybe it isn’t as simple as that, but I will always be skeptical of Logan and Showtime’s he said/she said claiming that this was always how Penny Dreadful was supposed to end. With new locales and more colorful literary characters among our beloved team, why couldn’t Penny Dreadful sustain itself? Previously, one could overlook any small inconsistencies because the sophisticated scares and morose design far outweighed any negatives. This season, however, becomes a chore to continue and is best left at Episode Four. After finishing Dexter and losing interest in Homeland and Ray Donovan, we’ve canceled our Showtime subscription since Penny is no more. There were other ways to do Penny Dreadful justice than this, well, what seems like internal sabotage, but gothic viewers shouldn’t let this rushed Season Three dampen what has otherwise been a stellar and macabre program.

Alfred Hitchcock Basics – A Video Primer

Happy Birthday Alfred Hitchcock!

Good Evening, Horror Addicts!

Kristin Battestella aka Kbatz here again with a video review breakdown on some of our Alfred Hitchcock Favorites! From The Lady Vanishes, Lifeboat, Notorious, and Spellbound to Psycho, Rear Window, Vertigo, and The Birds – if you haven’t seen one or two, here’s why you should!

 

 

Don’t forget YOU can be part of the conversation on our Facebook Group or revisit some of my Horror Addicts.net Hitchcock reviews here.

 

By Horror Addicts, For Horror Addicts!

 

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: The Skeleton Key

Swift Ending Almost Saves The Skeleton Key

By Kristin Battestella

If it’s supposed to be scary, I’ll watch just about anything –even though I heard bad things about The Skeleton Key. The 2005 thriller stars Almost Famous alum Kate Hudson, but the initial $30 price tag was a bit much for a film widely regarded as a disappointment.

I did however like The Skeleton Key when I saw it on TV recently-it was a relatively low investment, of course. Not stellar, a few too many clichés, but I liked it. As if she could play nothing else and milking all her Oscar nominated glory, The Skeleton Key casts Hudson as Caroline, a former roadie trying to become a nurse. Since her father’s death, Caroline has moved from one elderly center to the next, trying to find closure. She takes a position caring for Ben (John Hurt), who has recently had a stroke. At first she butts heads with Ben’s wife Violet (Gena Rowlands), but Caroline fines shades of romance in New Orleans lawyer (Tom Uskali).

Naturally it was fascinating to see a film set in New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina, but the voodoo element has been done to death. I was unsure how a haunted New Orleans house movie would play out-a la The Others-but we never get to see, since Director Iain Softley resorts to digging up weird voodoo stereotypes. I know nothing about voodoo but what I’ve seen on Dark Shadows, and some of the clichés were obvious to me. Despite its PG-13 rating, I can see how The Skeleton Key must have offended the real Louisiana population.

The acting is just fine, but again we resort to Kate Hudson in skimpy clothes and talking about music. The Skeleton Key does a lot of resorting where it should be going forth. Gena Rowlands is perfect as the aging Southern belle Violet. You easily suspected she is up to no good from the beginning, but I never expected Violet’s end to come as it did. John Hurt-infamous for the scene in Alien– is also delightful as Ben. The stroke victim expertly says what he needs to through his eyes, actions, and struggles. One of the better sequences has the partially paralyzed Ben out on the roof top. Oiy!

Despite its clichés and redundancy, I was surprised by The Skeleton Key’s ending. Maybe because I was sick and out of it or not on my sharpest note, but writer Ehren Kruger’s twist ending may be just that. I suspect Kate Hudson accepted the role based on the end of the script alone. Good, but unhappy-the ending is slightly sinister. At the conclusion, Hudson sounds a lot like her mom Goldie Hawn. Her closing husky delivery completes the creepy.

I don’t recommend The Skeleton Key for prudes or people who otherwise might be offended religiously-although I’ve certain seen more offensive material. Nor would I say The Skeleton Key is a thinking man’s movie. I was interested enough to keep watching and guessing how things would play out, but rewatchability dips significantly once you know how the film ends.

The Skeleton Key– despite a swift resolution- is a relatively safe and formulaic piece for fans of safe movies. I even dare say it’s safe for mature tweens, maybe even 10 and up. Kate Hudson collectors will enjoy no doubt, but if you are seeking serious spooks, southern haunts, or voodoo mayhem, I can definitely recommend better. Fans are better off investing in a simple classic like Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte. Only die hard Kate Hudson lovers should pay full price for The Skeleton Key. Briefly intrigued audiences can still tape it off TV.

Horror Movie Cliches I’m Tired of Seeing – A Frightening Flix Editorial

Horror Movies Cliches I’m Tired of Seeing

by Kristin Battestella

Year round I watch a lot of horror – and I mean a lot. Unfortunately, there are numerous cliché and trite elements I’m tired of seeing in scary movies, and I suspect you are, too. Here’s a list of ten such lame things horror needs to ixnay toot sweet.

1. A Prologue – Pre-credits scenes that ultimately don’t have anything to do with what happens later in the movie set the audience off on the wrong foot. Here at the beginning, viewers don’t know this unrelated ghost encounter, past horror, or cool death may only earn a meager mention henceforth if anything. We get to know somebody only for them to die ten minutes later, forcing the picture to start twice while disrupting audience immersion. How did this become such an oft copied, opening shock obligation?

2. Time Wasting Opening Credits – Most recent pictures begin with little more than a title card and save the cool credits for the exit music, but horror for some reason, makes sure to have cool title sequences that do nothing. Maybe they are trying to be stylish within the movie’s theme. However the audience can’t appreciate the ephemera because we don’t yet know what the horror entails. What we do notice is that the picture is going to be five minutes shorter in actual screen time thanks to this slow filler.

3. Driving to the Horrors Scary movies apparently have a mandatory “Are we there yet?” ride to the horrors complete with loud, hip of the minute music, and childhood friends who share irrelevant backstory each already knows just for the audience’s benefit. It’s a cheap way to create faux character development and an in-camera journey when we already know the destination is a scary experience. The aerial shots, zooms around the bend, and scenic views are just that – the delaying route again wasting precious time an eighty minute movie doesn’t have.

4. Stereotypical White People – I hope this is changing in recent independent horror, for much too often it’s the rich and usually blonde driving from the big city to the country scares and claiming they can’t leave their haunted house because their money is tied. Of course, they nonetheless maintain unrealistic means – especially if the movie goes out of its way to mention a fancy profession yet never shows one at work. What prevents the family facing the horrors from being not well to do, African-American, Hispanic, Asian, interracial, LGBTQ, or anything else? N-O-T-H-I-N-G!

5. Bathroom Mirror Shocks You know what I mean. Our blonde in the towel wipes the steamy mirror, opens the medicine cabinet, and then closes it for a jump scare behind her that wasn’t there ten seconds ago. There’s also the dozed off in the bathtub dream fake out, irrelevant sexy glass showers, or hearing something that’s nothing and leaving the water to overflow. Sometimes that’s used for another drip aesthetic and other times it’s forgotten. Either way, you’ve totally pictured what I just described because we’ve all seen it so many times.

6. Generic Jump Scares – Rather than spending time building a taut, simmering atmosphere that keeps viewers on edge, so many just for cool graphics and creative horror scenes are wasted on hollow fakes and false moments. That creepy noise in the basement is just the cat! Once or twice, such silly safeties can alleviate audience tension or save a bigger surprise for later. Unfortunately, more often than not these jump scares are only for show with one right after another never giving us a chance to breath. It’s a tired excuse deflecting on a loosely strung together plot, and it’s insulting that we aren’t supposed to notice.

7. Modern Teens and Cool Technology – The latest barely there fashions, hip lingo, and rad gadgets of right now are obvious grabs appealing to today’s young instant audience. Unfortunately, such fluff is as immediately dated as the with the quickness it represents. Instead of being down with the latest swag, why not spend time developing an atmospheric location and characters not identified by their high school clique? The instantly forgettable dumb cheerleader, black best friend, and Asian nerd are not relatable just because you have the same smartphone – especially when none of it leads to long lasting, memorable chills.

8. Contrived Research Montages – Once, there was something investigative in scary movies– the library, traveling to a spooky location, speaking to the first hand horror folk. Though clichés in themselves, progressive action and character effort provide audience investment. Unlike the up close shot of the Google search bar, unrealistic newspaper clipping pop ups, a crappy Geocities website, or a Youtube video. Today’s ease of access wastes no run time as characters literally and conveniently pull a resolution out of thin air. Blink and you miss critical details that deserve more attention on and off screen. What’s next, asking Alexa?

9. Formulaic Slashers as the Face of Horror– Audiences are accustomed to an October released slasher – we all love them and studios bank on the box office of predictably bad scares trying to wink at the genre by playing into the very things that make them cliché. However, this dulls us into thinking it’s how horror should be, confusing spoon fed viewers into disowning a scary movie when it breaks the mold. Such acclaimed pieces are not marketed as horror, but thriller, suspense, or now elevated horror a.k.a. drama with fear. Which, anyone who has been watching horror for the last eighty years, can tell you is nothing new at all.

10. Pulling Out the Rug – Audiences have certain expectations once we’re halfway into a movie. So it’s not cool when filmmakers think they are shrewd with a so-called twist that plays the viewer. If it’s completely illogical to what we have seen already and has nothing to do with all that’s happened, it’s not a great twist. Such shocks make us aware of the movie making try hard rather than actually scaring us – cheating the viewer out of the suspension of disbelief critical to our flight or fight immersion. It isn’t clever when we’re looking for nonsensical answers, just a bait and switch that leaves the audience aghast for all the wrong reasons.

What clichés in horror movies are YOU tired of seeing?

 

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Full Eclipse versus The Howling II

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

By Kristin Battestella

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Classic Horror Summer Reading – A Video Recommendation

 

Hello, Horror Addicts! Kristin Battestella aka Kbatz here again on video, braving the sunshine poolside to chat about why you should be revisiting some Classic Horror Reads this Summer!

 

Press play for some thoughts on Dracula, Anne Rice, Shakespeare, Stephen King, The Bronte Sisters, and more!

Don’t forget you can be part of the conversation – By Horror Addicts, for Horror Addicts! – on our Facebook Group. Tell us what kind of videos, media, and Horror coverage you’d like to see and what scary stories you’re reading!

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Twisted Numbered Films!

Twisted Numbered Films!

By Kristin Battestella

Even if it isn’t that dreaded 666, you know a horror movie with a number in the title will carry a certain amount of bizarre, twisted, and freaky.

Dementia 13Roger Corman produced and eventually interfered with this 1963 directorial debut of Francis Ford Coppola (I will hit you if you need a film reference for Francis Ford Coppola!) Clearly made on the cheap with quick, iffy dialogue, most of the picture is too dark and tough to see. The title doesn’t have much to do with anything, either, but the opening crime, water motifs, and axe murders are pretty entertaining. It’s a weird mix of both men- Coppola’s brooding atmosphere and complexity against Corman’s hint of over the top blood. Fans of both will indeed be curious to see this special blend of contemporary crime and creepy Irish castle. Eerie music and suspenseful, deceptive builds carry the weird family, death, and grief thanks to Coppola’s stylized interpretation. However, Corman’s insisted upon shocks aren’t bad, either. It’s almost as if two different films are happening- a ghost story and a slasher mystery. It makes the vision muddled at times, but it’s all quite creepy and entertaining nonetheless. Yes, this will be too slow or poorly done for some modern audiences, but a few good ghostly scares and deaths make this one wonderfully worthwhile for fans of the boys.

Devil Times Five – Teen idol Leif Garrett and his sister Dawn Lyn make for some creepy youngins in this 1974 picture also known as Peopletoys – and a dozen other titles for good measure. Eerie seventies lullaby notes ironically accent the snowy vacation spot, yuppie couples, and old fogies as perilous, icy, winding roads lead to vehicular disasters. Nuns and kids should be a sign of safety, however, real snow filming, old fashioned cars, and past technological isolation up the apprehensive mood. Although the teen voiceovers and their jive lingo are dated and the characters are initially stock stereotypes, the acting both from the adults and the children isn’t bad. Slow motion and still zooms are unnecessary now, granted, but the black and white scenes showcase the shocking child violence, blunt objects, and group attacks – an extra oomph on how these miniature sociopaths get hungry and sleepy after a good bludgeoning. A belittling sex proposition of a slow adult is awkward, but cat fights, lingerie, and boobs about the bedroom scenes create a saucy upscale before our unaware adults come to realize they can’t handle these escaped, killer charges – who have a wicked motivation and intellect far beyond their years. Guns go missing, knives disappear, wood needs to be chopped, and it’s fun to see who or what is going to set off another crafty murder. Sure, this isn’t scary by today’s standards. However, the bathtub terrors and snow siege build well over the 88 minute time for some bemusing – if twisted – entertainment.

 

 

You Make the Call, Addicts!

Session 9 – Director Brad Anderson (The Machinist) wonderfully executes this taut psychological thriller and smartly tells his 2001 tale in the gloriously eerie Danvers State Hospital for premium naturally spooky effects. Both Peter Mullan (Red Riding) and David Caruso (CSI: Miami) are on form, keeping the viewer intelligently guessing as to all the mystery and paranoia right up to the end. Unfortunately, everything falls apart for the finale. There are so many suspenseful and horrific possibilities, and any one of them was possible here. Yet none actually happens in this disappointing end.For all the smarts and interesting strides made beforehand, Anderson and co-writer Stephen Gevedon (Oz) leave you scratching your head at the unexplained conclusion. Claiming the deleted scenes on the DVD resolve everything doesn’t help, either.

Room 6 – Frightful Hospital nightmares of masked surgeons and aware as the scalpel cuts but immobilized patients open this 2006 in limbo experience starring schoolteacher Christine Taylor (Hey, Dude! people, Hey, Dude!), creepy kid Chloe Grace Moretz (Let Me In), and the mysterious Jerry O’Connell (Sliders). Our couple has moved in together but rushed proposals and reluctant answers escalate to car accidents with realistic shocks, injuries, and intensity. Retro taxis, old fashioned nurses uniforms, and a sickly green surreal add to the unfamiliar hospital fears and confusion aftermath. Overhead or looking up from the operating table camera angles increase the bizarre afoot – lots of blood needs to be drawn and disappearing patients aren’t sure how they got there or why they are being treated. Resorting to pay phones or phone booths and avoiding suspicious bums increase the uneasy unknown as the accident survivors look for missing victims. Everyone seems to know their names and histories while freaky voice messages and blood splatter create disturbia. Unfortunately, from boo visions, dream splices, and false wake ups to rapid fire images, phantom bloody faces, and cryptic child warnings – a lot of unnecessary clutters the already weird, which world is real, obvious purgatory tone. Less is more, even if it means ditching the naughty naked nurses and interesting levitating demon church battles that should have happened much sooner if they were critical to the plot. A lack of modern technology leaves the research to an old lady in a dusty archive telling stories of fiery devil worship that should have been seen and not told in cliché explanations complete with background thunder and lightning. The ensemble struggles as the contrived connections, suspect characters, and required twists get silly, and the disjointed nature of the onscreen reality does not excuse the disjointedness in the film. While clearly about the titular past reconciliations, the finale strays with zombies, ridiculous flickering lights, and a nonsensical, realm mixing maze akin to a hospital themed house haunt. There are some quality, entertaining moments here, and this isn’t as bad as I thought it would be – but the big reset button mood is no secret and this never cashes in on any of the potential intrigue.

4gettable!

Apartment 1303Two and a half minutes of loud, padding opening credits don’t help this muddled 2013 remake starring estranged singer Rebecca De Mornay (Risky Business), miscast snarky daughter Mischa Barton (The O.C.) and foolish youngest Julianne Michelle (looking like a sickly thin fourteen year old) who signs a cheap lease on the titular flat complete with a view, creepy kids, a pervy super, and ghostly residue. The mother/daughter arguing plot feels like a dramatic movie separate from the horror, but De Mornay’s husky singing is more interesting than the cliché girl alone taking selfies and talking to herself over ironing board jump scares. It’s tough to care about this drinking, quivering kid. What did she expect? Rattling doors, phantom shadows, spooky sounds, foggy attacks, and scary faces tapping at the window do better than the ugly crying shouts, cheating boyfriend, the black best friend in only one scene, divorced dad cop subplots, and one uncomfortable sex scene. The ghost girl looks like a man, the bathroom scenes are laughable – those fake bubbles in Mischa’s tub! – and the screaming ghost roars are useless. The spectre and its special effects are barely there but this ghost can physically do a lot – like dragging the stick chick all across the floor. An unexpected turn halfway through makes viewers wonder why one plot wasn’t just told in its entirety as a short opening prologue before the family pieces. However, the sisters really are interchangeable, and I would rather have seen their broken down mom moving into the haunt to do some comeback songwriting and solve the scares. Phantom phone calls, bizarre dreams, investigation of past deaths, even calling the police for the deadly facts come too late, and the paranormal really happens most in last ten minutes with no resolution and four more minutes of credits. Eighty-five minutes my foot! There’s no time to waste, yet this does everything but focus on the horror – and its ten years behind on the blonde moves to a creepy place with a kid trend. While serviceable for those who can laugh at this kind of babe alone boo fest, I suspect the J-horror original is better.

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

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

by Kristin Battestella

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GOTH: The Game of Horror Trivia Video Review

Hello, Addicts! Kristin Battestella aka Kbatz here with a special Video Review of my awesome Thrift Find Goth: The Game of Horror Trivia!

 

In Addition to Goth: The Game of Horror Trivia, briefly I also mention some Lovecraftian and atmospheric games including Arkham Horror, Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu, Betrayal at the House on the Hill, and The Grimm Forest.

Be sure to check out more of our Game Reviews at Horror Addicts.net, and don’t forget you can get interactive, answer trivia questions, and tell us what kinds of Horror Media you would like to see – by Horror Addicts for Horror Addicts! – on our Facebook Group.

 

 

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: The Phantom of the Opera (1943)

The Phantom of the Opera Can’t Go Wrong

By Kristin Battestella

This 1943 universal color spectacle adaptation of Gaston Leroux’s tale is probably the one I remember most from being a kid- and it was the first with which I introduced my niece. Though a little of its time, this rousing adaptation is still delightful.

After being dismissed from the Paris Opera and unable to sell his musical works, Erique Claudin (Claude Rains) murders the music publisher and takes to the bowels of the Paris Opera House. From there he terrorizes opera patrons, earns his ghostly nickname from the staff, and threatens the lives of the cast unless the beautiful understudy Christine DuBois (Susanna Foster) is allowed to sing. Christine, however, is unaware of The Phantom’s obsession with her, as she is already torn between the dashing opera lead Anatole Garron (Nelson Eddy) and Inspector Raoul D’Aubert (Edgar Barrier).

The action, tragedy, and suspense from director Arthur Lubin (The Incredible Mr. Limpet) and Oscar nominated screenwriter Samuel Hoffenstein (Laura) are well paced and no less thrilling, but the format here does stray from the standard Universal Horror monster greatness we expect. Is it horror per se? No. And yet despite the heavy musical content with full opera numbers, you can’t really classify our tale as a musical either. This may sound negative, but I like this in between balance, I really do. This is a serious music film with creepy undertones and even kinky subtext. Extra understudy rivalries and witty competing men add to the great suspenseful crescendos in both the onscreen operas and the climatic action. This isn’t simply a remake of the silent version- some of the sets may be the same but this take is a twist all its own. Yes, perhaps the mask reveal is not as famous as the 1925 Phantom of the Opera’s silent cinematic moment- but it is still a whopper nonetheless. Even knowing what is to happen, I’m still entertained every time. I mean, that chandelier!

Susanna Foster (Star Spangled Rhythm) as would be diva Christine DuBois is perhaps not the gorgeous as we traditionally think of beauty today, but she’s still lovely nonetheless. Not one, but three men are enamored with her- and we believe it through Foster’s old-fashioned on screen presence, operatic weight, classy delivery, and great strength against all these men telling her the music is everything and there’s no need for a normal life. Not all viewers today might like or even be able to tolerate her high notes, but Christine’s innocence and charming nightingale win out. She is naive and on the cusp of something great and we understand why The Phantom wishes to protect and pedestal her thanks largely in part to Christine’s sympathy and pity for him. Four time Oscar nominee Claude Rains (Notorious, Casablanca, Mr. Skeffington, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington) is of course, so sad to start- dismissed from the company, unable to publish his compositions, and penniless thanks to his sponsorship of Christine. Claudin’s down on his luck and we can certainly relate to him now more than ever, but even so, he’s no less pathetic in his multi-layered, latent, and implied obsessions with Christine. Even as things turn murderous, we empathize with the disfigurement that pushed Claudin over the edge. He’s just misunderstood, really! Those angry mobs pursuing The Phantom made him snap! It’s twisted, and stalkerishly endearing; there’s no vision but Christine’s success nor any length to get it.

Stage and voice phenom of the day Nelson Eddy is without his usual Sweethearts and Rose Marie co-star Jeanette MacDonald for The Phantom of the Opera, but he and fellow suitor Edgar Barrier (The Pride of the Yankees) create a fine romantic layer and love triangle to keep things interesting for Christine DuBois. Both suave and debonair in their professions, the guys also add some needed humor and subtext to balance the darker sequences of the film. However, some of the fun is also a little annoying- again especially in comparing what we normally expect from a Universal Horror film. Honestly, I find The Phantom much more interesting, for we do get to see a little more of him without Christine. Unfortunately, Anatole and Raoul are a little one dimensional and underdeveloped since we only see them in friendly battle for their lady. Eddy and Barrier are by no means bad, but they deserved more with which to work.

Thankfully, the art decoration, set décor, fashions, costumes, and Technicolor spectacle of The Phantom of the Opera are just wonderful. The Oscar winning art design is indeed colorful and bright- today we seem to always do period films in drab, muted big satins and layers. The men all look great- not a lot of pups today can pull of a cape, Victorian epaulettes, or Opera extras. Yes, the style is a little too Victorian or more English in tone- everyone has French names but nobody speaks with French accents- and some may find those similar names or the sporadic French flair confusing without subtitles. Parisian style, however, also comes through in the period décor and quintessentially French tale: candlelight, gas lamps, cigars, the operatic compositions themselves. The scoring onscreen and off is wonderful of course, from the biggest notes to the softest, bittersweet strings. I’m not really sure if the supporting cast did their own vocals or instruments playing, but so what? Again, that up there singing might be too dated for some contemporary audiences, but it is an opera after all.

In addition to those subtitles, the DVD has a sweet hour-long retrospective about The Phantom of the Opera in all its film incarnations and a companion audio commentary. Fans of the tale in any variety have already tuned in to this 1943 version of course, but any and all classics fans, music on film connoisseurs, or the opera obsessed can certainly give this 90 minute spin a viewing. It’s entertaining and simple enough for younger audiences without loosing the zest and thrills of other adaptations and is perfect for a classroom comparison, too. Spend some time with The Phantom of this 1943 Opera tonight.

Author Interviews at the Mount Holly Book Fair Part 2

 

Witches, Time Travel, and Shapeshifters!

 

Kristin Battestella aka Kbatz was on the windy scene April 29, 2018 at the Mount Holly Book Fair to interview several Local Horror Authors…

 

Author JL Brown talks about her book The Burning Arbor, witches, tarot, and magic on and off the page. For more visit https://www.facebook.com/AuthorJLBrown/

 

 

Author Gary Frank talks about his book Forever will you Suffer, short fiction versus novels, time travel, the business of writing, and horror. For more visit http://authorgaryfrank.com/

 

 

Native American Storyteller Laura Kaign chats about her Earth Child series, science fiction, natural versus supernatural, dreams, YA, and storytelling. For more visit http://ladyhawkestorytelling.com

 

 

Special Thanks to the Mill Race Arts & Preservation for hosting The Mount Holly Book Fair.

 

Stayed tuned to HorrorAddicts.net for more Author Interviews and let us know what kind of video/media content you would like to see!

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Mirrors and Superstitions!

 

Mirrors and Superstitions!

By Kristin Battestella

I don’t know about you but I won’t purchase a second hand mirror thanks to these reflective frights!

Dark Mirror I stumbled upon this 2007 thriller late one night on IFC and enjoyed the unique aspects here. It’s so nice to see a non-blonde or idiot buxom pretty perfect lead in Lisa Vidal (New York Undercover). An ethic mom with issues like sneaking a smoke, possible marriage trouble, unemployment, and creepy neighbors- we haven’t seen the likes of this realistic well-roundedness in a horror film in sometime. The intriguing twists on cameras, mirrors, flashes, glass, and illusions are well done- not overly excessive but better than other similar films like Mirrors and Shutter.  Even Feng Shui gets involved in the twisted mythos here. The spooky L.A. house design also has some non-Sunny SoCal flaws, complete with hidden objects, altered reflections, deadly history, deceiving twists and turns and an unreliable narrator hosting the entire picture. What exactly are we seeing? What is real and what isn’t? Some of the storyline is a little confusing, and not all the acting is stellar, but the freshness here is entertaining and thoughtful throughout.

Mirror Mirror – Ironic country music and frightful orchestration accent the bloody period introduction of this 1990 teen creeper. Yes, that’s a generic title complete with a barebones DVD and no subtitles, but the spooky mix of antiques, hats, and shoulder pads make for a gothic mid century meets eighties style. Like dentistry, the innately eerie mirror aspects pack on the macabre along with blue lighting, distorted demonic voices, gruesome dreams, and bugs laying on the atmosphere. The 30-year-old looking teens in too much denim are mostly tolerable thanks to relatable new kid in town outsider feelings and feminine spins. Rainbow Harvest (Old Enough) is perhaps too wannabe Lydia from Beetlejuice and there is no sign of authority or investigation whatsoever, but the dark tone, a bemusing Yvonne De Carlo (The Munsters) handling the research, and the neurotic Karen Black (Burnt Offerings) make up any difference. This is a solid R, but the blood, nudity, water frights, and dog harm are done smartly without being excessive. The familiar Carrie, Teen Witch, and The Craft designs will be obvious to horror viewers, but it’s a fun 90 minutes of out of touch parents and teachers, high school cliques, and escalating creepy crimes. The titular evil from the other side takes hold for a wild finish – but never, ever put your hand down that garbage disposal, ever!

Oculus – Family scares, guns, and glowing eyes creepy get right to it as siblings are trying to both remember and forget their past tragedy in this 2013 mindbender full of askew dreams, unreliable memories, statues covered in sheets, and one cursed antique mirror. I would have preferred leads older than their early twenties – clearly appealing to the young it crowd – and despite an understandable awkward or instability, Karen Gillan (Guardians of the Galaxy) and Brenton Thwaites (Gods of Egypt) are too wooden at times. Fortunately, the more mature Katee Sackoff (Battlestar Galatica) and Rory Cochrane (Empire Records) and child support Annalise Basso (The Red Road) and Garrett Ryan (Dark House) do better. The non-linear past and present retelling, however, is confusing – the parallel plots aren’t quite clear until the paranormal investigation brings everything together in one location with elaborate equipment, carefully orchestrated timers, and fail safes for a night of ghostly activity. The video documentation makes for smart exposition at the expense of a larger cast or showing the accursed historical events – replacing the tried and true research montage for today’s audiences without resorting to the found footage gimmick. There are no in your face camera effects or zooms with booming music when the frightful appears, and the viewer is allowed to speculate on the seen or unseen reflections, there or maybe not whispering, and distorted blink and you miss them doppelgangers. Is there a psychological explanation or is this all supernatural? Although the recollections or flashbacks of the crisscrossing events should have been more polished – are we watching two, four, or six people as this battle replays itself? – the paranoia builds in both time frames with canine trauma and alternating suspense. Yes, there are Insidious similarities, the product placement and brand name dropping feels unnecessary, and the uneven plot merge cheats in its reflection on the warped or evil influences at work. The finale falters slightly as well, however, there is a quality discussion about the titular manipulation, and the time here remains entertaining as household horrors intensify. WWE Studios, who knew?

The Witch’s Mirror – Oft spooky actor Abel Salazar (The Curse of the Crying Woman) produced this black and white 1962 Mexican horror treat with Isabela Corona (A Man of Principle) as a creepy housekeeper amid the excellent smoke and mirrors and titular visual effects. From a macabre prologue and illustrations to Victorian mood, candles, and rituals, El Espejo de la Bruja has it all – love triangles, jerky husbands, revenge, betrayals, grave robbing, and ghoulish medicine. The plot is at once standard yet also nonsensical thanks to all the sorcery, implausible surgeries, ghosts, fire, even catalepsy all building in over the top, soap opera-esque twists. The sets are perhaps simplistic or small scale with only interior filming, but this scary, play-like atmosphere is enough thanks to wonderful shadows, gothic décor, and freaky, sinister music. Several language and subtitle options are available along with the feature and commentary on the DVD as well – not that any of the dubbing, subtitles, or original Spanish completely matches. The audio is also messed up in some spots, but the script is fun and full of cultish summonings and medical fantasies. Maybe this one will have too much happening for some viewers, as every horror treatise is thrown at the screen here. However, this is a swift, entertaining 75 minutes nonetheless and it doesn’t let up until the end.

You Make the Call, Addicts!

Doppelganger – The opening Drew Barrymore suckling scene feels a little too carried over from Poison Ivy, but the follow up blood and screams with mom Jaid Barrymore add to the 1993 kitschy. The very dated style, light LA grunge feeling, and passé cast are way over the top, and vampire lovers are removed from an onscreen script rather than a shoehorned in plot necessity like today. Thankfully, Sally Kellerman (M*A*S*H) is bemusing and so is the “Hey, it’s Danny Trejo!” moment, but seriously, George Newbern (actually the Adventures in Babysitting guy) isn’t Paul Rudd? Sadly, the slow motion soft core wanna-be shots don’t work until more blood and creepy aspects enter in- symbolic windows bursting open and yes, growling winds just make things laughable. It’s all too quick to get to the sex and titillation- casual lesbian on the dance floor motifs and forced use of the word ‘twat’ feel more awkward than cool.  The scares are obvious, and poor music choices, sound mixing, and bad dialogue re-dubs don’t help as Barrymore comes off more like a PMS queen or mental bitch rather than an innocent girl with a slutty, killer lookalike. Though the plot itself is too thin, things becomes more interesting when the murder investigation raises a few questions. Unfortunately, even the FBI agent (Dan Shor aka Billy the Kid from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure) lays the smack on really thick! Barrymore doesn’t have a full command on the dry dialogue scenes, either. However, despite the baby doll dresses and old lady headscarf, teen Drew is looking flawless. I’m sure there’s a male audience that can have fun with that, the unintentional camp, and the cheap entertainment value here- except for the finale. Good Lord, what happened there?!

FRIGHTENING FLIX by KBATZ: Dead Calm

 

Dead Calm Old, But Still Kind of Creepy

By Kristin Battestella

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Tales from the Crypt Season 2

 

Tales from the Crypt Season Two Full of More Fun Horrors
by Kristin Battestella

 

The 1990 Second Season of HBO’s Tales from the Crypt is the series’ longest year with eighteen summer episodes full of the anthology’s particular brand of adult horror and warped humor. John Kassir’s Crypt Keeper is irreverent as ever with his macabre quips, infectious giggle, and deadpan puns – luring the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger behind the helm before a brief appearance with CK himself. More famous directors this season include Tales from the Crypt producers Richard Donner and Walter Hill alongside recurring series directors Fred Dekker (Night of the Creeps), Howard Deutch (Some Kind of Wonderful), and Tom Holland (Child’s Play). Once again, the series embraces its campy, colorful, twisted source material, with stories from classic magazines such as Shock SuspenStories, Vault of Horror, Crypt of Terror, Haunt of Fear, and of course, Tales from the Crypt.

 

The most beautiful but bitchy, money hungry waitress Demi Moore (Ghost) marries the gluttonous Jeffrey Tambor (Arrested Development) in the immediately memorable “Dead Right” premiere. In 1950, $20 for the fortune teller was sure cheap, but the promised death and foretold inheritance are enough to overcome the rude courtship, terrible remarks, and revolting appearances. There’s strip club saucy and off color charm, too – not to mention a morbid montage imagining all the hit and runs or fatal choking possibilities. The fat suit designs and cruel quips are also offensive, with intimate relations meant to be gross and uncomfortable. Fortunately, this being Tales from the Crypt, we know there will be a justified if ironic twist. Likewise, Emmy nominated William Hickey (Prizzi’s Honor) is desperate to marry the young Kelly Preston (Twins) despite her objection that he is old enough to be her grandfather in “The Switch.” A plastic surgery face swap with the handsome Rick Rossovich (Pacific Blue) comes with a million dollar price tag and mad science to match. Unfortunately, the pretty face with an old man body isn’t very alluring, and the price goes up as the Frankenstein style body parts lead to all the winks we expect. “Cutting Cards,” however, gets right to the western casino chase with gamblers Lance Henriksen (Near Dark) and Kevin Tighe (Emergency!) betting against each other in a purgatory style duel of dice, cards, and roulette. Calculating which chamber holds the bullet escalates to higher and higher stakes – like chop poker where the loser loses a finger. Despite the intense editing and cheating suspicions, this is a fun little two-hander – if you forgive the pun. Gunshots and tacky photo shoot montages with sunset backdrops and kissing silhouettes accent the Mayan amulets and non-linear editing in “The Thing From the Grave,” poking fun at the romance between model Teri Hatcher (Desperate Housewives) and photographer Kyle Secor (Homicide: Life on the Street) as its disrupted by her trigger happy boyfriend Miguel Ferrer (Crossing Jordan) and a little undead vengeance, as you do. All this while The Crypt Keeper is reading Playdead!

 

 

In “For Cryin’ Out Loud,” Iggy Pop’s crooked music manager Lee Arenberg (Pirates of the Caribbean) hears his conscious in the form of comic Sam Kinison. Unfortunately, he ignores the voice for seductive groupie with ulterior motives Katey Sagal (Sons of Anarchy), and some gross ear salves set off the murder, laughs, and warped irony. Cinderella farmhand Patricia Arquette (Medium) has a backwoods employer checking out her tiny white tank top in “Four-Sided Triangle.” Good thing there’s a sexy scarecrow to help her! The nasty mood comes across without showing much – after all, “you beat the help but don’t kill ’em.” This one’s certainly a unique tale, complete with threats of turning real flesh and blood men from bulls into steers and killer hoes for good measure. Bobcat Goldthwait (Oh my gosh, Hot to Trot, people) wants to be a ventriloquist like his idol Don Rickles in “The Ventriloquist’s Dummy,” but you can see his lips move and the dummy’s head falls off, whoopsie! The crappy amateur night and cruel crowd add camp, but just when you think you’ve see it all when it comes to ventriloquism in horror, Tales from the Crypt pulls out meat grinders and designs both laughable and bizarre. “Asshole casserole,” I’ve never heard that one before! Then again appearances are everything for eighties yuppie Carol Kane (Taxi) in “Judy, You’re Not Yourself Today.” Faux accents, French, tea times, and a gun toting husband aren’t enough until a cosmetics lady comes calling for our wrinkle worrying Mrs. Alas, our sales lady has an indestructible switcheroo necklace, making for some twisted violence and wit. Cruel mortician Moses Gunn (Roots) anchors “Fitting Punishment” alongside morose organ music, mistaken biblical quotes, and post mortem scams for one of the season’s finest. Embalming with water is cheaper than the real chemicals, and the dead’s gold teeth get pulled – God helps those who help themselves and waste not want not! Coffins made in Taiwan are inexpensive, too – but shorter. If there’s a spare box lying around, why not use it? Of course, this being Tales from the Crypt, cutting such bloody corners will come back to get you.

 

Illustrator Harry Anderson (Night Court) continues the quality with “Korman’s Kalamity” when his bossy wife’s experimental potency pills inadvertently bring his creative side to life. The Tales from the Crypt logos on the office door and Vault of Horror volumes on the shelf create a bemusing faux behind the scenes life imitating art, and the ridiculously phony comic book monsters match the colorful over the top designs. Tales from the Crypt admits this is a really weird idea, and that’s exactly why we’re watching. Distorted camera angles and smoky shadows also bring the grim turn of the century freak show to life in “Lower Berth.” There’s two-faced caged oddities, dying freaks, desperate managers, and charlatans bartering rare Egyptian slave girl mummies. The stolen sarcophagus and cursed jewels may seem straightforward, but castration consequences and undead romance provide the surprisingly wild topper we never knew we needed. By contrast, “Mute Witness to Murder” is an upfront thriller with no humor as Richard Thomas (The Waltons) and Patricia Clarkson (Six Feet Under) provide the titular shocks with straight jackets, padded cells, and I know that you know that I know deceptions. Blue camera visuals, audio check ins to be let out, and strapped down beds invoke a scary helplessness. Someone else is in control with needles and drugs – making for some true suspense, fourth wall voyeurism, and camera as confessor. “Television Terror,” however, pokes fun at its tale within a tale talk show desperate for Geraldo scandals as our host recounts gruesome murders while his film crew follows with a camera and spotlight. Creepy static, ghostly splices, and bloody bathtubs wink in the night, and the OMG what was that humor is bemusingly prophetic regarding today’s paranormal reality television craze. Tales from the Crypt finishes Year Two strong with the memorable penultimate “My Brother’s Keeper.” Siamese yet opposite twins have some laughable connections – but can their butt attachment be separated and is the fifty/fifty chance worth it? Great dual filming and mirrored, but not always matching images or paired actions lead to more awkwardness, and of course, a lady comes between them – pun intended – along with crimes, cleavers, and cruel twists.

 

 

The Crypt Keeper is upset that Oliver has no Twist for the season finale “The Secret,” but Dickensian puns accent this austere orphanage with misbehaving boys and what happened to his parents whispers. Eerie blue transitions and askew camerawork add to the childlike reluctance when rich but mysterious adoptive parents whisk a boy away to their museum-like home. Good thing there’s a room full of awesome toys and when asking for milk, the butler gives him milkshakes! Who cares if there are bars on all the windows? When not off painting the town red, our parents only come out at night – but they have a surprise in the works. The titular answer is probably obvious, but the innocence and charm have fun here, adding personality and the kind of unexpected finish that only Tales from the Crypt can do. While there aren’t many bad episodes, Tales from the Crypt has a slight sophomore lag mid season with the voodoo clichés of “Til Death.” Though not as bad other other Caribbean horror attempts – the gore and zombie elements are scary as well as humorous – the stereotypical story resorts to a scorned Janet Hubert (Fresh Prince of Bel-Air) getting back at nasty white men messing with the local magic. Weaker writing and less famous casting also hampers the winning Tales from the Crypt formula in “Three’s a Crowd” when a husband suspects his wife is up to no good with their wealthy friend after he lavishes them with gifts and an anniversary trip. The opportunity for suspicion feels there only because that conclusion has to happen for the yuppie mayhem to ensue, and the domestic violence is totally unnecessary. When Tales from the Crypt viewing was limited to weekly HBO waits or random late night repeats, audiences didn’t care about any repetitiveness. However, watching this longer than usual season all together reveals too many similarly themed love triangles, greed, for love or money twists, and seedy fillers. Kim Delaney (NYPD Blue) and Michael Ironside (V) deserve more than murder for money in “The Sacrifice,” for moody L.A. cityscapes and saucy rocking the boat affairs lead to dirty blackmail and long walks off the short balcony, naturally.

 

1990 is also still pretty eighties dated, making Tales from the Crypt both look cheaper than it was yet adding a neo-noir atmosphere to some of the downtrodden macabre. Several episodes are more eighties does forties or fifties rockabilly style to match the record players, old televisions, cool cars, and swanky tunes. Of course, there are also triangular blazers, shoulder pads, Blossom hats, and high-waisted jeans – fatalities of the then hip over-emphasizing fashions along with granny panties, large tassels, and lingerie that reveals nothing. Such barely there nudity, ten seconds of strippers in the background, and mostly clothed make-outs courtesy of the HBO premium cable saucy is totally tame compared to the all but naked singers today, however I must say, the cigarettes, onscreen smoke, and liquored up attitudes are now more noticeably risqué. Quality blood and gory squirts, spills, or stabs also remain well done alongside red spotlights, blue lighting, and strong shadow and light schemes regardless of the anthology’s setting. Creepy organ music accents the askew camera angles and colorful, intentionally faithful comic book design mirroring the Tales from the Crypt magazine sources. The supporting cast per episode is likewise always quality with numerous or occasionally re-appearing familiar faces in critical or twisted cameos. Unfortunately, it seems there is a lot of legalese tying up any blu-ray release and streaming rights, and until the brand new Tales from the Crypt box set, the Complete Series was only available by packaging the DVD collections together. The “kill intro” opening theme makes it easier to marathon the Season Two three disc set without repeating the credits, and Pimp CK does some new bemusements amid the menus and featurettes. His ghastly little supplies come from “Hacme,” and if you don’t get that pun then you are too young to be watching the show.

 

 

 

One can easily forget these ghoulish mini movies are only a half hour, for Tales from the Crypt moves fast but keeps your attention during and after a viewing thanks to the brand’s personality and self-referential ability to laugh at the gory with well written scripts and sardonic winks. It feels like there are more episodes of Tales from the Crypt than there actually are because the series ages well with many memorable times in this extended season. A creepy atmosphere and famous guest stars set the viewer up for the scary topper, and Tales from the Crypt Season Two remains perfect for a gruesome late night marathon.

 

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: An Alfred Hitchcock Primer

 

An Alfred Hitchcock Primer

by Kristin Battestella

Fans of old school thrillers young or old can earn their suspense credentials with these early Alfred Hitchcock nail biters.

The Lady Vanishes Only one lovely train passenger has seen the titular dame, causing rail car mayhem for Margaret Lockwood (The Wicked Lady) and Michael Redgrave (Mourning Becomes Electra) in this 1938 mystery. Travel delays and assorted languages invoke the tourist hustle and bustle as our ensemble is humorously introduced – from the governess rambling about her past charges and country songs or dances to cranky Englishmen commandeering the phone just to ask the line from London for the cricket scores. All the rooms are let out in this hectic hotel save for the maid’s quarters, and she comes with the room, wink! The bellhop is trying not to look at the scandalous bare legs as our bachelorette orders caviar and champagne, but the men in bed together is gay in both senses of the word with jolly good innuendo. This quirky inn comforts the audience yet there are whispers of pretty American girls and the almighty dollar getting preferential treatment, newspaper sensationalism, and intensifying continental troubles. A hit on the head at the train station leads to a kaleidoscope of confusion, unfamiliar faces, magic tricks, and slight of hand illusion. Everyone’s interconnected – incognito affairs, musicians, a famous doctor, magicians, and foreign diplomats. Some genuinely don’t recall seeing the woman in question, but others have an ulterior motive for not wanting the train delayed, willful gaslighting compounded by lies, lawyers watching their own back, and that unreliable bump on the head. Tea in the dining car alone, suspicious wine glasses – complaints about non-English speakers, nationalism, political secrets, and conspiracies. Who’s really on who’s side? Train whistle harbingers pepper the constant hum of travel, matching the rail montages, impressive rear projection, and black and white photography. Despite the confined setting, the pace remains fittingly on the move with perilous comings and goings between cars. There are stoles and divine hats, too, but that giant monogram scarf looks more like a napkin stuck in her collar! Humorous bunging in the cargo with magician’s rabbits, trick boxes, false bottoms, and contortionists is good on its own, however, perhaps such fun should have happened earlier before the serious mystery escalates. There are some contrived leaps as well – it’s amazing how all the Englishmen can shoot to kill and do it so easily – and though not naming the enemy country is understandable thanks to political relevance then and now, the obligatory bad guys are just nondescript. Likewise, one can see why the sardonic comedy teams and shootouts were included, and Flightplan really steals from this right down to the writing on the foggy window. Fortunately, the ticking clock race to the border, wrong track turns, gunfire standoffs, and international chases roll on right up to the end. But seriously, what it is with Hitchcock and trains already?

 

 

Lifeboat – Journalist Tallulah Bankhead is stranded on the high seas with torpedoes, sunken ships, u-boats, and Nazis in this 1944 self-contained thriller nominated for Best Director, Story by John Steinbeck, and Black and White Cinematography. There’s no need to waste time on spectacle with the in media res sinking – flotsam and jetsam with everything from English playing cards to dead Germans heralds the nationalism and wartime grays to come amid damp passengers, dirty sailors, famous dames, mothers, babies, and injuries. Tallulah’s in furs, smoking a cigarette, and dictating what junk to bridge aboard, and despite the tiny boat space, multiple conversations happen fore and aft thanks to strategic intercutting between the immediate wounded and more self-absorbed survivors. Fog and windswept water sprays accent the superb rear projection, and the strategic filming captures everyone from all angles with foreground zooms and background silhouettes. Natural ocean sounds and the rocking of the ship, however, might make sensitive viewers seasick. There are numerous colloquialisms as well as accents and translations, but conversation is all we have – a stage-like talkative jam packed with insinuating layers, interrogations, and double meanings. Can you make your own law in open waters and toss the Nazi overboard? Everyone feels the need to establish who’s American, Christian, or had relatives in Czechoslovakia and France, and the black cook is surprised he’s included in all the decisions. It’s unfortunately expected that Canada Lee’s (Cry the Beloved Country) Joe is the least developed character, yet he’s also the most genuine person starboard. This is also a more diverse ensemble than often seen in today’s movies, and three women talk to each other about shell shock and lacking supplies but nobody knows the right prayers for a burial at sea. Cold, wet, sleepless individual vignettes allow the refreshingly flawed stranded to come clean, and at the time having a Nazi officer as a realistic character rather than an evil archetype was understandably controversial. Testy questions on who’s skipper, united sympathies, and diplomatic delegating drop the formalities, as after all “we’re all in the same boat.” However, information is not always forthcoming and no one knows the course to Bermuda – except Herr Kapitan. Can you trust his seamanship? A compass, typewriter, watches, diamond bracelets, brandy, and newspapers with Sir Alfred in the classifieds add tangibles and some humor alongside baseball talk, debate on the superior rowing capabilities of the Master Race, and other unexpected camaraderie, for “dying together is more personal than living together.” Repeated “Some of my best friends are…” quips also address differences as rambling on past regrets becomes veiled talk about shocking revelations and amputations. Lost material possessions give way to symbolic shoes, bare feet, shirtless men, and tattoos, but there’s time for intense poker, lipstick, and flirtation. Bermuda is the macguffin, and storms, hunger, delirium, suspicion, and men overboard get in the way of getting there. Rather than just special effects cool, wet and wild action heightens the internal boat suspense as beards grow and tables turn. They’re surrounded by undrinkable water, rain is precious, fishing bait is nonexistent, and sudden twists happen with nothing but a splash. Violent mutinies and shellfire are surprising to see in a forties movie, but Bankhead is a stunning, strong, sexy older woman able to be kissing or angry in the same scene – a multifaceted female role few and far between these days. Once stripped bare by the consequences of welcoming your enemy, do you accept your fate, continue to row, or laugh at the irony? Perhaps this warning against fatally lumping all together and the guilty lessons learned in such a no win situation can only be appreciated in retrospect, as this tale tries to see everything from both sides, remaining gripping from beginning to end with nothing but eight people in a boat in the middle of the ocean intensity. It makes one wonder why nowadays everything is so gosh darn bombastic.

 

SabotageBuzzing light bulbs go dark in this 1936 caper based on The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad – not to be confused with Hitchcock’s previous Secret Agent or later Saboteur. Whew! Crowds are both confused and giggling in this blackout, singing or arguing by candlelit and wanting their money back from the down picture show. Flashlights, the silhouetted skyline, shadow schemes, and askew camera angles add to the power tampering suspicion, and suspenseful notes follow our mysterious man in black as he returns home, washes his hands, and claims innocence – despite his neighbor’s claims to the contrary. He talks of money coming soon yet doesn’t want to draw attention to his cinema business, but the professional, public, and domestic are intertwined with families living above the bustling marketplace. Fine dresses, fedoras, and vintage cars add to the quaint, however no one is who they seem thanks to grocers with an angle, Scotland Yard whispering of trouble abroad, and shadowed men with their backs to the camera conversing over promised payments. The innocuous movies, aquarium, and pet shop host seemingly innocent ingredients used for making bombs, and onscreen days of the week lie in wait while the public is occupied by the picture show, hoodwinked by what’s in plain sight. Creepy packages, trick bird cages, and threatening “sleeping with the fishes” coded messages become a tongue in cheek nod to the nature of cinema and hidden observations as covers are blown and men scatter. Our wife is clueless abut her husband and oblivious to her family being used for information, creating an interesting dynamic for her between the handsome detective and a damn cold, cruel husband. Who are behind these plans and why? Despite several great sequences, convenient plot points leave too many unanswered questions. The busy start is rough around the edges, meandering for half the movie before becoming eerily provocative as a child delivers a fatal ticking package in the middle of the crowded market. We know the route and the time – delaying for street sales, demonstration detours, and interfering parades ups the suspense alongside traffic jams, stoplights, and montages featuring clock tower gears, dangerous flammable film, our innocuous brown papered package, and the puppy on the bus next to it! A clock on every street corner checks each five minutes passing amid town criers, newsboys, crescendos, and clues in the film canister that go for the big shocker while silent visuals bring the threats home to the dinner table. Although I don’t think today we’d have a cartoon singing “Who killed Cock Robin?” but that might just be me.

 

The 39 Steps – Like Maugham’s Ashenden stories, I wish there were more adaptations of the other Hannay books by John Buchan, not just numerous remakes stemming from this unfaithful but no less landmark 1935 picture with Robert Donat (Goodbye, Mr. Chips) joining our original icy blonde Carroll and all the Hitchcockian one can muster including the mistaken man, foreign intrigue, macguffin secrets, and budding romance. Cheeky dance halls host marriage jokes, brawls, chases, and gunshots with shadowed men in trench coats, pipes, and fedoras. Double decker buses, netted pillbox hats, stoles, and more period touches such as newspapers, lanterns, and milkmen contrast mysterious maps of Scotland, missing fingers, knives in the back, and a gal whose name depends on where she is and which country is the highest bidder. The mercenary espionage, air defense hush hush, and ticking clock is upfront in telling us what we need to know whilst also revealing a whole lot of eponymous nothing. Danger tops each scene thanks to suspicious phone booths, perilous bridges, and jealous husbands spotting those knowing glances across the dinner table during Grace. Police at the door and women both helpful or harmful compromise potentially rural calm – news travels fast and a spy must always be on the lookout. Whom do you trust when no one is who they seem? Lucky hymnal twists and false arrest turns escalate from one location to the next with ironic parades, impromptu speeches, cheering crowds, and charismatic escapes despite handcuffs, sheep, and romantic comedy tropes. Filming through doors, windows, and Art Deco lines accent the men in disguise, overheard rendezvous, and small hiking silhouettes against the pretty mountain peaks. Trains, airplanes, and rapid waters add speed to the pursuit. The superb cabin car photography and railroad scenery don’t need the in your face action awesome of today, for chitchatting folks reading the daily news is tense enough for the man who’s picture is beside the headlines. While some may find the look here rough around the edges or the plot points clichéd, many of our cinematic caper staples originate here. The full circle music, memories, and shootouts wink at the facade of it all, remaining impressive film making for the early sound era with great spy fun and adventure.

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: I Married a Witch

I Married a Witch a Trickster Delight

By Kristin Battestella

 

While many adore the subsequent Bell Book and Candle or Bewitched, have had Peek A Boo hairstyles, or even know of Veronica Lake thanks to her sexy Oscar winning look-alike Kim Basinger in L.A. Confidential; it seems not many today appreciate the 1942 magical romp that started it all, I Married a Witch.

Burned at the Salem Witch Trials thanks to the testimony of Jonathan Wooley (Frederic March), Jennifer (Veronica Lake) curses Wooley and all his male descendents to be unlucky in love. Centuries later when lightning strikes a tree and frees their spirits, Jennifer and her father Daniel (Cecil Kellaway) continue to interfere with politician Wallace Wooley (also March), his campaign for governor, and his impending marriage to socialite Estelle Masterson (Susan Hayward). Jennifer plans to make Wally fall in love with her just to ruin him. Unfortunately, when she is injured, Wally mistakenly gives her the love potion she intended for him. Now that she’s in love with a mortal, Daniel disastrously interferes on his daughter’s behalf. Jennifer, however, has bigger plans now: using witchcraft to save Wally’s campaign.

 

I’ll get the bit of the bad out of the way first, for only the dated production here hinders I Married a Witch. The black and white looks somewhat unrestored, dark and tough to see sometimes. The historical montage opening the film also has poor period stylings or seems quick and on the cheap. Modern audiences might also be a little lost on some of the thirties mannerisms and dialogue, and the sound is often tough to hear. While kids might enjoy this partial inspiration for the television series Bewitched, viewers with short attention spans might groan at early scenes with only smoke, fire, and old speaketh voiceovers. However, having said all that, the light-hearted comedy and hijinks of love story from director Rene Clair (The Flame of New Orleans, And Then There Were None) and writers Robert Pirosh (Combat!) and Marc Connelly (Captain Courageous) win with magical charm and innocent fun.

Well then, let’s talk about that peek a boo queen herself, Veronica Lake. Although the diminutive star of Sullivan’s Travels and This Gun for Hire doesn’t actually appear for the first fifteen minutes, we like the off-screen witch Jennifer when we hear of her fun curses. Despite her initial vengeance and maliciousness, we enjoy her vocal tricks and thus are thrilled when we finally do get so see those famous blonde tresses. Lake may seem a one trick pretty, but her witchy ways are delightful and her comedic dialogue is right on time. Though the pair seem visually at odds and she spends most of the time being carried by March; Lake has the sardonic match and onscreen weight to be a 290-year-old witch testing Wallys’ heart. Jennifer’s supposed to be bad, purely a spiteful witch causing love trouble for the sake of a long ago wrong, yet she’s whimsical and adorable all the same. Likewise, Oscar winner Frederic March (Best Years of Our Lives, Death of a Salesman, The Desperate Hours) proves he’s more than the straight, heavy, and serious dramatic leading man we so often enjoy. Wally’s wedding day hysterics are almost side splitting- caught in a repeatedly false starting ceremony and running ragged over two women! March would be the exceptional straight man indeed- if not for his perfect balance of witty, proper performance and humorous presence.

 

While Lake’s luster may have fallen over the decades, the budding and future Best Actress Susan Hayward (I Want to Live, Reap the Wild Wind) is wonderful as the snotty socialite set to marry Wally. Any other time, we’d love to pedestal Hayward, but in I Married a Witch, the audience can’t help but appreciate her bearing the brunt of Jennifer’s tricks. Dads Cecil Kellaway (The Postman Always Rings Twice) and Robert Warwick’s (The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex) J.B. Masterson are also great fun as the at odds parents who similarly enough have their daughters- and thus their own- best interests at heart. Classic fashion and style lends a wonderful visual support, too. Not to be outdone by slim cut suits or tilted fedoras, the pre-war ladies’ costumes here are glorious. The lengthy gowns and puffy sleeves just add an extra touch of class not often found in today’s recreations. I Married a Witch was contemporary at the time, but now it is a wonderful period piece to us with great music, sweet looking cars, and great old houses. Sure, some of the flying brooms and objects moving by themselves look hokey, but most of the smoke and mirror effects are simplistically good. Thanks to a fine story and great performances, fancy effects aren’t required to suspend the belief needed for I Married a Witch.

Fans of the old school cast, classic films aficionados, or families looking for some wholesome witchy fun can certainly find a short 80 minutes for I Married a Witch. Naturally, it is full of pre-war magical innocence rather than proper Wicca motifs, but again, the delight here wins against any datedness of the time.

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Recent Horror Ladies

Recent Lady Horrors

By Kristin Battestella

 

These contemporary pictures provide a little bit of everything for our would be ladies in peril – be it camp, scares, ghosts, or morose thrills.

 

The Love Witch – Artist, witch, and murderess Samantha Robinson’s (Doomsday Device) romantic spells go awry in this 2016 comedy written and directed by costumer/producer/Jill of all trades Anna Biller (Viva). Rear projection drives and teal eye shadow establish the tongue in cheek aesthetics while cigarette smoke, colorful lighting schemes, purple capes, and nude rituals accent flashbacks and sardonic narrations. Magic has cured our dame Elaine’s nervous breakdown after her husband’s death, and she’s starting fresh in a quirky tarot themed apartment inside a sweet California Victorian complete with a bemusing chemistry set for making potions with used tampons. Kaleidoscopes, rainbow liners inside dark retro clothing, blurred lenses, and spinning cameras reflect the “vodka and hallucinogenic herbs” as magic bottles, local apothecaries, and pentagram rugs set off the pink hat and tea room pastiche. Our ladies are so cordial when not plotting to steal the other’s husband! Her dad was cruel, her husband had an attitude, and her magic guru is in it for the sex, but she’s spent her life doing everything to please men in a quest for her own fairy tale love. When is Elaine going to get what she wants? She’s tired of letting the childlike men think they are in control, but she puts on the fantasy each man wants nonetheless, impressing a literary professor with her libertine references as the to the camera elocution and intentionally over the top Valley acting mirrors the courting facade. Psychedelic stripteases tantalize the boys onscreen, but the actresses are not exploited, winking at the customary for male titillation while instead providing the viewer with a sinister, if witty nature and classic horror visuals. Different female roles as defined by their patriarchal connections are addressed as ugly old eager dudes tell matching blonde twins that stripping or a rapacious sex ritual will be empowering – because a woman can’t be content in herself or embrace sexuality on her own terms unless there is a man to ogle her – while our man eater must break a guy down to the emotional baby he really is for her gain. It isn’t Elaine’s fault if men can’t handle her love! A man not in love can be objective while one wanting sex will excuse anything, and the shrew wife or female black subordinate are put out to pasture for an alluring white woman – layering the women in the workplace and racial commentaries as similar looking ladies must switch roles to keep their man. Tense evidence creates somber moments amid police inquiries, toxicology reports, and occult research – so long as the casework doesn’t interfere with their lunch order, that is. Is this woman really a witch or just a bewitching killer in both senses of the word? Is it batting her eyelashes lightheartedness or is she really an abused, delusional girl masking her trauma as a blessed be? The serious topics with deceptive undercurrents and feminist statements will be preachy and heavy handed for most male audiences with uneven pacing and confusing intercuts. However the fake blood in the bathtub, renaissance faire ruses, and melodramatic humor combine for a modern Buffy trippy satire dressed as a retro gothic That Girl homage that takes more than one viewing to fully appreciate.

 

My Cousin Rachel – Rachel Weisz (The Constant Gardener), Holliday Grainger (The Borgias), Ian Glen (Game of Thrones), and Simon Russell Beale (The Hollow Crown) begin this 2017 Daphne du Maurier mystery with happy strolls on the beach and fun bachelor times be it lovely greenery, carriages in the snow, or reading by the fire. The epistle narration gives a hear tell on the titular marriage via secret letters recounting illness and a wife forbidding correspondence before final, unfortunate news leaves the estates to heir Sam Claflin (The Hunger Games) on his next birthday – not the unseen widow said to be so strong and passionate. She’s a suspicious enigma for the first twenty minutes before a cross cut conversation introduces the charismatic storyteller, where the audience isn’t sure who is more uncomfortable or telling the truth despite the captivation. Divine mourning gowns, black satin, and lace veils add to the half-Italian allure amid more period accessories, libraries, old fashioned farming, candles, and top hats. Between would be scandalous horseback rides, church whispers, and awkward tea times, our once vengeful youth is smitten by Rachel’s progressive charm. Interesting conversations on femininity break Victorian taboos, for childbirth is the only thing a man knows about a woman and if she has a foreign remedy she must be a witch. Is Rachel wrapping her wealthy cousin around her finger? Can she when he is forbidding her work giving Italian lessons? Rachel is dependent on his allowance, and at times they both seem to be recreating the late benefactor and husband between them – the awkward new master wearing the dead man’s clothes and she the woman he didn’t think he needed. Such romance and heirloom Christmas gifts could be healing for them both, but viewers except the other gothic shoe to drop amid holiday generosity, seasonal feasts, and group songs. Overdrafts at the bank, raised allowances, a history of previous lovers and duels – Rachel puts on her finest grieving widow pity with a child lost and an unsigned will that would leave her everything. Is she orchestrating a careful seduction or is he a foolishly infatuated puppy despite clauses about remarriage or who predeceases whom? The ominous nib etching on the parchment leads to cliffside shocks, birthday saucy, blundered engagements, drunken visions, and poisonous plants. The suspicions turn with new illnesses and financial dependence, as Rachel goes out on the town and says what she does is nobody’s business. After all, why can’t she have a life of her own if the estate is now hers? Why should her independence be defined by a man’s piece of paper? We relate to Rachel, but she can only cry wolf and fall back on her sob story so many times… While this isn’t as creepy as it could be – audiences expecting horror will find the pace slow – the drama and mood are well done amid the wrong conclusions and written revelations. Were the suspicions warranted? The finale may not be satisfactory to some, but the unanswered questions and ultimate doubt remain fitting. 

 

What say you, Addicts?

A Dark Song – Psalm warnings, beautiful skyscapes, and an old house with no heating paid for up front set this 2016 Irish tale amid the train station arrivals and others backing out on this specific plan with west facing rooms, twenty-two week diets, and purified participants having no alcohol or sex. More fasting, dusk to dawn timetables, serious interviews on why, and reluctant rules of the procedure build the cryptic atmosphere as the price for this dangerous ritual rises – speaking to a dead child isn’t some silly astral projection, angel psychobabble bollocks, basic Kabbalah, or easy Gnosticism you can find on the internet. The isolated manor with salt circles and invocations feels seventies cult horror throwback, however the metaphysical talk and extreme meditation bring modern realism as tense arguing, religious doubts, and questions on right or wrong match the bitterness toward the outside world. Hallucinations, sleep deprivation, and vomiting increase while physical cleansings and elemental phases require more candles and blood sacrifices. Some of the slow establishing and ritual minutia could have been trimmed in favor of more on the spooky half truths, suspect motives, need to be pure, and distorted state of mind. Black birds hitting the windows and missing mementos don’t seem to get the waiting for angels and forgiveness rituals very far for the amount of time that has passed, and heavy handed music warns us when something is going on even as more should be happening. A third character also seeking something he cannot find may have added another dynamic rather than two extremists getting nowhere, and short attention span audiences won’t wait for something to appear in those first uneven forty minutes. After all, with these symbols painted on the body and awkward sex rituals, wouldn’t one suspect this is just some kind of scam? Untold information, vengeance, backwards baptisms, near death extremes, and knife injuries meander on the consuming guilt and mystical visions before demons in disguise make for an obvious finale treading tires when the true angels, spirits, and goodness revelations were there all along. Maybe more seasoned hands were needed at the helm or a second eye to fix the pacing and genre flaws, for the quality pieces suffer amid the bleakness. This really shouldn’t be labeled as a horror movie, but it doesn’t capitalize on its potential as a psychological examination and surreal stages of grief metaphor either.

 

Skip It!

Shut In – Widowed Maine psychologist Naomi Watts (The Ring) is trapped in a storm while being haunted by little Jacob Tremblay (Room) in this 2016 international but already problematic PG-13 paint-by-numbers crammed with the isolated blonde, ghosts, kids horrors, weather perils, and one spooky basement. Accidents and home movies on the cell phone also laden the start before the lakeside locales, snowy blankets, and paraplegic burdens. The grief and inability to care for an invalid teen is understandable, and our step-mom considers sending him to a facility. However, the frazzled woman increasingly replacing her sick son with a younger therapy patient and the creepy temptations on holding the invalid under the bath water become hollow thanks to the obligatory it was just a dream jump cuts. Unnecessary technology and time wasting glances at watches and clocks are also intrusive – the camera focuses on dialing 911 with the finger poised over the send button and intercutting person to person like a traditional phone call flows much better than up close Skype screens. Weatherman warnings and news reports as the research montage lead to flashlights outside, icy footprints, and car alarms, but again the tension falls back on textbook raccoon scares with round and round scenes outside in the snow or inside on the phone doing little. Maybe one doesn’t think straight in the panic, but most of those frosty searches include shouting for a deaf mute boy who can’t hear you nor answer back. The psychology is also common fluff, i.e. teens have difficulty with divorce, you don’t say – Skyping Oliver Platt (Chicago Med) provides better therapy, so we know what’s going to happen to his character! Besides, all the shadows in the hallway, hidden wall panels, unexplained scratches, locked doors opening by themselves, and ghostly little hands in the bedroom yet the women still end up talking about a man. Fading in and out transitions mirror the sleeping pills and drinking, but such shifts break the world immersion before the storm even hits. When the doctor says her bloodwork indicates she’s being drugged, mom doesn’t even care – because the twist is for the audience not the main character. Lanterns, black out attacks, and video evidence right before the power failure could be good, but random people arrive despite blocked roads and the oedipal sociopath jealously provides a dumb chase finale as the stalker conveniently sing songs “Hush Little Baby” so we know where he is when he’s coming for you. Good thing that foreboding blizzard talked about the entire movie stops in time for the lakeside happy ending that apparently has no legal, medical, or parental consequences.

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: The Addams Family Season 2

The Addams Family Season Two is More Spooky Good Fun

by Kristin Battestella

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: The Addams Family Season 1

The Addams Family Debuts with Quips and Quirky Good Fun

by Kristin Battestella

Neat.

Sweet.

Petite.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

by Kristin Battestella

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: SCHOOLGIRLS AND FAMILY FEARS!

 

School Girls and Family Fears!

By Kristin Battestella

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Brimstone

 

Brimstone a Disturbing yet Must See Parable

by Kristin Battestella

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: BONE TOMAHAWK

 

Bone Tomahawk is a Wonderfully Horrific Western Road Trip

by Kristin Battestella

 

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

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

 

Not Your Average Western

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

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

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

A Fine Ensemble

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

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

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

 

Must See Looks

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

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

 

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: TEEN HORRORS

 

 

Summer Teen Horrors

by Kristin Battestella

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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.

Kbatz: The Oblong Box and Scream and Scream Again for April

 

The Oblong Box Along and Scream and Scream Again Dated, but All in Good Fun

By Kristin Battestella

 

The Vincent Price fest is never over, so along comes The Oblong Box and its double bill with Scream and Scream Again. Though not as special as some of Price’s previous Poe and Corman collaborations, this duet celebrates not one horror master, but two. Vincent Price, meet Christopher Lee.

Julian Markham (Price) has returned from his family’s African plantation with his cursed and deformed brother Edward (Alister Williamson) – who Julian keeps locked in an upstairs room. Despite the mysterious behaviors at his estate, Julian hopes to marry the young and beautiful Elizabeth (Hilary Dwyer). The Markham lawyers Samuel Trench (Peter Arne, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) and Mark Norton (Carl Rigg, Marked Personal), however, plot Edward’s escape and cure along with African witchdoctor N’Galo (Harry Baird, The Italian Job). Unfortunately, Edward is accidentally buried alive in their scheme. Once rescued by Dr. Neuhart (Christopher Lee) and his grave robbers, the masked Edward romances the pretties and plots his revenge.

 

He may be top-billed, but there’s not as much of our beloved, over the top Vincent Price (The Tomb of Ligeia, House of Usher) in 1969’s The Oblong Box. Although he’s less than a decade removed from the early success of American International Pictures’ Poe series, Price looks a little old for his leading lady Elizabeth. Fortunately, outside of these quibbles, there’s still plenty to love. Julian looks the worn, conflicted English noble. Can he dare to hope while he’s also walking a deadly line of guilt and destruction? Price makes the most of his given scenes, both as a disturbed brother and a charming husband. Again Hilary Dwyer (Wuthering Heights, Hadleigh) seems a little young, but this works in her tender relationship and naivety with Julian. Likewise, Sally Gleeson (Bless This House) looks and acts the pretty -if a little naughty-maid.

Hammer Horror alum and Lord of the Rings veteran Christopher Lee also doesn’t have as creepy a role as I might have liked, but his mad doctor is a high brow mad doctor. He pays slick swindlers to steal the bodies of the recently deceased for his research, but Neuhart does his doctoring while wearing a silk tie and waistcoat. He gets down and dirty with cadavers in the name of science, but Neuhart objects to Edward’s blackmail and murderous revenge. There isn’t much time for this stylized ambiguity in The Oblong Box, but Lee’s presence and voice command your attention in all his scenes.

 

Price, yes, Lee, lovely- but The Oblong Box is Alister Williamson’s (The Abdominal Mr. Phibes) picture. Yes, the masked man who’s true face you never even see and who the voice was actually dubbed steals this picture. It would have been intriguing for Price to play both brothers-or even Lee take a turn under the crimson hood- but the voice and style of both men are too easily recognized. Williamson and his Edward are mysterious, unknown. What does he look like under that hood? We know he’s been wronged and wants to see Edward find justice, but how far will his revenge go? Which side of the law is he on -and why do the ladies find him so irresistible? This is England, 1865 as only 1969 could recreate. Williamson gives Edward charm and tenderness with some ladies, then rapacious violence with others. He’s naughty, nice, misunderstood, and vengeful-not bad for our unknown, unseen, and unheard actor, eh?

The cast keeps The Oblong Box charming, but this very loosely Poe inspired adaptation from Lawrence Huntington (Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Presents) and Christopher Wicking (Murders in the Rue Morgue) isn’t as strong as it could be. Director Gordon Hessler (The Golden Voyage of Sinbad) spends too much time on the stereotypical mistreatment of colonial Africa and blaxploitation-like zooms and voodoo montages. If you want to talk about the unjusts of slavery, set the entire picture in Africa and let the actors go to their scary depths.

 

Thankfully, the visual mix of the sixties and Victorian styles ties The Oblong Box together. The color and costumes are great even though Americans might be a little confused by the English style. When we see 1865 on tombstones, we think hoop skirts and Civil War extravagance ala Gone with the Wind. Here, however, the ladies “be-bustled” in a more mid to late 1880s style. Nevertheless, there’s plenty of bawdy English taverns and cleavage bearing working girls. The outdoor locations are also a treat, and there are even a few daytime graveside scenes- a rarity in these old horror flicks.

The Oblong Box isn’t perfect, but there are a few filmmaking strides here, too. The early, up close, claustrophobic deaths are from the askew killer’s point of view. We want to look away, but can’t. Despite the story’s thin execution, the charm and classic stylings of the cast win out -along with the mystery at hand. We can’t help but watch just to see if our hooded killer is caught and unmasked. Freaky faces, scares, voodoo, and violence -we just can’t help ourselves, can we?

Thankfully, Hessler, Wicking, Price, and Lee reunited the following year for 1970’s Scream and Scream Again. Who could they possibly add to up the horror ante? Why, Peter Cushing, of course!

 

 

Superintendent Bellavur (Alfred Marks, Albert and Victoria) and fellow officer Sylvia (Judy Huxtable, The Touchables) investigate a string of vampire murders. Each victim has ties to local scientist Dr. Browning (Price) and his nurse Jane (Uta Levka). Before Bellavur and morgue assistant David (Christopher Matthews, Scars of Dracula) can solve the case, Intelligence commissioner Fredmont (Lee) must strike a deal with torturous foreign dictator Konratz (Marshall Jones, Crossroads), who wants the files detailing the vampire case. Konratz has overstepped Major Benedek (Cushing) and taken control of a very grim conspiracy that has its subjects screaming and screaming some more.

 

Vincent Price is another year older now, and his old style presence and charisma is a little out of place amid fast-paced Brit coppers. The juxtaposition of all these young go-go folks would make Price seem past his prime -even though we know he has another thirty years of solid work ahead of him. His scenes are few and far between, but his Dr. Browning is so slick. He proves his worth against the hip stylings with suave answers for our detectives and high Frankenstein ideals. He’s a mad scientist with the best of intentions and Price leads us to Scream and Scream Again’s big finish. If the body stealing doctor with the vat of acid isn’t our bad guy, that’s scary.

Well, our man Dracula, aka Christopher Lee, as a good guy police minister-surely this can’t be? Again, there’s not nearly enough of him in Scream and Scream Again, but it’s a treat to see Lee young, modern, besuited and fedora wearing! Fremont has all the lines and politicking needed, using Konratz and Browning to his advantage. Who will come out on top? Who’s really behind all our slim and shady? In the end, Lee’s dominating presence is delightful, as is the freaky style of Uta Levka, another alum from The Oblong Box. This nurse’s devoid eyes and lack of lines would make any patient shudder.

 

Fellow Hammer Horror veteran and Sherlock Holmes star Peter Cushing doesn’t appear for the first half hour, but it’s no surprise that he would be the Major in charge of a Nazi-esque dictatorship successfully taking over a small European country. Unfortunately, his suave class and control over such ugly business is all too brief for Scream and Scream Again. I don’t know who the rest of the people here are and I really don’t care -and it seems the marketing folks who put Price, Lee, and Cushing in bold print knew that. Don’t Wicking and Hessler realize we can handle Price, Lee, and Cushing at the same time-nay we want to see them, we have to see them, we need to see them in more than these briefities! Forget the teenyboppers and bell-bottoms already!

It’s annoying and misleading, yes, as it has little to do with the film; but you have to admit Scream and Scream Again is a crafty title. There’s a nice chase sequence ala Bond as well, but is this so titled flick hip action or horror? Scream and Scream Again has a very interesting concept of realistic, multiple storylines amid scares and fast pacing. Unfortunately, the non-linear and jumpy approach disjoints and unravels any strides made. Each story could have been its own film, and each isn’t given its full deserving depths here. The swanky 1970 music and British contemporary style are very dated now. Scream and Scream Again might have been served better as a traditional period piece, but that probably wouldn’t have worked with Peter Saxon’s source novel. Fans of the cast’s other horror work might feel a little alienated by these vague thoughts on science and conspiracy, and Scream and Scream Again spends too much of its time trying to be hip and avant-garde with its pop music and interweaving trio of storylines.

 

I’ve been critical of the dated styles and misdirection of Scream and Scream Again because it’s a lost opportunity to do something really spectacular with our trio of horror masters. Having said that, it is still a scary and freaky film-psychotic and experimental doctors, cops chasing pseudo-vampire killers, maniacal governments torturing its subjects. When you look at Scream and Scream Again like that, well, then any fan of old school horror should be all for it!

Although these double billed DVDs are an affordable, quick and easy bang for your buck; most of them are a little older, and often double sided. It’s kind of a pain to flip the disc, but it’s better to have these gems digitally restored than not at all. (Insert rant here about how half the films made before 1950 no longer exist and that all the classics that aren’t available on DVD should be restored before any more Disney Direct to Video drivel comes out, thank you.) There are subtitles here at least if no features beyond trailers. What’s really unfortunate for Prince and Lee fans? Their next collaboration with Peter Cushing-and John Carradine- 1983’s House of the Long Shadows, is not available on DVD. Thankfully, The Oblong Box is viewable online.

Though seriously flawed and imperfect by modern standards, both The Oblong Box and Scream and Scream Again make for a fun night of horror and camp. Both may be too bawdy or uninteresting for the kids, but horror enthusiasts and fans of the cast can have a fun, quick marathon for Halloween or any time of the year.

Kbatz: Victor Frankenstein (2015)

 

Latest Victor Frankenstein Unfortunately Disappointing

by Kristin Battestella

 

I had hoped Gothic dramatizations and Victorian horror were making a comeback. Unfortunately, with the cancellation of Penny Dreadful, the less than welcoming reception of Crimson Peak, and the disappointing result of the 2015 Victor Frankenstein, the potential for dark romanticism and steampunk gone macabre trends seems over before it could really start.

The hunchbacked Igor (Daniel Radcliffe) is rescued from the cruel circus and healed by the visionary but radical Doctor Victor Frankenstein (James McAvoy). Dismissed from his medical college, Victor is reanimating small subjects and intends to create life with a new man-made cadaver. Unfortunately, Inspector Turpin (Andrew Scott) is following the gruesome trail back to Victor, and he objects to Frankenstein’s amoral and godless plans – which need Igor’s raw medical talents to be completed.

 

Victor Frankenstein is slow to start with more telling than showing when the waxing on man versus monster making could all be seen rather than told. These talkative delays underestimate the audience, compromising atmospheric immersion and period mood with “little did I know” narrative breaks. Where’s the Victorian carnival flair and underlying horror? Victor Frankenstein has a unique angle on this oft told tale, but the action is styled for the cool circus escape with unnecessary slow motion and leaping over a box being highlighted as more important than freakish servitude and characters in peril. Viewers can see Victor observing Igor reading medical texts – we can feel the characters if you let us instead of cutting corners with fast moving dialogue, hectic editing, and shaky camerawork. Victor Frankenstein isn’t really sure how it wants to present itself because the required flashy becomes more important the the man versus nature, man versus man, and man versus himself horror possibilities. Mischievous animal part thefts and science montages happen quick with little time to enjoy the mad science. Of course, Victor Frankenstein isn’t true horror, yet the soft romantic scenes and rags to riches drama feels at odds with the macabre. Debates on magic and superstition versus emerging science and technology make for better drama alongside failed science presentations and medical mistakes letting us know where each character stands. Although the hissing monkey prototype has some creepy moments and could be a sinister step to the monster making, these scenes come off as a laughable detour. Real science probables such as two hearts and four lungs and numerous design montages become too busy, hindering the grossly fantastic and the character drama. Is Victor Frankenstein about Victor’s mad descent or Igor’s misused intelligence? If this is about Victor’s coming to this ghastly point, the story should begin before his experiments and conclude with the onset of his creation. If Victor Frankenstein really is about Igor’s role in the monstrosity, then the science should be nearer completion. Instead, Victor Frankenstein meanders for over an hour before London on the lamb and double crossings throw more wrenches into the quick monster finish. Past reasons why come too late, and tacked on narrations do nothing to explain what Victor Frankenstein is about beyond an opening ending in hopes of a sequel.

With his slick ‘stache and Victorian finery, James McAvoy (X-Men: Apocalypse) looks the titular mad scientist with an ulterior reason for inspiring Igor. Arrogant Victor thinks he’s too intelligent, admitting he prefers his vanity to being called a criminal and will speak slowly when talking to lesser people. Victor gets too far ahead of himself in belittling believers, life, and theology. He’s too excited over his own experiments and uses a fast talking wit to confuse others into not questioning his brilliance. Unfortunately, this flippant, condescending double talk effect is exactly how the audience feels when watching Victor Frankenstein. It’s more interesting to see Victor educate and raise Igor almost like he would do the monster. He doesn’t care about charity just control – Victor needs Igor’s talent to finish his life and death projects while he takes the credit. He fixes Igor’s hump in a gross, back cracking pinning while sucking the fluids out through a tube in one erroneously forced and homophobic scene, and comedic dialogue perceiving them as friends jars against the feeling superior Victor using Igor for his own devious ends. We meet Victor Frankenstein after the doctor has already left any morality questions behind and made his leap to madness, leaving what could have been an intriguing science versus soul debate as stubbornly unlikable assery. Victor’s motivation is revealed too late and very little consequences follow his actions. McAvoy is left doing more shouting than anything creepy, and his Scottish accent bleeds through into a not necessarily British, just toned down affectation akin to the meh at hand.

Fortunately, Daniel Radcliffe’s (Harry Potter) Igor is developed as a real assistant rather than an idiot in Victor Frankenstein. Despite learning nothing but cruelty from people as a circus hunchback, Igor is also a self-educated amateur doctor who cleans up nice and tries to remain loyal thanks to Victor’s kindness toward him. Of course, this Victor Frankenstein can’t be told wholly from Igor’s perspective as promised when he is absent from several scenes and critical information is given without him. Igor’s narration also comes and goes – oddly returning for his moon eyes over a girl when the fantastic science is afoot. Igor is also able to run, swim, and scale a rock cliff just by putting on a back brace after having spent a lifetime as cripple…okay. Staying entirely in Igor’s point of view would have helped Victor Frankenstein tremendously as his voiceovers or journaling montages could explain the number of weeks or months passing while giving the audience his private observations on the increasing madness. Instead, Igor flip flops too much to be the viewer’s anchor and changes his tune on Victor’s plans – first he’s reluctant to proceed due to a financial deadline and wants to discuss the peril of creating man in his own image but then he feels obligated to Victor for giving him life thanks to metaphoric contrivances. Igor knows the jealous Victor has become an embarrassment, used him, and interfered with his romance. However, the two hearts and two brothers parallels between bad Victor and good Igor seem more important that Igor’s fresh perspective, and the idea of Victor being a positive benefactor raising up life through Igor ends up too muddle to save Victor Frankenstein. However, the hunchback does get the girl in a hammy but surprisingly not exploitive sex scene. How often can you say that?

The supporting players in Victor Frankenstein sadly also serve as little more than stereotypes, including Jessica Brown Finlay as the pretty acrobat turned beard Lorelei. Despite potential for a would be love triangle, Finlay only appears in a handful of scenes looking too modern, out of place, and too small in her swimming costumes – and it’s all so odd because she was so good on Downton Abbey. Lorelei is merely used as a brightly color standout when some symbolism is necessary before inexplicably disappearing for the finale. While Andrew Scott’s (Sherlock) Turpin is a shrewd inspector not falling for Victor’s spin, the intriguing idea of his pursuit of Frankenstein for religious beliefs rather than legal prosecution is dropped for a standard case of lawman with manpain. Scott also feels either out of his depth or too much for the material, for his scenes seem like they come from another movie. Turpin may also loose an eye or hand at some point – but he ends up still having them both later anyway. Whoopsie! Elder Frankenstein Charles Dance (Game of Thrones) does add an element of stern class in his sacrilegiously short screen time. One frigging scene! The Baron gives Victor a good talking to with a well-deserved chastising and slap, and Victor Frankenstein needed much more of these father and son aspects.

 

Victor Frankenstein has sweeping Victorian scene setters with colorful circus tents, exterior facades, and zooming in entries – and viewers can tell it is all unnecessary CGI. What’s happening under the circus tent and inside the laboratory are cool enough thanks to nighttime gaslight glows, crackling electricity, and large gears. Up close foggy streets, bleak hospital interiors, and horse drawn carriages accent more alongside period medical sketches, Victorian zoos, steam gizmos, disembodied eyes, and more creepy specimens in green tanks. Mirrors and reflections mimic the duality in Victor Frankenstein, and overlaying anatomy lines, diagrams, body labels, and human schematics do better than any trite slow motion. Unfortunately, the mad science blueprints are used onscreen early, then dropped for most of the picture until the final monster design montage – almost to cop out on not actually showing any of the monster work. Daylight scenes in Victor Frankenstein reveal the color, costumes, golden rooms, and would be splendors of the time like heat and running water, but the bare minimum period setting remains Victorian light rather than fantastic steampunk. Top hats, a crinoline, and a few big skirt twirls don’t hit home the costumes, and modern tattoos can be see when wearing those strapless gowns. Victor Frankenstein never even says the year, and despite its obviously expensive intentions, this feels low budget messy and unfinished. Stormy, gloomy Scottish atmosphere comes too late in the final act – where the raising of the monster is an orchestration in action set pieces followed by a spectacular destruction. All that fiery, confusing hurrying and Victor Frankenstein limps into over five minutes of credits with little to show for it.

This not a horror movie nor a character drama, but Victor Frankenstein isn’t really science fiction and has no fantastic to its creation either. The rush to be modern cool or more Hollywood than nineteenth century British sacrifices any Gothic feeling, and the condensed script or production changes on the fly lack period finesse. It’s tough to view Victor Frankenstein as what it is but rather what it could have been, and the cast, setting, and story deserved better. While serviceable for audiences who haven’t seen any other Frankenstein adaptation, Victor Frankenstein makes older audiences appreciate the panache of the Hammer Frankenstein films all the more. If you’re looking for the book you won’t find it – like a game of telephone, Victor Frankenstein starts with Mary, passes through Universal, and quotes Young Frankenstein before this disappointing result that never takes its original possibilities to the next level.

Kbatz: Dragonwyck

Frightening Flix

Dragonwyck A Spooky and Charming Little Old Film

By Kristin Battestella

 

I was a bit surprised when I stumbled upon this 1946 title starring Gene Tierney and Vincent Price, for I had never heard of it before. Based upon 1944 novel by Anya Seton, Dragonwyck is a creepy little gothic tale of frightful mansions and murderous tendencies.

Miranda Wells (Tierney) dreams of bigger things than her family’s Connecticut farm, much to the chagrin of her devout parents Ephraim (Walter Houston) and Abigail (Anne Revere). When a letter arrives from Abigail’s distant and wealthy cousin Nicholas Van Ryan (Price), Miranda takes the offered opportunity to serve as companion to Nicholas’ daughter Katrine (Connie Marshall, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House) at the Van Ryan’s legendary Hudson Valley estate Dragonwyck. Once at the mansion, however, tales of hauntings, local unrest, and the uneven relationship between Nicholas and his wife Johanna (Vivienne Osborne) can’t deter Miranda from falling in love with Nicholas. But of course, he is married, and spends far too many nights in his secret tower room…

Though not a horror movie or thriller per se, Dragonwyck has many fearful moments and suspense-filled sequences, largely due to the simplest suggestions of intrigue. The black and white cinematography, creepy angles, spooky lighting, and haunting score by the famed Alfred Newman (How the West Was Won, The King and I, Camelot) give just the right amount of suggestion that not all is well at Dragonwyck. Screenwriter and first time director Joseph L. Mankiewicz (All About Eve, Guys and Dolls, Cleopatra) makes great strides in giving us the basis of the novel’s complex time and place, but some sequences in Dragonwyck do seem ill edited. Quick references to a change of time and place aren’t enough to indicate the move-sometimes it seems like you’re watching a film ‘edited for content and cut to run in the time allotted.’ Thankfully, performance and story win out with the help of great costumes and gothic sets.

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I don’t know much about Prince Aly Khan, except that he seemed to mentally ruin not one, but two Hollywood ladies- Rita Hayworth and Gene Tierney. Perhaps more well known today for her many romances, Tierney (Laura, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Leave Her To Heaven) was pretty and she could act. Maybe her beauty draws the viewer in, but Tierney’s expressions of innocence, naiveté, and love keep us interested in Miranda. We want her to find joy and happiness-even if the high society life at Dragonwyck clearly spells doom. Likewise, parents Walter Huston (Yankee Doodle Dandy, The Treasure of The Sierra Madre) and Anne Revere (National Velvet, The Song of Bernadette) are stern and respectable parents with only the best interests at heart. Observant viewers will also see a young Jessica Tandy (Driving Miss Daisy) as Peggy, the crippled Irish maid with a good heart.

It’s pretty plain to see that the ‘low’ farming folk have more values and morals than the ‘high’ Hudson folk, but Vivienne Osborne (Tomorrow at Seven) earns a piece of sympathy as Nicholas’ wife Johanna. She seems chubby and more interested in food than her daughter, but we feel that in some ways, this snotty style is not her fault. Her callous upbringing and lack of attention from her deceitful husband help blur the lines between this detailed look at the early Victorian lifestyle and Hudson society. But of course, Vincent Price (The Ten Commandments, The Pit and the Pendulum) plays a man who is not always what he seems. He’s thinner and more subdued than what we expect from the maniacal old horror maven to come in later films. Price’s Nicholas looks the waistcoat and top hat society man, we believe he can be respectable and a good love for Miranda-and yet we should know better. Price shows his range through Nicholas’ love, flagrant callousness, addictions, and other… nefarious… tendencies.

Dragonwyck is not a perfect film, and it is a little dated in some respects. Mankiewicz’ inexperience as a debut director also hampers some scenes. Nevertheless, gothic lovers and fans of classic suspense can enjoy Dragonwyck. Younger audiences may not understand some of the historical back-story about patroon landowners keeping tenant farmers in feudal like arrangements, but the spooky air is just right for a youthful scare or two. But of course, the DVD edition of Dragonwyck is now out of print. Thankfully, fans of Vincent Price can pick up a copy in several horror sets. It’s a strange placement, but fans of the cast and viewers who love a little bit of Bronte suspense will enjoy getting their hands on Dragonwyck. I’m tempted to find the book now, too!

Kbatz: Dream House

Frightening Flix

Dream House A Mishmash of Wasted Talent.

By Kristin Battestella

 

Despite the digital cable’s one star warning, I settled in for a creepy night with this recent 2011 thriller. Unfortunately, the real life romance sparked on-set for stars Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz really is the claim to fame here.

Editor Will Atenten (Craig) and his artist wife Libby (Weisz) have quit their jobs and purchased the country house of their dreams at last! As they settle in, local teens harass the couple and their young daughters for being unaware of the home’s murderous history. Friendly neighbor Ann Patterson (Naomi Watts) tries to be sympathetic to Will, but he slowly suspects his new home and family life are not what they appear to be…

Much acclaimed director Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot, The Field) ends up hampered by the multiple personality script and PG-13 rating enforced by the studio here. The location and accents are never explained, nor is whether the narrative is all just part of the ‘novel being written by the main character’ cliché. Dream House isn’t meant to be a full on scary horror movie, but it drops the ball on the mystery and suspense thriller vibes. Everything looks either too daytime normal with an unrealistically idyllic, no money worries happy family or evening can’t see dark and confusing everything thrown at the fan attempt. There’s not a lot of atmosphere to build suspense, and nothing happens for the first twenty minutes. This slow start is costly time in a 90-minute movie, and a too early twist halfway thru Dream House changes the entire purpose of the picture completely. The surprise is nothing shocking; Dream House is a lot like Shutter Island. You can see the snafu coming almost from the cold opening, and the viewers are left with nothing to care about except the famous players. I came into the film unaware of its history, but it’s no surprise that the stars disowned the end result and all subsequent promotions. From just a ho-hum picture about a family in a hew house to a crime history and a man on the case, the hints to something deeper and what could have been are there. Unfortunately, there’s not enough depth to make any of it worthwhile.

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Current James Bond Daniel Craig and beautiful Oscar winner Rachel Weisz (The Constant Gardener) make a lovely couple onscreen and off, but Dream House doesn’t lend their chemistry much to do. Both seem a little too soft spoken, even mumbly or shy, and the confusing plot doesn’t help clarify their intentions. Thankfully, they do match each other wonderfully- unlike most thriller movies today with couples too young to be believable or an old man with a hottie wife. Craig and Weisz are the right age and maturity, and their caring of young co- stars Claire and Taylor Geare feels genuine. They aren’t bad; I doubt any such skilled thespians could be so. However, the players just have so little to do in Dream House. You can see Craig’s effort at a conflicted father with layers and feeling for his family, but the mishmashed editing and presentation on Will’s state of mind confuses the onesided Libby further. Audiences are once again left wanting more of Craig while wondering how someone like Weisz would stoop to the do nothing perfect artist mom in a run of the mill pseudo haunted house show. Sigh. With all the focus on Craigweisz, Best Actress nominee Naomi Watts (21 Grams, The Ring) is somewhat unexpectedly decent as the pretty and mysterious neighbor who knows the history of what’s gone down- supposedly. Of course, she’s not given much else, and Marton Csokas (Lord of the Rings) is equally strapped as her jerky ex-husband Jack. Any well-versed mystery thriller viewer will see his lame part in Dream House coming a mile away.

Fans of the cast or the Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz real life romance can have a good time with this film, and folks looking for something bad to watch for a drinking game or late night party can find something silly to enjoy. Unfortunately, there’s precious little here to appreciate otherwise. The players didn’t drop the ball, but somewhere along the line, someone really did a number to this Dream House.

Kbatz: Indoor Horror Scares

Frightening Flix

 

Indoor Horror Scares

by Kristin Battestella

 

Who needs to go on vacation when these rural horrors and at home perils are more than enough fright?

 

BugRetro telephone rings, an isolated and rundown motel, and blue neon lighting establish the would be rock bottom for beat up, lonely, straggly haired waitress Ashley Judd (Double Jeopardy) in this 2006 psychological scare directed by William Friedkin (The Exorcist). Unfortunately the solitary drinking, drug use, and one sided phone conversations become much worse thanks to the enigmatic and awkward Michael Shannon (Take Shelter) and his forthright perceptions on crickets and conspiracies. The smoke detector, a pizza delivery – even the disappearance of Agnes’ son years prior is newly suspect. Violent, intrusive ex-husband Harry Connick Jr. (Copycat) is equally solid thanks to meaty one-on-one dialogues, masculine tensions, and terse back and forth exchanges. There’s exposition, sure, but these conversations realistically rely more on past emotions and mistakes the characters already know. This is a messed up, small, and sad little world with more pronounced accents for the Oklahoma setting and a one room design that looks ten years older anchoring the dramatic first hour as the creepy crawlies, military history, and medical paranoia increase. Just because one can’t see the infestations that doesn’t mean they aren’t there, right? People flipping out over bugs invisible to the audience can be unintentionally humorous, granted. However, the well edited camera cuts and movements within the tiny stage space ala the Tracy Letts (Killer Joe) source play accentuate the increasingly crazy theories and jumping to conclusions extremes – which are in turn ridiculous and unbelievable. Even if there is a grain of truth impetus and misplaced maternal instincts realized too late, sparse uses of bite marks, blood, plastics, tin foil, and bug lights – as in dozens of bug lights and wall to wall tin foil shiny – isolate our lead pair within their conspiracy together. The zapper glow adds a surreal, padded room reflection where homemade madness trades one type of abuse and insanity for another. Let’s pull out our own teeth because the government put bugs in our fillings! Okay! This is not scare a minute slasher dicing horror as some viewers would expect but rather a freaky thinking person’s examination of mind and body fears and inside and out delusions all done without CGI and $250 million hyperbole. As to the slightly confusing post credit clips, I suspect the first is where Agnes’ mental breakdown began and the second is when her delusion passes the point of no return. Of course, I could be wrong, as it probably wasn’t the smartest idea to watch this particular movie while I had a hives breakout!

 

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Housebound – This 2014 New Zealand import isn’t as financially strapped as other low budget terrors, but this horror comedy does have plenty of old fashioned basement trappings, ominous neighbors, potential paranormal activity, unexplained voices, and one eerie abode with a bad history. Accents and place names might be tough for some and viewers have seen this type of isolated or laid up and monitored scary previously. Fortunately, the titular punishment leads to some new crazy versus supernatural spins along with lovely outdoor photography, old time radios, dated computers, dial up modems, tape recorders, Polaroids, and gasp corded phones. Shrewd exposition – calling into a paranormal radio show to tell an encounter – compliments the quick newspaper research, and a well designed lighting scheme with noir smoke, darkness, solitary lamps, and an aged, golden patina adds atmosphere. Is this merely clutter, leftover antiques, attic access, creaking doors, or something sinister? Clueless parents may seem annoying to start, but we come around to our bad girl with a ‘tude emo lead as the activity escalates. Though there are a few jump scares, this is not akin to today’s paranormal reality series or shock and awe shenanigans. The comedy is not gross out, laugh out loud either, but rather a generational quirky, kooky household objects, and battling bemusements – old toys are both creepy yet humorous. Disbelieving authorities, surprising movements, and other unexpected interference keep the eponymous limits from becoming stagnant as more pieces are added to the mystery. This puzzle is not in your face horror, but the majorly upticked final half hour puts everything perfectly on its ear and will have the audience holding its breath. And let me reiterate, there is no, repeat, no reason for a forthcoming stateside remake!

 

Late PhasesA pleasant, mature ensemble including Ethan Embry (Can’t Hardly Wait), Tina Louise (Gilligan’s Island), Karen Lyn Gorney (Saturday Night Fever), Dana Ashbrook (Twin Peaks), Tom Noonan (The Monster Squad), and Lance Guest (The Last Starfighter) battle the werewolves afoot as blind veteran Nick Damici (We Are What We Are) moves to a fishy retirement community in this 2014 tale. Headstone shopping, senior discounts – it’s expensive to die, and such issues acerbate the grief, discomfort, and difficulty adjusting to new surroundings nevermind ominous hooded visitors, suspicious animal attacks, or finding a gunsmith to make silver bullets no questions asked. Cranky encounters with nosy old ladies build humor and drama, investing the audience with a likable protagonist and quips about old people all smelling the same before dog door scares, shadows at the window, and werewolves breaking and entering. Granted, some will be put off by the hokey wolf suit. However, darkness, smart camera angles, and suspenseful canine versus lycanthrope action hide most of the monster design while good gore, echoes on the fallen telephone, and violent sounds on the other side of the wall add fear. Monthly preparations mount as neighborhood clues and a keen sense of smell could identify the wolfy during the countdown till the next full moon. The cops may be tired of answering elderly calls and family ditches their defenseless parents, but those left behind must grapple with religious redemption, Vietnam fallout, and haunting sacrifices – familiar topics not often discussed in horror. Yes, there are some flaws here with confusing logistics, poor editing, and weak effects. Fortunately, this grown up Silver Bullet and endearing last hurrah makes its scares and emotions felt with horror and mystery amid a refreshing real world honesty.

 

Leave it!

 

Red State This 2011 eighty-eight minutes establishes its small town mood quickly with bigoted protests, homophobia, and rebelling against redneck Middle America ignorance and hypocrisy. The too chill classroom and modern teens are however immediately annoying – three dudes spewing gay slurs and lame, compensating gang bang talk deserve what comes to them and the audience never has a reason to care. There are smartphones and porn sites, but mullets, back road car crashes, a trailer in the woods, cages, and sex being the devil’s business comments forebode a rural horror potential that instead gives way to misused hymns and Biblical quotes in uncomfortable cult dressings. Disturbing family congregation cheers and askew, from below camera angles are meant to reflect this warped, but the gross, in real time sermon steers the picture into heavy handed commentary. The first five minutes were already unnecessary and I really wanted to skip over this icky segment and turn the movie off all together in the first half hour. If I wanted to get disgusted by corrupt shit, I’d watch the news. Every fifteen minutes viewers are continually betrayed with a pulling the rug out bait and switch combining for some kind of clunky horror FBI raid meets zealot save the children siege. I see why stars like John Goodman and Melissa Leo were interested in the subject matter, but there’s no finesse in the attempted statements or falling flat scares. Hate crimes and horror really don’t mix. Trying to be witty dialogue ends up as corny misses – and I love Kevin Smith’s humor in Clerks and social winks in Dogma. Once again, a one and the same writer/director really should have had another person tell him you can’t squeeze a bigoted drama horror movie political action film together and expect something fulfilling. While I applaud the edgy approach and true indie notion of for the people by the people film making, the self promotional on demand distribution and lack of recognition here is not surprising. Not only does this toss in every taboo possible, but the wanna be shrewd controversial never makes up its messy mind.

Kbatz: Watery Vacation Frights

Frightening Flix

 

Watery Vacation Frights

by Kristin Battestella

 

These folks should have kept their toes away from these coastal horrors and icy vacations!

 

Bay CovePamela Sue Martin (Dynasty) Tim Matheson (The West Wing), Woody Harrelson (Cheers), Jeff Conway (Grease), Barbara Billingsly (Leave it to Beaver), and more familiar retro faces star in this 1987 television movie going by several titles. Full moons, chanting, cemeteries, churches, candles, confessions, and lightning immediately invoke an evil, medieval mood contrasting the eighties women’s business suits, shoulder pads, and complaining yuppies. All the denim, mod decor, jazz, and black satin slips go for a dated, trying to sexy mood, but that’s quickly left behind after our couple hears about a chance to invest their construction business in a nearby island fixer upper – moving from the big city and starting a family unfortunately blinds them from that suspicious bargain price! Eighteenth century history, hidden rosaries, creepy old books, dogs versus cats, and a locked basement accent the increasing strange old landlady, odd neighbors, generational residents, and mysterious figures in the window. Despite pretty greens, beach-side birds chirping, and smooth ferries; all black clothes, spooky quilts, torches, and an escalating colonial tone build to tales of burning at the stake and an abandoned puritan past. Fishy headstone dates, pentagrams under the general store, and missing pets divide husband and wife alongside work and home conflicts, mistrustful realtors, and explosive jeep accidents that look quite good even with a then television low budget. Phantom ye olde dressed kids, melodramatic slow motions screams, and up close soft focusing are however, a bit much, and the credits rush over a somewhat corny finale. While the gaslighting, sacrifices, and midnight deadlines proceed as expected with twists that won’t surprise most horror viewers, the crazy dreams, stormy nights, and hooded robes remain entertaining thanks to the likable cast and ghastly atmosphere.

 

Neverlake The modern amid old stone buildings, winding rural roads, and crisp hint of snow quickly turn to morbid Shelly poems, floating bodies, and dead trees for a teen on a Tuscan visit to her doctor father in this 2012 Italian production. While creepy kid shocks, hitting over the head Peter Pan motifs, juvenile fantastics, and redundant narrations seem pedestrian; the family dynamics, would be step mother, suspicious research, and locked doors accent the Etruscan studies, fragile statues, and ancient artifacts. Whispers on the lost healing powers of the Lake of Idols and exploring alone in the woods become foreboding thanks to sickly green water and nighttime warnings – not to mention the severe looking nearby hospitals, escalating injuries, and sudden operations. Although eerie dreams may be an excuse for visual horrors or shock music and “Ominous Ambiance” closed captions are bemusing, subtle ghostly sounds, natural winds, and watery phantoms work alongside talk of life giving rituals and fine Arezzo locations. Freaky dolls, minimal technology, cemetery visits, and ticking clock experiments add to the rogue archaeology, stolen relics, hidden rooms, serious reveals, and family twists. At times, however, the plot stalls, skipping over explanations and more interesting Etruscan ties while going overboard on other parallels – voiceovers feel tacked on as do the obviously sinister mechanics, obligatory child horrors, and mystical attempts. The need to return the effigies, household frights, and medical surprises are intriguing enough without the misleading video cover and slasher label. While easy to solve for wise horror viewers, this pace feels meant for a younger audience and doesn’t resort to overly trite Hollywood techniques. Though flawed, this directorial debut isn’t bad and can be a nice little spooky ghost story for teen viewers looking for a unique scare.

 

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The Prowler Cape May filming locations accent this 1981 slasher alongside classic star Farley Granger (Strangers on a Train), black and white World War II newsreels, big band music, and swanky cars. Unfortunately, Dear John letters turn Avalon Bay’s 1945 graduation dance into unexpected horror thanks to the titular mask wearing killer, battlefield get ups, pitchforks, and plenty of blood. While the 1980 switch brings a new dance with short shorts, bad flirting deputies, and feathered hair, the murderer is back on the loose attacking the disposable babes – good girl, slut, wallflower, frienemy. Despite dainty, braless frills and steamy shower boobs, some scenes here are laughable with a dated and not exactly stellar cast. The music isn’t bad, but the dancing is pathetic, plot holes and disappearing characters come and go, the deputy just looks around rather than radioing for help, and a few stupid people don’t know they are in a horror movie. Fortunately, the killer personality is unique, and interesting camera perspectives or the generally unseen beyond the retro get up filming accent very good effects from gore master Tom Savini (Dawn of the Dead) such as through the skull knives and poolside assaults with nasty yet realistic splatter. There are some false jump moments, but the tension raises and lowers organically without the need for amped up boos or crescendos. A creepy old man in a wheelchair, dark Victorian homes, cramped rooms, and covered furniture add to the chases, clues, desecrated graves, and fireplace shocks. The suspenseful stalking and shadowed silhouettes invoke more menace as the viewers guess who’s next. Though perhaps obvious at times with a slightly limp ending, unexpected turns and gunshot toppers compliment the early slasher staples at work – wise audiences can see the influence on Scream and other spoofs. Lone settings and individual isolation do better than large scale terrors here, making for some entertaining, shout at the television viewing. He has a pitchfork, honey, a chain on the door isn’t going to help! 

 

Don’t Go There!

 

Frozen – Not that one! Before there was Frozen, there was this 2010 ski resort escapade – which my husband said I probably wouldn’t like. Indeed there’s a lot going against this with obnoxious music, jerky attitudes, ski lift scams, a boyfriend proud to make his girl flirt to their advantage, and his jealous third wheel BFF. Playing in the snow, can’t ski montages, and kiddie mountain safety contribute to the trio’s awkwardness and lame arguing over skis or snowboards and cigarettes versus pot. The terrible slice of life dialogue and hollow conversation on the worst ways to die includes favorite cereals, Jaws, and Star Wars, because of course. Naturally, nobody goes skiing with their expensive phones, and nightfall and weather warnings are ignored so these yuppies can sneak passed quitting operators for one more huzzah. The mechanical creepy and equipment problems are ominous enough thanks to beautiful mountain snowscapes, bleak aerial photography, and up close overhead shots of dangerous gears, blades, and wires. Goggles, hats, and hoods invoke the brisk practical designs and chilly Utah locales while the lights out, howling winds, sleet, and thundersnow spell peril. Unfortunately, immature finger pointing and a going through the motions tone hamper the intriguing premise of being stuck on a ski lift for a week. Decoy snow truck rescues come too soon amid OMG boys admitting they are scared and people peeing themselves. The idea of jumping down is interesting, and frostbite, frozen appendages, critical gloves, and dropped gear are eventually addressed. However, the irony of breaking off an icicle to drink is never mentioned, nobody’s butt ever gets numb, and the danger is not as intense as it should be due to increasingly unrealistic turns. Though quality, painful screams and injury gore can’t overcome improbable wolf suspense and the stupidity of jumping legs first into an iced nighttime snowbank. You can’t use a snowboard to set a broken leg? Why didn’t they initially use their gear to zipline back down the lift instead of waiting to go by hand after its frozen? A big deal is made of smoking and matches to start but no one considers starting a signal fire? Can they still sue if they bribed the operator and were never really supposed to be there in the first place? Several intense moments can’t save this not very well thought out script – another pair of eyes to point out the unbelievable errors or a stronger cast could have made the chill zing. I would rather have had the bleak silence and the realism of not seeing the actors’ faces if it meant they actually zipped their hoods up all the way. Ultimately, the audience is given no reason to care and what should be a thrilling horror drama is more like a parable on how not to be a hipster skiing ass.