FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: British Horror Documentaries!

British Horror Documentaries, Brilliant! By Kristin Battestella

This quartet of documentaries and informative programming has plagues, queens, holidays, and witches – all with a little across the pond flair.

The Black Death: The World’s Most Devastating Plague – Purdue Medieval Literature Professor Dorsey Armstrong hosts this 2016 twenty-four episode lecture series from The Great Courses Signature Channel, beginning with early feudal nobles versus peasants, religious society and church control, and urban growth in the medieval warm period before a changed Europe in 1348 with plague reducing the population from 150 million to 70 million. Onscreen maps, notations, and timelines supplement the disturbing first-hand accounts, despairing eye witness testimonies, and Old English translations of outbreak terrors – focusing on the human response to pestilence while dispelling misnomers on The Black Death’s name and symptoms. Some victims writhed in long-suffering agony while others died within a day, drowning in their own blood thanks to bubonic, septicemic, and pneumonic bacterium. Ebola virus comparisons are specific and gruesome alongside scientific theories on bacillus causes, tuberculosis similarities, Blue Sickness inconsistencies, and Anthrax possibilities. Prior Justinian outbreaks, Asian beginnings in Kaffa, and Italian trade route migration spread plague while fleas, rats, and gerbils transmission, weather patterns, and even extraterrestrial origins are debated. Entire villages were ravaged with hemorrhagic fever contributing to the scourge’s spread on poor, crowded, malnourished people fearing the judgment of God, wearing creepy masks, and carrying fragrant herbs to curb the smell of mass shallow graves and dog-mauled bodies. Despite illiteracy, wills and documentation accumulate – although journals have blank spaces and abrupt ends because the writers died. Vacancies increase while religious orders decrease since those ministering to the sick die, yet crime declines as thieves won’t even enter a wealthy but plagued home. Avignon pilgrimages bring devastation and Walking Dead comparisons as Florence’s valuable textiles are burned. Prostitutes are often cast out – not for transmission worries, but to purge sin from a city. Orphans and widows become dependent on the patriarchal society, and artistic guild become charitable necessities. Flagellant movements fill the religious gap while England’s unexposed island population leaves London with no place left to put the dead. When only the 103 heads of households are marked dead in the census, one can conservatively deduce the number of dead was probably quadruple that 103. In a town of 1,000, what if the average household number was seven? Ghost ships arrive in Norway, and grim reaper folklore expresses Scandinavian fears amid whispers of children being buried alive to appease angry gods. Primitive remedies and bloodletting rise, as do tales of monks and nuns going out in style with debauchery and hedonism or gasp, dancing in town-wide festivals. An entire episode is dedicated to antisemitism and Jewish persecutions, a depressing and violent response on top of the plague, and the callous church using the pestilence as an opportunity to remind people it was their sinful fault may have helped spur later reformations. Of course, lack of clergy meant the church accepted anyone for ordination, leaving priests who didn’t know what they were doing when the faithful public needed help most. Outside of nobles losing their privileged status, most classes were ironically better off post-plague with memento mori artwork and danse macabre murals flourishing amid literary masterpieces and dramatic analysis inspiring the early renaissance and the likes of Chaucer. Economic booms re-establish trade as the aristocracy marries into the merchant class and peasants revolt for more power, changing the world for centuries to come. While lengthy for the classroom itself, these half hours are jammed packed with information, documentation, and statistics keeping viewers curious to learn more. This is a fine accompaniment or a la carte for independent study – an academic approach rather than the in your face, sensationalized documentary formats permeating television today. The Great Courses Channel is worth the streaming add-on for a variety of informative videos, and this macabre selection is perfect for fans of horror history.

Mary Queen of Scots: The Red Queen – Scottish castles, ruinous abbeys, and highland scenery anchor this 2014 documentary on that other devout catholic Mary thorn in protestant Elizabeth’s side. The narration admits the similar names are confusing, but the voiceover meanders with unnecessary time on Mary’s parents James V and his French wife Mary of Guise amid Henry VIII marital turmoil, perilous successions, and religious switches. Opera arias interfere further as we stray into Mary Mary quite contrary rhymes, earlier Robert the Bruce connections, Tudor rivalries, French alliances, and the possible poisoning of infant Stuart sons before finally getting to Mary being crowned at nine months old in defiance of male inheritance laws. Rough Wooing tensions and early betrothal plans with Edward VI lead to isolation at Stirling Castle before a pleasant childhood at the French court, but a princess education and marriage to the Dauphin in 1558 ultimately send the young widow back to Scotland as regent in 1561. Catholic unrest always leaves Mary on unfriendly terms with Bess alongside John Knox reformations at home, misogynist rhetoric, and a nasty marriage to her first cousin Henry Stuart. The need for an heir, murdered lovers, adulterous pregnancies, revenge – loyal nobles take sides as the Catholic baptism of the future James VI divides public opinion. Men with syphilis, suspicious gunpowder accidents, marital traps, and final meetings with her year-old son begat possible kidnappings, a new marriage to the Earl of Bothwell, revolts, imprisonment at Loch Leven, abdication, and rumors of stillborn twins with unknown fathers. It might have been interesting to see scholars contrasting bad girl Mary with her marriages and male interference versus Elizabeth The Virgin Queen rather than the all over the place narrative. Bess holds Mary captive in various English castles for eighteen years until religious coups, forged letters, an absentee trial, and the final treasonous Babington Plot. Mary goes out in style with symbolic red despite her botched beheading, with an ironic final resting place at Westminster Abbey beside Mary Tudor and Elizabeth I. This rambling hour confuses itself and repeats anecdotes in what should have been a tighter, more informative focus. However, such superficial storyteller basics can actually be a good classroom compliment with additional materials.

Witches: A Century of Murder – Historian Suzannah Lipscomb hosts this two-part 2015 special chronicling the seventeenth century persecutions and torture run rampant as witchcraft hysteria spread from James I in the late fifteen hundreds through Charles I and the English Civil War. 1589 Europe has burn at the stake fever thanks to the Malleus Maleficarum belief that witches were in league with the devil, and contemporaneous sources, books, and confessions help recount violent techniques and sexual aspects that may not be classroom-friendly. Innocent birthmarks or moles on maids and midwives were used and misconstrued until naming names and pointing fingers snowballed into deplorable jail conditions, hangings, and conspiracy. Postulating on why the innocent would confess is addressed alongside the details from the North Berwick Witch Trials – including garroting and even the smell of burning human fat. James I’s own Daemonologie becomes a license to hunt witches as the 1645 then-normal rationale that witches have sex with the devil escalates to extreme Puritan paranoia. Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins takes the law into his own hands via body searches, sleep deprivation, and agonizing deaths while unknown medicinal ills or causes were conveniently mistaken as evidence for witchcraft accusations. Names and faces are put to the exorbitant number of accused while on location scenery from Scotland to Oxford, Essex, and Denmark add to the prison tours and suspenseful trial re-enactments. Here specific facts and detailed information happen early and often rather than any hollow paranormal herky-jerky in your face design. Community fears, social cleansing frenzy, and things done in the name of good and God against evil and the Devil at work accent the timeline of how and why this prosecution became persecution run amok. Instead of broad, repetitive sensationalism or the same old Salem talk, this is a mature and well presented narrative on the erroneous impetus of the witchcraft hysteria.

You Make the Call, Addicts!

Halloween: Feast of the Dying Sun – This recent documentary hour intends to set the holiday straight with the Celtic origins of season, adding sunsets, cemeteries, Samhain bonfires, and end of the harvest celebrations to the spooky voiceover for heaps of atmosphere. From Scottish identity guessing games and the belief that the dead visit the living to trick or treating as beggars pleading door to door and souling for small cakes, tales of how our Halloween customs came together are detailed with banshees, hidden fairylands, and ghost sightings. It’s great to see Druid practices, pre-Tolkien fantasy ideals, and Victorian fairy beliefs rooted in daily culture rather than Halloween as we know it as October 31 and done. Brief reenactments add creepy alongside authoritative, folklorist interviews, but the campfire storytelling narrative is often too abstract, meandering from one spooky specter to another with only vague, basic minutes on Celtic arrivals in Britain, early sacrificial offerings, standing stones, and ancient sites. The facts jump from 4,000-year-old yew trees to otherworldly portals and fairies capturing mortals for liberating dance rituals – crowding intriguing details on the special power of nine or magic number three and church absorption of pagan practices. The generic Celtic talk drifts away from Samhain specifically, as if today’s generation needs hand-holding explanations on witch hunts, the origins of bobbing for apples, and the medieval transition toward All Hallow’s Eve and All Saints Day. The rough timeline tosses in New World changes, Victorian gothic literature, and horror cinema fodder as we both laud Halloween with parades and an American commercial revival yet continue to misconstrue witchcraft and occult hallmarks of the season. This can be spooky fun for folks who don’t know a lot about the history of Halloween, however, it will be too swift and superficial for expert viewers. It’s easy to zone out thanks to the random storytelling style, and the intended pagan history would be better served with a longer or specific, multipart documentary. Except for some wanton fairy queen sexy talk, as is this is neat for a teen sleepover or party background where rather than attempted academic, the tall tales can be casual fun.

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Book Review: A Winter Sleep by Greg F. Gifune

A Winter Sleep Author: Greg F Gifune
Reviewed by Ariel DaWintre

I liked this book it was easy to read and kept your interest. It had elements I love; winter, Eerie Hotel, and Crazy people. The story has Horror, Psychological Horror and just plain crazy. I kept thinking I had figured out this story then the author would change it up on me. When I got to the end I was still doubting what seemed to be the end wondering if there will be a sequel and he will explain it to me in an epilogue.  Then I was just, “Whoa okay that is just crazy,” and I don’t know if it was the story or me.

I loved the main character, Ben Hooper. I don’t want to give away too much and ruin the story but you get that he is going somewhere and through the story, you find out what happened and what he is doing. He ends up at an old Hotel called the Monarch, this hotel made me think of another famous hotel “The Overlook” and even the song, “Hotel California”.  He meets a group of strangers at this hotel and they have what appears to be nothing in common, but something is keeping them all there. In the story Ben’s past and present intermingle and you wonder what his future holds.

The story has all kinds of things going on and it keeps you engaged to the end. You get crazy, horror, ghost, spooky something for everyone. The real question is it real or all in Ben’s mind. I am still wondering! Thanks for a fun read. I might have to read it again!

Book Review: The Butcher’s Tale

Hello Addicts.

Imagine a future where people addicted to reliving other peoples’ memories they will give up everything for the experience. That is where former shock jock, Johnny C. Vid, finds himself at the beginning of The Butcher’s Tale by Nicholas Walls.

In the future, a new technology known as Vicarious Reality (VR for short) has become a popular past time.  It allows you to experience your greatest fantasies without actually doing them yourselves.  Even though it is someone else’s memories, you feel like it is happening to you.  The sights, the smells, the excitement, all feel like the real thing when it is nothing more than a replay piped through a physical connection in your brain.  That is where we find Johnny C. Vid, a former popular shock jock, turned unemployed and homeless VR addict.  So desperate for a fix, he goes to where his current supplier obtains his recordings in the lowest levels of the city. It is there that he finds a massive man wearing a pig mask hunting for people to torture.  It doesn’t take long for Johnny to find himself impaled on a meat hook, wishing for death.

The first half of this book was a good read for fans of slasher horror tales.  The amount of blood and violence is on par with what you’d find in a “Friday the 13th” or “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” movie.  Johnny also gives off serious Captain Ahab vibes as he remains focused only on his pursuit of destroying the man in the pig mask, whom he calls “The Butcher.”  The reason “The Butcher” tortures his prey is also clearly given: he too is a VR addict.  The difference? He rips the recordings from his victim’s minds so he can relive every juicy moment of pain, fear, and anguish.  For Johnny C. Vid, it’s not some noble quest to vanquish the demon but straight-up vengeance.

What took me out of the story was, after the midpoint, the narrative shifts from horror to space opera/spy thriller.  To me, it felt a bit disjointed after Johnny got his revenge, and the horror aspect ended.  Overall it is a good read, but only if you look at it as two books, an original and the sequel, for the price of one.

Until next time, Addicts!

D.J. Pitsiladis

Film Review: Scary Stories to be Told In The Dark | A story to be told!

It had been some time since I had read these books, and all the while it hadn’t clicked until I got home. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is an honorable adaptation of Alvin Schwartz collection of flash fiction tales, perfectly complimented by Stephen Gammell’s amazing artwork. While the stories themselves are simple enough, able to quench any horror fans quick fix for a chill, they are not without a sense of eeriness, and the transition to the big screen was very well done and deserving.Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (2019)

It is a refreshing tale, and a clever blend of the stories contained therein the trilogy Scary Stories. In my opinion, this is a great way to adapt an existing product. While the stories themselves are a series of flash fiction I’d liken to Goosebumps, they act like a bucket of ingredients for the filmmakers to dig in and see what mixes and what doesn’t. The canvas for the film is somewhat generic; though I wouldn’t call them the token group, they are relatively standard. The loner, the outcast, the bullies… the list is familiar, but they are excellent performances delivered by a budding cast with no real major star power to distract. Their talents are allowed to breathe and take hold on their own merit, which I enjoyed very much!

Creative is the keyword here, and this film certainly delivers with some interestingly creepy and cringe-worthy sequences. A few noteworthy mentions I must give are firstly to “Twisty” Troy James! Aptly named, as he took the contorting roll of the Jangly Man to an eye-opening performance! Hell, I wasn’t sure at the time of viewing if that was a person, but knowing that now, it was beyond impressive! The second goes to the segment in “The Red Roomwhich had me wanting to leave the theater. A rather disturbing creature that, well, hugs you to death, ha! You can find this creature in the third book, featured in “The Dream”. This scene was my favorite, well-paced and handled very well. I do wish the rest of the film was handled as such. Slow and quiet, building on the suspense rather than building up to the next jump scare. It got tired after the first few times.

These really are minor gripes that don’t hurt the film too much; it’s pretty clear that this film wasn’t meant to be anything to change the landscape of the genre, it is a perfect end of summer film. At an hour and fifty-one minutes, the pace moves right along feeling nicely wrapped up, at least for this one. No doubt there will be a sequel in the future, rightfully so as there’s so much more material to be mined within the books. I am looking forward to More Scary Stories! Check them out; which stories would you like to see featured in the sequel?

Until next time, this is The Horror Seeker! 

Book Review: Coyote Rage by Owl Goingback

5/5 stars

My first introduction to Owl Goingback’s writings was his collection Tribal Screams, which I loved. This book also contained a taster to Coyote Rage and I was pretty certain I would read the novel when it came out. Here I am, some months later and the book lies finished at my side. Goingback weave’s his story between the modern world and Native American mythology, creating a unique blend of fantasy and horror.

Kindle EditionAs the last human member of the Great Council of Galun’lati lives out his remaining days in a nursing home, Coyote hatches a plot to eliminate him and also the daughter who would take his place. He tells the other creatures it is time for those of ‘fur and feather’ to take back control of their world. His target, Luther Watie, evades him and so the hunt begins for both Watie and his daughter. Not all creatures are on Coyote’s side, man has some friends, in this instance Raven and Mouse, but are they enough? This is a wonderful tale of shape-shifting and magic and the prose is pure poetry when the story slips into the otherworld of Galun’lati. Owl Goingback is a writer of quality and one I know I will return to.

Ghastly Games with Daphne Strasert: Arkham Horror | Call of Cthulhu

Arkham Horror: Call of Cthulhu

Welcome to the town of Arkham where the year is 1926. Something sinister lurks in the shadows behind the speakeasies. Monsters have been popping up all over town and something ancient and evil is waiting to break through to our world. Only a handful of investigators stand in the way. They must risk their sanity and their lives to keep Arkham from falling into devastation.

Arkham Horror: Call of Cthulhu is a cooperative board game for 1-8 players and takes 2-4 hours to play. It’s extremely complex and is recommended that all players be 12+.

Game Play

The game begins with all players choosing a character. These characters come with skills and items that will help them to defeat the horrors that pop up throughout the game.

Each round, the characters move around Arkham, collecting items and clues to help them win. Beware, though, the monsters are also moving and each round brings the Ancient One closer to breaking through the barriers into our world. Characters must defeat the smaller monsters or risk being killed. This is accomplished by rolling dice—the number of dice depending on the character’s abilities and the strength of the monster.

As play progresses, portals to other dimensions open throughout the town of Arkham, allowing monsters to enter and wreak havoc. Players must go through these portals and survive the horrors on the other side in order to close them. If the players close enough portals before the Ancient One crosses into Arkham, they win. If not, they must defeat this monstrous abomination and somehow survive the process.Arkham Horror revised box.jpg

Game Experience

Holy hellspawn, this game is complicated. We spent almost as long reading the rules as we did playing for the first time.

The overall concept is straightforward: kill monsters and close portals before the Ancient One comes through. But how you do that is subject to hundreds of rules and strategies. Once you understand those, however, the game is fast paced and fun. Strategizing with your fellow players forms the main playtime of the game. The game isn’t pure strategy, as the players are subject to the randomness of die rolls and card draws.

The game pieces are well made and admiring the artistry of the cards is valuable all on its own. There are a lot of pieces to track, so be organized.

Arkham is a game with high replay value, making it well worth purchasing. Make sure you have others who are invested in playing as well, because complicated games aren’t for everyone. Take the time to read the rules thoroughly before you play and designate someone as the rule keeper so you can ask questions as they arise (and, boy, do they arise!).

Final Thoughts

For a faster, simpler version of Arkham Horror, look for Arkham Horror: The Card Game (which I previously reviewed). There is also an updated version, that I have not yet played.

I loved Arkham Horror. I’ve been wanting to play for a while and finally got the opportunity. I was hooked twenty minutes into play time. I’ll be buying this one for myself.

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Tales from the Crypt Season 3

Tales from the Crypt Season Three Stands Out by Kristin Battestella

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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