FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: The Frankenstein Chronicles Season 2

The Frankenstein Chronicles Season Two is Brimming with Monster Quality

By Kristin Battestella

The 2017 six-episode Second Season of The Frankenstein Chronicles picks up three years after the twisted events of its Debut Series as Sean Bean’s supposedly dead Inspector John Marlott pursues Lord Hervey (Ed Stoppard) for his monstrous science while Sergeant Joseph Nightingale (Richie Campbell) investigates the gruesome murders of several parish officials as new mad machinations and corrupt officials collide.

It’s 1830 and disturbed flashes of what has transpired match the Bedlam catatonic in “Prodigal Son.” Jailers think this case is hopeless, for the angry, rattling chains can’t tell of the heartbeats, fires, agony, and horrors. Silent screams, gory garrotings, and escapes lead to the abandoned laboratory with cracked mirrors, empty bottles, and lingering phantoms. The Frankenstein Chronicles refreshes the audience whilst the characters themselves struggle with the previous experiments, former pain, and fresh dilemmas as a murdered archdeacon sends fear through the local parish. The poor cannot feed their families on faith alone, but the Dean maintains his luxury by hampering the police with jurisdiction technicalities. New cemetery bills don’t stop grave robbing schemes, and cruel high versus kind lows are firmly established in the multi-layered mysteries and investigations. Despite a sophisticated period mood, church fires, eviscerating shocks, and eerie figures with lone candles always remind viewers of the morose horror drama. London is run amok with slicing and dicing nobles on The Frankenstein Chronicles, and there’s no solace for “Not John Marlott” as more bloody crimes begat missing organs, epidemics, and piled bodies. Creepy dreams and laughing visions add to the on edge, ghosts approach former friends, and headlines say the escaped lunatic is responsible for these unholy murders. Local parish watchmen rebuff inspectors, and back-alley deals lead to corpse bearer job opportunities and intriguing new characters. Desecrated bodies are dug up and moved to pits – clearing the graveyards for people who can pay more for sacred ground. Mirrors and reflections create more soulful questions as the dead man walking sees the naked, animalistic internal monster. Shrouds, vaults, torches, and coffins keep The Frankenstein Chronicles on the morbid move in “Seeing the Dead.” Our former detective has his own underground investigation amid the church bells, empty steeples, and plague-ridden alongside tender moments and a real life famous name or two. Dead children abound, and families that can’t afford consecrated burials paint crosses on their doors to honor the deceased while a carnival caravan arrives with freaks and re-enactments of Frankenstein. Politicians argue about burial taxes, and motives for the murders include selling off church properties, twisted science, and blaming the devil. Who’s clearing the slums and pocketing the money? It isn’t God who’s brought this pestilence, but men of science playing with God’s power. Black horses, night owls playing the piano by candlelight, and men talking of the final nail in the coffin add symbolic subtext while dreams, monster memories, and ghosts provide clues. Superstitious fears and wrongful medicine clash thanks to sewers, sailors, on stage within Frankenstein horrors, and knife fights behind the curtain. Autopsies, methodical precision, and poisoned pumps hone in on the contaminated truth – revelations perhaps made more disturbing by the water crises happening in America today.

Old inspectors and suspicious aristocrats meet face to face in “Little Boy Lost” amid fancy balls and false sermons waxing on demons and souls. Unfortunately, the truth is blasphemy, and quarantined ships send the sick to die in abandoned buildings behind chained doors – making for some silently terrifying scenes of garish dead haunting the corridors. Messengers from religious officials come baring knives in the back, leading to bloody struggles and gurgling groans. The innocent must flee in chases through the streets and leaps across rooftops, contrasting the footmen and tête-à-têtes on the ballroom balcony. Lifelike machines and automaton displays escalate the mad science amidst more grief, twists about who is real or phantom, and dead babies in jars. Thanks to town mobs and persecutions, circus folk with cut out tongues are arrested just because they fit the description of monsters, but ominous staircases descend to bright laboratories, creepy equipment, and shocking revelations with touching supernatural moments linking our characters. Politicians using the poor and too good to be true health plans in “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” again mirror the contemporary political climate as scary ideologies hide in plain sight. Be it illness or slit throats, people in this era don’t live very long, and officials double-cross each other to fill the void left by the dying King. Likewise, constables and the press are at odds over evidence and thin leads as all roads point to monstrous men throwing their own to the dogs if it suits their toys, tears, and conspiracies. Blocks of ice are used to store organs alongside secret formulas, memento mori, psychic encounters, and plans to escape to the continent. Chilling confrontations trap the unwilling in the choice to be reborn, for more things are possible than what God can do according to our seemingly sacrosanct gentleman. Stone towers contain romantic rooms draped in white soon to host some serious butchery, transformations, and abominations. Why wait to rekindle what one’s lost in God’s time when life’s mysteries can come full circle now? Wounds and spirited intervention culminate in “Bride of Frankenstein” as lies, gags, and convulsions reunite our firstborn with the reanimation process. Life-giving elixirs, breathing apparatus, and unique tissues lead to coastal visions and life or death limbo. Our murder victims got in the way of political ambitions so now their bodies are being put to good use. There’s no need to make apologies when sacrificing for science! Once again The Frankenstein Chronicles builds its crimes and mysteries before escalating to full-on horror. Raids, arrests, and eponymous resurrections mean nothing when death is not the end for men who live forever in a world without God. However loose ends must be tied up, and another corpse on the church steps leads to confessions, ironic justice, and science preventing the dead from staying deceased in an excellent denouement of amoral horrors.

He’s angry, doesn’t know his own strength, and vows revenge, yet Sean Bean’s former inspector John Marlott remains haunted by his past. Initially he doesn’t speak much, only “I was abandoned by God,”– which sums up The Frankenstein Chronicles quite well. Marlott insists he isn’t who he was, for whether he was a man of kindness and justice or not, he received neither. Marlott feels forsaken since his family has gone on without him, yet he finds solace and a clean bed in a church and recognizes psalms of mercy when he hears them. Unfortunately, he can’t look himself in the mirror, and any peace is quickly ruined by tragedy. Marlott moves on, pushing away the living because everyone around him winds up dead. He becomes a corpse bearer and calls himself Jack Martins, revisiting places he once frequented to prove his innocence despite nightmares that seem to indicate otherwise. Marlott is disturbed by all the death he sees and talks to ghostly guests from Series One, but he’s more upset that he cannot see the spirits of his own wife and daughter. Marlott gives his coins to orphans and poor families so they can bury their dead properly and helps the sick households by doing their cleaning and hard labor, becoming the ironic hero of Pye Street roaming the slums at night – a foreboding grim reaper silhouette escorting a wagon of the dead to their mass grave. He tells people to flee the plague but ultimately ends up communing with their lingering spirits in superbly haunting moments. He cannot help the ghosts who torment him, but Marlott is deeply sorry for all the souls he seemingly damned. Forgiveness, however, may be found in the darkest places, and Marlott comes to accept he can live to do good even if he is not blessed. The Frankenstein Chronicles provides fascinating winks at Bean’s walking spoiler onscreen image amid chilling declarations, strong demands for vengeance, and tearful displays. Granted I am biased – and I still think Marlott is Sharpe – but Sean Bean seems to have become a better, more seasoned actor with age, and it is a pity The Frankenstein Chronicles received no awards notice for his excellent performance.

Though now a sergeant, Richie Campbell’s Joseph Nightingale is assigned to a seemingly routine escape from Bedlam rather than a murder higher up officials want forgotten. He’s a lot like Marlott, actually, getting praised for his initiative, punished for his insistence, and circumventing orders to find out about Marlott’s surprise reappearance. Joe must still deal with racism from above and below and knows he’s being stonewalled once victims’ bodies are removed before he can inspect them – leaving Nightingale no choice but to get the truth at a terrible price. Ryan Sampson’s fast talking Boz is still a reporter for the chronicle, chastised by Nightingale for writing outlandish reports to scare the public but shocked when the dead Marlott comes to see him. He wants Marlott’s surely fantastic story, and remains unfettered in his outrageous reporting, because the truth that victims are having their hearts cut out is supposed to scare people less? Although grossed out by the autopsy reports, he’s reluctant to give up his sources until their differing private exams prove they want him to print lies. Boz believes Marlott when he tells him there is a poisoning scheme in the works, but says he should do the talking when they poke around at the inquest. Charles Dickens ends up bombing around London with Frankenstein’s Monster – one of many fascinating what ifs on The Frankenstein Chronicles. Laurence Fox’s (Lewis) Mr. Dipple, meanwhile, is a creepy, reclusive aristocrat overly concerned with weird marionettes, music boxes, machine models, and masks. He’s become enamored with contraptions because he is afraid to live, seemingly tender or sensitive but suspect when he asks guests to keep an open mind about what they see. The character embodies several contemporary ills viewers will recognize – saying one thing but doing another for his own purpose , which is to have power over death and grief. Sadly, Maeve Dermody (Carnival Row) as kind, widowed seamstress Esther Rose is unknowingly caught in the middle when taking in Marlott while commissioned to make dresses for Dipple’s dolls. She buys clothes off the dead to re-sell to poor, not so particular customers and gives Marlott back his own effects. There’s not much difference between her craft and stitching him up when he’s injured, either. She’s glad to have him protect her shop, for Esther thinks she is weak, afraid to live, and too nervous when invited to a ball showcasing her work. She’s glad when Dipple calls her designs exquisite and doesn’t believe he has ulterior motives despite Marlott’s warnings. However, Esther insists she is not part of Dipple’s collection, vowing to be no man’s property despite her loneliness.

 

Lily Lesser as (Wolf Hall) Ada Byron, Lord Byron’s mathematician daughter, also dislikes Dipple’s obsession with “toys.” She’s interested in automatons for the future and power for women, debating Dipple about whether a man building machines means he has power over God. Men’s power pollutes what it touches, demanding obedience and stifling genius – leading to slavery and humans as the automaton. Although at times the character seems too modern, her progressive ideals aren’t wrong, and it would have been intriguing to see more of her. Corpse bearer Francis Magee (Game of Thrones) knows Marlott is too shrewd for this job, but then again so is he. Spence is a former priest who criticized the Dean for his greed, and now he fears he is in danger. Nonetheless, he does his gruesome job and stands by his convictions, returning to his Bible even to his own detriment. Unfortunately, Kerrie Hayes (Lilies) as Dipple’s orphan maid Queenie is also scared of her employer, his contraptions, and the locked doors deep inside his manor. She and Nightingale grew up in the foundling home together, and she clearly has a crush on him, telling him not to be consumed by blaming Marlott. Queenie wants to help Joe’s investigation, but her curiosity gets the better of her. She knows the police won’t believe what she’s seen, but eventually, Queenie finds tell tale tokens as proof for the police. Locating Ed Stoppard’s rumored to be dead Lord Hervey, however, isn’t so easy. He’s as in pursuit of his creation as Marlott is, but is he truly connected to the current crimes or is Marlott’s wishful seeking of justice involving the not so good doctor? Hervey is said to be here or there, off in the carriage, or just missed him – pinning his gruesome actions on others as it suits his plans. He’s happy to offer the choice of transformation to those who want it, developing a sick delight in what he does. For Hervey, there is no such thing as God’s will, only indifferent science. Sir Robert Peele, however, wants to build new closed burials and give the poor the right to a Christian interment, but Tom Ward’s Home Secretary has to move fast on his reforms before losing the ailing George IV’s favor. Peele seeks cleaner cities where nearby decomposition isn’t going back into the water and objects to the circumvention of his authority, for Guy Henry’s (Rogue One) Dean of Westminster lords over everyone with his stranglehold on the police as well as the church. He squashes murder investigations, pockets burial fees, and uses Martin McCann (The Pacific) as parish coroner Renquist to do away with the bodies privately. For his dirty deeds, Renquist rightfully fears he’s going to be the fall guy, just another of many corrupt officials on The Frankenstein Chronicles.

 

Fallen leaves and overcast skies create a perpetual autumn feeling for The Frankenstein Chronicles while barren coasts invoke a bleak limbo. Storms, mud, moors, and fog contrast the carriages, top hats, walking sticks, and frock coats. Careful editing, silence, and natural sounds parallel the horror realizations amid dank cells, chains, spooky lanterns, and autopsies. There are fancy stone manors and slum streets, but the graveyards and churches are somewhere in between – grand, old, but empty cloisters despite the cross’s symbolic shelter and arched windows providing rare light. Wax seals, lockets, quills, waist coats, and cravats birth mechanical innovations, clockworks, masks, and uncanny valley eyes, layering the creepy science what ifs alongside the innocent flowers, lace, and painstaking embroidery attention to detail. Fair fiddles and carnival acts provide morbid bemusement, yet our star is often alone in the center of the camera frame or on the outside looking in at the action through doorways or arches. Then again, golden sconces and grand libraries can’t compare to decomposing bodies as the gasps and covering mouths provide shock and stench for the audience. Sometimes the blue and night time drab are too dark, however, firelight adds a realistic touch so often missing from overly saturated shows. Oil lamps and disturbing harpsichord music accent syringes, hissing gears, leeches in jars, elixirs, tubes, catalysts, and beakers. The candlelit laboratory almost has an enchanting glow, but who knew blocks of ice could be so..well…chilling? Oddly, neither director Benjamin Ross nor writer Barry Langford are involved in Season Two – all new writers join director Alex Gabassi (The ABC Murders). With previouslies and credits, these episodes are also slightly shorter at forty-five minutes, however it is more annoying that Netflix wants to skip both with seconds to spare. The Frankenstein Chronicles Season Two doesn’t use Mary Shelley as a character or the William Blake interconnected themes from the First Season, either. Fortunately, the personal morals, monsters dilemmas, and new mad science elements expand the drama and performances. Although this year ends well, it’s a pity there is no word on a Third Season for The Frankenstein Chronicles. There’s still time and the series deserves more. In reviewing, I must multi-task, pause, and take notes. The Frankenstein Chronicles, however, is a can’t look away parable that’s easy to marathon and superbly blends period piece aesthetics, mystery, and horror.

For more Frankenstein, visit:

The Frankenstein Chronicles Season 1

Frankenstein: The True Story

Victor Frankenstein (2015)

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Tales from the Crypt Season 4

Tales from the Crypt Season 4 Continues the Scary Quality

by Kristin Battestella

Summer of 92’s fourteen episode Season Four of Tales from the Crypt once again sources the titular comics alongside Crime Suspense Stories, Haunt of Fear, and Vault of Horror for more choice frights, spooky guests, and cheeky thrills.

Director Tom Hanks cameos along with fellow The ‘burbs alum Henry Gibson and boxer cum grave digger Sugar Ray Leonard in the “None but the Lonely Heart” premiere as Treat Williams (Everwood) endures the old lady lipstick before a little poison and another funeral. Killing rich dames is good business, but he needs one more gal to make his fortune before his past comes back to haunt him. Unfortunately, anyone wise to the fatal gigolo might have his head smashed into the television or tie stuck in the paper shredder. Our Crypt Keeper host, meanwhile, is a ‘boo it yourselfer’ hitting his thumb with the hammer and building a swing set so he can ‘hang around’ for “This’ll Kill Ya” with scientists Dylan McDermott (Olympus Has Fallen) and Sonia Braga (The Rookie). Medicine bottles, insulin injections, long legs, and dead bodies in the trunk don’t mix! These radical experiments aren’t ready for human trials, but love triangles and mixing business with pleasure make for unreliable antidotes, erroneous injections, and steamy bad habits. Zooms, neon flashes, and rapid montages add to the virus paranoia, patient delirium, boils, and oozing skin. Although the initial edgy music and badass language fall flat to start director William Friedkin’s (The Exorcist) “On a Deadman’s Chest,” C.K. does his Elvis impersonation amid the heavy metal arguing and groupies in leather. Tia Carrere (Wayne’s World) is the new bride coming between the band, but freaky snake tattoos lead to a magical artist who says he can solve our musician’s problems. There’s more graphic sex and nudity this half-hour, and the old fashioned needling and talk of putting what’s on the inside on the flesh set off the voodoo-esque parlor as the music tensions spiral out of control with fatal bathtubs and gory skin peels. I dare say, there are also some slightly homoerotic themes, too, with mesmerizing snakes, a woman coming between men, a man unable to escape who he really is, and body dysmorphia horror. Likewise, older actress Mimi Rogers (Ginger Snaps) is being replaced by her younger, willing roommate Kathy Ireland (Alien from L.A.) for the behind the scenes meta of “Beauty Rest” with ‘Ball Buster’ perfume commercials and little creaky push-ups from the Crypt Keeper. The seductive, sassy start turns into pageant rivalries and poisoned cookies as the ladies argue whether sleeping to the top or killing to get ahead is worse – but the unusual contest questions and the secret winnings remind the ladies that it’s really what’s inside that counts. Shady landlord rocker Meatloaf pressures restaurant owner Christopher Reeve (Somewhere in Time) in “What’s Cookin’,” however bus boy Judd Nelson (The Breakfast Club) has some new barbecue recipes for the bodies hanging in the freezer. Local cop Art LaFleur (House Hunting) also develops a taste for flame broiled flesh at the booming steakhouse, and the superior turnabout is set off with red lighting, sizzling grills, and all the expected puns from our host.

Bad ratings and the threat of cancellation thanks to shock jock Robert Patrick (Terminator 2) leads shrink radio host David Warner (Wallander) to make an on-air visit with frequent caller Zelda Rubenstein (Teen Witch) in “The New Arrival.” His The Art of Ignoring Your Child book, however, doesn’t help the screaming girl thanks to the masks and booby traps in this spooky manor with dark stairs and a dangerous attic. Not to mention the attacker points of view, deadly twists, and ceiling fan mishaps. C. Keep is looking for a home on ‘derange’ marked ‘souled’ in “Maniac at Large,” but meek Blythe Danner (Huff) doesn’t feel safe in her library thanks to trouble causing ruffians and newspaper reports of a serial killer on the loose. Creepy music by Bill Conti (North and South) adds to the unease as late night cataloging and book piles in the basement build paranoia. Suspense editing and strategic lighting escalate the alarms, knives, vandalism, and possible intruders as the headline hype spirals out of control. Producer Joel Silver directs the memorable “Split Personality” as Joe Pesci (Goodfellas) romances twins by pretending he is also a set of twins where one always has to be away on business. Split-screen camera work and intercut conversations accent the double talk, but these possessive ladies are not to be taken advantage of by anyone. Everything has to be fifty-fifty, and despite swanky tunes and casino style, the luck is going to run out on this con thanks to Tales from the Crypt’s unforgettable brand of saucy, graphic, and cheeky. The Crypt Keeper has some therapy on the rack to open “Strung Along” because he’s ‘a little stiff every day,’ but recovering puppeteer Donald O’Connor (There’s No Business Like Show Business) is nostalgic for his old black and white kids show. Heart attacks and sentiment, unfortunately, clash with his younger, bikini clad wife. His creepy clown marionette also seems to have a life of his own, and increasingly dark designs set off the affairs, love letters, and shocking betrayals before the full moon of “Werewolf Concerto.” Chanting music and infrared animal perspectives add to the chases, howls, and hairy attackers as sexy guest Beverly D’Angelo (National Lampoon’s Vacation) is trapped in a hotel with wolf hunter Timothy Dalton (Penny Dreadful) amid piano compositions, double-crosses, and gunpoint standoffs. The werewolf revelations and race to beat the moonrise are superb, surprises again combining for some of Tales from the Crypt’s best winks, scares, and star power. The wilderness solitude for Kevin McCarthy (Invasion of the Body Snatchers) and the late Margot Kidder (Black Christmas) in the “Curiosity Killed” finale only acerbates the marital insults. However, their fellow campers have a special tonic that might curb the catty aging. Excellent interplay and fountain of youth sympathy build to the inevitable topper with night-blooming jasmine, bugs, graves, moonlight madness, disturbing gore, and all the irony to match.

Unfortunately, Tales from the Crypt does briefly sag midseason with the double-dealings, blackmail, and swindling resets of “Seance.” The candles, incantations, and Old World atmosphere of the psychic parlor are just a smokescreen for mid-century hustles and colloquial put-ons with Ben Cross (Dark Shadows) and even Crypt Keeper Investigations doing a Sam Spade spoof with ‘No headstone left unturned.’ The noir aesthetic looks great, but this is another typical crime plot with lawyers, money, and a tacked on supernatural bookend. Our Keeper’s wearing adorable little chaps and a cowboy hat as Tales from the Crypt producer Richard Donner directs “Showdown.” Sunsets, haze, bleak shadows, and dry orange vistas add a surreal, hellish look to the horses and gunslingers. There are quickdraws, snake oil tonics, and ghosts in the saloon, but this non-linear tale is dark and tough to see with a distorted passage of time and too much confusion about what should be an interesting question on who’s dead or alive. The pace both drags over nothing yet maybe it’s also a story worthy of more than a half-hour. Star power is also surprisingly lacking, however, the next episode “King of the Road” has Brad Pitt (The Counselor), hot rods, and disturbing street racing collisions yet also misses the mark. Even the Keeper is too busy doing ‘A Midsummer Night’s Scream’ instead. Both these episodes come from original scripts with loose ties to a Two-Fisted Tales movie adaptation, and the hooking up with the cop’s daughter, blackmail, kidnapping, and spiders in the mailbox are pointless torment. Cool veneer, music montage filler – it’s scarier that there are no English subtitles on the bare bones Season Four DVD set!

Thankfully, the full opening intro once again plays with each Tales from the Crypt episode, and macabre soul that I am, I love studying it for home décor ideas. Word processors, big old retro televisions, vintage cameras, video dating services, and VHS stuck in the VCR add to the mod eighties style, all-white designs, and old lady mauve. Older blue nighttime lighting invokes the cemetery mood, and purple hues or Art Deco black and white tones create flavor with very little. Forties styles, long stem cigarettes, and big hats go far while fire, candles, and thunderstorms provide atmosphere regardless of setting. Bright luxuries contrast the dark dated nineties clubs, but there are still high-waisted jeans and the occasional shoulder pads on the ladies alongside the lingering one giant earring trend and big blowout hairstyles. The language and gore are also a little tame to start the season – perhaps the producers were already thinking of the future syndication reruns beyond HBO. However, black lingerie, thongs, nudity, and further saucy actions are still somewhat risque. Jump cuts and repeat zooms both cover production corners as well as build onscreen intense while heart pulsing rhythms and sound effects accent the bloody prosthetics and horror makeup. Several practical monster effects remain surprisingly good, and creepy old homes, dangerous antiques, and spooky staircases join the slimy recently deceased or skeletons from the grave.

There are a few slip-ups in this short but otherwise choice season. However, once again Tales from the Crypt turns out a fun little marathon with Season Four’s campy chills and scary stars making for some of the series’ best.

Revisit more Horror Television:

Tales from the Crypt Season 3

Tales from the Darkside Season 1

Dark Shadows Video Review

Odds and Dead Ends: James Herbert’s ‘The Fog’, is it time for an adaptation?

I’m a massive Stephen King fan. He’s my literary guru, and in terms of down-to-earth writing advice, he’s second to none. For honest, heartfelt dialogue, he’s unrivaled. He’s created some of the most iconic moments in horror, and we have much to thank him for. And it seems as if adaptations of his stories are planned before he’s even finished the first draft, even excluding his famous dollar babies.

Other writers are not as lucky as the King. Even Dean Koontz, King’s contemporary and somewhat rival, has had only a handful of adaptations, despite selling about the same amount of print copies. Clive Barker, mostly known for the numerous Hellraiser sequels and a dashing of others, has mainly adaptations of various stories in his Books of Blood, nowhere near King’s volume, even percentage-wise in relation to the amount written. Peter Straub has only had a few adaptations. Graham Masterton, for his entire volume of work, has (to my knowledge) had only two or three adaptations. And I don’t believe that Ramsey Campbell, one of the absolute giants of modern horror literature, has had more than a few either.

It seems that some authors, despite how influential their stories are, get missed, for one reason or another. One of these monsters is James Herbert. Don’t get me wrong, Herbert has had some adaptations in the past, so it’s not as if he’s been forgotten altogether (although I’m still waiting for someone to redo Haunted as part of a full David Ash film trilogy. Maybe Hammer can do them as a British answer to the Conjuring franchise). But all this aside, Herbert has written one of the biggest novels of 20th Century horror which, somehow, has yet to be translated to the screen; The Fog.

For those that have somehow missed this classic, it’s about a small town in England that’s hit by an earthquake, and from the fissure created by this quake is released a mysterious fog. Anyone who comes into contact with this fog goes violently insane. The fog spreads throughout the country and the chaos, bloodshed, and all things dark come to life. It’s not an incredibly complex idea, but it’s the form and structure which I think would make it a great translation to a television series, along with the content itself.

The Fog, along with his first novel, The Rats, uses a fairly distinct storytelling structure. His main character (John Holman), is the focus of alternating chapters. The other chapters focus on a variety of outside characters, who all eventually combine into the main storyline as the novel proceeds. To demonstrate, here’s a rough sequence with letters to stand for the character focus of each chapter. Holman is represented by the letter A. The novel proceeds something like A – B – A – C – A – D – A – B – A – D+C – A – E – A… and so on (I haven’t done that scientifically, so people who have gone through three copies, I apologise for getting minor characters in the wrong order). Now, to my eyes, that kind of structure is exactly how a series-long story arc plays out, cutting from scene to scene. Think of something like Castle Rock; that’s pretty much a carbon copy of the formula used.

Then there’s the content itself. There’s plenty of blood and guts to keep the horror fans happy. There are military sci-fi elements, similar to something like The Midwich Cuckoos or Quatermass, to keep the more casual viewer interested. It contains some magnificent set pieces to build episodes around. The characters themselves don’t have the greatest life off the page, and to be honest, are fairly stock in their presentation for the most part; however, this is where screenwriters can really dig deep and bring up some interesting nuggets to expand upon for great sub-plots. Added to the fact that there’s going to be a ready-made audience for it, because of the revered nature of the novel and Herbert in general, and you’ve got the groundwork for a solid product.

Then consider the television climate. Horror series are on the rise at the moment to boot. In short order, we’ve been given American Horror Story, Hannibal, Stranger Things, The Exorcist (tragically overlooked and canceled before its time; Ben Daniels was incredible), Ash vs. Evil Dead, The Haunting of Hill House, Castle Rock, Dracula, The Outsider, even Scream (which wasn’t incredible but had damn good moments), plus plenty of others. With Lovecraft Country on the horror horizon, plus new seasons of many of the shows aforementioned, it doesn’t look like the horror TV train going to stop any time soon. Now is the perfect time to bring The Fog to the masses.

There are, of course, a couple of issues to be overcome. It’s not the greatest for presenting female characters, I have to admit; that was never Herbert’s strong point. There are passages that could be instantly posted as a meme for ‘how men write female characters in novels’. Some sections of the novel, especially the whole school section, would definitely need to be changed, as they do raise some eyebrows on how far thrilling violence goes towards bad taste. Not up to the standards of Laymon’s The Cellar, I’ll grant, but they’re pretty on the edge. That is part of Herbert’s style, admittedly, always pushing the boundaries of what can be published, but there’d still need to be some selective editing there.

And let’s not forget that we’ll have trouble distinguishing it from John Carpenter’s The Fog, both films, and both adaptations of King’s The Mist as well. Maybe specifically naming it James Herbert’s The Fog would work in terms of differentiating it from the aforementioned titles?

With some books, I’d prefer it if the meddling fingers of studios left damn well alone. This is especially true of the more ambiguous works of horror, such as Paul Tremblay’s recent run (though I believe adaptations of both A Head Full Of Ghosts and The Cabin at the End of the World have been announced, damn them), because certain media translates certain ideas and atmospheres better than others. And as much as I’d love to see Del Toro finally get his adaptation of At the Mountains of Madness, there’s just something that’s so big and primal about that story that part of me doubts it would work. It’s up to him to eventually prove me wrong.

The Fog, however, seems so perfect to adapt to television because it’s practically written as a television series. Some of the dodgier sections can be rewritten to bring everything up to date, nearly half a century into the future. It’s sat on everyone’s shelves, calling to be updated, translated to prey on new fears, and rediscovered for our modern audiences. There’s potential for some of the most striking, disturbing images ever put to celluloid. It’s seeped into the horror consciousness, sat there, and bided its time. Now it’s time to unleash it on the world.

 

-Article by Kieran Judge

-Twitter: @KJudgeMental

Frightening Flix meets Kbatz Krafts: Decorating Like Dark Shadows!

Kristin Battestella aka Kbatz details the inspirations, budget, logistics, and compromises in outfitting a basement studio with a Dark Shadows theme. From carpet and painting to walls and storage, come along for the pros and cons of taking on a redecoration during a pandemic lockdown.

 

 

 

Next Kbatz defines the vintage seating and multipurpose work zones in the re-envisioned Dark Shadows inspired basement studio – complete with maximizing spaces, aesthetic heating options, and craft organization tips. There’s also a not so intrusive cat and one pesky basement pole.

 

 

It’s heaps of orange for the Dark Shadows inspired basement with unique furniture, thrift finds, pumpkin crafts, retro refreshed lamps, and textile accessories as the studio starts coming together into a cohesive room despite bugs, ugly fluorescent lighting, and the struggle to stay motivated in difficult times.

 

Stay tuned for the finished results!

 

For More Kbatz Krafts as well as Frightening Flix, revisit:

DIY Cardboard Tombstones

Dark Shadows Video Review

Dracula (2020)

For more Project Photos, Follow Kbatz Krafts on Facebook  and  thank you for being part of Horror Addicts.net and enjoying our video, podcast, and media coverage!

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Witches and Demons!

Witches and Demons, Oh My!

By Kristin Battestella

It’s always the right time to beware of witches, spirit boards, divinations, and demons!

The Covington Witches – These two 2019 episodes combine for over an hour and a half of funerals, candles, rituals, witches, and tarot in an African American infused Philadelphia ripe for a horror tale. Clearly, this is a shoestring production with a forgivable low budget, uneven sound, okay lighting, and some amateur performances. However, the extremely tight camerawork not just cuts the proverbial corners but crops out half the picture – heads are cut off and viewers are left looking at a wall while people talk outside the frame. Unnecessary editing and location notations for every scene contribute to the cluttered feeling, and the barren design somehow feels crowded, interfering with the naturalistic conversations about wrangling in reluctant family members with magic warnings. Ominous music adds to the natural banter – which is nice when we can see both people in the uninterrupted frame properly as more relatives end up dead thanks to mysterious boxes, tea readings, and suspect fires. Mourners dressed in black, cemetery scenes, and wide outdoor shots create much-needed scene-setting breathers alongside intriguing homemade voodoo dolls, teaching spells, incense, and goddess prayers. Purification charms and chants escalate as nieces ask if they are dark witches or do magic for light but aren’t afraid either way. The ladies are getting nasty with the evil spells, so why can’t the elder family just tell the ones who don’t know about all the witchcraft? Real estate runarounds and binding spells end up going too far with some penis removal magic, and that’s certainly more interesting than going to this house, then visiting that house, asking for coffee, and then leaving before the beverage is made. Why certain children don’t know they are witches and why one distant niece comes into wealth and property isn’t fully explained, and the pace is slow with redundant, roundabout scenes creating confusion. Are we missing an important piece of the puzzle or just left to wonder if a cryptic scene serves any purpose? Phone calls with nothing but “What does it all mean?” and “I don’t know” waste time before men who don’t know what they’re in for meet an abrupt end and leave us wanting the rest of the story. This is based on a self-published book series, and there isn’t a lot of information about whether this show is intended as an in house web series, one supersized book trailer, or a pilot to shop for something bigger – which it had the potential to be.

Wishmaster – I Dream of Jeannie spoiled us on the nature of granting wishes, and a malevolent, puckish Djinn runs amok in this 1997 Wes Craven produced dark fantasy starring Andrew Divoff (Air Force One) and Freddy Krueger Robert England with a cameo from Candyman Tony Todd. Opening scrolls telling of unholy potential immediately set a fiery mood alongside an 1127 Persia apothecary, potions, cauldrons, mystical gems, and alchemy. Present-day rock outs, tennis yuppies, and smarmy auctioneers are dated, yet there’s a frightfully fantastic mixing with modern industrial thanks to maze-like museums, living statues, and slimy cadavers. Some hokey effects also feel too eighties, but payphones and answering machines that say Pacific Bell and Bell South, whoa! Skeletons and more effective gore accent the too good to be true, “All you have to do is ask” tricks, leaving the regretful and maimed in our djinn’s wake. He’s not lying in saying he only bargains with what people give him – reminding viewers to speak carefully when wishing someone was dead or offering to sell one’s soul for a cigarette. Such suspense is fine on its own without circling zooms and crescendos, for we want to see the antagonist’s personality, interconnected visions, and growing powers. Ironically, we like Tammy Lauren (Homefront) less, but she isn’t stupid or made a bimbo while investigating the Zoroastrian myths. Although the escalating creepy crawlies are fun, the plot descends into set chases, explosions, and ineffective shootouts with some deus ex machina in outwitting the djinn. The ancient prologue, first act release, and collecting of restoring skingraphs or eyeballs are also similar to Dracula 2000 and The Mummy – evil flirts, shops, preys, leaving boils along the way. This girl power action horror pace feels like a precursor to more recent spectacles, and while we chuckle at the un-scary B movie fun, it’s pleasing to see the non-Western horror of this demented little cautionary tale.

 

Witchboard – A Ouija board and one bad yuppie party leads to the release of a malevolent spirit in this 1987 scarefest. Granted, it doesn’t say much when Tawny Kitaen (The Perils of Gwendoline in the Land of Yik-Yak) does the best acting here as both her rival male suitors are lame and full of their own bromance, manpain, and perhaps a whiff of latent innuendo. There’s unintentional comedy, too, with heaps of eighties fun including wild hair, punk styles, one earring, and waterbeds. I mean, you don’t see rainbow colored mohawks every day! Old technology such as microfilm, payphones, and cool Cobra cars are pleasing as well despite a lingering hokey, dated Valley lingo, laughably bad special effects, and contrived leaps to advance the plot. Fortunately, eerie hospitals, cemeteries, and foggy dreams add atmosphere while askew wide lenses and overhead whooshes provide a poltergeist perspective. Creepy Ouija movements, solo reading sessions, and freaky séances build suspense alongside pregnancy twists, zany psychics, and violent ghostly attacks. Who knew just spelling out with the planchette was so intense! Lovely architecture and retro styles feel eighties does forties, and there’s a reason for this throwback tone. The spirits also remain mostly unseen – except when the evil is ax happy that is. Because ghosts can wield axes, FYI. There is brief nudity and language, but this simple story does a lot without resorting to bimbo extremes or cheap fouls. Dockside mishaps and shower perils top of a goofy but fitting finale, and though of its time, this remains fun and entertaining.

Skip It

Salem – 1685 stocks, brandings, church bells, and cries for mercy open this 2014 thirteen-episode debut before pregnancies, torches, forest rituals, hooting owls, and promises of power. By 1692 Salem is swept with witch fever as bodies hang and rhetoric warns the devil is in town. Screaming girls are tied down over claims that a hag is terrorizing them – and there is indeed an unseen succubus leaping upon the helpless. Preachers insist they must save their promised land from this insidious invisible hell as sermons and town hall meetings become one and the same. Suspect midwives, old witnesses, and secrets intensify the witch hunt debates as families recall the original English hysteria and proud witchfinder ancestry. Although arguments about a girl not being possessed just touched in the head and in need of a doctor seem recent, it’s nice to see the reverse of typical exorcism stories where confounded doctors come before prayer interventions. Chants, contortions, and taxidermy lead to full moon dancing rituals, animal head masks, fiery circles, baby skull offerings, sacrifices, effigies, and entrails. Unfortunately, nobody notices witches talking openly in the town square nor minds a woman taking charge when she has no rights but through her husband. Ladies speaking out over their exploitation is far too contemporary – along with out of place comeback quips and jarring modern sarcasm. Instead of real tribe names, talk of savages and conflated French and Indian War references pepper speeches about saving the country when we weren’t even one yet. Killing innocents goals and grand rites achievements are reduced to the coven wanting to get rid of the Puritans so Salem can be theirs even though they are already in power behind the scenes and getting on their forest sabbaths. The witches versus ministry conflict with some pretending to be the other is drama enough without Shane West’s (Dracula 2000) millennial grandstanding compromising Janet Montgomery’s (Merlin) Mary Sibley. Is this about the falsely accused, misunderstood, and lovelorn or the naked, ethereal witches taking the devil’s power for their spellbound husbands and familiar frogs? Revealing the supernatural at work creates an uneven back and forth that goes directly against the witches’ motivations. Stay in their point of view or play it straight on the devil or innocent and let the audience decide which side we’re on – attempting both evil and romance is far too busy and binds in name only historical figures and potentially juicy characters with weak, pedestrian male trappings. Hypocrite ministers terrorize the congregation when not cowering at torturing witches or having sex at the Puritan brothel like this is Game of Thrones. After bamboozling EnterpriseI was already leery of creator Brannon Braga, and an old hat, run of the mill tone hampers the writing team. In addition to rotating directors, there are only a few women behind the scenes, and weird Marilyn Manson music provides a trying to be hip that’s more CW than BBC. Wealthy lace and tavern drab visually divide our neighbors amid period woodwork, forges, and rustic chimneys while gothic arches and heavy beams add colonial mood. Churches and cemeteries contrast dark woods, glimpses of horned and hoofed figures, skeleton keys, and spooky lanterns however the blue gradient is too obviously modern. Pretty windows and latticework are too polished, and clean streets give away the Louisiana set town rather than on location imbued. Superficial costuming is noticeably inaccurate, and once I saw a Victorian filigree necklace I got at Hot Topic, well, that was pretty much it for this show.

For More Witchy, Revisit:

Witches and Bayous

Witches of East End 

Teen Witch

Odds and Dead Ends: The danger of the future in ‘A Warning to the Curious’ by M. R. James

“May I ask what you intend to do with it next?”

“I’m going to put it back.”

The 1972 Christmas adaptation of the classic M. R. James ghost story, A Warning to the Curious, perfectly captured the unique terror of the story, a terror that was at the heart of most of James’ classics. In the tale, an amateur archaeologist finds himself on the trail of an ancient Anglian crown said to protect the ancient kingdom from invasion, but is pursued by its ghostly protector intent on keeping it hidden. What drives the story is that the past should remain in the past, admired from a distance but never defiled for personal gain, lest destruction be wrought on more than just the individual.

For note, I’m going to discuss the story in detail, so, spoilers ahead. Just a little warning to the curious.

The idea of a ghostly companion isn’t something new; for one such example, Sheridan Le Fanu used a disturbing rendition of a demonic presence in Green Tea, about a man who had his third eye opened to a demon, which takes the shape of a monkey with glowing red eyes that haunts his every waking moment. As James was a great admirer of Le Fanu’s work, and helped compile several volumes of his stories, he would have obviously been aware of this story, and the ghostly companion idea.

For James, however, he uses this device for more than just scaring people. James in his personal life was most at home in the old libraries of Cambridge and Eton, as a medievalist and scholar. He was, for all intents and purposes, very much afraid of radical changes of life, especially through technology and social upheaval. The First World War is said to have affected him tremendously, to hear and know of his students, and friends, dying in the trenches abroad. All of this helps us understand where James comes from when his story puts so much emphasis on maintenance of a status quo, of letting the past lie.

It’s interesting to me that in both the original short story and the BBC adaptation, the main character, Paxton, is going through a period of personal lifestyle change. In the short story he is in the process of moving to Sweden, and spending a last few weeks in England before he follows his belongings abroad. In the BBC version, Paxton has been a clerk for twelve years before his company folded the week before, and he decided to follow up on the story of the Anglian crown as a result of nothing else to do, and nothing left to lose; a chance of making a name for himself. The curiosity in finding an ancient relic, and using it to begin a new life (economically and socially on the screen, as a metaphorical omen of good luck for a new beginning in the original), morphs into Paxton’s eventual undoing.

Even the title spells out the intended meaning of the text; don’t let your curiosity get the better of you. And that in both versions of the text, the re-burial of the crown doesn’t deter the spirit from pursuing Paxton, is further proof that the uncovering of the artifact is not simply a physical defiling of the past, but an endangerment on a larger scale. By removing the crown, there is danger of the shores being invaded, bringing about that social upheaval and radical change that James feared so much. To deter others from doing likewise, and having knock-on effects which negatively influences the wider world, the guardian of the crown must end Paxton’s life. This punishment for curiosity is famously central to H. P. Lovecraft’s stories. Lovecraft would have had the protagonist end up insane, or gods breaking through into our dimension in some way. Lovecraft himself wrote of M R James in many letters and articles, praising him as a master of weird fiction, so the connection between the two writers is certainly there.

In our own days of great social change, with the world going through unprecedented times, the antiquated verse of James’ ghost stories might seem a little stilted. Yet he seemed to express that fear in all of us with the best, that the change overcoming the world might contain some ghosts to be feared. How we choose to take his warning for the world, is up to us, but it seems chilling nonetheless that James was putting into fiction exactly what many people fear will happen if one kicks the hornet’s nest of the past. For an old-fashioned Victorian like James, he wanted the comfort of his history. For any change to happen, we must be prepared to face whatever consequences we unleash.

-Article by Kieran Judge

-If you want more M. R. James, here’s a link to an article I did a few years ago, comparing the device of very literal ‘deadlines’ in James’ Casting The Runes and Koji Suzuki’s novel, Ring: https://horroraddicts.wordpress.com/2018/08/06/odds-and-dead-ends-analysis-of-casting-the-runes-and-ring/

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Dead Man’s Gun / Season 1

Dead Man’s Gun Debut is Uneven but Weirdly Promising

by Kristin Battestella

Produced by Henry Winkler and narrated by Kris Kristofferson, Showtime’s 1997-98 western anthology series Dead Man’s Gun debuts with twenty-two episodes of somewhat rocky but no less entertaining weird and vengeful parables.

Originally, the first three episodes of Dead Man’s Gun were shown in a television movie block opening with John Ritter (Three’s Company) as an ambitious sideshow assistant in “The Great McDonacle.” He’s tired of trick shooting and buys the titular gun despite warnings that the devil himself made it such bad luck. The poor Shakespeare shows and bad saloon singing are slow to start, however, the six shooting spectacles, bullets caught between the teeth, and obvious kiss before the shot add to this business of illusions. He’s not a real marksman, so why does he need a real gun? Playing against the odds with one more shot, unfortunately, proves costly amid well-done character interplay, shootouts, and Billy the Kid references. Seemingly slick thief John Glover (Smallville) steals money, documents, and our gun in “Fool’s Gold” before selling a $200 claim to local rube Matt Frewer (Orphan Black) and making moves on saloon girl Laurie Holden (Silent Hill). Bankers, mining equipment deals, bets on recouping the cost of this speculation, and contracts with survivor claims lead to some hefty interest policies, double-crosses, and blackmail. Fortunately, this gun comes in handy for eliminating all those little technicalities. Producer cum down on his luck peddler Henry Winkler (Happy Days), however, takes a dead man’s identity as well as his gun and employment papers to become the next town marshal in “The Impostor.” He’s thrust into a standoff and inadvertently saves the day – earning free meals, service, and respect as he settles local disputes and finds romance. Our town hero begins believing he can stop bank robbers and help others, but we know such innocence doesn’t last long on Dead Man’s Gun. This first episode of the series proper is a much better start to the series than the spliced feature, and dreaded undertaker Larry Drake (Dr. Giggles) pilfers jewels, boots, and clothes off the dead in “Buryin’ Sam.” He reuses the linens and rusty nails in the caskets but charges the bereaved $12 for all the trimmings. Shootouts from our gun are good business when not pursuing widows – after all, it’s really about comforting the living. Interfering heart conditions and indirect fatalities, unfortunately, lead to murder, lightning, and supernatural betrayals as empty graves and night time burials invoke fine horror elements. Nightcaps, syringes, and killer sex for “The Black Widow” leave the titular Daphne Zuniga (Melrose Place) with will readings, black veils, and our inherited gun before she sets about ensnaring a local jeweler. Hot air balloons and romantic picnics quickly lead to the marital grand manor complete with a pesky old maid, locked attic, and treacherous stairs. Gems, fortunes, and memento mori accent the suspicions alongside poison mushrooms, nitroglycerin, well-done suspense, and deadly interplay.

A birth in the brothel and the Dead Man’s Gun is offered as doctor William Katt’s (House) payment in “The Healer.” He insists on helping a dying gunslinger after a standoff in the saloon, and the townsfolk quickly turn into a trigger happy mob. They want him to look the other way while they ‘take care’ of a feverish patient who will hang anyway, and past rows reveal they never really were that neighborly. The doctor’s missus has some history, too, and it all comes out thanks to a dreamy romp in the hay. Though rough around the edges, the vengeance, responsibility, and consequences here make for an interesting gray. Of course, racism abounds with buck, squaw, and redskin talk in “Medicine Man” as Adam Beach (Windtalkers) receives a bottle of whiskey instead of real payment for his work. His father Graham Greene (Dances with Wolves) dislikes his cold gun with an evil spirit and wishes his son would return to the chants, drums, and teepees – but these are a proud people made low, warriors with nothing left to hunt. The Nez Perce language is minimal and some of the Native American motifs are stereotypical, however, this parable is told from the proper point of view and the audience understands the anger and rage. Dreams and spiritual wisdom add a slightly supernatural touch, but the gun only makes it easier to pursue ruthlessness, and revenge only begets more revenge. In “Next Of Kin,” Ed Asner (The Mary Tyler Moore Show) invites Helen Shaver (Supergirl) and the rest of the snotty, presumptuous family to finalize his will. Can they stay the weekend enjoying his gourmet food and luxuries to prove themselves worthy of his legacy or will they bicker and toy with his priceless loaded gun? Despite blaming, blows, and supposed self-inflicted gunshots in the night, no one’s willing to leave and lose their fortune. The accursed gun is tossed into the fire, where it doesn’t get hot or burn, but its E&S initials – Latin for ‘ruin and destroy’ – glow. Certainly, there are similar mysteries and horror tales, but the period dynamics and stir crazy of our looming heirloom make for one of the season’s best – a superb little potboiler with kinky relations, past bitterness, and bodies in the hall. Blacksmith Meat Loaf (The Rocky Horror Picture Show), however, is displeased when his new wife arrives with a son for “Mail Order Bride.” On top of this awkward situation, he recognizes our gun that keeps coming back to haunt him. The tender father-son bonding is somewhat try hard, too on the nose with its lessons, but Meat Loaf’s fine performance raises the uneven drama and keeps things intriguing as the gun falls into the wrong hands.

Fire eaters and carnival atmosphere accent “The Fortune Teller” when charlatan Elizabeth Peña (La Bamba) really beings to see the future in her crystal ball after coming into the Dead Man’s Gun. The town is at odds over believing the tea leaves and tarot cards or ignoring the hocus pocus, but the price to hear of one’s adultery, murder, or vengeful fortunes goes up from fifteen cents to a dollar! Eerie images and a unique hedge maze finale converge as the gun brings the visions to a sharp point. He cures sleeplessness with stimulation through the power of the mind in “The Mesmerizer,” but this doctor is really using hypnosis to assault the lady patients and steal from the gents. Stealing our gun, however, makes the power of suggestion stronger – enchanting people in the streets, using old ladies to rob a bank, and invoking new death bed will signatures. Though similar to Poe’s The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar, we want the nastiness to get its due, and Dead Man’s Gun provides it with deathly vengeance and full-on horror in the just desserts. By contrast, the sepia stills and vintage equipment of “The Photographer” seem so quaint until Gary Cole (Veep) takes a photo of our jinxed gun in action. He has no qualms about snapping pictures of the departed, and townsfolk are shocked when he captures a bank robbery – unlike today where smartphones galore make everything an Instagram story. Is he a vulture seeking disturbing images or a chronicler capturing fatal action as it happens? After selling his graphic photos to the local gazette, national papers write that they will pay top dollar for more scenes of a violent nature. After all, folks who can’t read buy the paper for the scandalous pictures! As he snaps more shootouts and convinces dangerous outlaws to pose before his camera, our photographer traces the gun as it changes hands five times, and it would have been interesting to have had this period premise that’s still relevant today featured regularly throughout the season. Despite a strong mid-season, Dead Man’s Gun is quite uneven in its first half with an often embarrassingly wooden secondary cast and continuity issues despite the anthology format. Instead of completely tracing the gun’s travels from one episode to the next, our inanimate anchor is picked up at the end of one hour with our never knowing what happens next. Likewise, openings that had more to tell dump the piece onto the next victim as Dead Man’s Gun further misses the opportunity to have Kristofferson (Blade) appear as a sage in pursuit. After a few clunky episodes, my husband wrote off the series as being too “random” in its gun portrayal. Fire and brimstone Tim Matheson (The West Wing) is putting on the healing under the revival tent in the penultimate “Wages Of Sin” with plants in the crowd and holy elixir shams. He charms the ladies and convinces a violent brother to give up his tool of evil. From fevers to blindness and broken wings, our reverend begins to believe in the miraculous nature of our gun. He wants to build a permanent temple thanks to wealthy neighbors and tempting blondes, but some pay for seeing through the con and double-crosses as the gun giveth and taketh.

Although the narration calls the weapon legendary, it’s sentient or evil nature is not fully explored – it’s not infamous and is passed on quite innocuously at times. Some own it decades despite its misfortune while others are done with it in a few days. Beyond a general Old West, towns and locations are never mentioned, and while all these bads probably don’t take place in the same town, every place sure looks the same. A Horse or carriage ride scene opens every episode, any kids seen are dang annoying, and the nineties flirtations are laughable amid the try-hard speak older. Dead Man’s Gun also has a noticeable abundance of lookalike blondes – several each episode where having had one woman witness it all would have been more interesting. “My Brother’s Keeper” is the weakest of the initial three television movie segments, as poor brothers in bar room quarrels and quick draw fights are somehow slow to get to the point. It’s too early for Dead Man’s Gun to seem like it will be the same episode all the time – if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. The shabby boarding house of “Highwayman” is different from the usual lookalike town, but the weak, undistinguished cast and thin story also contribute to that same one-trick pony feeling. A then unlikely shorter episode order would have kept the series taut instead of repetitive. Despite a shopkeeper looking for dime novel excitement and a creepy old lady customer offering our gun as payment, the dream sequences in “Bounty Hunter” are too hokey. A wife so young she could be his daughter is just obnoxious, and the powerful temptations for a man-made small by his station in life are somehow too plain. Sage characters in these faulty episodes also add to the ambiguous nature of the gun – which can be triumphed by a good person or consume one in an evil that was already there. Is it the person or the gun’s influence? Some stories portray the philosophical debate well while others remain inconsistent. When grieving mother Kate Jackson (Dark Shadows) demands justice in “Death Warrant,” the gray area between legal bounty hunting and killing an innocent bystander is disappointingly lame, even pointless thanks to bad faux southern accents and greasy styling. Everybody looks rode hard and put away wet thanks to some juicy out of place saloon girls showers, and ultimately, the gun is an afterthought. “Stagecoach Marty” Jo Beth Williams (Poltergeist) handles holds ups and precious silver cargo before buying lavender soap and getting a makeover that catches a handsome passenger’s eye. Unfortunately, the sassy woman humor and unladylike likable awkwardness are too unevenly mixed with suspect romance, decoy wagons, and secret heist plots trying to do too much. A drunk ex-gunslinger returns to form in “The Resurrection Of Joe Wheeler,” but the slow start is laden with rapacious violence, thuggery, and incompetent town officials. Outlaws are raiding the town, and Dead Man’s Gun resorts to the same old one man with issues and a blonde on his arm. Of course, the straights, flushes, aces, and pairs pile up in “The Gambler” until a sassy blonde in a cowboy hat joins the high stakes game. Here the impressive gun action – one must kill to keep his luck – simply can’t overcome the contrived romance, card-playing montages, and streaky where is this going plot, for hot hand run cold stories are as old as the West itself. Likewise, Union troops are having a terrible time thanks to an inept young officer in “The Deserter.” No matter how many mystical riding montages we have, he keeps returning to the same painfully obvious cornfield, and the overuse of both slow motion and hectic for the cowardice feels D.O.A. before we even get to the soldier being tied up and bathed by a bunch of women. The titular safecracker in “Snake Finger” faces a newly designed, supposedly full proof, time-release safe installed at the local bank while romancing the owner’s daughter. The drama is never sure if we’re supposed to like the charming crook or support the crusty lawman in pursuit, and what should be an exciting cat and mouse is ultimately a sappy finale with little connection to our gun.

Fortunately, covered wagons, horses, painted ponies, gun powder, long rifles, and mud set the Dead Man’s Gun mood alongside western facades, saloons, spurs, stagecoaches, hay, and saddlery. While the slow-motion strobe when the gun’s firing is unnecessary, the ominous music themes and subtle guitar strings are a fine touch. Rays of light through doorways, silhouettes, and reflections in mirrors or windows also make for interesting visuals. Our holstered gun is often in the foreground ready and waiting amid lanterns, candles, old fashioned money notes, ticking pocket watches, period patterns, chewing tobacco, and wanted posters. Corsets, bustles, parasols, lace, chokers, ruffles, and bobbles provide a feminine touch while rustic outdoor filming, bitter snow, and shabby slat homes contrast luxury luggage, grand staircases, fancy mansions, and Victorian gardens. Sound effects and more foreboding lighting invoke spookiness as needed while flies buzz around the horses or the dead, yet Dead Man’s Gun is surprisingly colorful with rich greens, maroon, and purples highlighting rugs, antiques, and velvet sofas. Cigars and smoking are a realistic touch obviously not seen as much today, but how did they film that real rattlesnake bite?! The sex scenes, however, are totally lame with little to see, and nothing steamy before Showtime goes overboard later in the season without of place butt shots and side boobs. There’s a warning on the video that the picture quality is old, and indeed the nineties production looks VHS flat on a 4K television with some dark, tough to see nighttime photography. The relatively late Dead Man’s Gun DVD release also has no subtitles, and the episodes are spread out across a lot of discs despite the otherwise slim and bare-bones set. Thankfully, Dead Man’s Gun makes the most of its real locales, a pleasing sight compared to contemporary CGI. There isn’t an over-reliance on action or blood, gore, and typical western fast. Instead, the gunshots are realistically blunt with just enough splatter and drama to the shootouts. Such choice use makes the anticipation all the more intense and violent when gun action happens. After all, Chekov says that trigger’s got to be pulled!

Though occasionally rerunning on western themed channels, creators Ed and Howard Spielman’s (The Young Riders, Kung Fu) series always seemed unloved by Showtime and Dead Man’s Gun remains a little elusive. I remember waiting for new episodes back then and was disappointed when the more recent DVR was likewise filled with the same few reruns, so it’s pleasing to see all the episodes here almost anew. While some legs are better than others are and the series doesn’t go as full-on horror or mystical as some audiences may like, Dead Man’s Gun is the perfect weird western for steampunk-ish viewers looking for something that’s not your daddy’s western.

Interested in More Horror Westerns? See:

Brimstone

Bone Tomahawk

Penny Dreadful Season 3

 

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: All Things Dracula Video Review

Kristin Battestella aka Kbatz compares and contrasts Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, and then some more Draculas, Nosferatus, and television to Bram Stoker’s original 1897 novel. Penny Dreadful, Hammer Horror, Gerard Butler, Francis Ford Coppola and Netflix’s recent Dracula series all have a moment here alongside Dracula: Dead and Loving It because why the heck not?

 

 

Read all the reviews mentioned in our Dracula conversation including:

Penny Dreadful Season 3

Dracula (2013)

Dracula 2000

Dracula 1931

Dracula (Spanish Version)

Nosferatu

Horror of Dracula

Brides of Dracula

Dracula Has Rise from the Grave

Dracula A.D. 1972

Count Dracula (1977)

Dracula (1979)

Dan Curtis’ Dracula

Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Dracula: Dead and Loving It

 

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FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Dracula (2020)

Netflix’s New Dracula is Downright Frustrating to Watch.

by Kristin Battestella

Initially, I was excited for the BBC/Netlfix 2020 co-production of Dracula featuring Claes Bang (The Square) as the infamous Transylvania count terrorizing lawyer Jonathan Harker (John Heffernan) before sailing to England on the subsequently cursed Demeter. Unorthodox nun Agatha Van Helsing (Dolly Wells) tests all the legendary vampire elements in a cat and mouse battle against Dracula. His survival into the twenty-first century spells doom for fun-loving Lucy Westerna (Lydia West), and unfortunately, the poorly paced, uneven back and forth between the Bram Stoker source and intrusive contemporary changes make for some terribly torturous viewing.

The Rules of the Beast” opens with annoying extras already calling attention to themselves as nuns surprisingly blunt about faith or the lack thereof try to make sense of this Mr. Harker and his monstrous experience. Beginning with the convent rescued is an interesting place to recap the preceding horror, so there’s no need for weird questions on whether Harker had sex with Dracula. Such sensationalism underestimates vampire fans familiar with the tale and lures new audiences with the wrong notes. After the opening credits, snowy Carpathian prayers, crosses, and howling wolves restart the story with the more recognizable coachmen creepy and ominous castle. The full moon, booming door knocker, and fluttering bats build toward famous introductory quotes as Carfax Abbey paperwork and tutoring in English etiquette force Harker to stay with Dracula. Sadly, the actors don’t have much room thanks to the orchestrated frame – the convent interrogation intrudes on the castle tension while extra zooms or hisses over blood and broken mirrors point out the obvious. Rather than letting the audience enjoy the eerie for themselves, the harping voiceover undercuts any ominous with “So it struck you as strange? And so your search continued. Tell us.” minutia. The womanly phantoms and gothic explorations take a backseat as we’re told how Dracula gets younger and Harker grows gruesome – ruining the sinister irony by giving away gory discoveries, bodily contortions, and spinning heads. Viewers anticipate the funhouse horror shocks and laugh as the undead leap out at the screaming Harker before another monologue ruins the quiet reveal of Dracula’s crypt. Spinning panoramas and intercut, fast-talking plans over-edit Dracula in that British heist movie or clever case closed Sherlock tone. Dollies into the mouth of the biting vampire are special effects for the audience instead of painful for the victim, and everything stalls for “You were about to explain how you escaped from the castle.” redundancy. It takes ten minutes to explain how sunlight reflected from a cross burns the vampire as if it’s some shocking revelation, but at least the nuns are ready with stakes when Dracula begs for entry at their gate with severed heads and convent slaughter tacked on in the final fifteen minutes.

Crawling hands, ship-bound nightmares, and onscreen notations introduce the captain, crew, and passengers of the Demeter in “Blood Vessel” alongside ominous cargo boxes, buried alive scratches, and dead deckhands. However onscreen chess parallels, unfortunately, fall prey to typical attractions between Dracula and our female Van Helsing. Characters wax on how books must immediately engage the audience and today’s horror loves a frame narrative, yet editors would ditch the prologues, bookends, and flashbacks. Once again, the episode restarts with one and all coming aboard – including Dracula and a Goodfellas freeze-frame to point everything out for the audience. Despite the Demeter disturbia, the back and forth setting is ambiguous, and flashbacks again disrupt the point of view. Humorous questions about going to the dining room when one doesn’t eat food fall flat, and intriguing passenger opportunities go unexplored in favor of baiting homosexual mixed signals. Dracula roughly attacks men from behind before wiping the blood from his mouth with the closeted newlywed’s napkin. Bram Stoker already wrote of the bite as sex metaphor, so treating the vampire suckling, flirtatious nods, and knee squeezes as a disease to demonize gay men comes off wrong. If this Dracula was going to address more sexual topics, it should have done so properly instead of toying with both characters and viewers. The turbulent ship is a superb locale, yet there’s no sense of space. Is Dracula attacking people and oozing blood in the crowded dining room or leaving bodies above deck in front of everybody? The disjointed editing doesn’t disguise the muddled scene, for key pieces of action that should be shown in real-time are withheld for later spooky flashes. Lackadaisical live-tweeting style voiceovers with a lot of “I don’t understand” and “but I assumed” interfere with the locked cabins, unseen travelers, and tantalizing murder mystery. Searching the ship, suspect evidence, and pointing fingers on who can’t be trusted are delayed for mind games and let downs from the first episode nonsensically tossed in here. Dracula toys with the crimes so he can solve the case with winks on what a great detective he is, detracting from Van Helsing’s book quotes and passenger tensions. At first, it seems so cool to see Dracula up to no good aboard the Demeter, but once the episode backs itself into a corner, one almost wishes we had just seen the passengers on the vampire deduction themselves.

Contrived answers as to how Dracula got out of his watery grave in “The Dark Compass” aren’t shrewd, just gimmicky – pulling the rug out from under viewers with chopped up, non-linear storytelling. After Dracula labors for over two hours on adapting the beginning of the novel – albeit with new intrusions – the series up and decides to move into the present, restarting again with trailer park terrors and in world inexplicable. The vignette style disarray encourages audiences to half pay attention to fast-moving scares with no time to ask questions as the beach raid seriously gives way to Dracula laughing at technology and playing with cameras. Underwater preservation, diving teams, accidental fresh blood revivals, and science briefings studying Dracula are treated as less important than his being down with the lingo or telling doctors his blood connections are like downloading memories. Dracula has a grotesque reflection showing his age, police bulldoze a house so he won’t have a roof over his head during the day, and seeing inside the bite reveals a unique abstract limbo. Poisoned blood makes him vomit and this vampire research foundation was founded by Mina Murray in Jonathan Harker’s name, but any intriguing background or choice horror gets dropped for deadpans like Dracula wondering why his jailers gave him a toilet and “Who gave him the wi-fi password?!” Phones, photos, and raves introduce viewers to a whole new set of characters, and where Dracula painfully dragged out earlier episodes, now the cemeteries, supernatural, and undead move at lightning speed. Problematic cancerous blood, suspect scientific organizations, and ill characters drinking the vampire samples stall thanks to sassy emails from Dracula read as a voiceover – avoiding one one one confrontations for glossed over montages skipping to three months later where there’s no longer any pretense at this being a gothic novel adaptation. Existential wordy on flavor, being in love with death, and suggestions that Dracula has lived so long simply because he is a coward afraid to die are thrown at the screen in the final fifteen minutes alongside Hammer knock offs and a stake through the heart dusting ripped right from Buffy. The “Children of the night…” quote finally comes in a fascinating sequence about hearing the still conscious dead knocking in their tombs, but the lack of paranormal follow through, forgotten up to no good foundation, and barely-there medical crisis are infuriating when this science meets occult agency versus new to the millennium Dracula could have been a series in itself.

It’s a lot to ask for the audience to like an unlikable protagonist with no redeeming qualities thanks to glowing eyes, gross nails, and tasty babies in bags. Claes Bang’s Count is white-haired before being re-invigorated as a well-spoken Englishman – he has the gravitas in serious moments inspired by the novel, but the jolly good clever retorts replace any menace. Dracula need not explain anything, yet our mustache twisting, almost camp villain wastes time mansplaining into the new century even as sad crescendos suggest we should be sympathetic to his crocodile tears. His powers are more cinematic convenience than supernatural, and the glib gets old fast as Dracula complains about exercise while he swipes left for his latest food delivery hook-up. Bang deserved to have a faithful adaptation to sink his teeth into, but the script has the character patting himself on the back before giving up just because the page says so. It’s also obvious Dolly Wells (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) is our Van Helsing when we see her. Using the Stoker text as she explains the undead and waxes on having plans not faith when dealing with those denied salvation are strong enough characterizations, yet Dracula sacrifices her action with too much reflective talking. Agatha doesn’t believe in God but stays in their loveless marriage for the roof over her head, but her serious study is hampered by super sassy bordering on ridiculous. She stands face to face goading Dracula over his invitation status when she isn’t sure of the no vampire entry rules, and their debates are played for temptation. Agatha admires and encourages Dracula, but her lack of undead information leads to deadly consequences. How can she be both bungling sardonic and grandstanding with not today, Satan speeches? It’s not seeing the actors acting per se, but the scene-chewing intrusions are too apparent as Agatha tells Dracula to a suckle boy before her great-great-grand niece Zoe swaps hemoglobin with him for some cryptic ancestral conversations – which could have been awesome if they weren’t tacked on in the last twenty minutes. Despite spending the first episode with John Heffernan’s (Dickensian) pasty, deformed, and desperate Jonathan Harker in an unnecessarily drawn out account, we never really know the character because so much of his development is given to others. His outcome is also significantly different than in the novel, and Morfydd Clark (The Man Who Invented Christmas) is surprisingly almost non-existent as his fiancee Mina Murray. Glittery Lucy Westerna loves selfies and making the boys jealous, but I wish we saw Lydia Wells (Years and Years) in Victorian frocks instead of modern cool and cliché party girl garb. Viewers are tossed into her pretty snobbery before skipping to her down low Dracula feedings, and the pointless cremation screams versus skin-deep beauty wears thin fast. Writer and producer Mark Gatiss (Coriolanus) as Dracula’s lawyer Frank Renfield Skypes with the Count over his human rights being violated. This awkward self-insert calls attention to itself with fast-talking legalese tut-tuts. Renfield asks questions the viewer has, but the answers should be in the story, not told by the writer onscreen.

Steeple silhouettes and gray skies open Dracula with gothic flavor, but sweeping CGI panoramas and bugs squashing against the fourth wall are irritating when we’re here for the flickering torches, winding staircase, stone corridors, and heavy drapes of Dracula’s castle. Echoes and shadows accent the candles, lanterns, portraits, creaking doors, and scratching at the window as boxes of dirt, rats, and undead adds grossness. Hidden laboratories and crosses would suggest medieval hints, but the snarling at the camera is lame and the should be disturbing vampire baby is as laughable as that delicious lizard puppet from the original V. Raw, furry black wolf transformations are much better thanks to birthing contortions, blood, moist oozing, and nudity. Likewise, the congested, ship bound Demeter scenery is superb with all the proper maritime mood, moonlit seas, foggy isolation, and claustrophobic horror tension before fiery explosions and underwater spooky. The present, however, is extremely colorful – purple nightlife, teal laboratories, dreamy red visions, and jarring pink filters. Enchanting abbey ruins contrast the high tech prison rotating toward sunlight to keep the vampire in his place, and the organization’s Victorian roots could imply a steampunk mix with the modern technology, but any older aesthetic is sadly dropped for rapid shutter clicks, strobe headaches, and onscreen text speak. YOLO! For once I’m somewhat timely on reviewing a new series – rushed to beat spoilers because social media compatriots were already talking about not finishing the First Episode here. Unlike Sharpe and Wallander, the three ninety-minute television movie-style episode season does not work for Dracula. Maybe this format is good for a Netflix binge where we just let the whole smorgasbord play, but if Gatiss and co-creator Steven Moffat (Doctor Who) had designed Dracula as six forty-five minute episodes instead of lumping everything together, it would have helped heaps in organizing the story between adapting segments from the page and adding new material or time jumps. Rumors suggest Netflix tracks viewing duration rather than series completion, so maybe bowing out after the initial ninety minutes goes further in their algorithms than if audiences had tuned out after a forty-five-minute start? The bang for instant viewing buck shows in the mess onscreen, and the only thing that could have made this worse was if it had actually been named Dracula 2020.

Narrative interference and deviations from the novel make this Dracula terribly frustrating to watch. This is the first time I’ve felt reviewing was an obligated chore, and at times, I had to take a pause because I was so aggravated. The Transylvania start and Demeter ride imply a novel retelling, but the convent shenanigans and Van Helsing ladies past or present suggest new adventures. Attempting both in a back and forth, short attention span frame only insults audiences looking for new vampire spins, experienced horror viewers, and teachers who can tell when the student has only read the first few chapters of the assigned book and just makes up the rest. Dracula isn’t scary – the Netflix and chill model is designed to make us awe at something creepy now and again, but the try-hard gore is dang common with little sense of dread. There’s so much potential for a faithful book interpretation as well as new vampire direction, but this transparent seemingly cool ultimately ends up being the same old horror same old and Dracula wastes most of its time on nonsensical absurdities.

I feel so scathing but I started with fourteen pages of complaints and made it down to six so I guess that’s an improvement? ¯\_()_/¯

For More Vampires, revisit:

Top Horror Television

Gothic Romance Video Review

Dark Shadows Video Review

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Top Horror Television!

 

Say hello to our favorite HorrorAddicts.net 10iversary television blogs!

 

The Addams Family 1 2

Buffy The Vampire Slayer 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Dark Shadows Video Primer

The Frankenstein Chronicles

Friday the 13th The Series 1 2 3

The Munsters 1 2

Penny Dreadful 1 2 3

Tales from the Crypt 1 2 3

Tales from the Darkside 1 2 3

Thriller 1 2

 

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Tales from the Darkside Season 3

More Scares to be had in Tales from the Darkside Season 3

by Kristin Battestella

The 1986-87 Third Season of Tales from the Darkside features twenty-two more episodes of horror and oddities beginning with “The Circus” premiere written by series producer George Romero. In a series that usually puts the bizarre first, this episode truly feels like a horror tale as Showman William Hickey (Tales from the Crypt) promises mummy and vampire spectacles to a journalist trying to debunk the smoke and mirror ghouls. The bloody feedings and hungry dogs, however, make for some disturbing showmanship – a creepy little parable done with very little, using one setting and power of suggestion scares for a fitting twist. Covered furniture and a murderous history don’t deter a couple from their spooky new home in “Florence Bravo.” This is supposed to be a fresh start, but the wife – who was put in an institution by her husband after a nervous breakdown – isn’t taking her pills as the rocking chair moves by itself and ghostly visions escalate. The haunted house set up is familiar, but she loves their spooky old home and her adulterous husband will pay the price for the house’s evil ideologies with bloody floorboards, gunshots, and killer ghosts. A suspicious dollhouse in “The Geezenstacks” comes complete with the eponymous doll family, and their morbid playtime whispers come true as the cracks begin to show with implied domestic violence and dire real-world consequences. The bemusing bizarre here is less annoying than other kid-centric episodes thanks to creepy toys and that quintessential Tales from the Darkside quirky likewise seen in “Black Widows.” Our homebody knitting mother insists enough company comes to her, like salesmen and ministers knocking on the door. However, visitors who squash and kill a spider in her house will pay the pincer price – even the fiance who’s not good enough for her daughter. He’s too thin and the web-like laundry hangings add to the obvious, but there’s a sardonic wit to the family secret. Unfortunately, the eerie mood escalates for an unscrupulous yuppie art dealer in “Heretic” when the inscriptions on a valuable Inquisition painting would have him learn the error of his ways. The torture and warped religion lead to terrible twists on life imitating art with pain and fiery consequences.

Warnings to behave and not do anything you wouldn’t do on network television accent the homemaker quaint in “A Serpent’s Tooth.” Mom insists she nags because she loves, however her teen daughter and college drop out son’s choices will be over her dead body. She receives the eponymous charm with a warning to be careful what she wishes for – because she may get it. The television, radio, and telephone disappear when she threatens how inconvenient life would be without them, and when she tells an obnoxious kid next door that his face will get stuck that way it does. Talk about a salty lesson! By contrast, a greedy advertising executive sees a New Orleans bakery and its intoxicating cookies as a golden opportunity in “Baker’s Dozen.” The secret ingredients of a thirteenth specialty make for twisted connections between men, dough, and gingerbread in this tasty voodoo turnabout also written by Romero. Of course, the kids in “Seasons of Belief” are at the age where they don’t believe in Santa Claus – but their older, festive parents warn them of a more terrible figure called The Grither. While disbelieving in Saint Nick only makes your presents under the tree disappear, The Grither is the most awful thing in the world, and they’ve called him by saying his name out loud. Tales from the Darkside provides a certain warped amusement here with a holiday episode featuring a deliberate act to scare kids, twisted carols and all. A mannequin trades places with a burglar for “Miss May Dusa,” and creepy shadows accent the seedy subway and what goes on after hours sunglasses at night. Our cursed lady doesn’t remember who she was before, but a jazzy street musician tries to guess, making for an interesting twofer with sadness, despair, and bitter realizations layering a more serious drama on the horror of loneliness. Little Chad Allen (Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman) says if you leave him a note, the milkman will give you presents in “The Milkman Cometh,” and a family in debt that has lost a baby is rewarded with another pregnancy. Was it a response from the ‘While You Were Sleeping Dairy’ or a coincidence? Increasing conflict, financial struggles, and drinking lead to eerie silhouettes and blue lighting making what was once a normal neighborhood visitor totally creepy with bizarre revelations and eponymous winks.

Jeff Conway’s (Grease) typing his latest in “My Ghostwriter – The Vampire,” and he’s happy writing hack vampire tropes for the money – until Dracula shows up on his balcony. He’s there to prove his powers, proposing sanctuary in exchange for his nine hundred years of bloody details. The toothy secrets lead to literary success, and the traditional vampire motifs with eighties spins are great fun. However Dracula wants his share of the spoils, and there’s an underlying ominous thanks to dining in on the maid neck bites and handy silverware. Robert Bloch’s (Psycho) “Everybody Needs a Little Love” starring Jerry Orbach (Law & Order) has noir mood with cigarettes, Truman posters, and vintage pubs. Our barfly friend brings home a mannequin, drinking, dancing, and taking a week off from work to cook dinner and sit ‘Estelle’ at the table. Who needs a nagging broad when you can have a classy dame who just sits there and smiles! He insists she’s no prude, adding to the old fashioned creepy and lively twists with a hint of something more sinister as her look or positioning seems slightly different from glance to glance. An old crone and her young-looking friend reunite for a bitter 1692 anniversary in “Auld Acquaintances” amid talk of burning houses, lightning strikes, poisoned cats, and puritan flashbacks. Evil chants, talismans, chokings, and threats set off the zany performances alongside Salem imagery and some intense 1987 shocking language on whores and devils. The bargains in blood and pacts to live forever are well done in this confined two-hander. More spell books, enchantments, and boils in “The Swap” don’t impress the young wife of a man who can’t compare to his mama – the greatest conjurer Louisiana ever saw. So long as she ‘plays house’ each night, his wife will get all their millions, and she goes upstairs with her revolting husband rather than be poor. Of course, she’s secretly with the hunky handyman, and Tales from the Darkside gets a little saucy with talk of ‘gentlemanly pleasures,’ handcuffs, and bottles forced into a man’s mouth. The twisted little threesome escalates with poison, wills, and stipulations on who the wealthy widow must marry next. By contrast, it’s all idyllic mid-century sophistication in “The Enormous Radio” with martinis, classical music, and period touches raising the unique horrors. Do our eavesdroppers interfere when they adjust the dial and hear their neighbors or is it none of their business? Unfortunately, the addictive gossip gives way to heated arguing, and the sad, depressing strain of hearing the whole building’s troubles ultimately overwhelm our once perfect couple.

Early in Year Three, however, back-to-back kid tales sag Tales from the Darkside thanks to an annoying little girl disliking her engaged sister’s kisses with her jerky fiance in “I Can’t Help Saying Goodbye.” The titular premonitions lead to explosions, funerals, and a whiff of religion versus innocence but the crappy attitudes can’t make a thin script more eerie. “The Bitterest Pill” offers another petulant kid and nasty dad, and the family remains pissy even after they win the lottery. The in your face speed talking over the eponymous drug that provides total recall takes the investments over the top and the fittingly harsh turnabout drags on too long. Southern charm schmoozing over the politician at dinner in “Deliver Us From Goodness” also repeats the be careful what you wish for come ups that were done better several episodes prior, and the religious hypocrisy gets lost in the out of control humor and off the mark obnoxiousness. “My Own Place” may have $285 rent control, however, there’s a semi-mystical roommate that won’t leave – despite the yuppie renter’s curry jokes, Calcutta insults, and racist slurs. Such demeaning isn’t scary, and our jerky new tenant realizes he’s getting what he deserves too late. A stereotypical gold-digging femme fatale widow cut off from the company stock in “Red Leader” adds to the slow, generic corporate talk of cooked books and shady real estate as hellish minions from below debate over the same old evil businessmen tropes. Yawn. Likewise, a greedy young apprentice tries on a pair of magically crafted shoes in “The Social Climber.” He can really go places in this fancy pair, but his shoemaker boss warns him there will be a price. Unfortunately, the magical elements can’t disguise the transparent end, and today some viewers may be completely baffled by what a cobbler even is. A drunk having a heart attack to open “Let the Games Begin” leads to mirrors on the ceiling, hellish shadows, and heavenly echoes arguing over who gets to claim his soul. Both try to entice him by appearing as his angelic best friend and his vixen sister-in-law. However the askew angles, sardonic tricks, and heart beating suspense are too uneven, attempting too much between humor and cynicism in a plain story that gets irritating fast. What is scary are those yuppie styles – plaid sweaters tied over the shoulders, tube socks, and dated feather hair on top of crimped ponytails, neon fashions, and Like a Virgin fishnets. The Tales from the Darkside title card was changed for this season, the menu design on the Season Three DVDs is slightly different, and there are no subtitles. Cramped eighties trailer homes, small sets, and single locations with red lighting and dark dressings may be cheap, however, the claustrophobia is also very effective amid atmospheric thunder and that indelible, chilling Tales from the Darkside theme. Sound effects accent the monster makeup, blood, gothic archways, and older Victorian styles. Retro kitchens, typewriters, and big boob tubes harken a mid-century housewife mood – pink wallpaper, dusty rose doilies, and old bag vacuums contrast the giant eighties portable brick phones and pathetically dated computers. These ladies have to take off a clip earring to use the rotary phone and count the teaspoons to make that old fashioned coffee! While such a long season has its ups and downs thanks to dated or hammy half hours that are weird rather than scary, Tales from the Darkside Season Three once again provides creepy, chilling, and atmospheric parables for a nostalgic horror marathon.

Revisit Tales from the Darkside  Season 1 or Season 2 and read up on our Tales from the Crypt Reviews Seasons 1, 2, or 3, too! 

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: The Frankenstein Chronicles Season 1

The Frankenstein Chronicles Debut is a Hidden Gem

by Kristin Battestella

The 2015 British series The Frankenstein Chronicles follows Thames Inspector John Marlott (Sean Bean) and his runner Joseph Nightingale (Richie Campbell) as a floater composed of other body parts leads the police to body snatchers, abducted children, street pimps, and even author Mary Shelley (Anna Maxwell Martin). Someone may be copying her novel Frankenstein, and the home secretary wants the case solved before pesky newspaper reporters like Boz (Ryan Sampson) print the sensational tale.

Capsizing dangers, muddy chases, vomiting police, and a stitched-together body reassembled from at least seven children set the 1827 London dreary for “A World Without God.” Rumors of grave robbing abound and selling the dead to medical institutions is not a crime – this is a seller’s market doing good business despite still superstitious folk fearing science, medicine, and what happens to a body after death. Our inspector goes through several protocols and technicalities to research whether this butchery was done by a man of science or some layman out to prevent the new anatomy laws, invoking a mix of morose period noir with British lone detective angst. He’s canvassing the dirty streets for a meat market kidnapper while parliament spins grandiose hot air on rights to autopsy versus personal penance. Cholera, prayers, shady men at the docks with carts full of stolen bodies – is someone murdering to procure fresh dead to sell? The hands of the deceased seem to move when touched in “Seeing Things,” and William Blake quotes death bed whispers and sing-song visions wax on the beast with the face of a man. University hospital demonstrations on bioelectricity show how to reanimate the nervous system, however, those medical seminars and the subsequent Sunday sermons are not so different from each other. Higher up officials don’t want to hear about god fearing motives and scientific suspicion coming together as unauthorized doctors run unapproved clinics with their own ideologies. Investigation leads cut too close to home, and a fireside reading with narrations from the Shelley text invoke a self-awareness meta. An open copy of Frankenstein laying on the desk steers our course as the linear tale expands into a more episodic style with incoming regular cast high and low aiding our inspector or rousing his suspicion. Ghostly winds, flickering candles, and blurry visions create eerie, a supernatural clarity that helps connect clues while books such as An Investigation into the Galvanic Response of Dead Tissue in “All the Lost Children” provide handwritten sketches with blood in the margins. Religion versus science abominations, laws of God versus tyranny and oppression, and defiance of deities to defeat death layer dialogue from the author herself along with pregnant teens, abortion debates, and gory late-stage patients who may as well be monsters with their deformities. Past baptisms, dead families, and uncanny nightmares escalate the inner turmoil while hymns, market chases, and back-alley fights add to the well balanced mystery, life and death themes, precious innocence, and making amends.

Underground tunnels and unscrupulous business transactions in “The Fortunes of War” would have young girls sold at thirty-five guineas for ‘company,’ and the disturbing abuses create frightening silhouettes and threatening villains even as the uncaring uppity argue over chapter and verse regarding bastards and police refuse extra men on a sting gone awry. Screams, gaseous brick houses, and skeletons lead to arrests that unfortunately don’t solve the initial case butchery – only will out one small piece of a larger twisted picture. The aristocracy is shocked at the Frankenstein life imitating art scandal as fact and fiction strike the press, politics, police, and the author herself for “The Frankenstein Murders.” Drunken mad science, candlelit pacts, and monstrous machines bring the eponymous inspirations full circle as blackmail and the triumphant anatomy act provide a free supply of corpses for those who will now do whatever they wish. Threats, revelations, and suspicions swept under the rug keep the underbelly dark while disastrous scientific pursuits go awry. Blue currents and electricity experiments try to conquer death as the noose tightens. Red herrings and key pieces of the mystery come together as the audience completes the puzzle along with our constables thanks to erotic clues, nasty denials, ill pleasures, and warped dissections. The detectives must use one crook to catch another with cons, betrayals, and confessions that seemingly resolve the brothel raids, set ups, and scandals. Prophetic calendars, apparent suicides, and emergency parliament sessions make room for plenty of dreadful hyperbole – grotesque body snatchers have used murder to procure and defile corpses and the dubious press thinks it’s all thanks to popular fiction! This public medicine reform may banish the body trade, but lingering questions remain in “Lost and Found.” Constables need proof that the deceased aren’t staying dead and buried, and someone has known it all along. Conflict among friends and lies will out reveal the hitherto unseen beastly in plain sight as underground discoveries, powder misfires, and final entrapments lead to tearful trials. No one’s left to believe the truth thanks to corruption and condemnation blurring the fine line between genius and blasphemy. Last rights go unadministered when one is guilty of much but denies the crime at hand, and The Frankenstein Chronicles escalates to full on horror with frightfully successful dark science abominations.

Producer Sean Bean’s former soldier turned inspector John Marlott doesn’t like crooked police and his lack of fear is said to aide his quality undercover work. His gruff silhouette contrasts the posh officials, for they dislike his methods, deduction, and research on tides or time of death – questioning where others do not think to look makes him a somewhat progressive investigator even if he doesn’t care for books, poetry, or famous names of the day. Marlott has no problem with instructions, but feigns stupidity and says his conscious is his own, playing into people’s sympathy or religion as needed despite privately lighting candles to his deceased family and carrying sentimental lockets. The Frankenstein Chronicles is upfront on Marlott’s past, telling us how his syphilis caused his wife and baby’s deaths – he knows what it is to grieve and the prescribed mercury tonics add disturbing visions to his prayers. He’s uncomfortable at white glove luncheons as well as church services and cries over his past, perpetually tormented by his late loved ones while this barbaric case puts more burdens on his shoulders. He crosses himself at seeing these ghastly sights, recoiling from the morbid even as his own sores worsen. Marlott’s reluctant to use a dead boy’s body as bait to catch grave robbers and gets rough in the alley brawls when he must, acting tough on the outside and going off the book with his investigation after he steps on powerful figures who would manipulate him for their own political gain. Despite his own fatal mistakes, Marlott is a moral man in his own way, dejected that making the city safer tomorrow doesn’t help the children already dead. Now certainly, I love me some Sharpe, and in the back of my mind, I chuckled on how The Frankenstein Chronicles could be what really happened to Sharpe post-retirement. So, when Marlott says he was in the 95th rifles and fought Bonaparte at Waterloo, wears the same boots, and dons the damn rifle green uniform in a flashback funeral, I squeed! Marlott’s not afraid of death and ready to meet his family, not stopping even when the case is officially closed – ultimately breaking out that old Sharpe sword when it really comes to it!

Reprimanded and insulted by superiors, Richie Campbell’s (Liar) Joseph Nightingale is assigned to Marlott because they don’t really care about him or the investigation. The character is initially just a sounding board, however, Marlott confides in him, laying out the procedural methods in lieu of today’s police evidence montages. Nightingale does leg work for the proof needed, following a tip and getting roughed up when tailing a body snatcher. He argues with Marlott, too, countering his witness protection strategy before earning Marlott’s apology and his blessing to marry. Sadly, both share different angers when plans go wrong and people get hurt. The Frankenstein Chronicles offers a fine ensemble of familiar names and faces also including Anna Maxwell Martin (North and South) as Mary Shelley – a sassy, outspoken writer who says outwardly genteel appearances can be deceiving. She tells Marlott her book came from a nightmare, however, she knows more than she admits. Shelley is well-informed at a time when women weren’t permitted to be as cosmopolitan as their male peers, and great one on one scenes make her an interesting antithesis to Marlott. Ryan Sampson’s (Plebs) hyper young Boz is likewise a persistent little reporter who won’t give up his own sources but wants the police scoop. He circumvents Marlott, working all the angles and exposing the bodies found. Boz belittles him for not knowing Frankenstein was all the rage but he is on Marlott’s side in bringing the truth to light – so long as it’s a fantastic story. By contrast, Charlie Creed Miles (Essex Boys) and his mutton chops match the Burke and Hare-Esque thuggery. This body snatching businessman keeps track of his livelihood, for its just honest supply and demand. Pritty’s reluctant to snitch, but Marlott’s blackmail forces him into helping, becoming a useful, if crooked character. Vanessa Kirby’s (The Crown) initially snotty Lady Hervey comes to find Marlott is surprisingly honorable, confiding in him about her family’s title but little wealth even as she wonders if he is playing her for a fool. Jemima grows closer to him yet remains committed to a loveless marriage for money if it helps her brother’s charity hospital. Unfortunately, Lady Hervey is a woman of God who is sorely mistaken when she puts her trust in all these men of science. Ed Stoppard (Upstairs, Downstairs) as Daniel Hervey speaks out against early medical laws and technicalities with disturbingly contemporary theories when not performing abortions behind his sister’s back. Being a starving, homeless prostitute burdened with a child is not life, he reasons, only more suffering. He scoffs at charlatan surgeons and the home secretary’s grandstanding but offers Marlott a new medicinal spore for his syphilis instead of the harmful mercury, doing what he can for those less fortunate whether the Anatomy Act would ruin him or not.

Rain, thunder, fog, riverboats, marshes, and bogs set the chilly, bleak tone for The Frankenstein Chronicles amid period lantern light, overcoats, and muskets. Eerie artwork and beastly designs in the opening credits parallel the gory sights with separated body parts, arms, and legs upon the table, bowls of entrails, and stuck pigs contrasting the organ music, ladies frocks, bonnets, and courtly wigs. It’s bowler hats, simple crates, and bare rooms with peeling wall plaster for lower men but parasols, pocket watches, top hats, carriages, luggage, and grand estates for the upper echelon. Stonework and authentic buildings accent the blustery outdoor scenery, cobblestone streets, and humble cemeteries. Sunlight and bright visions are few and far between amid the candlelit patinas and small pocket portraits – the only available likeness of the deceased – however, reflections, deformed glances in the mirror, and filming through the window panes accent the man versus monster themes. Wooden coffins, baby-sized caskets, plain burial shrouds, simple crosses, body bags, and tanks containing deformed fetuses create more monsters and morose amid sophisticated libraries, early medical gear, handwritten letters, signets, and wax seals. Bones, blood, electricity, ruined abbeys, and hazy, dreamlike overlays combine with late Bach cues for final horrors, but it is bemusing to see the same title page on that open copy of Frankenstein over and over again – as if we could forget our eponymous literary source! Although many scenes happen on the move, enough information is given with time for dialogue in reasonable length conversations, balancing the visual pace and investigation exposition rather than resorting to in your face editing and transitions. All six, forty-eight-minute episodes in Series One are directed by Benjamin Ross (Poppy Shakespeare), teaming with writer Barry Langford (Guilty Hearts) for one cohesive tone on this ITV hidden gem now of course branded as a Netflix Original.

While some elements may be obvious, my theory on the new spins in The Frankenstein Chronicles was totally wrong, and I again wish there were more gothic, sophisticated series like this and Penny Dreadful. The Frankenstein Chronicles isn’t outright horror – the macabre drama, dreary case, and disturbing mystery are not designed as a scare to frighten even as choice gore keeps the ghastly at hand for this easy to marathon harbinger. Instead, the British gravitas meets mad science combines for a Poe-Esque caper with literary fantastics peppering the intertwined crimes and Frankenstein what-ifs.

 

For More Frankenstein, check out Frankenstein: The True Story or for more scaries featuring Sean Bean, re-visit our reviews on Black Death and Silent Hill.

FRIGHTENING FLIX: Gothic Romance Video Review

Yours Truly Kristin Battestella aka Kbatz discusses Category Romance versus Gothic Literature, Slashers versus Hammer, Penny Dreadful, Mario Bava, Crimson Peak, Tom Hiddleson, and Only Lovers Left Alive as well as Victorian and Gothic Romance Themes and the upcoming HorrorAddicts.net anthology Dark Divinations.

 

Thank you for being part of Horror Addicts.net and enjoying our video, podcast, and media coverage!

Listen to Our Podcast: http://horroraddicts.net/

Get involved: https://www.facebook.com/groups/horroraddicts.net

HorrorAddicts.net Online Writers Conference: http://horroraddictswriters.freeforums.net/board/14/writing-horror

Dark Divinations Submission Information: https://horroraddicts.wordpress.com/current-submission-calls/

To Read Detailed Reviews on Our Subjects Re-visit:

Penny Dreadful  1  2  3

Mario Bava Super Special

Crimson Peak

Only Lovers Left Alive

Revisiting Poe Video Review

Classic Horror Reading Video

Dark Shadows Video Review

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Tales from the Darkside Season 2

Tales from the Darkside Season Two Provides More Bizarre by Kristin Battestella

Producer George A. Romero’s 1985-86 Second Season of Tales from the Darkside is the series’ longest year with twenty-four episodes of oddities, scares, and morose mood. Of course, the night club comedy act in “The Impressionist” is stale – but mysterious G-men offer a has-been comedian a special job communicating with gestures amid secret labs, spaceships, and sympathetic aliens. Our slight of hand performer picks up the interstellar mimicry but refuses to reveal the alien’s secret to fusion power. While the weak effects are a little laughable, this alien touch gives a once sarcastic man a piece of something more. It’s business as usual, however, for harsh workaholic Bill Macy (Maude) in “Lifebomb” until an insurance salesman presents a deal on an unique medical safety device that’s too good to be true. After sudden chest pains, he accepts the titular offer, but that little implant on his back leads to scarier medical situations and company control over what could be life-saving technology. This is an interesting plot on stress, aging, and our career servitude made fantastic before inventor John Heard (Home Alone) recounts the earthquakes and mini volcano rising through the floor to deliver extraterrestrial Penelope Ann Miller (Carlito’s Way) for “Ring Around the Redhead.” The jailhouse frame condenses the pace for the romance, reduces the need to show action the series can’t afford, and grounds the what-ifs with electric chair shadows and noir mood. Remodeling and rent control versus eviction unfortunately carry a touch of racism in “Parlour Floor Front” as the upstairs alligator on the polo shirt snobs insults the elderly voodoo practitioner downstairs. A few curses lead to damaged antiques, broken wrists, and falls off the ladder. Mischief, disrespected coffins, and evil-tainted gold escalate to fatal lies as Tales from the Darkside does a lot of scary with very little. Likewise returning director Tom Savini’s “Halloween Candy” adds vintage costumes and candy bags to the holiday hate and cranky old dad hoping the kids have a sugar overdose on the doorstep. Threats to call the police or telling the trick-or-treaters to go to hell result in an incessant doorbell buzz and a devilish little goblin peeking in the window. Broken watches at midnight, bugs in the candy, blue hues, and freaky monster masks stand out thanks to the well-edited suspense.

Romero himself pens “The Devil’s Advocate” starring ornery radio show host Jerry Stiller (Seinfeld). He makes his callers cry amid vintage soundboards and flashing red studio lights, but the engineer falls asleep, the studio grows increasingly darker, and call-ins come from all over history before a chat with the boss from below himself in this superb one-man parable. A man in shades also has an exclusive offer to revive an old sixties network series for the film within a film of “Distant Signals.” The show Max Paradise was unfortunately terrible, but a hefty gold investment reminds the crusty Hollywood suit, writer’s block writer, and drunken actor how inspiring television really is. Although this nice Galaxy Quest story follows several scary tales, it’s made all the more bemusing thanks to today’s reboots and revivals ad nauseam. By contrast, the self-involved yuppie parents in “Ursa Minor” don’t believe their daughter when she says her antique teddy bear is responsible for the household mischief. Occult experts warn them of Native American magic and ancient worship of the eponymous bear constellations, but the muddy little paw prints and tool mishaps create some chilling moments before the faulty gas stove, ambulances, crutches, and karma for “Effect and Cause.” Starving artist Susan Strasberg (Scream of Fear) believes in synchronicity, tarot, and astral charts, leaving her reluctant to paint over unusually awful found canvases. Unfortunately, the esoteric heavy and chaos debates leave her trapped, helpless in a home that’s working against her in this Mandela Effect meta mind-bender. Baby Seth Green (Buffy) has something creepy under the bed on Christmas morning in “Monsters in My Room,” too. The boy prays against tentacles, saw blades, and boogie men in the closet out to get him with scary nighttime lighting and every toy, ticking clock, or floorboard creak adding to the terror. However, his stepdad wants to toughen him up, giving him beer and trying to make the boy a man in a whiff of subtext as real-world and horror merge.

Shakespeare quotes and an antique telescope invoke a renaissance touch for “Comet Watch” – a lighthearted entry obsessed with the cosmos once an Edwardian babe pops into the attic after taking a long celestial trip. The dated science and charming love triangles set off what was then a timely January 1986 airing ahead of the forthcoming Halley’s Comet. Yes, this again far beyond the Darkside theme. However, this is probably the last time a genre television series could address such fanciful fears with such innocence as we’re too scientific and overly cynical these days. “A New Lease on Life” provides a new apartment with all the trimmings and supposedly no catch for an uber-cheap $200 a month. Unfortunately, the wall groans when an against the rules nail is hammered in, and handymen against newfangled microwave radiation fix the bleeding sheetrock with peroxide. Neighbors denied water warn our tenant while cries within the walls and giant garbage disposals suggest there’s a price to pay for eating meat. One could have it all forever if he just follows the rules and does what he is told, making this a freaky little statement on human horrors and arrogance. The desperate writer with the empty refrigerator in “Printer’s Devil” follows an ad to one creepy agent’s office where voodoo dolls, mystic tomes, and animal sacrifices promise Pulitzers. Publication and success soon follow, but the so-called inspirational pets also increase as the literary riches must be maintained. When his new girlfriend starts sneezing over his apartment zoo, well, our devilish agent suggests one final sacrifice. “The Shrine,” by contrast, presents a mother offering her estranged daughter milk and cookies. She doesn’t want to talk about the past or her daughter’s breakdown, but she keeps her daughter’s room in untouched childhood perfection – yet phantom winds and nursery rhymes suggest someone else is living among the ribbons and pom poms. Can a mother be so disappointed in how a child grew up that she would try again with the same daughter? The who does mommy love more contest could be silly, but the warped women’s roles are played serious amid the taboos. Motel manager John Fielder (The Bob Newhart Show) reluctantly lends the Room 7 key to a cruising salesman for “The Old Soft Shoe,” and a vintage radio plays jazz while a woman in black lingerie draws a steamy bath. She calls our salesman by a different name and insists they’ll never be apart while they dance cheek to cheek. However, 1950 newspaper clippings and dusty corsages lead to gunshots and jilted dames as the nostalgic personalities and ghostly femme fatales bring the blood and stockings full circle.

On Thanksgiving eve an ingenue waits on the desolate platform for the late train in “The Last Car.” Once onboard, the eponymous passengers warn her she can’t travel between cars – they fear the upcoming tunnels, nobody likes to talk about time, and the so-called train to Providence isn’t stopping like it should. Lost watches, a shoebox full of all the foods they desire, and a nonsensical conductor create an askew Twilight Zone perception with memorable revelations before a cocky doctor is happy to diagnose mob boss Abe Vigoda (The Godfather) with cancer for “A Choice of Dreams.” Fortunately, a more radical scientist offers him power over death for a cool ten million. Ticking clocks count down as the murderer faces his own mortality while black and white offices with futuristic technology keep the brain alive as the memories flashing before our criminal’s eyes catch up to him. The 1935 noir, moonlight, pale skin, and hints of red in “Strange Love” tell us what fangs are afoot. Marcia Cross (Melrose Place) has no heartbeat and a cold touch to match her seduction, power, and beauty as this saucy love triangle leads to betrayal, a double wide coffin, and a bloody good time. The video will be left by a fire and brimstone televangelist for his sister Connie Stevens (Hawaiian Eye) in “The Unhappy Medium,” however, isn’t the riches she hoped. The hypocritical pretenses and greedy true colors come out thanks to neon lighting, purgatory traps, and devilish possession. The family that sins together, stays together in this timeless Tales from the Darkside parable. Meanwhile, the empty army recruiting office receives an unlikely man not signing up but asking for sanctuary in “Fear of Floating.” He unbuckles his boots and floats every time he lies – a gift the army would love to use between the zany standoffs, tall tales, delusions, deceptions, and one low hung ceiling fan. Splattered sheets and bloody babes set off frequent Tales from the Darkside director Frank de Palma’s finale “The Casavin Curse” amid homicide detectives, suspect servants, and ancient gypsy curses turning a tiny heiress into a deadly demon with killer claws. She always ends up hurting the one she loves!

Tales from the Darkside’s half hours often center around one or two characters, and episodes are slightly better when there’s a more recognizable name to anchor the fun. Indeed, viewers have to take these gonzo tales with a sense of humor, for even amid the serious parables there are laughable things. Scribble on a piece of paper isn’t an alien language nor is one earring and a few crystals in a gal’s hair outer space couture – actually, it’s just totally eighties! A calm granny offers chicken soup to the possessed little girl who’d rather eat souls in “The Trouble with Mary Jane,” and local amateur exorcist cum con artist comedienne Phyllis Diller is going to use tea leaves and tarot cards to put this demon into a pig and make her fortune. This could be something scary, but it’s tough to tell if the humor is intentional and we should roll with it or just laughably bad. Several juvenile shows and household scares in a row sag mid-season, and daughter Lisa Bonet (A Different World) tries to inspire her angry composer father in “The Satanic Piano.” His record company is unhappy with his latest album, but a mysterious man offers the family a computerized keyboard with telepathic connections and a sinister price to pay. Can a machine capture the purity and essence of one’s soul and music? This contemporary tale is waxing on something innocent, however, the execution is off the mark in a series where youth in terror befits the Darkside content. Dated phrases like “rad,” “far out,” or “right on” I can dig, yet I can’t say the same for “Dream Girl” as film shoots and pin-ups help a creepy janitor live out his sexist misogynist fantasy. While fog, distorted angles, and fake props set off the warped titular haze, the Inception play within a play meta is too nonsensical and confusing with abusive shouting and characters trapped in an overlong, dry predicament. Certainly, the computers and alien designs are primitive. The empty sets are grayscale abstract with wild faux marble luxury meant to be eighties high end but it’s all so obviously cardboard fake today. One may argue the backdrops beyond those false windows create a more stage-like setting allowing the bizarre per tale to shine, however, the redressed cheap is often too apparent – an office from one episode is easily a jail cell the next. Most special effects seen are also hokey but brief with major fantastics largely left to off-camera imagination. Though the jury may be deliberating on the eighties silk blouses and pussy bows back in vogue, those bright yuppie pinks and thugs in sport coats with the sleeves rolled up were never good looks!

While there may be no subtitles for the Tales from the Darkside: The Complete Series set, the always chilling greeting and opening theme speak for themselves. Old tape recorders, rotary phones, and typewriters add nostalgic décor alongside retro ice boxes, doilies, and static on the big boob tube. Blue lighting, silver accents, moonlight silhouettes, firelight, and candlesticks invoke mood as increasingly dark schemes, shadows, dreamy photography, and cigarette smoke frame the spooky atmosphere. Some of that white leather furniture and mauve pastiche does have the right swanky, and Tales from the Darkside’s production values increase slightly during the season with latter episodes featuring real homes and locales rather than mere set walls. Tiny white lingerie and steamy nightgowns and some side boob close calls also push the envelope, yowza! Art Deco tone on tone designs add an Old Hollywood simmer while choice reds and brains in jars never let us forget the horror at hand. Sure, Tales from the Darkside has a certain amount of dated silliness. Bemusing weirdness is more often featured than full-on frights. However, the scares are superb when they happen and the spooky fun doesn’t overstay its welcome. Tales from the Darkside Season Two is easy to marathon for nostalgic creepiness and all manner of bumps in the night.

Read our more risque Tales from the Crypt reviews or catch up on Tales from the Darkside Season 1, too! 

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.

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Thriller Season 2

Though Flawed, Thriller’s Second Season Remains Frightful

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

FRIGHTENING FLIX: Dark Shadows Video Review

 

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

 

 

Get involved in the kitschy conversation on our Facebook Group!

 

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

 

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

Odds and Dead Ends: Doctor Who’s Sci-fi – Horror Masterclass

When Doctor Who revived on March 26th, 2005, I was seven years old, a few months away from my eighth birthday. I was the perfect age to have my mind utterly blown by the galactic voyages, the heritage, the sets, the monsters; everything about it was just cool. Russell T. Davis’ era of Who was one of the things that made me the genre fan I am today. Now that I’m older, I look back on it and wonder which episodes, stories, stand out most. One day I will certainly do an article analyzing speech and identity in the Series 4 episode Midnight, an underrated gem of an episode. Blink gave me a phobia of statues for months, and I remember coming home from school pretending to be a Cyberman (complete with stomping sound effects) once the new incarnations came through in Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel.

Yet for me, the more I think on it, the more I affirm my beliefs that The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit, episodes 8 and 9 of Series 2 respectively, are the best episodes of the show’s now 13, nearly 14 year, revival. A blend of cosmic horror, claustrophobic sci-fi thriller, and possession horror movie, this storyline is an immaculate blend of multiple genres, pushing the boundaries of Saturday-night family TV, which retains the ability to chill even the hardiest of adults. The Halloween special Waters of Mars was a very successful episode along a similar vein, but despite the claustrophobia in that episode, it doesn’t have the imagery, the scale, and grandeur, that comes with being stranded on a planet orbiting a black hole. This article is my attempt to analyze, decode, and understand just why this storyline is sci-fi/horror perfection, through the physical and emotional squeezing of the episode, and the theological darkness of The Beast.

 

Isolation

Sometimes horror tries to overload your senses with something vast and grand, such as the infinite size of the cosmos and the beyond, stuffed with elder gods and creatures unfathomable. This is most definitely the Lovecraft tradition of horror. One of the other approaches is to make the whole thing feel claustrophobic, and to put the pressure on the audience, tighter and tighter and tighter. This, perhaps, could be considered a Hitchcock tradition. The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit (which I will abbreviate as TIP or TSP throughout the rest of this article), manages through its sheer concept alone, to accomplish both a physical claustrophobia and tension, and a grand intellectual, mythological scope.

In TSP, a sequence sees Rose, Danny, Toby, and Jefferson, trapped in the vents underneath Sanctuary Base 6 being pursued by the possessed, murderous Ood. As if this isn’t bad enough, Captain Zachary has to manually shift the oxygen to them from each section of the tunnel each time they move on to the next section.

For me, this is the ultimate moment of claustrophobia in the two episodes, and it’s a careful appreciation of each turn of the screw (pun intended) that makes us feel so tense. Here’s my quick run-down of the beats up to this point that apply the pressure.

  1. The Tardis, the time-and-space ship, lands on a base, not feeling well. As The Doctor says, it’s like “‘she’s worried.’”
  2. The Doctor announces that they’ve arrived on a sanctuary base. The word ‘sanctuary’ implies a safe haven, but from what?
  3. ‘Welcome to Hell’ is scribbled on a wall, along with an indecipherable ancient language.
  4. After an earthquake, the revelation of their situation is made. The base is on a planet orbiting a black hole, held by a strange, unknown energy source that could plunge them into it at any moment.
  5. An earthquake plunges the Tardis into the depths of Kroptor, the planet. Their usual escape route has been lost.
  6. The base’s electronics, and Toby, come under the influence of The Beast.
  7. A hull breach loses one of the crew members, and they watch her drift up into the black hole. A constant reminder of mortality perched on the edge of the abyss.
  8. The Doctor and Iva descend down into the bowels of the planet in a small cable lift. The Doctor, the main intelligence and rationale of the galaxy, is physically distant from those above.
  9. The Ood become possessed; their translators changed into devices capable of electrocution.
  10. The Satan Pit opens down into a further unknown dark.
  11. The lift cable snaps, trapping The Doctor and Iva down below.
  12. Their electronic communication is temporarily stopped.
  13. With Ood all around, the crew have to shuffle through the underfloor ventilation tunnels to reach Ood habitation, the den of the things trying to kill them, in order to cut the possession of The Beast.
  14. Zachary, holed up in a room with Ood cutting their way in, has to manually, time-consumingly, shift their oxygen after them.
  15. The Ood are after them in the tunnels.

There are several aspects I’ve excluded for my later discussion on the Satan aspects, but it is easy to see even from this simple breakdown, how the episodes add layer upon layer of threat and danger. This sequence in the tunnels is perhaps only 2/3 of the way through the episodes’ total runtime, and there are sequences with danger in the rocket at the finale, but I believe the ventilation chase to be the best example of pressure-cooker isolation I’ve seen in Who.

In Doctor Who Confidential S2 E8, the set designers acknowledge Alien (1979) for inspiration in the base’s design. Indeed, the walkways are hemmed in by pillars that crowd the crew as they duck and scamper down the corridors. Similarly, the Nostromo’s corridors in Alien were designed so the actors had to crouch through the ship, complete with constant vents of steam and smoke from the walls that are also constantly shown in Sanctuary Base 6 coming from the floor. Far more than just the base, however, the civilisation in the interior of the planet also seems to have a touch of the Alien franchise about it, with the large sculptures something you’d find on board the Space Jockey’s ship. The abseil of The Doctor into the pit isn’t too dissimilar to Kane’s descent into the egg room. And you can’t watch the ventilation chase sequence without thinking of Dallas’ search through the Nostromo’s vents after the Xenomorph. This time, they can’t even see the threat as the Ood don’t register as life forms, and the opening of the final door to reveal the Ood there ready and waiting for them is so reminiscent of Dallas’ demise in Alien that you have to accept the homage.

Part of this story’s mastery, then, is of the sense of claustrophobia, of danger pressing in on you. Taking inspiration from its predecessors and finding new ways to tighten the vice, the whole scenario feels like you’re being slowly crushed. If the lack of air doesn’t get you, the Ood will. If they don’t, The Beast will plunge you into space. If he doesn’t do that, he’ll ensure the base doesn’t let you out. If that doesn’t happen, he’ll plunge you into the black hole. The noose gets tighter and tighter with each passing moment.

Satan Unbound

When, in TIP, the Doctor calculates the amount of energy needed to hold the planet in orbit around the black hole, he reels off a load of numbers, to which Rose replies, “‘all the sixes.’” Specifically, there are three of them. 666. The story deals with the iconography of Satan and a fairly unique discussion of language and communication to discuss the mere concept, the idea, and the horror, of the devil.

Perhaps the most obvious point of contact with this is the ancient language. The connection between this writing and an ancient evil are immediately apparent, with the ‘Welcome to Hell’ sign being scrawled above a copied passage of writing. That the planet they have arrived on is equated with Hell is subtly reinforced with several shots through doors and over shoulders, one such example being when Rose gets food from the Ood, where the ‘Hell’ on the sign is clearly visible.

The ancient language is also our main visual clue that Toby is possessed/himself. The writing jumps from the pottery to his hands, and later vanishes into the Ood. That this language is that of The Beast and not of the ancient civilisation is apparent from the pictures depicting the capture of The Beast down in the pit itself. These people used images, whereas The Beast uses words. Images exist purely in a visual form, whereas language can exist in visual or audible forms, or even touch if you think of Braille. This makes The Beast’s method of communication much more effective and potent for expanding throughout the universe, perpetuating his image throughout the countless civilisations.

That language is the myth-maker of The Beast’s choosing is made apparent when Ida discusses the planet’s name, spoken of only in scripture, and labelled as a demon when the Black Hole spat it back out. Not only is it through text that the story of the planet’s evil, and by extension its resident, perpetuated, but ‘scripture’ implies a religious text.

Despite a brief flash of The Beast on the hologram in the main hub, it is through words and speech that The Beast’s rising is foreshadowed. The computers announce that ‘He is awake,’ and Rose’s phone is hijacked to deliver the same message on a phone that can’t get a signal. Also, The Beast’s targets for possession are those with the closest links to language and words. Toby is an obvious choice because he is closest to the language as the archaeologist. However, the Ood are important thematically because they require the translators to communicate with their human masters. Before we get the hijacked message, the ‘we must feed’ interference and joke following TIP’s title sequence puts language at the forefront of the terror.

These translators are important not only for The Beast to use as weapons (language being used to kill and carry ideas of death), but it is also through the Ood that we get our longest pre-possession hints, “‘The Beast and his armies shall rise from The Pit to make war against God’”, and the lengthy discussion with The Doctor. The concepts of The Beast and his mythic perpetuation through language and words are inescapable. Language is how we view, understand, and construct the world around us, and that The Beast would use this as a means to attack us is perhaps more terrifying than anything else.

The Doctor’s incredulity and vehement rejection of the idea that The Beast can have existed before the universe is little relief for the audience, for The Beast knows so much that he can’t know. He sees into the minds of all the crew, and even predicts Rose’s future several episodes later. This complete knowledge of all, traversing the realms of possibility, puts the possibility of The Doctor being wrong into question. Is he right that The Beast is lying? After all, one of the names for Satan is ‘The Father of Lies.’ On the other hand, everything The Beast has said occurs in actuality, so who is to say he is wrong? That something is impossible isn’t an issue for The Beast; The Doctor describes his language as being ‘impossibly old’ upon first seeing it.

And then, in the final scenes, we have possessed-Toby’s ravings that the idea of him (The Beast) will always live on, despite being launched into the black hole, lingers, ‘I shall never die. The thought of me is forever.’ The Doctor himself says that ‘an idea is hard to kill’. The Beast’s final words that ‘nothing shall ever destroy me. Nothing’, hang in the air long after the episode concludes. In addition to this damning statement, The Doctor comes away with no conclusions as to what he believes he found, ‘I don’t know, I never did find out.’ We are left none the wiser. After escaping possessed aliens sent by a Satanic beast, who claims to have been from beyond time and space, eternal and forever in the hearts of men, and managing to escape the snatching jaws of a black hole, a horror still resonates. The idea of evil will never be killed. They don’t defeat evil in the end, they just manage to escape its wrath a little longer.

 

Conclusion

Sometimes, when it gets it just right, Doctor Who manages to push all the right buttons. In an impossible situation, isolated and trapped, claustrophobic, yet opening up the theological, philosophical, and personal horrors of belief, thought and language, these two episodes deliver a truly captivating, yet terrifying 90 minutes of television. Ignore what anyone says; this episode arc is the most horrifying, devastating, and yet hauntingly beautiful storyline the show has had in its revival.

Article by Kieran Judge

You can now follow him on Twitter at @KJudgeMental

It’s the Great Halloween Episode, Horror Addicts!

Halloween is MY favorite time of year, and I’m willing to bet it’s yours too. So, if you’re trying to trick your less-spooky friends and family into a month-long binge of Halloween TV, this list is a good starting place.

 For the Little Monsters

  • Animaniacs
    • Draculee, Draculaa / Phranken-Runt (Season 1, Episode 30)
    • Scare Happy Slappy / Witch One / MacBeth (Season 1, Episode 62)
  • My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic
    • Luna Eclipsed (Season 2, Episode 4)
    • Scare Master (Season 5, Episode 21)
  • Tiny Toon Adventures
    • The Horror of Slumber Party Mountain (Episode 93)
    • Tiny Toons Night Ghoulery (Special Episode 100)
  • Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends
    • Bloooo (Season 1, Episode 12)
    • Nightmare on Wilson Way (Season 5, Episode 10)
  • The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy
    • Grim or Gregory? (Season 1, Episode 8)
    • Bill & Mandy’s Jacked-Up Halloween (Season 1, Episode 23)
  • Phineas and Ferb
    • The Monster of Phineas-n-Ferbinstein! (Season 1, Episode 40)
    • One Good Scare Ought to Do it! (Season 1, Episode 39)
    • That’s the Spirit (Season 3, Episode 22)
    • Curse of Candace (Season 3, Episode 23)
    • Drusselsteinoween (Season 4, Episode 25)
    • Terrifying Tri-State Trilogy of Terror (Season 4, Episode 26)
    • Face Your Fear (Season 4, Episode 27)
    • Night of the Living Pharmacists (Season 4, Episode 44)
  • Rugrats
    • Candy Bar Creep Show / Monster in the Garage (Season 1, Episode 9)
    • Ghost Story (Season 6, Episode 12)
    • Curse of the Werewuff (Season 8, Episode 3)
  • SpongeBob SquarePants
    • Scaredy Pants / I Was a Teenage Gary (Season 1, Episode 13)
    • Ghoul Fools (Season 8, Episode 10)
    • Don’t Look Now / Séance Shmeance (Season 9, Episode 9)
    • The Legend of Boo-Kini Bottom (Season 11, Episode 5)
  • Adventure Time
    • The Creeps (Season 3, Episode 12)
    • From Bad to Worse (Season 3, Episode 13)
    • Ghost Fly (Season 6, Episode 17)
  • Gravity Falls
    • Summerween (Season 1, Episode 12)
    • Little Gift Shop of Horrors (Season 2, Episode 6)

 Spooks for the Whole Family

  • I Dream of Jeannie
    • My Master, the Ghostbreaker (Season 3, Episode 21)
  • The Jetsons
    • Haunted Halloween (Season 2, Episode 26)
  • The Munsters
    • Munster Masquerade (Season 1, Episode 1)
  • The Andy Griffith Show
    • The Haunted House (Season 4, Episode 2)
  • Bewitched
    • The Witches Are Out (Season 1, Episode 7)
    • Trick or Treat (Season 2, Episode 7)
    • Twitch or Treat (Season 3, Episode 7)
    • The Safe and Sane Halloween (Season 4, Episode 8)
    • To Trick or Treat or Not to Trick or Treat (Season 6, Episode 7)
  • Little House on the Pairie
    • The Monster of Walnut Grove (Season 3, Episode 5)
    • The Halloween Dream (Season 6, Episode 7)
  • The Addams Family
    • Halloween with the Addams Family (Season 1, Episode 7)
    • Halloween, Addams Style (Season 2, Episode 7)
  • Lassie
    • Trapped (Season 5, Episode 8)
    • Wings of the Ghost (Season 8, Episode 4)
  • The Brady Bunch
    • Fright Night (Season 4, Episode 6)
  • Charles in Charge
    • Trick or Treat (Season 1, Episode 8)
  • The Dick Van Dyke Show
    • The Ghost of A. Chantz (Season 4, Episode 2)
  • MacGyver
    • Ghost Ship (Season 3, Episode 4)
    • The Secret of Parker House (Season 4, Episode 1)
    • Halloween Knights (Season 5, Episode 6)
    • Lesson in Evil (Season 6, Episode 6)
  • 7th Heaven
    • Halloween (Season 1, Episode 6)
  • Boy Meets World
    • Boys II Mensa (Season 1, Episode 6)
    • Who’s Afraid of Cory Wolf? (Season 2, Episode 6)
    • Janitor Dad (Season 4, Episode 6)
    • The Witches of Pennbrook (Season 5, Episode 5)
    • And The There Was Shawn (Season 5, Episode 17)
    • BONUS: Girl Meets World
      • Girl Meets World of Terror (Season 1, Episode 11)
      • Girl Meets World of Terror 2 (Season 1, Episode 18)
      • Girl Meets World of Terror 3 (Season 3, Episode 15)
  • Sabrina the Teenage Witch
    • A Halloween Story (Season 1, Episode 5)
    • A River of Candy Corn Runs Through It (Season 2, Episode 7)
    • Good Will Haunting (Season 3, Episode 6)
    • Episode LXXXI: The Phantom Menace (Season 4, Episode 6)
    • The Halloween Scene (Season 5, Episode 6)
    • Murder on the Halloween Express (Season 6, Episode 4)
  • Charmed
    • All Halliwell’s Eve (Season 3, Episode 4)
  • Hercules: The Legendary Journeys
    • Mummy Dearest (Season 3, Episode 4)
  • Once Upon a Time
    • Beauty (Season 7, Episode 4)
  • Star Trek: The Original Series
    • Catspaw (Season 2, Episode 7)
  • Knight Rider
    • Halloween Knight (Season 3, Episode 5)
    • Voodoo Knight (Season 4, Episode 22)
  • Wonder Woman
    • Séance of Terror (Season 2, Episode 19)
    • The Starships Are Coming (Season 3, Episode 15)
    • Phantom of the Roller Coaster (Season 3, Episode 23)
  • Scrubs
    • My Big Brother (Season 2, Episode 6)
  • Futurama
    • The Honking (Season 2, Episode 18)
    • Murder on the Planet Express (Season 7, Episode 24)
  • Saved by the Bell
    • Mystery Weekend (Season 3, Episode 26)
  • The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
    • Someday Your Prince Will Be in Effect (Season 1, Episode 8 and 9)
    • Hex and the Single Guy (Season 4, Episode 7)
  • Full House
    • It’s Not My Job (Season 2, Episode 3)
    • Divorce Court (Season 3, Episode 8)
  • Family Matters
    • Dog Day Halloween (Season 2, Episode 7)
    • Whose Kid is it Anyway? (Season 4, Episode 6)
    • Best Friends (Season 5, Episode 6)
    • Dark and Stormy Night (Season 6, Episode 6)
    • Stevil (Season 8, Episode 7)
    • Stevil II: This Time He’s not Alone (Season 9, Episode 7)
  • Gilligan’s Island
    • Ghost a Go-Go (Season 2, Episode 27)
    • Up at Bat (Season 3, Episode 1)
  • Home Improvement
    • The Haunting of Taylor House (Season 2, Episode 6)
    • Crazy for You (Season 3, Episode 6)
    • Borland Ambition (Season 4, Episode 6)
    • Let Them Eat Cake (Season 5, Episode 6)
    • I Was a Teenage Taylor (Season 6, Episode 7)
    • A Night to Dismember (Season 7, Episode 5)
    • Bewitched (Season 8, Episode 6)
  • Bob’s Burgers
    • Full Bars (Season 3, Episode 2)
    • Fort Night (Season 4, Episode 2)
    • Tina and the Real Ghost (Season 5, Episode 2)
    • The Hauntening (Season 6, Episode 3)
    • Teen-a Witch (Season 7, Episode 3)
    • The Wolf of Wharf Street (Season 8, Episode 3)
    • Nightmare on Ocean Avenue Street (Season 9, Episode 4)
  • Friends
    • The One with the Halloween Party (Season 8, Episode 6)

After the Kids Go to Bed

  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
    • Halloween (Season 2, Episode 6)
    • Fear, Itself (Season 4, Episode 4)
    • All the Way (Season 6, Episode 6)
    • BONUS: Angel, Life of the Party (Season 5 Episode 5)
  • The Vampire Diaries
    • Haunted (Season 1, Episode 7)
    • Masquerade (Season 2, Episode 7)
    • Ghost World (Season 3, Episode 7)
    • The Five (Season 4, Episode 4)
    • Monster’s Ball (Season 5, Episode 5)
    • The World Has Turned and Left Me Here (Season 6, Episode 5)
    • I Carry Your Heart with Me (Season 7, Episode 4)
  • Supernatural
    • It’s the Great Pumpkin, Sam Winchester (Season 4, Episode 7)
  • Beverly Hills 90210
    • Halloween (Season 2, Episode 13)
    • Things That Go Bang in the Night (Season 5, Episode 8)
  • Dawson’s Creek
    • The Scare (Season 1, Episode 11)
    • Escape from Witch Island (Season 3, Episode 7)
    • Four Scary Stories (Season 5, Episode 9)
    • Living Dead Girl (Season 6, Episode 6)
  • Gossip Girl
    • The Handmaiden’s Tale (Season 1, Episode 6)
    • How to Succeed in Bassness (Season 3, Episode 7)
  • One Tree Hill
    • An Attempt to Tip the Scales (Season 3, Episode 4)
    • Not Afraid (Season 8, Episode 6)
  • Pretty Little Liars
    • The First Secret (Season 2, Episode 13)
    • This is a Dark Ride (Season 3, Episode 13)
    • Grave New World (Season 4, Episode 13)
  • Brooklyn Nine-Nine
    • Halloween (Season 1, Episode 6)
    • Halloween II (Season 2, Episode 4)
    • Halloween III (Season 3, Episode 5)
    • Halloween IV (Season 4, Episode 5)
    • HalloVeen (Season 5, Episode 4)
  • Parks and Recreation
    • Greg Pikitis (Season 2, Episode 7)
    • Meet ‘n’ Greet (Season 4, Episode 5)
    • Halloween Surprise (Season 5, Episode 5)
    • Recall Vote (Season 6, Episode 6)
  • Glee
    • The Rocky Horror Glee Show (Season 2, Episode 5)
  • How I Met Your Mother
    • Slutty Pumpkin (Season 1, Episode 6)
    • Canning Randy (Season 6, Episode 7)
    • The Slutty Pumpkin Returns (Season 7, Episode 8)
  • That 70’s Show
    • Halloween (Season 2, Episode 5)
    • Too Old to Trick or Treat, Too Young to Die (Season 3, Episode 4)
  • Family Guy
    • Halloween on Spooner Street (Season 9, Episode 4)
    • Quagmire’s Quagmire (Season 12, Episode 3)
    • Peternormal Activity (Season 14, Episode 4)
  • The Big Bang Theory
    • The Middle Earth Paradigm (Season 1, Episode 6)
    • The Good Guy Fluctuation (Season 5, Episode 7)
    • The Holographic Excitation (Season 6, Episode 5)
    • The Imitation Perturbation (Season 12, Episode 6)
  • 3rd Rock from the Sun
    • Scaredy Dick (Season 3, Episode 5)
  • Roseanne
    • BOO! (Season 2, Episode 7)
    • Trick or Treat (Season 3, Episode 7)
    • Trick Me Up, Trick Me Down (Season 4, Episode 6)
    • Halloween IV (Season 5, Episode 7)
    • Halloween V (Season 6, Episode 6)
    • Skeleton in the Closet (Season 7, Episode 6)
    • Halloween: The Final Chapter (Season 8, Episode 5)
    • Satan, Darling (Season 9, Episode 7)
  • Grimm
    • La Llorona (Season 2, Episode 9)
  • Haven
    • Real Estate (Season 3, Episode 6)
  • Grey’s Anatomy
    • Haunt You Every Day (Season 4, Episode 5)
    • Thriller (Season 10, Episode 7)
    • Flowers Grow Out of My Grave (Season 15, Episode 6)
  • Alias
    • Doppelgänger (Season 1, Episode 5)
  • Blue Bloods
    • Nightmares (Season 3, Episode 7)
  • Bones
    • Mummy in the Maze (Season 3, Episode 5)
    • The Resurrection in the Remains (Season 11, Episode 5)
  • Dexter
    • Let’s Give the Boy a Hand (Season 1, Episode 4)
  • Castle
    • Vampire Weekend (Season 2, Episode 6)
    • Demons (Season 4, Episode 6)
    • PhDead (Season 8, Episode 3)
  • Community
    • Introduction to Statistics (Season 1 Episode 7)
    • Epidemiology (Season 2 Episode 6)
    • Horror Fiction in Seven Spooky Steps (Season 3 Episode 5)
    • Paranormal Parentage (Season 4 Episode 2)
  • The Office
    • Halloween (Season 2, Episode 5)
    • Employee Transfer (Season 5, Episode 6)
    • Koi Pond (Season 6, Episode 8)
    • Costume Contest (Season 7, Episode 6)
    • Spooked (Season 8, Episode 5)
    • Here Comes Treble (Season 9, Episode 5)
  • South Park
    • Pinkeye (Season 1, Episode 7)
    • Spookyfish (Season 2, Episode 15)
    • Korn’s Groovy Pirate Ghost Mystery (Season 3, Episode 10)
    • Hell on Earth 2006 (Season 10, Episode 11)
    • A Nightmare on Face Time (Season 16, Episode 12)
    • Goth Kids 3: Dawn of the Posers (Season 17, Episode 4)
    • Sons a Witches (Season 21, Episode 6)

There are, of course, many more episodes out there. Share your favorites in the comments!

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: 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.

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.

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: 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.

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: Lizzie Borden Took an Ax

Frightening Flix

 

Fun Performances Make Lizzie Borden Took an Ax

by Kristin Battestella

 

We all know the song, and though campy, the 2014 Lifetime Original Movie Lizzie Borden Took an Ax utilizes juicy performances to flesh out the murderous ambiguity and did she or didn’t she 1892 courtroom drama.

Christina Ricci (The Addams Family) stars as Lizzie Borden, sister to Emma (Clea DuVall) and daughter of the soon to be bludgeoned Andrew Borden (Stephen McHattie). A messy barn, biting of luscious fruits, and Victorian white undies imply an underlying saucy to the spinster somber and silent dinners – tea time and full skirts make this largely a women’s world with the occasional, overbearing, intrusive man. Fortunately, hatchets are afoot in surreal visions, violent inserts, and murderous dreams, toying with our unreliable narrator and the muddled timeline in a self-aware, campy tone. Talk of previous crimes, grudges, and disgruntled encounters lay more motive drama to Lizzie Borden Took an Ax, rendering the modern, intrusive edge with obvious fake outs or teases unnecessary. Though not super gory, the splatter bash and killer crunch a half hour in do better than any trying to be hip approach. This case is both well documented and a logistical mess, which allows artistic liberties and sensational embellishments on the crowded crime scene, town gossip, erroneous reports, and faulty investigation. Press hysteria and exhumed bodies may seem like standard detective plotting, but period accents and Victorian protocol add to the evidence variables and questionable bloody dresses. Despite staying mostly with Lizzie’s questionable point of view, Lizzie Borden Took an Ax admits its stance via legal briefings and police discussions intercutting possible whack scenarios for a somewhat coherent frame on the what did or did not happen crimes. Debates on the unbelievable possibility of a woman committing such violence counters the scary white male jury versus little miss demure defense, and witness testimonies cast doubt on interrogations suggesting sociopath Lizzie did the the deed. However, Lizzie Borden Took An Ax does have some faulty framework – ye olde timestamps onscreen would have helped tremendously and historical conjecture is used as an excuse to waver between cool criminal warped and serious horror drama. Thankfully, this case’s moving fast topsy turvy doesn’t give us time to inspect the details, and not seeing the killings outright allows for hearsay, jury tours of the crime scene, and a slow horror reveal for the finale.

lizzie

Christina Ricci’s Lizzie Borden is “a loner, Dottie. A rebel.” She gets up from the table without being excused, ditches the ironing if she can’t hum while she works, and otherwise spies, lies, steals, or worse. After all, she’s only a Sunday School teacher on Sundays! Lizzie looks at herself naked in the mirror and wants to go to a party at night without an escort – such not a little girl anymore behaviors imply more than just the bucking of Victorian attitudes when Lizzie gets more up close to her father than her cordial but prudish, dead woman walking stepmother. She clings to her dad, saying he wants her to stay with him forever and loves when she calls him handsome, but questions his suspicious sweat when she hugs him. Lizzie vows that she will neither be a wife nor a spinster, adding lesbian innuendo on top of the implied abuses or incest. How long has she been planning to kill? Lizzie Borden Took an Ax suggests a long gestating preparation with Lizzie’s calculated crime scene reaction, careful glances, and a practiced playing to the tears. Lizzie holds up a little too well for the horror that has happened and is more concerned with how polite the police are or how happy she will be to live alone with her sister – almost blissfully unaware of the attributed crimes. These deaths feel premeditated and well orchestrated, yet crazy cracks show once Lizzie faces some tough interrogations. She changes her tune and professes her innocence while dreaming about the killings and resorting to fainting and sensational courtroom antics. We feel she is faking and she says her mind is clear, yet the jury can’t tell either way. Despite the misplaced attempt Lizzie Borden Took an Ax takes with original girl power, button up cool facade, and hip badass style, Ricci creates a wild-eyed, slick transparency, and likable, scene chewing performance. Lizzie is a narcissist liar in action stifled by the courtroom and confused when she doesn’t get her own way, and Ricci clearly has fun with the party-throwing, attention seeking, and ultimately infamous heiress.

In contrast to bad girl Lizzie, Clea DuVall (Carnivale) as the elder Borden sister Emma is quiet and unassuming. Lizzie Borden Took an Ax briefly suspects her and throws shade her way, but Emma is said to be out of the house helping others when the titular slice and dice happens. Unfortunately, she soon doubts Lizzie’s account and comes to live in fear of what her sister may be capable of doing. Lizzie thinks they will be content forevermore in a new home at the top of high society, but Emma realizes her sister is utterly demented and locks her bedroom door at night to avoid Lizzie’s violent threats. She doesn’t like lawyers visiting the house or so many seemingly unneeded males entering their little world – again, whether it is possible abuses or implied feminine preference, Emma seems somewhat small or shy when it comes to men. Though not the fault of the cast, those men in Lizzie Borden Took an Ax are generally styled as inferior to the ladies parade or backhanded to the little women. We don’t have enough time with Stephen McHattie (Emily of New Moon) as the gruff and subsequently late Andrew Borden, yet his hands on innuendo as a potential reason for the crime is felt in those uncomfortable scenes with Lizzie. Billy Campbell (The 4400) as lawyer Andrew Jennings, however, provides Lizzie Borden Took an Ax with the cold facts – a realistic if circumstantial perspective of the situation for the audience compared to Lizzie’s loon and swoon. Gregg Henry (Hell on Wheels) as prosecutor Hosea Knowlton also provides fine legalese, not admissible battles, and harsh interrogations. At times, the media judgments and sensational her word against theirs back and forth feels like a contemporary courtroom drama. However, this famous case was modern, the OJ or MJ trials of its day, and the support here keeps the case grounded, balancing the over the top fun of Lizzie herself.

 

The carriages, period interiors, wallpapers, fine woodwork, and Victorian attention to detail also bring the stifling, rugged ye olde of Lizzie Borden Took an Ax to life. Bustles, gloves, feathers, fancy linens, and vintage lamps add upscale alongside mourning fashions and a visual air of sophistication. Despite congested house crimes, Lizzie Borden Took an Ax is well lit with bonus onscreen photography and old camera fun. Arrests and an overnight asylum whiff suggest the deplorable conditions for women against the system of the era, but swift cuts and artistic side shots keep the nudity ironically demure. Although some of the bright clothing, colorful accents, and modern fashion cuts feel slightly too contemporary as if the Lifetime millennial audience wouldn’t watch anything too steeped in total historic design, the neckties, cute hats, and shopping scenes are pleasant, subtle ways to update the period without being super intrusive. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for the modern musical score used in Lizzie Borden Took an Ax. Perhaps some instrumental rock edgy rhythms from Tree Adams (Californication) could have embellished choice scenes, but Southern Rock lyrics are as out of place as the slow motion musical interlude transition scenes are unnecessary. Are such tunes fitting for a gritty western? Sure – but a winking Victorian crime drama about a lady killer? No. This kind of extra try hard is what ultimately leaves Lizzie Borden Took An Ax feeling rough around the edges with no thorough thinking. We’re never going to have a satisfactory definitive on the case so having fun with the yay or nay is forgivable, even expected. However, it’s odd that this ninety minute telling of the story in its entirety retroactively becomes the backdoor pilot for the follow up The Lizzie Borden Chronicles. Had there been a better plotted progression, Lizzie Borden Took an Ax could have been all about the backstory potboiler leading up to the wielding with the 2015 series left to pull out all the courtroom stops. Instead, Lizzie Borden Took an Ax merely ends with a hammy tie to the jump rope rhyme – because, come on, we all knew it was coming.

Lizzie Borden Took an Ax takes liberties with the eponymous case and can be confusing or inaccurate at times thanks to modern music, contemporary shoehorns, and a faulty need to be cool. The undecided nature of the story plays at both horror serious and Victorian sensationalism, and the presentation could have been a much tighter thriller. Fortunately, the entertaining performances and campy hatchet-work make for enough water cooler did she or didn’t she and yell at the screen debates.

 

Kbatz: Lizzie Borden Chronicles

Frightening Flix

 

The Lizzie Borden Chronicles Overstays Its Welcome

by Kristin Battestella

 

Following the 2014 Lizzie Borden Took an Ax Lifetime television movie, Christina Ricci and Clea DuVall reprise their roles as the acquitted murderess and her homely sister for eight episodes of the 2015 The Lizzie Borden Chronicles. Four months after her infamous trial, Lizzie and Emma find returning to the quiet life in Fall River difficult now that Pinkerton Charlie Siringo (Cole Hauser) is investigating the suspicious violence always following in Lizzie’s wake…

The rhyme is made ye old for the “Acts of Borden” premiere of The Lizzie Borden Chronicles while prim ladies giving Lizzie dirty looks, kids spying through the window, slow motion jump rope, and surreal ax blows remind us of the previous forty whacks– as if we have forgotten so soon. The sisters are still wrangling with their late father’s debtors, but herky jerky camerawork and seizure-inducing montages immediately try for audience cool with intrusive contemporary music to match. The Lizzie Borden Chronicles goes for grit via fast action, on the move dialogue, and flashes of crimes past and present with every blink. This is also a reset, with The Lizzie Borden Chronicles placed before the end scenes of Lizzie Borden Took an Ax, adding an initial confusion amid unnecessary music transitions and blaring rifts. I love westerns – cowboys really need to make a comeback – however The Lizzie Borden Chronicles inexplicably attempts to be Deadwood instead of Penny Dreadful. There is no build upon the innate character creepy and precious few still moments between the sisters, but a Borden brother drops by and there’s Victorian pornography. Our Pinkerton doesn’t feel the open and shut cases in “Patron of the Arts” are resolved when every murder always benefits “thee” Lizzie Borden, who’s visiting the New York theatre as more music montages combine the high society parties, dead bodies, and alleyway rescues before another investigation montage. The Lizzie Borden Chronicles plays at girl power or lesbian teases as our titular spitfire smiles over her teacup, charms women, and kills big bad men. Putting the acquitted and her new Pinkerton adversary face to face should be a wonderful battle of wills, but the sloppy angles and distracting camera interferes, rushing any good conversation in favor of the next kill of the week music video. Characters may endeavor to move on, but the attempted scandalous drama always returns to repetitive kills, pointless boudoir photos, and jarring rock music.

 

While the first two episodes set the series off on the wrong foot, director Russell Mulchay (Highlander) adds the potential for cinematic suspense in “Flowers.” The camera should never call attention to itself or a cause lack of immersion – especially in a period piece. Here, however, the camera stays still for a conversation, letting the shrewd fully build alongside creepy coffins and pimps. Viewers are able to follow the story, spend time with characters, and revel in consequences from the past and more twists to come. We know certain players are on borrowed time, so stewing in Lizzie’s wrath is more fun than a fast whack or two. There are still noticeable zooms, but the movement matches the tense one on one scenes. The Lizzie Borden Chronicles is divided into four blocks with directors doing two episodes each amid five show writers. Such a limited series with so few players should have been more tightly focused with one director and one writer. Instead, this short attention span design is too on the nose with an in your face hip trying to avoid some dreaded period piece yawn. The sociopathic camp is creepy enough in “Welcome to Maplecroft.” Who wants to wake up with Lizzie at the foot of your bed offering you a breakfast scone? Nope! The abundance of neat crimes in Fall River are the perfect way to assure nothing is suspected – but Lizzie is too neat, buying up all the neighboring properties via a generous sale or other, accidental means. The audience has to enjoy the systematic way everyone around the Bordens drops like flies, because having the townsfolk unable to follow the trail back to her is insulting otherwise. Blackmailing thugs are right to fear any “ax of Borden” retributions, and high and low conflicts make the supporting players more interesting – The Lizzie Borden Chronicles might have been neat from the Fall River perspective. Fortunately, the twisted drama unfolds naturally, with firm threats unfettered by intruding rock this episode. Background saloon music, tender strings accenting a romance – The Lizzie Borden Chronicles needed music that would invoke the setting, emotions, and vengeance. Chases about the ominous dark house, gunshots, and clock chimes build suspense, and scenes with interplay rather than camera flair do best.

Convenient falling down the stairs mishaps in “Cold Storage” lead to arrests, inquests, self defense claims, and speculative testimony. Naturally, audiences can’t complain about the accuracy of The Lizzie Borden Chronicles as it obviously diverges from history and never professed to be anything but sensational. So-called rough interrogations, however, are weak – character back stories and blackmailing the good catholic over his not so devout proclivities are much more delicious. Unfortunately, the drama is revealingly thin without the busy camera, music montages, and choppy editing. The meaty scenes with the main cast are best, but such moments are too brief to sustain the entire forty minutes. Viewers expecting macabre instead of melodramatic affairs will be disappointed – even the killer twists become routine, and with such transparency, The Lizzie Borden Chronicles might have done better as half hour webisodes. After all, it isn’t a persecution complex when Lizzie really has orchestrated this death tally in “Fugitive Kind.” Swift trials leave little time for prosecution tension – the courtroom consequences are over before the title card – but seeing pathological liar Lizzie swearing to tell the truth on the witness stand is a winking irony. Sadly, important scenes seem left on the cutting room floor, and critical information is dropped in quick throwaways, leaving the viewer to question what just happen or presume the details – a very slip shod way to tell a story. Despite ditching the wham bam music video format, the pace drags with who’s on who’s side or which guy is beating up the other guy this week filler. Jealously, murderous plotting gone awry, and the reaction on Lizzie’s face are better than such back and forth, but the writing on The Lizzie Borden Chronicles really doesn’t give the cast a chance to bring it. Brief confrontations can’t be fully appreciated because Lizzie makes anyone who sees her for what she really is disappear in an episode or less. Besides, it’s no fun when she pays thugs to off her intended in dark, chaotic scenes rather than her own DIY.

 

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Kids daring to ring the doorbell and covered furniture add a spooky whiff to “The Sisters Grimke,” but it is awfully late in the game for The Lizzie Borden Chronicles to switch from Massachusetts to Maine and Nevada with boys will be boys rock outs, unassuming school teacher disguises, and resetting cowboy vendettas. We’re just getting into psychosis reasonings now? Reporters in the middle of nowhere want headlines but where were the yellow journalism muckrakers when the heads were rolling in Fall River? Chopped up bodies, catatonics, institutions – we know murders about campus and electroshock therapy are coming and the disturbing hospital horrors are good. Unfortunately, leap frogging the times and places compromises the development of the series regulars, and The Lizzie Borden Chronicles tacks on Tom Horn and Bat Masterson in some kind of Lizzie Goes West potluck. The Lizzie Borden Chronicles suffers from the same structural problems as its precursor film with little rhyme or reason to its presentation. Again, why not space out the Fall River aftermath, New York actress mayhem, alias move and institution, and Pinkerton investigations in four more telemovies? This series gets off to a very rocky start, provides some suspense potential in its middle, but devolves with another move to Boston in the “Capsize” finale. Recovering from shock therapy and turn of the century traveling move fast amid madhouses run amok, slo-mo shootouts, Irish mob families, Russian roulette, gunslingers, and gangsters. Say what?

Lizzie Borden – who prefers “former Sunday School Teacher” to “ax killer” – knows how to solve problems and enjoys intimating children claiming they are not afraid of her. While Lizzie says she’s glad to be a grown woman on her own with no intention of having a husband, she’ll flirt and seduce for her murderous gains. Lizzie won’t sleep with a guy and further tarnish her reputation, but she’ll bludgeon him hot diggity! From buying a new mansion after eliminating her creditors to playing dress up with a rescued hooker she treats like a pet, Lizzie loves pleasing herself on the party scene. Girl kisses happen fast on The Lizzie Borden Chronicles as well, with Lizzie ready to pounce on her latest BFF in the dressing room so long as it suits her agenda. Although I wish The Lizzie Borden Chronicles had maintained the nude or scantily clad killing theories and going to bathe or naughty whatnot after the thrill, Lizzie commits a lot of bloody acts in some pretty expensive, fashionable clothes. Despite her finery, she’s apathetic and casual, unfettered by the violence she causes. After telling her lies so many times, Lizzie genuinely believes she is not a monster. Ironically, we like Lizzie – Ricci looks the cute but crazy look and viewers know to take all she says with a heap of salt. This could have been a truly fun performance, but Ricci doesn’t seem onscreen very much save for the same act three death strokes each week. Modern dialogue makes Lizzie’s threats feel invalid, and blurry focusing with rock music punctuation is unnecessary. After all, what’s the point of The Lizzie Borden Chronicles if we can’t see all her killer camp?

 

Unable to revel in their infamy, Clea DuVall’s Emma Borden reads aloud for fun and calls what happened to her younger sister “The Unpleasantness.” She tries to do her church going Christian best to see the good in everyone but distrusts their wayward brother and can’t understand why Lizzie enjoys being the star of her own little circus. Emma is aware their family seems marked by tragedy, but rather than having room to become the audience’s moral center, it’s again odd that The Lizzie Borden Chronicles takes places before the coda of the film – confusing the sisters’ timeline and erasing Emma’s subsequent knowledge about Lizzie’s killings. This backtrack dumbs Emma down, going from a woman who leaves her sister alone to one dreaming of having her own husband and happy to have any romantic prospect. Unfortunately, she can’t escape all the skeletons in her closet – wink – and such macabre scandals are forgotten, left unexplained, or throwaway used in as needed contrivances instead of steering any actual character development. Emma’s frumpy, meek style is also more to visually contrast with flashy Lizzie than show personality, and quiet conversations about Emma raising Lizzie are more interesting. She can’t exactly be proud of the woman her sister has become or move on with her life and leave Lizzie alone. Emma tries to vindicate Lizzie and get to the bottom of the violence in their lives, but those answers won’t be coming any time soon. Ultimately, she can’t be bothered to hide her feelings – it’s tough to be an upstanding woman when Lizzie Borden is your sister! However, I’m unsure how The Lizzie Borden Chronicles would have continued with Emma if there had been a second season. Nor I think did they after backing either an unwanted character into a corner or rightfully loving Clea and trying to give her more if silly storylines.

There’s no doubt we need more Pinkerton dramas. However, the inclusion of Cole Hauser (Rogue) as the unwelcome real life bounty hunter Charlie Siringo with his free rein badge shooting people and asking questions later sends mixed signals on The Lizzie Borden Chronicles. He’s hired to review the Borden case, but locals are reluctant to go back to the infamous past. Siringo sees through Lizzie’s current crimes, but politically minded officials give him an uphill legal battle. While tension between Siringo and recurring ladies and twists on why he is in Fall River add depth, he seems too invested in persecuting Lizzie – to the point that we know almost nothing else about this wild historical figure. Siringo’s rough past is told rather than seen with no careful battle of wills or accumulation of evidence, and The Lizzie Borden Chronicles resorts to extreme outlaws, shootouts, and half cocked attacks to bring down the character. Numerous guests should have stuck around longer on The Lizzie Borden Chronicles as well, including rival businessman James Heard (Home Alone) and Andrew Howard (Bates Motel) as disowned brother William Borden. Unfortunately even the supporting cast appearing in six or more episodes serve as little more than their stereotypes, such as hustler Bradley Stryker (iZombie), nasty doctor Ronan Vibert (Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell), abusive hotel owner John Ralston (Flash Gordon), and former friend to Lizzie Olivia Llewellyn (Penny Dreadful). Not that the Bordens bode well for friendly officer Dylan Taylor (Copper), Nance O’Neil based actress Jessy Schram (Nashville), and mobster matron Michelle Fairley (Game of Thrones) either.

 

Fortunately, the gloves and muffs add a refined, little lady would never kill vein alongside hats, parasols, feathers, lace, and puffy sleeves invoking fine ladies silhouettes. Lanterns and candlelight create a golden patina, however the camera never stays still long enough to steep in the atmospheric attention to detail, making The Lizzie Borden Chronicles feel nondescript despite being a period show. Brief focuses on cursive writing will be tough for millennials, and the editing moves blink and you miss it fast over the shock reveals, skeleton accents, and dead babies. Zooms and hectic handicam photography almost feel like a deliberate covering up the cut production corners technique. Pull back so viewers can see the autumn leaves, snow on the ground, Victorian carriages, and architectural facades. Thanks to either cheapness or television ratings, there’s only mild splatter and brief gruesomes, and The Lizzie Borden Chronicles name drops Bleak House and Sherlock Holmes instead, hitting home the currently renowned then-entertainment as if the audience can’t be trusted to like the turn of the last century. Again, especially now having seen the series, Lizzie Borden Took an Ax should have been the household up to the forty whacks with The Lizzie Borden Chronicles recounting the courtroom aftermath and any manor of Victorian horror, mysticism, or Massachusetts witches with homicidal Lizzie at the center of it all.

While bemusing for a drinking game, weekend marathon, or fans of the cast, The Lizzie Borden Chronicles never lives up to its potential and fails to provide a coherent, binge worthy plot. The first episode of The Lizzie Borden Chronicles is faulty, and the series grows a little too preposterous with fast conveniences and weekly guests becoming just another notch on Lizzie’s ax handle. Despite a fun predecessor and the charming Christina Ricci, The Lizzie Borden Chronicles retains the haphazard flaws from Lizzie Borden Took an Ax, snowballing into an all over the place one trick pony used eight times too many.

Kbatz: The Veil with Boris Karloff

 

Boris Karloff’s The Veil a Pleasant Paranormal Discovery

by Kristin Battestella

 

Behind the scenes troubles and production turmoil put an abrupt halt to the 1958 supernatural anthology series The Veil, leaving host Boris Karloff and twelve in the can episodes of surprisingly quality unaired and on the shelf – until recently that is. Who knew?

 

Eerie music and Gothic castle arches lead to a grand fireplace complete with Mr. Karloff introducing these tales of supposedly true but unexplainable stories, and “Vision of Crime” provides a shipbound moment of clairvoyance and murder between brothers. The hackneyed old ladies fall a little flat, however Karloff and a pre-Avengers Patrick Macnee have some fun with the incompetent constabulary. In addition to hosting, Karloff acts in all but one episode of The Veil, and deduction on derringers, opportunity, and motive with a whiff of the fantastic help solve the case. “Girl on the Road” may seem then-contemporary slow to start with fifties innocence and a dame having car trouble in need of a man to fix all. Thankfully, roadside drinks, suspicious phone calls, and looking over her shoulder fears hook the audience into waiting for Karloff’s mysterious arrival and the paranormal plot turn. While the trail leads to where we already suspected, the simmering mood keeps The Veil entertaining. Likewise, ship captain Boris serves up some deadly seafaring adventures with a side of poisonous snakes to his wife in “Food on the Table.” The disposal is for a pretty barmaid recently come into wealth – and of course, supernatural consequences follow. Again, the story may be familiar but the characters and performances see the viewer through the twenty odd minutes. An Italian setting adds flair in “The Doctor” alongside aging physician Karloff and his prodigal son. Stubborn superstitions versus new medical treatments leave a sick child’s life in the balance, and I actually didn’t see this twist coming.

 

 

Ironically, the French accents are iffy rather than flavorful in “Crystal Ball,” but hey, when your upward mobile lady friend-zones you for your boss at least you get the eponymous gift, right? The foretelling effects are really quite nice with smoky swirls, upside down visuals, and distorted reflections. Moulin Rouge meetin’ Uncle Boris adds to the saucy scandals, and naturally, our two timing mademoiselle gets what she deserves. Rival brothers, contesting wills, lawyer Karloff, family violence, and ghostly biblical warnings anchor “Genesis,” however “Destination Nightmare” has a different opening and introduction before its dreams and mysterious pilot sightings. Crashes, parachute errors, and propeller sputters add to the fears, fine flying effects, and wild toppers while rising temperatures and New York bustle make for some murderous window views in “Summer Heat.” The crime may not be what it seems, yet silence during the observations add to the helpless feelings. It’s nice to see such fifties coppers confronted with the unexplained in their investigation, too. Despite the unique India 1928 setting and Eastern philosophies, “Return of Madame Vernoy” feels western fake thanks to bad casting. I mean, sure he likes to tan, but George Hamilton?! Fortunately, remembering past lives and reincarnations remain an interesting concept. Do you go back to the living the life before and contact family from the past? Can you move forward knowing what was or is there some other purpose for such memories?

 

“Jack the Ripper” is the lone episode of The Veil with Karloff featuring in the bookends only, and the production differences are apparent. However, Victorian spiritualism and professional clairvoyants make for an interesting spin on the Whitechapel theme with brief flashbacks accentuating the predictions and dreamy, eerie quality. The violence is unseen, but reading the scandalous newspaper reports on the crimes create reaction and believability. While the viewing order of the episodes is irrelevant, random VHS or video releases and an elusive two disc DVD version billed as Tales of the Unexplained can make watching The Veil in its entirety a tough, frustrating hunt. Fortunately, it’s also fun to discover new old television thanks to today’s technology, and The Veil is available on Amazon Prime – complete with subtitles! The transposed episodes and mislabeled descriptions, however, are confusing without a third party list, and Amazon is also missing two more episodes of The Veil which can be found on Youtube. The Veil’s original pilot “The Vestris” aired as an episode from another anthology series Telephone Time, and wow, that show has some fifties hallmarks complete with a housewife dreaming of dancing to her new dial tone! Thankfully, sailor songs, fog, phantom coordinates, and ominous quarter bells give “The Vestris” a proper shipbound atmosphere. A lady on board bodes of misfortune, and Karloff’s appearance doesn’t disappoint. “Whatever Happened to Peggy” has familiar people, places, and young lady not who she seems to be. Her memory difficulties and escalating coincidence make for a creepy and unexpected cap on The Veil.

 

The mid-century cars and fashions look sweet, and The Veil uses period settings and Victorian panache to fit the time as needed. Somehow, big skirts, bowler hats, and cravats always add to the spooky mood along with candles, gas lamps, and tea sets. Well done music accents the supernatural sophistication, strong characters, and sly drama. The Veil would seem to use its morality before the twist plotting to set itself apart from other anthologies of the era, however Karloff’s unseen series predates One Step Beyond, The Twilight Zone, and The Outer Limits – only the earlier Tales of Tomorrow or Alfred Hitchcock Presents provided competition. Each half hour moves fast, knowing how to be eerie enough to fill the time but not over stay its welcome once we know the twist. Although the introductions could be worded better and Karloff gives a postscript telling what happens next rather than showing it, The Veil admits up front that there will be no explanations. If not for a somewhat limited availability, this much shorter six hours is certainly easier to marathon than Karloff’s own later Thriller series. Where Thriller struggles to fill its sixty minute time with crime or suspense plots and never quite goes full on horror as it could, The Veil uses murder and scandal for a paranormal punchline just like it promises.

 

Now similar anthology tales of premonitions, ghosts, astral projection, or psychic phenomena will make The Veil obvious for wise speculative viewers – the unfortunate result of it’s previously unviewed shelf life. The small number of episodes leaves The Veil feeling too brief to be of real substance, and its quick run through may leave one lacking or wanting more. Fortunately, the possibilities were here alongside Karloff’s macabre charm, fun mini twists, and surprising paranormal guesses. The Veil may not look like much, but its black and white mood, well told stories, and fantastic toppers are more than enough for a spooky, rainy afternoon marathon anytime of year.

 

Kbatz: Witches of East End Season 1

Frightening Flix

 

Witches of East End’s Season 1 is Too Muddled

by Kristin Battestella

 

Based upon the novels by Melissa de la Cruz, the late Lifetime series Witches of East End had plenty of magical potential. Unfortunately, this ten episode debut falters in balancing its bewitching tales and romantic plotlines, resulting in perhaps too many growing pains.

Artist Joanna Beauchamp (Julia Ormond) is surprised to see her wildcat sister Wendy (Madchen Amick) after a century apart – for unbeknownst to Joanna’s daughters Ingrid (Rachel Boston) and Freya (Jenna Dewan Tatum), they are a family of exiled and cursed witches. The immortal Joanna is doomed to see her daughters continuously born, grow up, and die, and this time she has steered the bookish Ingrid and romantic Freya away from their dangerous magical abilities in hopes of giving them a fuller, longer life. An old enemy, however, is after Joanna, taking on her lookalike form or shifting into other guises as needed to threaten the Beauchamps and interfere with Freya’s impending wedding to Dr. Dash Gardiner (Eric Winter). While her future mother-in-law Penelope (Virginia Madsen) is slowly warming to Freya, Dash’s wayward brother Killian (Daniel Di Tomasso) makes for a much more steamy adversary to the nuptials.

Glitz, glamour, saucy dreams, and ominous rituals in the garden open Witches of East End, and the “Pilot” moves quickly with fast talking folks and one blink and you miss it spooky incident after another. There’s a lot of house history and paranormal exposition shoehorned in the first ten minutes alone – making it tough to appreciate the morphing red flowers, poofing photographs, doppelgangers, pentagrams, and murder afoot. Did I mention the trite love triangle also being introduced? Witches of East End has much to digest, and although based upon its own book series, comparisons between Witches of Eastwick, Charmed, and Practical Magic are understandably apparent due to this initial patchwork and too similar feeling. Fortunately, Victorian flashbacks and glimpses into the twenties anchor past pain and fate coming to catch the titular ladies – unique tales that might have set Witches of East End further apart from those aforementioned comparables had it been set as a period piece. While it’s nice to have all age appropriate adults and realistic looking dark haired ladies instead of cliché teen bimbos, the enemy evil is told about more than it is actually seen, strong women are always being attacked by icky men, and attempts to be self aware about such cliches end up playing into that very same old. Witches of East End takes too long to get rolling, superficial threats are too easily resolved, and hello look at that shoddy police work. Thankfully, the intercut spell editing and smaller threats in “Marilyn Fenwick, R.I.P.” tie into the intriguing premise’s overall revenge and magical consequences. The sardonic comedy and rules of being a witch remain fun while serious conversations on whether magic is a gift or nothing but problems add drama. Rather than speedy shockers, time is taken with magic training and spell practice in “Today I am a Witch.” More sepia flashbacks and a long list of enemies shape the storylines while magical mistakes, face to face confrontations, and debate on whether these potions and powers should be used for protection and defense or the offensive help Witches of East End get a foot on the right moonlit path.

Fun guest stars, more sinister, and villainous history further up the conflict, surprises, and retribution in “A Few Good Talismen,” and the rules of the realm are established in “Electric Avenue” thanks to ghosts, legal tricks, and courtroom encounters. Witches of East End over relies on fast talking delivery and conveniently mentioned witchcraft information after the fact – we are told about more spells being done that we don’t get to see. However, when action actually happens, it is entertaining and weighted with supernatural arguments. Is the witchcraft right and justified in one scenario and wrong in another? Unfortunately, the pretty people making moon eyes in the pool in “Potentia Noctis” detract from the historical nuggets, turn of the century saucy, and spell casting magical brownies. The period apothecary, rival magics, multilevel spells, and mansion tunnels are top notch, again making one wonder why Witches of East End didn’t just dance the dance and begin with all this quality past beguine. The zombie resurrections and good girls gone bad consequences in “Unburied” are also hampered by the intercut romantic scenes. Yes, the magical hair pulling torture is kind of hokey, but the deadly high stakes is just a bit more important than love la dee da. New character dynamics and more evil shapeshifter meaty end up uneven or stretched thin because this need for dreamy keeps undercutting the magical ruses, occult research, fantastical dangers, and titular charms in “Snake Eyes.”

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Whoa, whoa, spoiler alert! Forget the love triangle soapy, the Beauchamps come from Asgard, can never go home, and more family has been left behind – and all this news is dropped with a mere two episodes left in the First Season. Say what? Knowing this information makes Witches of East End a lot more interesting, even as we again wonder why the series didn’t shoot out the gate with this enchanting who, why, and how it effects the present family. Any and all fantastical dalliances could have come through the town portal for our learning to be witches to wrangle each week and we got sweet nothings at the local pub instead? It’s great to see the sisters going head to head and banging up the house, too – even if the animated laundry is laughable. “A Parching Imbued” has the supernatural feeling Witches of East End needs with the eponymous gals in white robes on the beach casting spells while the evil shifter interferes directly with counter magic. Doppelgangers walk down the street, powers are lost, and conflicts arise over surprise character twists. Granted again the evil torture chamber looks more like an industrial art museum display, but deaths, harbingers of doom, and threats both mortal and magical disrupt the wedding preparations in the “Oh, What a World!” finale. Why ruin all the Asgard answers, bad omens, and major dramatic developments with too many sappy montages and pop songs? I’m ready for the verbal bitch slaps and magic battles! Although the easy, rushed resolution leaves Witches of East End on a cliffhanger and the San Francisco flashback shows the audience the tavern with magic cocktails we already know, the connection to present truths create some much needed character changes to up the ante for Season Two.

Thanks to the lovely at any age and foxy but poised Julia Ormond (Legends of the Fall), the viewer immediately likes immortal witch and mother Joanna Beauchamp. She’s trying to keep her daughters safe due to a horrible curse and that live forever quality doesn’t mean that enemies aren’t out to test her immortality. Ormond’s accent is an odd mix of toned down British and put on American, which may bother some, but it can also be excused thanks to her long lived times – there’s certainly some fun Latin and doppelganger mayhem to chew on, too. Despite her continuously telling lies and withholding information, we don’t blame Joanna for hiding the witchy ways in order to save this generation. Everything she does is to protect her daughters, to give them normal lives, and help them realize being a witch isn’t their be all end all. Witches of East End’s uneven focus between the ensemble love and Joanna’s ongoing enemy plot wavers too much – sometimes we don’t see our star very much from episode to episode. However, the backstory and family revelations late in the season add new spins. Joanna has her own moments of happiness amid the dangerous, and her second love interest should have been recurring all along gosh darn it. It’s amazing to see a strong, mature, and classy lady working to keep her family together. Joanna admits she can’t deal with her history and magic on her own, and her coming round to magic uses, accepting her past, and embracing her power gives Witches of East End a positive anchor.

It’s unfortunate that Rachel Boston’s (American Dreams) Ingrid is always siding with Wendy while Freya is most often with Joanna, as these limited pairings inhibit plot variety and keep critical information from all the players – who often behave more like four women in separate events rather than a core family. Unless you read some of the series’ apocrypha, the audience doesn’t get all the details, such as Ingrid being the older sister. Her level headed skepticism and slightly awkward but honest chemistry is a welcome change of pace early on Witches of East End, however her uber shrew detesting of Meg Ryan and Katherine Heigl movies is too textbook on the nose and used more to differentiate her from her dreamy lovestruck sister than develop her own personality. Ingrid is a realistic student of history and witchcraft that suddenly jumps the gun and writes spells because she’s really powerful with a saucy evil past and not just a shy librarian after all. From episode to episode Ingrid is either awed, wide eyed, whoopsie surprised, and scared of her magical mantle or being selfish and stupid with serious life and death spells. It’s great to see when her magic gets out of hand with erroneous consequences, but the character is made smart and stupid at the same time and too often caught in over her head whilst we are also repeatedly being told she is the good one. Which is it?

Likewise, Jenna Dewan Tatum’s (Step Up) wishy washy romantically confused shtick gets old fast, and I wish I could skip over her ‘he’s oh so dreamy’ scenes. We don’t know anything about Freya except how she is torn between two men. Even when she finds out she is a witch, she turns princess and doesn’t want to get her hands dirty with spells – only to be angry later when her powers don’t work. Why couldn’t the love triangle plot be developed later once Freya knows who she is and has accepted her powers? Instead she always needs to be saved by one of her men. Meh. This same old melodrama wastes time Witches of East End doesn’t have to spare, and honestly, I would rather have seen only one daughter in a learning to be a witch plot with more focus on the elder sisters. Isn’t Freya too old to be this juvenile? She learns of her magic history but would rather talk about boys, and she’s a bartender who’s good at potions, ba dum tish! I’m not opposed to Gothic love triangles done right in paranormal fantasies. However, I do expect to know something more about an allegedly strong woman – an immortal witch from Asgard no less – before knowing who she’s boinking as though the boinking is the most important thing about her. As if!

Thankfully, Madchen Amick (Twin Peaks), is a feline delight for Witches of East End as Joanna’s wild sister Wendy. She has nine lives to live and now in her slightly mature age uses her experience to protect her family. Wendy is self aware, sarcastic, and educates her nieces on good magic just as much as she imparts don’t be like her reckless wisdom. Of course, that’s not to say she doesn’t get up to wrong doing spells and danger, but Wendy remains a positive sounding board. Some of her plots do move too fast – they use up her lives quickly and swoop in a love interest, too. However, some of the speedy exposition works when Wendy is dropping witty asides and one line adventures about being widowed, married, divorced again, or eaten by a crocodile. Her knowing how to fix or undo a spell is also a convenient dues ex machina used too many times on Witches of East End, but the sisterly pros and cons are well done with both Wendy or Joanna each being short sighted at times in their magical knowledge or uses. Where Joanna seeks to motherly protect, Wendy would rather empower her nieces. Is one way better than the other or can both styles strengthen the family? Amick is a fun counter balance whose personality doesn’t change from week to week – unlike the under utilized Virginia Madsen (Candyman) as Freya’s snotty future mother-in-law Penelope. It takes half the season for what we already suspect of Penelope to come to light, making for another missed opportunity that Witches of East End should have indulged from day one.

Dimension also comes too late for Eric Winter (The Ugly Truth) as Freya’s fiance Dash. Why couldn’t he have been a doctor first and foremost instead of one half of a limp couple? Scenes with science investigation to counter magic end up going nowhere, and time focusing solely on the brotherly rivalry is so slow compared to the rapid witch pacing. We can see man pain anywhere, and Witches of East End could have at least completed the trifecta and had Canadian Italian model Donald Di Tomasso play hockey instead of serving up the same old dark, mysterious, music, and motorcycle Killian brooding. The series continually falls back on this teen wannabe bedroom ho hum, and such glaring plots don’t belong on what’s supposed to be a sophisticated, women-oriented supernatural show. Fortunately, familiar guests including Matt Frewer (Max Headroom), Joel Gretsch (The 4400), Jason George (Grey’s Anatomy), and Freddie Prinze, Jr. (Scooby Doo) add mature, supporting sensibilities to Witches of East End. It is, however, disappointing to see the charming Tom Lenk (Buffy) and Kellee Stewart (My Boys) typically typecast as the gay and black best friends, respectively. Tiya Sircar (The Internship) as Amy also starts with medical intelligence and character strengths, but is ultimately made stupid with Witches of East End once again wasting better, progressive plot opportunities and giving both its interracial and mixed couples ill fates. Tsk tsk. All these independent, confident chicks and ensemble support possibilities, yet it appears the only purpose of Witches of East End’s unfocused storytelling is to toss every woman a man. Bechdel test my foot – when we do get all the lady librarians, doctors, immortals, and witches together they still end up talking about men!

Witches of East End has a fitting mood with black cats, bewitching eyes, skeleton keys, Latin curses, and a pink Victorian house that belies the spooky within its quaint. Books, photographs, ominous lighting, small period piece doses, and freaky bathtubs should be used even more for a slow burn atmosphere, yet once again I come back to the faulty execution at work. Witches of East End could have been styled as several television movies or at least had a feature length pilot episode, however the ridiculous playing at double speed opening title card is a lighting bolt blink and bam indicative of how by the pants these 42 minutes or less episodes were steered. The witch effects and magical movements are cheap and quick, as if making them one second longer would cost too much. Trite ‘if this were a movie, this would be the part where happens!’ dialogue doesn’t excuse borrowed ideas – like the trapped in the painting plot lifted from The Witches. Cell phones and modern lingo are intrusive, and unlike The Witches of Eastwick, everything in Witches of East End feels lighthearted, too soft with little edge or dark style. Cursing and some near nudity amid brief 1906 orgies are fine, but such saucy is also an obvious, late in the hour desperate move – and something turn of the century should not be montaged with contemporary pop music! Witches of East End never fully establishes its titular setting, and we know almost nothing about the town’s size, how many shops there are, or what the main street layout may be. Are there no nosy neighbors to spy on these backyard spells? Is the Beauchamp name beloved or notorious in the community? Viewers don’t find out the town is shrouded on a map and secretly famed for its occult history or hiding a gosh darn gateway to Asgard until it is too late. Good job, everyone!

If you are familiar with other magical material, Witches of East End will be very derivative. Some audiences may like that whimsical comfort, readers of the series especially I imagine, but that unfulfilled basic may be disappointing for others. Undivided viewing attention is needed for this incredibly fast moving design, and a marathon session is a must to both keep up with the fast moving plots or exposition dumping and breeze over the spinning tires romance. The steamy attempts may cater to the Lifetime audience but such trite strays too far into soap opera over the top at the expense of the unique core potential. All that should have happened to start Witches of East End comes in the second half of the season, with numerous writers and directors falling flat over a backward execution – which is surprising since there is a literary source. Though Witches of East End is certainly watchable for paranormal light fans looking for a streaming weekend or ladies growing out of Charmed, the weekly witchy, immortal trials, and magical tribulations feel like they should be bigger somehow – leaving this debut with more than its fair share of flaws muddling the magic.

 

Kbatz: Friday the 13th: The Series Season 1

Frightening Flix

 

Friday the 13th The Series Gets off to a Memorable Start

by Kristin Battestella

 

No, this 1987 television series has nothing to do with Jason Voorhees and the Friday the 13th film franchise. This Friday the 13th is an American/Canadian co-production that debuts with twenty-six episodes of curses, scares, creepy, and campy charm.

 

Distant cousins Micki Foster (singer Louise Robey) and Ryan Dallion (John D. LeMay) are bequeathed a mysterious antique store from their suspicious and relatively unknown late Uncle Lewis Vendredi (R. G. Armstrong). Unfortunately, this eclectic inventory isn’t for sale, as the store’s contents are comprised of cursed items from Uncle Lewis’ deal with the devil. All previously sold and demonically indestructible merchandise – ranging from as small as a compact mirror to as big as an electric chair – must be reacquired and returned to the special vault beneath the Curious Goods store. With the help of occult researcher Jack Marshak (Chris Wiggins), Micki and Ryan must now pursue former customers who aren’t always so willing to part with their antique’s particular evil enchantment.

 

Yes, some of the antique retrieval plots are silly and dated, but Friday the 13th has many memorable episodes beginning with “The Inheritance” and its devilish retribution complete with flaming hoof prints on the stairs. The series premise is introduced alongside a killer doll, a little girl in peril, and playground dangers with creepy lullabies, thunderstorms, and howling winds. It’s easy to get behind our trio in their evil object of the week quest, for the ravens, monastery, suspicious brotherhood, and quill that writes the deaths to come of “The Poison Pen” add an eerie medieval mood with hoods, candles, chanting, spiders, and guillotines. Despite some rad eighties moments, “A Cup of Time” has skeletons, murder, and deadly sips from an ordinary looking mug. Maybe old ladies fighting over teatime with a punk score is hokey, but the fountain of youth desperation remains wicked. Normally, it would be good business to have some fun dress up and magic tricks for “Hellowe’en,” however a crystal ball, good scares, and ominous smoke and mirrors assure this party at Curious Goods wasn’t the best idea – especially when your guests fiddle with the merchandise. This spooky atmosphere, demonic rituals, and a race against the sunrise sets the tone for Friday the 13th perfectly while the autopsies, hospitals, morgue drawers, and elevator injuries accent the Jack the Ripper scalpel in “Doctor Jack.” What if an operation with an accursed objected wielded by a skilled surgeon with a superiority complex was your only chance at survival? The titular effects, camera works, and enchanted gloves of “Shadow Boxer” are no less preposterous yet Friday the 13th is again memorable with a green locker room patina, old school gym feelings, and a down on his luck sports fall from grace. There’s humor, suspense, justice being taken into one’s own hands, and they have to wait for the pictures to develop overnight. The horror!

 

The crazy, rich old ladies and killer yardwork of “Root of All Evil” are slow at times, but we do get to know our characters’ relationships and responsibilities better amid this intense, man-sized mulcher action. It’s good to get away from the shop for the harvest struggles and rural farms of “Scarecrow,” too. Scythes and heads on the front porch create an off-kilter slasher tone before the David Cronenberg (Videodrome) directed “Faith Healer” and its rousing, fire and brimstone con man claims – and an ominous medieval white glove that does the trick. Is such power for good or ill when for every life it heals, it must take another? White, clean, pure suits quickly become sullied with back alleys, leprosy sores, and pestilence consequences as this glove literally burns itself onto the hand where its deeds and demands cannot be escaped. These impressive morality and faith debates give way to perhaps my most memorable Friday the 13th episode, “The Baron’s Bride.” A time traveling vampire fantasy may see like a big leap of faith – especially once the colorful gothic décor and capes switch to black and white carriages and angry mobs. However, the Stoker myths and traditional vampire lore hold up alongside fast action and a whiff of romance. Sunken treasures, stormy nights, and scary phone calls in “Bedazzled” make being alone at night at Curious Goods as spooky as you’d expect. This bottle show takes place almost entirely in the store with good old fashioned scares and invading crooks who don’t stop once their cursed antique has been locked away in the vault. “Vanity’s Mirror” is another memorable Friday the 13th hour thanks to beauty obsessions and an innocuous little compact causing too much torment. Cruel teasing and ugly duckling relatable forgive any hello eighties high school motifs – in fact, the pitiful prom designs add to the creative deaths, quality gore, and alluring retribution.

 

I’m sorry doesn’t cut it when you execute wrong man in “The Electrocutioner,” but grainy jailhouse footage sets the mood for this electronically charged dentist who’s out for some shocking revenge. Unsympathetic kills and nitric oxide play into our medical fears with this wrongful sense of justice as do the trepanning techniques, draining spinal fluids, and simple but desperate patients in “Brain Drain.” Cool mad laboratory equipment and brains in tanks anchor the intelligence transfers, trephanator talk, and intangible, Flowers for Algernon sciences. Friday the 13th goes all out for the mid-season two-parter “The Quilt of Hathor (Part 1)” and “The Quilt of Hathor (Part 2): The Awakening” for a trip to a good old fashioned thee and thou religious community hiding the titular evil homespun and its sinful dreams brimming with red décor, forbidden fruits, and baroque frocks. Horse drawn carriages, snow, and culture clash suspicions accent the forbidden romance and religious fervor. Who knew being so penitent didn’t mean you couldn’t be any less nasty? Okay, the old speaketh arguing may make some chuckle, but the witchcraft finger pointing, fiery mobs, and comeuppance twists match the horror where we least suspect it superb. Likewise, flashbulbs, dark rooms, and a Geraldo-esque newscaster with best alibi ever develop “Double Exposure” alongside gory bubbling, doppelgangers, and machete killings. It’s interesting to see this early commentary on scandalous crimes boosting nightly ratings when we have instant breaking news alerts everywhere today. Maybe this episode felt the need to go all out with crazy dreams, evil television motifs, and slasher slick after the slightly slower two-parter before it and Ryan having two loves of his life two episodes in a row is poor placement. However, the ticking clock twists here are memorable fun before the pregnancy fears and medical defects make for a warped sense of necessity in “What a Mother Wouldn’t Do.” No one wants to harm a baby, but an evil cradle can fix all that! The parental defense, Titanic history, and watery deaths give this Friday the 13th debut year a penultimate topper.

 

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The middle of this season is very strong, however, with such a high episode number, Friday the 13th was bound to have a few clunkers. Ugly statues, honky tonk stalkers, seedy motels, and unlikable, obsessive frat boys ruin “Cupid’s Quiver,” and the lack of authorities illumes one of the series’ ongoing impossibilities. Early on, our trio aren’t very smooth investigators and think they have the right to break in all over a college campus because they’re antique dealers! Magician secrets, beautiful assistants, fatal theatrics, and the cutthroat of magic show business don’t save “The Great Montarro.” It’s a pity since this is one of the few Jack centric episodes, but the sideshow tricks and Houdini wannabe divas are more laughable than ominous. “Tales of the Undead” has comic book shop nostalgia and an evil edition that kills you within its pages – a fantastic possibility ruined by a trash can looking monster costume. The ‘Take on Me’ music video from A-ha did it better! Though the poisonous insects and creepy crawlies will disturb some audiences,“Tattoo” is a cliché Chinatown crime plot with seemingly deliberate bad Kung Fu lip reading, submissive Asian prostitutes, and every other old Oriental stereotype crammed into one episode. Maybe the horror aspects aren’t all bad, but these mediocre episodes are a letdown when following immediately after such memorable Friday the 13th hours. “The Pirate’s Promise” offers lighthouse quaint, eerie foghorns, and phantom boats that take modern babes in exchange for gold bullion. Unfortunately, the mutinous history can’t help our cousins not bungle it up without Jack, and the Miami Vice wannabes, counterfeit money, and macho talk in “Badge of Honor” is likewise D.O.A.. The up close camera shots, day glo lighting, and jazzy score try for a jaded, gritty noir piece, but even with steamy Micki times, this one is embarrassingly dated and out of place. The Egyptian relics, trapped in the vault peril, and evil green effects make for a great framework for “Bottle of Dreams,” but sadly, this final episode of the season is largely a clip show that should have been the second to last airing instead. Sure, it’s an overlong season, however we aren’t going to forget all the good times that soon!

 

Billed as just Robey on Friday the 13th, our Micki is certainly beautiful – but my goodness that is big red hair! Some obvious extensions and then-vogue Jem styles make Micki always seem MTV ready, but her frilly tank tops, skirts, and uppity shoulder pads often make her appear more tiny compared to the baddies or disproportionate with her giant bobblehead hair. Initially doubtful, squeamish, and needing to be rescued, Micki’s bad feelings about their situation increase over the course of the season. She accepts responsibility and wants to do the right thing – Micki isn’t willing to leave anyone in danger and chooses this antiques recovery quest over her potential wedding. At times, she does regret giving up her old life for this so-called job but also gets pretentious in her righteousness. She’s an antique dealer in a battle of good versus evil and that gives her a license to go anywhere and intrude on anyone – even going undercover as a boy! Micki gets in on the action more and comes to handle herself alone just fine – except when our intrepid team doesn’t succeed or when the plot doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Both cousins still have parents, so why did they inherit the shop? Why do they all live at Curious Goods? Micki has some romance and visiting Friday the 13th old flames, however it’s always played as too eighties steamy – and we’re expected to believe she brings guys home when Ryan sleeps on the other side of a glass door? Micki’s not herself in “The Baron’s Bride,” but it’s fun to see her personality changes and vamped persona because we already like and respect her moxie.

 

Ironically, watching Friday the 13th back in the day, I always thought John D. LeMay’s (also of the unrelated Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday) Ryan Dallion had a crush on Micki, and the dialogue always makes sure to reiterate how through marriage or distantly related they are. They do have fun chemistry even when Ryan is a jerky Andrew McCarthy knock off to start. He thinks Curious Goods is cool and gets his information on the supernatural from his comic books. Ryan is self aware, however, and adds humor and realistic logic on how their simplest answer must be the correct one – which helps ground the audience when he enjoys playing the hero detective in a yuppie suit. Some of the eighties brat pack cool is kind of meh today, but Ryan fits right in undercover at high school! There are consequences to their collection, of course, and he is injured a few times, adding a sense of realism and not reset fantasy even though Friday the 13th has an evil of the week design. “Double Exposure” gives Ryan too many lady loves in a row, but his romance in “The Quilt of Hathor” makes the character grow up a little alongside the eerie colored smoke and his side of the family’s dangerous business prospects in “Pipe Dream.” Though this plot is a little thin, the personal ties keep viewers interested. Will Ryan treat the cursed object and its consequences any different now that Uncle Lewis wasn’t the only family member in on the devilish bargains? Ryan openly discusses the series premise, the evil behaviors, and moral turnarounds he’s seen. By the end of this debut season, it isn’t so cool, and Ryan develops a cynical edge with more than a few regrets.

 

Already experienced in the occult and its negative allure, Chris Wiggins (Babar) as Jack Marshak is a wonderful mentor for our young cousins – an Obi-wan Kenobi who acquired the antiques that Uncle Lewis cursed and re-released to the public who greatly regrets his unwitting part. Ever resourceful, Jack uses newspapers and tabloids to find curious stories that may lead to their quarry. At times, he only appears briefly in bemusing ways to help, but his quirky street connections add depth to the quest. Jack has a lot of exposition to quickly deliver early on Friday the 13th, but his knowledge of their evil manifest and gruff authority grounds the fantastic. Unfortunately, Jack doesn’t appear in all the episodes, and the one-liners about him being off elsewhere on a retrieval mission are convenient but disappointing. Today, an older ex-occultist battling alone against evil objects around the globe sounds like a good series premise itself. The storylines with Jack present have just a bit more finesse, and he has his doubts about whether our young team is up to snuff. “Brain Drain” also offers a bittersweet rekindled romance for Jack, but he nonetheless dusts himself off and is there to save the day when things go wrong. But why does he have to sleep downstairs by the creepy vault? In antithesis to Jack, television veteran R.G. Armstrong (Pat Garret and Billy the Kid) also makes several guest appearances as Lewis Vendredi, that devil bargaining late uncle who sold his soul and spread evil all in a day’s work. Just because he’s dead doesn’t mean he won’t pop up now and again! Carrie Snodgrass (Diary of a Mad Housewife) should have stayed longer as Jack’s love interest, however genre audiences will find maybe not necessarily name players but numerous recognizable character actors adding extra charm to Friday the 13th. Ray Walston from My Favorite Martian, Catherine Disher of Forever Knight, Sarah Polley from Avonlea – I swear Philip Akin brought some of the dojo sets from Highlander: The Series with him!

 

Whelp. This was 1987 and 88, so the shorts, sport coat, rolled up sleeves, and slim tie together or the big earrings, big belts, high waisted jeans, and giant shoulder pads eighties meets forties caricature fashion should go without saying as bad. Fortunately, Friday the 13th does have spooky, to the point opening credits complete with a creepy waving monkey to hit home the peeking through the keyhole ominous artifacts tone. Curious Goods is a neat and comforting shop in its own evil way. We never get to fully see the entire set brightly lit with the layout completely known, which works for on set logistics whilst adding the potential for mysterious nooks and crannies where anything can happen. Dusty interiors, record players, corded phones, and cassette tapes in the answering machine add period nostalgia in addition to the past curios and clutter alongside television static, adjusting the rabbit ears, two whole channels, and a giant flash on that camera. Where else could you use the line, “Let’s go out to dinner – you, me, your camera – and see what develops.” *rimshot* Remember, on Friday the 13th they couldn’t just Google their case. Our team goes to the library to make copies! Some special effects are hammy and poor while other gore designs are seamless enough to maintain the scary, desperate atmosphere despite dim lighting and a flat picture making it tough to see everything. The sound is also uneven at times, but stormy effects and recognizable, fitting theme music with whimsical tinkles and crystal chimes accent the shadows, silhouettes, flashlights, and lanterns. There are some jump scares on Friday the 13th, but the gags are admittedly humorous, adding campy appeal to the fast moving forty-five minute episodes.

 

I’d like to skip over the clunkers and Friday the 13th has its fair share of dated, cheap faults in this debut season. Fortunately, most of the fond thoughts from watching the series then hold up now thanks to a not always cut and dry good versus evil. It wouldn’t be any fun if it was easy to retrieve these cursed tchotchkes all wrapped in a pretty bow. Even my mom wanted to know what channel Friday the 13th was on – which surprisingly doesn’t seem to be anywhere despite the increasing popularity of retro-themed channels and horror anthologies. DVD sets are available, however, as well as Amazon Prime streaming. Today Friday the 13th may seem like a relatively short-lived series, but this first year has more than enough memorable curses, evil, and eighties fun for paranormal audiences to revisit or enjoy anew.

Terror Trax: Top 5 Vampire TV Songs

TerrorTrax

So, you know how it is. You watch your favorite TV series over and over again and the parts you either missed recording on VCR 20 years ago, or the episodes you can’t afford because the DVD set is $80, you scavenge on YouTube clips. But even after all those years, their songs stick with you. Sometimes cheesy, sometimes moody, always entertaining, here are my TOP FIVE from five great shows that I just can’t get out of my head.

  1. Kindred: The Embraced—theme song
    Sure, this is just instrumental, but every time I hear it I at once feel empowered, inspired, and ready to fight. I also loved watching Julian dissolve into the grave every episode.

  1.  Moonlight – Mazzy Star, “Into Dust”
    This short-lived TV show of a let’s face it, a remake of Forever Knight, didn’t make much of a splash in the ratings, but for us fang-addicts, we gobbled it up in a time when vampire TV was dead…and not in a good way. With such little time to impress us, I was surprised to hear one of my favorite bands, Mazzy Star, in the mix. At the end of a very thrilling fourth episode, Beth allows Mick to feed on her after he almost dies. Afterward, they both feel more attached than ever and the show seems like it will let them come together. As with all these vampire-mortal series, the vampire pulls away. But is the song “Into Dust” speaking of Mick’s almost dusting after prolonged exposure to the sun? Or their almost relationship?

  1. Blood Ties—theme song, “Live Forever” by Tamara Rhodes
    Almost a silly spoof of a vampire-cop show with the cop being the “ugly girl who has to wear glasses” (she’s totally not), this show grows on you if you give it a chance. And the theme song, although not my regular sort of style has an edge to it I like.

Who wants to live forever? Who wants to stop the sun? …it’s you, it’s me, it’s in our blood.

  1. Buffy the Vampire Slayer—“Rest in Peace” by Joss Whedon, sung by Spike
    “Once More with Feeling” is my all-time favorite Buffy episode if only because of this song. I’m not a big fan of the show because I’m not much into the slayer aspect, but I do enjoy it because of Spike, Willow, Oz, Giles, and Xander. This episode was definitely a poignant one. Buffy and Spike kiss, Buffy lets the cat out of the bag about them RIPPING here from heaven, and…this song. And thank you Loren Rhoads for reminding me of it. 🙂

And the top #1 vampire television song for me is…

“Fan Kill” by Shelly Goldstien, Fred Mollin, and Stan Meissner from Forever Knight Season 1, Episode 15. Nick and Schanke investigate a murder taken place in a rock star’s hotel room. She just happens to have a hit called “Fan Kill” and the murder victim? You guessed it, a fan. But as with all of these episodes, someone else is the real killer. This episode also includes the song “Dark Side of the Glass” by Stan Meissner and Lori Yates which sets Nick to thinking of his isolation from the mortal world. Oh, and you get to see Janette and Lacroix dressed as fifties diner employees. Pretty funny. Watch the full episode below.

Do you have a favorite vampire television show music moment? Please share!

 

Kbatz: The Strain Season 1

Frightening Flix

 

The Strain Struggles Late in Its Debut  by Kristin Battestella

 

Guillermo Del Toro (Pacific Rim, Crimson Peak) executive produced the 2014 FX debut of The Strain – a thirteen episode vampire zombie plague thriller based upon Del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s (Prince of Thieves) own novel trilogy. While the series starts strong with scientific updates on traditional horror lore, the pacing flounders in the latter half with muddled, drawn-out storytelling.

CDC Canary Team members Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll), Nora Martinez (Mia Maestro), and Jim Kent (Sean Astin) investigate the strange circumstances surrounding a plane landing in New York. Everyone on board is seemingly dead, and a mysterious box of Earth lies in its cargo hold. Despite plague symptoms and infectious worm-like creatures, higher up authorities dismiss Eph’s insistence for a quarantine thanks to the powerful but ill mogul Eldritch Palmer (Jonathan Hyde). Rodent inspector Vasiliy Fet (Kevin Durand), however, realizes larger vermin are afoot, and ex-con Augustin “Gus” Elizalde (Miguel Gomez) reluctantly takes jobs for the bizarre Thomas Eichhorst (Richard Sammel) – who has tormented the supposedly unassuming antique dealer Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley) in the past. Fortunately, Setrakian wields a silver sword cane and having seen this kind of vampire killer previously, uses his strigoi wisdom to help Eph stop this outbreak before it is too late.

 

A super-sized seventy-two minute “Night Zero” written and directed by Del Toro starts The Strain with waxing on hunger, unquenchable thirst, and love – the forces that make us human. Airplane tedium, radio chatter, familiar travel fears, and ornery passengers create realism, grounding the ominous scares in the cargo hold with jurisdiction, stupidity, press, and red tape. Family troubles versus work priorities layer values, packing in smart dialogue and character backgrounds without being rushed or in your face. Spiritual character names and “Holy Jesus!” exclaims over creepy jar specimens and biohazard suits invoke a whiff of religion alongside doctors talking of 210 souls on board this modern Dementer ala Horror Express. Well shot horror movie accents set the scene amid numerous locations, disaster response action, quarantine technicalities, and paranormal simmer. The Strain uses horror to mirror politics and acknowledges public panic, PR responses, famous survivors, and disaster containment while building suspense and updating traditional vampire lore with contemporary science and plague cliffhangers. Television reports and leaked documents are not to be trusted – nor is the titular coffin decorated with Faust demonography in The Box.” It’s tough to get everyone’s name on The Strain, however, the not all white, not all speaking English characters are real people dealing with prejudice to match rather than stock Hollywood pretties. Supposed criminals go to mass and respect their families while the villains at the top are more concerned with looking in control as they cover their asses. Shrewd commentary on the press making a scoundrel for the public to detest sets off terse conversations and hatred coming full circle as the empty body bags, zombies at the morgue, and bath tub body horror mounts. Selfish bureaucrats look the other way to tentacles and bone cracking transformations – orchestrating suffering to belie the facade in “Gone Smooth.”

The Strain may start slow for some viewers, but we are now invested in the players even before the horror escalates. Be it cravings for blood, liver transplants, custody battles, or sobriety, everyone is trapped by their own needs – not to mention the intrusive media and corrupt disease officials. The Strain tells its scary story with authentic hopes, wills, and weakness rather than expected television gimmicks, and frightful moments of invasive violence create scientifically based monsters for 21st century audiences in “It’s Not for Everyone.” Basement autopsies and pets beware disrupt rosaries and prayers yet gruesome new appendages and genital mutations become increasingly intriguing. Blood on snow, husbands and wives that can’t do what needs to be done, dishonest team members – if you love someone, how far are you willing to go? Hackers and lying politicians are just as dangerous as biological agents, and the ye olde Van Helsing and front line doctors lock horns over how to proceed in “Runaways.” This strigoi vampire history is tough for men of science to accept! Instead of listening to rat catchers, Spanish traditions, or our elders when they say to stay away from monsters, today these horrors demand documentation, cell phone video, and proof splashed upon the unreliable internet – idle inaction as this tiered metamorphosis grows from plague to vampires to zombies in “Occultation.” Apocalyptic gloom, biblical pestilence, and contemporary virus talk refresh the vampire genre while leaving the comforts of sunlight to save the day. Unless there’s a gosh darn lunar eclipse imminent that is! External planetary zooms further show how small humans are once we’re the tasty victims chained in a padded room, and The Strain reminds us this outbreak will get worse before it gets better. Can we protect loved ones when families won’t have it? A plague that isn’t on the news means it isn’t really happening, right? Nail gun action matches slowing or rapid heart rates as the untrustworthy phones, backward security systems, and interrogations help things fall apart in “For Services Rendered.” Sirens, bridges shutting down, cabbies with a gun and silver bullets…oh yeah.

index

SARS masks in the crowded subway station keep the fears immediate for Creatures of the Night” while vampires and virus debates reveal similar preferences for lying dormant in dark, damp areas. Looting is small in comparison to what’s at stake once zombie movie aspects pick up the outbreak action. Our everyday heroes are besieged – fighting off the approaching, growling prowlers with rudimentary weapons. With teamwork, they can get the job done, and it’s great to see characters who have been apart on The Strain finally meet. Will they work together or is it everyone for themselves? What do you do when one of your own is infected? Do you treat a victim or save one’s soul? Fortunately, a convenience store is a good place to hold up, and UV light is your friend against a smart monster mob. Back room surgery, however, is to no avail. Everyone on The Strain is fair game, and people must be smart with Macguyver tricks and proactive measures against the increasing enemy and disturbing child attacks. Once noble citizens must sneak into corporate offices, investigate underground tunnels for vampires, and experiment with science and weapons – breaking the rules they once felt paramount to save all they hold dear. Hefty decision making comes in “The Third Rail” with plans to attack and big, matricide choices thanks to not the fantastic but regular human sickness. Do we leave family behind or commit a worse sin? World Trade Center ties give The Strain a firm reality while containers packed with strigoi are apparently being bought and shipped in a quite creepy, but gosh darn it not surprisingly corporate turn. Science versus bible quotes accent the tiptoeing into the lair as everyone gets on the same page for some great confrontations. Evil so easily tricks the well-intentioned does it not? An almost Hammer-esque sixties flashback sets off “Last Rites” as personal parallels are strongly felt past and present. This battle has been going on longer than we think, and there’s no time for current stubbornness and disrespect amid such bittersweet loss.

Sadly, The Strain degenerates somewhat when too many disposable characters and dead-end tangents behave in dumb horror movie fashion and disrupt the interesting but unanswered vampire hive hierarchy designs, creature differences, and mystery SWAT teams. The solid Holocaust flashback scenes should also not be intercut with the modern narrative as if they were just any standard B plot. I don’t like Holocaust material as it is, and splicing it with horror plots compromises the real world impact – this provenance should have been told in its entirety in one episode. The Strain falls into an alternating pattern with the same character plots together – which forces important developments to wait while others catch up – and the storylines become increasingly busy and repetitive. Redundant scares aren’t surprising the fourth time around in “The Disappeared,” and The Strain sags when boosting annoying child questions and plots. The audience doesn’t need any rabies for people explanations, and more inconsistencies creep into the debates, grief, and jailbreak infections. Some victims are infected by a little nick while others unafflicted fight hand to hand versus the tentacles, and these later episodes becoming increasingly padded with either extreme as needed. Maybe there are biological time differences for a strigoi turning, but a serious amount of artistic license plays a part as Loved Ones” further sidetracks The Strain with convenient laptop uses, secondary A/B plot holes, and unrealistic turns. Isn’t anybody getting out of dodge to warn somebody about this huge happening in New York City? Where is the military? Secretary of Health quarantines and National Guard calls comes too late – as does an attempt to broadcast information. Shouldn’t a way to call for help have been the first course of action, not last? Surely, these intelligent vampires could have looked up everyone’s addresses and come knocking on some doors much sooner, too. Although the miniseries styled international ensemble represents all walks of life and the characters themselves are well done, the show would have been a lot shorter – and maybe should have been only ten episodes – had several plots and players been woven tighter. Half the survivors are completely superfluous with stray shock stories wasting time The Strain doesn’t have to spare. The Master” finale does tie up some loose ends by pulling together speakeasy secret passages and survivor connections, but such obvious information and smart uses of sunlight feel unnecessarily delayed just to entice for the second season. You can get away with that on the page, but on television the string along action becomes too chaotic, ending The Strain with poorly choreographed fights and a vampire turf war voiceover.

 

Ephraim Goodweather is a fittingly ironic name for Corey Stoll’s (House of Cards) relatable CDC doctor reluctant to choose between his falling apart family and work commitments. Eph is frank with the press on the job yet has to be the bigger man and leave his family happy without him. Drinking questions are thrown in his face, and Eph can’t convince the FBI to just consider the possibility of an outbreak – making viewers glad when he gets to say I told you so. The family angles do become too cliché as the season goes on, unfortunately slowing the main story down while The Strain decides whether these side characters are important or not. Such uneveness compromises Eph at times, like when he sleeps with a woman one moment but professes to love his wife in the next. Fortunately, this scientist is thrust out of his element with swords and medieval monsters thanks to David Bradley’s (Harry Potter) tough pawn shop owner Abraham Setrakian. Our Armenian Jew Holocaust survivor has seen these strigoi before as a young craftsman learning how to stay alive, and his old-fashioned ways are a pleasant marker amid the contemporary battles. After all Setrakian’s witnessed, we don’t blame him for his chopping heads with a sword first and the heck with CDC rules after crusty attitude. He vomits at the gore but Sean Astin (Lord of the Rings) as Jim Kent plays the fence when it comes to doing the right thing thanks to an understandably sick wife behind his reasons. What do you expect him to do but what any one of us would have done? Jim is the audience layman and sums up the scares quite plainly, inducing dry chuckles to alleviate the tension. We hope Samwise will make amends, but will it be too late? Likewise, Mia Maestro (Frida) as Nora Martinez cracks and can’t always handle The Strain’s gruesome or deaths. They are supposed to be doctors helping people, right? Nora cares deeply but doesn’t need a man to tell her what to do. She researchers her own information and shares her input with Eph against superiors and red tape. Though reluctant to believe what’s happening – much less fire a gun or kill – Nora must protect her mother while on the run and accepts the necessary defiance of their ‘do no harm’ creed.

Kevin Durand’s (Lost) Vasiliy Fet has a thankless job as a city exterminator aka rat catcher. However, he’s quite well educated and has a sense of humor about his work. Fet can be both harsh to the uppity deserving it and kind to others in need – he knows what’s happening below is a sign of worse to come and to hell with those who disagree with him. He does what he has to do without help from others, but comes to respect Setrakian’s knowledge and ingenuity in this fight. Miguel Gomez’ (Southpaw) Gus Elizalde is also doing the best he can to get legit and help his family now that he’s out of juvenile prison. He quickly grows suspicious of Eichhorst and wants out of his dirty work, but, like most of us, he just plum needs the cash. When his friend is infected and the prisoners are chained together, the cops see rap sheets rather than what’s really happening, naturally. Yes, how do you stop a plague from running rampant in a jailhouse? I know there is a reason for it, however, I wish Gus wasn’t separate from the other main storylines. His literally bumping into another main cast member on the street is not enough. Thankfully, Richard Sammel (Inglourious Basterds) as the not quite breathing Thomas Eichhorst is wonderfully creepy unto himself with a Nazi to the core defense of the Reich and a suave, godless collaborator veneer. He counters every argument with a justifiable defense and is frighteningly not wrong when he says people accept the choice to suffer and comply rather than die. Eichhorst’s strong arm and menace increases as The Strain goes on, and Jonathan Hyde’s (Jumanji) terminal magnate Eldritch Palmer wishes he were as ruthless. He believes in a higher power and thinks The Master will reward him with immortality, but faith in evil or one’s own wealth and power may not get you very far in the end. We should have seen more of Roger Cross (24) as Palmer’s loyal but suspicious aide Fitzwilliam, and Ruta Gedmintas (The Tudors) as regretful hacker Dutch Velders is a strong character with superb chemistry who’s story is dealt with too late. Jack Kesy (Baywatch) as the goth musician Gabriel Bolivar and Regina King (American Crime) as his manager Ruby are also underutilized – The Strain glaringly derails by conveniently forgetting to check up on his storyline much, much sooner.

 

Fortunately, fine cinematography and cinematic editing anchor The Strain’s usual forty-five-minute episodes. Viewer discretion is advised alongside brief title credits with bloody smears on white tiles and a fitting sense of medical gone wrong. Onscreen locations and time stamp countdowns with the occasional pop-up text messages are nicer than having to read tiny print on a dated phone screen, and the realistic mix of languages, Spanish lyrics, and cultural accents match the city locales. The antique store base provides a sense of old patina hidden in the borough, contrasting the bright yellow warning tape, flashlights, bio gear, and technology screens, laptops, and communications. Simple buzzing sounds, ringing noises, “Did you hear that?” calls, and recoils over ammonia smells invoke more senses than obnoxious jump scare sounds while slimy tentacles, oozing worms, slushy squirts, and gurgling slurps add to the monstrous. Autopsy saws and dissections increase the body horror as Neil Diamond tunes, pop music cues, and nursery rhymes create irony. Colorful orange and green hues pop during night scenery, drafting a super-sized count on acid, comic book style, however dark tunnels and UV lighting can be tough to see at times. There’s also a subtle ‘Spot the Cross’ thread in The Strain thanks to necklaces, crucifixes, altars, and other veiled spiritual reminders seemingly hidden in every scene – good visually counteracting evil. Several common directors and writers doing multiple episodes each including Keith Gordon (Dexter), Peter Weller (Sons of Anarchy), David Weddle and Bradley Thompson (Battlestar Galactica), David Semel (American Dreams), Regina Corrado (Deadwood), and Gennifer Hutchinson (Breaking Bad) help maintain The Strain’s overall cohesive feel and well done horror design. I must also say, I actually don’t mind the commercials when watching The Strain on Hulu, for these fast moving ads get back to the show – unlike the seven minutes or more on television when you forget what you were watching!

The Strain starts with plenty of layered horror parallels and intriguing monsters versus science enthusiasm and well developed characters. However, poor pacing and struggling storylines in the second half of this debut kind of make me want to read the books instead of watch Season Two. Some harsh language and brief nudity are nothing major for horror tweens today, but it is best for sophisticated scary fans to go into The Strain cold for a maximum on the surprises, plague versus horror politics, historical commentaries, and religious context. Despite a piecemeal, trickling along exit, The Strain is a unique combination of mad science, vampires, and zombies with a little something to appease all horror audiences.

Kbatz: Buffy Season 6

 

Buffy Season 6 Slips

By Kristin Battestella

 

On my last Buffy: The Vampire Slayer rewatch, I was sidetracked and stopped midway through Season 6. That, however, is no excuse – especially since now that I’m neck deep in another Buffy marathon, I can admit it’s the disinterested sagging of Year 6 that bottoms out the vampy viewings.

Sunnydale without The Slayer just won’t do, so witches Willow (Alyson Hannigan) and Tara (Amber Benson) work a spell with Xander (Nicholas Brendon) and Anya (Emma Caufield) to bring Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) back from the dead. Her watcher Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) is leaving for England, but vampire Spike (James Marsters) has remained loyal to Buffy and helps care for her sister Dawn (Michele Trachtenberg). Unfortunately, Buffy isn’t glad to be back, Willow becomes addicted to using magic, and relationship cracks show as Xander and Anya’s wedding approaches. Life is bad enough, but the nerdy, self-proclaimed villains known as The Trio (Adam Busch, Danny Strong, Tom Lenk) interfere with the Scooby gang, causing a spiral of deadly divisions and end of the world rage.

 

Now on the UPN network after departing The WB, Buffy is darker this season and not as fun, understandably, perhaps, thanks to the hefty resurrection in Bargaining Parts 1 and 2. It’s an excellent start with action heavy and questionable Scooby leadership – these bittersweet departures and deadly transitions are nearly insurmountable for most television series, but Buffy pulls it off in “Afterlife”. Distorted, in your face, camera whirlwinds reflect the jarring as well as the intimate moments, tender returns, and demonic consequences. Sure, your friends meant well! These early bottle shows are strong in Year 6, for there’s no need to divert with weekly villains when you have so much raising from the dead angst. The gang isn’t exactly up to fighting demons, and their internal problems make for a more interesting pain than any supernatural catalysts. A more horror styled filming is indicative of this bleak Buffy can’t handle – such as the bills and broken pipes in “Flooded”, and more risque language and saucy details reflect this mature tone. “Life Serial” is fun as a one off episode with bemusing trials in the more expected Buffy humor. However, the episode has the unenviable task of fleshing out The Trio as mini bads for the season – rather than say, leaving them as an obnoxious recurrence or two amid all the other break ups, allegory, and torment.

Of course, “Once More with Feeling” has everything Buffy needs for the bitter developments in Season 6, and this longer musical hour works as both a unique takeaway and a deeply involved game changer. I hum these tunes or refer to the lyrics more often than I should admit, and while you can’t watch it with your parents thanks to the naughty gay sex innuendo in “Under Your Spell”, that suggestive wink has held up well. “Bunnies” is a fitting little rock moment, and “Rest in Peace” sums up Spike’s romantic edge – even if he doesn’t sing with his British accent. Whoops! “I’ll Never Tell” is a fine throwback that foreshadows relationship troubles to come, and each song’s tone is smartly tailored to match the characters regardless of genre or revelation. The actors who aren’t really singers still have catchy moments – Sarah Michelle Gellar’s flat notes appropriately match Buffy’s off-key state of mind – and the tongue in cheek whimsy makes for self aware set changes and breaking the fourth wall moments. Rather than the shorter syndicated edition, viewers must see the full length episode with its lyrical subtitles to appreciate how the smiling mid century musical direction perfectly belies the unhappy truths. Slow motion training montages are intermixed with serious reprises, progressing the hour from lighthearted to explosive. Indeed, the “Where Do We Go from Here” finale wonderfully surmises all of Buffy’s metaphors, leaving the house of cards fallen and our players facing rocky, unknown futures. All their secrets are made known – maybe life will be okay, maybe it won’t. Going out on a high note jokes aside, I must say, this episode could have been a superb series finale.

 

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Whew! Though not as big a production, “Tabula Rosa” is an excellent coda. Their souls have been sung, so now let’s wipe everyone’s memory and see if anything is happier. The switcharoos are humorous yet serious, and it is important for our wayward Scoobies to rediscover themselves. The pairs with the strongest ties remain, and whelp, that’s that for the rest. Michelle Branch’s appearance with “Goodbye to You” is also the best use of a concert montage on Buffy, ever. The early episodes this season are largely solid, even spectacular. Unfortunately, the magic is the drug elements in Smashed and Wrecked are too much together. Our beloved ladies are going to the dark side, nobody’s friends, no one gets along, and it’s all too unlikable and tough to watch. Dumb decisions are made and Gone uses invisible gags to lessen the sour, but half the episodes in Year 6 could have been axed. “Doublemeat Palace” uses the stink of normalcy in its conspiracies with askew camerawork to match while Dead Things goes too far with Spuffy sex and disgusting Trio behavior. Important character developments may happen and pieces of these shows are memorable, but the framework is too depressing or forgettable. “Older and Far Away” is the one where they can’t leave the house, right? As You Were is the one where Riley Finn comes back, really? And we care because?

Fortunately, “Normal Again” is a much nicer dark alternative with its superhero delusion and mental institution possibility. Which tale do we tell ourselves to keep us miserable or happy? This illusion versus reality twist is a much more tantalizing theme compared to the over the top bitter this season, as is the seemingly innocuous credit addition in “Seeing Red”. Again, rather than an expected monster, a real world drive by cuts the rug out from under the audience – we should know Buffy well enough by now to see too much good was in need of some ruin. Sadly, this critical episode is also uneven with Trio filler and an unnecessary, crossing the line motivation for Spike. His love isn’t cause enough for his quest? Why even show his motorcycle flight – just let him leave and give us that surprise next year instead of using intercut life versus death symmetry in “Villains”. Who can or can’t be brought back from the dead and what happens when you choose to take a life instead? All the ills come full circle with a surprising spiritual touch in “Grave”, and a good laugh over a simple, embarrassing recap of the season’s icky events breaks the gloomy. Unfortunately, Buffy doesn’t quite come round right, and it’s just a sigh of relief that this season is finally over.

 

Well, well, Buffy wanted a regular life beyond being The Slayer, but a feeling meaningless resurrection, fast food job, and paying the bills isn’t so fluffy, is it? Our super gal is flawed, disturbed, and unhinged – and getting drastic ala that rogue slayer Faith. Slaying used to be what made Buffy Buffy, but now she must find her place in this cruel world without her responsible routine. She can’t go back to college and has to put up happy pretenses or tell everyone what they want to hear rather than hurt her friends’ feelings. She raises Dawn and does the right thing while everyone else is too busy with their own lives to help her – even though Buffy is unwillingly back from the dead because of them. The bringing down the house metaphors are a bit obvious, but her discomfort over using someone she loathes such as Spike is an important experience. It’s abusive, unlikable behavior when she takes out her self hatred on him. Buffy is an inherently good person doing what she perceives as wrong – and unlike Faith, it tears her up. Sadly, it takes horrible human interactions for Buffy to get back to sticking to her guns after this year’s drab, but by the end Buffy is ready to live and intends to see justice served, whether her friends are right or wrong.

Spike’s relationship with Buffy, however, is a little weird. Such kinky, uncomfortable, and unhealthy physicality is a bit too much for younger viewers yet Spike has grown in emotion and loyalty. He has a chip in his head but not his soul, and that restrained, misplaced prowess helps him relate to Buffy the way the rest of the Scoobies cannot. He works alongside them but remains at arms length, an outsider just like she is. Spike enjoys making Buffy feel both pleasure and pain, and “Smashed” shows the inseparable nature of those seemingly opposite feelings. Is Spike a man in love or a monster playing poker for kittens? This ongoing struggle provides some wonderful character movement even whilst Spike dresses sexier, goes in the buff, and is treated like a drug for Buffy’s fix. He’s a powerful influence that threatens to harm her but the violence feels too extreme. Can Spike yet be redeemed? We’ll see. Likewise, Dawn is understandably trying to find her way now that the Key elements served their purpose in Season 5. Unfortunately, Dawn is also an inverse Wesley Crusher with nothing to do but steal, get rescued, or be really shrill, and we’ve been through all this erstwhile youth before on Buffy. Slowly, she joins the research or alleviates the tension with jokes, but Dawn-centric retreads like “All the Way” remain cliché and uninteresting. The audience has been rolling our eyes over her all along, so when the rest of the cast doesn’t notice her petty crime and actually forgets about Dawn after the bullets fly…ouch. Losing the character completely admits to a “Dallas” dream season mistake, but this year Dawn may have worked better in a reduced recurring capacity as the sisters’ mother had been. Ultimately, Dawn is truly a supporting character more for how the familial tug and pull affects Buffy rather than her own developments.

 

The hints were there, but it’s pretty stinky nonetheless to watch Willow go off the magic junkie deep end with too many unlikable me me me threats against her friends. Giles is right when he says she has some in over her head amateur to resolve. Does Willow work? What is her major at school? She’s a selfish bully who raises the dead or kills when it suits her but she can’t poof away a bill for Buffy? Willow does the resurrection spell because she wants to prove she can, not because she should, and there’s no need for the redundant magic á la drugs antithesis because Buffy’s making her own mistakes already. Where magic was a positive empowering lesbian metaphor in Year 5, now Willow is a very bad girlfriend becoming the abusive boyfriend. She misuses magic and turns into some kind of stereotypical evil angry lesbian filleting men. The fury and pain are emotional moments the first time you see Buffy, however on repeat, you just want to skip these mixed magic metaphors all together. As Xander once said way back in “Something Blue”, “So, so tired of it”. Buffy feels run out of ideas with these head beating allegories, and when Dark Willow’s personal rage turns into wanting to emo end the world’s pain, it’s just ridiculous. I would be more angry that it is the lesbian relationship being treated so problematic in Season 6, except all the pairings go to hell this year. Fortunately, Tara remains a positive moral perspective and solid center for the gang, and Buffy confides in her away from the group. She looks out for the Scoobies from a good place, something the rest of the gang learns the hard way. Maybe the character doesn’t change, but her reliability as an independent woman not moping over Willow is important to see alongside their more intimate and naturally progressing romantic moments. They do live together after all, and props to Buffy for not having the gay couple be chaste while other partners make whoopie.

Before their doubts about Buffy returning and their delayed engagement announcement, Xander and Anya were already a complicated pair. Rather than strengthening the character, Anya’s blunt and impolite sass is regressed this season to downright rudeness and a no longer cute obsession with capitalism and money. While Xander is the Regular Joe anchor for Willow from beginning to end, he is also ‘So, so tired of it’ with Anya, and she only seems to care about what’s really going on once she finds out Dawn has stolen from her. She tries to make Willow use magic and we feel for her being jilted in “Hell’s Bells”, but Anya’s mixed empathy also makes us realize how little we actually know her. “Entropy” tries to be humorous perhaps but the admittedly interesting possibility of Anya and Spike is used for hatred – another harshness thrown on top of the Year 6 heap. Xander does some stupid and cruel bull headed things too on Buffy, but the non superhero sidekick finale is meant to fix all that, I think. And no, Giles, you never should have left and picked the worst possible time to take flight.

 

There’s more new school bizarre in Year 7, but Kali Rocha as vengeance demon/guidance counselor Halfrek and James C. Leary as fleshy but friendly Clem are fun guest additions amid the dreary. Elizabeth Anne Allen is a fine bad influence as rat no more Amy, but her taunting Willow with selfish magic antagonism is inexplicably dropped. Although The Trio is funny within themselves and it is nice to already know their history, they are dumb, unlikable, try hard villains that go round and round too long. We’re disappointed in Jonathan – who hasn’t learned his lesson and finds his moral conscious too late – and weak Andrew’s latent crush on Warren is mistakenly played for humor. The Trio’s fan service pop culture quips become too obnoxious to enjoy the geekdom, and surely this plot would be done differently today now that nerdism reigns. Simply put, Warren is an asshole and gets everything he deserves. Of course, in order to do that, you have to become more evil than he is, and Buffy is right that it is better to leave The Trio to the authorities rather than loose yourself in such rage.

Hokey ghost effects, repeated monster designs, visually darker schemes, dated 2001 laptops and payphones – this season of Buffy feels older than it is thanks to all this depression. Despite the regular Buffy writers and production team being here to run the show into the dark ground, was it creator Joss Whedon’s larger than usual absence that let this season slide into common life addictions, character separation, internal evils, and one too many cliches? Perhaps. I’m tired of saying unlikable metaphor I know that. While casual fans may simply give up on Buffy halfway through here, completists will need to see Season 6 at least once to appreciate the player progressions – as well as their regressions and transgressions. Those familiar with Buffy can pick and choose their favorites, but the writing is on the wall for Buffy: The Vampire Slayer Season 6.

Kbatz: Penny Dreadful Season 2

Penny Dreadful Season 2 is Again a Macabre Good Time

by Kristin Battestella

penny 2Penny Dreadful’s sophomore year opens with a recap of the the Showtime series’ debut before picking up the Gothic sophistication right where we left off – this time with ten episodes of scorpions, witches, monsters, and devils.

Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) is attacked by a group of Nightcomer witches led by Madame Kali (Helen McCrory), but ex-gunslinger Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) protects Vanessa along with Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton) – whom Madame Kali pursues romantically. Egyptologist Ferdinand Lyle (Simon Russell Beale) helps translate a mysterious demonic tale written on a monk’s relics alongside Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway), but Frankenstein is distracted by his work on the late Brona Croft (Billie Piper) – now resurrected as Lily Frankenstein at the request of the Creature Caliban (Rory Kinnear), himself going by the name John Clare for his new job at a waxworks museum. Unfortunately, Lily eventually sets her sights on the decadent Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney) instead.

White snow, demonic language, and dangerous carriage attacks waste no time starting “Fresh Hell” alongside excellent tender moments and graves dug from last season. Where Year One was about meeting the team and facing a largely unseen evil, now Penny Dreadful puts a more human face on our company’s threats with evil women and meddling inspectors. It’s a delightful step to share the gruesome aftermath while we get to know this enemy – a little demon family to mirror our flawed fighters. Monstrosity is just everywhere in Londontown!These naked witch ladies should be alluring but they are not, and new biblical threads arise in “Verbis Diablo.” Even prayers are no longer sacred amid pity projects, cholera ills, and enchanting deceptions. New character interactions infuse Penny Dreadful, anchoring the stories of possessed holy men, titular puzzles, disturbing infant abductions, and unique voodoo uses. That’s one diabolic arts and crafts room! There’s sup
erb war room plotting in both our houses – and a mole between them – so it is perhaps unusual to have an all Vanessa flashback episode so soon in “The Nightcomers.” However, the Victorian meets Baba Yaga magic, symbols, and protection motifs are excellent thanks to critical past information that will be important later and sublime guest star Patti LuPone
(Life Goes On). This well paced character drama fills in history from the First Season and serves it with quaint do no harm and brutal persecution.

The demonic riddles and unique character confrontations continue in “Evil Spirits in Heavenly Places.” Deception always wears such a pretty face yet Penny Dreadful makes time for our darkly clad band to enjoy some lighthearted social moments before a creepy chameleon siege upon Sir Malcolm’s house that has the viewer studying each frame for clues. While padding time and unnecessarily stretched out scenes are apparent in this longer season, the final moments here are an appropriately simmering, silent unease. “Above the Vaulted Sky” has some fine true horror as extensions of our family pay a terrible price, and recalled Apache atrocities parallel the montages of faith and battle preparations. Are steel doors, guns, prayers, and totems enough to face the devil? It’s pleasing to have time dedicated to the turmoil and lying in wait for harm to come as evil and the authorities close in on our company. Penny Dreadful has touching poetic moments before major ghosts encounters and hefty scares. However, the sex scene finale here is very poorly edited with intercut frightening erroneously mixed with what should be tender bedroom moments. The morning after in “Glorious Horrors” is non too peachy either as influences are asserted and bloody fatalities become as simple as replacing the carpet. Can one be oblivious to threats when everything is connected and nothing is happenstance? Funeral talk and awkward balls shape a deliciously off kilter splendor, and Penny Dreadful puts all its players together in a twisted little bloodbath with intriguing character asides, jealous pairs old and new, superb revelations, and gruesome showdowns.

 

Little Scorpion” is a shorter Penny Dreadful episode at only 49 minutes, but this Ethan and Vanessa-centric block has lovely one on one character moments questioning solitude and the growing distrust among our eponymous team. The tormented have some small, delightful comforts away from the inescapable monsters and demons at their backs, making for some dangerous tension and steaming dancing in the dark storms. Superior hours where not all the cast appears suggests Penny Dreadful creator John Logan may be juggling too many storylines or characters, but “Memento Mori” trades deadly toppers for swift interrogation filming. Askew up close shots, intercut tension, and lies contrast softer fireside conversations and waxing regrets. Can you look at yourself inthe mirror when you do what has to be done in the fight against evil? The ongoing demon incarnate puzzle solving ties together pieces from Season One as mirrors and dual camera tricks heighten the character heavies. Although the evil plans seem too wishy wasy at times with back and forth possessions and reversed enchantments, this episode allows its three plotlines to play out as uninterrupted acts, bucking the A, B, C standard television story structure to elevate its scary revelations.

Monster does catch monster, and even the authorities consider otherworldly and superstitious possibilities in “And Hell Itself My Only Foe.” Upticked violence and hauntings find our team, and the witty dialogue and intelligent scripting add to the surprises. The subtle Talbot name drop is worth all the wolf mishandling in the First Season, and more self-awareness comes in the ugly waxworks entertainment. Evil is beautiful and seductive with temptations from Lucifer to display one’s inner beast. That internal made manifest leads to some stunning confrontations, indeed. $%#%(*&! The excellent multi-layered horrors and battle of wills continue in the “And They Were Enemies” finale as Penny Dreadful’s not so merry band is tested in enemy territory. Devils on the shoulder present a most convincing case – be it death, our darkest desires, or the brightest dream too good to be true. Once you cross the line toward darkness, what must you do to come back to the light? Can you save yourself at all? Granted, moments with the effigy puppetry and lookalike demonic language arguing become hokey quickly, a jarringly laughable moment amid the utmost heavy. After a hefty but quality slow build and some unnecessary treading tires and stalling plots, the final evil confrontation also feels too rushed by comparison. There are some wild surprises and a character denouement with time for reflection is a welcome change from an action finale. However, maybe the pacing should have been tightened to have an all battle second to last hour and then an entire sigh of relief end instead of a finale that feels too half and half. Fortunately, Penny Dreadful concludes with plenty of creepy nonetheless. Are our players moving forward stronger after these paranormal events? Their ships may be sailing their separate ways, but Year Three of Penny Dreadful looks to promise plenty! %%$%#$@#*@!

 

Evil just won’t let go of Vanessa Ives so easily, will it? Her strength to fight against demons inside and out glues the team together as much as it puts them in peril, and Vanessa needs them as much as they need her. She talks about what must be done and what she is capable of doing, and even when some of that is just delayed exposition issues, we believe her wrath because we’ve see her pain. For all the good she does and her ongoing struggles to keep this delicate balance, her ties to Amunet leave nothing but badness in her wake. How do you cling to faith when there is so much wicked? Vanessa endeavors to embrace her power within – but does that mean you abandon your belief in a higher power? Having religion doesn’t necessarily make you good, and Vanessa admits she and God are on challenging terms. Can we just be who we are or is that too much responsibility for one soul? Vanessa’s therapy is in her support of the boys about her – she is a confessor for each of them in different ways. Will solace be found in like tormented persons? She can soothe others but not herself, and Vanessa has some deliciously intellectual conversations with John Clare, adding a new damned soul to her repertoire – which looks quite cloudy for next season.

Likewise, Ethan Chandler is beginning to suspect his wolfy connections as more dastardly carnage comes to light. He’s perpetually trying to leave town thanks to his fear of admitting what he is capable of doing, which is beautifully foreshadowed in “Verbis Diablo” before the tenth hour finale. Ethan’s charming banter with Lyle deflects his inner lupus with Latin research, and Hartnett very nearly steals the show in his witty battles with Douglas Hodge (Red Cap) as the persistently not stupid Inspector Rusk. Like Vanessa, Ethan pegs people for who they really are, and his coy comes in handy as his pursuers mount. Even if he can face his affliction and its monthly consequences, he tries to protect Vanessa from his wild in a wonderfully unconventional romance – if it can even be called that. We don’t see the wolf outs for flash in the pan cool, but rather as choice visuals to emphasize the tormented monstrosity now fully realized on Penny Dreadful as it should have been all along. Danny Sapani as manservant Sembene also has more to do now that he helps Ethan bind his lycanthrope tendencies, adding to the fine moments he has with Sir Malcolm. This stalwart and strong but humble workhorse character provides a shaman wisdom while doing the dishes, baking, and waxing on how Ethan should see his moonlit changes as a blessing not a curse. Sembene shares his own past sins and guards his household kin with unwavering duty and respect, but by golly, audiences will be understandably angry at the treatment of the character. He still deserves more, #$%D#&*%!

 

New bewitching temptations and continued family losses grip Sir Malcolm once again on Penny Dreadful, but the in control, noble gentleman on the outside can’t use his suave to hide his pain. Sir Malcolm must face the questions and consequences regarding his daughter Mina’s death from Last Season, and he’s ready to trade his life and accept his punishment to spare his newfound family further torment. His internal demons provide ghostly experiences both positive and wicked. Dalton is charming in his unknowingly deceptive courting with Mrs. Poole, but the shaving of his beard is a surprising character development. It’s just so odd seeing the ex-007 sans scruff again, but the change is a perfect reflection of the evil influences at work. Despite some strong advice from Sir Malcolm and an interesting science versus faith intellectual pairing with Lyle, young Victor Frankenstein is also blinded by his wrong doings, chiding John Clare’s pressure on Lily while Victor himself is slowly but surely shaping his perfect woman. Frankenstein’s muddled monster making motives become increasingly creepy science for fetish alongside his now not secret drug addictions. He’s a little nasty, too, but bonds with Vanessa, trusting her to help him with his awkward shopping experience. Slowly Victor becomes aware of his mistakes, even admitting his addiction is affecting his freaky science, but by time he wants to escape his creations, it’s too late. Ironically, Dr. F. doesn’t believe in witchcraft, but evil knows what he has spawned and uses his deeds against him in smashing fashion.

Those wonderfully macabre waxworks and layered Victorian deceptions elevate the Caliban aka John Clare plots this season, and his scenes with Vanessa are refreshingly honest and mature. Clare speaks his mind without malice instead of his usual mine mine mine childish wants. Why are these Frankenstein men so pressed and gushing over every woman they meet? Clare’s friendship with Vanessa is his first genuine and healthy relationship. Kinnear has room to shine in the poetic recitings and quiet moments with Green, but the well read doesn’t do Clare any good if he won’t learn from his to err is human. Once again, he misuses his chance to do right, can’t catch a break, and ultimately must flee. When Clare finally looks past Lily’s beauty and his desperate need for companionship, he sees a worse ruthlessness and rightfully realizes that Pandora’s Box contains a mirror. Was Lily’s creation worth it? Though the short blonde hair doesn’t fit the period and it is unusual that Vanessa doesn’t recognizer her, Billie Piper is much better this year as Lily Frankenstein compared to the dead end and bad accent that was Brona Croft. It’s perfectly acceptable on Penny Dreadful when the resurrection of a character can fix all that was dislikable, and Lily smartly questions why women wear corsets and are meant to be controlled and appealing to a man. She seems innocent, but soon proves the dastardly of her rebirth and wrongfully remodeled by Victor is not for anything angelic. Lily learns how to lie, finds her deadly instincts, and grows tempted by Dorian thanks to elegant white frocks, gruesome blood stains, and a man-made monster superiority complex. We should like Lily – we don’t blame her for remembering the abuses of her previous oldest prostitution profession and using her strength for revenge. However, her twisted and wrong doing companionship with Dorian is anything but empowering to anyone but herself.

 

Unfortunately, I did not miss the absent Dorian Gray in “Fresh Hell,” and his brothel shenanigans feel more like interfering annoyances during the first half of Penny Dreadful this season. I’m all for more penis on television, but compared to the more serious, self aware, and better developed star roles, the character seems like an excuse for depravity mixed with would be modern social commentary. Dorian doesn’t even interact with any other main character until “Glorious Horrors” – or anyone else but Jonny Beauchamp (Stonewall) as Angelique for that matter. These scenes become shoehorned in titillation or sensationalism, a cruel and cliché storyline serving no purpose in the overall season arc. Angelique’s gender struggles in Victorian society and finally finding a tender relationship should be touching, but by slicing their aforementioned consummation scene with evil seduction and paranormal death scenes, are you saying gay sex is as bad as casting demonic spells on a man and using voodoo to kill his wife?!?! #$%$^$@*&! We know this tryst is fun and games for Dorian, but this is no fling to Angelique, and those consequences also unfairly stereotype Angelique as a nosy, jealous beotch when Dorian moves on to his next fancy. The about dang time reveal of his eponymous portrait and his blasé attitude toward it proves how ugly his true self really is, but we already knew that from his toying with Angelique. This entire unnecessary and unjust plot further proves Dorian Gray is a tug and pull supporting player who should only be recurring as needed – and Angelique should have been the gosh darn regular joining our dreadful company instead!

Thankfully, Simon Russell Beale is deliciously good fun as our team’s flamboyant Egyptologist Ferdinand Lyle. Despite the sophistication and heavy work at hand, Beale provides a covert humor and positive gravitas with his flirtations:

“American! I am undone!”

“Well, I do have a gun belt.”

“Stop!…Will you bring your gun belt?”

“Both guns.”

Underneath this fluttery chemistry, Lyle is unsure where his allegiance lies, and by admitting his conflicting circumstances and burdens to bear, he fits right in with the Penny Dreadful gang. The homoerotic undertones match the main story instead of being uncomfortably apart from it, adding flair to a character largely saddled with fantastic exposition. In addition to the already established Catholic iconography, Lyle adds more conversations on faith, reflection, and recompense thanks to all he has witnessed from Helen McCrory as that sometime Madame Kali and always evil Mrs. Evelyn Poole. Her enemy house not only has a medieval ossuary bent, but Sarah Greene (Vikings) as the ruthless but cool Hecate is ready to step out of her mother’s much older than she looks shadow. Madame Kali is in a powerful tit for tat with her demonic master, and she intends to gain new praise by delivering Vanessa to him – with Sir Malcolm as a dark bonus for herself. Her ambitions, Hecate’s rival desires, and their evil foil, however, do get stretched thin at times. These are formidable ladies cutting out hearts and invoking killer puppetry with more provocative tricks – The Pooles shouldn’t have to hurry up and wait to harm our dreadfuls. Nonetheless, such evil planning talks make for some juicy scene chewing for McCrory and other returning guest stars. Just because you’re dead doesn’t mean you can’t reappear as Madame Kali sees fit!

 

Iffy CGI cityscapes, animated scorpions, and more sweeping scene transitions don’t always look right on Penny Dreadful, but the up close London streets alive with horses, waxworks, and period mechanization look the ghastly Victorian needed. The below the British Museum dusty, piles, statues, and maze-like clutter for good or ill is simply begging for some Mummy plots! More Universal Horror nods including the one armed inspector and swan style gowns layer the lush alongside a haunting score. The witch designs look of the past, with evil sprites coming out of the walls or mirrors and matching a colorful scheme of orange for evil firesides and gruesome greens for the dead. Candlelit patinas contrast the all gray and white ghostly while coffins, shrouds, gargoyles, and dungeon traps keep the macabre personal rather than today’s hollow torture porn gore – often with 55 minutes plus for full morbid effect. Sharp language uses mix old staples, making for a twisted new tongue where eerie terms like lupus and Lucifer stand out and force the audience to pay attention upon first viewing Penny Dreadful. The fashions are again scrumptious, and it’s lame of Hot Topic to go with scorpion tee shirts when this kind of long skirt and button up lace is on the runaway and ripe for a comeback. Penny Dreadful has an excellent attention to detail, and I’m surprised this uber sophisticated design isn’t receiving more technical awards.

Watching Penny Dreadful can also be tough thanks to cumbersome Showtime Anytime and Xfinity interfaces, loading and log in troubles, and expiring episode rushes but there are Amazon streaming and DVD options in addition to Showtime reruns. Ironically, the show’s premium channel home allows it to be top tier scandalous yet also makes Penny Dreadful difficult for viewers to find. Nonetheless, the series remains must see for Gothic horror fans. The sensationally spooky material and often outlandishly wicked are treated intelligently, and we’ve been waiting for Penny Dreadful’s kind of sophisticated, top drawer horror for too long.

 

Kbatz: 666 Park Avenue

666 Park Avenue Had Spooky Potential

by Kristin Battestella

Yes, I am superstitious about the number, and 666 Park Avenue probably began with one foot in its 13 episode grave thanks to its polarizing name. Though flawed with an unclear theme and a rushed rectification, this 2012 limited run remains a frightfully fun marathon.

New building managers Jane van Veen (Rachael Taylor) and Henry Martin (Dave Annabel) move into The Drake, a historic complex owned by penthouse living Gavin Doran (Terry O’Quinn) and his wife Olivia (Vanessa Williams). As Gavin uses his wealth and influence to advance Henry’s political ambitions, Jane renovates the building, finding unusual secrets alongside fellow resident Nona (Samantha Logan). Neighbors Brian (Robert Buckley) and his photographer wife Louise (Mercedes Masohn) encounter the unexplained at The Drake themselves, as does Louise’s sultry assistant Alexis (Helena Mattsson). Ghostly phenomena, suspicious residents, and past mysteries escalate as Jane digs deeper into the building’s history – and discovers her own deadly secrets.

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Although 666 Park Avenue is loosely based upon a book, the series ironically shares several similarities with the equally ill fated series The Gates, which aired two summers prior on ABC. Our new tenants move into a luxury, too good to be true apartment building, taking a working position in a community where their predecessor left under unusual circumstances. The ridiculously short credits also flash a lone title card before the listings scroll over the opening action, making who’s a regular or who’s merely recurring tough to deduce. Like The Gates, 666 Park Avenue also pads its short 42 minutes – or less – with unnecessary song montages, and despite a classy billionaire interracial couple at the top, diversity is lacking elsewhere. Does ABC keep repeating this formula hoping to get it right? The numerous writers and directors have no consistency for 666 Park Avenue, and the characters are their roles rather than truly bloomed personalities. The mismatched couples are unevenly developed and only seen hurrying home or leaving late. Some are in on the spooky while others are not, and most of the residents only interact for a hello or goodbye in the surprisingly tiny lobby. The Drake seems more like a hotel thanks to a weekly revolving door where regulars are left hanging for other going nowhere spooky. People are being sucked into the walls for goodness sake but 666 Park Avenue moves away from its scary core for irrelevant corporate schemes, Madoff name drops, and political double talk. Instead of sullying evil with the same old prime time hitmen or political assassinations, maybe not being so New York City steeped or having been period set may have let the building intrigue shine. The wicked blackmail in the second half of the series does better, but the ridiculous need to have an upscale party literally every other episode gets old fast. Truly, no one episode of 666 Park Avenue is all super, the audience never receives the answers we really want, and poor structuring muddles the quality paranormal pieces.

Fortunately, 666 Park Avenue is more spooky than nighttime soap opera with an adult cast, mature situations, desperate pleas, eerie phone calls, and mysterious contracts due. Thunder, spooky zooms, and ominous doors lead to residents with suspicious blood on their hands, petty thefts, and one creepy laundry room. The Pilot gets to the ghostly prospects early alongside deadly quid pro quo requests and a nefarious Order of Dragon past. This first hour feels like a decent haunted house movie, showcasing the eponymous elevator mishaps, spooky stairwells, and murderous flashbacks. Perhaps episode five “A Crowd of Demons” uses a Halloween party excuse too soon – we don’t know the players enough to see them dressed up yet – but this is an atmospheric good time once the ghosts break loose. After an uneven first half, “Downward Spiral” begins to get to the bottom of The Drake only to have its reveals delayed until Show Nine “Hypnos.” Stock crashes, evil men in suits, sacrifices, and past rituals pepper the upscale where we least expect it. Play up those literal trips down memory lane, the mental hospital scares, bricked up fireplaces, and spooky books! “The Comfort of Death” toys with ghosts in the mirror and long lived curses while “Sins of the Fathers” adds priests and more 1927 living history coming back to rent an apartment. Reappearing pills taunt an addict, a knightly organization battles The Drake’s Order of the Dragon – a lot of should have been there all along paranormal is tossed in too late along with a halfhearted evil topper in the “Lazarus” finale, and those dangerous bathtubs, past drownings, and bricked up bodies make viewers wonder why 666 Park Avenue wastes so much time on shopworn auxiliary in its early episodes.

Where the eponymous complex’s supernatural threats are quite interesting, our would be heroic couple Rachael Taylor (Jessica Jones) as Jane and Dave Annabel (Brothers & Sisters) as Henry are a touch too innocent, plain, and naive for 666 Park Avenue. They don’t seem like much of a pair, just New York ambitious with lots of parties interfering while Jane’s connection to the building – which should have been immediately solidified – is strung along until the seventh episode. There’s generic architecture talk, but Jane merely breaks a few things and knocks down some walls in her haunted house reveals without finishing projects or following through on the top to bottom explorations. Eventually, it seems like the idea of Jane and Henry being building co-managers is dropped altogether, as the totally unaware of the paranormal Henry doesn’t seem to care about Jane’s pleas to move or her fear for her life until she goes missing and ends up in an institution. Of course, Jane has no right to complain about Henry’s politics getting shady when she has been keeping secrets about The Drake the entire time, and these plots that should be powerful are erroneously intercut with weaker B and C stories. William Sadler (Death in Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey yes!) is great as Jane’s estranged father, however, his horror heavyweight potential comes to 666 Park Avenue too late. Likewise, Henry’s spooky dreams don’t happen until the finale, as if the potluck writers simply forgot that Jane had the supernatural visions. It’s not the actors’ faults, nor the dozens of writers and directors who otherwise do fine work, but it seems like there was no character bible for this duo, leaving the audience anchorless to the very persons for whom we should cheer.

13th floor penthouse power couple Terry O’Quinn (Lost) and Vanessa Williams (Ugly Berry) certainly have the slick and suspicious afoot capabilities, but once again the mixed motivations on 666 Park Avenue hamper their scene chewing. At once, Olivia seems like a clueless fairy godmother lavishing on the newbies. However, one too many times she deus ex machina conveniently helps Gavin out of an evil jam before being unaware again by the next episode. Gavin, of course, threatens someone every hour to prove he is the top of the top, using politicians to get rid of mysterious rivals or swiftly dealing with dangerous minions. He knows all along about some secrets yet is blindsided by other evil trickery. If he’s so powerful, why is his demonic brand such a slippery slope under constant threat? The rug is cut out from under the viewer when his evil hierarchy, past Order of the Dragon connections, and good versus evil religious aspects are never fully explained. 666 Park Avenue plays with pedestrian dirty politics too long, and I swear they literally pull a Seven from Married…with Children and send the Dorans’ pointless daughter down the stairs to never be heard from again.

 

Sadly, I’m not sure the yuppie marital discourse of Robert Buckley’s (One Tree Hill) struggling playwright Brian and his wife Mercedes Masohn (Fear the Walking Dead) as bitchy photographer Louise are necessary at all. Sure, they add bubble bath steamy and voyeurism, but oddly, 666 Park Avenue remains tame in the would be saucy affairs. Paranormal drug addictions and fatal attraction with Helena Mattsson (Betrayal) as Louise’s assistant Alexis become completely uninvolved with the aforementioned characters’ storylines, and although the gambling debts being tattooed onto Enrique Murciano (Without a Trace) as romantic Doctor Scott are a neat Karma twist, it never goes anywhere. The paranormal stamp on Brian’s writing is late in the game to save the wishy washy between his women, and we don’t know what’s really going on with Alexis and her debt until Episode Ten. Rather than juggling too many superfluous paranormal residents and their wannabe The Devil’s Advocate deals with Gavin and compromising the series, 666 Park Avenue should have combined these plots for just one strong younger couple, thus earning a second year to introduce some deadly love triangles.

But wait, there’s more trite with the stereotypical magical negro psychic and rebel teen Samantha Logan (Teen Wolf) as Nona. Not only do redundant ghosts also impart similar mysterious warnings, but Nona doesn’t always share what she knows, inexplicably leaving only the audience aware of the clairvoyance. Of course, Nona also has a magical negro grandmother in a wheelchair, and Ghost Guinan herself Whoopi Goldberg also makes an appearance as some kind of Matrix Oracle where, I hate to say it, she seems more like she’s just talking on The View. Erik Palladino (ER) as doorman Tony is also treated as a subservient ethnic minority picked over for a higher position but used as a thug or handyman and deliveries as needed. 666 Park Avenue also has a black widow obsessed with youth, an obituary writer who changes people’s lives with her pen, and two detectives snooping about The Drake. Well, one detective anyway – Teddy Sears (Masters of Sex) continues as another going nowhere side plot while his female black partner is never shown again. Typical.

 

Thankfully, symphony moments and ironic classic tunes add upscale accents to the blackmail and violence on 666 Park Avenue while creepy dream travels, phantom hallways, and hidden aspects of the building slowly reveal some sinister. It’s frustrating when something spooky happens only to be cut away for an ominous commercial edit, but distorted wide lenses and through the keyhole photography add a sense of askew not found on your typical New York drama. The women’s over-arched eyebrows give them a perpetual wow face, people researching their family history never bother to use ancestry.com, and some special effects look mighty poor. However, folks being sucked into the floor is pretty darn cool, and the 1920s styles make up for the contemporary lookalikes and lacking attention to detail. 666 Park Avenue has too many people, side politics interfere with the paranormal goods, and it takes half the thirteen episodes to really get going. The Drake’s spooky promise is never fully refined, and the episodic dragging once again proves that network television needs to catch up with today’s tightly paced shows and no time to waste storytelling. 666 Park Avenue should have been a taught 6 episodes rather than bloating itself with broad filler. Ironically, while improving on The Gates with its more spooky adult drama, these same pitfalls that shuttered The Gates condemns 666 Park Avenue.

It’s annoying when such creepy potential and likable actors don’t get the well thought out summer event series they deserve. Could have, should have – 666 Park Avenue is by no means great. Yet despite my negativity on the show’s never quite hitting the right notes, it was indeed entertaining to marathon for the weekend, and 666 Park Avenue fits well for viewers new to horror, budding paranormal teens, or those looking for something upscale and spooky but light on fear.

Kbatz: Dickensian Macabre!

Dickensian Macabre!

by Kristin Battestella

For those Addicts unaware, dear old Kbatz was born on February 7 – the same day as Charles Dickens! No, not in 1812, of course, but I don’t need further excuse to embrace some classic Victorian bleak and holiday macabre. Woohaa!

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Bleak House – This 2005 BBC mini series adaptation boasts a dynamite looking Gillian Anderson (Scully), Denis Lawson (Wedge), Anna Maxwell Martin (Poppy Shakespeare), Carey Mulligan (Shame), Charles Dance (Game of Thrones), Nathaniel Parker (The Inspector Lynley Mysteries), Hugo Speer (The Full Monty), and many, many more. The high-end decor, low looks, and to the hilt HD style are great- complete with a brewing, spooky atmosphere and sharp editing. Instead of spending visual time on lavish scenery and scopes, numerous up close shots and tight photography keep the focus on Dickens’ players as they chase fortunes and vices while the legalese profits from it all. The decidedly not quick, full 8-hour serial format works superbly for the hefty source material-which seems slightly less well known, but is just as complex. This is both dark cinematically, with a lack of bright and colorful Victorian cheer, and saucier thematically, with slightly obvious but nonetheless juicy and illicit soap-esque twists. If only we had ongoing miniseries like this again on American TV instead of reality junk or unintentionally short and mislaid fluff with no attention to detail. It’s bemusing to see such a large cast interconnected and inescapably tied to the system- entire lives and families rise and fall on the espionage and law here. But of course, we should not be surprised how those vile at the top use legality for their gains in the same way the unscrupulous at the bottom lean upon the establishment. The unforgiving societal consequences come to the forefront with great mystery and crime plotting just to keep things interesting, too. For as the characters themselves say: lawyers…villains…same thing!

 

The Christmas Carol – I stumbled upon this 1949 half hour on one of our new retro channels- love them- and wow, found two of my favorite things together: Vincent Price reading Charles Dickens! Price is so young indeed for this very early television production, but he’s animated, suave, and even cheeky during his onscreen transitions. He’s clearly enjoying this little holiday dramatization! Though black and white, there’s also a fittingly aged, green patina to the video, which retroactively creates a further vintage. Arthur Pierson’s (Hometown Story) adaptation has all the quintessential dialogue and memorable iconography even if the acting is the dated with the expected but put on British-ness. The direction feels stilted as well, with bare bones sets, awkward cues, some choppy editing, and simple camera filming. However, most of this is forgivable considering the budding television concepts and infancy of the medium post-war. Though few, the ghostly effects are surprisingly well done for the time. With such a short time frame, the work is considerably condensed, too. The unusual looking Ghost of Christmas Past and subsequent two ghostly visitors only receive one essential scene each. Thankfully, fun music accents the paired down design, and the quick simplicity makes this one just right for the Dickensian classroom.

 

19DC02_Christmas-Carol-DVD

 

Great Expectations – Magwitch Ralph Fiennes (Voldemort), Miss Havisham Helena Bonham Carter (Bellatrix), and Mr. Jaggers Robbie Coltrane (Hagrid) go Dickens 2012 with Jeremy Irvine (War Horse), Holliday Grainger (The Borgias), Sally Hawkins (Happy-Go-Lucky), and Jason Flemyng (X-Men: First Class). The old time fog, bleak, and cold are felt here with threatening, dirty, up-close convict dangers and poor cruelty at home, creating a jarring juxtaposition against the potential for Christmas kindness and holding fast to doing what is right despite difficult times. Will we be rewarded at some time unknown or is there always one ready to deceive and take advantage of the goodhearted? People treat one differently when society raises him and we pretend to be something we are not. Would be lovely greenery and estates marred with decrepit cobwebs and decay accent the harsh nature and bitter nurture at play – although the chemistry between the young leads falls flat with repetitive dialogue and a Dickens-lite, Young Adult tone. Perhaps Bonham Carter seems too quirky as Miss Havisham thanks to her Burton associations, but her madcap, warped pain would be fitting if it wasn’t presented as unevenly gothic and comical – the fire scene, I hate to say it, is laughable. Big, junky jewelry and ugly hairstyles are iffy, too. Brief CGI cityscapes and modern digital saturation are unnecessary compared to appropriately crowded London streets and cramped period interiors, the score is too generic, and flashbacks on Miss Havisham’s marital cause and the Magwich back-story feel too…music video. The pace drags in time away from the elder cast, but these 2 hours move fast over the well known plot. There are better, fully envisioned adaptations – perhaps this release was simply too blink and you miss it soon after the 2011 television version – but the paired down style, elder ensemble performances, and the tough to beat story lend their appeal to contemporary eyes and a classroom discussion.

 

The Mystery of Edwin Drood – Dickens’ final incomplete tale seems to have garnered new attention with recent stage and literary off shoots- even if it is perhaps impossible to conclude this murder and romance plot befittingly of Our Man Charlie. However, this fine 2012 television attempt has the proper mood lighting and cinematography, a shadowy Victorian underbelly style, and a few twisted villainous personas for good measure. The cast- including properly pissy Tazmin Merchant (The Tudors), stuffy and fun Ian McNiece (Rome, Doctor Who), and a creepy freaky Matthew Rhys (Brothers & Sisters) – does solid as always in these imported PBS/Masterpiece period projects. There are some intriguingly modern suggestions from Dickens, with opium-addicted choirmaster Jasper and his lecherous looks upon young ladies easily garnering a shudder or two. Even with such thematic darkness, screenwriter Gwyneth Hughes adds darker complexities and contemporary suspense designs, and the approach simply isn’t as taut or interwoven as work straight from The Man Himself. The conclusion here takes what seems to be a fairly easy way out- the 21st century twist rather than Victorian happenstance, justice, and irony. Fortunately, the very unfinished circumstances that can hinder any Drood adaptation also make this one a worthy witness for any Dickensian fan or scholarly seminar.

Kbatz: Thriller Season 1

 

Boris Karloff’s Thriller Debuts with Spooky Quality

by Kristin Battestella

 

Oft bespectacled and mustachioed horror guru Boris Karloff came to the small screen in 1960 as host of Thriller, and though uneven to start, the black and white anthology series’ 37-episode Season One debut packs a wallop of suspense, drama, and scares.

Businessman with a stalker Leslie Nielson (The Naked Gun) is the first of many guest stars on Thriller in “The Twisted Image.” The implied vices, family secrets, violent subtext, and domineering dames may not be anything we haven’t seen before, yet we know the suspicion, schemes, and opportunist desperation can’t end well. Then scandalous topics and saucy literary sources give Thriller a mature tone, and blackmail, wills, and murder keep the sly, vindictive players entertaining to watch. Without the effects of today, Thriller relies on the players and the plot to craft well paced episodes and escalating acts – “The Mark of the Hand” uses flashbacks, distorted investigations, and non-speaking child witnesses for its suburban scandals and askew twists. Mary Astor (The Maltese Falcon) may be a bit obvious in “Rose’s Last Summer,” but its fun to see how the fading stars, would be comebacks, and alcoholism will play out. Disc Two, however, provides the first whiff of the supernatural on Thriller with “The Purple Room.” Rip Torn (Men in Black) and Richard Anderson (The Six Million Dollar Man) spend the night in the house from Psycho and great atmosphere, isolation, hauntings, and hysteria follow in this deadly, scary tale. “The Prediction” continues the bizarre with Karloff himself doing double duty as host and performing as an aging psychic for play within a play theatrics, deadly intuitions, and crazy Cassandra circumstances. Even though it probably would have meant even less episodes for Thriller, I wish Karloff could have played a macabre part in every show.

 

Blink and you will miss a very young Mary Tyler Moore alongside Robert Lansing (Star Trek’s Gary Seven) for “The Fatal Impulse,” an intriguing look at mid-century bomb plots, politicians, and murder threats complete with a ticking clock and unknown peril. Of course, “The Cheaters” may be Thriller’s most famous episode. From the period piece science and accursed spectacles to an antique mood and desperation, the vignettes here offer a disturbing perspective with props to match. What if one could see another’s true, cruel thoughts – or maybe even our own? It would certainly come in handy over poker! This hour makes for a wild precursor to the spooky antiques of Friday the 13th: The Series. The stars continue on Disc Four with more cobwebs, stormy cliff side locales, and creepy mirrors in “The Hungry Glass.” Kirk himself William Shatner and Gilligan’s Island Professor Russell Johnson add to the atmospheric reflections and what you may or may not see, and the proverbial smoke, mirrors, shadows, and lighting tricks set off this simmering spooky and period panache. Likewise, “The Poisoner” is delightfully gothic and operatic thanks to a Jerry Goldsmith score, past waistcoats, paintings, pesky family fortunes, and that suspicious titular tea. The beach bum con artists and rich dames of “Choose a Victim” may be too gullible to be believable; however, kinky swindles and double crossings see it through to the end. Dated witchcraft perceptions may also hinder “Hay-Fork and Bill-Hook,” but eerie chases, Stonehenge accents, and pitchfork imagery keeps this one perfect for Halloween – and look its Batman’s butler Alan Napier! Goldsmith’s music again matches the sacrifice discussion and superstitious ways ala The Wicker Man, and these great supernatural outings just seem to be the better episodes on Thriller.

The Merriweather File” opens Disc Five with dangerous gas, a deceased child, and dead bodies in the trunk as touchy-feely, supposedly friendly lawyers bring subtext and tawdry secrets to light. “The Fingers of Fear” implies more than just child murder to match the quite creepy abductions, sociopathy, and pursuit twists. It’s neat to see how town apprehension, suspicion, evidence, public opinion, and what’s in the newspaper influence the case – especially compared to today. The late Richard Keele (The Spy Who Loved Me) looms over the “Well of Doom” along with a booming score, roadside terror, and castle evils. Is this a scheme or the supernatural? The picture is too dark at times during the titular dungeon escapes, but the desperation and atmosphere work. Likewise, fun science equipment goes awry for Robert Vaughn (The Magnificent Seven) in “The Ordeal of Dr. Cordell.” Pleasing paranoia, spinning effects, unknown trauma, and dangerous triggers accent the escalating laboratory obsessions and frayed tensions. Oft-Thriller director Ida Lupino (The Hitch-Hiker) helms the anthology within an anthology episode “Trio for Terror” with 1905 English scenery and heaps of chilling mood. In what might have been a neat design for the series, claret sipping Karloff hosts these segments from inside a pub full of shady characters – telling tales of spooky train car companions, creepy wax artifacts, high stakes suspense, tricked out castles, and serial stranglers. Though disjointed, there’s a little bit of everything to fit one’s scary need, and the smaller literary based stories do well over the hour.

 

Ironic carnival scoring and a killer sideshow atmosphere lead Disc Six in “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper.” While mid-century suits debate the psychology of the killings and analyze ongoing 70-year patterns, scandalous burlesque dames, beatnik artists, bloody pacts, and a morbid shocker or two create a fun take on the White Chapel theme. “The Devil’s Ticket” continues the sinister with shady pawn shop dealings and a high price on tokens usually not for barter – such as your soul or your painting talent, perhaps. Great dialogue talks about the fantastic, “What the devil do you mean?” “Now, now, let’s not mention any names,” whilst also debating the internal struggle of objective and subjective truths, the games we play, and the prices we pay. These topics aren’t as cut and dry as we hope – especially when a love triangle adds to the devilish deadline. Likewise, surprising innuendo matches the captivity and titular derelict of “Parasite Mansion” along with some pre-Texas Chainsaw Massacre backwoods family shenanigans and one creepy cackling old lady. The moody score fits the tense attempts to flee amid cobwebs and maze like interiors while more twists await within the walls and beyond. Ironically, the crime and scandal with a little something sinister in this hour is a well done combination of the mixed suspense and supernatural vision looking for its footing on Thriller.

Child innocence and warm velvety interiors lead to squabbling relatives and a disembodied, ghostly voice to start the lovely “Mr. George.” Inheritance plots and turnabout on those deadly intentions build suspense thanks to swinging camera work and cleverly edited accidents. “The Terror in Teakwood” continues on Thriller’s supernatural superior with Hazel Court (The Premature Burial), romantic rivals, Pandora’s Box scares, musical desperation, and piano melodies. Similar to the later The Mephisto Waltz, demented pianist talents and deadly compositions get, well, out of hand, as it were. An opening Paris 1910 charm conceals more menacing tricks and hypnosis alongside Marion Ross (Happy Days) in “Prisoner in the Mirror.” Karloff pops in to update the time line changes, and forgotten burials, beautiful not so dead corpses, and internal plays on mirrors, reflections, and Doppelgangers create some fine illusions here. Dark shadows and lighting schemes accent the atmosphere, twists, and through the looking-glass spins beautifully. Ominous music immediately sets the tone of “Dark Legacy” as fates are decided with occult motifs and the blurred line between magic and sorcery is explored. The rites, rituals, and fake symbols are a little hokey, but smoke and thunder special effects do wonders in upping the misused incantation temptations. Romance becomes insignificance when black magic leads to stage success – or demonic corruption! Concluding Thriller’s First Season on Disc Eight are “Pigeons from Hell” and “The Grim Reaper.” Great swamp fog, overgrown ruins, and avian danger amid the ghostly sounds and off camera screams in “Pigeons” make an excellent Southern Gothic mood for the deadly turnabouts, mistaken investigation, and paranormal afoot – and it’s all done with one scary set and three players. “Reaper” brings Shatner to Thriller again, this time with Hearst driving Mrs. Howell Natalie Schafer of Gilligan’s Island. Ghoulish paintings, kooky authors, trophy husbands, and cursed artwork do superbly for this blend of superstition and suspense. Great shadows, up close editing, and what you don’t see scares hit home, and this final stretch of scary and supernatural sends Thriller‘s debut session out on a high note.

 

However, despite its title and horror pedigree, the first half of Thriller seems somewhat weak or unsure what direction the series shall take. Scary fans could even skip Disc One on the set altogether, for one expecting all weird or speculative horror will be disappointed in the straight drama and gun play of “Child’s Play” or the stereotypical mobsters from “The Guilty Men.” “The Big Blackout,” “Knock Three-One-Two,” and “Man in the Middle” are also redundant in their similar blackmails and crimes against women. Though workable as an hour of dramatic crime and entertainment, Richard Chamberlain’s (The Thorn Birds) small town scandal in “The Watcher” and Cloris Leachman’s (Phyllis) “Girl with a Secret” heist are nothing new and the Moroccan flavors of “Man in the Cage” don’t sparkle as they should. The simmering score in “Late Date” can’t overcome the run of the mill, get rid of the body, beach side violence, and stereotypical Puerto Rico designs, voodoo scares, and non-believing authorities can’t help John Ireland’s (Red River) looking over his shoulder desperation in “Papa Benjamin.” The creative premeditation, literary inspiration, clever weaponry, and fun performances of “A Good Imagination” would have been a neat as the lone bookish murderer among a season of horrors, but since Thriller starts off the other way around, it’s just another more of the same amid too many cheats, blackmails, and revenge.

Fortunately, Thriller provides layers of historical and then-contemporary nostalgia. I’ll take a bottle of your best champagne for fifteen bucks! Sweet cars, swanky music, mid-century fashions, and period accents create mood or accessories as needed – although one could lose an eye with these bullet bras! There are unfortunate, of the time subservient minorities but thankfully, past prejudices are few across Thriller’s eight discs for Season One. The DVD designs for the Complete Series set are also a lot of spooky fun with spider webs and skull cursors. While there are no subtitles and the sound is often uneven between soft voices and loud effects, numerous episodes across the discs have commentaries, promos, or isolated scores by Jerry Goldsmith along with trailers, photo galleries, and production stills. This video collection is a bit elusive, but Thriller can be found on retro over the air stations like Me-TV and with other streaming options.

 

Unlike The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits or even One Step Beyond, Thriller’s first season is not totally paranormal or speculative in nature and can’t really be compared to such anthologies. The show’s division between straight mystery and macabre may split viewers, but overall, Karloff’s outing is more akin to the suspense of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour thanks to these mostly dramatic fifty minute tales. Big Boris himself is of course always suave as host with a fun style and props to his introductions – even if his greetings often read as double talk shoehorning in a titular pun. It’s not the sardonic of Serling or the humor of Hitchcock, but Karloff’s own charming stature is reason enough for some horror fans to tune in for Thriller, so long as you avoid the purely dramatic episodes. Regardless of scary expectations and a rocky start, there are still numerous hours of entertainment, guest stars, and ghastly for mid-century television lovers or creepy enthusiasts to enjoy this First Year of Thriller.

 

Kbatz: Penny Dreadful Season 1

 

Penny Dreadful Debuts with Scary Sophistication

by Kristin Battestella

 

penny_dreadful_by_pzns-d7iyerpThe 2014 Showtime series Penny Dreadful has some hiccups in blending the stylish past and its literary based madcap of monsters and macabre. Fortunately, shrewd writing and a gothic, sophisticated approach keeps this eight episode debut a cut above the rest.

The alluring but mysterious Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) recruits Wild West show shooter Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) for a dangerous mission headed by explorer Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton). No longer climbing mountains with his manservant Sembene (Danny Sapani), Sir Malcolm is searching for his daughter Mina (Olivia Llewellyn), who has been abducted by a vampire master while brutal, butchering violence shocks the post-Ripper London. Young Doctor Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) aides Sir Malcolm while Vanessa has several risky dalliances with the enticing Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney). Victor’s monster Caliban (Rory Kinnear), however, pressures the doctor to do his wishes, and Dorian has encounters of his own with Ethan’s immigrant girlfriend, the ill prostitute Brona Croft (Billie Piper). Will the supernatural secrets of this unusual group unite them or tear the team apart as they go head to head with vampires, demons, and monsters in hopes of saving Mina?

 

penny-dreadful-eva-green-ep-1Not having all the trademarks to Dracula gave Penny Dreadful creator and Oscar nominated writer John Logan and fellow Skyfall and Spectre James Bond producer Sam Mendes an excellent dramatic license to combine the gothic tropes we know and love along with uniquely macabre off shoots. The expected upscale period splendor is here yet the cinematic film quality and realistic visual schemes add a dark and dirty as each episode narrows the character focus and clues the viewer in on these bizarre circumstances. It’s downright fun to guess who is actually who, as not all of our similar but different literary inspirations are immediately named or their secrets revealed. My husband doesn’t know what’s up with Dorian Gray and I’m not going to tell him! The audience takes the paranormal leap along with the psychic connections and horrific elements thanks to the character concentration, great dialogue, and a writing first approach instead of the more recent lame brained gore over substance horror. The well written, likable players make literary allusions themselves and the sophisticated conversations don’t insult the viewer – though that’s not to say their isn’t some shocking, then colorful language or scandalous words flavoring the ghastly polish. Racist, of the time terms are also unfortunately necessary, but honest conversations about American Indian history and past injustices make up for the occasional harsh term along with parallel circumstances and bitter, supernatural lessons not learned. Wild West side show parodies and horrible killings set this miserable Victorian mood in Episode One “Night Work” while Latin prayers, an opium house, Nosferatu underlings, monsters, and abductions add to the titular creepy along with a macabre mix of the well dressed, violent fighting, mysterious Arabic, and Egyptian Book of the Dead hints. How did this disparate crew get into this dark underbelly? The good versus evil and seemingly untarnished layers aren’t as clear as we think. Do our players find themselves amid the spiritual realm between life and death or the new world of science – or are their transgressions across both?

rtw3udft198rnhszvvniSeance” introduces more Penny Dreadful players to the dockside desolate with prostitution, tuberculosis, and Dr. Frankenstein joining the fold. Everyone has a secret – Victor, his creations, and the so pretty yet so naughty Dorian Gray. Are the crimes about London related to these concealed truths and Sir Malcolm’s paranormal quest? The saucy is both demented and artistically done even if it is also slightly over the top, but the intriguing dialogue continues alongside the parlor fun and spiritualism winks. What can I say, it’s simply great to hear people use big words, and the titular sequence is superb. Vanessa’s unrevealed role to play goes wild, hooking the audience thanks to creepy voices, hidden history, and possession. Demonic language, sad revelations, and frightening powers – I’d leave that table! At only 48 minutes, Episode Three “Resurrection” is shorter than Penny Dreadful‘s usually true hour long airtime, but this segment focusing on Victor adds some flashback colorful before unpoetic death enters in and a bloody convulsing spurns Victor’s goals as his mother is snatched from him. Do our violent births, first rejections, and brushes with death irrevocably shape our outlook on life? The Caliban framing narration slows the pace, but transferring the monster’s plot to a theatre underground adds a Phantom of the Opera-esque gory onstage pulp. The zoo showdowns, wolfy scares, and captured informants, however, are more sinister, and details about finding Mina and the antagonism between our players are more interesting than Caliban’s complaints.

 

Penny-dreadful-episode-3-calibanPenny Dreadful could have been cheap and nasty in showing Dorian Gray’s depravity in “Demimonde,” but I’m glad it doesn’t go there despite his increasingly extreme desperation. His creepy mirrors, photography, and secret passages juxtaposed nicely against innocent questions, sad burials, and melancholy churches where one is not sure she is permitted entry. Bright outdoor scenes and delicate orchids belie dangerous nightshade and peril in beauty. Is there a method to nature’s madness or these supernatural apparitions? The show within a show audiences and theatre behind the scenes add more dimension, and players previously unknown interact as Vanessa’s revelations happen in Episode Five “Closer than Sisters.” Childhood beach side splendor, white lace and sunshine evoke the time before Penny Dreadful began, when evil temptations, sexual desires, and “little acts of wickedness” lead to much more. This past recounting is better than Caliban’s bitterness because this is the root cause for Vanessa and the show’s main quest – creepy taxidermy and tales of safari cannibals hint at macabre to come. Do we willfully choose this dark path over prayers unanswered as jealousy and hatred mount? pd7Are evil possessions at work on a corrupted soul or is physical illness the cause of a sickly body? The hospital cruelty and institutional torment are just as dehumanizing as the demonic possibilities. Who is at fault for such suffering and sin when the devil is your friend? Penny Dreadful puts all its gothic sin, salvation, and transgressions together here, and “What Death Can Join Together” moves the action forward as our team learns to forgive themselves. Plague ship battles are congested, intimate, and messy with rats, vampires, and monsters. Dreadful prices, divine gifts, escalating desires, and internal, self referential ironies are not lost on this merry outfit as evil of all shapes and sizes ups the ante.

Minimal but dangerous levitation and flying objects are smartly used in Episode Seven “Possession,” imagesand Penny Dreadful’s motley family huddles in support of the titular victim – not that they always keep it together as they face their inner demons, however. Insects and manifestations mount as hidden truths will out, and things get ugly as people lose control, fight loved ones, and try to reach the lost souls. Foul language, demonic speaking, and symbolic snow add to the great performances all around as the science versus spirit debate rages. Does demonic possession belong in the realm of the religious or will standard doctoring do? These divides unite our players, strengthening their trust in each other against evil without the usual smoke and mirror exorcism spectacles. Penny Dreadful remains personal with excellent agonizing screams, weary witnesses, and sickly pallors as faith, friendships, and romances are tested. In a lengthy 24 episode season, this episode would be a bottle show thanks to its contained nature. However, some lofty material goes down with Penny Dreadful’s five core players without them even leaving the house. Hot damn. “Grand Guignol” puts all the outside factors and interior influences together for the finale’s multilevel theatrical showdown. Stage ropes and trap doors add to the vampire peril as characters come to new truths and surprising bonds are made. Can redemption yet be found? Has everyone done their part in this play? Of course, there are subtle implications left for Season Two, possible future plots culminate, and Penny Dreadful certainly tells us that death isn’t quite so definitive.

 

penny-dreadfulI feel like I’m glowing with praise, but Penny Dreadful is not without its fair share of debut problems. While there are no excessive, panorama, look at the monster so cool camera works; cliche, bad ass walking transitions, dark meetings on street corners, and lengthy establishing shots meander when a cut to already being where we need to be would do. There aren’t that many flashy for flashy’s sake moments, but modern shock editing, zooms, and dark vampy battle scenes are iffy at times, and the closed captioning is also sometimes more amusing than atmospheric with its “screams reverb and flow into the night” or how every door simply must “creak” open. Quibbles, yes, but the story lines on Penny Dreadful themselves are unevenly paced and not equally interwoven – something that should be easy to do across only eight episodes. Unnecessary support takes up time from the relatively straight forward, supposedly primary vampire abduction quest, and the ongoing carnivorous murders about town are poorly handled, sprinkled throughout the season along with Egyptian themes. Both are trumped as being of critical importance then disappear before the previouslies introducing the episode or obvious flashbacks and foreshadowing shoehorn them in again. It’s superb to see bisexuality on Penny Dreadful, however, same sex material is bizarrely montaged over – and isn’t as equal opportunity nude or graphic as the other heterosexual kinky scenes, either. Evil and sexual acts or on the nose light and dark symbolism are also linked together, but perhaps these naughty ties are in commentary on hypocritical Victorian ways. Penny Dreadful is a great show upon the first watch, but picking through it with too many fine toothed comb viewings can crack its veneer.

Fortunately, Eva Green (Casino Royale) looks dynamite in period regalia as Vanessa Ives. Lace frocks, Penny-Dreadful-1-07-Vanessa-Ives-episode-stills-vanessa-ives-penny-dreadful-37563938-3600-2400wild up dos, and red lips add allure, but Green remains can’t look away stunning when stripped bare, down and dirty, or possessed and spouting wicked incantations. Vanessa shows strength in weakness yet shakes down the men around her, recognizing their similar complications even though the audience hasn’t figured out what’s behind her poise. Over the course of Penny Dreadful, Vanessa goes from a pious and humble beauty to hospital horrors, creepy crawlies, and back again as she struggles between religious beliefs and increasingly nasty evils. Miss Ives is at times the lady, a child, or evil with slightly scandalous hints to her latent naughty – no gloves at a posh Victorian party and such a saucy kinship to Dorian Gray. What is she to Sir Malcolm? What is the source behind her psychic and possessive powers? Green is simply great in “Seance” and “Closer than Sisters” – award worthy in fact. Vanessa is a strong woman facing death daily whilst hiding a hidden internal battle yet remains put together as best she can. Her convalescence is anything but when she must live with the violence and death she has caused. This is a wonderful original character anchoring Penny Dreadful, and Vanessa Ives fits right in with the familiar literary boys.

 

imagesThen again, when Timothy Dalton’s (The Living Daylight) Sir Malcolm Murray says don’t be amazed by what you see and don’t hesitate, we don’t! The classy waistcoat, top hats, and cane add prominence while the gray in his beard adds gruff to his elder gentleman appeal. This African adventurer has been aged by his shady experiences; he’s a pissed off dad and has the means to do something about getting his daughter back but he hasn’t been a perfect parent by any means. Sir Malcolm’s tug and pull with Vanessa is scene chewing excellence – they’ve both gained a bizarre new family with this dreadful team. Sir Malcolm navigates the Gentleman’s club bright and fancy as swiftly as he handles the down low and dirty. His power and wealth have a long reach, and Sir Malcolm is able to follow inside the police investigations whilst also keeping his own family secrets behind closed doors. Be it arrogance, negligence, or dark forces, he’s running out of people close to him to lose, and this increasingly high price is taking its toll. Fatherly love clouds Sir Malcolm’s judgment, he sees some of his son in the young Victor, and tries to be better man to this motley band than he was to his own family. However, he’s also uses or protects them as necessary in this quest to save his daughter. Sir Malcolm thinks he is above the darkness about him and believes he will do what has to be done. Unfortunately, he is sorely mistaken and must learn to face his regrets, familial mistakes, and grief.

He’s pretentious about his research and the possibility of a greater science, but Harry Treadaway images (1)(Honeymoon) has some wild disciplines and bloody medicine to contribute as Victor Frankenstein. He rebuffs the notion that he is just a man with a knife and isn’t afraid to call these shocking circumstances as he sees them despite his glassy stare and small stature compared to paternal steady hand Sir Malcolm or would be big brother Ethan Chandler. Treadaway delivers some wonderfully intelligent wit and ambitious dialogue – Victor wins his battles with a dance of words but also knows when to be silent or in awe of his creations. His work is a mix of genius and barbaric butchery, yet there is a poetic, touching, and human sensitivity amid Frankenstein’s snap, crackle, and pop laboratory. Victor remains gentle in his power of giving life and death – but he isn’t exactly able to control such corrupting opportunities or his so-called children. Indeed his maternal aspects are stunted and cut short, for Victor is so desperately interested in trying to cheat death that he’s missing out on life. The doctor lives through literature, he’s sickly and bloodshot, and unprepared when his creation becomes painfully superior. Naturally, “Dr. F.” looses whatever innocence he may have had along the way, leaving reluctance for complete compliance and monstrous orchestration.

 

images (2)Penny Dreadful unfortunately missteps again in the handling of Josh Harnett’s gun for hire Ethan Chandler. His secret is pretty apparent to start and obvious to the audience in “Resurrection” and “Demimonde” yet his plot is played as though it were some major surprise kicker for the finale. Instead of underestimating the audience, the focus should have been upfront so the viewers could be further inside his may or may not know pain. Thankfully, there’s a built in American reason for Chandler’s kinky, cowboy veneer, and without the need for the usual trite Yank going faux Brit, Hartnett becomes surprisingly impressive for the somber and serious moments. Granted, there is a part of you that can’t stop thinking of the woe that was Pearl Harbor or “It’s hottie of the 90s Josh Hartnett all grown up!” However, Ethan knows his weapons and fearlessly goes after the vampy monsters. He has a would be sibling rivalry with Victor yet provides a wise sounding board to Sir Malcolm when needed and holds fast to a tender sentiment with the ladies. Chandler is running from a lot more than an oppressive father back home, and the bluffing banter with Vanessa on his shadowed possibilities is more interesting than the inevitable love with Brona. Much of Ethan’s relationship with Brona feels unpolished or shoehorned in as set up for the tug and pull plots in Season Two – which would have been a real pity had there been no next year. Fortunately, Hartnett’s “and” billing is fitting, for Ethan adds a relatable American tell it like it is wit and dark humor matching Penny Dreadful‘s twisted cynicism.

PennyDreadfulUnderstandably, Reeve Carney (The Tempest) as Dorian Gray is played up to be depraved and assy, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. It’s tough to enjoy the extremes Dorian takes, and for the most part, it’s all too pretentious to care. His chemistry with Vanessa is also too smarmy and not on par with the other characters– Carney feels inferior to Green and she carries their scenes. Dorian is styled as a modern pretty boy – his bathroom is absurdly decadent, the one excessive, intruding set piece here – and he seems hammy and out of place. Dorian sorely miscalculates Vanessa, uses Ethan, and ultimately, his superfluous, slutty twists don’t do much for the main plot. Likewise, it’s obvious who Billie Piper (Doctor Who) will be in Season Two as the original but dead end Brona Croft. Her entire plot is not as sympathetic as it should be thanks to a pitiful accent and redundant support driving Ethan to places he was already headed. I like Piper, but she feels wrong for the part, and Brona’s inevitable should have been paired down to its late season essentials. Rory Kinnear (Othello) as the creature Caliban is also slightly over the top and obnoxious with a pissy entry that the audience won’t like. He can’t get over his sad start, and Caliban goes overboard in complaining about the perceived sins of his father when it’s his own crimes and monstrous actions making him just as villainous. With his smarts and superior attitude he should know better. Caliban learns of hatred and mercy but chooses the former – his own adolescent, emo behavior and violence mars the would be theatre kindness he receives. He isn’t fun to watch, and a late introduction taking up most of the third episode takes away from the other more interesting players we have already met.

 

Indeed, the alphabetical credits belie the importance of the aforementioned trio – they don’t appear in all the episodes and provide uneven aggravation or fodder for the main stars, again all in future storytelling hopes not needed in the tale at hand. I’d much rather have had the wasted David Warner (Titanic) as Van Helsing, an all too brief but charming hematologist with wise words and a steady, grandfatherly presence beyond the occult matters. Recurring guest stars such as Alex Price (Father Brown) as Proteus also do much more for Penny Dreadful. His nudity, subtext, and a childlike but sensuous, emotional exploration add a far better bittersweet sense of wonder to the Frankenstein plots. Does the new man composed of previous men belong to those past recollections or new human development? The answers are both touching and upsetting. Likewise, we’re immediately curious about Danny Sapani (Trance) and his mysterious manservant Sembene. He’s a soft spoken cool cat, a butler who is the keeper of far more secrets and skills than we realize – which comes in pretty handy to Sir Malcolm. Sembene claims he has no story to tell, but there’s certainly some excellent sophistication and compassion in how smoothly he can do what Sir Malcolm cannot when it comes to the new, if uneven, twists for Olivia Llewellyn (The Lizzie Borden Chronicles) as Mina Harker. I hope we have more intrigue from Sembene in Year Two, for the subtle seeds have been placed for him alongside the perfectly flamboyant Egyptologist Simon Russell Beale (The Hollow Crown) and the wild Madame Kali Helen McCrory (Peaky Blinders).

Speaking of items I’d love to see, can these Victorian fashions please come back in full force? Penny Dreadful has the period look as it should but the clothes also have an air of modern streamline – no fru fru frilly is getting in the way of the appropriately bloody bodies, gruesome human parts, or harbored ships with their shady below decks and monster works. Cringe worthy institutions show the old errors juxtaposed against photography, emerging technologies, and more rarities of the time, but the unpleasant, red eyed Nosferatu vamps keep Penny Dreadful old school ugly. The seemingly nondescript courtyard and townhouse hide a dramatic staircase, a dungeon below, the possessed upstairs, and a sweet parlor where all the heavy conversations happen. How did wallpaper then look so good when ours can be so tacky? Cartography, old time explorations, antiques, and fine woodwork add realism while seances, tarot cards, and luscious red interiors shape that 19th century mysticism. Gas lamps, candles, and fire add a period patina as London fog and lamplighters create a near black and white noir scheme; storms, winds, and rain add to the bleak when all is stripped bare. Sound effects or simple tricks of flashing darkness, moving in camera with a character, or cut away shocks do heaps more in building spooky than the more recent in your face horror designs. Small doses of other languages, fancy phrases, and of the time speakeths add to the panache while play within a play under the stage theatre spectacles layer the observations. The angry, frenetic violin theme music establishes the blue, macabre symbolism during the opening credits, and the viewer is more than ready to settle in with the snakes, spiders, bloody tea cups, and all that is afoot on Penny Dreadful.

 

Currently, Penny Dreadful can be seen via Showtime streaming options, Amazon, DVD and blu-ray releases, or in on air marathons as Season Two looms. Unfortunately, the on Demand and Xfinity interface can be quite cumbersome and nineties laden with sound issues and playback trouble. Episodes also expire or have varying dates, and it doesn’t make much sense to have Year One unavailable to subscribers when the Second series is imminent. These viewing technicalities, however, are but a quibble when considering how Penny Dreadful proves what can be done when a network gives a paranormal drama the care and attention the production needs to match its literary weight and saucy opportunity. I loved NBC’s Dracula, but the Big Three American network didn’t have the inclination or know how to support the series. Universal probably also misfired with its Dracula Untold, leaving its new monster mash up franchise off to a shaky start, but this, this, this is how Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows movie should have been done. Penny Dreadful is pulpy but witty, and any bemusements or camp don’t interfere with the frightful mood and macabre atmosphere. Their are First Year growing pains, but the series goes where it wants to go and shows all its saucy or gory without dumbing the style, players, or plot down to the bottom denominator. Instead of lowering the bar, Penny Dreadful raises the measure for gothic horror adaptations with lavish looks, intriguing characters, and sophisticated storytelling.

The Twilight Zone: More Treasures and Volume 7

 

More Goodness from The Twilight Zone

By Kristin Battestella

 

Sometimes you just need a Twilight Zone fix. Any fan of classic science fiction, fantasy, or the unusual and bizarre knows what I mean. The entire series is available in a variety of DVD sets, collections, and compilations; so here’s some help on two discs containing some of the 1959-64 series’ gems. The Twilight Zone: Volume 7 and More Treasures of The Twilight Zone are a fine chances to introduce young fans to Rod Serling’s iconic series or to wax nostalgic on black and white, thinking man’s television.

The Twilight Zone: Volume 7 contains four classics, two from the first season and two more from season two. ‘Perchance to Dream’ introduces us to Richard Conte (The Godfather) and his difficulty to separate his heart condition from his daily life and his dreams. We all know the tales about dying in our dreams and how the night visions can trick the brain into thinking we are dead. Charles Beaumont’s examination of the heart, mind, and body still captivates us because we understand the fear of falling asleep and the harbinger of death it can bring.

Captain Embry (Robert Cummings, Dial M for Murder) finds his plane in the desert and his crew missing next in ‘King Nine Will Not Return’. Though it harkens to World War II, Serling again makes veiled social commentaries through fanciful fiction. Lost planes and soldiers reliving former war losses and glories for real or in the mind’s eye is certainly a story that can carry on the a Vietnam veteran or a Gulf War hero.

Likewise, Charles Beaumont and guest player Dennis Weaver (Duel) blur the lines of understandable dreams and realities in ‘Shadow Play’. A man on death row tries to convince the inmates and authorities around him that this is all merely a recurring nightmare from which his waking is worse than execution. Is a good night’s sleep really more important than our most terrifying dreams? What if our waking life and the dream world were in fact, reversed? Although the sixties styles onscreen and the filmmaking technology behind the scenes may seem dated to some, the intrigue of watching an intelligent half hour of television wins out again and again for The Twilight Zone.

Lastly on The Twilight Zone: Volume 7, ‘The Hitch Hiker’ serves up Inger Stevens (The Farmer’s Daughter) as Nan Adams, a young woman driving cross-country under the threat of a mysterious, reappearing hitchhiker. Maybe Serling’s story has become obvious by now. However, in addition to great twist endings, it’s The Twilight’s Zone’s unique ability to suspend our belief in getting there that lasts. Again an all too realistic fear keeps us entertained whilst in the Zone.

Instead of weeding through volumes and volumes of expensive DVDs, More Treasures of the Twilight Zone puts some of the most famous episodes of the serious all in one place for fans to enjoy. ‘The Masks’ starts things off here with the dying Robert Keith (Guys and Dolls) and his greedy family during Mardi Gras. This memorable season five episode from Rod Serling again quietly boasts real life statements veiled as the horrific. Keith asks each member of his family to wear a mask for Mardi Gras, a mask that shows more about who these people really are then their own faces. Again, probably not so hard hitting today because its so famous and oft imitated, ‘The Masks’ still makes us uncomfortable because it touches too close to the things we’d rather not face in ourselves.

 The relevant social commentary continues with two back-to-back episodes from season two. ‘The Howling Man’, stars John Carradine (The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance) as a religious zealot whose warnings about his howling prisoner go unheeded by a misguided guest. The acting here is a little over the top as a lot of older pictures are, but the double creepy ending warning us of the devil’s tricks and man’s weakness. The old school horror elements and the off the cuff handling of the serious subject matter keeps us thinking about the error of man’s ways fifty years on.

And of course, More Treasures of the Twilight Zone concludes with perhaps the series’ most famous tale, ‘Eye of The Beholder’. Where some folks may simple say, ‘You know that Twilight Zone episode where this happens or that person this…’, that does not happen with ‘Eye of the Beholder’. The title alone brings back all the beauty versus ugly, totalitarian commentary that The Twilight Zone is about; and of course, it’s masterfully captured in the likes of futuristic plastic surgery as only Rod Serling can write it. There really isn’t a famous star this episode, which is fitting, since the tale is about a woman waiting for the bandages to come off her new surgery-a surgery which will hopefully make her look like everyone else. Sure we know the outcome inside and out, but rewatching ‘Eye of the Beholder’ never gets old. There’s always something new here to notice and reflect upon. For most of the episode, we see no human faces-all covered up, hidden, and shadowed. How fascinating that in a visual medium, we are enthralled by a story about beauty, in which we almost see no faces! That, my friends, is the power of The Twilight Zone.

 

These and other Twilight Zone DVDs are available at most video retailers, online shops, or for rental. ‘Shadow Play’, ‘The Howling Man’, ‘The Hitch Hiker’, and ‘Perchance to Dream’ are also available to view free at IMdB and fancast. The Twilight Zone can also be found at Amazon on demand for a fee. The Twilight Zone: Volume 7 and More Treasures of The Twilight Zone help this timeless series keep its hold on us well into the 21st century. Relive the primitive science fiction, bizarre fantasy, and thought provoking horror again or introduce the next generation today.

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When other kids were playing with dolls and teddy bears, this South Jersey born and bred addict KBatz was watching Price, Lee, Hitchcock, Dark Shadows, Alien, anything and everything in analysis of what was scary and why. In the dark ages of 20th century high schoolery, a teacher coined her ‘Mistress of Darkness’ thanks to a penchant for horror fiction, quirky essays, and paranormal reviews – and this Susie Homemaker style with a side of spooky lives on today. Be it vamps, scares, or weres, you name it freaky or macabre and she is there – irregardless of how you pronounce macabre. For more bent paranormal fiction and horror film, television, and literature reviews, find Kbatz’ insanity on the web at: vampfam.blogspot.com and ithinkthereforeireview.blogspot.com

Kbatz: Dracula (2013)

Late Dracula Flawed but Still Entertaining

By Kristin Battestella

draculaI was excited for NBC’s 2013 prime time limited series Dracula. However, network demands and a rocky start seem to have unfortunately done in the series’ potential, and gothic, horror, and steampunk audiences are sadly left to wonder what could have been with this entertaining one shot.

The latest suave American inventor in 1896 London is none other than Dracula himself! Posing as Alexander Grayson, Dracula (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) seeks vengeance against the corrupt Order of the Dragon with the help of Professor Abraham Van Helsing (Thomas Kretschmann) and R.M. Renfield, Esq. (Nonso Anozie). Meeting Mina Murray (Jessica De Gouw), however, expedites Dracula’s desire for a vampirism cure. He hires Mina’s paramour Jonathan Harker (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) as his assistant, using his newspaper know how whilst also romancing the Order’s lead huntsman Lady Jayne Whetherby (Victoria Smurfit) away from her vampire killing duties. Unfortunately, Mina’s best friend Lucy Westerna (Katie McGrath) also has romantic folly on her mind…

Episode 1 “The Blood is Life” jumps right into resurrecting Dracula from his spiky prison in proper bloody fashion, but this first installment feels ironically slow paced with seemingly little actual set up and too many new characters and changes to the Stoker tale audiences were probably expecting to see. Couldn’t Dracula take down these angry, interfering businessmen with supernatural ease? Conflict over fantastic industrialism and wannabe Tesla designs feels unnecessary and takes up valuable narrative for purists, and steampunk enthusiasts – who, despite what the recent mainstream bandwagon would have us believe, have been around for decades – may be put off by these very changes meant to attract such an audience. Though historically based and possibly interesting, the Illuminati-esque Order of the Dragon and its thinly veiled but thickly laid modern technology talk of wireless power versus corrupt oil detracts from Dracula’s opportunities as the tormented villain. “A Whiff of Sulfur” shows Grayson’s blackmail cunning and character conflicts and thus does much better in getting to the action of how and why Dracula was resurrected. Had Dracula begun here with Episode 2 or as a full 90-minute premiere the reasons behind his revenge may have been more hard hitting. Dangling the weekly carrot with flashbacks to start each episode feels uneven, as does the mix of steampunk and seers horrors. Stockholder plots and majority shareholder papers in “Goblin Merchant Men” feel limp or easily played and gay blackmail comes across as too trite. We didn’t need this villainous organization against Dracula’s intimate quest for a solar vaccine – his psychic battles and eerie visions with the seers are far more occult fun then the Order’s gents playing at being bad. Early on Dracula simply can’t decide with which vein it wants to tell its tale, industrial allegory or gothic good times.

Fortunately, Lady Jayne gets her fight on with the vampire coming out party in “From Darkness to Light,” and guest star Alec Newman (Dune) makes the intrigue between her and Grayson as both lovers and antagonists more complex. These juicy elements should have come a lot sooner in the series in order to hook the audience – energy scenes and power demonstrations are simply not as wondrous to us and feel tacked on amid superior past vampire angst and threats on who knows Grayson isn’t the romantic do gooder scientist he claims to be. Despite an excellent progression on the Van Helsing character and his daylight serum, this lingering, feeling itself out writing and drastic book changes all at once do not work on network television today. Familiar vampire intrigues and an already delightful core story don’t need Ottoman Empire conspiracies, either. Thankfully, “The Devil’s Waltz” continues the great cliffhanger from Episode 4 with sexy dreams and Victorian torture. It’s on the nose perhaps, but also violent, kicked up, creepy yet nonchalant. Up close cinematic filming, askew angles, and dark Frankenstein turns for Van Helsing up the demented fantasy horror along with the delightful Renfield developments. Loyalty, laboratories, predatory blood and violence – the scenes of horror and irony in Dracula are excellent. Subterfuge and deceptions tie together perfectly with vampire sexy, shocking, and tender. “Of Monsters and Men” also ups the saucy and suspicions over Grayson’s plans – daylight meetings increase the intensity and Mina is far more interesting as a snooping Van Helsing assistant. Lady Jayne and Lucy manipulate wonderfully and great skin and bloody special effects keep the pace, confrontations, and toppers entertaining.

The excellent blackmail and character entanglements continue in “Servant to Two Masters,” and Dracula gets close to showing some scandalous for NBC. Primal filming distortions, tempting heartbeats, sensuality, and angsty vamp out resistance accent the simmering man versus nature and himself. Likewise “Come to Die” brings stimulating personal dynamics, and with such medieval takedowns and revelations, it’s baffling why Dracula ever began with generic overreaching revenge. I would rather have seen Lady Jayne’s pursuits and dramatic love triangles before the early Order of the Dragon piecemeal. Renfield and Dracula both play devil and angel on each other’s shoulders as needed while torn arms and impalements remind the audience that Dracula was always going to be a show about vampires – even if the series got away from that foundation at its start. Grayson’s orchestration goes deep, and the Order framework was never needed if “Four Roses” can bring all the abductions and character revelations together like this. The innocent are caught in the bloodbath crosshairs, and the pace upticks thanks to daylight interference and changing allegiances. I don’t want to spoil these final episodes, although “Let There Be Light” does inexplicably return to laying the Order’s purpose on thick when huntsmen versus fangs action and gruesome threats are done better. Bombs, horror violence, and questions on who is really the hero or the villain counter any quibbles. Granted, some maybe, maybe not character fates are unknown thanks to the show’s cancellation and seeds left for more in hopes of continuation remain hanging. Dracula, however, concludes with the confrontations that needed to happen and a quality dramatic finish.

In recalling his early, pale, androgynous roles, it’s surprising that Jonathan Rhys Meyers (The Tudors) has not played a vampire previously, for he is perfectly cast as both the medieval warrior Vlad Dracula and his incarnation as the Victorian entrepreneur Alexander Grayson. Yes, it’s unusual that he puts on an American twang rather than simply coming from the continent as the Stoker source says. However, Meyers embodies the charisma and scandal nonetheless thanks to animalistic nuances for the more toothy scenes, a sexy stealth making his lady victims so ecstatic, and a well aware, calculating slick. I’m not sure why Grayson is made to drink so much considering Meyers’ off screen alcohol difficulties, but he carefully accents the character within a character suave using the glassware and props. There is unfortunately some flat foil and weak dialogue hampering him, scenes without Meyers tend to drag, and playing politics with a different Order of the Dragon chap each week is a waste of Dracula’s primal potential. Why does Dracula need outside revenge or romance? Why can’t he be a vampire for good energy or bad daylight power for his own motivation? Grayson’s desperation over not being able to keep his proverbial fangs in his pants adds more dimension – his vampire nature is the very thing that mucks up his plans most.

Victoria Smurfit (Ballykissangel) as Lady Jayne may seem shoehorned in to Dracula for no reason or too Selene ala Underworld to start thanks to an off kilter mix of slo mo fights hindering her suspicion of Grayson – she looks unnecessarily played and stupid in not knowing he’s a vampire. Fortunately, her Old World pretty and kick ass make for a unique, sexy conflict, and Jayne’s chemistry, dialogue, physicality, and confidence match Dracula’s game. Her intriguing upmanship with Katie McGrath (Merlin) as Lucy Westerna adds a fresh element as well, and where Mina’s bemoaning seriously impedes Dracula, Jayne and Lucy’s twists work wonderfully. Simply put, McGrath should have played Mina instead. Her flashy style and flirty pish posh perfectly hide Lucy’s subtle lady leanings, and again, this viewer aside is a pleasing character improvement upon Bram. We know the reasons why Lucy may seem too pretentious, but despite these positive strides, Lucy isn’t fully utilized until the later half of the season. Jessica De Gouw (Arrow) as Mina is far too bland in comparison and remains typical as the off and on, wishy washy, maybe reincarnated love interest instead. It’s quite progressive that she is a Victorian medical student, but Mina is also squeamish and set back with nervousness and romantic idiocy. Her seemingly feminist dreams and juvenile behaviors don’t match the character’s would be strengths nor Grayson’s sophistication, and one wonders why all these people are so desperately enthralled with her.

Likewise, Oliver Jackson-Cohen (World Without End) overplays the wannabe rich and snot reporter Jonathan Harker. The potential for early old-fashioned newspaper designs and muckraker happenings is ruined with his clunky – Harker does not have the who’s who and what’s what finesse to be an insightful investigative reporter and conflict is created purely by his being a jerk or stepping into it with everyone or everything. Along with the equally plodding Order of the Dragon, the character could have been written out with the show no worse for the wear. Blessedly however, Nonso Anozie (Game of Thrones) as R.M. Renfield is an ingeniously urbane henchman. He likes that Grayson is not a “proper” employer and dislikes Dracula’s bouts of morality but stands firm and remains loyal in wise, quiet villainy. This Renfield smartly sees through people, deduces their nature, and will use or dismiss anyone as needed. Another very positive character development for Dracula along with Thomas Kretschmann’s (Avengers: Age of Ultron) cantankerous Professor Van Helsing. Old time medical gear aids his rocky relationship with Dracula and the debating between these expected enemies now allied is meaty fun. Science and revenge both help and hinder, and again, Dracula could have been solely about this search for a desperate daytime cure with Van Helsing’s side dose of revenge. His retribution feels far more believable, and his ruthless motivation leads to some intriguing questions on who is the worse monster on Dracula.

Though not as costume bespectacle as big screen productions of old and a bit too modern in hairstyles, fabrics, low cuts, and pants wearing women, the 19th century style on Dracula is high end, flashy, and colorful – frocks, feathers, jewelry, long coats, and top hats! The elegant men are refreshingly refined alongside quality blood, creepy graves, cobblestone streets, carriages, early cars, and plenty of fog and rainy feelings. Delicate society highs and lows are here along with skeletons, medical gruesomes, and head choppings. Sometimes the false illumination technologies seem overhyped, but dangerous window light and swaths of streetlight make for mood and interesting shadows. CGI rooftop battles are obvious as are Highlander style swordfights and too much slow motion, but thankfully, these designs are gone after the first few episodes. Did someone realize such action was unnecessary? The blink and you miss them opening credits, however, seem trapped in a contemporary blue tinted and steampunk atmosphere – complete with gears and goggles as if NBC felt they had to package the show with such forced edge. Ironically, these expensive production values and showy misfires when compared against the resulting ho hum Friday night numbers are most likely what cooked Dracula’s goose. Different writers and directors across the series created no clear vision of progression, and with only 43 minutes per episode, the story felt like it was just getting started when it was time to stop. I had hoped NBC might develop other gothic properties or literary works for a rotating classy prime time block. However, network television is increasingly cutting its nose to spite its face, and Dracula is no longer available On Demand or Hulu while one awaits the incoming 3-disc set from Netflix. With its faulty start, it was tough enough to watch Dracula from week to week. NBC could have made a real autumn event by having several Dracula episodes airing on back to back nights or even showcased the entire show in the true mini series format of old with two hour television movie chic. Viewer styles have changed and the production team here was simply not up to pace.

Longtime Bram Stoker fans can’t go into this Dracula expecting a faithful book retelling. In fact, the plot as ended feels more like a prequel to the novel we know and love. Yes, it is slow to start. Yes, mixed motivations will have you yelling at the TV. Fortunately, progressive characters, excelling performances, and superior plots save Dracula. Despite its brief life, the intriguing changes, gothic style, and moody spins here are perfect for a sophisticated vampire viewer’s macabre weekend marathon.