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.

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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.