Kbatz: The Munsters Season One

 

The Munsters Debut remains Macabre Good Fun

by Kristin Battestella

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

By Kristin Battestella

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

Dark Dreams Excerpt Fiction Friday Emerian Rich

Read a free excerpt from Mark Slade’s anthology Dark Dreams.

product_thumbnail

Through the dark recesses of the dreamworld come strange stories of horror, terror and wonder, with a mysterious question: how can so many people have the same dreams?

Read Emerian Rich’s “Vampire Therapy” in this anthology of dream terror, Dark Dreams from Rogue Planet Press

Here are the stories from the minds of: Mark Slade, Thomas M. Malafarina, D. S. Scott, John C. Adams, Emerian Rich, Jason Norton, P. J. Griffin, Mr. Deadman, David Ludford, Joseph J. Patchen, Mark Tompkins, E. S. Wynn, Shawn Clay, Kevin Rees.

Cover and Art by Cameron Hampton

Read a free excerpt from Emerian Rich’s story, “Vampire Therapy” below.

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Vampire Therapy

by Emerian Rich

“And how’s work?”

“Crap, as always.” Amy sat back on her therapist’s couch with a definitive slouch.

“And the dreams? Still the same?” Dr. Whitefield studied her with the same non-judgmental, impartial serenity she always did.

“Yes,” Amy answered. “I mean mostly, yes.”

“How do they differ?” Whitefield shifted in her chair and leaned forward. Perhaps interested in the change, or just interested to hear something—anything—different after three years of therapy. Maybe grasping at a straw, a small sliver of hope that she’d helped.

“Well, it still starts with Thomas. He’s in the park, it’s snowing as always and he is happy, walking through the winter wonderland. But he realizes the snow falling is ash and he runs. What’s different is now, when he turns the corner in the path to go through the tunnel, you know, where I am and he can’t ever get to me, there is a bed. One of those royal beds with curtains and all done up in red velvet.”

“Interesting.”

“And I’m there on the bed and there’s a man looming over me. He’s got long auburn hair and these eyes that…Well anyway, he’s good looking and he keeps covering me so Thomas can’t see.”

“And?”

“And that’s it. I wake up.”

“How does Thomas respond?”

“I don’t see his reaction. I just feel the man hovering over me.”

“Well, Amy, I think this is progress. I think your dreams are telling you, you are ready to think about dating someone new. As if your subconscious is telling you it’s okay to move on.”

“You think?”

“Yes, I do.” Whitehead sat back, a self-satisfied grin on her lips. “The next step for you, however, is to allow yourself to explore the possibility that there could be someone else in your life.”

Amy smiled even though she had no hope of shedding her grief. She wanted to tell the doctor that when she wakes up, she sees the man’s face in front of her. He looks her in the eyes and she feels herself lose all willpower. Those prismatic golden eyes. Then he plunges to her neck and disappears.

A chime from Whitehead’s desk signaled the session over and she stood to shake Amy’s hand.

“You’re doing very well. I’m proud of you. You’ve turned a corner, and I’m excited to see where this breakthrough will take you.”

“Me too.” Amy shook hands and stood, moving to the door.

“See you next week. And good news, soon we could be meeting less frequently.”

Amy smiled and turned on her heel. It had been three years since Thomas… Her nose started running before tears streamed down her face. Well, that was new. Usually her tears were the first to come. Thomas was gone. Passed away when terrorists targeted his law firm’s building in an attack. Everyone kept giving her the same line. She should be happy, they caught the bastards. But where did that leave her? Just because the criminals were caught didn’t mean her pain suddenly disappeared. She hadn’t even been able to bury her husband, there wasn’t enough left to recover. It was almost like Thomas would walk through the door at any moment. Like he left to pick up milk and just took the long way home.

“Sweet-ums, I’m home and I brought cookies!” she could hear his voice in her head as clear as day, but it was just in her head. Thomas was gone.

As she readied for bed, she remembered the first night without him. It had been horrible sleeping alone. Her therapist suggested a full body pillow to make it seem like someone was there, but no one was there. Dating or finding a new man was out of the question. Thomas had been her soul mate. They met in their thirties, both knowing they had never met anyone like each other.

“One of a kind,” he used to say. How would she ever find another one of a kind?

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Amy stared up at the ceiling for thirty minutes, forty, fifty. The clock ticked by. When she hit the hour mark, she turned on the light and switched on a meditation CD her therapist suggested to calm her nerves.

Lights off, she closed her eyes and took a deep breath. The sounds of flute and ocean waves did, if not calm her, give her something to concentrate on besides the fact the only person who made her life worth living had died.

The waves reminded her of the summer before Thomas’ death when he took her to the beach off the coast of Mendocino. They walked the sands, held hands, and at sunset, he took her in his arms and kissed her. She felt a tear run down the side of her cheek. There was no reason to wipe it away, it would have brothers. Perhaps the only children she would ever have, the tears of her grief.

She heard someone breathe and her eyes flew open, staring blindly into the darkness before her. It was just her own breath.

She reached over and turned on the light. She’d leave it on. No reason to worry about the electricity bill. She had nothing extravagant left to spend her paycheck on anyway. She closed her eyes and thought about the ocean again.

“Enough, Amy. Remember…focus on the future, not the past. The future not the past. Future not the past…”

She floated into a light sleep. She didn’t want to overreact, but this was the earliest she’d been able to sleep yet. As soon as she began to relax, she felt the heaviness from her dream. A kind of pressure and coldness came over her.

Her eyes flew open and before her was a man’s face, so close she couldn’t focus. It was blurry, but it looked like the man from her dream, the one who was always kissing her neck.

“You’re real?” she asked.

His eyes widened and he drew back, sitting so quickly in the chair next to her bed, she thought she must still be dreaming. Yes, he was there, real, and she was awake. She stared at the man.

You can see me? He had a British accent.

“Who are you?” She drew the covers up to her neck, feeling more naked than she was. She had on Thomas’s Giants T-shirt, it wasn’t like she was nude. But there was a man in her bedroom! “Why are you…how did you?”

Good God! She can see me and she’s wondering how I got in? He laughed. Priceless.

“Hey, buddy, you can’t just… I’m calling the cops!” She reached for her phone, but he was at her side in a moment and grabbed her hand. Or tried to grab her hand. She felt a cold breeze as his hand passed right through hers. She drew in a big gulp of air. “You’re a…a ghost?”

Damn it all to hell! He turned and paced the room.

It was her turn to laugh at him as he attempted to kick the garbage can, the chair, and the bed. None of his effort caused the items to budge. He whipped around and came close to her, the look of fury causing her laughter to stop. Her breath caught in her throat.

Don’t you dare laugh at me, do you hear me? Or I’ll…I’ll never let you sleep!

“You can’t threaten me.” She scowled as he backed away. “You can’t do anything to me! You can’t even touch me!”

Oh yes? How’ve you been sleeping lately, eh? Had any good dreams?

“You! You’ve been causing my insomnia?”

Well it’s not Thomas, whoever the hell he is.

“Shut up! You don’t know anything about him.”

Happily. He rolled his eyes.

“How dare you speak of my deceased husband like that! Get out!” She grabbed her lotion from the bedside table and hurled it at him. The lotion flew right through him and landed on the floor. “Get out!” She picked up a magazine and it joined the lotion on the floor, never touching him.

Now who’s frustrated, love?

“What do you want?”

I’m really just here to steal your energy, but now you ask, I do have a message for you.

“You’ve seen Thomas? Where is he? Is he here? Why can’t I see him?

No. Cease your needless mourning. If he’s gone, he’s better off, believe me.

“Bastard! He loved me!”

Sure he did, but anyway—

“Shove it up your—”

Careful now. He stood close to her again, giving a serious threat stare. She felt a coldness emanate from him and pulled the covers up.

“This is my house. You need to leave and find someone else to keep up at night.”

Ah, but you’re the only one who can see me, so you’re the one that will do an errand for me.

“You mean, you steal others energy too?”

What, are you hurt? How quaint. Little Amy’s dead husband left her and now she’s being two-timed by her resident ghost. What do you care if I suck a couple of zaps off Mrs. Murphy?

“Mrs. Murphy down the hall? Yuck! No, not really?”

Yes, and Pam and Stella downstairs, and a few of the girls in that college apartment, you know the one with the strapping young buck who beds them and makes them get their own brekkie? Now he’s a man after my own heart.

“Why don’t you go suck from him, then.”

Him? No, no. My tastes have never run to the male persuasion. Plus, his little conquests come so full of energy, I nearly have my fill every time.

“You’re sick.”

No. I’m dead. And don’t have a choice. I’m trapped here.

“How are you trapped?”

I can go about town, but every evening I wake in the spot I died.

“You died in my apartment?”

Not technically. In the hall, in front of 6B.

“This must have been ages ago, I never heard of a murder in this building.”

It was but two months ago. That brat Sammy did it.

“Sammy Olsen killed you? I don’t believe it. He’s seven years old.”

He’s a slayer. He used a common everyday Number 2 pencil, the blighter.

“Wait. Huh?”

Keep up, love. He smirked. Not the sharpest nail in the box are you?

“You’re talking nonsense.”

I’ll spell it out for you. I was a vampire. He opened his mouth and tapped a fang. Sammy punctured me, stabby, stabby, yeah? With a bloody pencil. Now I’m stuck outside your door for eternity.

She stared, unsure she was really awake. Was this some kind of elaborate dream?

Hello? He snapped his fingers in front of her face. “Jesus…what a waste. You know, you aren’t bad looking, but this dense stare has got to stop. You’ll never get a new husband if you—”

“I don’t want a new husband. I want Thomas.”

Clearly, he’s gone.

She just stared, he was right. Thomas was truly gone.

Blimey, she’s gone rigid.

“What do you want from me?” Amy asked, defeated. “Oh yes, energy.” She laid back spreading her arms out as if on the cross. “Go ahead, get it over with.”

Just what a guy likes to hear. You take all the fun out of it. When I come back to flesh, I’ll be sure to kill you first so you can be with your beloved Thomas. You are truly a waste of life, you know that?

“You’re dead. There’s no coming back.”

Watch me. I did it once, I don’t see why I can’t again. I’m getting stronger every day. Why last Thursday all I could do was sway the curtains, now you can see me and I knocked over the plant in the hall. Soon, I’ll have enough power to kill the slayer and return to my throne.

“Kill little Sammy?”

Why not? He killed me didn’t he?

“You’re right. He can defend himself. Perhaps he’ll have his pencil with him again.” She smirked, happy for once she got a cut in on him. He looked burned. She’d really hurt him. He swished to her side and stood very close, still intimidating in his translucent, ghost form.

He won’t have another chance. His voice rattled out from the grave. Coldness wrapped around her like a glove, sending a chill up her spine and causing goosebumps to break out all over her body. Before her teeth chattered, she clamped them shut, trying to think of another jab that would piss him off enough to go away.

“The way I see it,” she said, her voice shaking despite her attempt at control. Her breath puffed out before her as if it were the middle of winter. “You weren’t a very smart vampire if a seven-year-old could outsmart you.” Amy saw a flash of anger on his already enraged face. Fire burned in his eyes and his jaw clenched. A sudden whoosh sound signaled him entering her body and she felt a pressure in her brain, as if it were too full, like a sinus infection, hangover, and being underwater all at the same time. His echoing voice came from her lips.

Listen here, you dimwitted, widowed, sadsack. I am Jamison, Baxter, Antonio the Third, King of Vampires, and I will suck you dry. Suck you dry!

The pressure in Amy’s brain reached an unbearable level and just as she gasped for breath, blackness overtook her.

Find out how the story ends in Dark Dreams from Rogue Planet Press.

Book Review: Suck It Up by Brian Meehl

suck it upA delightful YA vampire book that takes horror sarcasm to a whole other level, Suck It Up by Brian Meehl was a delight to read.

Morning McCobb used to be an orphan teen with dreams of becoming a firefighter, but a gluttonous vampire accidentally turns him into a vampire. So the comic loving, superhero idolizing, teen becomes of a vamp and is enrolled in the Leaguer Academy, a high school for vampires who don’t believe in drinking human blood. When he graduates, he thinks he’s at the bottom of his class. He’s not cool enough or even vampy enough to fit in with the other leaguers. But, an older vamp sees potential in him and thinks all his normal human ways and geeky appearance might be just the things they need to bridge the gap with humans. Could Morning be the first vampire to reveal himself on national TV? Certainly no human could find him scary. They hire media guru Penny Dreadful to handle Morning’s PR, which wouldn’t be a problem, except Morning has taken to her teen daughter, Portia.

This is a fun different take on vampire life told through narrative and a mock website posts. I enjoyed the main character because he’s such an unlikely hero. He’s quirky and a comic book geek who I think a lot of media junkies relate to. For those more jaded of the crowd. Portia is great as the opposite of him. Another aspect of being a vampire in this book is that you can CD (transform) into any form–animal or otherwise. I have to admit the image of a dolphin bursting out of the water for a jump did wimp-ify the whole scary vampire trope, but it was entertaining.

I’ll leave you with a couple favorite quotes:

“If vampires were scared of crosses, they couldn’t go to the library because of all the T’s.”

“October first stood out to be the first vampire holiday and to it gave any kid who was thinking of dressing up as a black-caped blood-sucking vampire for Halloween, time to realize how politically incorrect his costume was and find another.”

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.

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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.