Dark Dreams Excerpt Fiction Friday Emerian Rich

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

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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.

index

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

Kbatz: Buffy Season 6

 

Buffy Season 6 Slips

By Kristin Battestella

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

Kbatz: Penny Dreadful Season 2

Penny Dreadful Season 2 is Again a Macabre Good Time

by Kristin Battestella

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

“American! I am undone!”

“Well, I do have a gun belt.”

“Stop!…Will you bring your gun belt?”

“Both guns.”

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

 

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

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