by Kristin Battestella
By design or cancellation, here's another helping of short lived television scares, creepers, documentaries, and fantasy to binge or avoid.
100 Years of Horror – Christopher Lee hosts these twenty-six half hour episodes from producer Ted Newsom (Flesh and Blood: The Hammer Heritage of Horror) – so don't let the very, very dated 1996 bad opening animations and made on the cheap poor video style deter you. Every scary topic one can expect is here from “Dracula and His Disciples” and “Blood Drinking Beings” to “Frankenstein's Friends,” “Mad Doctors,” and “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” Common topics such as “Werewolves,” “Ghosts,” “Witches,” “Mummies,” and “Zombies,” get their due alongside more unusual ground such as “Aliens,” “Mutants,” “Freaks,” and “Dinosaurs.” Interviewees such as Bela Lugosi Jr., Sarah Karloff, Hugh Hefner, Roger Corman, Hazel Court, John Carpenter, Caroline Munro, and Richard Matheson discuss “Bela Lugosi,” “Boris Karloff,” and “Scream Queens,” too. The overlapping topics are at times broad and there's nothing new for die hard horror fans – the series should have been a tight ten hour presentation as some of the VHS editions appear to have done. However, this does pack in a lot of rare photographs and archive footage of John Carradine, Vincent Price, and Peter Cushing. Brief nudity in the film clips earn MA warnings, and the subject matter isn't always family friendly, but overall this remains a nostalgic, informative set recalling the chronological growth of horror cinema from silent films and scary television parallels to the new millennium. Of course, it's great to hear Lee's booming yet casual narrative, dry wit, and conversational hosting style. The series is worth it just for his recollections – with more than enough pick and choose bonuses to get into a Halloween mood.
The Enfield Haunting – Matthew Macfadyen (MI-5) and Timothy Spall (Harry Potter) star in this 2015 three part British miniseries recounting one family's 1977 paranormal encounter. Hide and seek in a cemetery and telling urban legends forebode the scares to come, however seventies touches such as knee high socks, the old ring ring on the horseshoe phone, viewfinders, a big television, and Starsky & Hutch posters add a sense of innocence, endearing the viewer with nostalgia before the creaking noises, phantom tappings at the door, and furniture that moves by itself. Psychic researchers and paranormal writers come with their giant cameras, capturing only ghostly video glitches and spooky static, but the interviews with the children are natural and well-done. Family conflict, past trauma, medical issues, and heart pills add to the freaky old man imagery, skepticism, and scary toppers while Episode Two brings debates about how to proceed. The entity follows the children to a relative's house but asking what it wants leads to frightful possessions and apparitions in the mirror. Are these mediums or charlatans? Is this a poltergeist or youth acting out? The investigators must face their own personal demons amid escalating one knock yes, two knocks no questionings. Quick library research moments and scenes with surviving residents detract slightly from the congested house, as eerie telephone calls and arguments over writing a book exploitations work better. The division among the experts skirts most of the real world doubting or then-hoax possibilities, and liberties are taken with a seemingly forgotten son and prior child deaths in the house or innuendo of past abuses only briefly mentioned. Fortunately, there are lighthearted quips alleviating the scares, after all, foul mouthed possessed kids can make a social visit pretty awkward and poltergeists sure are messy! By the Third Hour levitating urns, vocal trickery, orbs, and the seemingly vanquished moves fast with newspapers ready to jump on the story. Phantom doorbells, doppelgangers, and hospital cruelty create neurology versus mysticism questions alongside implications of self-harm, misplaced resentment, and unresolved grief. Is this a ghost with unfinished business or something more tangible? There are a few good shocks, but this tale is told in the time allotted without an urgency for over the top theatrics. The family drama remains at the forefront here thanks to choice paranormal frights and fine performances.
Robin Hood – Although technically not short lived at three thirteen episode seasons, this 2006 take on the legend moves fast, remaining messy throughout its tenure with too many zooms, chop edits, and tracking cameras. Despite the medieval setting, loud music, intrusive modern dialogue, anachronistic weapons, and desperately inaccurate ladies costumes interfere with viewer immersion. You can have a humorous episode or character, but the tone flip flops from scene to scene – is this a camp fantasy or serious moral play? The origins of Robin becoming the Hood and the introductions of the outlaws over the first season are lovely, however, the 45 minute round and round padding gets old fast. Audiences can only believe Robin's hollow threats to kill the Sheriff so many times when they chat weekly and have several opportunities to harm each other – it's Cobra shaking his fist on G.I. Joe. This superficial structure isn't the actors fault, but I don't care for Much, Marian, Allan A Dale, or Keith Allen who must have been directed to play the Sheriff of Nottingham as a poor man's Tim Curry. Worse still, gung ho, never shrewd, and not always likable Robin is only into stealing from the rich for the glory, and any character developments feel too tame or are forgotten by the next episode. Why not have Robin be anonymous, disappeared, or absent altogether ala Blake's 7? Of course, fans will eat up the Guy Gisborne guyliner and shirtless Richard Armitage scene chewing, but there should have been more of the mature family drama with Gordon Kennedy as Little John and the criminally (ha, pun) underused Harry Lloyd as Will Scarlett. A family friendly show doesn't have to be juvenile, and the serious character moments are better than the preposterous Old West saloons, babies, PTSD (complete with camouflage pants!), and National Treasure gimmicks intruding on the quality middle of Season Two. The deaths, betrayal, consequences, regal surprises, and great adventure drama comes too late, leaving unrealized potential or what should have been glasses clouding the viewing. I remember why I didn't like watching this show the first time around, and my gosh do not bother with Season Three!
Cult – I had a lot of notes regarding this thirteen episode 2013 show within a show thriller. However, the always deliciously demented Robert Knepper (Prison Break) is the only real reason to tune in – and he isn't given much to do despite having a dual role amid this intriguing premise blurring the lines between television fiction and fandom reality. Are there really subliminal workings in media or just warped fans with a runaway theory? I almost wish the crime investigation and the titular internal series were separate shows, for the inside actors trying to not cross characters lines or crazed fans seem more interesting. Unfortunately, the disc encryptions, chat rooms, internet cafes, supposedly secret roleplaying, and newspaper reporter lead are terribly dated. Episodes run as short as forty minutes, and hokey, clue revealing 3D glasses play like an evil National Treasure. The CW goes overboard with inside promos and name drops, but pointless VHS skipping transitions and faux static can't hide on set unrealistics, sloppy detective contrivances, pretentious viewer interactivity, and lame torturing. Traditional intercut structuring breaks established point of view rules by presenting the inside show as the B plot instead of someone onscreen watching it. Throwaway events, uneven suspicions, and nonsensical catchphrases also make for poorly paced storylines. Rather than piecemeal with flat costume party wannabes and hypocritical statements, the show within should have been revealed in order or watched early each episode for parallel hints. Weekly killer teen obnoxiousness clutters the overlooked resources and obvious information that would solve everything, and only one protagonist is really needed – either reporter Matthew Davis (The Vampire Diaries) seeking his brother or show assistant Jessica Lucas (Gotham) discovering secrets. The cast seems diverse yet remains stereotypical, with a light skinned, more European looking black woman having the white hero romance while the more African featured villain is the scary black woman put in her place by an evil white man superior. The mystical negro boss is sacrificed over a white man's mistake, and there's a hip, wild haired tech chick, too. They want evidence but never take pictures with their phones? A reporter doesn't write about it all until after the fact? Bitch, anonymously blog that shit! Ominous “They know that we know that they know that we know” glares reiterate what just happened – even though each scene only lasts a few minutes – and ham-fisted cult begat show attempts at shock and sensationalized meta unravel instead of reveal. Abandonment and abuses are very anticlimactic, and one person's long lost secret is a Google search away to another. Motivations change with each derailed pursuit, and derivative storytelling compromises would be possibilities in favor of a household boob tube brainwashing theory. What is this, Batman Forever?