21 February 2018

My Ten Favorite TV Shows!

My Favorite TV Shows!
by Kristin Battestella

I hope you’ve all enjoyed our Anniversary Countdowns!

When drafting all I Think, Therefore I Review’s Tenth Anniversary Top Ten Lists, however, I realized that some of my favorite shows are actually programs I’ve never reviewed. To rectify the lack of favoritism, here’s a bonus countdown of My Favorite Television Shows!
Ironically, you can click through to read full length and by season reviews of these Honorable Mentions, which have been reviewed at I Think, Therefore I Review:

Now then, here they are – I think. Lists such as these are always subject to change! I mean, there are still Are You Being Served?, The Sopranos, Rome, Frasier, Dallas, V, and Seinfeld but I digress. 


My Ten Favorite Television Shows!

10. Hornblower – C.S. Forester’s novels are also some of my favorite books, eva! This 1998 – 2003 series of television movie productions from A&E were not always perfect adaptations, for the later two fold Lieutenant Hornblower with inserted characters cheating on the literary mysteries were not as close to the written source as the original Midshipman film quartet was. Seriously, fight me on the “Who pushed Captain Sawyer” debate. That said, the seafaring revolution, continental action, naval battles, dynamic storytelling, and spirited lead Ioan Gruffudd (Fantastic Four) combined for some damn fine award winning period drama that remains timeless entertainment. In today's era of franchise everything, the only real trouble with this series is that A&E went to crap and never finished bringing the entire novel canon to the screen. I protest!

9. The Twilight Zone – I used to stay up late at night and watch Rod Serling's 1959-64 classic on my giant little thirteen inch television set back in the days when we only had five channels and PBS would play the National Anthem before shutting off at 2 a.m. Maybe it is easy to say a child would be surely shocked by all the speculative twists and moral ironies from the boob tube's infancy. I thought this was such heavy stuff that didn't deserve to be on in the wee hours when no one would see it. Granted, there is a certain nostalgia that comes with the dated technological aspects and early television production – the word 'robot' was mispronounced and airplanes were afraid of stop motion dinosaurs. However, thanks to advanced storytelling and innovative television techniques, the perennial episodes herein remain provocative science fiction for a reason. My favorite has always been “The Invaders,” but recently, I've been leaning towards “The Howling Man,” and “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” is as timely as ever. 

8. Buffy The Vampire Slayer – I have actually reviewed this 1997-2003 series in lengthy detail, albeit stopping and starting on a marathon or two during the show's weaker plots and dated flaws when not raving over “The Body” and “Once More, with Feeling.” However, through all the good and bad, proms, high school, college, vampire boyfriends, dark magic, death, and kid sisters, this remains an empowering paranormal package with groundbreaking television moments today's audiences might take for granted because they live in a post-Buffy, girl power world. 


7. The Mary Tyler Moore Show – Indeed this award winning 1970-77 series is a show that never fails to put a smile on my face. If I go a week or two without catching a television airing, I get an itch for a witty, nostalgic Mary fix. While it is easy to cite “Chuckles Bites the Dust” or “The Last Show” as must see favorites – and with very good reason – I find myself often quoting charming moments per episode, like when Sue Ann forces everyone to sing Christmas carols for her premature holiday feast in “Not a Christmas Story” or when cranky boss Lou Grant takes half the veal prince orloff and has to put it back in “The Dinner Party.” When Mary's mother says “Don't forget to take your pill” in Season Three's “You've Got a Friend,” both Mr. Richards and Mary both answer, “I won't!” Hehehe. It's that kind of pushing the envelope wink that keeps on giving. Ironically, I didn't like this series as a kid. However as I've gotten older, the groundbreaking sophisticated comedy and progressive characterizations have only gotten better thanks to the well balanced sentimental, then toeing the line statements, and forever laugh out loud hysterics. 

6. The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross – I’ve been watching this cathartic PBS and art instructional essential for thirty years – but I could not paint if my life depended on it no matter how effortless, gentle, and heartwarming our gnarly, tree hugging, animal loving teacher. Today's audiences have made Bob Ross a mellow pop culture icon, perhaps for the implied, grass-esque, counter culture undertones or the humorous “beat the devil out of it” two-inch brush cleaning. Every episode has a pretty picture wrapped in charming witticisms to get you through your day – unless, of course, Bob goes through all the trouble of making a beautiful, unusually shaped print in an oval and then sticks a giant tree out of the frame! If you haven't seen The Joy of Painting, no one can really explain it to you, because it isn't about the landscapes, wet on wet technique, and the artistically controversial use of oils with acrylic gesso so much as the “happy little clouds,” Pea Pod the Pocket Squirrel, and being blessed by a friend and told to have a good day before being reminded that we need darkness in order to see the light – both on and off the canvas. 

5. Star Trek: The Next Generation – I had to seriously consider if I like this 1987-1994 follow up more than the Original Star Trek. This first sequel series in the long running franchise takes everything that made the Original's serious science fiction for adults and runs with it thanks to Sir Patrick Stewart's diplomatic Captain Picard and in depth storytelling developments regarding the Klingons, Q, and The Borg. One never has the sense that we are watching a very special episode wrapped in science fiction allegory, but every hour provides a memorable nugget – which is difficult to do in a weekly series without seasonal arcs or ongoing storylines and underdeveloped female characters. Thankfully, timeless episodes such as “The Measure of a Man,” “Sarek,” “Yesterday's Enterprise,” and “The Inner Light” raise the emotional genre stakes while early dated episodes and now technological errors don't interfere with an always at the ready marathon. Whenever this is on television, I have to stop and see what episode it is – even with commercials because, “There are four lights!” 


4. The Golden Girls – With different family members, inconsistent plot points, and a house floor plan that never makes sense, the continuity of this amazing eighties staples is bemusingly nerve-racking. Did a misprint make Angela Angelo? How could Miles be a professor all those years but really be in the Witness Protection Program? How did they exit their kitchen in the back to get to the garage in the front? Nonetheless, there are a select few people with whom I can carry on entire conversations in Golden Girls references. The comedy writing for Dorothy, Blanche, Rose, and Sophia remains top notch, and each episode has a quote for any situation, be it “From the pit of my stomach to the porcelain of the bowl...” and “The moon is hanging awful low in the sky tonight, isn't it, Busty?” or the now ironic “Who do you think you are, Donald Trump? You don't own this casino!” I never get tired of watching the progressive topics of “Sick and Tired,” “Adult Education,” or “Isn't It Romantic?” and the taut humor is largely handled by the four leads by letting the chemistry and wit play without resorting to any gimmicks. Well, except for the murder mystery in “The Case of the Libertine Bell,” but “Look fluffhead, why should I deny being in denial? I never said I was in denial. You are the one who said I was in denial, and don't you deny it.” 

3. Dark Shadows – As if there was any doubt of my love for this gothic soap opera complete with bad sets, flubbed dialogue, borrowed plots, and hokey special effects! Chuckle all you want, but this fly by night sixties production remains spooky thanks to paranormal storytelling, complex time travel, an entire company of supernatural characters, and a morose atmosphere that's been oft imitated but never equaled. At over 1200 episodes, this is a massive viewing undertaking, but you can click through to some of my in depth critiques on vampire Barnabas, werewolf Quentin, governess Victoria Winters, and pesky witch Angelique. 

2. Homicide: Life on the Street – “Ho, ho, Homicide. Our day begins when yours ends.” This 1993-99 critically acclaimed but should have won more awards series loosely tied to the Law & Order franchise is unlike any other cop show before and maybe since thanks to intimate camera angles, jump editing, a decidedly Baltimore feeling, and the simple notion that solving the case is both the biggest and least important thing for these quirky, struggling people in blue. The shootouts, corruption, violence, racism, sexism, abuse, religion, and social commentaries are tackled with season arcs, multi part episodes, and state traversing crossovers as well as with one kill, shows that never leave the squad room, or hours with just three men in an interrogation booth alone. On a whim I reviewed Season Four and have notes for other years, but to every person who inquires about the often forgotten yet increasingly timely and sometimes disturbingly prophetic Homicide, I merely implore them to watch the first thirteen episodes. If “Night of the Dead Living,” “Black and Blue,” and “Three Men and Adena” don't captivate you, nothing will. And that's before “Crosetti,” “Hate Crimes,” “Sniper,” “Justice,” “For God and Country,” “Narcissus,” and “Subway,” but I'll stop. After all, “You go when you're supposed to go, and everything else is homicide.” 

1. Blake’s 7 – Avon, Servalan, Orac. The Liberator. In speaking of my favorite television shows, anybody who knows me probably would have immediately mentioned this somewhat obscure 1978-81 British science fiction serial, because once seen, this is a series you will never forget. Granted, that's partly due to the bad seventies costumes, hair curlers for weapons, upside down special effects, and not one but three characters that are really just flashing lights. I kid you not. Likewise memorable in these fifty-two hours, however, are the SF with a capital SF allegory, loyal versus amoral characterization and interplay, commentaries on drugs, technology, or totalitarian regimes, and downright Shakespearean designs on what is at it simplest just meant to be Robin Hood in space. The score and opening title sequence are also sweet! I grew up taping this series with my dad off PBS late at night, and those videos are pretty worn out now. Yeah, they had British accents, but I was more awestruck that people didn't speak with this kind of sophistication anywhere else on television. “They murdered my past and gave me tranquilized dreams!” “Avon, for what it is worth, I have always trusted you from the very beginning.” Sniff! Ironically, series star Gareth Thomas found the plots increasingly hokey, but I can't think of any other series that so effortlessly handles how inaccurate its title became as an integral part of the series thanks to stunning teleplays such as “The Way Back,” “Star One,” “Rumors of Death,” “Sarcophagus,” “Terminal,” “Orbit,” and of course, “Blake.” As cryptic as that sounds, anyone who has watched this series knows exactly what I mean. Honestly, the only thing lacking in this excellence is a proper North American release. 


20 February 2018

Friday the 13th The Series: Season Three

Friday the 13th: The Series Loses Steam in Season 3
by Kristin Battestella

The 1989-90 final twenty episode leg of Friday the 13th: The Series sputters as Micki Foster (Louise Robey) and Jack Marshak (Chris Wiggins) continue to retrieve cursed objects sold from the Curious Goods shop. Ryan Dallion (John D. LeMay), however, can no longer confront the evils they face, and Johnny Ventura (Steve Monarque) doesn't fully comprehend the magical wrong doings of their terrible quarry.

Crosses, Madonna statues, religious paintings, and church festivals create Old World feeling in “The Prophecies Parts 1 and 2” as Jack is off to France claiming he's researching spiritual phenomena – which isn't that far from the truth. Creepy long nails, sharp teeth, evil eyes, and demonic voices accent 3:33 a.m. bells, prayers, and eponymous readings as priests cross themselves against possession, hell hounds, and evil tomes. If Lucifer can do his work in a holy place, what hope is there for the rest of us? Family reunions are bittersweet between miraculous visions, foretold fallen angels, and whispers of demons wanting a soul. Frightful falls, a pilgrimage blasphemed, scripture versus scripture – is the faith of a child enough to trap this evil in the protected Curious Goods vault? Though the good gone bad themes feel rushed in the second part, fiery thunderstorms and disturbing violence set off the big terrors for this opening twist. Upsetting injuries, gang violence, and shocking car accidents continue in “Crippled Inside.” It's difficult to cope with the wheelchair bound result – until an antique pushchair provides some healing astral projection and gory doppelganger payback. What's a little acid or a short walk off a tall building among rapists? This dilemma on an cursed quarry's justified usage happens almost without the regular trio, establishing a pattern this season where our collectors are excused away or stumble onto the curio after an otherwise anthology style tale. Gross boils and a bloody hearing aid worming its way deeper anchor “Stick It In Your Ear” alongside magic tricks, blindfolds, guessing game schemes, and the ability to hear people's thoughts. Camera revelations, scary editing, and vivid sounds make the audience fear this evil little amplifier! Had Friday the 13th continued, it would have been neat to see one elusive object reappear each season, and the standout “Bad Penny” revisits the ominous coin from Season Two's “Tails I Live, Heads You Die.” The piece is found in the rubble with a skeleton or two alongside cops in the back alley, informant prostitutes, laundered briefcases, and shootouts. Jack and Micki are understandably upset to battle this piece again, and tender moments come between mistakes, conflicts, trauma, and car chases as a cop raises the wrong ghoulish person from the dead with dark magic he doesn't understand.

Whoopsie, a car radio is sold from Curious Goods without checking if it is on the evil manifest while vintage automobiles, confederate flags, and redneck racism set the tone for “Hate On Your Dial.” Our villains were already nasty before the sale, using derogatory terms and shooting at children for funsies, and such murderous blood on the dashboard is a time travel catalyst for a black and white Mississippi trip. Again the social statements are mostly developed without the series stars, and the fictitious fears wrapped in real world horror is somewhat uneven thanks to the back and forth editing between the color present and the black and white past. The appalling racism issues, however, are both dated yet still relevantly disturbing. The eighties may have been thirty-five years from this past depiction, but we aren't much better in the near thirty years since. More silver screen clips and vintage film reels provide a fallen Old Hollywood glitz in “Femme Fatale” as an aging actress's screenwriter husband tosses young starlets into his cursed print. How many pretty face fatalities will it take for his wife's young onscreen self to permanently exit the frame? The eighties does forties mood goes all out with film within a film classic movie retrospectives on lost youth and escapist ingenues willing to do anything to be in pictures. Samurai swords and family honor bring the 1945 Tokyo start of “Year of the Monkey” full circle with sensei instruction, a poisonous tea set, and our trio on the trail of some creepy little see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil monkey statues. As is often the case, the Japanese motifs are slightly cliché exotic with calligraphy, rice paper screens, and guest Tia Carrere (Wayne's World). Fortunately, the generational lessons and revenge mysticism prove themselves with each statue testing the telepathy, teleportation, and ritual suicide for a promised immortality. Satin lined coffins, somber organs, and Polaroids for the company scrapbook open “Epitaph For a Lonely Soul” between fluids, tubes, classical music, and some sherry while working on the gory wounds and ghoulish purple tissues. Vintage embalming equipment can reanimate bodies, and the candles, grave digging, and undressed corpses suggest a twisted desecration. Memories, decomposition, and the trauma of life renewed hold the undead pretty captive – and Micki may be next for our lonely mortician.

Perilous kids and dogs are quite graphic with very little for “Repetition” and the missing posters, confessionals, and hidden bodies add to the immediate guilt and personal dilemmas caused by a life trapping cameo necklace. Ghostly echoes and desperate kills repeat this swapping cycle as drinking and homeless shelters crisscross over dead mothers and fatal trades. Ironically, Micki isn't even pursuing the locket and Curious Goods merely bookends the hour. Despite a reversed episode listing order, The Complete TV Series DVD Set has “Spirit of Television” next complete with swanky parties, thunderstorms, seances, and a madame calling on the deceased through a suspect vintage television. Unfortunately, the seemingly happy chats with the departed are followed by upset ghosts, and the subsequent blown up boob tubes and electrocutions in the bathtub renew our madame's youth. The fantastic conduit, static white noise, and spooky nostalgia accent the psychic fraud as the team must both debunk and retrieve the cursed set – doing what Friday the 13th should with this supernatural late season redeemer. Likewise, the poolside bullies and strong arming of “Jack-in-the-Box” lead to floating bodies and one of Micki's friends among the deceased. The surviving daughter acts out and rightfully slams the adults responsible. However, the titular toy turns her innocence and grief into vengeance. Drowning in alcoholism parallels set off the ghostly visits and fatal vignettes, but our curio trio can't endorse this creative revenge no matter how justified. Ancient Gaelic languages, candles, charms, and oak trees open the 1984 prologue for “The Tree of Life,” but when a husband objects to this so-called mumbo jumbo as part of the prenatal regime, these druids cum nurses keep the baby. A present pregnant couple shopping for dolls at Curious Goods is also scheduled at this rigid clinic, and our collectors involve themselves in this sisterhood of spells and solstice sacrifices. Too bad Last Season's white versus dark coven rivalries weren't tied in among the disagreeing team and women versus women cult extremes. A shady professor also tells his female students to get in touch with their dark side in the series finale “The Charnel Pit,” and the blindfolded nightcaps lead to a two-sided, time traveling painting said to be done by the Marquis de Sade in blood. Torture, shackles, and a little loving pain leave Micki trapped in the eighteenth century disguised as a duchess and writing of her alluring predicament with Mr. MdS. The boys, meanwhile, must figure out which of the painting's victims are from the past by looking for a lack of dental work. Fancy dressings add to the courtly facade, dungeon gallery, and willfully sinister charm, for after all, one learns a person's true colors with a whip. Fortunately, there's just enough room for one more cursed antique in the vault.

Friday the 13th's previous two seasons certainly had some duds, and there aren't as many super bad clunkers in this shortened year. Most of these episodes are okay or decent, but no one really puts everything totally together to zing like the memorable years prior. Dated surveillance equipment and Aliens wannabe trackers in “Demon Hunter” are hammy early with hokey moonlight silhouettes and more Predator commando knockoffs. Power outages at Curious Goods, a museum returning a sacrificial dagger, and further dark secrets hidden beneath the vault that could have been explored more are shoehorned in like an A/B plot behind the laughable family vengeance meets monster puppet, and R.G. Armstrong's annual Uncle Lewis appearance is sorely missed this year. The series also randomly plays with inconsistent time travel and flashback aspects with one episode's flashbacks in black and white but another time travel hour in color. Rather than previous innovative technical attempts, the style doesn't seem to matter. We also never spend enough time at Curious Goods, and “Midnight Riders” has our team star gazing while teens necking in a nearby car are accosted by a try hard phantom gang and local Sleepy Hollow biker legends. A ghoulish headless biker reattachment can't save this one – oh, and Jack's mysterious sea captain dad not seen in ten years is somehow in this backwoods on top of those annoying teens who, it turns out, are siblings! o_O A late night swimming pool in “The Long Road Home” is also an excuse for a juicy underwater lip lock between Micki and Johnny amid storm warnings, terrible flirting, and a tacked on yin yang charm with body transferring properties. Highway diners, cliché taxidermy, and country killers can be found elsewhere in horror, and Friday the 13th strays from its virtue once the protagonists use the evil object and its hammy body swaps when it suits them. The trio is actually more present and capable than usual in deducing the preposterous selfishness in “My Wife as a Dog” when a miraculous leash helps a whiny fireman make his ailing dog and soon to be ex-wife one and the same. Curious Goods being cited for not being up to fire code is the better story, and this is an unlikable, perverse little episode with major mixed messages on making your woman a bitch and moving your dog into the bedroom. Again, O_o

Our Micki may get groceries or stay at home and research, however she also continues on a case without Jack or Ryan and it is dumb to have her repeatedly call Johnny for unnecessary help when we've seen her face plenty of evil on her own. It's also surprising she would let a man follow and attack her just to get an object – as if, not that it is her only plan, but rather just the best the writers could do. Micki is either the lovely victim or referred to as minding the store and doesn't always have very much to do either way. “Bad Penny” has Jack give the past exposition rather than show Micki speaking about the experience herself, although she's right to be afraid of dying in this fight against evil. The trio is also closer to the terror and within the investigation sooner for “Mightier Than the Sword” thanks to execution protests, pardons, and a pen that lets the author write what the guilty party will do while he gets the subsequent crime writer exclusives and literary glory. Jokes about word processors versus the good old pen and paper write themselves amid nom de plumes and slashers who don't remember their fatal deeds. Unfortunately, Micki struggles to resist the scripted urge and uses a discreet straight razor to scratch her new murderous itch. She's briefly smitten by a vampire again, trapped in a gangster movie, and sucked into a hellish painting for some 1790 saucy, too. There are consequences and nightmares as a result, but it's understandable to see Micki snap – wouldn't we all? Despite a brief Roxette mohawk meets I Love Lucy updo, one of those fake ponytail braids a la Madonna, and some lovely baroque feathers and period frocks; most of the time Micki's style is maturely toned down with more nineties turtlenecks and business blazers. By the end of the season, she is once again independently strong, breaking in places and confronting people rather than letting these evils continue.

Once again, Jack's continental battles have one wondering what Friday the 13th would have been like with him alone on the evil relic hunt. We don't even get to see it when he's said to be off recovering the Shard of Medusa from Year Two! The devil punishes him for all his good works, but Jack officially becomes part owner of Curious Goods on paper nonetheless. He's the reluctant treasurer of the Antiques Association, too, but doesn't like having its swanky party at the store when the other snobby dealers belittle his occult focus. Jack takes the lead in most cases, researching all aspects and utilizing his magic act connections or Druid knowledge. He also looks more nineties suave in more suit styles rather than his somewhat quirky trench coat and hat. Jack's there for Micki as a fatherly shoulder, telling her to not let evil defeat her and even getting harsh with her when he has to be. He brings Micki food when she's on a stakeout, too – even if that's more about delivering some exposition. Jack waxes on good, evil, the gray between, and how their job never seems to get any easier in “Night Prey” thanks back alley bites, impromptu stakings, and one killer crucifix. Granted, some strobe effects are hokey, however those vampires floating outside the church's stained class windows are eerily effective. If the show insisted on branching out from the object of the week format, it could have been cool to see Jack team up with such vampire hunters more often. This lone wolf monster vendetta with misused medieval relics feels like a rare Jack-centric episode, but the team is two steps behind as usual and Jack dictates information just as much as he gets in on the conflicted action. He admits that in their line of work, doing the right thing can be a little too weird sometimes, and Jack gets caught in the middle with twisted romance, then shocking innuendo, and murdered priests. It's 1990 but these vamps are pretty indiscriminate on who they bite.

Unfortunately, Ryan is clearly over all the death in his life, and close to home battles versus Lucifer interfere with a new chance to bond with the mother who abandoned him. Seriously, how do you explain this line of work to mom? Demonic corruption, violence that can't be undone, guilt, and final heroics send the character off in an eerie and unique, if far fetched exit. It's at once cathartic to see innocence win in a series where evil can't always be defeated, however, continuing Friday the 13th with two thirds of the regulars and a tacked on pal shifts the show's dynamic considerably. Johnny Ventura suddenly becomes Micki's sounding board but he feels more like an intrusion rather than helpful. The hood from a few episodes last season is now supposedly the hero as if a stranger dropped in with no explanation when the series had other opportunities to involve better mystical support. Whether Johnny stays at the store or has his own car is inconsistent depending on if he is called for a lame reason or if his wheels are part of the plot. He remains a non-believer in the paranormal even as Jack tells him to make himself useful and warns Johnny to take these dangerous curios seriously. Johnny can't retrieve an object alone nor mind the store without selling the wrong item, and takes an ax to an indestructible evil object when not trying to use the evil for himself. For being the young muscle, he gets knocked out a lot, too. Johnny does write fiction by getting ideas from the tabloids – which Jack calls rubbish even though earlier in the series he said the rags were the best place for tips. They discourage him from writing about the store, but an underground publication angle might have been neat instead of pushing this new character at the expense of the others when Jack and Micki get on as a duo just fine. Thankfully, Johnny is put to use climbing outside to adjust the television antenna. Heck, Jill Hennessy (Law and Order) pops up three times as a sultry vampire, snotty secretary, and a lifeguard. She could have kept around as an undercover regular disguised per antique. 

Orange lighting, distorted bells, white out eyes, and wolves leaping through windows keep up the horror intensity alongside foggy cemeteries, stone crypts, religious iconography, fires, and red devils with the horns to match the ghoulish skeletons, gory flesh, and melting oozes. Underground tombs, torches, demon altars, rune manuscripts written in blood, and pentagrams beneath the vault help make Curious Goods by lantern light even creepier, and there's a stained couch with a body in the pullout cushion! Mirrors assure those vampires have no reflection, there's holy water on the shelves at Curious Goods, and the store's business cards give its address as 666 Druid Avenue. Hearts pounding and distorted camera angles set off veiny prosthetic gore even if the period flashbacks and foreign locales are slightly under budget old looking. Fortunately, the retro designs make the most of the horror effects, building that patina mood with frock coats and frilly collars for some provincial time travel or green lighting, cigarettes, and noir styling for the vampire nightclub. The swanky cars, station wagons, mothers in sweaters and pearls, and thirty year old high schoolers with bad perms keep the nostalgia in the forefront, compensating for reused sets and locations or that same Tudor house used for everything. The early computer snooping is also somewhat fake. You couldn't just type in a name on blank screen and get clues back in the day! What do they think this is, Google? This was the era of phone booths when folks still had black and white televisions, and Friday the 13th gets then edgy by using 'bitch' a lot – although such grit feels hollow when wearing those big eighties blazers and tiny bolero ties. Men in tight jeans, long scarves, duster trench coats, and mullets isn't so timeless nor are the seriously purple eighties mod bathrooms with black fixtures and bloody bathtubs. Of course, rather than due to any letdown in syndication popularity, Friday the 13th: The Series was canceled at a time when sponsors and advertising were swayed by complaints on television violence and how far shows could push the envelope in prime time. In retrospect, it's an ironic end knowing everything seen here is almost friendly fair compared to the excessive shocks across all the television viewing platforms today.

Season Three strays from the Friday the 13th formula as cast changes and a larger focus on plots of the week loose the ability to fully capitalize on the spooky ideas presented. Fortunately, enough late hour gems keep these terrible little tchotchkes entertaining for old school horror audiences and series completists. 


06 February 2018

Technological Terrors!

Technological Terrors!
by Kristin Battestella

Vehicles, machinery, movie making behind the scenes, and scientific horrors fill these thrillers, documentaries, and throwbacks with horror intrigue, real world fantastics, and the bemusing importance of mechanical safety.

Contemporary Gem

Berberian Sound Studio – Typewriters, dials, rotary phones, and vintage spotlights spice up the unseen horrors and claustrophobic sense of tightly wound tweed for solitary sound engineer Toby Jones (Infamous) in this 2013 thinking person's thriller where visuals amplify sounds – yet we never see the film receiving the Foley. Silenzio red signs, cramped sound booths, and itemizing receipts add to the tense watermelon sloshing, splatting squash, stabbing cabbage, and ripping radishes used for the gory sound effects of the film onscreen. It's said to be trash but the touchy director objects to calling the Malleus Maleficarum, organ music, witches' spells, eerie moaning, or satanic chanting therein horror. Tape recorder pause, playback, and rewind repeat the screams as the sound sheet calls for footsteps, ticking clocks, hoof beats, and blenders standing in for chainsaws. Boiling food with the mike beside the pot for drowning witches and sizzling frying pans hear said to be a hot poker in the vagina horrors become too much for our increasingly strung out engineer torn between his quaint letters from home and the uncomfortable studio with a chilling vocal specialist doing some intense cackling in the sound booth. The director intends to show the gruesome no matter how difficult to watch – using dialogue and audio to build the internal movie that we never see despite the Latin prayers, whooshing sounds, and increasing decibels escalating the eerie. The screen goes black when the jumping reels run out, mirroring power outages and film within a film parallels as our only anchor is more and more disturbed by the testy crew, mistreated actresses, and turnabout projector revelations. Our small sound booth world grows darker amid rattling doors, revenge curses, damaged gear, and threats on tape. Upsetting letters from home force the repression out amid waxing on witches versus God and suggestive innuendo as everything we see and hear becomes suspect. The audience can't rely on visuals we know nor familiar sounds and information we thought to be true, and the final half hour will have many scratching their heads over the silent attacks, revisited scenes, re-records, and tormenting of new actresses to get that perfect scream. However, we're seeing an internal reaction to simulated stimuli – is that not the voyeurism of film in itself? Viewers can't expect a by the numbers slasher in this meta within meta versus madness or even giallo violence despite the genre homage, but this is an ingenious concept in an era where cinema over-emphasizes bombastic effects and forgets the other senses.

Nostalgic Vehicles

The Car – Empty desert roads, dusty wakes, mountain tunnels, dangerous bends, and perilous bridges spell doom for run over bicyclists in this 1977 ride accented by Utah scenery, vehicular point of views, and demonic orange lighting. Regular rumbling motors, honking horns, and squealing tires are devilishly amplified as this cruiser uses everything at its disposal to tease its prey while up close grills and red headlights create personality. No one is safe from this Lincoln's wrath! Rugged, oft shirtless single dad deputy James Brolin (The Amityville Horror) takes his daughters to school on a motorcycle, insisting they wear helmets because of course he can't or it would hide that suave seventies coif and handlebar mustache. The hitchhiker musician hippie moments are dumb, however roadside folks don't live long and witnesses aren't helpful on plates, make, or model when people are getting run over on Main Street. What brought on this evil? Suggestions on the small town past with alcohol, domestic violence, and religious undercurrents go undeveloped alongside brief suspects, red herrings, and personal demons. Despite Native American slurs, it's nice to see Navajo police officers and foreboding tribe superstitions as the phantom winds, cemetery safe havens, terrified horses, and school parades reveal there's no driver in the car. Giant headsets, operators plugging in the phone lines, retro vehicles, and yellow seventies décor add to the sirens, decoys, roadblocks, radio chatter, and sparkling reflections from distant car mirrors as the real and fantastic merge thanks to this tricked out, mystically bulletproof, unnatural, and evil classic roaming about the rocky landscape. Although the editing between the unknown killer menace and asking why public fear is well filmed tense with foreground and background camera perspectives setting off turns around the bend or approaching headlights; some of the video is over cranked, ridiculously sped up action. It's an inadvertently humorous high speed effect amid the otherwise ominous idling, slow pushes off high cliffs, and fiery crashes – our titular swanky flips but remains unscathed and it doesn't even have door handles! Rather than embrace its horror potential or call the army and get some tanks or tractor trailers with passenger priests on this thing that no garage can contain, our police go it alone with a lot of dynamite for a hellish finale against the preposterous road rage. If you expect something serious you'll surely be disappointed, but this can be an entertaining shout at the television good time. Besides, no matter how stinky, today you know we'd be on The Car: Part 12 with a different hunk per sequel battling the star Lincoln.

Killdozer!– Embarrassingly splendid outer space effects, red fireballs, and glowing blue rocks establish this 1974 science fiction horror television movie. Lovely sunsets, oceans, and island construction are here too for seriously deep voiced and strong chinned Clint Walker (Cheyenne) and the baby faced Spenser for Higher Robert Urich – who have some terribly wooden dialogue and tough scene chewing at hand. Our metallic humming meteorite whooshes its life force into the titular machinery, making the controls work by themselves amid fun point of view shots as the blade's teeth inch closer to its target. Deathbed confessions are too fantastic to be believed when there's work to be done, and the nasty foreman never takes off his hard hat even after the latent BFF gets really into the sensitive subtext over his fallen friend and tells nostalgic stories of how they swam alone together at night. Big K.D., meanwhile, destroys the radio – plowing over camp regardless of the caterpillar's cut fuel line or some dynamite and fuel cans in its wake. But you could lose an eye on those huge ass walkie talkies with those dangerous antennas! Camera focuses on its little headlights a la eyes are also more humorous than menacing, and the puff puff choo choo out its smoke stack backtalk makes the supposedly evil facade more Little Engine that Could cute. Tight filming angles and fast editing belie the slow chases through the brush as everything is really happening at about ten miles an hour yet no one is able to outrun this thing, just crawl in front of it until crushed. Stereotypical Africa coastal comments, Irishman jokes, and a treated as inferior black worker always at the helm when something goes wrong also invoke a sense of white man imperialism getting what it deserves as they argue over on the job negligence and burying the bodies. Everybody's testy, nobody shares information, and there's an obligatory useless self sacrifice before the hard heads finally come together to destroy the indestructible with another rig, machino versus machino. Despite an occasionally menacing moment, this idiocy is more bemusing than fearful for an entertaining midnight movie laugh.

Archaeology Frights

Vampire Skeletons – Recently discovered medieval skeletons in Ireland and across Europe reveal mysterious superstitions, burial practices, and fears of the undead in this 2011 forty-five minute documentary. The narration moves smoothly between on site experts and sit down conversations discussing these mutilated grave sites with crossed legs, bones bound postmortem, boulders pinning the bodies down, and stones wedged into the dead's mouth. Rather than the exception, entire ancient sites have been found with corpses pegged to the ground and staked through the heart. Did people centuries ago really fear the deceased enough to ensure these disturbing burial treatments? Certainly grave movement and decomposition damage explains innate disturbances – but what of the intentionally headless, those buried faced down, and turned away from the sun “deviant burials” that go against common medieval Christian burial practices? The scientific facts and revelations are well rounded with different voices, opinions, brief re-enactments, and vampire film footage amid up close visuals of bones and photographic evidence, establishing the field before seguing into the vampire possibilities, medieval lack of postmortem knowledge, and church instilled purgatory fears. Historical texts with undead tales were presented as factual revenants rather than eighth century penitence or twelfth century fiction, and stories of dead family members visiting before a plague were a common explanation for bringing the disease. Were epidemics and religious extremism responsible for digging up the dead, cutting out hearts, or even charging the deceased with crimes after they were dead? Some of these ancient practices morphed into eighteen century fiction, Victorian literature, and today's horror entertainment. However other folklore traditions linger in Central Europe where villagers leave food for the departed or destroy family graves to preserve the dead as needed. Are such burial disturbances a barbaric violation? Or are these fears and practices a positive way to ease the grief of the living while assuring the dead rest in peace? This fun mix of science and undeniable archaeological evidence combined with the spooky and morbid what if surmising isn't boo shock in your face sensationalism but instead inspires further research into these discoveries as well as the historical origins of our myths, monsters, and fears – even in death. Classrooms and sophisticated fans of the macabre can enjoy this informative piece during Halloween or any time of year.

26 January 2018

A Shakespeare Trio, Frice!

A Shakespeare Trio, Frice!
By Kristin Battestella

Yes, apparently “frice” is the four that comes after thrice. Who knew save for us as we dive in to another potluck of Bard titans?! 


Chimes at Midnight – Orson Welles' (Othello) once obscure 1965 Falstaff opus adapts several Shakespeare plays – mostly Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 with Richard II, Henry V, and The Merry Wives of Windsor – as Ralph Richardson (The Heiress) narrates the Mortimer tense for John Gielgud's (Julius Caesar) king. Welles' larger than life Falstaff fills the screen, remaining the bright spot in focus at the center of the frame even when speaking over Keith Baxter's (Peeping Tom) shoulder as the foreground Prince Hal. Falstaff looks at the camera directly when looking toward Hal – if he isn't trailing behind him that is, rotund even as the stone castles, distorted angles, and grand interior arches keep the men beneath them small. The taverns, medieval wood works, capes, and period garb are amazing for as strapped as the production was, and the Criterion blu-ray is a restored black and white crisp. Strategic lighting schemes use sunlit rays to grace Henry IV while Prince Hal is near the light but not yet gilded and the challengers remain shadowed. Falstaff steals the show with his own court at Boar's Head, ever embellishing his stake and entertaining Hal with his booming humor. Unfortunately, Falstaff knows the joke will be on him once Hal grows up and takes on the big cross and great crown worn by his venerable father. He's like us, loyal yet cast aside, past his prime, and unable to change, fight, or compete with the king. The Shrewsbury charging horses, swords, maces, and violence are impressively modern, a lengthy battle severing the fun had beforehand with surreal fog, mud, superb music, and handheld pacing reflecting the brutal whirlwind. Hal must fight and kill but instead of robbing Hotspur of his youth, he's lost his own innocence – a loss from which Falstaff tried to protect him. Welles tightens the tender around Falstaff by clarifying his arc across the plays, however this compact focus also rushes everything else. Some editing is messy with quick, unnecessary cuts probably from the production struggles, and Welles' self indulgent portrayal is often over the top and hokey even as it is still relatable – we're meant to see through the windblown no matter how big the belly. Falstaff's a poor old fat guy making himself out to be something else while clinging to his young well connected friends. My gosh, it's just like facebook! If they were such best buds, why should Hal forget him once he becomes king? Was it all really just being used for kicks? We can understand why such a betrayal breaks the fool's heart. One needs to be familiar with these plays, as this is not an introductory piece for a young audience but rather a divisive film between purists not liking the changes and viewers familiar enough with Shakespeare to take a different look. Nonetheless, this is a captivating story of becoming a man and putting away childish things that can be returned to at several stages in life, and Welles' take should be seen at least once for this personal, bridesmaid perspective.

Henry V – A very baby faced Kenneth Branagh (Wallander) makes his much lauded directing debut in this 1989 adaptation alongside Ian Holm (Lord of the Rings), Judi Dench (Skyfall), Brian Blessed (I, Claudius), and a pint sized Christian Bale (Newsies, people!). Brief flashbacks highlighting key moments from Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 also feature Robbie Coltrane (Harry Potter) as Falstaff while Derek Jacobi (Cadfael) is a modern dressed Chorus – an aware host introducing the stage, behind the camera magic, scenery changes, and onscreen map overlays. Firelight creates a realistic golden scheme matching the medieval robes as court sit downs and devil or angel courtiers sway the French claims. This H.V. is initially soft spoken but won't be mocked, and the woodwork set design aides the characterization as the austere fine patinas at court contrast the worn and shabby Boar's Head framing filled with fun. It is somewhat intrusive to insert Hal's banishment fireside at the tavern upon Falstaff's death when we're supposed to be on the way to Agincourt. However, this friendship lost later anchors the serious Pistol and Bardolph action amid internal revolts and blades at the throat. Henry's court is blue, young, and feisty while France is red and tired with a petulant dauphin compared to the bright sweetness of the French ladies' bemusing English lesson – even as Emma Thompson (Stranger Than Fiction) is obviously not French. These interiors are small, but vivid orange sieges, armored battles, and the horseback Harry rouses upon the breach with an exceptionally epic score from Patrick Doyle (Thor). Dirty, hands on threats and bittersweet executions escalate while the ill English army suffers, and the effortless iambic pace combines with gritty cinematic flair, emphasizing the rah rah despite hangings, tears, rain, and mud. This underdog tale knows when to take a stage action and run with the patriotism as well as when to stay quiet for a commoner versus king interchange. Soliloquies in the calm before the bloodshed are almost directly to the camera, drawing the audience within the moment to ponder the innocent consequences almost with a Jesus at Gethsemane humility against the over confident enemy. The gather round inspiration and on high cheers culminate with the St. Crispin fire and brimstone before superb sound design invokes the charging hoof beats as the camera stays on the fearful English faces standing their ground. Archers' volleys, clashing swords on horseback, bloody slow motion jabs, and slippery one on one combat create a lengthy, well choreographed battle. This story spends most of its time on the taking of France as so glorious – but all the death and youth sacrificed are for what really? The contemporary commentary stews in the quiet win as the dead are tallied, panning across the tired, sad victors and the bloodied children beside them. Stirring Latin laments swell while the camera humbly follows the living carrying the dead home. Granted the play's wooing finale seems odd after such onscreen epicness, but the official paperwork and marital ties seal the patriotic rebirth – which, ironically, we know is cut short. The Chorus gives us a fitting, 'but that is another story' close of the curtain, and although this is too long and bloody for the classroom, it remains a must see for Shakespeare fans and cinephiles alike.

Richard III – Annette Bening (American Beauty), Robert Downey Jr (Iron Man), Kristin Scott Thomas (The English Patient), Maggie Smith (Harry Potter), Jim Carter (Downton Abbey), and Dominic West (Centurion) join Ian McKellan (Mr. Holmes) for this 1995 fascist re-imagining of The Bard amid ticker tapes, radios, typewriters, telegraphs, tanks, and gas masks. Though recognizably thirties with swanky cars, cigarettes, jazz, and Art Deco glamour; there's an anachronistic surreal to the fedoras, furs, and noir silhouettes – as if the Imperial and aristocratic ways of footmen and tiaras continued into the jet set unchecked by The Great War or Abdication. This is still old speaketh, but the opening is silent before Richard takes over the microphone with his expected soliloquy – zooms on his mouth indicate double talk and duplicitous plots as he prims in the mirror before addressing the camera directly of his plans. Our disfigured Duke of Gloucester is suave with his thin mustache and decorated uniform but slightly unkempt, gassed, and mad when not putting on his crocodile tears. While the Nazi parallels are obvious, they are more Western gone SS The Man in the High Castle what ifs then actual German motifs. Richard's a Wolsey ear to the ground sowing seeds at Tower of London bunkers or with rooftop pigeons instead of on castle parapets, but the new dressage doesn't overtake the still stage-like one on one tension as each scene lays a piece of the brother against brother plot. Hired killers provide gangster style executions in the bloody bathtub and cracked spectacles in brown anonymous packages as proof of the deed done. The hangings grow darker alongside Richard's dictator glee despite opposing board room committees in their It Can't Happen Here disbelief. Dressing room preparations and laughter after the ruse works join public cheers over the boar's head laurel/fascist pigs logo – seeing the red gloved right hand but not knowing what the pocketed sinistre left is doing. Richard talks to us while he's watching the film reel of his coronation, seemingly letting the viewer in on the vanity. We don't like him but there's no getting off this armored train whether it goes too far or not. Tap to the king's tune and things are grand, but misstep and.... Fortunately, Richard also has to lie in the bed he made – with night sweats, regrets, and just do. Given our current administration and political climate, I'm probably looking at this differently then I would have two years ago. However, such reassessment proves how provocative Shakespeare still is even outfitted with machine guns, power stations, airplanes, and horses not there when you need them. Although the sound is uneven between soft voices and loud effects, this deserves several viewings for the visual symbolism and layered subtext – a complex parable within a tale of Billy quotes, the period piece commentary, and the pressure cooker of it all then and now. This weighted interpretation may be confusing for those new to the play, perhaps keeping the more medieval clear Olivier version as the introduction piece, but there's nothing wrong with this picture save a surprisingly elusive video release.

Hee, these are alphabetical, chronological, and in play order. Huzzah!