16 October 2019

Wild Retro Frights!

Wild Retro Frights!
by Kristin Battestella

The decades of yore provide this wild trio of shady hep cats, international ladies of the night, evil Hollywood dames, and more. Yowza!

The Black Cat– Lucio Fulci (The Psychic) directs Patrick Magee (The Masque of the Red Death) in this loose 1981 Italian Poe adaptation with English subtitles to match the Tudor manors, cobblestone streets, and superstitious village. Low to the ground cameras provide our feline point of view as the misunderstood cat causes a victim to drive off the road before prowling the rooftops. Fine carpets, stairwells, woodwork, and antique clutter contrast reel to reel tapes, big microphones, and vintage recorders – retro technology trying to contact the dead and capture their ghostly laughter, screams, and sounds of death. Flashlights and exploring exposed tombs reveal creepy tunnels, cobwebs, and shackled skeletons. It's all somewhat random to start with boaters, tourists, concerned parents, motorcyclists, cruising teens, and perky ingenues. However, the air tight traps, foaming at the mouth, and overgrown cemeteries create a sinister afoot amid the country quaint. Growling, mesmerizing eyes, shadows, back alley pursuits – this conniving little pussy knows how to unlock the latch on the door for complete warehouse perils. Gory impalements don't over do the blood, yet there are enough scratches and claws to show how easily a cat can make you bleed. Psychic tips lead to mice and the decomposing deceased, and confounded police call on tourist photographers with old school giant cameras to document the dead. Surely the cute little paw prints at the crime scene can't mean this is all a cat's doing? It's amazing how the slightest feline action can be so deadly – knocking over an oil lamp near the fireplace becomes a face melting inferno. The poltergeist activity escalates, but the police refuse to consider something supernatural. Bound by their hatred or not, this medium should have known one can only telepathically make a cat do his bidding for so long. This cat is pissed and he's not going to take it anymore! Although most of the feline film work is bemusing, there are upsetting moments thanks to poisons and a noose for our four legged nemesis. Who some of the players are and how they all have a connected history also feels lost in the translation, but fortunately, we're here to go with the evil cat and not worry about the details as choice zooms, editing, and shrewd use of that old camera flash match the Edgar appropriate buried alive house of horrors. Bats and blunt violence culminate in twisted retribution, and giallo splatter, Hammer feeling, and Poe demented combine for a creative slasher with claws perfect for anyone who has a love hate relationship with his or her cat. Like me!

Death at Love House – Couple Robert Wagner (Hart to Hart) and Kate Jackson (Dark Shadows) are writing a book on Lorna Love and stay at the Old Hollywood starlet's creepy manor in this 1976 television movie. Gothic gates, winding drives, old fountains, and broken statues accent the past torrid and vintage bus tours, and there's a freaky shrine, too – the preserved corpse of our beauty lying in a glass coffin. Of course this print is obviously poor, but the retro Hollywood scenery, Golden cinema looks, and seventies California style make up any difference. I wish we could see the arches and wrought iron better, but the VHS quality kind of adds a dimly lit ominous to the Mediterranean villa as retro commercials provide a vintage patina. Housekeeper Silvia Sydney (Beetlejuice) isn't very forthcoming about enchanting portraits of the starlet, and newsreels of her funeral show a man in a cape with a black cat among the mourners. Malleus Maleficarum spell books on the shelf, sacrificial daggers, and crusty director John Carradine (Blood of Dracula's Castle) suggest Lorna was more evil than lovely, and talk of mirrors, souls, passion, and rivals like Dorothy Lamour (Road to Bali) add to the character unto herself à la Rebecca. Without over the top visuals or in your face action for the audience's benefit, the performances here carry the scandalous scares – jumping at the horrors as thunder punctuates terrifying encounters in the dark. Apparent heart attack victims, destroyed pictures, and warnings to leave Love House lead to locked doors, gas mishaps, and steamy showers while phonographs provide chilling music as Lorna seems to be looking out from the silver screen film reels with her hypnotic power. Bewitching dreams relive the past and wax on eternal youth as the ghostly obsessions grow. At times, the spiral stairs, red accents, and swanky are more romantic, but phantom ladies at the window and rumors of fiery rituals create sinister. Our husband is said to be going through the scrapbooks but he's not getting any work done, remaining in denial about the basement tunnels, cult altars, pentagrams, and mystical symbols. Although the Mrs. seems calm somehow once the truth comes out, too, the creepy masks and wild reveals make for a flaming finish. There are too many tongue in cheek winks for this to be full on horror nor can one expect proper glam and glory in such a brisk seventy-four minute network pace. However, this is good fun for a late night Hollywood ghost story full of meta vintage.

The Hooker Cult Murders – Detective Christopher Plummer (Somewhere in Time) investigates the death of Karen Black (Trilogy of Terror) in this 1973 Canadian thriller also called The Pyx. Like the giant headsets, adding machines, black and white photographs, and payphones, the print and sound here are poor old school quality. It's tough to see the long falls off tall buildings and hectic crime scene, but the radio chatter, jewelry clues, and casual French accent the Montreal locations. Unfortunately, the morgue attendants are in a hurry with their sarcasm over this seemingly routine dead hooker. Despite strong arm police and whispers of another missing working girl, witnesses aren't exactly forthcoming – not neighbors nor the “manager” of the “entertainment.” Talk of which of one of them is a Catholic, technically, or not that good of one anyway leads to crosses, statues, Latin mottos, sermons, and communion. However, the grand halls and gated arches created a sense of unwelcome outside looking in as flashbacks of the living now deceased include nude trysts, cigarettes, and smitten clients. The creepy dudes and the hysterics are a bit much, but the rules of the brothel are strict and there's a schedule to keep! Drug use leads to a convent and recovery, but our cop's obsessing over a dead hooker doesn't go over well at home, and the disjointed back and forth at times competes with the slow suspense. The mellow euphoric, flat music sung by Karen Black to go along with her shoot up scenes is, however, pretty campy. Memories of horses are meant to be something romantic, but the bemusing, nonsensical lyrics wax on red balloons, and it's all a dream within a dead person's flashback that's also somehow montaged with kids playing near her body chalk line. ¯\_()_/¯ Granted the songs are meant to be some kind of feminine character development, but with the bad sound and poor poetry, they detract from the car tailing, evidence in the trash, and drug stash in the sugar bowl. The strung out may insist it's only a little bit and she knows not to over do it, but we know she's in way over her head, foolishly thinking she can say no or choose the john. Swanky appointments and wine lead to promised payments if she tells him her whole history when to strip and reveal the truth about oneself and whether she believes in God is almost a more raw experience. Suspicious phone calls and mysterious men in black cars lead to more murders with blood on the carpet and bodies in the stairwell as the investigation comes together thanks to rough interrogations and upside down cross realizations. Candles, confessions, shootouts – it's wild how we're seeing the slow build up to her death yet it's only been a day since for our detective and the bodies are falling left and right. Sped up, chipmunk chanting is unintentionally funny, but the altars, flesh, and desecration escalate to confrontations perhaps with the devil himself – or just a corrupt dude or maybe some kind of snake thing, it's tough to tell. Tainted beverages, white robes, and black hood rituals mix with distorted visuals and standoffs, culminating in an almost simultaneous, chilling finale. The twofold film style is awkward and the title fronts the horror expectations while giving away the cult surprise, but this remains a fun, interesting romp for fans of the cast.

A Bonus Vincent Price Western!

The Baron of Arizona – Before he was a horror maestro, Vincent Price starred in this 1950 black and white western opening with 1912 cigars and toasts to statehood before recounting the 1872 tall tales of our ambitious swindler. Our eponymous clerk is angry that grandfathered grants give away land to ignorant people, so he forges a fictitious lineage back to 1748 with honorary titles and claims endorsed by the King of Spain. He talks down to Mexicans who can't read, explaining what every big word means as he proclaims an abandoned daughter is heiress to this great fortune, and it's weird that the narrative keeps going back to the men talking about the action to progress the timeline. Inscriptions are carved in stone to prove the barony as the girl is groomed for nobility – it's easy to make a peasant girl believe she is a princess with portraits, gifts, and dresses. Our suave villain, meanwhile, is creating fake graves and traveling to Spain to doctor rare documents. Shadows, black hats, and noir filming add a sinister mood to match the crimes while mission libraries, churches, and the crucifix create what should be a looming sense of guilt for our con, who joins an order just to perfect his forgery. Black hoods, candles, and old tomes at the biblioteca only lead to increased greed, hitches in the plan, daring escapes, and wagon chases with hysterical rear projection and billowing robes. All who encounter the grifter insist they don't know him or why they should trust him, but some flirting finesse leads to hiding out with the gypsy caravan until a rendezvous with the marquesa and a triumphant return with noble papers. The government would have no problem honoring a reasonable grant, but thousands of acres, all mineral and river rights in the territory, and a redrawn boundary with New Mexico understandably cause public resistance. Simple, shabby, sets begat grand manors and large rooms with models, maps, and innovations. Railroad business, irrigation plans, mining opportunities – getting the real local wealthy to invest hundreds of thousands is where the true con lies. And when the government offers to buy the barony for $25 million? Cha-ching! Farmers taking up arms and one on one rivalries lead to lawsuits, but that intruding, patronizing voiceover inexplicably disappears in favor of spinning newspapers detailing the local backlash, violence, and trials as the Department of the Interior comes calling. The pioneers, however, argue that they as white Americans are more entitled to Arizona than the older Spanish grants, and if you speak anything different, you are a traitor. From his grand coach, the gaslighting baron insists he is not taking over the territory for the money but to help these people make his barony great, and it's ironic to see such an obvious swindle then considering today's administration. When his wife the fictitious baroness now grown briefly doubts, he says it's just unnecessary guilt over her privilege, yet we can't take her soft spoken earnest seriously because she's standing by her man as he's convicted of conspiracy to defraud the nation. Confessions and suspect ink lead to a lynch mob finale where our baron's still smiling as he spouts condescending lies from the noose. Of course, the Hayes Code assures his wife still loves in in the end, but this isn't your typical western thanks to Price's carefully orchestrated charm. It's also interesting to look up this real life tale. Have you seen the wild mutton chops on this guy? Obviously we know he doesn't get away with it, but it's delicious to see how close he gets.

10 October 2019

Iffy Recent Horrors

Iffy Recent Horrors 😕
by Kristin Battestella

Whether it's long form television, scary franchises, or famous faces onscreen, these recent horror legs leave a little something to be desired.

It was Okay

Bad Samaritan – Upsetting horses, whips, and screams open this 2018 thriller directed by Dean Devlin (Geostorm) starring David Tennant (Doctor Who) and Robert Sheehan (Red Riding). Older cars, computers, photography, and above the garage starving artists set the scene for our valets nicking from customers while they dine. It's a smooth operation – lifting trinkets, watches, small items that won't be missed. Why steal the gift card when you can scan it and they'll never know? Our burglars argue whether to con a decent family compared to the snobby rich before maneuvering around security systems, cameras, and dobermans. Viewers get to know these supposed crooks just trying to maximize any angle they can – Irish still struggling in corporate America while the bizarrely sans accent Tennant talks the expensive talk in his sweet Maserati. Coordinated snooping in his tricked out mod house to lift credit card numbers provides ominous phone action, handcuffs by the bed, and doors with seriously heavy locks. Encrypted passwords, suspect checkbooks, and smartphone flashlights lead to chains, horse bits, chairs bolted to the floor, and victims bound and gagged. Skeleton keys worn around the neck and cameras observing his quarry at all times elevate the suspense alongside designer tools, clean rooms, lye, serrated blades, and sinister saws. How can our robbers call the police without incriminating themselves? Close calls, regrets about the scheme, and fear of jail time or deportation bind our small timers against the twisted but suave serial killer methods, and stakeouts reveal mistakes made and a victim not where she is supposed to be. Our sociopath seeks to cleanse vulgar corruption at his secluded cabin containing torture devices, spurs, and cages. It's all about dressage and training to achieve the superior spark – just like a horse. Detective searches and police interviews come up empty thanks to coy clean ups, dismissing the bruises, lashes, and photographic proof. Our eponymous con turned do gooder becomes the prey – hacked, followed, and threatened with all manner of technology used against him. Sophisticated gadgets, vehicles, needles, and trackers implicate the petty thief, who turns to the seemingly uninterested FBI to file a missing persons report. Although he usually can't stand the low class squalor that's beyond “correction,” our killer's impressed with who's come to play in his sandbox. Terrorized families, job firings, social media blackmail, and presentation exposures help break the spirit as collared women are trained to go back to the cell and lock the door. The working class chaos and psycho trust fund order escalate to back alley attacks, violence down the stairs, baseball bats, gunshots, and explosions. So long as it isn't inelegant, who's next is going to watch, and snowy raids, jurisdiction technicalities, and shovel beatings lead to where all the gory bodies are buried. After resorting to the same old twisting mustache villain revelations, weak one on one fights, and action chases through the woods while the FBI sits on their hands waiting for a warrant; the finale does unfortunately loose some steam. The script never quite decides if we are inside the head of one or the other and doesn't always equally balance both sides. Overall this feels more like a nineties late night thriller – which is fine so long as viewers don't expect outright horror or thrills a minute – and fans of the cast can enjoy the careful orchestration and chilling interplay here.


Insidious: Chapter 3 – I liked the First Two in this franchise, but with releases so few and far between, it seems this 2015 prequel featuring Lin Shaye has been largely forgotten. Things here aren't off to a good start either with voices so, so low and music so, so loud. Unnecessary crescendos and warping toppers don't add atmosphere like the cluttered, old fashioned house and requests for a reading on a girl's late mother. Our psychic is out of the business and doesn't want to call on the dead because someone nasty may answer. Typical morning kitchen banter with dad Dermot Mulroney (My Best Friend's Wedding) restarts the story in a fancy apartment building complete with a bratty, ultimately irrelevant brother, hip friends with pink hair, and a kooky old black neighbor who dies first of course. Daughter Quinn rehearses but botches an audition thanks to bright spotlights and creepy shadows in the theater. Car accidents that should be shocking are again more so in volume than horror, but the hospital rush, flat lines, and fractures lead to a blue limbo and scary demon growls. Two broken legs make for sleeplessness and ringing hand bells (super loud naturally), a trapped in bed awkward amid thumps on the ceiling, shadowy arms, and phantom figures by the window. Locked basements, dark stairwells, parlors with skulls and crystal balls – the lone lady psychic fears and silence are much better than making the audience jump with a loud noise. It's weird, too, that a different horror series with astral demon action resorts to standard teen issues. While texting on an old slide keyboard phone and fake graphics are meant to indicate this is a decade ago, primitive video chat is used to great effect with the caller asking who's standing next to the would be victim when no one's there. Moved wheelchairs, figures behind the lace curtains, and looking under the bed frights increase as the intruder draws the shades, shuts the door, and flings the girl off the bed for more injuries and terror. This raspy breathing, mask wearing demon is pretty strong, jumping out four story windows and mystically transporting the wheelchair bound for abandoned fifth floor races. He's luring faceless ingenues to Room 514 yet no one researches the history of this creepy art deco building, and it takes gooey footprints on the ceiling for Dad to get a clue. It's easy to blink and miss dialogue here, questionable internal logic makes things confusing, and exposition about suicides and the reasons behind Elise giving up readings are left to exposition when we could have experienced the characterization. The living must search in the dark, resisting the lure to join dead relatives as evil follows them back from the astral underworld. The foggy corridors and red elevators are creepy, but it takes over an hour to get proactive against the demons – random scares, ghostly girls, and fun house horrors waste time while distorted frights predicting the First Insidious remain too brief. Ghost hunters found on the internet are called in complete with hidden cameras and night vision to record the flickering power, cracking bones, chilling possessions, and eyeballs in the throat. Seeing Elise overcome her issues to bring the psychic team together should have been the focus here, but for everything good, something cliché interferes. With the teen in trouble start and the psychic battles in the end, this feels like two different movies culminating with typical rattling furniture, whooshing action, and good ghosts conveniently coming through in the nick of time. Although this is late night watchable, there was potential for something much more than jump scares and gotchas.

I Couldn't Take It

Scream QueensThis thirteen episode 2015 Fox horror comedy debut opens with 1995 blood and babies in the bathtub ruining the jams to TLC before today's couture sleep masks and a millennial fast narration waxing on the superior social class, house slaves, and bulimia vomit on the carpet. Our immediately unlikable, elitist, don't feel sorry for poor little rich girl Queen of Kappa Kappa Tau Emma Roberts (The Blackcoat's Daughter) provides the breakneck history to match the quick editing and constantly on the move camera. Not so clean dean Jamie Lee Curtis (Halloween) threatens to revoke the house charter, leading to confrontations, extreme clique behavior, and alumni still trying to be hip. Red devil mascots and white robes build atmosphere alongside fearful pledges, killer pranks, and faces scorched in hot vats. Plebs wanting cool boyfriends named Chad go along with dumping a body – sharing in the sisterly secrets with blood oaths found online. Exaggerated zooms and screams over bloody faces peeling off create camp horrors while deadly encounters put the killer and victim face to face but texting rather than speaking or fleeing. Here, victims tweet for help rather than shout for police who don't believe there's an emergency thanks to howling hag legends and people taking selfies with dead bodies cum décor. Eerie basement accidents and bodies in the attic connect to fatal sorority secrets while eating cotton balls and tasers to the privates begat candlelight vigils and crocodile tears Visits to lux families of the deceased reveal holiday trysts, and film classes featuring Texas Chainsaw Massacre wink at the slasher genre before fresh slicing and dicing to the upbeat music. Commentaries and home videos wax on how Halloween lets one with the right dumb luck costume get away with anything, and pledges sharpening knives and carving pumpkins talk about making sausages out of the dead to sell them at the county fair. Camper frights and trailer park snooping pieces together what happened in sorority twenty years ago, but threats to call the news are more fearful than the authorities. Unfortunately, everything here is so gosh darn busy with tell not show exposition in every walk while they talk on the move scene. The far, far too many characters go overboard on bitchy freeze frame zingers amid racist, disabled, Asian, and lesbian insults. Singer Nick Jonas plays into the gay stereotypes, and there's a difference between having nasty characters mock the deaf or queer and using the demeaning and homophobia for laughs. Overused corporate radio and existential woke quips come at espresso speed alongside superficial, pissy, unnecessary monologues. If the sardonic was taken down a notch, viewers could appreciate the mood. However, the humor in death detracts from the horror. Are we supposed to laugh at the squirting sliced arms or enjoy the demented slasher references? We can't appreciate whether the horror is straight or sarcastic because the decision to chuckle at the preposterous has already been made for the audience. Library research and juicy reveals are withheld until convenient – happening in the past with brief flashbacks for the viewer after the fact. We're not in on the discovery and have no time for the details thanks to the random plot. Each brisk, forty-four minute entry feels like empty calories with Thanksgiving appropriation, “ghosts” of not dead characters, and scary storytelling complete with cliché re-enactments. Every person has to have the last comeback, me me me repeating the costumed encounters, killer chats, and double crosses. Pleb makeovers, questionable paternity, pacts to become alibi buddies, and deaths ruled suicide in spite of footprints and slit throats can't hide the killer giveaways slicing up the instantly dated Backstreet Boys wannabes in white. Despite pink furs and chandeliers, the grandeur is an ugly Clueless cosplay, and fine references to Sixteen Candles jar against the text speak. Who is ultimately the audience here – today's hipsters who will laugh or adults who understand the horror homages? Between creating writers Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Ian Brennan also directing alongside Bradley Buecker and Michael Uppendahl, perhaps there are too many male cooks in this kitchen. Like their American Horror Story, this has the cast and the opportunities, but the cool crescendos and uneven pacing toy with the action to arbitrarily fit network episodes. This should have been a three night October event with all the desperate hip and trying to be funny falling flat excised. Tame blood and gore and pretentious trash talk in lieu of actual cursing come off false, leaving the commentary laden dialogue more obnoxious than witty. I skipped around and didn't miss a thing, not liking anyone or caring enough about the killers to continue. Quirky security guard without a gun Niecy Nash (Reno 911) could have carried all the humor needed, and with her dark suits, silver crop, and morning scotch, not to be underestimated Curtis stands out from the sheep. Seeing the series from her perspective would have been much more interesting!

20 September 2019

Night Watch (1973)

Elizabeth Taylor does Horror in Night Watch
by Kristin Battestella

Upscale housewife with history Elizabeth Taylor thinks she witnesses a murder in the creepy abandoned house next door in the 1973 British thriller Night Watch. Unfortunately, her broker husband John Wheeler (Laurence Harvey) nor her carefree best friend Sarah (Billie Whitelaw) believe her. The police are tired of the the increasing phone calls and neighborhood hysteria, but the terror escalates thanks to stormy nights, pills, alcohol, and slit throats.

Director Brian G. Hutton (Where Eagles Dare) and writers Evan Jones (The Damned) and Tony Williamson (The Avengers) adapt the Lucille Fletcher (Sorry, Wrong Number) play with flowers, quaint English gardens, and smiling rapport. The swanky drinks before dinner and lingering sixties style, however, contrast the looming gothic manor next door. The grounds are said to be poison where nothing will grow, but someone is digging in the backyard on stormy nights and vivid dreams of speeding cars, accidents, and morgue terror distract from the snobbish talk of avoiding lesser neighbors. Late night waxing on the fatal past invokes a wee small hours limbo – traumatic memories and two characters who've lost touch make for fine drama before raging storms and screams reveal something horrible across the way. Dead men and cut throats disturb the classical music, but inspectors find nothing in the congested, maze-like condemned as Night Watch relies on performances and mood rather than sensationalism for its taut, through the shutters peering. Pills or brandy are suggested to keep calm, but flashlights, clutter, and foreground objects layer the visual frame. Viewers are looking for something – questioning what we see or didn't see. Could it all be an honest mistake? The police think it's nothing but “money and menopause” on top of brief nudity, shower saucy, and hotel room trysts. Newly planted trees aren't enough evidence, but nuggets of information trickle out from the ensemble. Suspicious neighbors find it exciting that there's hear tell of a dead body nearby yet refuse to have their bushes dug up as part of the official search. Red herrings add to the creepy commentary about disliking neighbors who were there before you just as much as the friends you choose living even closer. Who's watching whom and from which house questions layer the voyeurism alongside debates on hallucinations, eidetic images, and convincing oneself that what you see is real. Old mementos thought lost suddenly reappear, leading to arguments about gaslighting and being deliberately terrorized as more police calls, chases, and curiosity create a 'burbs mind your own business across the hedge. Despite lights next door, the case is closed – inspectors and doctors both strongly suggest everything go back to normal amid awkward dinners, screams, and more off screen witnessing. Revelations about what had really happened in previous accidents and shock over identifying bodies found in flagrante delicto provoke more tension in the increasingly crowded quarter. Eventually the police laugh and roll their eyes, proposing our housewife contact the building owners herself or hire a private detective. All the paperwork is ready for a trip to “rest” in Switzerland, too – accounts, legalese, and power of attorney but that's all just routine. Confrontations, secrets, and lies will out thanks to hide and seek twists inside the derelict. Night Watch gets its horror on in a spooky multi layered finale of blood, violence, crazed attacks, and frenetic turnabouts. Who exactly was really planning what and when? Seemingly early and obvious giveaways make room for more surprises, and Night Watch ensures the shocking schemes are ultimately completed with skill and gravitas.

Flowing gowns, glam necklaces, rock rings, and coiffed hair assure Elizabeth Taylor (Cleopatra) looks classy as well to do housewife Ellen Wheeler. She dresses for dinner, drinks, and does jigsaw puzzles, for she needs patience to give her something to do when she's so often alone. Her ritzy life should be nothing but grand, however, the insomniac Mrs. is up all night fascinated by storms and thinking about her father's bad poetry. She's been spoiled yet feels restrained and bored. The watch during the night is for all the things you can't make sense of during the day, says Ellen, and she's increasingly returning to memories of her late first husband Carl. Dreaming of his accident keeps her awake – she vividly recalls the fatal scenes and blood the viewer never sees but doesn't remember previously dealing with the police and feels nervous about talking to them. However, Ellen also doesn't want to be coddled or hear this witness is all in her mind, and she's angry when no one believes her, even more hysterical over the disbelief than upset by the crime she apparently saw. Without support, Ellen is increasingly frazzled, pathetic, and paranoid. Will she voluntarily go to the doctor so he can tell her the dead body is all in her mind? What happens when she thinks she sees another one? Mrs. Wheeler's wheels turn as she suspects her pills, beverages, and if someone is deliberately making her recall Carl's demise. Despite her full house with husband, friend, and maid, Ellen fears someone else is watching her. She repeatedly calls the police and eventually agrees to see the psychiatrist, and though desperate, she is not stupid. Ellen is quite intelligent and recognizes when she's being lied to or signing the wrong papers. She's damn shrewd in seeing what's what, and Night Watch's madness begins to make sense as only Dame Elizabeth could make the clicking of the retractable pen so sassy and defiant before refusing to take the last tranquilizer in the bottle. Long drags on the cigarettes and strategic pauses emphasis the deliciously dark camp, and I'm surprised Night Watch feels so obscure when Taylor's performance is so chill.

Laurence Harvey's (The Manchurian Candidate) stocks and bonds big wig John Wheeler wants to know why his wife can't sleep. He works long hours, but wonders what he's done to upset her even if she says it's not him. John takes care of Ellen, babying her with warm milk the way a daughter goes from a father to husband to protect her. However, John does not believe she's seen anything. He won't call the police over a false alarm and insists the inspector not upset his already not well wife. John won't stick up for her claims, yet he warns the police to not dismiss Ellen. Although he's worried over the dangerous mix of alcohol and sleeping pills, John's more concerned about possibly being sued by an angry neighbor. He dislikes when the police want him to control his wife and encourages her to see their doctor friend once he's tired of her bringing up her late husband. John agrees she is right when Ellen suggests they take a holiday – but she says we and he only wants her to take a vacation. He has all that “spa” paperwork ready! Swanky best friend Billie Whitelaw (The Omen) on the other hand, is the house guest who won't leave. She keeps saying she's moving on to Scotland and debates running away with her latest on and off conquest Barry but may have other tête-à-têtes, too. Sarah stays to look after Ellen, providing tranquilizers and hot chocolate while waxing on all the adventures she could be having and the excuses she can make up to get away with them. Although she tries to avoid topics that will upset Ellen – like Carl – they always creep back into the conversation. Sarah insists Ellen can't go on like this, but as the third wheel in the marital house, her companionship is automatically suspect. She lies to spare Ellen, but also apologizes for her tall tales. Doctor Tony Britton (The People That Time Forgot) must also tread lightly with Mrs. Wheeler. He doesn't want her to be committed, but needs her to voluntarily trust his help. Above all, he insists that she must get out of this house before it's too late.

Spooky black branches, dark blue skies, boarded windows, banging shutters, and overgrown vines contrast the mirrors, red leather couch, white staircase, and swanky record players next door in Night Watch. Creepy statues and artwork, blue lighting, ticking clocks, and swirling cigarette smoke add ominous to the hip turtlenecks, lux lamps, decanters, and manicured gardens. Knives in the kitchen, rain splatter on the windows, and vintage blue sirens create pulsing tension while gates, flashlights, and condemned interiors set off the congested mood. Horseshoe phones, switchboard operators, and retro trench coats should be cozy nostalgia, but the colorful outdoors disappear as the peering through the blinds and drawn shades invoke agoraphobia. Distorted dreams and intense flashes of past car accidents lead to dead bodies and hospital disturbia thanks to low camera angles and spotlights. Night Watch has subtle, choice visuals with reflections of the scary house on the fine townhouse window overlaying all action inside and out. Well done cinematography provides dark scares as well as focus on Taylor's face as zooms hone in on critical images and objects. Thunder punctuates arguments as the rhythms escalate, and through the gate chases move the action to our spooky neighbors amid barren beams, peeling plaster, creaking stairs, and exposed woodwork. Violent struggles in the dark and shocking silhouettes allow for what we don't see suspicion and final revelations. Wise viewers may pick up on the mystery here for there are too many similar stories to Night Watch before and since. Audiences looking for full on horror a la Hammer of the day will be disappointed, too. Fortunately, the psychological chills, spooky twists, and superbly unraveled cast do get their scary on in an entertaining end. Night Watch is a fun late night tease worth seeing more than once to catch all the whodunit winks.

16 September 2019

Tough Horror Ladies

Tough Horror Ladies
by Kristin Battestella

These contemporary single mothers and their daughters do it all amid slasher scares, folklore horrors, and backwoods frights.

Halloween – Forty years later Jamie Lee Curtis returns for this 2018 direct sequel opening with asylum creepy and pesky podcasters claiming to be investigative journalists as interlaced exposition fills viewers in on Michael Myers' silence and the preparation paranoia that ruined Laurie Strode's family. Security systems, padlocks, elaborate gates, and isolation surround them both, but Laurie's daughter Judy Greer (27 Dresses) questions her drinking, over the top readiness, and inability to let go of “The Shape.” Walking to school amid today's tacky Halloween decorations, looking out the classroom window, ominous hedges, and laundry lines wink at the Original Film alongside snips of our vintage Halloween crime, newspaper clippings, and case files. Gross gas station bathroom terrors provide bloody teeth, bashing hammers, and cracking necks while the bright, open modern home contrasts the backwoods dark interiors with secret staircases and hidden shelters. The son-in-law says he can take care of his family but their windows are open and there's no security system, and between playing with yo-yos or complaining about baking the ineffectual men are louses leaving the ladies to check the scary sounds, slow going to answer a cry for help, and not learning to fear or prepare until it's too late. Corny family kitchens, trite teens, typical editing, and flat characters with nothing to do but say I told you so add to the confused BFF boys and gender reversed Bonnie and Clyde costumes filler while a kid shooting the wrong man as he calls for a dad who isn't there tries at some patriarchal commentary. After forty years of no need to transport Michael, he and his maybe metaphysically connected crazy cronies conveniently escape in an unseen bus crash just in time for the holiday. There's a slight camp here, too for those who celebrate in different ways – kids running after candy, teens at the rave, adults dressed as slutty nurses – but jerks and old ladies who disrespect Halloween are gonna pay! The bad girl babysitter and her wise charge too old to be afraid of closet monsters seem important, however numerous characters come and go, forgotten in a best friend's sister's boyfriend's brother's girlfriend roundabout with unimaginative stabs through the throat or obviously fake heads squashed like watermelons. We can't care about random people when they are conveniently killed or obnoxious and deserving of the horror. What happened to all the crazy patients who escaped on the crashed bus? Stupid folks unaware they are in a horror movie leave the safety of a police vehicle, running into the woods screaming rather than radioing for help, and it's unrealistic when Laurie and her scanner are the only back up when we live with such real world scary and excessive Halloween safety. The sympathy for the villain philosophizing is getting old, but the should have listened to your mother message wins when there really is a boogeyman in the closet. Barren wooden rooms with gated doors sequentially trap and clear in a siege ready lair that should have been explored more in parallel with the paranoid state of mind. Mano y mano fights and window perils create a mythical Laurie to match Myers, yet fiery ruses and dynamite traps make for an abrupt, leave room for the sequel end. Although there are too many movies just named Halloween now and those who saw H20 may be completely confused, this is well done compared to other films in the franchise. Despite over-relying on the Original in many ways, we're only here for those connections, and without them, this would be just another derivative horror movie. It's not perfect by any means, but fortunately this remains entertaining for its final girl presence.

The Hole in the Ground – Not all is as it seems for a young mother and son in this 2019 Irish/international ninety minutes. Fun house mirrors and creepy carnivals lead to upside down eerie, distorted car scares, and freaky ass hooded figures in the road. House repairs, rules to follow, locked basements, spiders, footsteps, and flickering lights contrast the warm lamp light safety, and there's an innocence to a child's questions on why the two moved without the most likely abusive dad. He doesn't fit in at school and she's the fifth wheel at dinner parties, but running off into the spooky forest is not the answer thanks to lookalike trees, darkness, and the titular ravine. Although the accents may be tough for some and night scenes are difficult to see at times, viewers are meant to only see what the flashlight catches in its spotlight and hear the frantic shouts of a mother calling out for the son who isn't safe in his bed. Stories of crazy neighbors, noises in the dark, and doors slamming by themselves add to the whereabouts unknown panic, emergency calls, and child claiming to be where he wasn't. An old lady in white walking toward your vehicle to say this is not your son is chilling in its simplicity, yet we aren't sure when the spooky switch may have been made. Our family is new in town, unfamiliar and surrounded by crows, dead bodies, and wakes with the coffin laid out in the living room and all the mirrors covered. Little changes that only a mother would know escalate to spying under the door, crawling on the floor, and toys near the crater where the ground rumbles and moves. Now mummy is fearful of her son, running through school corridors as creepy songs referring to our eponymous hole have other parents and doctors questioning what's wrong. There's no immediate Ring surveillance or instant video easy, but vintage camera evidence is upsetting to those refusing to believe. Mirrors are needed to tell the truth as what we're seeing becomes increasingly weirder. Changes in favorite foods and not knowing their family code games lead to heavy breathing, violent confrontations, surprising strength, bodies in the basement, and heads buried in the ground. Some of the action is a little laughable, but the audience is trapped in this freaky world thanks to sinkholes, scary roots, caverns, and bones. The disturbing revelations may be too slow or merely abstract metaphors for viewers expecting shocks a minute, but the finale gets physical with monster doppelgangers and rescues from the folklore for entertaining shout at the television disturbia.

Incident in a Ghostland – Station wagons, reading scary stories on the road, and creepy candy trucks open this 2018 Canadian/French production. Mom likes her daughter's Lovecraftian writing, but her sister hates it and their new house inherited from a kooky aunt who collected weird dolls, freaky toys, spooky mirrors, and animal heads on top of the old lady linens and antiques. Naturally, there's poor phone reception, and newspaper headlines say there are psychotic killers on the loose, establishing the family situation and scares as the killers walk right in for slams against the wall, sniffing dolls, and off camera screams. Vintage lighting that should create a cozy glow instead makes shadows where our invaders can come right out of the woodwork. The unknown, maze-like, and cluttered house provides confined hysteria and congested action for strongmen bashing lamps and broken glass. Mom fights to defend her family against the immediate attacks, stabbings, and dark room assaults. Our daughters are at the budding, in between age – cowering or urinating and unable to fight or flee against choke holds and terror in the basement. Once the youngest grows up to become a successful author, her latest best seller recounts the horrible events, and frantic calls have her returning to the house where her sick sister locks herself in and relives the horrors. Every bump in the night, whisper, creepy doll, and alarm clock adds to the on edge on top of help me notes, handcuffs, and bloody nudity. Is it deranged harm, supernatural contortions, or something more when her crazed sister insists someone else is painting her face like a doll and chaining her to the bed? Missing keys, slamming doors, scary dogs, and slaps in the face lead to flashes of past attackers. Are they phantoms of the traumatized mind or there to terrorize again? Beaten faces and arguments over how they need each other to accept the reality of what truly happened provide some superb distortions for viewers. Despite the escalating torture porn, the rug isn't pulled out from under the audience with some improbable twist that makes no sense in this tormented world. Playing dress up and placing people posed among all the other toys leads to blow torches and hefty but handy typewriters as our ladies face their demons despite their fears. The horror action and psychological terror will definitely be upsetting to some viewers, but this inescapable fear is well done for horror fans looking for something a little different. I've never heard of a candy truck before and shit don't ever want to encounter one now!

05 September 2019

The Frankenstein Chronicles Season 2

The Frankenstein Chronicles Season Two is Brimming with Monster Quality
By Kristin Battestella

The 2017 six episode Second Season of The Frankenstein Chronicles picks up three years after the twisted events of its Debut Series as Sean Bean's supposedly dead Inspector John Marlott pursues Lord Hervey (Ed Stoppard) for his monstrous science while Sergeant Joseph Nightingale (Richie Campbell) investigates the gruesome murders of several parish officials as new mad machinations and corrupt officials collide.

It's 1830 and disturbed flashes of what has transpired match the Bedlam catatonic in “Prodigal Son.” Jailers think this case is hopeless, for the angry, rattling chains can't tell of the heartbeats, fires, agony, and horrors. Silent screams, gory garrotings, and escapes lead to the abandoned laboratory with cracked mirrors, empty bottles, and lingering phantoms. The Frankenstein Chronicles refreshes the audience whilst the characters themselves struggle with the previous experiments, former pain, and fresh dilemmas as a murdered archdeacon sends fear through the local parish. The poor cannot feed their families on faith alone, but the Dean maintains his luxury by hampering the police with jurisdiction technicalities. New cemetery bills don't stop grave robbing schemes, and cruel high versus kind lows are firmly established in the multi-layered mysteries and investigations. Despite a sophisticated period mood, church fires, eviscerating shocks, and eerie figures with lone candles always remind viewers of the morose horror drama. London is run amok with slicing and dicing nobles on The Frankenstein Chronicles, and there's no solace for “Not John Marlott” as more bloody crimes begat missing organs, epidemics, and piled bodies. Creepy dreams and laughing visions add to the on edge, ghosts approach former friends, and headlines say the escaped lunatic is responsible for these unholy murders. Local parish watchmen rebuff inspectors, and back alley deals lead to corpse bearer job opportunities and intriguing new characters. Desecrated bodies are dug up and moved to pits – clearing the graveyards for people who can pay more for sacred ground. Mirrors and reflections create more soulful questions as the dead man walking sees the naked, animalistic internal monster. Shrouds, vaults, torches, and coffins keep The Frankenstein Chronicles on the morbid move in “Seeing the Dead.” Our former detective has his own underground investigation amid the church bells, empty steeples, and plague ridden alongside tender moments and a real life famous name or two. Dead children abound, and families that can't afford consecrated burials paint crosses on their doors to honor the deceased while a carnival caravan arrives with freaks and re-enactments of Frankenstein. Politicians argue about burial taxes, and motives for the murders include selling off church properties, twisted science, and blaming the devil. Who's clearing the slums and pocketing the money? It isn't God who's brought this pestilence, but men of science playing with God's power. Black horses, night owls playing the piano by candlelight, and men talking of the final nail in the coffin add symbolic subtext while dreams, monster memories, and ghosts provide clues. Superstitious fears and wrongful medicine clash thanks to sewers, sailors, on stage within within Frankenstein horrors, and knife fights behind the curtain. Autopsies, methodical precision, and poisoned pumps hone in on the contaminated truth – revelations perhaps made more disturbing by the water crises happening in America today.

Old inspectors and suspicious aristocrats meet face to face in “Little Boy Lost” amid fancy balls and false sermons waxing on demons and souls. Unfortunately, the truth is blasphemy, and quarantined ships send the sick to die in abandoned buildings behind chained doors – making for some silently terrifying scenes of garish dead haunting the corridors. Messengers from religious officials come baring knives in the back, leading to bloody struggles and gurgling groans. The innocent must flee in chases through the streets and leaps across rooftops, contrasting the footmen and tête-à-têtes on the ballroom balcony. Lifelike machines and automaton displays escalate the mad science amidst more grief, twists about who is real or phantom, and dead babies in jars. Thanks to town mobs and persecutions, circus folk with cut out tongues are arrested just because they fit the description of monsters, but ominous staircases descend to bright laboratories, creepy equipment, and shocking revelations with touching supernatural moments linking our characters. Politicians using the poor and too good to be true health plans in “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” again mirror the contemporary political climate as scary ideologies hide in plain sight. Be it illness or slit throats, people in this era don't live very long, and officials double cross each other to fill the void left by the dying King. Likewise, constables and the press are at odds over evidence and thin leads as all roads point to monstrous men throwing their own to the dogs if it suits their toys, tears, and conspiracies. Blocks of ice are used to store organs alongside secret formulas, memento mori, psychic encounters, and plans to escape to the continent. Chilling confrontations trap the unwilling in the choice to be reborn, for more things are possible than what God can do according to our seemingly sacrosanct gentleman. Stone towers contain romantic rooms draped in white soon to host some serious butchery, transformations, and abominations. Why wait to rekindle what one's lost in God's time when life's mysteries can come full circle now? Wounds and spirited intervention culminate in “Bride of Frankenstein” as lies, gags, and convulsions reunite our first born with the reanimation process. Life giving elixirs, breathing apparatus, and unique tissues lead to coastal visions and life or death limbo. Our murder victims got in the way of political ambitions so now their bodies are being put to good use. There's no need to make apologies when sacrificing for science! Once again The Frankenstein Chronicles builds its crimes and mysteries before escalating to full on horror. Raids, arrests, and eponymous resurrections mean nothing when death is not the end for men who live forever in a world without God. However loose ends must be tied up, and another corpse on the church steps leads to confessions, ironic justice, and science preventing the dead from staying deceased in an excellent denouement of amoral horrors.

He's angry, doesn't know his own strength, and vows revenge, yet Sean Bean's former inspector John Marlott remains haunted by his past. Initially he doesn't speak much, only “I was abandoned by God,”– which sums up The Frankenstein Chronicles quite well. Marlott insists he isn't who he was, for whether he was a man of kindness and justice or not, he received neither. Marlott feels forsaken since his family has gone on without him, yet he finds solace and a clean bed in a church and recognizes psalms of mercy when he hears them. Unfortunately, he can't look himself in the mirror, and any peace is quickly ruined by tragedy. Marlott moves on, pushing away the living because everyone around him winds up dead. He becomes a corpse bearer and calls himself Jack Martins, revisiting places he once frequented to prove his innocence despite nightmares that seem to indicate otherwise. Marlott is disturbed by all the death he sees and talks to ghostly guests from Series One, but he's more upset that he cannot see the spirits of his own wife and daughter. Marlott gives his coins to orphans and poor families so they can bury their dead properly and helps the sick households by doing their cleaning and hard labor, becoming the ironic hero of Pye Street roaming the slums at night – a foreboding grim reaper silhouette escorting a wagon of the dead to their mass grave. He tells people to flee the plague but ultimately ends up communing with their lingering spirits in superbly haunting moments. He cannot help the ghosts who torment him, but Marlott is deeply sorry for all the souls he seemingly damned. Forgiveness, however, may be found in the darkest places, and Marlott comes to accept he can live to do good even if he is not blessed. The Frankenstein Chronicles provides fascinating winks at Bean's walking spoiler onscreen image amid chilling declarations, strong demands for vengeance, and tearful displays. Granted I am biased – and I still think Marlott is Sharpe but Sean Bean seems to have become a better, more seasoned actor with age, and it is a pity The Frankenstein Chronicles received no awards notice for his excellent performance.

Though now a sergeant, Richie Campbell's Joseph Nightingale is assigned to a seemingly routine escape from Bedlam rather than a murder higher up officials want forgotten. He's a lot like Marlott, actually, getting praised for his initiative, punished for his insistence, and circumventing orders to find out about Marlott's surprise reappearance. Joe must still deal with racism from above and below and knows he's being stonewalled once victims' bodies are removed before he can inspect them – leaving Nightingale no choice but to get the truth at a terrible price. Ryan Sampson's fast talking Boz is still a reporter for the chronicle, chastised by Nightingale for writing outlandish reports to scare the public but shocked when the dead Marlott comes to see him. He wants Marlott's surely fantastic story, and remains unfettered in his outrageous reporting, because the truth that victims are having their hearts cut out is supposed to scare people less? Although grossed out by the autopsy reports, he's reluctant to give up his sources until their differing private exams prove they want him to print lies. Boz believes Marlott when he tells him there is a poisoning scheme in the works, but says he should do the talking when they poke around at the inquest. Charles Dickens ends up bombing around London with Frankenstein's Monster – one of many fascinating what ifs on The Frankenstein Chronicles. Laurence Fox's (Lewis) Mr. Dipple, meanwhile, is a creepy, reclusive aristocrat overly concerned with weird marionettes, music boxes, machine models, and masks. He's become enamored with contraptions because he is afraid to live, seemingly tender or sensitive but suspect when he asks guests to keep an open mind about what they see. The character embodies several contemporary ills viewers will recognize – saying one thing but doing another for his own purpose , which is to have power over death and grief. Sadly, Maeve Dermody (Carnival Row) as kind, widowed seamstress Esther Rose is unknowingly caught in the middle when taking in Marlott while commissioned to make dresses for Dipple's dolls. She buys clothes off the dead to re-sell to poor, not so particular customers and gives Marlott back his own effects. There's not much difference between her craft and stitching him up when he's injured, either. She's glad to have him protect her shop, for Esther thinks she is weak, afraid to live, and too nervous when invited to a ball showcasing her work. She's glad when Dipple calls her designs exquisite and doesn't believe he has ulterior motives despite Marlott's warnings. However, Esther insists she is not part of Dipple's collection, vowing to be no man's property despite her loneliness.

Lily Lesser as (Wolf Hall) Ada Byron, Lord Byron's mathematician daughter, also dislikes Dipple's obsession with “toys.” She's interested in automatons for the future and power for women, debating Dipple about whether a man building machines means he has power over God. Men's power pollutes what it touches, demanding obedience and stifling genius – leading to slavery and humans as the automaton. Although at times the character seems too modern, her progressive ideals aren't wrong, and it would have been intriguing to see more of her. Corpse bearer Francis Magee (Game of Thrones) knows Marlott is too shrewd for this job, but then again so is he. Spence is a former priest who criticized the Dean for his greed, and now he fears he is in danger. Nonetheless, he does his gruesome job and stands by his convictions, returning to his Bible even to his own detriment. Unfortunately, Kerrie Hayes (Lilies) as Dipple's orphan maid Queenie is also scared of her employer, his contraptions, and the locked doors deep inside his manor. She and Nightingale grew up in the foundling home together, and she clearly has a crush on him, telling him not to be consumed by blaming Marlott. Queenie wants to help Joe's investigation, but her curiosity gets the better of her. She knows the police won't believe what she's seen, but eventually, Queenie finds tell tale tokens as proof for the police. Locating Ed Stoppard's rumored to be dead Lord Hervey, however, isn't so easy. He's as in pursuit of his creation as Marlott is, but is he truly connected to the current crimes or is Marlott's wishful seeking of justice involving the not so good doctor? Hervey is said to be here or there, off in the carriage, or just missed him – pinning his gruesome actions on others as it suits his plans. He's happy to offer the choice of transformation to those who want it, developing a sick delight in what he does. For Hervey, there is no such thing as God's will, only indifferent science. Sir Robert Peele, however, wants to build new closed burials and give the poor the right to a Christian interment, but Tom Ward's Home Secretary has to move fast on his reforms before losing the ailing George IV's favor. Peele seeks cleaner cities where nearby decomposition isn't going back into the water and objects to the circumvention of his authority, for Guy Henry's (Rogue One) Dean of Westminster lords over everyone with his stranglehold on the police as well as the church. He squashes murder investigations, pockets burial fees, and uses Martin McCann (The Pacific) as parish coroner Renquist to do away with the bodies privately. For his dirty deeds, Renquist rightfully fears he's going to be the fall guy, just another of many corrupt officials on The Frankenstein Chronicles.

Fallen leaves and overcast skies create a perpetual autumn feeling for The Frankenstein Chronicles while barren coasts invoke a bleak limbo. Storms, mud, moors, and fog contrast the carriages, top hats, walking sticks, and frock coats. Careful editing, silence, and natural sounds parallel the horror realizations amid dank cells, chains, spooky lanterns, and autopsies. There are fancy stone manors and slum streets, but the graveyards and churches are somewhere in between – grand, old, but empty cloisters despite the cross's symbolic shelter and arched windows providing rare light. Wax seals, lockets, quills, waist coats, and cravats birth mechanical innovations, clockworks, masks, and uncanny valley eyes, layering the creepy science what ifs alongside the innocent flowers, lace, and painstaking embroidery attention to detail. Fair fiddles and carnival acts provide morbid bemusement, yet our star is often alone in the center of the camera frame or on the outside looking in at the action through doorways or arches. Then again, golden sconces and grand libraries can't compare to decomposing bodies as the gasps and covering mouths provide shock and stench for the audience. Sometimes the blue and night time drab are too dark, however, firelight adds a realistic touch so often missing from overly saturated shows. Oil lamps and disturbing harpsichord music accent syringes, hissing gears, leeches in jars, elixirs, tubes, catalysts, and beakers. The candlelit laboratory almost has an enchanting glow, but who knew blocks of ice could be so..well...chilling? Oddly, neither director Benjamin Ross nor writer Barry Langford are involved in Season Two – all new writers join director Alex Gabassi (The ABC Murders). With previouslies and credits, these episodes are also slightly shorter at forty-five minutes, however it is more annoying that Netflix wants to skip both with seconds to spare. The Frankenstein Chronicles Season Two doesn't use Mary Shelley as a character or the William Blake interconnected themes from the First Season, either. Fortunately, the personal morals, monsters dilemmas, and new mad science elements expand the drama and performances. Although this year ends well, it's a pity there is no word on a Third Season for The Frankenstein Chronicles. There's still time and the series deserves more. In reviewing, I must multi-task, pause, and take notes. The Frankenstein Chronicles, however, is a can't look away parable that's easy to marathon and superbly blends period piece aesthetics, mystery, and horror.