17 November 2018

The Frankenstein Chronicles Season 1

The Frankenstein Chronicles Debut is a Hidden Gem
by Kristin Battestella

The 2015 British series The Frankenstein Chronicles follows Thames Inspector John Marlott (Sean Bean) and his runner Joseph Nightingale (Richie Campbell) as a floater composed of other body parts leads the police to body snatchers, abducted children, street pimps, and even author Mary Shelley (Anna Maxwell Martin). Someone may be copying her novel Frankenstein, and the home secretary wants the case solved before pesky newspaper reporters like Boz (Ryan Sampson) print the sensational tale.

Capsizing dangers, muddy chases, vomiting police, and a stitched together body reassembled from at least seven children set the 1827 London dreary for “A World Without God.” Rumors of grave robbing abound and selling the dead to medical institutions is not a crime – this is a seller's market doing good business despite still superstitious folk fearing science, medicine, and what happens to body after death. Our inspector goes through several protocols and technicalities to research whether this butchery was done by a man of science or some layman out to prevent the new anatomy laws, invoking a mix of morose period noir with British lone detective angst. He's canvasing the dirty streets for a meat market kidnapper while parliament spins grandiose hot air on rights to autopsy versus personal penance. Cholera, prayers, shady men at the docks with carts full of stolen bodies – is someone murdering to procure fresh dead to sell? The hands of the deceased seem to move when touched in “Seeing Things,” and William Blake quotes, death bed whispers, and sing song visions wax on the beast with the face of a man. University hospital demonstrations on bio electricity show how to reanimate the nervous system, however those medical seminars and the subsequent Sunday sermons are not so different from each other. Higher up officials don't want to hear about god fearing motives and scientific suspicion coming together as unauthorized doctors run unapproved clinics with their own ideologies. Investigation leads cut too close to home, and a fireside reading with narrations from the Shelley text invoke a self-awareness meta. An open copy of Frankenstein laying on the desk steers our course as the linear tale expands into a more episodic style with incoming regular cast high and low aiding our inspector or rousing his suspicion. Ghostly winds, flickering candles, and blurry visions create eerie, a supernatural clarity that helps connect clues while books such as An Investigation into the Galvanic Response of Dead Tissue in “All the Lost Children” provide hand written sketches with blood in the margins. Religion versus science abominations, laws of God versus tyranny and oppression, and defiance of deities to defeat death layer dialogue from the author herself along with pregnant teens, abortion debates, and gory late stage patients who may as well be monsters with their deformities. Past baptisms, dead families, and uncanny nightmares escalate the inner turmoil while hymns, market chases, and back alley fights add to the well balanced mystery, life and death themes, precious innocence, and making amends.

Underground tunnels and unscrupulous business transactions in “The Fortunes of War” would have young girls sold at thirty five guineas for 'company,' and the disturbing abuses create frightening silhouettes and threatening villains even as the uncaring uppity argue over chapter and verse regarding bastards and police refuse extra men on a sting gone awry. Screams, gaseous brick houses, and skeletons lead to arrests that unfortunately don't solve the initial case butchery – only will out one small piece of a larger twisted picture. The aristocracy is shocked at the Frankenstein life imitating art scandal as fact and fiction strike the press, politics, police, and the author herself for “The Frankenstein Murders.” Drunken mad science, candlelit pacts, and monstrous machines bring the eponymous inspirations full circle as blackmail and the triumphant anatomy act provide a free supply of corpses for those who will now do whatever they wish. Threats, revelations, and suspicions swept under the rug keep the underbelly dark while disastrous scientific pursuits go awry. Blue currents and electricity experiments try to conquer death as the noose tightens. Red herrings and key pieces of the mystery come together as the audience completes the puzzle along with our constables thanks to erotic clues, nasty denials, ill pleasures, and warped dissections. The detectives must use one crook to catch another with cons, betrayals, and confessions that seemingly resolve the brothel raids, set ups, and scandals. Prophetic calendars, apparent suicides, and emergency parliament sessions make room for plenty of dreadful hyperbole – grotesque body snatchers have used murder to procure and defile corpses and the dubious press thinks it's all thanks to popular fiction! This public medicine reform may banish the body trade, but lingering questions remain in “Lost and Found.” Constables need proof that the deceased aren't staying dead and buried, and someone has known it all along. Conflict among friends and lies will out reveal the hitherto unseen beastly in plain sight as underground discoveries, powder misfires, and final entrapments lead to tearful trials. No one's left to believe the truth thanks to corruption and condemnation blurring the fine line between genius and blasphemy. Last rights go unadministered when one is guilty of much but denies the crime at hand, and The Frankenstein Chronicles escalates to full on horror with frightfully successful dark science abominations.

Producer Sean Bean's former soldier turned inspector John Marlott doesn't like crooked police and his lack of fear is said to aide his quality undercover work. His gruff silhouette contrasts the posh officials, for they dislike his methods, deduction, and research on tides or time of death – questioning where others do not think to look makes him a somewhat progressive investigator even if he doesn't care for books, poetry, or famous names of the day. Marlott has no problem with instructions, but feigns stupidity and says his conscious is his own, playing into people's sympathy or religion as needed despite privately lighting candles to his deceased family and carrying sentimental lockets. The Frankenstein Chronicles is up front on Marlott's past, telling us how his syphilis caused his wife and baby's deaths – he knows what it is to grieve and the prescribed mercury tonics add disturbing visions to his prayers. He's uncomfortable at white glove luncheons as well as church services and cries over his past, perpetually tormented by his late loved ones while this barbaric case puts more burdens on his shoulders. He crosses himself at seeing these ghastly sights, recoiling from the morbid even as his own sores worsen. Marlott's reluctant to use a dead boy's body as bait to catch grave robbers and gets rough in the alley brawls when he must, acting tough on the outside and going off the book with his investigation after he steps on powerful figures who would manipulate him for their own political gain. Despite his own fatal mistakes, Marlott is a moral man in his own way, dejected that making the city safer tomorrow doesn't help the children already dead. Now certainly, I love me some Sharpe, and in the back of my mind I chuckled on how The Frankenstein Chronicles could be what really happened to Sharpe post-retirement. So, when Marlott says he was in the 95th rifles and fought Bonaparte at Waterloo, wears the same boots, and dons the damn rifle green uniform in a flashback funeral, I squeed! Marlott's not afraid of death and ready to meet his family, not stopping even when the case is officially closed – ultimately breaking out that old Sharpe sword when it really comes to it!

Reprimanded and insulted by superiors, Richie Campbell's (Liar) Joseph Nightingale is assigned to Marlott because they don't really care about him or the investigation. The character is initially just a sounding board, however Marlott confides in him, laying out the procedural methods in lieu of today's police evidence montages. Nightingale does leg work for the proof needed, following a tip and getting roughed up when tailing a body snatcher. He argues with Marlott, too, countering his witness protection strategy before earning Marlott's apology and his blessing to marry. Sadly, both share different angers when plans go wrong and people get hurt. The Frankenstein Chronicles offers a fine ensemble of familiar names and faces also including Anna Maxwell Martin (Bleak House) as Mary Shelley – a sassy, outspoken writer who says outwardly genteel appearances can be deceiving. She tells Marlott her book came from a nightmare, however she knows more than she admits. Shelley is well-informed at a time when women weren't permitted to be as cosmopolitan as their male peers, and great one on one scenes make her an interesting antithesis to Marlott. Ryan Sampson's (Plebs) hyper young Boz is likewise a persistent little reporter who won't give up his own sources but wants the police scoop. He circumvents Marlott, working all the angles and exposing the bodies found. Boz belittles him for not knowing Frankenstein was all the rage but he is on Marlott's side in bringing the truth to light – so long as it's a fantastic story. By contrast, Charlie Creed Miles (Essex Boys) and his mutton chops match the Burke and Hare-esque thuggery. This body snatching businessman keeps track of his livelihood, for it's just honest supply and demand. Pritty's reluctant to snitch, but Marlott's blackmail forces him into helping, becoming a useful, if crooked character. Vanessa Kirby's (The Crown) initially snotty Lady Hervey comes to find Marlott is surprisingly honorable, confiding in him about her family's title but little wealth even as she wonders if he is playing her for a fool. Jemima grows closer to him yet remains committed to a loveless marriage for money if it helps her brother's charity hospital. Unfortunately, Lady Hervey is a woman of god who is sorely mistaken when she puts her trust in all these men of science. Ed Stoppard (Upstairs, Downstairs) as Daniel Hervey speaks out against early medical laws and technicalities with disturbingly contemporary theories when not performing abortions behind his sister's back. Being a starving, homeless prostitute burdened with a child is not life, he reasons, only more suffering. He scoffs at charlatan surgeons and the home secretary's grandstanding but offers Marlott a new medicinal spore for his syphilis instead of the harmful mercury, doing what he can for those less fortunate whether the Anatomy Act would ruin him or not.

Rain, thunder, fog, river boats, marshes, and bogs set the chilly, bleak tone for The Frankenstein Chronicles amid period lantern light, overcoats, and muskets. Eerie artwork and beastly designs in the opening credits parallel the gory sights with separated body parts, arms and legs upon the table, bowls of entrails, and stuck pigs contrasting the organ music, ladies frocks, bonnets, and courtly wigs. It's bowler hats, simple crates, and bare rooms with peeling wall plaster for lower men but parasols, pocket watches, top hats, carriages, luggage, and grand estates for the upper echelon. Stonework and authentic buildings accent the blustery outdoor scenery, cobblestone streets, and humble cemeteries. Sunlight and bright visions are few and far between amid the candlelit patinas and small pocket portraits – the only available likeness of the deceased – however reflections, deformed glances in the mirror, and filming through the window panes accent the man versus monster themes. Wooden coffins, baby sized caskets, plain burial shrouds, simple crosses, body bags, and tanks containing deformed fetuses create more monsters and morose amid sophisticated libraries, early medical gear, handwritten letters, signets, and wax seals. Bones, blood, electricity, ruined abbeys, and hazy, dreamlike overlays combine with late Bach cues for final horrors, but it is bemusing to see the same title page on that open copy of Frankenstein over and over again – as if we could forget our eponymous literary source! Although many scenes happen on the move, enough information is given with time for dialogue in reasonable length conversations, balancing the visual pace and investigation exposition rather than resorting to in your face editing and transitions. All six, forty-eight minute episodes in Series One are directed by Benjamin Ross (Poppy Shakespeare), teaming with writer Barry Langford (Guilty Hearts) for one cohesive tone on this ITV hidden gem now of course branded as a Netflix Original.

While some elements may be obvious, my theory on the new spins in The Frankenstein Chronicles was totally wrong, and I again wish there were more gothic, sophisticated series like this and Penny Dreadful. The Frankenstein Chronicles isn't outright horror – the macabre drama, dreary case, and disturbing mystery are not designed as a scare to frighten even as choice gore keeps the ghastly at hand for this easy to marathon harbinger. Instead the British gravitas meets mad science combines for a Poe-esque caper with literary fantastics peppering the intertwined crimes and Frankenstein what ifs. 


15 November 2018

Comfort Food Shows - 60s Edition!

Comfort Food Show Binges – The 60's Edition!
By Kristin Battestella

It's time for more nostalgic snacking with these mid-century calorie free treats. As with my first Comfort Food Shows Binge list, these aren't shows for full length, season by season review concentration, just timeless edibles to press play and enjoy!

The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet – This long running television – and radio! – 1952-66 sitcom with homemaker Harriet, sons David and Ricky, and dad Ozzie who seemingly didn't have a job but loved his tutti frutti ice cream was meta before meta was Kardashian. However, December wouldn't be the same without Rick trying to sell ugly shirts during the holiday rush or singing so everyone will buy their Christmas trees. The tone of the series obviously changes from teen idol plots with excuses for Rick to rock and roll before marriages for both sons assure the wholesome image remained onscreen. At times, such carefully controlled manufacturing from writer and director Ozzie is apparent, yet the program was also an unprecedented production grounding the early days of television. Of course, despite numerous streaming episodes in the public domain and various essential or best of collections, the entire series of a whopping four hundred and thirty five episodes isn't available. Then again, if you've seen the Here Come the Nelsons debut feature and any episode, you've really seen them all. By the end, it's also clear that the boys and their wives were over playing these Stepford versions of themselves stuck in a fifties heyday when America was clearly a different place by the mid-sixties. Fortunately, that same breezy, golly gee sentimental is perfect for some de-stressing nostalgia – whether it's fawning over how young the boys were, how handsome they turned out to be, or looking up how much the Nelson set house actually looked like their real home.

The Dick Van Dyke Show – This 1961-66 Emmy winning black and white comedy shrewdly stayed away from any of the time turbulent or pop culture references that would date the wholesome hi jinks of Van Dyke's stressed television writer dad Rob Petrie, his then shocking capri pants wearing wife Mary Tyler Moore, and their precocious son Ritchie Rosebud aka Robert Oscar Sam Edward Benjamin Ulysses David. Morey Amsterdam and Rose Marie complete the at work comedy team as fellow writers of series creator Carl Reiner's The Alan Brady Show. This internal, life imitating art variety sketch show allows for a myriad of song, dance, and themed episodes for one and all while winking at the behind the scenes onscreen with those same mid-century perks. Sure, sometimes the theme song gets stuck in my head when I don't want it to, some of the musical half hours get silly, and after 158 episodes, the opening trip or not to trip over the ottoman gag can get tiring. Thankfully, the mix of earlier fifties homemaker comfort and sixties workplace tongue and cheek turn the mirror on television's adolescence – creating then progressive yet continually nostalgic pleasantries for the whole family. Except for that ottoman, those pesky neighbors, suspect “Artanis” artwork, if your son was switched at birth, and whether your marriage is legal in Connecticut; viewers don't have to worry about anything here.

I Dream of Jeannie – Do do, do do do do, do do...Finding two thousand year old genie in a bottle Barbara Eden actually caused a lot of problems for astronaut Larry Hangman and his best friend Bill Daily in this 1965-70 fantasy sitcom. Exotic time travel blinks, boinks to the moon, experimental military blunders, and dinner mishaps happen every time our hapless gal gets a little jealous – and that's not to mention the scary Blue Djinn; the even more pesky, dark haired, bad girl Jeannie; musical guest stars like the now notorious Phil Spector, and Sammy Davis Jr., too. Boss General Peterson thinks our Majors are loons thanks to all their clever close calls, and perpetually duped military psychologist Dr. Bellows is out to prove something is afoot. Look carefully and you'll see Dr. and Mrs. Bellows also live in the home of that other magical sixties sitcom Bewitched. More importantly, however, is that it is absolutely clear that Jeannie sleeps in her swanky Jim Beam bottle – no naughty perks until she's married to her master in the final season! Naturally the entire premise and all the retcons and storyline changes are ridiculous today; servitude, subservience, stereotypes, and saucy harem pantaloons included. Fortunately, the shout at the television zany and spot the smoke and mirrors special effects remains magical, whimsical fun for the whole family despite that shocking, must be banned navel.

Mister Ed – Most of this 1961-66 show is pretty preposterous – least of all the titular talking horse. Wives, friends, and neighbors only seem to mind star Alan Young spending time in his clearly drafty and dirty office/barn with a horse if it suits the plot, and at some point, surely somebody, anybody would have caught on to all the Wilbur throwing his voice cover ups or the incognito palomino answering the phone ruses. There's a fifty/fifty chance that the horse causes the trouble or saves the day, too. It's amazing the show lasted as long as it did with such a, well, one trick pony, as it were. That said, there's something instantly relaxing about catching an early morning or late night rerun regardless of which of the 143 episodes it may be – an excuse to nestle in and spot all then advanced production and special effects that made the mischievous equine action possible. Double snuggle if it's the “Clint Eastwood meets Mr. Ed” half hour. You know you know the theme song, too, don't lie. 

Star Trek – Granted, “Spock's Brain” and those far out space hippies in “The Way to Eden” don't stand the test of time. Some of the acting is over the top and the special effects can be hokey amid all the technobabble from William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, and company. Thankfully, that's all the negative that can be said for this original 1966-69 Gene Roddenberry franchise maker that thrust science fiction from its early television kid's show realm into provocative concepts for adults looking for something more in the turbulent late sixties. Even if you've seen all seventy-nine episodes uncut in production order – or haven't and pretend you have because Star Trek is an inescapable part of our pop lexicon – only seen the Original Crew movies, or like other franchise incarnations, viewers young and old can always return to the ground breaking, mirror to nature storytelling here thanks to the likes of my favorite “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield,” the original “The Cage” pilot, the spooky fun of “Catspaw,” or the still emotive “The City on the Edge of Forever.” Now iconic episodes such as “The Enemy Within” featuring a good versus evil Kirk and famous tales like “Mirror, Mirror” and “The Trouble with Tribbles” always feel like time well spent whether you are chuckling at the early pushing the envelope or pondering the what ifs anew. The remastered editions look pretty darn sweet, too. I'd be down for a new Gary Seven series, but what is with the Klingons and Shakespeare?

Don't forget to check out our Classic TV label for yet more nostalgia with The Munsters, The Addams Family, The Bob Newhart Show, and more or visit My Top Ten Favorite TV Shows


02 November 2018

Horrible Moms!

Horrible Moms!
By Kristin Battestella

These moms and grans be they retro or recent turn to the ax and knife or kidnappings and other horrors to show their undying, demented love.

Funeral Home – A teen helps turn her grandmother's mortuary into a bed and breakfast in this 1980 Canadian spooky with eerie silhouettes, broken down trucks, and black cats on the bridge. The country quaint seems pleasant – a fine manor, mom's old room with dolls, floral wallpaper, and nostalgia – but the family must let out the home to keep it since our undertaker grandfather apparently abandoned the parlor several years prior. A not very bright handyman, bumbling police, and a car owned by a reported missing realtor create suspicion among the cows, hay bales, and hick farmers as more snobby guests and hillbilly suspects populate the house. Stormy nights, hissing cats, and voyeurs at the window pane have everyone on edge amid downstairs whispers and a basement full of unused coffins and hidden rooms. Kooky old ladies, spooky barns, a disused Hearst, and mysterious necklaces invoke more mood as the gothic interiors and funeral home décor lingers – the slumber room, organs, artificial flower arraignments. The introductions happen quickly, but the mystery sags until skimpy swimming, saucy goading, night time cruising, quarry cliffs, and vehicular disasters. Grandma won't have anyone immoral or sinful staying at her house, but no one takes the hometown cop seriously amid the eavesdropping, gossip, and guest fatalities. Gross jars, cobwebs, and cemeteries set off freaky child funeral flashbacks with memories of kids locked in with the dead bodies by her nasty embalmer husband. Forbidden areas and talk of the undertaker actually running off with another woman lead to flashlights, bludgeonings, and dumping the victim inside another freshly dug plot. More red herrings, plastic sheeting, and violence rush to the final basement surprise, which, though derivative, remains sad and disturbing. Although the pace is uneven and the poor VHS print is difficult to see thanks to some rough day for night coloring and dark photography, this is fun and atmospheric for a late night marathon.

Serial Mom – Kathleen Turner (War of the Roses) stars in writer and director John Waters' (Hairspray) 1994 Susie Homemaker satire with based on a true story winks, angelic credits, birds chirping, and an idyllic kitchen where fruit salad is the snack of choice. Chewing gum is obscene compared to the fifties-esque golly gee with a dentist husband, a son named Chip, and a daughter in college who enjoys swap meets. Mom's holding the cereal in product placement position but a fly in the butter, its bloody splat, and the tightly wound sadistic contrast the breakfast perfection, floral wallpaper, sunshine, sewing baskets, and PTA fruitcakes. Retro button up styles, Betty Page saucy, and older Victorian décor add to the eighties nostalgia with gear shifts on the steering column, corded telephones, cassettes, VHS, vintage porn, and a Joan Rivers talk show on the big boob tube. 9:37 a.m. and it's time for foul mouthed split screen prank calls to the local parking spot stealing divorcee before gruesome accidents running over a school teacher complete with an innocent music montage and a trip to the car wash. After baking cookies, prayers, and tame pillow talk, there's newfound moaning excitement, but dental emergencies and ruined bird watching plans lead to spying with binoculars and killer scissors impalements intercut with teen masturbation. Nosy detectives, a filthy neighbor who doesn't recycle and thus contributes to the annual deficit, and drinking with the trash men to gain their allegiance layer the parodies on family, generational clashes, films being a bad influence, and life's little naughtiness. Eating sweets against doctor's orders, changing the price tags at the market, selling overpriced damaged goods, bathroom graffiti, glory holes, stabbing a philander with a fire poker and getting his liver stuck on the end – where's the line between innocent slights and a fatal bludgeoning with a burned rack of lamb? Our classy lady isn't exactly good at covering her tracks, leaving bloody weapons, fingerprints, and witnesses on top of her killer scrapbook under the mattress. Grace before dinner and pearls for church begat killing an old lady watching Annie just because she didn't rewind, and singing along during station wagon chases anchor debates on whether the Mrs. needs a lawyer or an agent. The slighted causes, pursued victims, and twisted kills are filmed with horror suspense, yet there's a certain bemusing to the no wearing white shoes after Labor Day sinister, a sensational, celebrity likability. It's a razzle dazzle trial like Chicago says – our daughter is selling t-shirts at the court house, Chip sold the TV movie rights to Suzanne Summers, the cheering crowd admits they'd like to kill a few people themselves, and, well, Patty Hearst is one of the jurors. The dark wit, social exposés, and cheeky performances here take multiple viewings, and the humorously horrible satire remains relevant in reflecting our love of making true crime famous.

Split Decision

Amityville: The Awakening – Single mom Jennifer Jason Leigh (Single White Female) moves her three kids to 112 Ocean Avenue in this 2017 release co-starring Kurtwood Smith (That '70s Show) and Bella Thorne (Big Love). Contemporary hip music and a driving montage lead to the creepy abode with old furniture, creaking floorboards, a barking family dog, and a complaining emo teen. Her comatose twin brother is bound to a medical bed complete with hospital equipment, beeping monitors, injections, and life supporting tubes, but mom refuses to accept his vegetative state despite medical gear failures, distorted pulse rates, and a contorted, irrevocably twisted body. 1974 newspapers summarize the DeFeo murders, however the family has supposedly moved to the infamous home unaware – an unrealistic premise when there are literally twenty Amityville movies – and the focus here should be on the mother's will do anything dilemma rather than the of the moment teen cool, cheeky panties, and new friends who are essentially Amityville fans. When did every kid in school become goth? How was she not Zillow studying their new address before the move? Why does nobody have a cellphone? The first twenty minutes about people who don't know they are in a horror movie learning of the setting's real world horror is too disjointed, and the attempted meta borders on parody as those school kids provide the original DVD, explain the prequel follow up, and nix the remake before begging to watch The Amityville Horror in the very house at 3:15 a.m. – and yes, James Brolin makes an appearance on their big screen television. Windows opening by themselves, swarming flies, double take shadows, reflections, and peeling wallpaper with something bloody underneath build better simmer, but dream scare fake outs hurt the flickering power and silent door creeping because the plot is so within within the lore that the audience can predict all the contrivances. Rather than fully utilizing the more interesting mother, the misplaced chasing of the mainstream teen element backfires with watered down horror compromising what could be seriously good body twistedness, technological possessions, and medicine meets ouija board. It's chilling when a man's voice tells the little girl to come closer, but the viewer can't stay on edge amid some kind of brother defending against an ex posting nude pictures impetus and “Belle” Thorne doing little more than playing herself. Characters themselves say the magic circle tropes, bible quotes, and forty year anniversaries are stupid, and the hot sister angst is unnecessarily placed above the vegetative son in fear and their deluded mother. This was originally filmed in 2014, and behind the scenes turmoil, delayed releases, and probable bumfuck Harvey ass interference shows thanks to poor CGI late, PG-13 cutaways to the famous facade, and finale cheating with a wrap up newsreel. While the creaking contortions, red room healings, and shotgun horrors are watchable compared to other umpteenth Amityville movies, one has to have few expectations here, for this ultimately falls back on its franchise safety rather than embracing any potentially fresh aspects.

Didn't Finish It!

Emelie – A quaint street and asking for directions leads to abductions in this 2015 thriller starring Sarah Bolger (The Tudors). Short notice babysitter switches and rowdy kids aged eleven, nine, and four are both slow to meet the family and busy with assorted video games, handheld gizmos, computers, and Facebook talk. Although there's a bizarre lack of cell phones, our dad can pick up the teen babysitter and chat up his restored classic car in creepy conversations that don't go unnoticed by his wife. The eleven year old doesn't want to play little kid games anymore, and the parents talk to him about stepping up and being the big brother while the babysitter encourages them to play grown up pretend with mama bear and dead cub bedtime stories. She gives back toys that mom had taken away, and the opening kidnapping of the real babysitter being replaced by the titular weirdo isn't quite clear until this gets more warped. We thought this was going to be a scary movie, but the plot degrades into bloody tampons, sex tapes, sleeping pills, and terrorizing kids with dead pets. Rather than horror entertainment, this is just one off putting element after the next. No thanks.

27 October 2018

Tales from the Crypt Season 5

Star Studded Tales from the Crypt Season 5 Remains Memorable
by Kristin Battestella

The Fall 1993 Fifth Season of Tales from the Crypt is a star studded season full of familiar faces and frights to remember beginning with Tim Curry (Clue) and Ed Begley, Jr. (She-Devil) in “Death of Some Salesmen.” Our unscrupulous cemetery plot salesman snoops in the obituaries, preying on old widows like Yvonne De Carlo (The Munsters) with a rural, door to door con as the humorous winks, overalls, and southern gentility contrast the risque sex, bloody secrets, and murderous traps. Headless revelations offer a quirky, if disturbing grain of truth on swindling salesmen getting what they deserve, but the revolting comeuppance had both me and my husband gagging and laughing at the same time. Our Crypt Keeper host is taking calls on KDOA Radio as Hector Elizondo (Chicago Hope) suspects young wife Patsy Kensit (Full Eclipse) of having an affair in director Kyle Maclachlan's (Twin Peaks) “As Ye Sow.” Unfortunately, Adam West's (Batman) upscale surveillance firm says she does nothing but go to church everyday – to a controversial priest tossed from his last parish. Debates on the church as living organ, throbbing with his flock in his arms provide juicy winks as the power of suggestion has our paranoid husband fearing betrayal and jumping to the wrong conclusion. An unreliable point of view imaging what's going on in the confessional makes for a controversial mix of sacrilegious horror, but it's cheaper to hire hit men than get a divorce. War photographers Steve Buscemi (Boardwalk Empire) and Roger Daltry (Highlander: The Series) likewise fight over Lysette Anthony (Dracula: Dead and Loving It) in “Forever Ambergris” while The Keeper himself shoots for Vicghoulia's Secret. Anything can happen during this Central America assignment, and villages contaminated with germ warfare create an elevated dramatic mood amid macho guns versus the camera, mercenaries, and screaming convulsions. Bubbling flesh, oozing blood, squishing eyeballs – what's a little imbued chemicals once you steal the award winning photographs and get the girl?

In “Two for the Show” bored, adulterous wife Traci Lords (Cry Baby) wants more passion. However, her husband is worried her leaving will make him look bad at the corporate banquet, leading to strangulation, scissors, knife play, and stuffing the body into a bedside chest even if it just won't fit. Suspicious cops, dismemberment, and a heavy suitcase provide suspense with shades of Hitchcock in the overhead parallels and two shots of men on a train hypothetically debating about killing their wives. The crime has already been committed, yet there's a classy, potboiler tense to the garbage disposal twists. Of course, the audience is on trial with the barrister wig wearing 'Honorable Judge Crypt Keeper' presiding over “House of Horror” as Wil Wheaton (Star Trek: The Next Generation), Kevin Dillon (Entourage), Brian Krause (Sleepwalkers), and more eighties teens are all grown up and trying to join the fraternity with paddles, humiliation, kneeling, and scrubbing dog poo with a toothbrush. The sister house is here for their final initiation at a haunted fraternity house with a murderous past, and one by one the plebs must make it to the attic with all the tricks, gags, screams, chainsaws, and turnabouts along the way. Assistant Maryam d'Abo (Bond Girls Are Forever) is unhappy when magician Billy Zane's (Dead Calm) show isn't a success in “Well Cooked Hams.” While The Crypt Keeper is taking French lessons for his trip to 'gay Scaree,' the turn of the century magic scene is cutthroat and our magician will kill to get ahead when not stealing the Box of Death trick from fellow hunchback illusionist Martin Sheen (The West Wing). Inserted knives, sulfuric acid, burning ropes, and handcuffs add to the magic rivalry and period mood as the disguises, reflections, and smoke and mirrors leave the audience screaming. The difference, you see, is in not when the crowd is aware of the ruse but when they actually believe it. Slick Anthony Michael Hall (The Breakfast Club) tries to outwit the mummy legends and sacrificed princesses in “Creep Course,” however his attempt to steal the mid-term answers leads to statues, tombs, torches, and a sarcophagus from the professor's private collection – courtesy of some grave robbing family history. The jocks versus academia double crossing twists provide gross embalming techniques, through the nose icky, and projectile vomiting for a fun atmosphere with good old fashioned wrappings in contemporary mummy spins.

Big CK is a flight attendant on Tales from the Crypt Scarelines for “Came the Dawn,” but the bimbo in the bathroom and the bloody ax murderer have other dismembering ideas. Good thing suave in his Porsche Perry King (Melrose Place) picks up broke down Brooke Shields (The Blue Lagoon), taking her to his cabin on a stormy night – after stopping for oysters and champagne, of course. Medieval décor with executioner artifacts and weapons accent opera, fireside candlelit dinners, and jewels. Unfortunately, tales of adultery begat black stockings bondage interrupted by an ex-girlfriend shouting at the door. Wise Tales from the Crypt viewers will figure out what's happening easily thanks to taxidermy and ladies clothing in the closet. However, that obvious doesn't make the revealing attacks any less chilling. Con artist couple Lou Diamond Phillips (La Bamba) and Priscilla Presley (Dallas) dig up their buried alive cohort and the money with him in “Oil's Well That Ends Well” – a fellow con who happens to be the man behind the Crypt Keeper John Kassir in his only onscreen Tales from the Crypt appearance. She wants another con and shows her authority at the rowdy bar, taking on the nasty boys with a great speech on how strong women are called bitches, screwed, fucked, and screwed again. Oil claims help swindle the local rednecks into drilling under the graveyard, with explosions and self-referential quips setting off the who's screwing whom. More bemusing dialogue mixed with suspense and surreal shootouts elevate “Till Death Do We Part.” Although this is another crime drama and love triangle more about violence than horror, gigolo John Stamos (Full House) and mob dame Eileen Brennan (Clue) provide diamonds, dice, jazz clubs, and saucy betrayals – leading to limos in the woods with guns, bodies in the trunk, rubber aprons, and axes. Crook Robert Picardo (Star Trek: Voyager) is just so polite in making the vomiting, fainting lady stand up and watch the quartering! Our KRPT sportscaster Crypt Keeper, meanwhile, is on the radio with the World Scaries featuring the Fright Sox versus the Boo Jays. Which team will keep their winning shriek alive?

This is a short, mostly solid season, however, there are a few less than stellar episodes of Tales from the Crypt such as Ernie Hudson's (Ghostbusters) “Food for Thought” with its carnival warped, saucy dessert metaphors, and perverted quid pro quo abuses between a mind reading couple. The racial implications among the freaks, conjoined twin ladies naked in the shower, illicit fire eater romance, and a jealous girl gorilla make for fiery consequences, yet the revenge is thin, with most of the circus designs just for show. The fourth and ghoul Crypt Keeper quarterback also can't save the uneven crimes in director Russell Mulcahy's (Highlander 2) “People Who Live in Brass Hearses.” Violent ex-con Bill Paxton (Aliens) and simpleton younger brother Brad Dourif (Child's Play) are out for revenge, harassing the suspicious ice cream truck driver before bloody hooks, murderous mishaps, gory gunshots, and safe cracking gone awry. There are some twists, but the sardonic humor and quirky characters can't carry the heist amid unenjoyable outbursts and obnoxiousness. Ghoulish bodies, morgue drawers, and colorful goo open “Half-Way Horrible” and the Keeper is shrinking heads in the dryer at his scare salon while a detective asks Clancy Brown (Highlander) about his chemical company's proprietary ingredients. These rare herbs were of course stolen in the jungle amid tribal drums, native secrets, and zombie rituals. Voodoo dolls come back to haunt the corrupt chemist, and once again it's just rich white guys learning the err of their appropriating ways – told from the sympathetic point of view of said rich white guys. It's not surprising and doesn't make us feel bad when he gets his due. As The Keeper says, 'he needed to learn rot from wrong a little fester.'

Fortunately, old fashioned kitchens, cameo jewelry, and country strings accent the rural settings of these tales again based on Haunt of Fear, Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror, Shock SuspenStories, and Crime SuspenStories. Cha-ching money sounds, stormy nights, and other audio bells and whistles set off the vintage video, VCRs, old televisions, giant tape reels, transistor radios, huge ass car phones, and hi tech nineties corporate contrasting the old school noir, file folders, and black and white photographs. Warped camera angles, dark lighting, shadow schemes, and colorful touches keep the on location production values top notch amid effective jungle horrors, gross make up, blood, and disturbing gore. Downtrodden circus tents and lanterns provide golden Victorian patinas while haunted houses and cobwebs create congested scares. Train tensions begat outdoor ominous and penultimate zombie gross, and though front loaded with juicy nudity, later in the season the steamy lingerie isn't as important as the swanky bling, period costumes, or Egyptian motifs. Tales from the Crypt's horror prosthetics really allow the cast per episode to sink their teeth into the role or multiple roles whether playing to or against type. Tales from the Crypt Season Five starts strong with some of the series' finest humor and horror with sardonic sexiness and star studded scares. This shorter year shines with relatively few poor outings – a precursor to today's brief, quickly digestible fall horror and anthology seasons. Tales from the Crypt Season Five is a creepy, fast marathon for Halloween or anytime of year.

24 October 2018

Dead, Deader, Deadest Horror

Dead, Deader, Deadest!
by Kristin Battestella

These fatal films and documentaries offer a wealth of gruesome, gore, blood, and body counts to match their ghastly names.

The Black Death: The World's Most Devastating Plague – Purdue Medieval Literature Professor Dorsey Armstrong hosts this 2016 twenty-four episode lecture series from The Great Courses Signature Channel, beginning with early feudal nobles versus peasants, religious society and church control, and urban growth in the medieval warm period before a changed Europe in 1348 with plague reducing the population from 150 million to 70 million. Onscreen maps, notations, and timelines supplement the disturbing first hand accounts, despairing eye witness testimonies, and Old English translations of outbreak terrors – focusing on the human response to pestilence while dispelling misnomers on The Black Death's name and symptoms. Some victims writhed in long suffering agony while others died within a day, drowning in their own blood thanks to bubonic, septicemic, and pneumonic bacterium. Ebola virus comparisons are specific and gruesome alongside scientific theories on bacillus causes, tuberculosis similarities, Blue Sickness inconsistencies, and Anthrax possibilities. Prior Justinian outbreaks, Asian beginnings in Kaffa, and Italian trade route migration spread plague while fleas, rats, and gerbils transmission, weather patterns, and even extraterrestrial origins are debated. Entire villages were ravaged with hemorrhagic fever contributing to the scourge's spread on poor, crowded, malnourished people fearing the judgment of god, wearing creepy masks, and carrying fragrant herbs to curb the smell of mass shallow graves and dog-mauled bodies. Despite illiteracy, wills and documentation accumulate – although journals have blank spaces and abrupt ends because the writers died. Vacancies increase while religious orders decrease since those ministering to the sick die, yet crime declines as thieves won't even enter a wealthy but plagued home. Avignon pilgrimages bring devastation and Walking Dead comparisons as Florence's valuable textiles are burned. Prostitutes are often cast out – not for transmission worries, but to purge sin from a city. Orphans and widows become dependent on the patriarchal society, and artistic guild become charitable necessities. Flagellant movements fill the religious gap while England's unexposed island population leaves London with no place left to put the dead. When only the 103 heads of households are marked dead in the census, one can conservatively deduce the number of dead was probably quadruple that 103. In a town of 1,000, what if the average household number was seven? Ghost ships arrive in Norway, and grim reaper folklore expresses Scandinavian fears amid whispers of children being buried alive to appease angry gods. Primitive remedies and blood letting rise, as do tales of monks and nuns going out in style with debauchery and hedonism or gasp, dancing in town wide festivals. An entire episode is dedicated to antisemitism and Jewish persecutions, a depressing and violent response on top of the plague, and the callous church using the pestilence as an opportunity to remind people it was their sinful fault may have helped spur later reformations. Of course, lack of clergy meant the church accepted anyone for ordination, leaving priests who didn't know what they were doing when the faithful public needed help most. Outside of nobles losing their privileged status, most classes were ironically better off post-plague with memento mori artwork and danse macabre murals flourishing amid literary masterpieces and dramatic analysis inspiring the early renaissance and the likes of Chaucer. Economic booms re-establish trade as the aristocracy marries into the merchant class and peasants revolt for more power, changing the world for centuries to come. While lengthy for the classroom itself, these half hours are jammed packed with information, documentation, and statistics keeping viewers curious to learn more. This is a fine accompaniment or a la carte for independent study – an academic approach rather than the in your face, sensationalized documentary formats permeating television today. The Great Courses Channel is worth the streaming add-on for a variety of informative videos, and this macabre selection is perfect for fans of horror history.

Daughter of Death – Anthony Franciosa (Tenebre) and Sybil Danning (Howling II) star alongside the titular Isabelle Mejias (Scanners II) in this 1983 international production also known as Julie Darling. Certainly the print is flat with a slightly distorted ratio, rough outdoor scenery, poor highway scenes, and dark action that's tough to see. Fortunately, vintage Spanish Gothic homes and nostalgic shag hair, instant coffee, pay phones, talk of the roller rink, and malls add to the family conflicts and slithering snakes let loose. Julie is clearly a daddy's girl, but mom thinks boarding school will straighten out her budding anti-social behavior – she scares a school friend and insists she would rather go hunting with her dad than date boys or even marry. While her affection seems innocent to start, Julie is too young to be tucked in at night yet not old enough to see doctor dad operate at the hospital. The delivery guy checks out her mom and we see the Mrs. in a steamy bath, but the budding Electra sociopathy fully emerges once an opportunistic attack makes the choice between screaming mother and daughter with a rifle. Frenetic classical music on the headphones matches the rough assault before the edgy, synth score accents the chilling decision, subsequent lies, and plays for daddy's sympathy. Julie cuts mom out of all their pictures, too. Of course, Julie doesn't know the real reason her parents were fighting, namely her soon to be stepmother who brings along a little brother. Dad takes to the boy, replacing Julie in both the young lady and favorite child departments when they were supposed to have the house all to themselves. She hears the moaning of course, peaking in on the saucy, slightly raw sex scenes – escalating the creepy as Julie imagines herself in her stepmother's place. Does she even realize the sexual aspects or that there are different types of love for each of them? This is an interesting mental study that correctly strays the fine line between the sinister suspense and surprising horror. It isn't about gore a minute, but the twisted dread as viewers wonder when the hide and seek games will turn to terror. Our stepmom sees the competition and will protect her new husband and young son amid chess parallels, ladder dangers, and murderous matricide calculations.

A Split Decision

Dead of Winter – Lovely snow tipped trees, mountains, and chilly rivers begat hiking perils, rock tumbles, ropes cut, snowy crashes, and hungry wolves in this 2014 Canadian geocaching terror. Of course, there are bus driving montages, DUI histories, annoying music, getting gas in middle of nowhere clichés, and ridiculously hammy dialogue like “Is your cock ever soft?” “Only in your mommy!” WTF. One jerk films everybody in a camcorder point of view even as they clearly all have chips on their shoulders, but the sardonic documentation is forgotten as we quickly meet the cliché, overly excited nerds, angry lesbians, and the dude bros who want to watch amid nighttime scenery, windshield wipers, and the increasingly icy road. Although people are bundled up for this snowy treasure hunt, their faces are still Hollywood exposed as the teams run to and fro in the woods following creepy clues in a kind of humorous montage before no phone signals, a bus that won't start, garroting logger cables, and explosions. If they're stranded two hundred miles and at least four days walk from anywhere, why doesn't anyone stay near the fiery bus for heat and signal fires? Everyone continues following the increasingly bizarre geocache reveals such as a gun with no bullets and a stop watch promising screams in ninety seconds despite falling snow showers, waterfalls, and damaged bridges. One dumb ass know it all thinks a creaking old wood bridge with over a foot of snow on top the buckling boards is safe so they all go for it because he says there's a quarry shortcut and a convenient cabin nearby, too. Somebody has to take a dump in the snow, it's obvious who's going to die next – cough one lesbian and the black guy cough – and the hip acting hampers the finger pointing group divisions. Thanks to the straightforward rather than herky jerky filming, we can see the bloody hangings, torn limbs, and splatter gore, but arrows and crossfire reveal the killer far too soon when a movie about a treasure hunt shouldn't give up its reward until the end. Head scratching cutaways, airplane rescue fake outs, and whining about missing pizza further break audience immersion as no one complains about blisters, cold, or frostbite on their gloveless hands. No one is tired – least of all the driver who drove all night and then drank all day who says he'll stay up on watch while the others sleep. They didn't follow the river but are later glad to have handy flashlights and booze to drink as they joke about eating the tubby jerk first rather than addressing any real cannibalism horror. Jealously, one person that is not so mysteriously absent, a knife plus a pen and suddenly anybody can do an instant tracheotomy – it takes an hour for someone to realize this was planned revenge thanks to some prior competition because geocaching is a mad competitive and dangerous sport! The riddles and underground hideouts run out of steam with sagging contrivances and overlong, predictable explanations. This is watchable with entertaining horror moments, however the cliché points and outlandish but wait there's more on and on will become too laughable for some. Our survivors may have beaten the horror hunt, but everyone apparently forgets they're still stranded in the wilderness before the fade to black. Oops.