15 November 2019

Shows I Didn't Finish. Again.



More Shows I Couldn't Finish, Again.
by Kristin Battestella



Once more I've found myself in a rut trying to find new and recent genre shows to watch – resulting in my being terribly disappointed at the tune out worthy trio here.




The Last Ship – Producer Michael Bay (The Rock or go home) wastes no time with snowmobile action and helicopter shootouts to open this 2014 TNT debut. Point of view missile fire and snow splashing the camera ramp up the pace, and it already seems like the first episode goes through an entire season's worth of possibilities thanks to ship introductions, scientists versus soldiers, arctic mysteries, pandemic discoveries, and Russian enemies. Couples hook up, governments collapse, secrets are revealed, and nuclear consequences all happen at lightning speed as our eponymous ship loses communications than receives late orders to refuel in France, port in North Carolina, redirect to Florida, and travel to Guantanamo Bay. They raid an Italian cruise ship for supplies, too, and a black guy we just met gets exposed and dies while doctors work on a vaccine – and yes, all of this is in the first forty-three minute episode! Despite sad pre-recorded messages from home and crew arguments about staying onboard or taking chances on land, there's no drama because everything must hurry, hurry, hurry. It's too ironic when the saboteur tells the sleepless doctor this is a marathon not a sprint as the burials at sea, prayer vigils, mutated strains, and whispers of artificial engineering are steamrolled through in favor of painfully slow, procedural, and generic supply stops. However, I almost don't mind the detailed canvasing when the chance to have conversations provides better disagreements, tension, and situations. The series may have been better off starting in media res if the initial disaster, bitter blood, and isolated ship survival was going to be dismissed so quickly – then going back to the crisis would have had more weight. Unfortunately, the editing remains abrupt with disjointed fade ins and explosions. Maybe the hectic is meant to mirror the action intensity, but together it's dizzying. Viewers aren't there in the action because we can't see anything so it's just overwhelming and numbing when the camera never stays still. Random action zooms and shaky cam in crowded quarters don't define characters. Series leads Eric Dane (Grey's Anatomy) and Adam Baldwin (Oh my gosh does anybody else remember The Cape? I loved that show!) are too much alike to endear the audience in rooting for their back and forth, and the antagonism towards scientist Rhona Mitra (Underworld: Rise of the Lycans) gets old fast before the medical aspect is dropped anyway. It is also tough to know who the doctors, white couple, Asian engineer, lesbian officer, chaplain, and the black guy who I think is the chief petty officer are beyond their stereotype, rank, or position because they aren't named amid the shouting communications and military slang – which will be confusing enough for audiences unfamiliar with naval terms. Half the story is blown by the second episode as more people come aboard, scientists depart, and naval officers end up promoted to land based duties glossing over the original catastrophic action for coastal power struggles. Fine emotional moments and bonding scenes are too few and far between rushed missions, pit stop shoot outs, and drug lords in the jungle like it's a reverse Gilligan's Island with all the off the ship guests of the week. Easily ready vaccines are apparently not as important as hostages, moles revealed, enemy face offs, captures, and land lubber action as the exceptional premise burns out so gosh darn fast with no time to breath amid the weekly network typical. We only stay on the ship for a little while rather than all the time? Well that just seems...misleading.




Salem – 1685 stocks, brandings, church bells, and cries for mercy open this 2014 thirteen episode debut before pregnancies, torches, forest rituals, hooting owls, and promises of power. By 1692 Salem is swept with witch fever as bodies hang and rhetoric warns the devil is in town. Screaming girls are tied down over claims that a hag is terrorizing them – and there is indeed an unseen succubus leaping upon the helpless. Preachers insist they must save their promised land from this insidious invisible hell as sermons and town hall meetings become one and the same. Suspect midwives, old witnesses, and secrets intensify the witch hunt debates as families recall the original English hysteria and proud witchfinder ancestry. Although arguments about a girl not being possessed just touched in the head and in need of a doctor seem recent, it's nice to see the reverse of typical exorcism stories where confounded doctors come before prayer interventions. Chants, contortions, and taxidermy lead to full moon dancing rituals, animal head masks, fiery circles, baby skull offerings, sacrifices, effigies, and entrails. Unfortunately, nobody notices witches talking openly in the town square nor minds a woman taking charge when she has no rights but through her husband. Ladies speaking out over their exploitation is far too contemporary – along with out of place comeback quips and jarring modern sarcasm. Instead of real tribe names, talk of savages and conflated French and Indian War references pepper speeches about saving the country when we weren't even one yet. Killing innocents goals and grand rites achievements are reduced to the coven wanting to get rid of the Puritans so Salem can be theirs even though they are already in power behind the scenes and getting on their forest sabbaths. The witches versus ministry conflict with some pretending to be the other is drama enough without Shane West's (Dracula 2000) millennial grandstanding compromising Janet Montgomery's (Merlin) Mary Sibley. Is this about the falsely accused, misunderstood, and lovelorn or the naked, ethereal witches taking the devil's power for their spellbound husbands and familiar frogs? Revealing the supernatural at work creates an uneven back and forth that goes directly against the witches' motivations. Stay in their point of view or play it straight on the devil or innocent and let the audience decide which side we're on – attempting both evil and romance is far too busy and binds in name only historical figures and potentially juicy characters with weak, pedestrian male trappings. Hypocrite ministers terrorize the congregation when not cowering at torturing witches or having sex at the Puritan brothel like this is Game of Thrones. After bamboozling Enterprise, I was already leery of creator Brannon Braga, and an old hat, run of the mill tone hampers the writing team. In addition to rotating directors, there are only a few women behind the scenes, and weird Marilyn Manson music provides a trying to be hip that's more CW than BBC. Wealthy lace and tavern drab visually divide our neighbors amid period woodwork, forges, and rustic chimneys while gothic arches and heavy beams add colonial mood. Churches and cemeteries contrast dark woods, glimpses of horned and hoofed figures, skeleton keys, and spooky lanterns however the blue gradient is too obviously modern. Pretty windows and lattice work are too polished, and clean streets give away the Louisiana set town rather than on location imbued. Superficial costuming is noticeably inaccurate, and once I saw a Victorian filigree necklace I got at Hot Topic, well, that was pretty much it for this show.



The Shannara Chronicles – Granted, it's been decades since I attempted the admittedly Lord of the Rings inspired but post-apocalyptic Terry Brooks books upon which this 2016 ten episode season is based. However, I don't remember them being so modern and kind of, well, stupid. Sweeping pans, poor CGI, and weird lighting set the pointy ears and dangerous gauntlets seeking the chosen one off on the wrong foot alongside firm abs and Hunger Games mood. Let's blindfold people running through the woods and be surprised when they slam into the trees! The ancient tale of demons versus elves seemingly gets the John Rhys-Davies exposition stamp of approval, but our elf princess dresses so skimpy compared to others fully clothed and at times everyone's just wearing jeans or crop tops and hanging around leftover machines as if these things would still survive thousands of years into the future. Mystical speak, phantom voice help, and subtitled gibberish languages become convenient any time something magic needs to happen as too many separate stories meander thanks to weak performances, bad death scenes, pretty teens, man pain, and confusing flash forwards. A fantasy in itself is enough without all the cynical distractions, sardonic frat boys, or hot heads trying to prove something, so the try hard hip for the MTV generation that no longer watches MTV is laughably ironic. The best scenes are adults discussing earlier wars and magical consequences, but those are interrupted for rock music, bathtub saucy, and naked waterfall spying like it's Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Visions of wraiths, frozen dudes brought back to life, swords reforged, disbelief in evil returning – it looks like DeviantArt and feels like a derivative Skyrim video game with half elves leaving the shire to collect stones, avoid trolls, and train in magic arts. This is a distorted fax of a fax rifting on Thor: The Dark World's Lord of the Rings prologue via some watered down Game of Thrones glory and the seemingly awe inspiring panoramas are been there, done that. For that I can just watch Lord of the Rings or Life After People. ¯\_(ใƒ„)_/¯


07 November 2019

Larger than Life Comfort Shows



Larger than Life Viewing Comforts
by Kristin Battestella



In times of trouble, let's turn to opulent decades of our twentieth century past for glamour, bikinis, and a cup of comforting soup. 


Jambalaya!


BaywatchI'll be ready...You know half the time you tuned in to this 1989-2001 beachfest just to watch the opening sequence, and you can tell exactly what season it is thanks to the red bathing suit clad stars, jet skis, surfing, and slow motion running. With an inexplicable 242 episodes, one can skip the First NBC season's killer sharks, ditch the terrible Hawaii makeovers, and forget the superfluous Nights spin off as well as forgo the more preposterous vacation disasters, jewel thieves, hostage situations, and repeated heavies. Thanks to riptides, earthquakes, mutant alligators, and sea monsters, however, we hang tight to the syndicated, buoyant Playmates saving the day against UFOs, an octopus, and evil eels. Garner's horse Kojak may poop on the beach, but the Gilligan's Island homage isn't actually as bad as it sounds. Giant tape recorders, cameras, mobile phones, and switchboards join product placements, AOL (lol), The Beach Boys, Geraldo, and more famous cameos as everybody who was anybody jogged on David Hasselhoff's shore – even The President. Although I dread the nineties music video style montages – seemingly as unnecessary as the belts on the thong leotards – they are time capsules of strobe film making and pristine American glory, the peak of our late twentieth century indulgence just like The Matrix said. It might have been easier to believe the earnest drama had this been a half hour show ditching the music moments for real talk on the abusive boyfriends, bulimia, and trailer park dreams, yet it's quite shrewd to use flashbacks and visuals as narrative, thus reducing conversational scenes for the weakest, sun kissed actors. A, B, and C plots are often disjointed with romance and assaults intercut together before coastal la di da jarring with off shore drilling and saving the day in as little clothing as possible. If you've seen one episode, you've seen them all – so it's more entertaining when there are no hip interludes, mermaids, or monster jellyfish in completely dramatic, tearful episodes and intense disaster two-parters. Underwater filming, boating perils, and turbulent rescues balance the sunsets, silhouettes, and windswept tendrils. It's not all pretty people, however, as gang youths have little options save for gun violence, departmental cutbacks bind first responders' hands, and going to the beach becomes one of the few vacations families having tough times can afford. Self-referential quips and Rescue Bay spoof within a spoof winks in the Middle Seasons peak before cut corners, repetitive action, increasingly bloated casting, and a believing one's own sexy hype in later years. Parental stories and family bonding tales wouldn't be so bad for young and old to enjoy watching together if it weren't for the spot the implants opportunities. Then again, the life guarding dangers and rescue action aren't meant to be taken too seriously thanks to eye candy, crop tops, and ever present nipples. Don't forget, you've got to reach out when you caught in the current of love...



Dynasty – The quintessential Bill Conti (North and South) opening score takes its splendorful time as do the whopping 220 episodes of this 1981-89 ABC benchmark. After a shorter, more straightforward dramatic and seventies breezy debut, the dead lovers and families on trial get juicy in Year Two with Joan Collins (The Devil within Her) joining John Forsythe (Bachelor Father) and Linda Evans (The Big Valley) for the luxury rides, giant phones, and ruffles galore. All the ladies wear lacy nightgowns and satin negligees showing ample decolletage – when not wearing those shoulder pads that make them look twice as wide. The hair, however, never moves. Strong statures and solid deliveries anchor the bitch slaps and scandals as not even plastic surgery recasts, car accidents, kidnappings, murder, and spin-offs can keep down these Denver tycoons. From quotes borrowed from “The Vote” in Big Business to cat fights in “The Threat” and the superbly shocking Moldavian Massacre, oil double crosses and women both catty and badass in the boardroom would soon define the eighties with excess and over the top opulence. Longer episodes have room for tense zooms and up close shots – letting the audience hold our breath in suspense instead of rushing to tweet after the fact. When binging now, however, it's tough to fathom the prime time breaks thanks to rapid soap opera timelines where one or two shows are months of pregnancy or weeks of temporary blindness. Somehow, it also never snows in this Colorado. While we can applaud the early gay plots, they are sadly terribly, terribly wrong. Outing homosexuals in the courtroom, literally straightening them out by marrying women, and instigating custody battles over gay love triangles never consider a guy could just be a fine bisexual parent. Here pregnant women marry their rapists alongside casual brushes with incest, toxic paint, and deathbed weddings. However it's the then talk of oil shortages, new energy technology, and politicians versus billionaires playing hardball for the future of our country that remain surprising. Onscreen they say it's naive to think the world is black and white, yet potential storylines, intriguing relationships, and villains made friendly are run into the ground while plots no one cares about linger. At times it's frustrating to rewatch while royalty and international intrigue amount to pedestrian aftermath. Seemingly important people unceremoniously disappear as characters are not allowed to be realistically multi faceted thanks to saccharin kids in peril and plots repeating themselves with the same couples, illegitimate questions, kidnapped babies, and evil congressmen. After peak storytelling in its early years, it's apparent the series goes on twice as long as it should have – left with a great ensemble and no idea what to do with them beyond terrible soap tropes. Fortunately, despite the increasingly annoying latter seasons, the final over the balcony railing cliffhanger fittingly completes the deliciously decadent nostalgia, and the best of the best catty remains infinitely scrumptious.



Seinfeld – From “These pretzels are making me thirsty.” to “No soup for you!” this quintessential, ahead of its time New York in the nineties time capsule has seeped into the cultural lexicon. Many have already praised this show about nothing that really says everything with its circumventing commentary on then taboo talk of sex, relationships, “The Sponge,” and homophobia, not that there's anything wrong with that. It's impossible to discuss every detail or little kick here – although some would agree that the stand up comedy book ends found in the early seasons are ironically flat. Our eponymous funny guy is the straight man who often can't keep a straight face thanks to puffy shirts, quirky neighbors, kissing hello, and more roundabout preposterous like wanting the dry cleaner to admit he made a mistake and wondering why Keith Hernandez didn't call. Extreme circumstances like the fake marine biologist saving a beached whale with a golf ball in its blow hole nonetheless leave room for Superman references, Bizarro World switches, old men in traction, latex selling Vandelay Industries, virgins, John John, and “The Contest.” Deserving comeuppance ruins “The Summer of George” but the simple genius of “The Chinese Restaurant” and “The Parking Garage” remain. While younger audiences may be tired of hearing about the timeless twists or find the quips old hat, every episode provides something relevant, balancing laugh at loud slapstick with winks, red dots, and The English Patient. In many ways, we've regressed from this between the lines analysis on prejudice and racism, but here the shrewd layers and character goofiness are intertwined in almost Dickensian happenstance thanks to everything from BBO and a fishy bed that smells like the East River to “The Pez Dispenser” on the knee at a piano recital and Festivus. Although many may argue the finale falters under the show's weight, the self-referential characters writing an internal show about nothing remains meta before meta was meta. Rather than getting full of itself, the neurotic scenarios are now nostalgic, long gone bemusements – video stores, waiting in line at the bank, the rolodex, who's first on the speed dial, answering machines, pay phones, difficulty in making copies, pocket organizers that won't stop beeping. Bleeped expletives are also ingeniously used, a bonus wink on censorship taken for granted amid today's ample crass opportunities. Now ironic Guiliani jokes and Neo Nazi rallies address who we really are but don't care to admit as our selfish and unable to handle the basics of living quartet are completely unaware of how snobbish and loathsome they really are. Mugging old ladies for the marble rye, skimping on a cheap wheelchair for a handicapped friend – it's not you, it's me, and yada, yada, yada. Like the healing power of “The Junior Mint,” there are numerous nuggets here to revisit and discover anew with every rewatch. 


Dolores!



For more soothing entertainment and viewing lists from decades of yore, revisit Comfort Food Shows and Comfort Shows – 60s Edition! 




29 October 2019

Tales from the Crypt Season 7




Tales from the Crypt Season Seven an Unexpected Denouement 
by Kristin Battestella



In Spring 1996, the thirteen episode final season of Tales from the Crypt moved to the UK, and despite several fine stories, the sardonic horror suffers thanks to the identity crisis in this awkward end. Our Crypt Keeper is eating flesh and chips and doing a little fright seeing complete with Big Ben, London Bridge, and double decker buses in “Fatal Caper” before director Bob Hoskins (Who Framed Roger Rabbit?) sends his dying client to lawyer Natasha Richardson (The Handmaid's Tale) to handle his will. Three sons have been disowned, but without them there is no legacy or title. Two are summoned to accept the terms of their inheritance – find the eldest brother unseen for fifteen years. However, if one brother remains, he gets everything. Arguments, heart attacks, saucy, and killer suggestions lead to rigged seances, apparitions, and ditching folks in the ancestral tomb as each tries to out scare the other. With the jolly good demented mood, it's easy to presume this is a one off on location special for the premiere – except the Keeper is staying to collect souvenears and worries about getting in trouble with the Die-R-S again in “Last Respects.” Freddie Francis (Dracula Has Risen from the Grave) directs Emma Samms (Dynasty) as a monkey's paw changes the fortune of three sisters and their floundering curio shop in this fun Charmed meets Friday the 13th: The Series combination. Debates about which sister will be a spinster or the most hated have them vying over the talisman, and each thinks they can outsmart it's curse. However, the windfall is not what it seems thanks to injuries and insurance plans, and the bemusingly dry mortician isn't surprised by the ghoulish bodies, turnabouts, and revenge. To start the season, Tales from the Crypt relies on classic horror twists sourced from some of the earliest issues of Tales for the Crypt, Vault of Horror, Shock SuspenStories, and Haunt of Fear. In “A Slight Case of Murder” our astrologer Crypt Keeper warns us to stay away from romantic enstranglements this month, but mystery writer Francesca Annis (Dune) has an estranged husband and a pesky old lady neighbor – a wannabe author after more than just a cup of sugar. English to the face charm contrasts the under the breath zingers, and divorce settlements provide gunpoint threats, fireplace pokers, and burying bodies in the basement. Our cupcake and biscuit forget about the car keys left on the dead as matters of murder remain so polite. After all, the Crypt Keeper says we have to just grim and bear it.



Director Russell Mulcahy's (Highlander) inside heist goes wrong for “Horror in the Night,” leading to creepy hotel hideouts, Art Deco askew, and femme fatale Elizabeth McGovern (Downton Abbey). Drab patinas and rattling trains accent the distorted sense of reality alongside repeated events, delirium, and scotch. The bloody linens and leaky pipes spewing blood escalate with disturbing sex scenes and gruesome guts. Suspect door numbers, never ending hallways, past secrets, and fatal mistakes combine in the superbly bizarre Tales from the Crypt justice we expect yet this might have made a great horror movie unto itself. Commander CK, meanwhile, plays astronaut with his skeleton crew. They're going where no ghoul has gone before because they've got the rot stuff. Crows, fog, and spooky trees open “Report from the Grave” as scientist James Frain (The Tudors) enters a crypt to capture the mental powers of a surprisingly well preserved murderous hypnotist. His machinery may unite the physical and metaphysical, but a good zap and mechanical shock results in asylum restraints, visions of the deceased, and more medical experiments. Lightning, screams, and equations provide a Frankenstein motif for the nineties as motherboards and monitors update the mad science. Saucy and sadness can't stop the pain of death thanks to grave robbing, ghosts, and bloody bathtubs in another Tales from the Crypt gem. Of course, The Keeper does his best Gorelone Godfather send up before Daniel Craig (Skyfall) impresses the advertising agency with his swagger in “Smoke Wrings.” He calls out the old fashioned campaigns, making the other agents look bad, but it's all a con with an underground accomplice and a device that manifests the power of suggestion. Subliminal signals over candies and colas begat knives, revenge, and double crosses like it's Melrose Place on acid but it's a Victorian minister in the saucy for “About Face.” Imelda Staunton's (Maleficent) husband wants another young secretary for his sinful rhetoric, but unbeknownst twin daughters played by Anna Friel (Timeline) come knocking on his door. They'll say their adopted to maintain his righteous image, but one daughter is unable to forgive his wolf in sheep's clothing as shadows of the cross imagery accent the scripture and damnation. Perhaps it's obvious, but slit throats, strangulation, and impalements provide enough twisted drama. Unfortunately, we need diefocals because we have terrible eyesight from watching too much Tales from the Crypt according to Dr. Keeper in “Confession.” Swanky fedoras and cigarettes belie headless victims, and the police fear headlines of headless girls in the topless club. Profiler Ciaran Hinds (The Phantom of the Opera) interrogates suspected screenwriter Eddie Izzard (Shadow of the Vampire), for his movie about a serial killer is a box office hit. However, the police don't believe his expertise in killing is just from research thanks to freak show heads in jars, nasty history, and their insistence that no one is ever really innocent. Flashbulb cameras, two way mirrors, and dank rooms add to the congested tension, bowling ball bags, and psychological one on one, combining the seriousness of a noir thriller with self-referential winks. Viewers will see the twist coming, but that cheeky matches the optometrist bookends, and this would have been a fitting if subdued series finale.




After starting well, Year Seven falters with several mixed bag entries before going downhill with the back and forth betrayals in “Escape.” German prisoners in 1945 England object to making coffins and want all the comforts to wait out the war – yet they also plot for useful information about tunnels below their castle jail. Sirens and bloody clues add to the period atmosphere, but none of the motivations are likable, and the supersized Season Three World War I episode “Yellow” remains superior. A convenience store robbery goes wrong for Ewan McGregor (Shallow Grave) in “Cold War” leading to gunshots, arguing couples, colorful clubs, and awkward dance offs to Tom Jones with Colin Salmon (Tomorrow Never Dies). It's a thoroughly British tale, almost alienating to an audience at the time tuning in for American sleaze. Off the mark racism commentaries and love triangles are terribly dated, and it takes to too long to get to the apparent but fun undead twist. While the Crypt Keeper's playing Wimbletomb, a pawnbroker takes in a pregnant woman only to become jealous of the interfering baby in “The Kidnapper.” The lame narration and warped abduction plan is too disturbing – real world horror caused by a pathetic dude wanting sex to make it all better. It's not entertaining, and even the terribly fake babies during action sequences can't make this better. Eventually, viewers won't get Slay Mart cashier Keeper and his boo light special joke, and “Ear Today...Gone Tomorrow” provides safe cracking failures, sophisticated bookies, and a saucy mobster's wife who says they can help each other. Hearing loss has ruined his trade, but she knows a doctor using radical innovations and multi-species benefits. Visuals amplify his newly owl heightened hearing but the animal twists are laughable. There's more nudity in this half hour than the rest of the season and maybe it's not a terrible story, but we've seen similar crime episodes on Tales from the Crypt already. The animated “The Third Pig” finale is also an odd gimmick that both makes one wonder why Tales from the Crypt didn't do adult animation more often when it had the chance and why they are unnecessarily doing it now. This Three Little Pigs spin has John Kassir as the Crypt Keeper narrating Drinky, Smokey, zombie pigs, and mad science – going on and on with humor that requires you to be likewise drunk or high and it's baffling how anybody thought this was a good way to end the series.




Tales from the Crypt's production move to Britain immediately shows with outdoor filming, grand estates, Tudor windows, cluttered antiques, and tweed. Fine woodwork, ornate chairs, carriages, candles, and oil lamps set off great looking period episodes alongside bangers and mash, plenty of accents, and across the pond slang. Swelling music and winking, whimsical notes add suspense or humor while chanting, heartbeats, and retching sounds match the blood, poisons, and tombs. Typewriters, big old televisions, cassettes, and dated fashions continue the nostalgia while overhead camera angles, distorted views, and sped up visuals keep the sardonic humor. Rather than eighties garish color, mid century crime, or noir settings, Tales from the Crypt embraces the British horror tone – putting aside the hip and edgy that was getting a little passe by the mid nineties. Every episode has a spooky, windswept atmosphere with cemeteries, cobwebs, and shrewd lighting accenting the pale, sickly pallor, zombie strung out, chopped off heads, and veiny skin. Despite boobs, splatter, and the gory deceased, this season is relatively tame compared to what viewers may expect from Tales from the Crypt. If a pushing the envelope, mature macabre, cheeky big bang finale is what you're looking for, this serviceable but not the best the series has to offer exit will be a disappointment. Compared to Tales from the Crypt's finest, this more serious season definitely feels like a different anthology. For fans of British programs there are plenty of familiar faces, but at the time it was probably tough to accept such English bits and bobs on late night HBO. If you can overlook the off brand demented fun then Season Seven has enough gothic morose for a quick and easy marathon.


28 October 2019

Gothic Romance and More at Horror Addicts.net!



Happy Halloween, Everyone! ๐ŸŽƒ



THANK YOU for visiting I Think, Therefore I Review for our Long Read Reviews, Viewing Lists, Classic Film Talk, and TV on DVD reviews - in addition to our Horror Essays and Analysis which can also be found at HorrorAddicts.net. ๐Ÿ’€


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Kristin Battestella aka Kbatz discusses Category Romance versus Gothic Literature, Slashers versus Hammer, Penny Dreadful, Mario Bava, Crimson Peak, Tom Hiddleston, Only Lovers Left Alive, and more! 


For previous videos on Dark Shadows, Edgar Allan Poe, Alfred Hitchcock, or Our Holiday Horror Gift Guide, visit our Video Page for complete coverage.






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Cardboard Tombstone How To Video
Cardboard Tombstone Photo Shoot 
Repurposed Black Topiaries
When in Doubt, Paint it Black
How to Make Stuffed Pumpkins Video
It's a Pumpkin Cat House
Pumpkin Ottomans, Oh Yes
Halloween Candle Clusters
Yogurt Ghost Candlesticks
Creepy Cloches
Tea Stained Labels and Spooky Bottles
How Not to Make a Spooky Spellbook
DIY Cardboard Coffin


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23 October 2019

Recent Family Haunts



Recent Family Haunts
by Kristin Battestella



These somewhat rocky contemporary films provide enough past guilt, post-war ghosts, grown up paranormal, childhood nightmares, and modern day monsters for a terrified family or two.



Before I Wake Mike Flanagan (Oculus) directs Kate Bosworth (Blue Crush), Thomas Jane (Dreamcatcher), Annabeth Gish (The X-Files), and Jacob Tremblay (Room) in this 2016 Netflix dark fantasy drama. In spite of the never working, always home in their mansion rich blonde white people, we hope for the couple who lost a child now making a fresh start by adopting a very special but sleepless eight year old. Group therapy's been helping our fellow insomniac mom cope – getting the psychological metaphors out of the way while showing how our husband and wife have reacted differently to such grief. Their new son, sadly, takes out his books and flashlight to stay up all night, sneaking some serious sugar because he fears the man who eats people when he sleeps. Strange images increase about the house, and instead of the typical jerky husband, it's nice to have a trying to be helpful doctor. The therapist, however, dismisses mom's encounters with creaking doors, breaking glass, and ghostly figures as lucid dreams or sleep deprived waking hallucinations. Our couple is always in front of the television not talking about how they can inexplicably see and touch their late son in tender moments giving and taking away before he disappears in their arms. Naturally, they take advantage of this gift, putting on the coffee to stay up while their current dreams come true son sleeps. He can help them heal, and with such fanciful graphics, one almost forgets how they are deluding themselves by using his dreams to fix their reality. When mom drugs his milk and cake with child sleeping pills, we know why. Dad may bond with the boy, but it's unique to see a multi-layered woman both experiencing the horror and contributing almost as a villain who thinks she's right. The monster may not be super scary for audiences accustomed to terrifying effects, but this is about kids fearing unconscious ghouls and waking nightmares not scaring viewers. Previous foster parents are committed after talking of demons when the boy's dreams come true, but he doesn't know what he's doing – unlike the adults who realize, do it anyway, then justify their response as mercy. If he can't wake up, they can't defeat the black vomit and flesh consuming monsters. Unfortunately, convenient hospital connections provide old records and birth mother details while the case worker never notices the ongoing file is lifted by the subject. Confining the boy leads to a house of horrors with moths in the stairwell, cocoons, creepy kids, gouged eyes, and bathtub bizarre – which are all fine individually. However, the story backs itself into a corner by resorting to state of mind scary at the expense of the personal fantasy, unraveling with explaining journals and a parent sugarcoating someone else's memories so obvious Freudian questions can do the trick. With this thick case file, how did no child psychologist figure this out sooner – especially with such legalese and real world missing persons? Rather than essentially letting mom get away with sacrificing people to overcome her grief, the finale explanation should have been at the beginning to further appreciate the boy's torment. Despite a kind of, sort of happy non-ending, the parents dealing with a child dreamer plot makes for a mature reverse Elm Street mixing family horrors and fantastics.




Insidious: The Last Key – After the thin, uneven, seemingly nowhere left to go Chapter 3, I'm surprised there's room for this 2018 sequel aka Chapter 4. There's headache inducing volume issues once again with soft voices versus incredibly loud excuses to make you jump if the scares don't. Fortunately, penitentiary gates, latches, and skeleton keys disturb the nearby 1950s families. Lights flicker during every execution, and young Elise insists ghosts are in the bunk bend and playing with their toys. Dad, however, gets out the switch for talking nonsense and locks her in the basement bomb shelter where child voices taunt her to open a special red door – leading to evil claw hands with keys for nails, ghostly possessions, and hanging consequences. Grown up Elise Lin Shaye dreams about the past as her Spectral Sightings team moves in with their semi-working technology and a tricked out ghost hunting van. When the latest call for paranormal help is her old address, she's initially reluctant to return to the house she fled with scars on her back. Though some of the emotion seems rushed or superficial – actual ghosts and ghosts of the past metaphors, we get it– the mix of sardonic, nerdy banter, and friendship ground the trauma, lingering cobwebs, and bibles. Night vision and point of view cameras provide shadows that some see and others don't while microphones and phantom whistles create one yes, two no communications that are more chilling than unnecessary references to the prior film. False walls and hidden keyholes reveal chains, crawling entities, and creaking demons approaching the paralyzed in fear. Awkward confrontations with brothers left behind and meeting grown nieces create personal touches amid the metaphysical and psychological horrors as the family is lured back to the maze like levels of the house. Tunnels, old suitcases, and skulls address both the personal demons and the underlying sinister as spirits need to be freed from the dark. Metronomes lead to eerie fog, lanterns, underworld jail cells, and risky confrontations in The Further. Detours with real world violence, loud action, guns, and police, however, are time wasting filler when the ghosts still have to be faced. After the fine demon reveal strengthening our family connections, everything degrades into typical whooshes, television rattling roars, and a deus ex machina that's the same deus ex machina from Chapter 3 complete with winks to the First Insidious for good measure. Although there are problems when the plot strays from the tale it's supposed to be telling, this was more entertaining than the ultimately unnecessary third movie.



The Silence – Kiernan Shipka and Miranda Otto reunite alongside Stanley Tucci (Road to Perdition) in this 2019 Netflix original. Gas masks and point of view cameras in a Pennsylvania cave unleash screeching and splatter before unnecessary credits montaging evolution and modern destruction. The tablet conversations with boys, soccer mom literally seen with soccer balls, hip grandma in the kitchen, little brother playing video games, and narration from our deaf teen likewise contribute to a very clichรฉ start. Opening in media res with mom silently waking the deaf for breaking news would make more impact, and although the hearing impairments seem superficial, Sign Language, high pitched ringing, and helicopters better set the scene as initial television news about the cave release and device alerts are ignored. Cities are quickly infested – under attack with few details beyond viral videos warning people not to make noise as fireplaces are blocked and the emergency system sounds. Our family packs up in several vehicles to flee the city, but viewers needlessly break our deaf protagonist's viewpoint for subway passengers tossing out a mother and her crying baby, o_O. Radio reports, police sirens, traffic jams, and short cuts lead to gas station gun violence, fleeing animals, and car accidents. There's macho – dad wasn't a hands on guy and now he has to be – but tough family decisions get made once these pterosaur vesps surround the van and slam the cracking windows. Dogs alert one to danger, however barking can be a problem, and leaving the vehicle to find shelter includes injuries, infection, and rattlesnakes. After the first half hour, it's mostly innate sounds with very little dialogue – viewers have to pay attention to all the non-verbal reactions. Risky treks to a nearby small town lead to empty streets, mauled corpses, monster eggs, and cults cutting out tongues before raids, abductions, and sacrifices required. The internet is spotty, but news about the creatures disliking snow comes amid dying batteries, handwritten notes, and creepy confrontations. The performances make the twistedness and rage while thunder, lightning, and decoys create a stir alongside cell phone beeps and music. Unfortunately, rather than major social commentaries or down deep emotions, the angst resorts to physical altercations – because it's only been a few days yet all the weirdos are afoot. Why don't they ask where they're going when they have the chance? How can the unprepared do better than the armed and knowledgeable? Such derivatives rely on stupidity, conveniences, and the smart teenager before a tidy, abrupt end where nobody ever actually fights back against the swarm. Hush was better, but fans of the cast can enjoy the suspense here – which was surely Netflix's intention to maximize the bang for the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina buck with an alternative to Bird Box. We like this family and want to see them survive because not making it through an ordeal together is the scariest thing.



Voice from the Stone – It's post-war Tuscany and dilapidated castles for nurse Emilia Clark (Game of Thrones) in this 2017 tale opening with church bells, toppled statues, and autumn leaves. Letters of recommendation and voiceovers about previous goodbyes are unnecessary – everything up until she knocks on the door is redundant when the Italian dialogue explaining the situation is enough. Her charge hasn't spoken in the seven months since his mother's death, and sculptor dad Marton Csokas (Lord of the Rings) is frazzled, too. Our nurse is strict about moving on from a family, and although her unflinching English decorum feels like you can see her acting, this may be part of the character fronting when she wonders if she is qualified for the case. The mute son is likewise an obedient boy if by default because it takes speaking to object, and he listens to the walls to hear his dead mother. Period furnishings, vintage photos, mirrors, and candles enchant the interiors, but the stone and stucco are spooky thanks to taxidermy, strange old ladies, creaking doors, winding stairs, and broken tiles atop the towers. Wooded paths, overgrown gardens, and old bridges lead to exploring the flooded quarry, cliffs, family crypts, and stone effigies. This estate has been in the late wife's family for over a thousand years, and forty generations are buried beneath the rocks. Noises in the night provide chases and dead animal pranks as our nurse listens to the walls to prove it's just the settling house, rattling winds, or bubbling pipes talking. Progress with the boy takes time while billowing curtains and melancholy phonographs linger over somber scenes as she grows too attached in wearing our late mother's clothes. Unlike her, our nurse sits docile and silent when posing for his sculpture before fantasizing some saucy as he carves. She can care for father and son – talking to portraits of the Mrs. and listening to tombs to further ingratiate herself into this family. Desperate, she hears her now, too, in eerie interludes and spooky dreams that add aesthetics yet feel like weird seventies horror movies nonsensical. Wet perils and violent slaps begat illness, but questions on whether this fever is real or psychological unravel with fog, wheezing, heartbeats, and buried alive visions face to face with the dead. Although some may dislike the ambiguous non answers and stilted style or find the derivative Rebecca or Jane Eyre mood and outcome obvious, the slow burn period setting makes this an interesting piece for gothic fans not looking for outright horror a minute.


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 ร  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. ¯\_(ใƒ„)_/¯ 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.