31 January 2017

Top Ten: Westerns!

Welcome to our new Top Tens series in celebration of I Think, Therefore I Review's Tenth Anniversary! These monthly lists will highlight special themes and topics from our extensive archive of reviews.

This time I Think, Therefore I Review presents in chronological order...

Our Top Ten Westerns!

Enjoy our western label for yet more!

I Think, Therefore I Review began as the blog home for previously published reviews and reprinted critiques by horror author Kristin Battestella. Naturally older articles linked here may be out of date and codes or formatting may be broken. Please excuse any errors and remember our Top Tens will generally only include films, shows, books, or music previously reviewed at I Think, Therefore I Review.

27 January 2017

Retro Horror Girl Power!

Retro Horror Girl Power
by Kristin Battestella

Gather the girlfriends 'round and go back thirty years or more for this batch of foreign and domestic chillers steeped in murderous sisterhood, paranormal dames, and sexist serial killers.

Alice, Sweet Alice – Frantic Hail Marys, church bells, rectories, and crosses in nearly every scene steep this 1976 slasher in layers of iconography alongside matching yellow jackets, similarly named long hair lookalikes, sisterly favoritism, and saint versus sinner parallels. Little Brooke Shields (Suddenly Susan) is fond of her priest, goes to confession, and is gifted with a crucifix necklace while twelve year old Paula Sheppard (Liquid Sky) wears a mask to scare the cook. The ceremonial crown, veil, and white dress feel medieval bridal amid the Latin sanctity and old fashioned Sunday best formality – composed women in hats, gloves, pearls, and Jackie O suits are soon hysterical once murder blasphemes the sacred within its very walls. Creepy hints of the strangling attack, feet dragging beneath the pews, and a charred fate intercut the kneeling at the altar and passing wafer, turning the white confirmation into a black funeral. The uptight roosts point fingers, cast blame, and belittle husbands, but the parents are also too busy to notice the gluttonous downstairs neighbor obsessed with cats promising not to bite Alice if she visits him. Out of wedlock, divorced, and remarried taboos squabble while hidden periods and no long playing with dolls maturity layer the well done shocks and mask scares. Intense lie detector tests, cold yes or no questions, and scary needle movements add atmosphere along with thunderstorms, bugs, and basement hideaways. This murder acerbates a preexisting family strain, and such repressed attitudes would almost rather there be a grief approved death than admit to potential schizophrenia problems. Retro cameras, typewriters, big phone booths, classic cars, old school police, and formal psychiatrist interviews reiterate the mid-century rigid while prank calls, cramped stairs, and penetrating stabs invoke a frenzied response with violent twists. Do some of the victims get what they deserve? Confessions, warped revelations, mother madonna saintly and magdalene whore shaming cloud the case, and the children pay for the sins of the father indeed. This is a taut little thriller with fine scares, mystery, and parables made horror.

The Hearse – Divorced teacher Trish Van Devere (The Changeling) deals with nosy realtor Joseph Cotten (Citizen Kane) not to mention ominous headlights, dark roads, phantom winds, visions in the mirror, and a freaky uniformed chauffeur in this 1980 spooky. There is an initial proto-Lifetime movie feeling and the picturesque Golden Gate Bridge vistas remain just another driving to the horrors montage as our jittery dame heads to the recently bequeathed home of her late aunt for the summer. The Blackford neighbors, however, are unwelcoming gossips, and the minister says any standoffishness must be her imagination. Of course, her shorts are very short and despite a flirtatious sheriff, cat calls while jogging, and compliments about the resemblance to her aunt, all the men must help her roadside and make women driving jokes while doing so. Those trees just jump out into the road! Thanks to whispers of past pacts with Satan, they don't expect her to stick around long, either. The then-edgy music knows when to be quiet, adding to the isolation, crickets, and woman alone creepy. Covered antiques, leftover fashions, period pictures, and attic relics invoke a museum mood – an intrusion by the living justifying the faulty electric, slamming doors, creaking stairs, rattling pipes, and ghostly faces in the window. A music box plays on its own while a mysterious necklace, ironic radio sermons, and the titular highway pursuits escalate along with footsteps, intruders, and shattering glass. The tracking camera pans about the house in an ambiguous move that's both for effect and someone – or something – approaching. Likewise, reading the diary of her devil worshiping aunt alongside a new whirlwind but suspicious romance creates dual suspense – which can certainly be said for that Hearse when it pulls up to the front porch and opens its back door. The black vehicle, white nightgown, and choice reds increase with candles, coffins, and funerary dreams. Pills and long cigarette drags visualize nerves amid bridge accidents, disappearing bodies, rowdy town vandals, and gaslighting decoys. The solo reading aloud and talking to oneself scenes will be slow to some viewers, and at times the car action is hokey. The mystery can be obvious – it feels like we've seen this plot before – yet the story isn't always clear with low, double talk dialogue. However, it's easy to suspect what is real with interesting twists in the final act, and the adult cast is pleasing. Well done clues keep the guessing fun, and several genuine jump moments make for a spirited midnight viewing.

Phenomena – Jennifer Connolly (Labyrinth) and Donald Pleasence (Halloween) star in this 1985 Italian production from director Dario Argento along with Walkmans, a giant computer, overhead projectors, retro school buses, huge headphones, big boob tube TVs, off the shoulder sweatshirts, and crimped hair. The horseshoe phones are so hefty one breaks through the floor when it falls, and top heavy metal names such as Iron Maiden anchor the score. Pretty but bleak Swiss scenery, foreboding roads, suspicious chains, and an isolated cabin speak for themselves with blood, shattered glass, cave perils, scissor attacks, and strangling violence contrasting the rural vistas and scenic waterfalls. The on the move camera tracks the scares, panning with the staircases, chases, and penetrating knives rather than hectic visuals working against the action – leaving heartbeats, ticking clocks, and rage music to pulse the frenetic dreams. Congested tunnels, dark water, and rotting heads build tension alongside sleepwalking shadows, blue lighting schemes, and saintly white symbolism. Insects, monkeys, and bizarre medical tests collide with missing teens, amnesia, and an old school sense of being lost in the foreign unknown. Despite the young protagonist, the horror remains R without being juvenile or nasty. Although necrophilia and rape are implied amid girls in short shirts, dirty old men, and killer penetrations, the innuendo isn't like today's overt teen T-n-A exploitation. Doctors and a strict headmistress suspect epilepsy, schizophrenia, or drugs before the otherworldly but friendly communication with animals – cruel schoolmates and religious extremists view such talents or swarming commands as demonic rather than embracing the literal fly on the wall fantastics. Would you follow bugs to the scene of the crime to see the decomposing victim through their eyes? The notion to be in tune with nature and commune with insects as allies is unique in a genre usually reserving such crawlies for scares, and cool bug eye viewpoints, covered mirrors, freaky dolls, and maggots accent the deceptions, twists, and escalating revelations for some gruesome surprises and a wild finish. And oh my gosh there is a classmate wearing a Bee Gees t-shirt. Want it!!

Tenebre – Onscreen book pages set the deadly state of mind for this 1982 Argento thriller as retro airports, phone booths, jealous dames in furs, and saucy innuendo give way to duty free shoplifting, vagrants, and daytime assaults – building intrigue that is both crime thriller and horror with killer vignettes, gore, and bizarre scenery. Pages shoved in the victim's mouths add warped personality as reporters cry sexism and cheap thrills inspired by the manuscript. Stylish nudity and slasher voyeurism raise tension as the camera peers through windows in search of the next victim while the pulsing electronic score peppers the clashing metaphors – disloyal literary agent John Saxon (Nightmare on Elm Street), male versus female cops, a feminine voice wielding a straight razor male weapon. Subtitles would have helped the low volume and off dubbing, but typewriters, record players, and flash cameras accent breaking glass frights, dark room developments, and pieces of the unseen killer's lair. Although murders in a book made real may be a common plot now, the slightly abstract lack of polish and low budget freaky adds to the American in Rome angst, threatening phone calls, shoe fetishes, and phallic parallels. The stark visuals mirror the cold, harsh detachment – something is hiding in plain sight with white clothes, red symbolism, beach-side sexual aggression, and gender bending encounters as our clues. Are young women flirting with older men asking for violence? The multi-layered life imitating art giallo expectations add commentary on such tropes with dual investigations, puzzling notes, and a detective reading detective novels but unable to solve what's on the page. Breaking and entering violations, symbolic penetrating attacks, and a whiff of Catholicism accent killer dogs, chases, double crossings, repression, and frazzled nerves as the quality deaths escalate into bold violence and visual confirmations. Despite a previous Nasty notoriety, this isn't torture porn for the sake of it and may actually seem tame compared to today's shocks. Fortunately, this remains an intelligent cross genre thriller and taut mystery with red herrings, insider psychosis, and wild film within a film veils. After all, who is the voyeur if not viewer?


Don't Answer the Phone – Sweaty rituals open this 1980 bizzarity before a nurse in white, heavy breathing, strangulation fetishes, and sexual violence. Old radio designs, big headsets, giant switches, tape reels, pay phones, and chalk boards in the precinct add retro pastiche, however, a padding police research montage merely opens file cabinets, passes papers, and sighs over manila folders as our killer strolls along the Walk of Fame before finding the seedy side of town. We know nothing about him save for an army jacket, and the fake Spanish accent used in calling the radio psychologist is pointless. Snippy cops say this serial strangler is good overtime money, and hokey killer workouts/pep talks don't mix with serious patients and therapy sessions recounting abuse. Rather than sticking with the forensic samples, hairs, and bite mark clues or the female doctor who could solve the crime, every strong woman with a breakthrough dies. Such prey rather than empowered gratifies the violence – apparently it's not the killer's fault when he replays the abuse of an incest victim as sexy. Um, no. Prayers, candles, and warped visuals try too hard to be inside the scandalous when the detectives and radio host evidence should be the core. A crime thriller peppered with real world heightened horror moments is fine, but interesting police psychologist theories are ignored for a black pimp more upset at being called dumb than a racial slur – amid a supposedly comical raid where the cops bemoan filling out the forms for shooting said black pimp. o_O This needed either the investigation perspective with his prank calls alone or an unseen following of the killer. Hearing his cues at the photography sessions and luring models are enough fearful suggestion. Instead, all cops are wisecracking assholes one step behind what we've already seen because evidently we're supposed to feel sorry for the crying killer when he's selling his fetish photos of the victims. This is not PTSD from the Vietnam psychopath trope, as the murderer whines about the usual childhood killing of the dog, wetting the bed, and a step-dad who didn't like him, and the attempted gritty defending of this crazy racist vet rapist who's just getting a bad rap seems more like porn or snuff with the hardcore excised. I would say it's dated in this approach, but female exploitation used for manpain excuses is still onscreen today. I'm repulsed by this terrible film, least of all because nobody even noticed the killer never wore gloves.

20 January 2017

The Addams Family: Season Two

The Addams Family Season Two is More Spooky Good Fun
by Kristin Battestella

Gomez Addams (John Astin), his wife Morticia (Carolyn Jones), children Wednesday (Lisa Loring) and Pugsley (Ken Weatherwax), Grandmama (Blossom Rock), Uncle Fester (Jackie Coogan), and butler Lurch (Ted Cassidy) all return for another thirty episodes of the 1965-66 Season Two of The Addams Family – bringing along the ooky other side of the family with Aunt Ophelia and Granny Frump.

Year Two steps forward by going back to explain how Gomez was supposed to marry Morticia's sister Ophelia in the wonderful "Morticia's Romance: Part 1." It's their “lucky” thirteenth wedding anniversary and this flashback recounts everything from Morticia bringing Kitty Cat and Cleopatra to the house to her curing Gomez of his chronic bronchitis with her French. While their mothers discuss the dowry, Morticia digs graves for her beheaded Anne Boleyn doll, and each side consults Uncle Fester and Cousin Itt on the dilemma. It's great to see The Addams Family give their hallmarks a fresh spin, and the shrewd decision to make this two parts allows more time for the lovable internal hijinks. By "Morticia's Romance: Part 2" Ophelia suspects Gomez is reneging on marrying her despite signing over his elephant herd and Brazilian nut plantation for $50,000. Excellent puns, family quips, breaking the fourth wall, and even a moral on telling the truth instead of hiding behind cowardice gives everyone their moment, combining for some of the best in the series. Thing finds romance too in "Morticia Meets Royalty" when Princess Millicent aka Aunt Millie from Iowa arrives along with her handmaiden Lady Fingers – whose father used to be Millie's footman. She's right, Thing is left, they're the perfect match! It's totally silly watching shy hands open and close boxes but darn it's entertaining as The Addamses go out of their way to make their penniless royal relative at home complete with tiaras, cavalier capes, feathered caps for the whole family, knee pants for Lurch that split, and of course, Fester the Jester. Odd episodes that only The Addams Family can do are the best, and when the family moonbathing is interrupted by a call from the photographer for a man of the year magazine in "Portrait of Gomez," Fester decides to capture the essence of Gomez himself with an unstable powder pop camera. Is the perfect DMV photo what Gomez needs? If only he could pass his driving test without Thing to handle the gearshift! 

While some may dislike the mistletoe intruding on the spooky in "Christmas with the Addams Family," it's neat to see how The Addamses spin the holiday when a nasty neighbor says there's no Santa. They can't remember all the reindeer names, but presents like “Holiday Macabre” poison perfume for Ophelia, a gloomy bare tree with broken ornaments, and all the family together breaking the fourth wall ironically sum up much of the series. From a Deck the Halls sing a long with Thing on the hand bell to Santa Fester stuck in the chimney, this family sticks together no matter what. While this episode also repeats many of The Addams Family staples – a child dilemma, each relative tries to solve it, hysterics ensue – Pugsley and Wednesday figure out the delightful Addams twist. After all, when Itt arrives as Santa, the jig is up. Of course, every silver lining has its cloud, and two weeks of blue skies and sunshine give everyone cabin fever in "Morticia and Gomez vs. Fester and Grandmama." Arguing over spoiling the kids with dynamite explodes into alligator wrestling and crocodile tears, leaving Lurch stuck in the middle of the dividing lines – literally. Fortunately, "The Great Treasure Hunt" reminds Gomez and Morticia that there's nothing more romantic than a dark, chill attic with a porch swing during a thunderstorm, and upon discovering Peg Leg Addams' sea chest and sextant, well, “My, wasn't he the naughty one!” Fester's game for adventure if money and rum are involved as the treasure map suggests, but captain of the family Gomez goes “aft to shiver me timbers.” The pirate put-ons are a lot of fun, but The Addamses debate sending their children to private school in "Addams Cum Laude" when their old principal rebuffs bringing dynamite to recess. Gomez drop $10,000 to skip the waiting list but ultimately buys the school to run it properly – with Fester as Dean of Demolition alongside Advanced Head Shrinking, Theoretical Taxidermy, Itt as School Speech Therapist, and Thing ringing the school bell. Seeing the family take over such a formal setting is wild, because what parents would object to their child learning Do It Yourself Dentistry?

The Addams Family does however have its fair share of inconsistencies, with Gomez writing Romeo and Juliet knockoffs and loving their great last three days and happy ending before being upset that they died in another episode. Spotty doctors, psychoanalysis, and relatives are referred to when their plots repeat, and incest jokes between Ophelia and Fester join Indian giver, Chinamen, and gypped talk. Gomez plays Samurai, Morticia sings random Japanese words, and broken Spanish misunderstandings hamper "Morticia's Dilemma." Likewise, casual suicide talk with reminders to leave a note may be inappropriate for young audiences alongside the hookah and screwdriver puns. While "Halloween, Addams Style" has everything from Cousin Cackle, a séance to call Aunt Singe, and a horse in the living room to bobbing for apples while perilous on a giant see saw, porcupine taffy, and bite size salamander sandwiches cut with the guillotine – repeat gags and regular folks taking over equal too many disappointments. Why do The Addamses need to prove there are such things as witches when both Morticia and Grandmama have had tricks up their sleeves? "Morticia the Sculptress" placed back to back with “Morticia the Writer” is also too repetitive, and there's no need to call Sam Picasso for a rerun of Grandmama's inspiration from last season nor give the fainting neighbors a Trading Spaces disaster in "Morticia the Decorator." "The Addams Policy" sees the living room bear Smokey go up in smoke – only to have another outside insurance scheme and the bear back in the next episode – and The Addams Family simply uses the same plots too many times. In some ways, it's amazing the show lasted as long as it did with this one trick writing, and I doubt the series would have lasted another season in color if it continued resorting to the same old same old. The production probably thought the episodes would never be seen again, but binge viewing makes such short sighted flaws much more obvious.

Even in black and white, Carolyn Jones' big blue eyes shine when she is dressed like a twenty-two year old Wednesday complete with a headless Marie Antoinette doll for the “Morticia's Romance” flashback. As a bridesmaid, Morticia gives her sister a bouquet of thorns, and she's still making paper dolls with two heads and three legs. She has several different black night gowns or black lace veils to match her black parasol and paints during thunderstorms – capturing lightning perfectly when it strikes her canvas. Morticia loves the Supreme Court and their black robes, for “Black is such a happy color,” and when Gomez first sees her with her hair down in her black wedding dress, she vows to never wear another so long as it keeps driving Gomez crazy. Morticia prefers fried eye of newt and barbecued turtle tips, and although she finds Poe exciting, she's terrible on the bagpipes. The Addamses play crochet together in the living room and Morticia does Gomez's dentistry drilling, and while it looks like they sleep in the same double bed, we never see them in it together at the same time. Morticia also uses her husband to play Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board but I don't think that's what he had in mind. Gomez is also put off with “Book now, bubele later” when Morticia seeks to rectify books that defamed giants, goblins, and witches in "Morticia the Writer." She takes the typewriter to the cave while dreaming of best sellers, but Gomez's fears of literary fame going to her head leave him sabotaging her demented work with daisies and meadows.

Speaking of daisies, Carolyn Jones does double duty on The Addams Family this season as her white wearing, blonde with daisies in her hair older sister Ophelia Frump. While the duel trickery is apparent today, Ophelia's absent mindness countering Morticia's crossed armed cool is great fun. I don't know why they didn't include Ophelia from the beginning, for she receives more attention in five episodes than the children do all season. Ophelia is super strong and roughs up Gomez with Judo, contrasting her delicate, aloof sprite appearance. She loves water fountains, dampness, quicksand, and the sink – Ophelia's supposedly a great cook but breaks dishes when she washes them – and although she sings in harmony, she's terrible on the fiddle and lyre. Those flowers grow directly on her head, but Ophelia hates nightshade and poison sumac. She claims to weed her hair from ten to eleven, however it's also said that Ophelia loves “weeds.” After she takes over their swing, Gomez says he didn't realize she was such a swinger, and Ophelia loves sliding up and down the fire pole while insisting that blondes really do have more fun. Her man needs to like a romp in the swamp or he is too maladjusted, but in "Ophelia Finds Romance" Morticia and Grandmama don't like her beau's button up style. Gomez thinks he's so perfect he must be phony and checks up on him while trying to fix her up with Cousin Itt. Unfortunately, Ophelia is still having love troubles in "Ophelia Visits Morticia" when a different fiance runs off with the Peace Corps – one of six to get away from her that year. Ophelia was ready with wilted lilies for the wedding but is left riding a golf cart around the yard instead. By The Addams Family's final episode "Ophelia's Career," she has traded her man troubles and potential old maid status for a career search. Will she use science for some new discovery or just conjure another man? The series repeatedly reuses her Judo flip action, but Gomez's reactions are delightful shade – “Have you tried offering them money?”

Fortunately, John Astin's Gomez loves doing death defying balancing acts or fencing with his wife, and it was Morticia who initially gave him the idea to crash his trains. He hangs upside down from the chandelier when he's depressed, and in the flashback Gomez wears short pants and a top hat, remaining a weak sniveling coward versus the muscular Ophelia – whom he hates and hides in a cave to avoid. Aristotle the Octopus was his pet, and Gomez's favorite person in history is Ivan the Terrible, a choice Morticia agrees was “sweet.” Gomez eats yummy cold yak, makes cocktails with henbane, carves pumpkins, and plays bad mitten inside when not composing terribly at the harpsichord. The father of two insists he gives the orders at home, but allows that nobody has to obey them. When sleepwalking in "Gomez the Cat Burglar," Fester says Gomez coming back with mud on his shoes is better than lipstick on his color, and the physical gags lead to some witty sleep escapades. Will snake charming or psychic control soothe Gomez or is yak stew to blame for his love of loot? Gomez uses Wizzo the family super computer to make himself a better scoundrel for political office in "Gomez, the People's Choice." Although not a bad episode in itself, the notion of a lark candidate running dirty mudslinging politics and saying whatever he pleases to gain the every man vote is a satire too close to home these days. It's not as funny a farce as it should be when Wizzo predicts impeachment, chaos, mismanagement, corruption, and bankruptcy. Luckily, Gomez has dozens of his one best suit and puts on his favorite “Deadwood No. 5” cologne – so what if he can't drive. The poor boy is also still being put off by Morticia no matter how much her je ne sais quoi stirs him. They don't kiss the entire season again, and Gomez is pushing for some action right up until the last episode of The Addams Family. He suggests they go to the playroom and play...hockey! (Where are the gifs of this?!) Ultimately, Gomez does wonder where he would be without Morticia's hand on the tiller of the good ship Addams. Wink.

Fester is specifically stated as Morticia's uncle this season – he's the one who shot the arrow that brought her parents together! He breaks the fourth wall and goes back up the fire pole as a shortcut to his bedroom full of mad scientist experiments that Fester calls his “chemistry set.” He also thinks one handsome devil in the family – himself with blonde hair – is more than enough, and a midnight picnic in the swamp with moonbathing after is his favorite outing. Fester wears a mini hourglass watch, waxes his head, walks on hot coals, motorcycles through the house, and remains trigger happy as ever whether he's relaxing on a bed of nails or steaming in an Egyptian sarcophagus. He takes a correspondence course in brain surgery, too, practicing with a hammer and chisel alongside several antics and witty one liners so zany they have to be told rather than seen. Fester likes to keep an open mind, so good thing you can see in one of his ears and out the other. When not being sneaky or underhanded, he's really a lovable softy, even writing to the bearded lady in "Uncle Fester, Tycoon." Fester replies to her autographed picture with a marriage proposal – leaving Morticia to don a bearded mama disguise to convince him otherwise. After all, he doesn't even have a nickel for the postage! The unworthiness inspires him to take a business course instead, providing Jackie Coogan with some great speeches on mergers and success. Though similar to pen pal plots from last season, Fester also gets fit in "Fester Goes on a Diet" with some wacky television exercise programs, personal trainers, and one of those vibrating belts to match his flickering light bulb.

Dear Lurch has been serving The Addamses since Gomez was a boy, nursing him but wearing ear plugs when Gomez plays the harpsichord. Lurch dislikes duets with Ophelia and prefers going to the movies with Thing. Unfortunately, The Addams Family doesn't give him a spotlight until nearer the end of the season. The family realizes that between milking the octopus, brushing the alligator, filling the pillows with cement, and filing the beds of nails there's too much for him to do in "Lurch's Little Helper." Gomez, Fester, and Pugsley build a custom second butler straight out of Lost in Space, and initially Lurch likes being head butler and the robot calling him sir. He rings for Assistant Smiley to do any of his menial tasks – giving himself time to put his feet up or wear a top hat to take an afternoon constitutional. Soon, however, Lurch objects to the machine doing better work, fearing for his job even though The Addamses recognize Smiley doesn't have that special morose Lurch touch. This is another pleasing little episode that keeps The Addams Family at home with everyone involved. Likewise, the second to last episode "Lurch's Grand Romance" has Lurch crushing on Morticia's visiting school friend Trivia – who's no relation to any of the named dropped Addamses called Trivia and different from the similar Cousin Melancholia matchmaking from Season One. Lurch finds her flapper style and showbiz hopes beautiful, and though Trivia finds him and his infatuation cute, there's no time for love on the path to stardom. Can Lurch change her mind? Ted Cassidy's nervousness and stumbling stature contrast her speedy hyper pep, and from Fester's dainty handkerchief dropping rehearsals to Wednesday teaching Lurch The Droop, the entire clan helps in the courting. I don't know that Lurch is my favorite, but his spotlights are some of The Addams Family's best, and it would have been fun to see Lurch and Trivia as a regular on/off couple in their opposite escapades.

Blossom Rock's Grandmama is called Esther by the Frumps, and the old gal pulls out her own tooth for a bubbling cauldron ingredient. Unfortunately, she's hardly present this season with no dedicated half-hour – Grandmama is more often said to be in the cellar wrestling alligators for her own selfish pleasure when not shooting the yak for the yak stew or making salamander puffs too rich for Lurch. She hides in a suit of armor when Morticia is trying her hand at the bull whip but can call the hoodwink via her crystal ball when she sees it. Grandmama may go off vacationing on Devil's Island, but she won't have anyone in the house who calls the black curtains ghastly, as any such guest isn't a true Addams. While the more zany family mentions like two headed Cousin Crimp are too ridiculous to have appeared, The Addams Family ups the familial mayhem with Margaret Hamilton (The Wizard of Oz) as Grandma Franny Frump, Grandmama's old friend from Swamptown High. She dresses very Victorian rigid and old fashioned to match her clipped manner, but Morticia insists her mother is pretty on the inside despite her harsh exterior in "Happy Birthday, Grandma Frump." She wants to give her a beauty makeover for her birthday, but Granny Frump thinks everyone else looks worse for the wear. Fortunately, she does approve of the children playing Chinese water torture, for its a nice, clean game. The Addams Family often wastes too much time on derivative tropes when this episode is the perfect example of how to have a delightful guest and keep it all quirky kin. Hamilton has some great moments with the kids, leading to birthday secrets revealed and mistaken surprises. Granny Frump suspects Gomez is planning to put her away rather than an all expenses paid trip to a beauty farm, and more wonderful scenes follow as she and Fester plot revenge. I wish we could have seen her more – or that this kind of zest was used for Grandmama Addams and a rivalry between them.

Lisa Loring and Ken Weatherwax both seem to have had bittersweet lives after The Addams Family, and Wednesday and Pugsley also take a backseat this season, alternating appearances or being silent together in group scenes. School plots that begin with them often turn into something else, and if Cousin Itt was to be featured more, maybe they should have written the children off as staying with odd relatives. However, they do look just adorable in little matching stocking cap pajamas, and their favorite bedtime story is Murders in the Rue Morgue. At different times, The Addamses try to cheer up both kids with toys, but the macabre children know how to say please and thank you and agree to give items away when they get extra for Christmas. Though initially in favor of their guillotine, the brief governess Thudd turns out to be not “their kind of people,” a fraud with apples and sugar plums in her bag. Wednesday is disappointed that history class never tells them how many heads were lost in the French Revolution and prefers a bowl of sea slug for desert. Her poem says “a spider is a girl's best friend,” and the way she teaches square Lurch how to be a groovy swinger is hysterical. "Feud in the Addams Family" becomes more about snobby neighbors and those “One-D” Adamses objecting to Gomez, but there are some wonderful Wednesday scenes as everyone tells her how to woe the boys – with a dress from her mother, dancing lessons from dad, a gun from Fester, and hair tips from Grandmama. While Pugsley spends time with his chemistry set i.e. dynamite, his crush on his teacher in "Gomez the Reluctant Lover" is full of adult misunderstandings instead. Gomez and Morticia get Pugsley a jackhammer as a toy – but Gomez thinks its for body building, Morticia finds its marvelous, and it leaves them both shaking and stuttering with wild innuendo. Fortunately, Pugsley wants to work for his money in "Pugsley's Allowance," leaving the ten-year-old's parents to think he's fallen in with the wrong crowd when $200 a week (!!) apparently won't do. Gomez offers to make his business Addams and Son, but he can't explain to Pugsley what they would actually do.

Thankfully, the handy Thing has been Gomez's friend since childhood and is always ready with a hanky. While others find it too peculiar, Morticia calls Thing a charming helper, and it gets lovesick without Lady Finger after the decrepit, stealing hand Esmeralda replaces her. It seems there are a lot of hand servants, who knew? Thing signs for packages and never misses a phone call, but the zebra burger eating strangler plant Cleopatra is seen less often. Homer the spider and Aristotle the octopus are briefly mentioned, but there's less focus on goofy pets save for "Cat Addams," when The Addamses suggests a mail order lion for the feeling down Kitty Cat before planning a safari to take him wife shopping. The Africa talk, spears, and faux village scenes are stereotypical, but the big cat stock footage makes good for an entire episode. Either it was genius to do such a feature late in the season or at that point, The Addams Family was totally bereft of ideas. Luckily, Cousin Itt sweeps up the slack when not setting his hair in curlers and sitting under the car hood to dry. He shrinks briefly when Fester leaves him in the dryer, and though he's thicker than blood or water, Itt is free as a tumbleweed and looks like one, too. Itt wants the lead in Romeo and Juliet in the "My Fair Cousin Itt" season premiere, but he must work on his super fast speech for regular folk to understand him – resulting in some bemusingly deep vocals. Itt gets a Hollywood attitude, but a threat to cut his hair and casting calls to star as a hairy beast in a sci-fi flick fix that. His big shaggy dog sleeps on Itt's little bed in "Cousin Itt's Problem," and all the adults cram into his tiny attic room with Fester's bald cure when Itt starts losing his hair. Where exactly do you put the thermometer to take his temperature? Gomez wonders what he is under that hair, and Itt answers, “roots.”

Year Two's credits are the same save for a new featuring card for Jackie Coogan, and that sliding poll in the living room makes use of speedy moves and reverse footage. The double trickery with Morticia and Ophelia onscreen together is easy to spot save for one split screen scene stealer, and this series makes the most of that repeat train action. The cave has an echo with an on/off switch, and whimsical incidental music accompanies an education record on the phonograph. There's more furniture, too – great settees and a park bench with a lamp post where Itt sits by the fireplace. There's also a trampoline indoors, which Lurch says “has its ups and downs” Ba dum tish! The Addams Family is available on DVD in volume sets or as a complete series as well as streaming options, however the 1977 reunion special Halloween with the New Addams Family is currently available on Hulu only. The regulars return for this seventy-four minute color TV special – a potential new series pilot – but the house is seventies Gothic cheap with red hotel velvet. Cleopatra is also bigger, however the plastic greenery is obvious, and remaining black and white would have helped this tremendously. Everyone has their moment with naughty puns, black umbrella gifts, and prayers for clouds alongside Lady Fingers, Ophelia, musician Wednesday, and witch doctor Pugsley. Unfortunately, the new Grandmama and Mother Frump are played too hammy over cauldrons and cleavers, and odd outdoor daylight, unnecessary family members, and crooks in drag waste too much time on outside messes when all we really want to see is that Addams zing in color. It's even the same lion! From bodybuilders in tiny speedos to a weird sing a long and the Saturday Morning Special flat feeling, this forgettable novelty is for The Addams Family completist alone.

With sixty-four shows overall, The Addams Family has a lot of episodes for its short Two Seasons. The repeat plotting and standard sitcom same old can be tiring at times, however the winking subtext, quirky characters, and standout episodes remain a fun marathon for the whole macabre family any time of year. This clan embraces their ghastly charm, and we can too with The Addams Family


16 January 2017

British Girl Power!

Girl Power: British Edition!
by Kristin Battestella

Be it Edwardian dames duking out the right to vote, post-war Liverpool ladies looking for love in all the wrong places, or wig wearing twenty-first century women barristers seeking justice in a man's world, these gals from across the pond make heaps of girl power in this trio of short-lived serials. 


Lilies– There are some stumbling blocks to start this lone 8 hour 2007 season – one being a reaching title when these three sisters with a shell shocked brother and deadbeat dad feels more like Shameless: Liverpool 1920. The attention on each daughter is uneven and crowded with fast moving Olympic swimming trials, courtships, and weddings resolved in one episode. Suicide attempts and talk of their late mother are also dropped or recalled as needed, and early jazz style music is too lighthearted to play over the serious scenes, breaking the drama with whimsical moments desperate to needlessly tie every story to the family pianola. The comical tunes even play over a sequence where a woman is drugged and stripped by a photographer! The pace may have been better with both parents deceased, as there's not enough time for the kitchen dilemmas, saucy servants romancing the boss, feisty corset selling, and wartime wounds to be as shocking as they should be. Fortunately, religious rifts and townsfolk help or hindrance balance the interwoven plots better by Episode Three, with cowardly white feathers, women at work, xenophobia, illegitimacy, and convents tugging and pulling the family in different directions. The typically ill fated homosexual plotline may be slightly mishandled, but the forbidden romance, stigmas, and war fallout are dealt with more honestly and refreshingly than the usual same sex shock values. Modern topics such as postpardum depression and the priesthood are addressed in drama and scandals without being melodramatic and scandalous. This is a unique setting, and the impact of the time and place on the tales is steeped with charm and atmosphere, holding the audience further alongside the decent storytelling that at least deserved another season. By the penultimate hour, love and spiritual conflicts, new relationships, and paternal growth contrast the colliding violence and family rows as old ideals and new attitudes clash. The eponymous girls must face serious quandaries on their own – they don't make do without difficulty, but we want to see them come through it all. Secondary love interests leave enough hopeful potential while the finale drops the musical extras to spend serious time with the core characters in a pleasing little conclusion.

Silk – Maxine Peake (Shameless) is on form as a not so put together but likable gung ho in the courtroom barrister seeking her titular QC alongside the mixing business with pleasure Rupert Penry-Jones (MI-5), and wheeling and dealing chambers clerk Neil Stuke (Game On). Trading solicitor business over breakfast drinks, shady funds, and backdoor favors make for dirty good drama, and with his stable of directors in two episode blocks, series writer Peter Moffat (North Square) tackles juicy topics such as office dalliances, hierarchy subterfuge, and chambers rivalries amid taboo cases on elder abuse, teacher/student relations, racism, sexism, women's rights, religion, child prostitution, assisted suicide, harassment, and terrorism. Of course, unaware Americans will be very confused at the English legalese thanks to different solicitor roles or lawyer responsibilities and least of all, the robes and wigs. Who knew cruising in the bathroom was really cottaging in the urinal? Though perhaps derivative of other UK courtroom dramas, nothing stateside comparable comes to mind. The pregnancy storyline may be trite, but backroom meetings, corruptions, and conflicts of interest tip the scales on any protocol or formalities. Literal and figurative getting in bed with the right or wrong people make or break careers, and familiar UK TV faces pepper the ensemble with tug and pull gravitas including Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones), Miranda Raison (Spotless), Nina Sosanya (Marcella), Alex Jennings (The Crown), Phil Davis (Whitechapel), Indira Varma (Luther), and Frances Barber (Doctor Who). It's also wonderful to see female directors, casting on par between men and women, and edgy adult conflicts rather than the same young, pretty people focus. Overstepping boundaries schemes and power hungry underhandedness also take a humble as personal issues and heath discomforts change dynamics. While at times heavy handed – every speech every person makes carries a serious, slow zoom with big sighs and deep emotions – casual humor alleviates the drama. Inconsistent threads and dropped characters also come and go in the first two seasons, and Series Three strays with more character tangents, rival clerks, and head of chambers contests. It's all fine drama, just odd to expand while building toward a round about two-part finale. These downfalling characters have been spiraling out of control for some time, leaving an unusual but fitting changing of the guard exit that continues the viewer conversation long after the show ends. The heavy hitting may be lessened on a re-watch, but these eighteen episodes remains short, easy to binge quality over quantity. Now if only “clerking” wasn't pronounced “clarking” I'd be okay.

Up the Women – Who says a period piece has to be drama based on a book? This thirty minute 2013 suffragette sitcom from writer/star Jessica Hynes (Spaced) co-starring Rebecca Front (Inspector Lewis) has all the button up fashions, big hats, and turn of the century accessories for the Edwardian decorum – and the self-aware at odds humor and simple stage setting have fun with the fast talking witty women and stammering men who can't screw in a newfangled light bulb. The laugh track isn't necessary, however the subtitles help with the numerous puns and one should appreciate British humor – complete with teeth jokes and cheese riffs– to enjoy the cheeky here. From a mother with fifteen kids and more on the way, the dirty old lady, an ugly spinster, the rebellious daughter, our progressive wannabe suffragette, and a snotty woman in charge more concerned with quorums, motions, and minutes at a sewing circle, each woman uses modern sensibilities to challenge a female stereotype without being anachronistic. What do women do when they get together? Complain about kids, joke on men, gossip, buy store bought and say it was homemade. What anarchy! The sassy, well written dialogue packs a lot of illusion and references amid the revolution hyperbole, and the historical uprising remains a timely comment today. While the period trappings keep the vagina euphemisms classy, men explain simple things to women as overly complicated and sight gags like disastrous oversize picket signs accent the protests at a closed post office, jam sales sold to each other, and the hunger strike that can't be done on an empty stomach. Rival movements, women in sports with equipment laughs, and men with feminine names illume the serious focus behind this satire written and directed by women – everyone speaks properly with polite, superfluous words while denying women the right to vote and they are congratulated for the ability to speak well enough to fool the listener on what's really being said. Why does a woman need to be painted and dressed up like a mannequin to not move or shock everyone by wearing her hair down instead of in a bun? Serious questions about the gloves on hierarchy, force of government, and women consenting to farcical leadership pepper the catty women versus sisterhood humor. These six episodes have enough room for interwoven stories and social plots but move fast and don't overstay their welcome. The pip pip cheerio may be over the top at times with a wordiness or flummoxed for the sake of it, however that matches the earnest intentions and spiked tea that never turn out quite right. This isn't laugh out loud commentary, but the chuckling wit is the perfect size for a weekend marathon and remains worth a look.

13 January 2017

Top Ten: Dracula!


Welcome to our new Top Tens series in celebration of I Think, Therefore I Review's Tenth Anniversary! These monthly lists will highlight special themes and topics from our extensive archive of reviews.

This time I Think, Therefore I Review presents in chronological order...

Our Top Ten Dracula Appearances!


Enjoy our vampire label or Horror page for even more!

I Think, Therefore I Review began as the blog home for previously published reviews and reprinted critiques by horror author Kristin Battestella. Naturally older articles linked here may be out of date and codes or formatting may be broken. Please excuse any errors and remember our Top Tens will generally only include films, shows, books, or music previously reviewed at I Think, Therefore I Review


09 January 2017

Quirky Documentary Subjects

Quirky Documentary Subjects
by Kristin Battestella

From drive-ins, Star Wars, and Halloween to Steampunk and vampires – these unique documentaries offer an eclectic niche of fun, alternative insights.

Going Attractions: The Definitive Story of the American Drive-In Movie – This 2013 hour and a half recalls the 5,000 strong fifties peak of the drive-in experience with nostalgic cartoons, vintage advertising, and old newsreels alongside producer Roger Corman, cinema historians, and theater owners recalling the glory days of neon lights, giant outdoor screens, and twenty five cent admission – not that folks didn't cheat on tickets by hiding in the trunk! Suburban expansion and cheap land or available open spaces made the post-war culture ripe for this kind of family movie going with kids in pajamas piled in the back of the station wagon. The double feature experience included playgrounds and concessions while schlock B pictures for necking teens helped the emerging independent film scene – low budget second rate films to fill these second rate theater showings. From simple wood construction and concrete or metal screens to speaker boxes hanging on the window, the rush to change film reels, and flammable projectors, technology wasn't always the drive-in's friend. The sixties loss of innocence and new X ratings led to a decline in the family-oriented as sex and violence onscreen led to a seedy, urban, and downtrodden reputation in the seventies. Everything from now banned DDT insecticide, Daylight Savings Time, and tornado or hurricane damage jeopardized drive-ins, and color television competition, gas shortages, smaller cars without bucket seats, and VCR popularity led to closures in the eighties. Before and after photos show dilapidated signs and abandoned marquees while prime real estate locations became shopping malls, and its quite intriguing to see our cultural changes paralleled with the rise and fall of the drive-in movies. Although there are sad moments and small preservation efforts – the drive-in in my hometown is one of less than 400 existing today – this well paced chronological flow does what it says in recalling the history as well as making one wonder why this private evening out in the comfort of your own vehicle ever fell out of mainstream favor. New repurposes as flea market spaces and church revivals keep the memories in our collective consciousness, and this pleasant retrospective is perfect for sentimental baby boomers or instantly streaming kids who can't fully comprehend this kind of cinema experience.

Plastic Galaxy: The Story of Star Wars Toys – As a former everything Star Wars enthusiast, this 2014 documentary is full of must see retro commercials, toy display tours, expert authors, long time collectors, and Kenner toy designers discussing the sentimental value, big business collecting, and industry changing staying power of Star Wars toys. The history of Kenner and the timing of the original Star Wars films combined for franchising that made room for imaginative play and interconnectivity in an era when you couldn't watch the movies on repeat but you could play with your toys. Such merchandising and licensing boons led to a hitherto unseen supply and demand of toy anticipation and specific timetables with their fair share of inevitable gaffs such as the infamous Boba Fett mail in offer, the Snaggletooth variant figures, unauthorized foreign releases, and empty box Early Bird Certificates. Difficulties with sounds, electronic parts, or unsafe moving pieces, however, inspired innovate thinking, and some goofy toy designs that didn't work are featured alongside rare prototypes, artwork, and detailed specifications from the film departments – not to mention the trouble in making lightsaber toys! While it's tough to fathom a time when merchandising wasn't part of a famous franchise, collect 'em all chase marketing and every tie-in imaginable kept pace with the blockbuster box office evolution, birthing today's Tickle Me Elmo fanaticism. Aging audiences and less Star Wars media after the Original Trilogy created a brief lull in merchandise and some revival misfires before the Special Editions, but the Prequels reinvigorated the vintage pursuit for parents and the next generation. Collecting Star Wars toys is both a nostalgic rekindling of childhood memories and an expensive collectible hobby made of pristine oddities and mint rarities, and this hour plus is a smorgasbord of unique treats and drippy humor recalling ye olde Star Wars playtime. I myself am guilty of building cheap versions of sets I didn't have, coordinating my play along with the Star Wars soundtrack cassettes, and not letting my nieces play with my AT-AT filled with loose storm troopers. Don't judge me. While this topic may be too nerdy and overly detailed to the layman or non-fan, it's interesting to see how one specific franchise gave rise to the now standard merchandising, marketing, and massive obsessions for, well, everything. Adults who were kids during Star Wars' infancy and parents who have fought over toys at Christmas will have a good time here. I want a room to display all my Star Wars stuff!

Vintages Tomorrows – This hour plus 2015 documentary details the fantasy, sub culture, and revisionist creativity of the anachronistic steampunk movement via interviews with authors, bloggers, craftsmen, and musicians. Convention panels and roundtable conversations help define this alternative Victorian history – a broad variety of retro futurism across art, fashion, literature, music, and all demographics. Discussions on the eighties steampunk emergence from cyberpunk, the anger of past underground styles, and the inclusiveness of counter culture movements are done without judgment. Maybe some are perceived as weird or extreme and live everyday life within their alternate personas or gadgetry, but the recent coming together of like minds at conventions and with social media encourages progressive ideals, new technology, and fresh reflections on the past rather than today's stagnant monotony. From early zines to current cosplay fashions and a mixing of retro pin up, Gothic, and Victorian flair; these hodgepodge ideas are broken down in chapters describing the steampunk aesthetics – spectacles, goggles, corsets – anchoring the notion of self expression through form and function. Introverts can express themselves in unique ways or a return to a previous modesty where making the clothes fit you rather than conforming to skimpy off the rack measures. At times the intercut talking heads editing can be too speedy or confusing, interfering with interesting people and whimsical visuals that can speak for themselves. This made by and for steampunk practitioners view may not be as objective on the pros and cons, either. However, several segments do discuss that steampunk is not a recreation of the past Victorian intolerance and oppression but a reclaiming of the positive without historic offenses – a chance to rectify past wrongs and embrace all communities. Catch-22 debates on top hats from Hot Topic fads overtaking the creative philosophies and reinvented craftsmanship are self aware alongside the irony of instant technology and social media bringing together a community that rebuffs virtual pretense in favor of do it yourself mastery and the hopeful ideology that science fiction can still become science fact instead of just post-apocalyptic gloom. For those embracing steampunk, it's an open minded rebellion in search of something better than contemporary convenience or complacency, so sit back and enjoy the unique whimsy here.

Tough Call

Halloween: Feast of the Dying Sun – This recent documentary hour intends to set the holiday straight with the Celtic origins of season, adding sunsets, cemeteries, Samhain bonfires, and end of the harvest celebrations to the spooky voiceover for heaps of atmosphere. From Scottish identity guessing games and the belief that the dead visit the living to trick or treating as beggars pleading door to door and souling for small cakes, tales of how our Halloween customs came together are detailed with banshees, hidden fairy lands, and ghost sightings. It's great to see Druid practices, pre-Tolkien fantasy ideals, and Victorian fairy beliefs rooted in daily culture rather than Halloween as we know it as October 31 and done. Brief reenactments add creepy alongside authoritative, folklorist interviews, but the campfire storytelling narrative is often too abstract, meandering from one spooky specter to another with only vague, basic minutes on Celtic arrivals in Britain, early sacrificial offerings, standing stones, and ancient sites. The facts jump from 4,000 year old yew trees to otherworldly portals and fairies capturing mortals for liberating dance rituals – crowding intriguing details on the special power of nine or magic number three and church absorption of pagan practices. The generic Celtic talk drifts away from Samhain specifically, as if today's generation needs hand holding explanations on witch hunts, the origins of bobbing for apples, and the medieval transition toward All Hallow's Eve and All Saints Day. The rough timeline tosses in New World changes, Victorian gothic literature, and horror cinema fodder as we both laud Halloween with parades and an American commercial revival yet continue to misconstrue witchcraft and occult hallmarks of the season. This can be spooky fun for folks who don't know a lot about the history of Halloween, however it will be too swift and superficial for expert viewers. It's easy to zone out thanks to the random storytelling style, and the intended pagan history would be better served with a longer or specific, multipart documentary. Except for some wanton fairy queen sexy talk, as is this is neat for a teen sleepover or party background where rather than attempted academic, the tall tales can be casual fun.

Skip It!

Nightfall: 100 Years of Vampire Films – The dry, redundant, trying to be cool narration of this 2010 hour opens with Twilight mania and vampire parodies before going back to historical inspirations and Stoker's 1897 Dracula bar. The fast moving flair spends only a minute or two on each subject, and skips other literary vampire sources in favor of continually repeating the vampire hype without actually presenting any. Hokey splices with vampire re-enactors compromise fine stills, artwork, and film clips while only one or two unintroduced interviewees briefly appear. Silent staples, The Vampyre, and pre-Hayes Code seductions get pushed aside for some kind of contemporary trailer as if they were using this documentary purely to promote somebody's new vampire film, and sidetracking statistics on how there are so many vampire books and movies actually omit more content than they present. Nosferatu and Bela Lugosi leap to quick sixties sexual mentions before going back to the Universal sequels and straying into irrelevant science fiction. All this documentary had to do was tell the facts in order, but Mexican horror like El Vampiro, the advent of fangs onscreen, and Hammer color fall prey to a mocking tone with more time spent on cheesy titles like Dracula: The Dirty Old Man and Disco Dracula. Vampires in television are never given a glance, and major films of the sixties and seventies like Blacula, The Vampire Lovers, and most of the Hammer series are blatantly ignored, leaving an erroneous, glossed over representation more akin to a padded school report. It's almost angering that My Son, The Vampire is mentioned over Anne Rice – the eighties and nineties are completely absent as if there were no such thing as Near Dark, The Lost Boys, or even Once Bitten and My Best Friend is a Vampire. Wikipedia is cited as the first source in the credits, and the trying to be hip stance that vampire films were in the dirt until recent millennial popularity really feels like it should be the other way around. This is clearly meant for younger audiences new to the vampire genre, but the poor presentation is terribly frustrating for well versed vampire fans.