21 November 2017

Top Ten: Family Shows!

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 Family Friendly Shows!

Please see our Kid Friendly and Fantasy tags for more or browse our Television page further analysis! 

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 Naturally older articles linked here may be out of date and codes or formatting may be broken.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.

20 November 2017

British "War" Miniseries

British “War” Miniseries
by Kristin Battestella

These relatively recent but limited edition British originals, revivals, and adaptations provide succinct yet no less heavy contemporary gang wars, World War II legacies, and interwar turmoils.

Archangel – Professor 007 Daniel Craig is tracing lost Stalin documents in this three part 2005 adaptation opening with 1953 deathbeds, period patinas, and choice reds before modern day Moscow presentations and protests. The culture contrasts are immediately apparent with western intellectual hobnobbing, conversations in both English and Russian, and elder comrades living in the past with their communist nostalgia while the young don't need lectures on their own history. The past, however, feels very present with card catalogs, records, big computers, and buried tool boxes that may hold million dollar evidence – sending our scholar digging where perhaps he shouldn't. This looks its age yet seems older, fittingly behind the times of a society at a crossroads. Increasing snow, desolate highways, and hidden tunnels add to the pursuits on the street, tailing cars, mobs at the payphone, tangles with the police, and bodies in the bathtub. Shadowy KGB remnants and FSB intelligence join the pesky reporter and cutthroat academics while the sad, regular folks ruined by the old regime just want the past to stay dead as outsiders throw the monsters back at them for a scoop. Touches of humor and charm alleviate the official Soviet seals, more behind closed doors flashbacks, and titular travels amid talk of radiation check ins and nuclear leaks as the race leads to a brisk wilderness and secret forest compounds. Of course, no one really bundles up for the weather and brief scenes away from Craig are less interesting, for his academia comes in handy at dusty libraries and his preachy British point of view creates relevant sociopolitical debates as he himself changes from seeking glory to protecting information. Was the past pride better than the so called free market organized crime and rich oligarchy today? Is this an elaborate set up with hopes of a return to Soviet form? Stubborn old believers still send in their party donations – leading to messianic pride, urban chases, and snowy shootouts. A desperate people will believe what they want to hear, but tender moments, animal traps, and cold river escapes from the embodiment of the old regime keep the plot personal amid an international what if. While there are too many comings and goings up and down staircases, there's also a Hitchcockian thriller tone with trains, a happenstance everyman. And a tough dame caught up in all the intrigue. However, the ending here is unfortunately very rushed – the building of the case is longer than the resolution and the abrupt finale doesn't resolve what happens next either personally or globally. Fortunately, the shocking conclusion sparks plenty of debate, and this is an interesting series to revisit amid our current political climate.

The Fear – Although the older smartphones and technology uses are a little dated, vendetta damaged hotels covered in ghostly construction plastic and burned out art galleries match The Who ringtones as illness sours patriarch Peter Mullan's (Top of the Lake) criminal enterprise in this 2012 quartet. The seaside rides, Brighton Pier restoration plans, and windswept surf should be fun, but the bleak nighttime waves, empty boardwalks, and gang controlled clubs create a shady mood. Sons, drug deals, foreign hookers, drinking, and blackouts interfere with the lavish, almost respectable lifestyle, and unexplained injuries lead to burning bodies on the beach and wondering what the rotary club would think if they knew. This is Richie's town – such a proud man, strong father, and tough crime lord cannot show weakness. Unfortunately, new enemies won't wait on big business mergers, and one reckless son ditching family for the perks of European connections escalates to gory payback. When pitiful slip ups force the old man to tell the cops he doesn't know or has no memory of an assault, he's not lying and truly can't recall. He hesitates with cover up responses, talking himself up and reminding his sons he doesn't answer to them. A brief narration sounds meta crazy – waxing on dementia versus normality, knowing you're losing it yet not admitting it. Distorted bookends and visual disconnects reflect the couple on opposite sides of the upscale foyer with up close camera frames and out of focus tracking shots. Former friends now doctors make for disagreeable trips down memory lane, but the gang competition is going poorly and so is golfing with the mayor. The local authorities aren't exactly thrilled with this turf war! Sensible son Harry Lloyd (Game of Thrones) tries to clean up the mess and act as the go between for his strained parents, realizing his dad has had his day. Sadly, he can't talk his way out of this battle and pays dearly, letting the trauma fester without saying anything. I can't stop thinking about that nasty humiliation scene, and though he pops up in a lot of smaller roles, Lloyd really should be a leading man more. Anastasia Hille (The Missing) is also impressive in the difficult position as Richie's wife, the only person who can help her ill husband but has been through too much already. Who isn't handling the bads or doesn't have a mental problem denials create helpless moments of compassion. How can one make real estate negotiations when he can't remember what's past or present? Memories and reality blur together as guilt contributes to the mental deterioration. Losing one's grip on reality is bad enough without an idiot son thinking he can rent guns and return them after the crime's done, and oi, don't put the severed head on the counter top it goes in the freezer next to the bag of peas! Pieces of agreements are being done without others, but you can't deal with drug lords when you have a doctor's appointment. Who's going to roll over into this deeper and deeper hole next? Shootouts spiral out of control, and police are afoot thanks to uncovered graves and get out of Dodge warnings. Rival fathers and sons each pay for their sins in an unspoken religious vein and abstract what ifs. Who's incompetent fault is this and if Richie wasn't ill would he be able to assure his legacy? Some may find the crook's downfall themes tame, but this performance driven rather than shock of the week parable isn't meant for the in your face action eighteen to thirty-four audience. If you're expecting wham bam you won't find it in this mature reflection. This is uncomfortable to watch and not for everyone because it is so realistically depressing. There may not be a lot of repeat value as the story is at times thin, and nasty though they are, the Eastern European villains are nondescript thugs with slurs to match. Despite several nominations, this deserved more awards and audience recognition – how did this take five years to garner stateside streaming? Fortunately, Mullan is delightful as this gruff but bittersweet crime lord losing his mind, and the superb family drama peaks with a lovely finale.

A Tough Call

Upstairs Downstairs – This 2010 revival created by Heidi Thomas (Call the Midwife) starts promisingly as a new family at 165 Eaton Place brushes shoulders with royalty and fascism in its First three part series. Our house goes from shuttered and abandoned to colorful and hiring new staff with Jean Marsh as returning housekeeper Rose Buck. Initially time moves fast, with mirror glances of a growing pregnancy indicating months passed and announcements on the death of one king and the abdication of another perfectly encapsulating everything in between. Empirical wrongs, loyal secretaries, and upper class eccentricities are acknowledged alongside budding Nazism, local protests, a fleeing Jewish maid, and a mute orphan – scandals the warmhearted and charming but slightly inefficient household can't always handle but braves nonetheless. Who’s in charge anyway? Is it wife Keeley Hawes (MI-5), her diplomat husband Ed Stoppard (Home Fires), or his dowager mother Dame Eileen Atkins (Cranford)? Above and below both gather around the radio or trim the Christmas tree together, aiding in problems big or small. So what if it's sir and madam or mister and miss; the biggest secret one can reveal is sharing one's given Christian name! Audiences don't need to know the Original seventies series inside out to marathon this Initial leg. However, the six hour 2012 Second season handles cast departures while introducing rogue aunt Alex Kingston (Doctor Who) amid 1938 broadcasts, gas masks, air raid drills, and sandbags on the door step. The bleak preparations recall the hefty prices already paid in The Great War, with opinions past and present dividing the house top to bottom. Characters below grow and change, doing their part in the face of war with well done period lesbian affairs and scandalous novels upstairs. Diplomacy both foreign and domestic is failing as famous jazz, flavorful nightclubs, servant balls, picture shows, and glamorous frocks have their last hurrah. We’ve had conflicts and live in hotbed times, but today's generation perhaps can't fully comprehend how those reluctantly bracing for II were not so far removed from I. Sadly, unnecessary abortion subplots and young JFK mingling hamper the intriguing high and low family versus employer loyalty. Duke of Kent Blake Ritson (Da Vinci's Demons) and Stoppard's Hallam look and behave too Talented Mr. Ripley latent, and the palace hobnobbing wastes time as the upheavals progress toward war. Superfluous bad sister Claire Foy's (The Crown) torrid is especially uneven amid more important conscription and war training, and the series is best when focusing on rescuing Jewish children, visa technicalities, and whether Britain will isolate itself from the refugees and turmoil in Europe – topics unfortunately relevant again. Who has time to worry about what society thinks of lame affairs and forced marital rifts in times like this? Classism snobbery runs the increasingly undermined leads into the ground, as our man of the house diplomat is so stiff upper lip worried about their reputation – yet its his ineffectual politics and can't keep it together at home embarrassing his address most. He's going to have to man up and answer his own door, O.M.G! Year Two should have been another three episode war imminent arc, for the soap opera shoehorning backs the quality drama into a contrived corner with nowhere left to go. Pity.

15 November 2017

Gothic Ladies and Ghostly Thrillers

Gothic Ladies and Ghostly Chillers
by Kristin Battestella

Though some are better than others are, these retro monsters, avante garde witches, and not so nice ghosts provide for some unusual humor, bleak atmosphere, and gothic allure – all with a decidedly feminine touch. 

The Love Witch – Artist, witch, and murderess Samantha Robinson's (Doomsday Device) romantic spells go awry in this 2016 comedy written and directed by costumer/producer/Jill of all trades Anna Biller (Viva). Rear projection drives and teal eye shadow establish the tongue in cheek aesthetics while cigarette smoke, colorful lighting schemes, purple capes, and nude rituals accent flashbacks and sardonic narrations. Magic has cured our dame Elaine's nervous breakdown after her husband's death, and she's starting fresh in a quirky tarot themed apartment inside a sweet California Victorian complete with a bemusing chemistry set for making potions with used tampons. Kaleidoscopes, rainbow liners inside dark retro clothing, blurred lenses, and spinning cameras reflect the “vodka and hallucinogenic herbs” as magic bottles, local apothecaries, and pentagram rugs set off the pink hat and tea room pastiche. Our ladies are so cordial when not plotting to steal the other's husband! Her dad was cruel, her husband had an attitude, and her magic guru is in it for the sex, but she's spent her life doing everything to please men in a quest for her own fairy tale love. When is Elaine going to get what she wants? She's tired of letting the childlike men think they are in control, but she puts on the fantasy each man wants nonetheless, impressing a literary professor with her libertine references as the to the camera elocution and intentionally over the top Valley acting mirrors the courting facade. Psychedelic stripteases tantalize the boys onscreen, but the actresses are not exploited, winking at the customary for male titillation while instead providing the viewer with a sinister, if witty nature and classic horror visuals. Different female roles as defined by their patriarchal connections are addressed as ugly old eager dudes tell matching blonde twins that stripping or a rapacious sex ritual will be empowering – because a woman can't be content in herself or embrace sexuality on her own terms unless there is a man to ogle her – while our man eater must break a guy down to the emotional baby he really is for her gain. It isn't Elaine's fault if men can't handle her love! A man not in love can be objective while one wanting sex will excuse anything, and the shrew wife or female black subordinate are put out to pasture for an alluring white woman – layering the women in the workplace and racial commentaries as similar looking ladies must switch roles to keep their man. Tense evidence creates somber moments amid police inquiries, toxicology reports, and occult research – so long as the casework doesn't interfere with their lunch order, that is. Is this woman really a witch or just a bewitching killer in both senses of the word? Is it batting her eyelashes lightheartedness or is she really an abused, delusional girl masking her trauma as a blessed be? The serious topics with deceptive undercurrents and feminist statements will be preachy and heavy handed for most male audiences with uneven pacing and confusing intercuts. However the fake blood in the bathtub, renaissance faire ruses, and melodramatic humor combine for a modern Buffy trippy satire dressed as a retro gothic That Girl homage that takes more than one viewing to fully appreciate.

The ReptileMysterious notes and silent pursuits open this 1966 Hammer tale amid thunderstorms, turn of the century antiques, Oakley Court locales, and villagers not surprised to find another hastily dumped dead body. Scaly attacks and foaming at the mouth fatalities lead to last rites, meager funerals, and tolling bells, but the deceased's brother doubts heart failure as the cause of death on a fit and healthy man. Of course, these townsfolk are not hospitable to strangers, and the inherited cottage is ransacked before the local barkeep suggests the inquisitive newlywed relatives of the departed sell it and move on from these moors instead of poking into unexplained deaths. Carriages, hats, capes, and trains accent the suspicious gothic staples, monstrous secrets, and charming pip pip Englishness as a creepy neighborhood doctor snoops and the amphibious twists escalate. There's a mystique to his daughter Jacqueline Pearce (Blake's 7) and questions on what the titular monster afoot actually is as prowlers lurk, shocked hermits beg for whiskey after an encounter, and horses fear to cross its path. Frothing at the window, leathery skins, greenish hues, and swollen tongues add to the fang bites on the bodies, exhumed corpses, and wild bug eyes when we do glimpse the monster – but it's all excused as epilepsy from the doctor of theology who admits to knowing nothing of medicine. Eerie hear tells of exotic India pasts and cult vengeance create unique Eastern motifs alongside saris, sitars, and mute Indian manservants while harmful flowers, pets in cages, cats in peril, and slicing the bite wounds to drain venom invoke natural dangers. The awkward culprits just want to be left alone, but they can't escape the consequences of the flaky skin, shedding husks, swampy moors, and moist, bubbling nests under the manor. Though similar to The Gorgon, there's a sadness to the ladies and bittersweet explanations justifying the case. The suspense, sword work, fires, and one on one battles are also well done. This may proceed on the gothic formula expected from Hammer, but the unusual mysticism makes up for a lack of bigger Hammer names. My only real complaint is that we don't see Jacqueline Pearce enough. I mean, she's Servalan, people, Servalan.

You Make the Call

A Dark Song – Psalm warnings, beautiful skyscapes, and an old house with no heating paid for up front set this 2016 Irish tale amid the train station arrivals and others backing out on this specific plan with west facing rooms, twenty-two week diets, and purified participants having no alcohol or sex. More fasting, dusk to dawn timetables, serious interviews on why, and reluctant rules of the procedure build the cryptic atmosphere as the price for this dangerous ritual rises – speaking to a dead child isn't some silly astral projection, angel psychobabble bollocks, basic Kabbalah, or easy Gnosticism you can find on the internet. The isolated manor with salt circles and invocations feels seventies cult horror throwback, however the metaphysical talk and extreme meditation bring modern realism as tense arguing, religious doubts, and questions on right or wrong match the bitterness toward the outside world. Hallucinations, sleep deprivation, and vomiting increase while physical cleansings and elemental phases require more candles and blood sacrifices. Some of the slow establishing and ritual minutia could have been trimmed in favor of more on the spooky half truths, suspect motives, need to be pure, and distorted state of mind. Black birds hitting the windows and missing mementos don't seem to get the waiting for angels and forgiveness rituals very far for the amount of time that has passed, and heavy handed music warns us when something is going on even as more should be happening. A third character also seeking something he cannot find may have added another dynamic rather than two extremists getting nowhere, and short attention span audiences won't wait for something to appear in those first uneven forty minutes. After all, with these symbols painted on the body and awkward sex rituals, wouldn't one suspect this is just some kind of scam? Untold information, vengeance, backwards baptisms, near death extremes, and knife injuries meander on the consuming guilt and mystical visions before demons in disguise make for an obvious finale treading tires when the true angels, spirits, and goodness revelations were there all along. Maybe more seasoned hands were needed at the helm or a second eye to fix the pacing and genre flaws, for the quality pieces suffer amid the bleakness. This really shouldn't be labeled as a horror movie, but it doesn't capitalize on its potential as a psychological examination and surreal stages of grief metaphor either.

And if you like Horribly Bad Horrors...

Carnage – Writer and director Andy Milligan (The Rats are Coming! The Werewolves are Here!) has his creepy gothic setting for this 1984 haunt with chandeliers, stained glass, old fashioned candles, and wedding music on the record as the bridal veils and white lace lead to revolvers, blood, and tolling bells. A new carrying across the threshold couple moving in adds lighthearted if amateur dialogue, but the sound is poor and the presentation seems even older than the early eighties – that's either a delayed release or really low budget! The out of service phone rings, dishware is moved, music plays by itself, and unexplained gas stove dangers increase amid barking dogs, knife play, and tool mishaps. While some objects moving by themselves and ghostly appearances are spooky, most attempted frights are laughable – complete with a hysterical maid and convenient burglars to pad the body count as the blood goes from weak trickles to absurd splatter. This story is nothing new, and the plot or ghostly actions don't make much sense. Why go after the housekeeper fast and cruel with strangulation and straight razors when the new owners are getting off comparatively easy with phantom paper and pencil movement? Why kill yourselves if you don't want anyone else to live in your house, then kill people who trespass before inviting others to stay? Most scenes are slow with idle transitions, and comical cutaways to cranky relatives are unnecessary domestic spats with no purpose but to waste time. This production is content to be cheap rather than trying for any horror potential, and after all the poltergeist related deaths, they still hold a housewarming party without telling the guests about the fatal happenings. Attempted comedic bathroom perils misfire because what's meant to be scary has already been funny. This isn't so bad it's unwatchable, but it gets worse as it goes on and viewers can't expect something polished or scary. We never spend enough time with any of the couples or the house itself to understand any of this induced til death allure, and I honestly think the constant barking dog soundtrack was just a production inconvenience. ¯\_()_/¯

14 November 2017

Top Ten: Gerard Butler!

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 Gerard Butler Films!

Please see our Gerard Butler tag for even more analysis!

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


10 November 2017

Tales from the Crypt Season Three

Tales from the Crypt Season Three Stands Out
by Kristin Battestella

During Summer 1991, HBO's Third Season of Tales from the Crypt delivered fourteen episodes adapted from the Tales from the Crypt, Shock SuspenStories, The Vault of Horror, and Haunt of Fear comic book canon – and nearly every half hour plot steps up the sarcasm, star power, and scares.

The 'Honey, I'm home!' opening of the “Loved to Death” premiere leads to something saucy in the kitchen but it's just a bad script in progress by Andrew McCarthy (Weekend at Bernie's) when he's not fantasizing about his demanding actress neighbor Mariel Hemingway (Lipstick). Forget the old boombox and shoddy word processor – leather, lingerie, and boobs inspire his creativity and a watching big brother landlord speaking over the intercom braves him to knock on her door. Of course, she's not interested until he's successful, making for a bemusing mix of imagination and real world bitter from writer turned director Tom Mankiewicz (Live and Let Die). Unfortunately, subtle make up and costuming reflect the turnaround when a love potion makes the amorous too much to handle. The Crypt Keeper, meanwhile is smoking in bed with a headless skeleton as the escaped Kyle MacLachlan (Twin Peaks) opens “Carrion Death” with dusty Arizona manhunts, motorcycle chases, and fiery accidents. The desert setting invokes a barren purgatory as a vulture waits amid the echoes, gunshots, race to the border, and loot blowing in the wind. The no water, talking to himself delirium may seem slow for some audiences, however the sardonic trek, gore, and just desserts escalate once the handcuffs are on and there's no key. Back to the Future star Michael J. Fox directs Terri Garr (Tootsie) in “The Trap,” for her nasty husband has a life insurance policy and a coroner brother-in-law who can help fake a death. Bemusing morgue saws, faux dead make up, and a bumbling cover story combine for over the top funeral wailing, cremation mishaps, and tropical hideouts. The askew trials, double crosses, and mistaken identity aren't really horror, but the crime fits the screw here. Likewise, the memorable “Abra Cadaver” opens with a black and white morgue, autopsies, pretty corpses, necrophilia quips, and dangerous practical jokes on Beau Bridges (Stargate SG-1) by Tony Goldwyn (Scandal). The color present has high tech lab equipment and research debts owed for these experiments on brain function after clinical death – studies done with ritual altars, folk medicine, and poisoned scotch. The distorted voiceover and overhead camera angles match this appearance of death as the acute senses remain to experience the meat locker, hooks, saws, embalming, and John Doe toe tags as the warped mix of science and revenge creates blood trickling down the screen twists.

The Crypt Keeper does a little Mashed to Pieces Theatre in “Top Billing” as desperate Jon Lovitz (Saturday Night Love) fails another audition. He won't stoop to commercials like successful sellout Bruce Boxleitner (Scarecrow and Mrs. King), and this is an interesting commentary on the look being more important than the talent. Agent Louise Fletcher (One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest) says it's commerce and product, not art, that sells tickets, winking to the viewer as oft comedian Lovitz is determined to play Hamlet with intense director John Astin (The Addams Family). Will he kill for the part? This little back alley theater at 895 ½ needs a real skull for its Yorick. “The Reluctant Vampire” also begins with a traditional gothic atmosphere – before the alarm clock by the coffin and fang dentures on the night stand add modern humor as blood bank nightwatchman Mr. Longtooth Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange) dreads Mondays and The Keeper reads Vampirism Made Easy. Manager George Wendt's (Cheers) donation numbers don't add up, so our sensitive vamp – who doesn't drink direct from humans so he can respect himself in the morning – attacks an old lady's mugger to replace his martini makings in the vault. Certainly he asks if his victim has any blood born diseases before filling up the water cooler. He's saving the blood bank and taking a bite out of crime amid newspaper spinning montages, Transylvania soil myths, lighting candles at the snap of the fingers, and dangerous squirt guns with holy water. Van Helsing descendants are on the local talk shows, and Tales from the Crypt manages to be gothic and cute at the same time. Of course, Little CK has a Betty Croaker cookbook while womanizing reporter Steven Weber (Wings) keeps a tape recorder under the bed to get what's off the record when, as they say, pumping a source for information in “Mournin' Mess.” Hard nose editor Ally Walker (Sons of Anarchy) wants the scoop not drunk excuses, but suave spokeswoman Rita Wilson (Now and Then) spins the rhetoric on cleaning up the streets as the homeless murders mount. Dead witnesses and some literal cemetery digging lead to tunnels, coffins, skeletons, and underground revelations on The Grateful Homeless Outcasts and Unwanted Layaway Society, ahem, GHOULS. Although this starts off run of the mill, Tales from the Crypt continues to push the envelope with its grotesque.

As a kid I loved director Russell Mulcahy's (Highlander) “Split Second” and even had it on one of several made 'em myself Tales from the Crypt VHS mixes! Foreman Brion James (Blade Runner) seethes over his sassy waitress with a reputation turned hottie wife Michelle Johnson (Blame it on Rio) while her short shorts and tank top get skimpier for new lumberjack Billy Worth (The Lost Boys, you know, the “Death by stereo.”) Axes, chainsaws, and the inherent dangers on the job immediately hook the audience as the camera reflects the peril, speed, and saucy games people play – leading to new power tools, a violent comeuppance, and plenty of blood splatter. “Deadline,” however, would see drunk newsman Richard Jordan (Logan's Run) clean up his act for particular hooker Marg Helgenberger (CSI). Although the narrative bookends are unnecessary, the newsroom clickety clack adds nostalgic pressure, and his cranky editor wants a juicy murder headline or else. Fortunately – or unfortunately – Jon Polito (The Crow) gives him an exclusive, ironic scoop on a crime of passion gone awry. Tales from the Crypt's tongue in cheek is in full swing for “Spoiled” as bored housewife Faye Grant (V) loves the over the top scandals of her favorite soap There's Always Tomorrow. Her married to his work husband's basement experiments may make medical history, but they interrupt her fantasizing, too. Good thing 'Abel with the cable' repairman Anthony LaPaglia (Without a Trace) is there with all the connection in the bedroom innuendo, drafting a bemusing life imitating art mad science mix and self-aware commentary complete with Tales from the Crypt on the boob tube. Like the soaps, the saucy isn't actually shown – letting the male input and female boxes speak for themselves once the lovers play out their part. Series producer Robert Zemeckis directs the supersized “Yellow” finale with general Kirk Douglas (Spartacus), his lieutenant son Eric Douglas (The Golden Child), loyal captain Dan Aykroyd (Ghostbusters), and gritty sergeant Lance Henriksen (Near Dark) facing the no man's land trenches, explosions, and limbs lost of 1918 France. Battle failures, breaks in the communication line, family expectations, and the titular cowardice risk the chain of command, for this solider son refuses to kill and doesn't want to be killed, undermining his father's position as the enemy nears. Panic on the mission results in more slaughter and church held court marshals layer the religious iconography. It's okay for fathers and sons to be afraid to die, and one's a fool or a liar if he claims he isn't – especially when facing the firing squad. This is a serious parable about real fear and horrors, yet the episode is not out of place. Who says Tales from the Crypt has to be all cheeky all the time? Rather than the expected juicy or sensationalism, this unique choice sells itself with innate intensity and cruelty for one of the series' finest.

Of course, there are several less than perfect entries sagging Tales from the Crypt mid-season, including the late Tobe Hopper's (Texas Chainsaw Massacre) star studded “Dead Wait.” The thieves are arguing over small scale island plantations and pitiful pearl treasures, and should be tense chess conversations fall flat amid red hair superstitions, voodoo talk, and witch doctor suspicions. Jungle fever romance with red king takes black queen quips and sweaty sex with voodoo drums compromise the hanging ram heads and dead chickens in the bed – playing into the very exotical stereotypes that the dialogue warns one to respect. Each eighties era horror anthology series seems to have a problematic voodoo tale, but they are always about a white man looking for something sexy and dangerous with an obvious turnabout. The gore and creepy worms are fine – this isn't a terrible episode, but it doesn't zing as it should. The late night spoof with Whoopi Goldberg (Ghost) as The Crypt Keeper's guest is more fun. Painter Tim Roth (Rob Roy) doesn't get the showing he was promised and fantasizes about killing his agent in “Easel Kill Ya,” but some accidental violence and nearby deaths inspire his art. He channels his darkness into some gruesome canvases and sells the paintings to a creepy buyer, but he can't keep up with the killer demand for his art. Again the fatal twists and obsessive performances aren't the worst, but this tortured artist cum murderer plot is nothing new. “Undertaking Palor” also has obnoxious punks at the movies complaining about being one short in the Milk Duds box before they scare each other and capture it on camera. They break into the mortuary to raise the frights in their amateur film making and unfortunately discover twisted little practitioner John Glover (Smallville) using a Shop Vac for his latest embalming. The ironic classical music and Pepsi with pizza while the creepy mortician works makes for some delightful Tales from the Crypt grossness, but the juvenile found footage Nancy Drew mystery weakens what could have been wild had we seen the morgue conspiracy from the inside perspective. The Crypt Jam music video feature on the Tales from the Crypt Season Three DVD set is also a humorous little rap with babes, gore, and highlights from the year in a fittingly oh so nineties fashion both embarrassing and hysterical at the same time. The features also cheat slightly by listing two panel segments, for the first fifteen minute bonus recounting the history of EC Comics mid-century history and their ongoing relevance in horror is just pieced together from the second feature – which is the full half hour Comic Con discussion with voice of the Crypt Keeper John Kassir, producer Alan Katz, and additional crew telling more behind the scenes tales and answering audience questions. This DVD set also goes right to the menu without the “Kill Intro” theme playing only once per disc as in the previous video releases, and I like being able to see that spooky house opening per episode.

There are less fifties abstract and colorful comic designs for this season of Tales from the Crypt, but the seedy dark palette feels a little more nineties grown up to match the mayhem. Lots of familiar faces in supporting roles lend an extra sophistication with old televisions, rabbit ears, Polaroids, or T-n-A as icing on the cake per the humorous or grotesque plots as needed. That newfangled frivolous cable and HBO freedom allows Tales from the Crypt to exploit many women with then nudity, abuse, and victimizing. However, the series also has numerous working women in positions of power or ladies that give back all the ills deserved and never get naked to do so. Occasionally, the hammy over does it with stunt casting and humor falling flat, but bigger names, chilling stories, plenty of gore, quality production values, and heaps of ironic horror help Tales from the Crypt step up its winking formula for Season Three for a macabre and self referential but no less twisted good time. 

Top Ten: Musicals!

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 Musicals!

Please see our Musicals tag or our Classics label for yet more melodious analysis!

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