27 October 2018

Tales from the Crypt Season 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

24 October 2018

Dead, Deader, Deadest Horror

Dead, Deader, Deadest!
by Kristin Battestella

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

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

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

A Split Decision

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

19 October 2018

Tales from the Darkside Season 3

More Scares to be had in Tales from the Darkside Season 3
by Kristin Battestella

The 1986-87 Third Season of Tales from the Darkside features twenty-two more episodes of horror and oddities beginning with “The Circus” premiere written by series producer George Romero. In a series that usually puts the bizarre first, this episode truly feels like a horror tale as Showman William Hickey (Tales from the Crypt) promises mummy and vampire spectacles to a journalist trying to debunk the smoke and mirror ghouls. The bloody feedings and hungry dogs, however, make for some disturbing showmanship – a creepy little parable done with very little, using one setting and power of suggestion scares for a fitting twist. Covered furniture and a murderous history don't deter a couple from their spooky new home in “Florence Bravo.” This is supposed to be a fresh start, but the wife – who was put in an institution by her husband after a nervous breakdown – isn't taking her pills as the rocking chair moves by itself and ghostly visions escalate. The haunted house set up is familiar, but she loves their spooky old home and her adulterous husband will pay the price for the house's evil ideologies with bloody floorboards, gunshots, and killer ghosts. A suspicious dollhouse in “The Geezenstacks” comes complete with the eponymous doll family, and their morbid playtime whispers come true as the cracks begin to show with implied domestic violence and dire real world consequences. The bemusing bizarre here is less annoying that other kid-centric episodes thanks to creepy toys and that quintessential Tales from the Darkside quirky likewise seen in “Black Widows.” Our homebody knitting mother insists enough company comes to her, like salesmen and ministers knocking on the door. However, visitors who squash and kill a spider in her house will pay the pincer price – even the fiance who's not good enough for her daughter. He's too thin and the web-like laundry hangings add to the obvious, but there's a sardonic wit to the family secret. Unfortunately, the eerie mood escalates for an unscrupulous yuppie art dealer in “Heretic” when the inscriptions on a valuable Inquisition painting would have him learn the err of his ways. The torture and warped religion lead to terrible twists on life imitating art with pain and fiery consequences.

Warnings to behave and not do anything you wouldn't do on network television accent the homemaker quaint in “A Serpent's Tooth.” Mom insists she nags because she loves, however her teen daughter and college drop out son's choices will be over her dead body. She receives the eponymous charm with a warning to be careful what she wishes for – because she may get it. The television, radio, and telephone disappear when she threatens how inconvenient life would be without them, and when she tells an obnoxious kid next door that his face will get stuck that way it does. Talk about a salty lesson! By contrast, a greedy advertising executive sees a New Orleans bakery and its intoxicating cookies as a golden opportunity in “Baker's Dozen.” The secret ingredients of a thirteenth specialty make for twisted connections between men, dough, and gingerbread in this tasty voodoo turnabout also written by Romero. Of course, the kids in “Seasons of Belief” are at the age where they don't believe in Santa Claus – but their older, festive parents warn them of a more terrible figure called The Grither. While disbelieving in Saint Nick only makes your presents under the tree disappear, The Grither is the most awful thing in the world, and they've called him by saying his name out loud. Tales from the Darkside provides a certain warped amusement here with a holiday episode featuring a deliberate act to scare kids, twisted carols and all. A mannequin trades places with a burglar for “Miss May Dusa,” and creepy shadows accent the seedy subway and what goes on after hours sunglasses at night. Our cursed lady doesn't remember who she was before, but a jazzy street musician tries to guess, making for an interesting twofer with sadness, despair, and bitter realizations layering a more serious drama on the horror of loneliness. Little Chad Allen (Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman) says if you leave him a note, the milkman will give you presents in “The Milkman Cometh,” and a family in debt that has lost a baby is rewarded with another pregnancy. Was it a response from the 'While You Were Sleeping Dairy' or a coincidence? Increasing conflict, financial struggles, and drinking lead to eerie silhouettes and blue lighting making what was once a normal neighborhood visitor totally creepy with bizarre revelations and eponymous winks.

Jeff Conway's (Grease) typing his latest in “My Ghostwriter – The Vampire,” and he's happy writing hack vampire tropes for the money – until Dracula shows up on his balcony. He's there to prove his powers, proposing sanctuary in exchange for his nine hundred years of bloody details. The toothy secrets lead to literary success, and the traditional vampire motifs with eighties spins are great fun. However Dracula wants his share of the spoils, and there's an underlying ominous thanks to dining in on the maid neck bites and handy silverware. Robert Bloch's (Psycho) “Everybody Needs a Little Love” starring Jerry Orbach (Law & Order) has noir mood with cigarettes, Truman posters, and vintage pubs. Our barfly friend brings home a mannequin, drinking, dancing, and taking a week off from work to cook dinner and sit 'Estelle' at the table. Who needs a nagging broad when you can have a classy dame who just sits there and smiles! He insists she's no prude, adding to the old fashioned creepy and lively twists with a hint of something more sinister as her look or positioning seems slightly different from glance to glance. An old crone and her young looking friend reunite for a bitter 1692 anniversary in “Auld Acquaintances” amid talk of burning houses, lightning strikes, poisoned cats, and puritan flashbacks. Evil chants, talismans, chokings, and threats set off the zany performances alongside Salem imagery and some intense 1987 shocking language on whores and devils. The bargains in blood and pacts to live forever are well done in this confined two-hander. More spell books, enchantments, and boils in “The Swap” don't impress the young wife of a man who can't compare to his mama – the greatest conjurer Louisiana ever saw. So long as she 'plays house' each night, his wife will get all their millions, and she goes upstairs with her revolting husband rather than be poor. Of course, she's secretly with the hunky handyman, and Tales from the Darkside gets a little saucy with talk of 'gentlemanly pleasures,' handcuffs, and bottles forced into a man's mouth. The twisted little threesome escalates with poison, wills, and stipulations on who the wealthy widow must marry next. By contrast, it's all idyllic mid century sophistication in “The Enormous Radio” with martinis, classical music, and period touches raising the unique horrors. Do our eavesdroppers interfere when they adjust the dial and hear their neighbors or is it none of their business? Unfortunately, the addictive gossip gives way to heated arguing, and the sad, depressing strain of hearing the whole building's troubles ultimately overwhelm our once perfect couple. 


Early in Year Three, however, back-to-back kid tales sag Tales from the Darkside thanks to an annoying little girl disliking her engaged sister's kisses with her jerky fiance in “I Can't Help Saying Goodbye.” The titular premonitions lead to explosions, funerals, and a whiff of religion versus innocence but the crappy attitudes can't make a thin script more eerie. “The Bitterest Pill” offers another petulant kid and nasty dad, and the family remains pissy even after they win the lottery. The in your face speed talking over the eponymous drug that provides total recall takes the investments over the top and the fittingly harsh turnabout drags on too long. Southern charm schmoozing over the politician at dinner in “Deliver Us From Goodness” also repeats the be careful what you wish for come ups that were done better several episodes prior, and the religious hypocrisy gets lost in the out of control humor and off the mark obnoxiousness. “My Own Place” may have $285 rent control, however there's a semi -mystical roommate that won't leave – despite the yuppie renter's curry jokes, Calcutta insults, and racist slurs. Such demeaning isn't scary, and our jerky new tenant realizes he's getting what he deserves too late. A stereotypical gold digging femme fatale widow cut off from the company stock in “Red Leader” adds to the slow, generic corporate talk of cooked books and shady real estate as hellish minions from below debate over the same old evil businessmen tropes. Yawn. Likewise, a greedy young apprentice tries on a pair of magically crafted shoes in “The Social Climber.” He can really go places in this fancy pair, but his shoemaker boss warns him there will be a price. Unfortunately, the magical elements can't disguise the transparent end, and today some viewers may be completely baffled by what a cobbler even is. A drunk having a heart attack to open “Let the Games Begin” leads to mirrors on the ceiling, hellish shadows, and heavenly echoes arguing over who gets to claim his soul. Both try to entice him by appearing as his angelic best friend and his vixen sister-in-law. However the askew angles, sardonic tricks, and heart beating suspense are too uneven, attempting too much between humor and cynicism in a plain story that gets irritating fast. What is scary are those yuppie styles – plaid sweaters tied over the shoulders, tube socks, and dated feather hair on top of crimped ponytails, neon fashions, and Like a Virgin fishnets. The Tales from the Darkside title card was changed for this season, the menu design on the Season Three DVDs is slightly different, and there are no subtitles. Cramped eighties trailer homes, small sets, and single locations with red lighting and dark dressings may be cheap, however the claustrophobia is also very effective amid atmospheric thunder and that indelible, chilling Tales from the Darkside theme. Sound effects accent the monster make up, blood, gothic archways, and older Victorian styles. Retro kitchens, typewriters, and big boob tubes harken a mid-century housewife mood – pink wallpaper, dusty rose doilies, and old bag vacuums contrast the giant eighties portable brick phones and pathetically dated computers. These ladies have to take off a clip earring to use the rotary phone and count the teaspoons to make that old fashioned coffee! While such a lengthy season has its ups and downs thanks to dated or hammy half hours that are weird rather than scary, Tales from the Darkside Season Three once again provides creepy, chilling, and atmospheric parables for a nostalgic horror marathon. 

16 October 2018

Ghosts and Cults, Oh My!

Ghosts and Cults, Oh My!
By Kristin Battestella

It's phantoms, spirits, and things that go bump in the night versus masks, torches, rituals, and chanting in these frights be they recent, retro, foreign, or domestic chills.

Kill List – Financial arguments, unemployment, and stressed parents shouting open British director Ben Wheatley's (High-Rise) 2011 slow burn while fade ins and outs create a disconnected passage of time amid his mundane routine, tearful phone calls in her native Swedish, and brief playtime with their son. Clearly they are trying to keep it together just for him, but recession talk and conversations about their military past make dinner with friends more awkward. Despite some wine, laughter, and music; tensions remain alongside bloody tissues, mirrors, and creepy occult symbols. Foreboding rainbows, eerie skies, and contracts signed in blood lead to fancy hotels, mysterious clients, guns, and stacks of cash. This sardonic, violent lifestyle is normal to our hit men – want a hot tub, put on a nice suit and kill a few people to make money for your family! Things should be looking up, but past mistakes, religious conflicts, and hits gone wrong interfere with the fine dining, friendly chatter, stakeouts, and casually executed executions. The deliberate pace may be slow to some, however full moons, hallway zooms, and binocular views set off the lying in wait preparations, silencers, and worship regalia. Thumping body bags miss the dumpster and victims aren't surprised their time has come, but off screen implications disturb both our hardened hit men. They are the righteous torturers breaking knee caps and bashing hands! Dead animals, blood splatter, off list hits, dirty crimes, and graphic skull work are not for the faint of heart as the kills become messy and out of control. Ominous women in white, blood stains, infected cuts – this violence is going far beyond their normal work but there's no getting out here. Nothing good can come from this dreary potboiler as the kills increase from ironic to curious and ultimately brutal in a final act providing throwback shocks and a sense of realism straying into unreliability. Night gear observations at a fancy estate begat torches, chanting, robes, and masks. If you've seen enough cult horror, the ritual foreshadowing is apparent, however there's a warped cleansing to the rain, drumbeats, and sacrifice. Gunfire, tunnels, knife attacks, screams, and unknowns make for gruesome turnabouts that bring the consequences home in a silent, disturbing, grim end.

Ouija: Origin of Evil – 1967 hair flips, pastel colors, and cool Cadillacs accent the seances, candles, and rumbling tables to open this 2016 prequel from director Mike Flanagan (Oculus). Shadows make themselves known as loved ones are told what they need to hear – it's not a scam or a lie, for this widowed psychic mom and her daughters provide closure with their showmanship thanks to orange patinas, period glows, and whooshes that aren't in your face shock booms. Bills are tight, their late daddy isn't talking to them, and our teen daughter is rebelling with go go boots, groovy parties, and the titular games. Relatable moments build the family dynamics alongside palm readings and one of those newfangled boards for their repertoire – complete with magnets under the table. Unfortunately, the youngest plays with the board alone and now there's a new friend in the house to help with homework and tell the ladies where to find cash hidden behind the basement bricks. Now they are the ones having spirits tell them what they need to hear, and the psychic child using the board for paid readings adds to the abusive innuendo – the spirit uses her hand to write, its voice tickles her throat, her mouth is stretched and overtaken. The camera remains on the characters as they look in the dark and ask who is there, building atmosphere with peripheral glances and warped views through the planchette eye before demons in the mirror, contortions, static on the boob tube, and possessions. The letters written in another language, channeling, debunking, buried evidence, and ghosts recounting murder are much more interesting than the generic teen scares of the first film. That said, the bathroom shocks, just a dream gotchas, typical ghosts pretending to be someone else, war time occult experiments, exorcising priests, and mental wards rush the overlong third act. It's as if no one knew how to end this leading up to the original Ouija when it never had to be connected at all. Fortunately, rather than preposterous time wasting panoramic awes, we can see the creepy takeovers and choice zooms despite the increasingly dark picture. Skulls, white out eyes, voice distortions, mouths sewn shut, shackles, and knives leave adults at the whim of the possessed youths, and this remains a spirited piece with plenty of simmer.

Could have been Better

Good Against Evil – Writer Dack Rambo (Dallas) and a young Kim Cattrall (Sex and the City) battle devil worshippers in this 1977 ABC ninety minute television movie written by Jimmy Sangster (The Curse of Frankenstein). Of course the print and sound are poor, but the atmospheric score, orange lighting, black cats, and purple skylines set off the New York 1955 labor screams, abducted baby, and freaky nurse in a Flying Nun wimple. Sure, the delirium and distorted angles capitalize on similar seventies devil seed pictures, but the dark hospital corridors and perilous staircases create a sinister paranoia versus swanky parties, candles, and demonic altars. The creepy persistence continues with 1977 San Francisco galleries, fashion design, cool vans, and hip styles. Our grown up babe thinks this new idyllic romance with boat rides and picnics is good luck from her guardian angel – she's won scholarships and top New York contracts thanks to her mysterious benefactors and it's all picturesque Golden Gate Bridge scenery and young love sappy. Although horseback perils and growling cats reveal the cut production corners on the action filming, there are doubts on this drifter cum writer boyfriend with fortune telling booths, spying photography, shrines, and pentagrams. This ingenue somehow knows she is bad for men and they always end up suspiciously dead around her amid caves, rituals, and cult leaders wanting immortality for her promised virginity as the devil's bride. Priests, cemeteries, tolling bells, and prayers lead to more mishaps as minions are punished for their failures. Hypnosis and church assistance come too late as the maiden quarry is absconded back to New Orleans in hopes of her devilish consummation. And then, somehow the last half hours turns into an Exorcist knockoff with a possessed little girl and a terrified mom. It has nothing to do with the previous hour's destined dame or her rescue from this cult. Our writer and the exorcising priest team up thanks to some silly wind gusts and evil meowing, and it's obvious that rather than resolve the movie's premise, this had hopes for being a righteous duo on the road horror series. While the spooky little occult romance is okay for a late night marathon, it's lack of a proper resolution hurts what could have been interesting.

One to Skip

Winchester – Hammering sounds, lantern light, staircases, tolling bells, and dark corridors accent this 2018 tale of the famed mystery mansion starring Helen Mirren (The Tempest) as Sarah Winchester. Period patinas, maze like designs, carriages, and cluttered libraries add mood, however creepy kid warnings and opium stupors contribute to an unnecessary opening twenty minutes. The Winchester company lawyer wants a doctor to assess the titular widow's state of mind – an unwelcoming, typical start with men hiring other men to outwit a woman in a superfluous modern script that does everything but focus on the eponymous subject. Jump scares and crescendos compromise subtle winds and ghostly movements, and the bright picture and special effects editing feel too contemporary. One and all talk about the construction oddities, spiritualism, and the reclusive Widow Winchester's grief, but it's too much telling instead of seeing her unreliability and the potentially paranormal. Eerie sounds from the call pipe system are an excuse for ill-advised exploring, dreams, and more disjointed flashes. Quiet overhead scene transitions and meandering tours of the house have no room to create atmosphere because there must be a back and forth mirror fake out – it's a bathroom scare at the ye olde wash stand! One can tell this was written and directed by men, for even as a trio there are no checks or balance on how to tell a women's horror story. We don't know her internal or external torment over this spiritual construction as the creepy veils, automatic writing, and supernaturally received architectural plans are too few and far between, and the audience remains at arms length through the keyhole rather than inside with the ghostly connections. Why isn't the possessed kid with the potato sack on his head who's jumping off the roof and shooting at the old lady removed from the house? Why should the spirits leave her family alone when the Mrs. begs them to when the script hasn't given them or us any reason to listen to her? The backward perspective here puts viewers in a skeptical, debunking mindset, leaving the picture with something to prove and audiences looking for the fright around the corner – creating predictable haunts rather than period simmer. Though capable of a one woman show, Mirren is a mere macguffin as old newspapers, flashback splices, and physical bullets bring down one disgruntled ghost as if that's supposed to stop the silly whooshes, earthquake rattling, and exaggerated construction destruction. Maybe the ghostly shocks and turn of the century accents are fine for a spooky midnight movie. However the historically diverging and problematic constructs here shift a unique, one of a kind women's story in an amazing setting into a pedestrian, nonsensical copycat horror movie about a man facing his own ghosts. Good grief.

05 October 2018

Ultraviolet (1998)

Uneven Ultraviolet Remains Unique and Watchable.
by Kristin Battestella

Writer and director Joe Ahearne (Apparitions) helms six episodes of the 1998 British miniseries Ultraviolet. Despite some unevenness and unrealized potential, unique vampire nuggets keep the series intriguing as Detective Michael Colefield (Jack Davenport) is recruited by hematologist Angela Marsh (Susannah Harker) and ex-soldier Vaughn Rice (Idris Elba) to join an elite vampire hunting unit when his partner Jack (Stephen Moyer) disappears. Father Pearse Harman's (Philip Quast) team uses the latest gear and scientific advancements to defend the unaware public as vampires experiment on humans as part of their global domination plans.

Sunset bridges and photo negatives with no one showing up on them open Habeas Corpus” before mall chases and underground terminals with security mirrors and circuit cameras that can't see the perpetrator either. Dead informants and stakeouts lead to a jilted bride, internal affairs, garlic gas grenades, and shootouts with unusually sophisticated bullets. Ultraviolet is an interesting mix of procedural drama and subtle supernatural with the eponymous scanners looking for blood and bite marks. The back and forth cryptic does take longer than it should – we're all watching because we know this is about vampires. However, whispers of Vatican sanctioned defenders against creatures who insist they aren't really evil are intriguing amid talk of trading the Middle Ages and old church ways for new technology. The effectiveness of crosses and holy water, after all, is a question of faith. Dusty piles of vampire remains are collected in sealed canisters, halting regeneration of viable subjects as laser procedures stave off infections for those bitten. Break the blacked out windows of a luxury car and the driver gets a little crispy in “In Nomine Patris.” Fortunately, the wealthy and reclusive want to keep their immortal grandfather and son switches quiet as our unique team follows the money trail to vampires building safe houses with secure basements and no windows. Leftover funds go to medical charities and blood banks, of course. Red dust piles on the front seat and testing which witnesses are vampires by flashing a little daylight are more fun than some of the case of the week unevenness. Ultraviolet resorts to episodic encounters rather than fully embracing its unique arc of V Roman Numerals and Stockholm Syndrome decoys who insist no organization has the right to exterminate a superior species. By “Sub Judice,” vampires are studying radiation contamination in their human food supply, and our team each has a moment amid miscarriages, nosebleeds, exhumed coffins, suspicious ultrasounds, and a potential hybrid embryo with immunity to daylight. Ultraviolet provides sophisticated science and a whiff of body horror without shock film making, placing the multi-level moral complications and monstrous drama above the in your face editing and crescendos that often overtake today's horror television. Patients question if our secret agency is right or wrong in telling people what to do – weighing the psychological, medical, and religious toll alongside the provocative horrors. This hour may be heavy handed today, but it's also a creepy parable using real world and fictitious frights. 

School bells and altar boys bring shocking violence and blood in “Mea Culpa.” Nobody wants this to be a V case, but the team opens the classroom blinds to see which students recoil. Reporters snoop like private investigators amid meningitis cover ups, crosses, and abuses while testing for infected youths and skin cancer cures mix with vampire patient zeroes and human carriers, blurring who is being good or bad when evil happens right under the church's nose. Ultraviolet again addresses real world issues within fantastic perimeters, however the balance between radical science and vampires feels uneven, more like a SVU weekly meandering between personal, topical, and high tech horror when Ultraviolet needed more focus in its short lifespan. “Terra Incognita” better ties the personal and global together with transfusions, sickle cell cures, and bleeding patients foolishly believing the vampires want peace. Sure, they want to help people when such healing is for their own gain. Medical supply crates are cold and empty when scanned before helicopter surveillance, truck raids, and decoys. Team members are captured, trapped with sunset imminent, and debates rage on which prayers and which gods to call on or what you would do if these vampires could save your loved one. Ultraviolet embraces its vampirism meets realism here – escalating with shocking casket reveals and explosive results. There are a lot of juicy but under cooked details dropped in “Persona Non Grata,” with the reasons behind the vampire experiments, nuclear fallout to blot out the sun, and misfiring standoffs taking a backseat to lesser plots before male on male back alley neck bites, parking with blood around the lips, and whispers of infections add homoerotic layers. Vampires protest how one can't tell the difference between them and humans just by looking at them and object to the food chain structure because they want to save the ecosystem – or so they say. Keeping an open mind on the vampire possibilities is dangerous thanks to regeneration risks, immortality versus cancer diagnosis, and living forever but apart from god debates. The vampires corner our team with silvered tongued speeches and church confrontations as trading vampire dust specimens crosses the line between friend and foe.

Jack Davenport's (Pirates of the Caribbean) Detective Sergeant Michael Colefield just doesn't know who to trust or believe, striking out on his own investigation to find out what happened to his partner when he's not good at covering his tracks. He resigns from regular police work yet disagrees with how this specialized team operates – remaining unsure if he's cut out for this new line of work and sitting on the opposite side of the table to question the team. While viewers enter this world with Michael, Ultraviolet doesn't stay with his point of view and he's never the primary investigator on a case. Davenport is supposed to be the star, but his angry cop brooding and squinting ironically make him look like a vampire. Michael isn't always forthcoming with his information – forcing the team to arrive to the same conclusion separately and thus hampering the case. He becomes more jerky stressed by the final episode, doing some really stupid crap when other events are more interesting than his conflicted characterization and Ultraviolet doesn't have the time. We learn about Susannah Harker's (Chancer) stern hematologist Angela Marsh by Michael asking Vaughn about her late husband and child, for she keeps her guard up by dispensing the scientific details. Angela at times makes victims feel like they are the ones being investigated, but she needs their answers in getting to the bottom of the vampire connection. She insists she is a doctor trying to help people and isn't without compassion, but Angela reserves her emotions unless certain cases cut too close to home. Her house with its sharp, pointy fence is seen briefly, and Angela doesn't mind being called an anti-social parent because she won't let her surviving pre-teen daughter play basketball after dark. The vampire messengers twist her past, using revelations about her husband against her, and Angela seems more like Ultraviolet's star character when we spend more time with her science and situation. Vaughn Rice is also always one step ahead of Michael, and Idris Elba's (Prometheus) ex-army man has all the cool action gear. While said to loose his temper and have PTSD, Vaughn is the team's muscle with no problem roughing up creeps. He doesn't answer to cops and won't quit until he gets the information he needs. Vaughn knows how to not look in a vampire's eyes – shooting first and asking questions later saves Michael several times, too. He gladly shares all the vampire details, calling them leeches and pleased that anesthetics don't work on them and injuries leave them in permanent agony. Although we only learn about Vaughn's military past rather than seeing him at home like everyone else, we know he doesn't believe or use crosses in his arsenal. He's not asking to be saved and just wants one who is dead to stay dead. He likes Michael and wants him to use his potential and stay alive so they can be friends, as outsiders can be used against them and can't know or understand what they do. His bond with Angela, however, is special. They know the traumas that brought them to this organization, and he remains unrequited and protective of her. While the tug and pull of a trio can make for interesting angst, Ultraviolet may have bee more taut with just Angela and Vaughn as a complex duo.

Philip Quast's (Sons and Daughters) Father Pearse Harman likewise keeps his feelings close to the vest. Unfortunately, he's not in best of health but acts unfettered by night sweats, fatigue, and his secret cancer diagnosis. While a warm mentoring figure to Angela in private, he's tough on Michael, forcing him to think beyond basic cop deductions before he himself balks at the idea of vampires evolving into something more than just a predator. Sadly, we don't spend enough time with him – a minister who doesn't seem very devout and fights dirty on a case but refuses to hear anything bad said about the church. We don't know how he came to this unit, so hearing a vampire ask if he got religion because of them rather than having faith first is an interesting tangent from a great one on one that happens too late. Maybe he didn't have to be an uber priestly vampire hunter with an old fashioned kit, but the religious undercurrents in Ultraviolet could have been used more to strengthen characters. Does a man of god who knows about immortality doubt once he has a terminal condition? Guest Corin Redgrave (Excalibur) appears as a vampire ambassador in the last two episodes, and this kind of immediate, known foe should have brought a face to the vampire element much sooner. Ultraviolet wastes time on unnecessary side characters when this shrewd emissary better twists the good versus evil cause. Stephen Moyer (True Blood) is a jerky ladies man who's supposed to be getting married, but it's obvious Jack was corrupt, shady, and blindsiding his partner Michael. Several characters say it is time to move on from Jack's mistakes, yet rather than being the starting plot that opens Michael's eyes, Ultraviolet is still talking about Jack when there are global vampire domination attempts at work. It's small minded to keep tying the story to him, and why is Colette Brown's (Holby City) nice teacher Kirsty going to marry Jack anyway? She tells Michael she deserves to know what's happening, but does she really? Her typical storyline gets old fast, trapping the vampire science and frightening implications in pedestrian paces. Fiona Dolman (Midsomer Murders) as Michael's ex Frances helps him occasionally – her covert skills make one wonder why she wasn't the one recruited – but she's merely here as a go between used by Michael to contact his other girl. ¯\_()_/¯

Naturally, there are dated arcades, payphones, and pop music to start Ultraviolet. However, the organs and eerie scoring invoke a gothic mood for the contemporary setting alongside well lit nights, effective red lighting, and the titular purple hues. VHS, pausing and rewinding evidence on big old televisions, fax machines, cassettes, floppy disks, and “the 'net” – it's pleasing to see people use answering machines and corded phones at a desk rather than smartphones everywhere. Those old ass computer programs and poor facial recognition printouts, unfortunately, don't really help the investigation, leaving officials to use white boards and cluttered paperwork instead of high tech abstract ease. Beautiful churches contrast the carbon based bullets and guns with video screens to indicate who is an unseen target – a medieval meets technology mix that brings vampire defense into the twentieth century rather than trying to create something unrealistically futuristic. Vampire spinal taps and sophisticated travel via sunset time-release coffins accent the ultraviolet filming, mirrors, and reflections depending on who's on which side of the glass. Editing matches the intense action late, but we should know more about this unit, such as it's true name or a headquarters facade. Viewers remain in the dark as our team walks around telling people they aren't the police or the government. There is no face to their organization, and it leaves Ultraviolet with a short sighted miniseries tone indeed – as if an overwhelmed writer/director burned himself out before mapping out the balance between story arcs and personal focus that would give the series its legs. Fortunately, there are some cool concepts here with contemporary issues and doctor dilemmas wrapped in unique vampire spins. Ultraviolet will be old hat to some, a blend of police drama and vampire science not intended for everyone. Thankfully, it's pleasing to revisit vampires before the action horror of Underworld and the sappy love of Twilight. Ultraviolet's medieval meets millennial macabre has enough entertainment, cerebral horror, and high concepts to carry its mini marathon.