29 October 2019

Tales from the Crypt Season 7

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

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

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

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

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

28 October 2019

Gothic Romance and More at Horror Addicts.net!

Happy Halloween, Everyone! 🎃

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

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Cardboard Tombstone How To Video
Cardboard Tombstone Photo Shoot 
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When in Doubt, Paint it Black
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It's a Pumpkin Cat House
Pumpkin Ottomans, Oh Yes
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How Not to Make a Spooky Spellbook
DIY Cardboard Coffin

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23 October 2019

Recent Family Haunts

Recent Family Haunts
by Kristin Battestella

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

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

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

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

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

16 October 2019

Wild Retro Frights!

Wild Retro Frights!
by Kristin Battestella

The decades of yore provide this wild trio of shady hep cats, international ladies of the night, evil Hollywood dames, and more. Yowza!

The Black Cat– Lucio Fulci (The Psychic) directs Patrick Magee (The Masque of the Red Death) in this loose 1981 Italian Poe adaptation with English subtitles to match the Tudor manors, cobblestone streets, and superstitious village. Low to the ground cameras provide our feline point of view as the misunderstood cat causes a victim to drive off the road before prowling the rooftops. Fine carpets, stairwells, woodwork, and antique clutter contrast reel to reel tapes, big microphones, and vintage recorders – retro technology trying to contact the dead and capture their ghostly laughter, screams, and sounds of death. Flashlights and exploring exposed tombs reveal creepy tunnels, cobwebs, and shackled skeletons. It's all somewhat random to start with boaters, tourists, concerned parents, motorcyclists, cruising teens, and perky ingenues. However, the air tight traps, foaming at the mouth, and overgrown cemeteries create a sinister afoot amid the country quaint. Growling, mesmerizing eyes, shadows, back alley pursuits – this conniving little pussy knows how to unlock the latch on the door for complete warehouse perils. Gory impalements don't over do the blood, yet there are enough scratches and claws to show how easily a cat can make you bleed. Psychic tips lead to mice and the decomposing deceased, and confounded police call on tourist photographers with old school giant cameras to document the dead. Surely the cute little paw prints at the crime scene can't mean this is all a cat's doing? It's amazing how the slightest feline action can be so deadly – knocking over an oil lamp near the fireplace becomes a face melting inferno. The poltergeist activity escalates, but the police refuse to consider something supernatural. Bound by their hatred or not, this medium should have known one can only telepathically make a cat do his bidding for so long. This cat is pissed and he's not going to take it anymore! Although most of the feline film work is bemusing, there are upsetting moments thanks to poisons and a noose for our four legged nemesis. Who some of the players are and how they all have a connected history also feels lost in the translation, but fortunately, we're here to go with the evil cat and not worry about the details as choice zooms, editing, and shrewd use of that old camera flash match the Edgar appropriate buried alive house of horrors. Bats and blunt violence culminate in twisted retribution, and giallo splatter, Hammer feeling, and Poe demented combine for a creative slasher with claws perfect for anyone who has a love hate relationship with his or her cat. Like me!

Death at Love House – Couple Robert Wagner (Hart to Hart) and Kate Jackson (Dark Shadows) are writing a book on Lorna Love and stay at the Old Hollywood starlet's creepy manor in this 1976 television movie. Gothic gates, winding drives, old fountains, and broken statues accent the past torrid and vintage bus tours, and there's a freaky shrine, too – the preserved corpse of our beauty lying in a glass coffin. Of course this print is obviously poor, but the retro Hollywood scenery, Golden cinema looks, and seventies California style make up any difference. I wish we could see the arches and wrought iron better, but the VHS quality kind of adds a dimly lit ominous to the Mediterranean villa as retro commercials provide a vintage patina. Housekeeper Silvia Sydney (Beetlejuice) isn't very forthcoming about enchanting portraits of the starlet, and newsreels of her funeral show a man in a cape with a black cat among the mourners. Malleus Maleficarum spell books on the shelf, sacrificial daggers, and crusty director John Carradine (Blood of Dracula's Castle) suggest Lorna was more evil than lovely, and talk of mirrors, souls, passion, and rivals like Dorothy Lamour (Road to Bali) add to the character unto herself à la Rebecca. Without over the top visuals or in your face action for the audience's benefit, the performances here carry the scandalous scares – jumping at the horrors as thunder punctuates terrifying encounters in the dark. Apparent heart attack victims, destroyed pictures, and warnings to leave Love House lead to locked doors, gas mishaps, and steamy showers while phonographs provide chilling music as Lorna seems to be looking out from the silver screen film reels with her hypnotic power. Bewitching dreams relive the past and wax on eternal youth as the ghostly obsessions grow. At times, the spiral stairs, red accents, and swanky are more romantic, but phantom ladies at the window and rumors of fiery rituals create sinister. Our husband is said to be going through the scrapbooks but he's not getting any work done, remaining in denial about the basement tunnels, cult altars, pentagrams, and mystical symbols. Although the Mrs. seems calm somehow once the truth comes out, too, the creepy masks and wild reveals make for a flaming finish. There are too many tongue in cheek winks for this to be full on horror nor can one expect proper glam and glory in such a brisk seventy-four minute network pace. However, this is good fun for a late night Hollywood ghost story full of meta vintage.

The Hooker Cult Murders – Detective Christopher Plummer (Somewhere in Time) investigates the death of Karen Black (Trilogy of Terror) in this 1973 Canadian thriller also called The Pyx. Like the giant headsets, adding machines, black and white photographs, and payphones, the print and sound here are poor old school quality. It's tough to see the long falls off tall buildings and hectic crime scene, but the radio chatter, jewelry clues, and casual French accent the Montreal locations. Unfortunately, the morgue attendants are in a hurry with their sarcasm over this seemingly routine dead hooker. Despite strong arm police and whispers of another missing working girl, witnesses aren't exactly forthcoming – not neighbors nor the “manager” of the “entertainment.” Talk of which of one of them is a Catholic, technically, or not that good of one anyway leads to crosses, statues, Latin mottos, sermons, and communion. However, the grand halls and gated arches created a sense of unwelcome outside looking in as flashbacks of the living now deceased include nude trysts, cigarettes, and smitten clients. The creepy dudes and the hysterics are a bit much, but the rules of the brothel are strict and there's a schedule to keep! Drug use leads to a convent and recovery, but our cop's obsessing over a dead hooker doesn't go over well at home, and the disjointed back and forth at times competes with the slow suspense. The mellow euphoric, flat music sung by Karen Black to go along with her shoot up scenes is, however, pretty campy. Memories of horses are meant to be something romantic, but the bemusing, nonsensical lyrics wax on red balloons, and it's all a dream within a dead person's flashback that's also somehow montaged with kids playing near her body chalk line. ¯\_()_/¯ Granted the songs are meant to be some kind of feminine character development, but with the bad sound and poor poetry, they detract from the car tailing, evidence in the trash, and drug stash in the sugar bowl. The strung out may insist it's only a little bit and she knows not to over do it, but we know she's in way over her head, foolishly thinking she can say no or choose the john. Swanky appointments and wine lead to promised payments if she tells him her whole history when to strip and reveal the truth about oneself and whether she believes in God is almost a more raw experience. Suspicious phone calls and mysterious men in black cars lead to more murders with blood on the carpet and bodies in the stairwell as the investigation comes together thanks to rough interrogations and upside down cross realizations. Candles, confessions, shootouts – it's wild how we're seeing the slow build up to her death yet it's only been a day since for our detective and the bodies are falling left and right. Sped up, chipmunk chanting is unintentionally funny, but the altars, flesh, and desecration escalate to confrontations perhaps with the devil himself – or just a corrupt dude or maybe some kind of snake thing, it's tough to tell. Tainted beverages, white robes, and black hood rituals mix with distorted visuals and standoffs, culminating in an almost simultaneous, chilling finale. The twofold film style is awkward and the title fronts the horror expectations while giving away the cult surprise, but this remains a fun, interesting romp for fans of the cast.

A Bonus Vincent Price Western!

The Baron of Arizona – Before he was a horror maestro, Vincent Price starred in this 1950 black and white western opening with 1912 cigars and toasts to statehood before recounting the 1872 tall tales of our ambitious swindler. Our eponymous clerk is angry that grandfathered grants give away land to ignorant people, so he forges a fictitious lineage back to 1748 with honorary titles and claims endorsed by the King of Spain. He talks down to Mexicans who can't read, explaining what every big word means as he proclaims an abandoned daughter is heiress to this great fortune, and it's weird that the narrative keeps going back to the men talking about the action to progress the timeline. Inscriptions are carved in stone to prove the barony as the girl is groomed for nobility – it's easy to make a peasant girl believe she is a princess with portraits, gifts, and dresses. Our suave villain, meanwhile, is creating fake graves and traveling to Spain to doctor rare documents. Shadows, black hats, and noir filming add a sinister mood to match the crimes while mission libraries, churches, and the crucifix create what should be a looming sense of guilt for our con, who joins an order just to perfect his forgery. Black hoods, candles, and old tomes at the biblioteca only lead to increased greed, hitches in the plan, daring escapes, and wagon chases with hysterical rear projection and billowing robes. All who encounter the grifter insist they don't know him or why they should trust him, but some flirting finesse leads to hiding out with the gypsy caravan until a rendezvous with the marquesa and a triumphant return with noble papers. The government would have no problem honoring a reasonable grant, but thousands of acres, all mineral and river rights in the territory, and a redrawn boundary with New Mexico understandably cause public resistance. Simple, shabby, sets begat grand manors and large rooms with models, maps, and innovations. Railroad business, irrigation plans, mining opportunities – getting the real local wealthy to invest hundreds of thousands is where the true con lies. And when the government offers to buy the barony for $25 million? Cha-ching! Farmers taking up arms and one on one rivalries lead to lawsuits, but that intruding, patronizing voiceover inexplicably disappears in favor of spinning newspapers detailing the local backlash, violence, and trials as the Department of the Interior comes calling. The pioneers, however, argue that they as white Americans are more entitled to Arizona than the older Spanish grants, and if you speak anything different, you are a traitor. From his grand coach, the gaslighting baron insists he is not taking over the territory for the money but to help these people make his barony great, and it's ironic to see such an obvious swindle then considering today's administration. When his wife the fictitious baroness now grown briefly doubts, he says it's just unnecessary guilt over her privilege, yet we can't take her soft spoken earnest seriously because she's standing by her man as he's convicted of conspiracy to defraud the nation. Confessions and suspect ink lead to a lynch mob finale where our baron's still smiling as he spouts condescending lies from the noose. Of course, the Hayes Code assures his wife still loves in in the end, but this isn't your typical western thanks to Price's carefully orchestrated charm. It's also interesting to look up this real life tale. Have you seen the wild mutton chops on this guy? Obviously we know he doesn't get away with it, but it's delicious to see how close he gets.

10 October 2019

Iffy Recent Horrors

Iffy Recent Horrors 😕
by Kristin Battestella

Whether it's long form television, scary franchises, or famous faces onscreen, these recent horror legs leave a little something to be desired.

It was Okay

Bad Samaritan – Upsetting horses, whips, and screams open this 2018 thriller directed by Dean Devlin (Geostorm) starring David Tennant (Doctor Who) and Robert Sheehan (Red Riding). Older cars, computers, photography, and above the garage starving artists set the scene for our valets nicking from customers while they dine. It's a smooth operation – lifting trinkets, watches, small items that won't be missed. Why steal the gift card when you can scan it and they'll never know? Our burglars argue whether to con a decent family compared to the snobby rich before maneuvering around security systems, cameras, and dobermans. Viewers get to know these supposed crooks just trying to maximize any angle they can – Irish still struggling in corporate America while the bizarrely sans accent Tennant talks the expensive talk in his sweet Maserati. Coordinated snooping in his tricked out mod house to lift credit card numbers provides ominous phone action, handcuffs by the bed, and doors with seriously heavy locks. Encrypted passwords, suspect checkbooks, and smartphone flashlights lead to chains, horse bits, chairs bolted to the floor, and victims bound and gagged. Skeleton keys worn around the neck and cameras observing his quarry at all times elevate the suspense alongside designer tools, clean rooms, lye, serrated blades, and sinister saws. How can our robbers call the police without incriminating themselves? Close calls, regrets about the scheme, and fear of jail time or deportation bind our small timers against the twisted but suave serial killer methods, and stakeouts reveal mistakes made and a victim not where she is supposed to be. Our sociopath seeks to cleanse vulgar corruption at his secluded cabin containing torture devices, spurs, and cages. It's all about dressage and training to achieve the superior spark – just like a horse. Detective searches and police interviews come up empty thanks to coy clean ups, dismissing the bruises, lashes, and photographic proof. Our eponymous con turned do gooder becomes the prey – hacked, followed, and threatened with all manner of technology used against him. Sophisticated gadgets, vehicles, needles, and trackers implicate the petty thief, who turns to the seemingly uninterested FBI to file a missing persons report. Although he usually can't stand the low class squalor that's beyond “correction,” our killer's impressed with who's come to play in his sandbox. Terrorized families, job firings, social media blackmail, and presentation exposures help break the spirit as collared women are trained to go back to the cell and lock the door. The working class chaos and psycho trust fund order escalate to back alley attacks, violence down the stairs, baseball bats, gunshots, and explosions. So long as it isn't inelegant, who's next is going to watch, and snowy raids, jurisdiction technicalities, and shovel beatings lead to where all the gory bodies are buried. After resorting to the same old twisting mustache villain revelations, weak one on one fights, and action chases through the woods while the FBI sits on their hands waiting for a warrant; the finale does unfortunately loose some steam. The script never quite decides if we are inside the head of one or the other and doesn't always equally balance both sides. Overall this feels more like a nineties late night thriller – which is fine so long as viewers don't expect outright horror or thrills a minute – and fans of the cast can enjoy the careful orchestration and chilling interplay here.


Insidious: Chapter 3 – I liked the First Two in this franchise, but with releases so few and far between, it seems this 2015 prequel featuring Lin Shaye has been largely forgotten. Things here aren't off to a good start either with voices so, so low and music so, so loud. Unnecessary crescendos and warping toppers don't add atmosphere like the cluttered, old fashioned house and requests for a reading on a girl's late mother. Our psychic is out of the business and doesn't want to call on the dead because someone nasty may answer. Typical morning kitchen banter with dad Dermot Mulroney (My Best Friend's Wedding) restarts the story in a fancy apartment building complete with a bratty, ultimately irrelevant brother, hip friends with pink hair, and a kooky old black neighbor who dies first of course. Daughter Quinn rehearses but botches an audition thanks to bright spotlights and creepy shadows in the theater. Car accidents that should be shocking are again more so in volume than horror, but the hospital rush, flat lines, and fractures lead to a blue limbo and scary demon growls. Two broken legs make for sleeplessness and ringing hand bells (super loud naturally), a trapped in bed awkward amid thumps on the ceiling, shadowy arms, and phantom figures by the window. Locked basements, dark stairwells, parlors with skulls and crystal balls – the lone lady psychic fears and silence are much better than making the audience jump with a loud noise. It's weird, too, that a different horror series with astral demon action resorts to standard teen issues. While texting on an old slide keyboard phone and fake graphics are meant to indicate this is a decade ago, primitive video chat is used to great effect with the caller asking who's standing next to the would be victim when no one's there. Moved wheelchairs, figures behind the lace curtains, and looking under the bed frights increase as the intruder draws the shades, shuts the door, and flings the girl off the bed for more injuries and terror. This raspy breathing, mask wearing demon is pretty strong, jumping out four story windows and mystically transporting the wheelchair bound for abandoned fifth floor races. He's luring faceless ingenues to Room 514 yet no one researches the history of this creepy art deco building, and it takes gooey footprints on the ceiling for Dad to get a clue. It's easy to blink and miss dialogue here, questionable internal logic makes things confusing, and exposition about suicides and the reasons behind Elise giving up readings are left to exposition when we could have experienced the characterization. The living must search in the dark, resisting the lure to join dead relatives as evil follows them back from the astral underworld. The foggy corridors and red elevators are creepy, but it takes over an hour to get proactive against the demons – random scares, ghostly girls, and fun house horrors waste time while distorted frights predicting the First Insidious remain too brief. Ghost hunters found on the internet are called in complete with hidden cameras and night vision to record the flickering power, cracking bones, chilling possessions, and eyeballs in the throat. Seeing Elise overcome her issues to bring the psychic team together should have been the focus here, but for everything good, something cliché interferes. With the teen in trouble start and the psychic battles in the end, this feels like two different movies culminating with typical rattling furniture, whooshing action, and good ghosts conveniently coming through in the nick of time. Although this is late night watchable, there was potential for something much more than jump scares and gotchas.

I Couldn't Take It

Scream QueensThis thirteen episode 2015 Fox horror comedy debut opens with 1995 blood and babies in the bathtub ruining the jams to TLC before today's couture sleep masks and a millennial fast narration waxing on the superior social class, house slaves, and bulimia vomit on the carpet. Our immediately unlikable, elitist, don't feel sorry for poor little rich girl Queen of Kappa Kappa Tau Emma Roberts (The Blackcoat's Daughter) provides the breakneck history to match the quick editing and constantly on the move camera. Not so clean dean Jamie Lee Curtis (Halloween) threatens to revoke the house charter, leading to confrontations, extreme clique behavior, and alumni still trying to be hip. Red devil mascots and white robes build atmosphere alongside fearful pledges, killer pranks, and faces scorched in hot vats. Plebs wanting cool boyfriends named Chad go along with dumping a body – sharing in the sisterly secrets with blood oaths found online. Exaggerated zooms and screams over bloody faces peeling off create camp horrors while deadly encounters put the killer and victim face to face but texting rather than speaking or fleeing. Here, victims tweet for help rather than shout for police who don't believe there's an emergency thanks to howling hag legends and people taking selfies with dead bodies cum décor. Eerie basement accidents and bodies in the attic connect to fatal sorority secrets while eating cotton balls and tasers to the privates begat candlelight vigils and crocodile tears Visits to lux families of the deceased reveal holiday trysts, and film classes featuring Texas Chainsaw Massacre wink at the slasher genre before fresh slicing and dicing to the upbeat music. Commentaries and home videos wax on how Halloween lets one with the right dumb luck costume get away with anything, and pledges sharpening knives and carving pumpkins talk about making sausages out of the dead to sell them at the county fair. Camper frights and trailer park snooping pieces together what happened in sorority twenty years ago, but threats to call the news are more fearful than the authorities. Unfortunately, everything here is so gosh darn busy with tell not show exposition in every walk while they talk on the move scene. The far, far too many characters go overboard on bitchy freeze frame zingers amid racist, disabled, Asian, and lesbian insults. Singer Nick Jonas plays into the gay stereotypes, and there's a difference between having nasty characters mock the deaf or queer and using the demeaning and homophobia for laughs. Overused corporate radio and existential woke quips come at espresso speed alongside superficial, pissy, unnecessary monologues. If the sardonic was taken down a notch, viewers could appreciate the mood. However, the humor in death detracts from the horror. Are we supposed to laugh at the squirting sliced arms or enjoy the demented slasher references? We can't appreciate whether the horror is straight or sarcastic because the decision to chuckle at the preposterous has already been made for the audience. Library research and juicy reveals are withheld until convenient – happening in the past with brief flashbacks for the viewer after the fact. We're not in on the discovery and have no time for the details thanks to the random plot. Each brisk, forty-four minute entry feels like empty calories with Thanksgiving appropriation, “ghosts” of not dead characters, and scary storytelling complete with cliché re-enactments. Every person has to have the last comeback, me me me repeating the costumed encounters, killer chats, and double crosses. Pleb makeovers, questionable paternity, pacts to become alibi buddies, and deaths ruled suicide in spite of footprints and slit throats can't hide the killer giveaways slicing up the instantly dated Backstreet Boys wannabes in white. Despite pink furs and chandeliers, the grandeur is an ugly Clueless cosplay, and fine references to Sixteen Candles jar against the text speak. Who is ultimately the audience here – today's hipsters who will laugh or adults who understand the horror homages? Between creating writers Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Ian Brennan also directing alongside Bradley Buecker and Michael Uppendahl, perhaps there are too many male cooks in this kitchen. Like their American Horror Story, this has the cast and the opportunities, but the cool crescendos and uneven pacing toy with the action to arbitrarily fit network episodes. This should have been a three night October event with all the desperate hip and trying to be funny falling flat excised. Tame blood and gore and pretentious trash talk in lieu of actual cursing come off false, leaving the commentary laden dialogue more obnoxious than witty. I skipped around and didn't miss a thing, not liking anyone or caring enough about the killers to continue. Quirky security guard without a gun Niecy Nash (Reno 911) could have carried all the humor needed, and with her dark suits, silver crop, and morning scotch, not to be underestimated Curtis stands out from the sheep. Seeing the series from her perspective would have been much more interesting!