Ho-Hum Horror Shows
by Kristin Battestella
These short and seemingly short lived series go from could have been good and split decision seasons to just plain...stinky. Sorry!
The Covington Witches – These two 2019 episodes combine for over an hour and a half of funerals, candles, rituals, witches, and tarot in an African American infused Philadelphia ripe for a horror tale. Clearly this is a shoestring production with a forgivable low budget, uneven sound, okay lighting, and some amateur performances. However, the extremely tight camerawork not just cuts the proverbial corners but crops out half the picture – heads are cut off and viewers are left looking at a wall while people talk outside the frame. Unnecessary editing and location notations for every scene contribute to the cluttered feeling, and the barren design somehow feels crowded, interfering with the naturalistic conversations about wrangling in reluctant family members with magic warnings. Ominous music adds to the natural banter – which is nice when we can see both people in the uninterrupted frame properly as more relatives end up dead thanks to mysterious boxes, tea readings, and suspect fires. Mourners dressed in black, cemetery scenes, and wide outdoor shots create much needed scene setting breathers alongside intriguing homemade voodoo dolls, teaching spells, incense, and goddess prayers. Purification charms and chants escalate as nieces ask if they are dark witches or do magic for light but aren't afraid either way. The ladies are getting nasty with the evil spells, so why can't the elder family just tell the ones who don't know about all the witchcraft? Real estate runarounds and binding spells end up going too far with some penis removal magic, and that's certainly more interesting than the going to this house, then visiting that house, asking for coffee, and then leaving before the beverage is made. Why certain children don't know they are witches and why one distant niece comes into wealth and property isn't fully explained, and the pace is slow with redundant, roundabout scenes creating confusion. Are we missing an important piece of the puzzle or just left to wonder if a cryptic scene serves any purpose? Phone calls with nothing but “What does it all mean?” and “I don't know” waste time before men who don't know what they're in for meet an abrupt end and leave us wanting the rest of the story. This is based on a self published book series, and there isn't a lot of information about whether this show is intended as an in house web series, one supersized book trailer, or a pilot to shop for something bigger – which it had the potential to be.
A Split Decision
Slasher: Season 3 – This 2019 eight episode anthology subtitled Solstice breaks down into a real time murder mystery with neon raves, risque romps, and back alley stabbings. Unloving neighbors won't open the door to help but social media obsessed onlookers video the crime scene – desperate for a like, share, or viral fame a la a modern Rear Window. High schoolers and cafe hipsters mingle where they shouldn't while Muslims, lesbians, hidden homosexuals, and multi-ethnic families live side by side with bigots, racists, and abusers. Hate crimes, homophobia, and mob mentalities lead to lingering pain, personal drama, and love triangles. Who's listening to the banging against the wall or scrolling on for the next guy while in still in bed with the last one? Opportunists of all sexual connections, jerky husbands, and down low secrets aren't fair to anybody and escalate to viral bullying, hate mongering, and threats. Is it karma when those who warned to reap what you sow get what they deserve? Forensic details, mature conversations, and police theories counter everyone playing the victim while lifestyle bloggers claim blackmail recordings are today's journalism. Tacky green wallpaper, pink mood lighting, and dark red blood anchor the downtrodden apartment complex, but excessive angles, visual distortions, warped sounds, and shaky cams detract rather than add scares. Acid in the toilet drownings are better filmed with subtle blurry as the disturbing violence increases with personal dissections and no empathy. Although each episode focuses on one neighbor's perspective, there are a lot of people coming and going amid the red herrings and school pranksters, and it's tough to care about so many nasty, easily forgotten people. Why are only one pair of detectives on this if three people are dead, two are missing, and two more have been attacked all in the same complex connected to a previous murder? We meet people for them to die, which, while not unexpected, isn't fulfilling either. Great strides with asexual topics happen too late, taking a backseat to numbing snuff entertainment and desensitizing violent media. Bathtub suicide attempts and drilling into skulls are just gore, and disappointingly, the killer is called 'Druid' because of the solstice date – there are no cult or ritual aspects. I pegged the murderer by the third episode, as it's obvious the deaths and clean ups are too elaborate for the onscreen hours, and everything sags in the middle once the police are made dumb. Though better than the Terrible Year Two, this goes on too long with torture porn delays and dream fake outs when it should have been a four part limited event. People wonder if they are cursed because death and consequences follow them, but the character drama and introspective taut are dropped for excessive splatter, slow motion rage, and body parts in the boiler room. Killer close calls suddenly happen to create suspense, and neighbors come together too late thanks to contrivances as the unraveling second half runs out of steam.
Age of the Living Dead – This obscure six part 2018 UK/Prime series has a great premise with West Coast humans and East Coast vampires battling it out in a quarantined America. News bulletins and emergency notifications introduce the violence, but abandoned, post-apocalyptic buildings – not to mention the title – immediately suggest zombies rather than vampires. Beyond families fleeing flashbacks used for man pain introductions, we don't see how this division came to be when it would be fascinating to see America struggle in the wake of disaster for ten years without foreign goods or assistance. People train to fight vampires in New Mexico, a lady president has a cool L.A. compound, and pretentious New York vampires wax on mediocrity as they explain how they're tired of policing themselves in exchange for human blood donations. Stilted dialogue compounds the vampire sex or bathing in blood as bright human scenes and purple night time tints make sure we know who is the vampire daughter and rebel human son. It's obvious the writers are unfamiliar with U.S. geography as staff meetings debate nuking everything east of the Mississippi and vampires bemoan the Tupperware blood in favor of taking over the globe. For ten years they had an agreement, so why is all this talk happening now? Why didn't the vampire virus spread? How did the rest of the world contain the nation? Instead of telling us how the premise came to be, laughable performances, hollow music montages, and trite romance contribute to the cliché vampires named Victor. Bad editing can't compensate for the jarring onscreen pace – hectic in your face people and painfully slow vampires – and obnoxious evil glares do little amid leukemia angst and unnecessary traitors. Union Jack flags and Big Ben signify London is calling as the British claim one thing and do another, tossing another wrench at the screen when a U.K. not U.S. setting would have eliminated the awkward locations and bad accents. Angry generals make redundant end of the world claims, but even after skipping the middle episodes, it's still just hot air. These vampires have kids, develop a synthetic blood substitute, and say they've been waiting to be out in the open for centuries yet shootouts, grandstanding speeches, and overhead shots of every locale are more important. The British meddling stateside doesn't get far – although the wife thought dead now turned into a vampire makes our star crossed lovers...undead step siblings? There isn't much horror nor all that much science fiction as vampire councils have board meetings and debating people finally take action over melodramatic villains and vampire boy loves human girl switch-a-roos. Mentions of six hundred years of vampire history fall to the wayside for a “Who's on First?” cure, and ultimately it's all a waste of time. If humans are donating blood to vampires, why not put the cure in the food supply? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯