Archive for the ‘TV/Movies’ Category

Thoughts on “The Bionic Woman”

January 25, 2022

After my vacation, I was ready to dive back into watching things from my stack of shows that I hadn’t watched.  Like when I watched “Scream Queens”, I found that I had a short series to watch and wanted to start with it to be able to get through something quickly and so to have accomplished something pretty much right off the bat.  A number of years ago, I was browsing in Best Buy and came across the first two seasons — there are three — of “The Bionic Woman” for a low price, and decided to pick it up.  And then, as is my wont, never watched it.  This was a great opportunity to get through something early in the year and also to finally watch it.

This show was a spin-off from “The Six Million Dollar Man”, and in the pack I have they started from those episodes.  The overall premise of both shows is that the main characters were in a terrible accident and had their lives saved by an experimental procedure to make them bionic (adding mechanical parts to them to keep them alive and functional).  They then use those powers in the service of the U.S. government to stop various threats and perform various missions.  For Jaime Summers — the “bionic woman” — specifically, the plot was that Steve Austen had returned to where he grew up to visit his mother and stepfather and buy and fix up a ranch as a somewhat permanent place for him to life, and ends up meeting his old somewhat high school flame again (Jaime).  She is at least somewhat dating someone else, but he of course falls in love with her and her with him, and so they decide to get married.  While planning the wedding, they of course decide like most people would to build their bond by going skydiving.  Jaime’s parachute fails, and she crashes to the ground, gravely injured, but Steve prevails on the guy who runs the agency — Oscar Goldman — to make her bionic like they did for him.  It succeeds, but soon her system is shown to be rejecting her bionics which is causing her great pain and is damaging her brain.  She then dies.

Before you think, “Huh, that was a short series!”, I guess the character and idea was popular enough that the powers-that-be decided to bring her back, and so retconned that into her appearing to die but being revived afterwards by an experimental procedure by someone else.  She remembers her bionics but has forgotten a lot of things, including her love for and engagement to Steve, and the issue is that while not having her memory is bothering her they worry that if she gets her memory back that part of the brain that was causing problems will cause problems for her again.  And, of course, the doctor who saved her life is a potential love interest for her and a rival for Steve, although they have a very friendly rivalry.  Eventually, she regains her memory and risks having problems again, but a new procedure allows them to tweak her bionics so that she won’t reject them, and so she becomes “The Bionic Woman”.

From the episodes I saw and how the premise worked, “The Bionic Woman” provides a contrast to “The Six Million Dollar Man” by having Jaime be more of an ordinary person who occasionally is pressed into service rather than as someone who is military whose main job is performing these missions.  Jaime works as a teacher on the nearby military base and has a number of scenes where she just acts normally, and throughout the series she is a bit awkward and often uncertain about performing the missions.  Ultimately, her personality tends towards the ordinary girl-next-door pressed into service, which is an interesting take.  The one problem I have with this is that in a number of episodes they go on about how beautiful she is, which works against the personality and the appearance of the character which is more the pretty girl-next-door than an absolute stunner.  Still, for the most part they manage to stick consistently to that personality.

Another issue with the show is that originally I thought that they didn’t have enough content to cover off their runtime, but later concluded that they would drag things out in an attempt to build tension and drama, but they ended up dragging things out too much.  Jaime would be running towards or away from something and they’d flip between the scenes and take an awfully long time to resolve it, which ended up with me thinking that they should just end the scene already.  The reason this happens, I think, is that when you slow things down in a show you run the risk of people remembering that this is a TV show and so break the fourth wall.  So the secret to good drama is to move slowly enough to build tension but not so slowly that we realize that the show will not actually go through with the terrible things that they are hinting could happen in the scene.  Here, the problem was that I found myself thinking that Jaime was obviously going to stop the bomb/escape the bomb/rescue the people in time and so they should just get around to showing that instead of dragging it out.  Thus, it broke the fourth wall and broke the illusion, and so I was treating it as a show — and losing patience with it — instead of being immersed in the show and hoping that she would succeed while in the back of my mind knowing that she was going to succeed.  Here, it was in the front of my mind that she was going to succeed which meant that the purportedly dramatic scenes were not at all tense and dramatic.

Still, the show has its charm.  One of the things that shows from that era have is that they come across as being incredibly genuine.  Even when they are campy or overly dramatic, they don’t present that way but instead as almost an idea of “Please, please just overlook that and go along with us!  It’ll be fun!”.  In the “Six Million Dollar Man” episodes, Lee Majors sings during it and while the songs are terrible — especially the lyrics — it doesn’t come across as all of them thinking that they are wonderful singers and wanting you to experience that along with them but instead as them really thinking that this would make the show more entertaining, even as it fails.  So even when they fail we don’t chastise them for overreaching but instead understand that they were really, really trying, and just couldn’t make it.

And while it’s been oft-parodied, their approach to the special effects for the bionics is actually pretty brilliant.  If you’ve ever seen a parody of something happening in slow-motion with a “du-du-du-du-du-da” sound in the background, you’ve seen that approach, and yeah it can seem awfully corny, but it allowed them to simulate bionic powers in a way that was clear that the powers were being used without having to use a lot of special effects to do it.  Sure, maybe even at the time they could have used better effects, but they didn’t need better special effects.  What they did got across what they needed to get across without adding too much to the show, and adds to the charm of a show that really says that they really want to focus on the fun and not on the incidentals.

So, yes, the show has its charm, and I didn’t hate watching it, and wouldn’t mind watching it again.  But at the same time, I’m not particularly anxious to try to find the third season or to pick up “The Six Million Dollar Man”.  The show was fine, often entertaining, but also often stupid and, as I already said, a bit draggy in places, ruining its own drama.  Given that, if I saw the third season or “The Six Million Dollar Man” I’d probably pick them up and put them in the stack to watch, but won’t be in a hurry to get them or, thus, to rewatch this.  Thus, these will go in the box of shows to maybe rewatch at some point and not in the closet to rewatch on a somewhat regular basis.

Comprehensive Comments on “Tales From the Darkside”: Disk 12

January 22, 2022

This is it.  This is the last disk, and so the last seven episodes of the last season.  It’s been a long ride for me and an even longer one for you (since these posts, as they are currently scheduling, are stretching into February), but I hope that reading the posts were more interesting than watching the episodes were for me.

This disk again raised the specter of my, at this point, wanting to find issues with the episodes and so possibly overlooking good episodes because I’m being and feeling overly critical.  There are at least a couple of episodes that I was at least moderately entertained while watching, which meant that I wasn’t distracted and wishing that the episode was over, and yet I still wouldn’t have called the episode a good one.  But in pondering it, I think the thoughts I have on the show are really still valid.  They manage to get a number of recognizable names, and so the performances tend to be fairly good.  The writing itself isn’t bad, so the dialogue in the better episodes mostly works, and again in the episodes that most vex me the pacing is pretty good (although, again, it’s hard to fail at that in a half-hour show).  But ultimately, it’s the stories that let me down, and leave me feeling disappointed and unsatisfied.  The episodes that I wonder about are the precise episodes where the acting and writing are good and, often, that the idea has promise but how the story works out just falls flat for me.

Onto the final episodes!

The first episode is “The Cutty Black Sow”, where right before Hallowe’en the great-grandmother of the family is dying, and as she is dying she relates a Scottish folktale about the Cutty Black Sow that comes and steals the souls of people if they don’t perform a certain ritual on Hallowe’en to the young son of the family.  He researches it and thinks that this is all real, and prepares to perform the ritual.  His parents are out at the funeral home and so he and his younger sister — who looks older, to tell you the truth — perform the ritual which involves putting stones marked with the names of the people in the family in the fire.  He then takes his sister trick-or-treating, and when they return one of the stones has been tossed out of the fire, which is the sign that the Cutty Black Sow will take that soul, which freaks him out.  A number of scary things happen over the night, but at the end right about midnight his father comes in to console him and tell him that he is now safe … but then when he steps into the light it turns out to be the Cutty Black Sow who presumably takes the boy’s soul.

Episodes with young children tend to be the better ones, and again this one gets a good performance from the kids (although the sister is a bit annoying as she seems unreasonably obsessed with trick-or-treating right after her great-grandmother died).  But the story is the only thing it has, and it’s nonsensical.  There’s no indication that she performed this ritual before this — surely if she was doing it every year someone would have known about it — and no one’s soul was lost.  There’s also no reason why, all of a sudden, his soul is at risk.  It also makes no sense that the Cutty Black Sow would take the form of the father, and so it at first implied that there might have been a twist where the father’s name looked like the son’s name from a different angle and so the Cutty Black Sow was really going to take the father’s soul, but that’s not what they do.  Also — and this is a minor one but it bugged me throughout the episode — the Cutty Black Sow takes souls.  There’s no indication that it kills people, and that’s all that it is implied, at least, happens to the boy.  There are so many better plots you can do here — starting from the boy trying to save the great-grandmother’s soul to again a mistake over which soul is taken to it being a pure physical threat — that it’s really disappointing that this confusing mess is what they came up with.

The second episode is “Do Not Open This Box”, where a henpecked elderly man who is an inventor and fixer of junk receives a box in the mail that says “Do not open this box” on it, and so he puts it aside and goes on with his life.  His wife comes down to continue berating him as she had been doing from upstairs the whole time, and eventually finds the box and tries to open it, and it turns out that it is empty.  Soon after, a man comes to the door asking for the box and noting that he needs it back, unopened.  The inventor would give it back, but his wife smells opportunity and says that they don’t know where it is right now but if the man pays them they might be able to find it.  She keeps trying to get more and more from the man, but the man notes that he needs to have it back by Friday or else it’s useless.  She tries to call his bluff, and he takes away all the magically created things he gave them, like furs, jewels, and a redo of rooms in the upstairs.  She then gives him the box back and asks him to restore what he’d given them, but he notes that the box has been opened and refuses, and also says that it held a human soul and so one of them must give up their soul to pay him back for the loss.  When he comes back, the woman tries to get her husband to kill the man, but the inventor refuses, so she stabs him herself only to find that the man is really some kind of devil who then declares that he was wrong and the mistake wasn’t a delivery of a soul, but was instead a pick-up of a soul … hers.  Later, the inventor uses his invention that keeps everything completely closed to seal the box permanently, which the devil appreciates, and earlier when the wife was asking for things the inventor said that the only thing he wanted was for his invention to be useful for someone.  After that, the woman the wife considered her main social rival arrives with a devil’s food cake and finds the basement and inventions interesting, which implies that the two of them will get along a lot better and form a connection the same day the wife either dies or disappears.

The wife is really annoying, and while that was intentional since she does most of the talking that makes the episode hard to watch.  She’s also an idiot as she ignores the time deadline which had to be the only reason the delivery man was willing to pay them a lot to get the box back.  Also, the only introduction we have to the other elderly woman is the wife’s discussions about competing with her, which is usually code for the two of them being catty rivals, and so it’s a bit disconcerting to have her be nicer, even if it is consistent with the wife’s personality.  I also find the elderly man a bit too cavalier about her death and her soul being taken by the devil, especially since he’s supposed to be the nice guy in the story.  So, again, ultimately a disappointing episode from an interesting idea, about the box you shouldn’t open and what might be inside.

The third episode is “Family Reunion”, where a man is keeping his son locked in a room because he’s a werewolf while his wife desperately tries to find him.  She tracks them down and calls in Social Services to help, but the man still refuses to let the son out and chases them away with a gun.  They then go to the police who plan on serving notice, and the two of them go there at night to pick up the son for some reason.  The police aren’t there, but when they get inside the room the son changes into a werewolf and attacks the worker, and when the father comes back to save her it turns out that the mother was also a werewolf — earlier it was stated that they were both attacked while in Ireland — and she seemingly kills both the worker and the father, and then has a loving reunion with her son.

That she was also a werewolf was pretty obvious, even as it was also obvious that the father didn’t know that.  Also, most of the story talks about how brutal werewolves are and talks about them killing people, and the son talks about starting to enjoy the primal urges, but the episode ends with both brutal murders and then being a loving mother and son.  This is an interesting idea, but it should have been followed through with a bit more, or else the brutality should have been toned down and the son should have at least started to believe that being a werewolf wasn’t as much of a curse as the father believed.  As it is, we don’t really want to see the two of them let loose on the world to do the killing that they seemingly have been doing, and so can’t be happy about the
“happy ending”, but wouldn’t find it disturbing either since it’s perfectly reasonable that they’d still love each other as werewolves.

The fourth episode is “Going Native”, which involves a woman who talks from the beginning as if she is an alien saying that she should never have gone to some kind of therapy group because the fact that she isn’t as emotional as humans means that they can figure out that she isn’t right, putting her mission at risk.  As things progress, she starts to explore emotions a bit more, and ends up having sex with one man and then a date and sex with a philandering man from the group.  When she discovers that he’s having sex with another woman from group — that he said he was done with — she attacks the woman and then in the next group session rants about how she can’t go home now because she has the emotions of humans and so has to stay here.

The idea isn’t a bad one, but is too big for a half-hour episode.  We needed a much slower progression of emotions to make this work.  Also, the ranting at the end is problematic, as it’s more angry.  We really needed her to be accepting of it at the end, showing that she has really changed.  It’s an interesting twist to stories like that which normally end with them being happy at having what they were missing, but we would have needed to understand her alien species more to really get that, and again there just isn’t enough time to do that in a half-hour episode.

The fifth episode is “Hush”, where a woman whose husband is an inventor and is out of town hires a teenage girl to babysit her son who has coughing fits but always recovers.  The son shows her a number of inventions including one that will seek out and shut down anything that makes noise, but is controlled by a remote control.  As things progress, the boy leaves the room to talk to the girl and accidentally turns the machine on, and it then shuts down the remote control, which is the only way to shut it down.  It then starts trying to shut down everything that makes noise, including the two of them.  They dodge it and distract it and do all sorts of things, while it shuts down all sorts of things including the phone, a parrot, a dog, and the mother when she rushes home because she couldn’t reach them on the phone.  The girl finally shuts it down by stabbing it in a place that has it make noise, and so it shuts itself down.

There have been a lot of movies and TV shows that at least had episodes that required people to stay quiet or made them be quiet (like “Hush” from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer“) because having to make no noise is indeed tension-building and scary.  However, here the monster looks like a vacuum cleaner, kills humans by clamping the hose over their mouth and nose which it seems like it would be easy to dodge, and the two leads aren’t all that quiet so the tension is lost.  Also, it really does look like taking a baseball bat to it would deal with it well-enough and be quiet enough to avoid at least immediate retribution.  So it’s an episode about being quiet where the threat is ridiculous and no one really stays quiet.  The performances and pacing are good, but the episode itself and its story aren’t.

The sixth episode is “Barter”, which features a family that is an obvious parody of “I Love Lucy”, with “Nicky”, “Ruthie”, and “Little Nicky” made up to look like the characters from that show.  The wife wants to win a household tips contest, and the boy’s drum playing is distracting her.  A strange man — who is clearly an alien — shows up wanting ammonia, and wanting to trade with her for it, so he trades her a device that can turn people and things off and on so that she can turn the boy’s practicing off while she does her work.  Of course, when she shows it to her husband and tries to turn it off it breaks, so she can’t.  They lure the man back with more ammonia, and he offers to trade them the cure if they let the boy come with him for the next three years.  They take the device instead, but it only turns him back on but won’t let him stop.  They eventually let the boy go with the man for his three year mission to Earth, and the two fade out of sight.

This is clearly meant to be a comedy episode, but other than the “I Love Lucy” references it’s not all that funny.  The ending where the boy has to go with the alien is also a bit disturbing for a comedic episode.  But because of the comedic elements we don’t find out anything about the alien and so to understand what he wants, or if he’s hostile or not trustworthy or trustworthy or whatever.  It raises too many questions to be a simple comedy, but focuses too much on the comedy to work as any sort of serious episode.

The seventh and very last episode is “Basher Malone, which features a wrestler who has his mother at ringside who gives cookies and milk and things like that to everyone.  The wrestler has a hard match against the wrestler of a shady promoter, but wins in the end when his mother gives him a cookie.  The promoter then gets a call from his “boss” and demands a better wrestler, and challenges the wrestler to a big match, where if the promoter’s wrestler wins the wrestler — named “Basher Malone” — has to retire, but if Basher Malone wins then the promoter will get out of the business.  It is also revealed that the promoter is an agent for the devil who was trying to get kids to want to emulate the nasty wrestler’s he’s promoted, but Basher Malone is a wrestler precisely to be a good influence for kids and so is ruining that.  The wrestler that the promoter gets is one whose weight goes up the more sinful his opponent is.  So when Basher Malone is too prideful and ignores his mother, he loses, but when he is humble and acknowledges his mother, he wins.  At the end, the promoter is trying to get the mother’s interference out of the picture — the evil wrestler had a sexy woman at ringside who tried to interfere but was stopped by the mother — and wants to toss her purse into a portal to Hell (and possibly the mother as well) — and since he’s threatening the mother Basher Malone regains all his virtue and goes to rescue his mother, which makes the evil wrestler have no weight.  He still tries to jump at Basher Malone, but he gets out of the way and the evil wrestler ends up attacking the promoter, which rockets his weight through the roof and ends up with both of them going through the portal to Hell.  Basher Malone and his mother then go out to dinner to celebrate.

This could have worked as a Virtue Horror story, but the sinning is too contrived to work for that.  It also could have worked as a parody of wrestling tropes — with faces and heels — but it doesn’t really make that obvious either.  The pacing and performances are fairly good, but while the ending fits the story overall is a bit underwhelming.  So it’s a perfect ending to the series, basically an interesting idea whose overall execution of the story disappoints.

I’ll make one more post summarizing the whole thing, and then I’ll be able to move on from this.

Thoughts on “Oculus”

January 20, 2022

When I started watching this movie, it somehow seemed familiar.  I had heard of this story before, but couldn’t recall ever watching it.  Then, it hit me:  a while back I had been going through the list of horror movies on TV Tropes to pick out ones that sounded interesting, and had read about this one.  So it seemed familiar because I had indeed read about a number of the plot points before.  Fortunately, I didn’t remember that well enough to spoil the plot, or to spoil the twist in the ending.  Of course, in talking about it I’m going to go ahead and spoil all of that, so if you think you might want to watch this movie you should probably stop reading now (although by now if you’ve been reading these posts you really should already know that).

Anyway, the basic story is that a young man is being let out of an insane asylum because he killed his father when he was just a child and according to the doctor made up some kind of story about it that no one believed.  The movie hints at a potential problem with his sister over this and we are led to believe that she was upset with him for killing their father, but it turns out that the warning from the doctor that she didn’t have the help he had to deal with it was not about her having hard feelings towards him for the killings, but instead that she has stuck to and still believes the purportedly crazy story that they told at the time of the murder.  And the story is this:  the family had bought an antique mirror that had a history of people around it dying in strange and often violent and crazy ways, and they claim that it drove the father to torture and kill the mother and then try to kill them, so the son killed the father in self-defense.  The sister wants to document the supernatural things the mirror does to prove that the mirror was responsible and not her father and brother, and then destroy it — using an automated and timed mechanism — so that it can’t do these things again.

So, why is the mechanism automated?  Because the mirror has the ability to cloud the perceptions of people and make them think that they are seeing and hearing things that they aren’t, which is how it manipulates people into doing terrible things and how it protects itself.  It seems like if you watch it in a camera you see things as they really are — this is formally revealed later in the movie — and so the cameras would capture things as they really are.  It also seems to feed off of the life force of various things — planets, animals, and ultimately people — to get its power, and so to get it to act as appropriate so she can document it she has to kick start it with some plants and a dog that gets set free.  So, essentially, instead of simply destroying it she has to actually reactivate it and give it power before she can destroy it, which really seems like a recipe for disaster.  And it ultimately is.

The structure of the movie is that it splits its time between the events of their childhood and the events of the present, showing us what happened back then and what is happened now.  This is actually not a bad set-up, but it suffers from the issue that the past events run pretty much right up to the end of the movie but don’t really have much of a purpose at that point.  What I mean is that in most cases the point of showing the past would be to set up a mystery for the present — are things how they believe them to be or are they delusional, for example — and then by viewing the past events we can see that mystery played out and solved.  As noted, here the main mystery would be whether the mirror really was supernatural or whether they were delusional, and that mystery is played with in the early parts of the movie, with the brother trying to stick to the story he adopted from his therapy and the sister sticking to the original story but seeming rather irrational and so not trustworthy.  This would work well, then, except that we don’t find out that the mirror is really supernatural in the past until the events at the end, pretty much, and by that point the present portion of the movie has already made it clear that, yeah, the mirror really is supernatural.  And while the events in the past do fill in the gaps in the history that the main characters tell us, there’s no real twist there or real revelation that justifies interrupting the life and death struggle of the main characters in the present part.  So it seems to go just a wee bit wrong.

Now, the thing here is that there is indeed quite a few things that we could consider wrong about this movie.  The backstory and history and powers and goals of the mirror are never explained.  At the ending, the brother is being manipulated by the mirror and breaks free to trigger the destruction mechanism … only to have it stopped by the sister’s body that the mirror manipulated into being there (and so he kills her), which raises questions like why he didn’t check the cameras first and why she didn’t rig a mechanism that would destroy it even if it did something like that.  And there are a number of other minor issues.  But for the most part, none of them matter.  The plan isn’t all that great and all that well-thought out, the brother is panicking and so wouldn’t think to check the cameras, and so on and so forth, but the movie does seem to know what it wants to do and focuses on that, leaving the other issues unexplained or handwaved to get at the key things you need to know.

Given that, what I have to say about the movie is this:  I’ve been griping for a while now about the lack of horror movies that know what they want to do and set out to do it, and manage to do that with even basic competence.  For all of its flaws, “Oculus” strikes me as a movie that knows what it wanted to do and set out to do it, and managed to mostly pull it off.  Yes, it would be nice to know more about the mirror and its history and its goals and it would probably even make the movie better, but ultimately we don’t need to know any of that and it doesn’t really get in the way of anything that we don’t.  It could probably be improved, but it does work on its own.

In that way, it reminds me of “Happy Death Day”.  And as such, it gets the honour of going into my closet of movies to rewatch again at some point.  Proving that, really, all these movies need to do is decide what they want to do and do it with basic competence, meaning that it’s kinda sad that so many of them can’t manage it.

Comprehensive Comments on “Tales From the Darkside”: Disk 11

January 15, 2022

The second disk of the last season picks up some impressive writing credits in Clive Barker and Stephen King, but unfortunately the episodes don’t end up being any better.

Let me take a brief moment here to talk about the structure of each episode, which really is constant across all of the episodes and has an impact on how I watch it, if for no other reason than that it gives me major clues as to what is going to happen or is going to have to happen in the next little while.  The episode starts with what would normally be called a teaser, as it sets the scene, hints at the supernatural horror, and usually ends on some kind of shock to lead into the rest of the episode.  However, this is not your usually couple of minutes at most teaser, but instead is usually about five to ten minutes.  Then there’s the middle section, where a lot of the plot development happens, which then leads into the last 5 minutes or so which is wrapping it all up to what is usually a twist conclusion.  So when I see the second “fade-to-black” scene, I know that things are going to be coming to a head which will usually get me thinking about what kind of ending we can get from what has happened before.  Also, if I don’t care for the episode, it also gets me thinking that the episode is thankfully almost over, which happens far more often than I’d like.

Anyway, on to the episodes!

The first episode is “The Yattering and Jack”.  This is the episode by Clive Barker, and it features a man coming home to his house on Christmas Eve, and as he does so strange things start happening, like strange noises and things getting tossed around and so on and so forth.  The man continually blames it on the foundation settling and things like that and for the most part seems to be in complete denial that this is anything strange at all, despite the fact that we know that this is supernatural because a) of how the events are happening, b) because this is “Tales from the Darkside” and in this series these things are always supernatural and c) because we see a little demon doing the things and being annoyed by the man’s cheerful nature.  The man’s daughter shows up unexpectedly and notices the strange events and is convinced that something is wrong, but the man still denies it.  When some carolers come by, the man and his daughter go out to hear them, the demon pleads with the devil for release, and the devil shows up to explain the plot.  The forces of Hell really, really want to damn this guy, and this minor demon has been charged with doing that, and he can do anything he needs to expect that he can’t actually touch the guy, or else he’ll become the guy’s slave.  The demon ups his antics and at times gets the daughter into harm’s way, which finally ruffles the guy’s cool, but he calms down and says that he’s going to go for a walk and asks his daughter to come with him.  The demon is still frustrated but is willing to wait for another chance, but the devil pops in to say that the guy is planning to reconcile with his wife — whom the demon pushed into an affair to cause her to leave him — and so the demon has to stop the guy from doing that.  He tries to lock them in the house, but they trick him by having the daughter run the back door and when he goes to keep that one locked the guy opens the front door and they start to run out, but then the demon grabs him by the arm and becomes his slave.  It turns out that the guy knew that a demon was working against him all the time and seemingly went along with it in order to get a demon slave, and when confronted with the fact that he won’t get into heaven with a demon slave resorts to his sunnier personality and repeats the common refrain of “Que sera sera”.

I give this episode credit for being one of the few to really explain the supernatural aspects well, or at least taking the time to do so, especially with the explanation from the devil in the middle of the episode.  However, this comes apart at the end because the ending still tries to explain things but they don’t make a lot of sense.  The guy mentions that his mother — the daughter’s grandmother — was a witch which would explain why he knows all the rules, but he mentions it as an explanation for why they wanted to damn him so much, which doesn’t make sense and is never explained.  This, then, undercuts the two interesting character points, which is of him being aware of what was going on and that they really, really wanted to damn him.  If he had been a witch’s son who was indeed a very saintly person that would work, but the ending presents this as him going along with it not in order to trick the demon into leaving him alone — or frustrating them enough to give up — but in order to get a demon slave, which isn’t exactly something a good person would do.  I also think this idea is a bit too big for a half-hour episode, because for it to really work we needed to see this building over time and then marvel at how he maintains his composure in light of that, but here he really looks like someone in denial because the events are too big and too supernatural to ignore.  That does work a bit with the episode but that he seems delusional doesn’t make us as sympathetic towards him as he should be.  That being said, this is a better than average episode (which isn’t saying all that much, admittedly).

The second episode is “Seymourlama”, where a bickering family on a windy winter’s night is suddenly visited by two members to a religion that have a religious leader like the Dali Lama and their leader has just died, and so they’re looking for the new one and their signs point to the snarky son.  They get the parents to sign him over by promising them riches and the like, and then the son’s soon-to-be-power goes to his head and he starts making ludicrous demands.  Eventually, the head religious guy mentions the address, and it turns out that they went to the wrong address by mistake and so they take everything back and run off next door.  The parents then seemingly aim to beat the son up for being the wrong person (and a jerk).

This has to be a comedy episode, but as usual with the comedy episodes here it really isn’t all that funny.  None of the characters are sympathetic and none of them are interesting, and other than people acting weirdly none of them are in any way funny either.  There’s no serious plot to work with, but no real comedy either.

The third episode is “Sorry, Right Number” which is Stephen King’s contribution.  The family of a writer is having a normal night at home, when the mother who is talking on the phone picks up the other line and hears sobbing from someone whose voice she recognizes.  She desperately calls around trying to find out who it might have been and can’t find anyone, but one of her sisters isn’t answering the phone, so she and her husband rush out there, but it turns out that her young son is teething and she fell asleep listening to a Walkman for some relief.  So they can’t figure out how might have called, but the voice still seemed familiar.  The wife goes to sleep and the husband stays up for a bit to tape a movie for his son, but never comes back to bed and the wife discovers that he died of a heart attack while watching the movie.  Ten years later, it’s the wedding of the oldest daughter and the wife finds the tape, is reminded of that night, and for some reason picks up the phone and, sobbing, calls their old number trying to get out a warning … but she fails, and it is revealed that it was her voice on the phone all along.

The problem here is that the main thread of the episode is the strange phone call, but it is never used, resolved, or properly developed.  For a “call from the future” sort of storyline, what you want to do is have the phone call either be causitive or destined.  In the first case, you’d do something like have the stress from her worry and even the events in the sister’s house be what ultimately causes the heart attack, but they don’t do that here.  For the latter, you could have her discover that the phone could call back in time and then try to warn herself, but she doesn’t discover that until she’s already made the call.  You could also have her do it completely by accident, but if you were going to do that you’d need to make the phone call a bigger concern throughout the episode, and it’s pretty much perfunctory, and they also ruin this by having her try to get a warning out and not just be sobbing over missing him on her daughter’s birthday.  So the only interesting plot thread is the phone call, and that is never developed and isn’t resolved.  The family drama is fine, but is itself a bit pointless and makes the phone call itself pointless.

The fourth episode is “Payment Overdue”, which focuses on a woman who later reveals that she clawed her way out of poverty and is now working as a collections agent browbeating people by any means necessary into paying their debts, and is quite successful at it.  She starts getting calls from a former “client” of hers, and then someone called Michael shows up with a payment and a religious card depicting Archangel Michael in order to clear all the debts, as the debtor is now dead.  It turns out that the debtor was very religious and superstitious.  Anyway, the woman is freaked out by all of this and for some reason invites Michael to stay for dinner and stay the night.  The debtor’s voice starts coming through anything with a speaker, and the woman is freaked out by this, and then Michael wakes up and reveals to her that the debtor was afraid of the court system because she came from a place where the courts were corrupt, and the woman’s threat to take her to court caused her to kill herself, and now Michael is here to settle accounts, which he does by essentially turning the woman into the debtor and leaving her there, like that.

This episode raises more questions than it answers, not the least of which being why the Archangel Michael would get involved in this at all, and whether the woman deserved the treatment she got, especially considering that she seemed to have clawed herself out of that sort of situation already.  The woman is not nice, but this doesn’t seem like justice, especially since she claims — and it is reasonable to believe her here — that she didn’t know how scared the debtor was of the courts and even Michael notes that her failure was merely a failure to try to understand them.  I guess that this would be a crash course in understanding them, but then she was in a far more similar situation to them already and it didn’t seem to help.  This strikes me as an episode that sounded good in someone’s head — vengeance for a lack of empathy — but it really doesn’t come off in this episode.

The fifth episode is “Love Hungry”, which features a heavyset woman who tends plants and loves to eat, who gets a call out of the blue from someone she used to know who effectively asks her out on a date.  She is aware of how heavy she is and also receives a strange package promising a foolproof weight-loss plan, where she has to put something in her ear.  On the date, she tries it, and what happens is that she hears all the food screaming in pain, and then she eventually faints.  This does not put off her suitor — despite how she thinks it should — and she tries out the next thing she gets from the diet company, a pair of glasses that lets her interact with all the food in her house as if it was alive and sentient, which guilts her into not eating.  She doesn’t contact her suitor in two months, and so he prevails on the landlady to let him in, and we discover that the woman has starved to death.

This is another nonsensical episode.  We never find out who sent her the diet aids or why someone would create that as a way to lose weight.  Also, that cooked food is sentient and can scream is patently ridiculous, and the episodes where she talks to food are more goofy than scary.  But it’s way too serious to be a comedy.  Frankly, I would have preferred they have her as a nice person get converted through this into eating the food even though she sees them as sentient and thus imply that she was now going to be a more psychopathic and evil person than what we got here.

The sixth episode is “The Deal”, where a struggling writer talks to his diabolic neighbour about his problems, and his neighbour offers to make some contacts and get him a deal.  He gets the writer a deal, but when things aren’t being done the way the writer wants the writer complains to the neighbour about it, who reveals that he’s really the devil and will give the writer control as long as the writer gives the devil his soul.  The writer eventually accepts and is given control of the studio, but then things aren’t going the way he wanted anyway, as he cannot give a woman he knows and might have been dating a part that he wrote for her, and with all the work he’s had to do he wants out of the deal, and the devil says that he can if he can find someone to take over the deal.  The writer recruits the woman by convincing her it’s a tryout for a role, and when the devil is convinced he accepts her in the writer’s stead and the writer seems to regret it before disappearing in a puff of smoke, and the devil wants to work out the details of the deal with the woman.

The ending makes no sense.  It strains credulity that the devil wouldn’t know that the woman was acting, and the episode does not make clear that her rant about her thinking he loved her was true and that she wanted revenge on him was a real thing.  And the fact that it seems like the devil is going to negotiate with her suggests that he didn’t really think she took the deal, so it’s ultimately confusing.  There is an interesting idea that comes out of this is the idea that the devil doesn’t really care if things work out better for the people who make the deals in this world as long as he gets the soul in the end, and so if people make deals thinking that they want something but not realizing what it really entails that’s no skin off the devil’s nose, but he also has no reason to arrange that either (since people coming out ahead with his deals gives people a reason to take it).  This, then, could have been the classic “Be careful what you wish for” story if it wasn’t for the ending.  And I have to note that the actor playing the devil plays multiple roles that are nevertheless still recognizably the devil and does a good job with it.

The seventh episode is “The Apprentice”, where a young woman who wants a job at a heritage park sort of thing ends up being taken through a strange closet and ends up in what definitely seems like a medieval town, and meets the daughter of the strict magistrate and owner of the park and finds that her ideas are completely out of whack with modern ones, which she thinks is sad but thinks is the result of living in the in-character town.  Eventually she lights a cigarette and the husband-to-be of the daughter accuses her of being a witch, and the daughter then tries to get the woman out of there, but she fails and the woman is locked up.  At this point, it’s clear that the woman is really in the past.  The daughter eventually returns to free her, but before they can flee through the closet — it’s locked and they can’t figure out how to open it — the magistrate returns and says that he has been bringing young women from the future to accuse of being witches to keep the community from splintering, and then strikes his daughter when she would protect the woman and then struggles with the woman, which runs up against the wheel that opens the closet.  The daughter runs through at the urging of the woman but before she can go through the mechanism is destroyed.  The daughter wakes up confused in the modern world but acts the part of someone who would be an actor in that park, and the woman is put on trial for witchcraft in what is revealed to be Salem.

The big problem here is that while the idea of manufacturing witch accusations for the greater good is an interesting one, the magistrate’s plan makes no sense.  Salem would have been a small community, and his finding complete strangers to accuse of being witches wouldn’t really play well with the people, who would be aware that complete strangers keep showing up to be witches.  Also, since this has happened before it is unlikely that none of the others would have befriended the daughter and figured it out and tried to go home.  Also, they discover that she’s a witch in a surprisingly short amount of time — like a day — which makes little sense, but it’s difficult to imagine that they could have kept up the pretense for much longer.  We really needed a better twist here, like it being the case that the daughter was the villain making these arrangements or setting them up for something.  Also, this idea is a bit too big for a half-hour episode, as we would have wanted more time to develop and build the mystery and set up a much better ending to the episode.

You may have noticed that some of the episode descriptions are really short and some of them are quite a bit longer.  The reason is that I try to summarize everything that matters to understanding the episode, and some of them are structured so that almost everything does matter and some of them have large parts of the episode that don’t really matter (except maybe for atmosphere).  That being said, I don’t think there’s any correlation between the details mattering and the quality of the episode.

The last disk is coming up next, so let’s see if it manages to go out with a bang.

Thoughts on “The Clown Doll”

January 13, 2022

The basic premise of this movie is that a woman who is pregnant and is going to give the child to her brother and his wife — who cannot have children — is put up in a house by them to finish out the pregnancy, and while browsing for things to help furnish it comes across a life sized clown doll that the woman running the store wants to sell to her and that she is strangely attracted to, so she buys it for a discount price and sets it up in her house.  We had seen earlier, though, that the clown was evil and had been killing people, and it resumes its evil ways, killing people.  Because their last contacts were with the woman, the police think that she’s committing the murders, despite the fact that in the first case she was with her brother in a crowded place at the time when they received the suspicious phone call from the friend’s phone that is used to suggest that she’s doing things.  Anyway, the doll is also calling her and gives his name, which is that of a purportedly dead serial killer, but again she can’t get anyone to believe in what’s going on.  She ends up finding out that her child is going to be a girl, which can only be a set up for the doll trying to get reborn as her child.  Anyway, it kills the sister-in-law and the brother and then is threatening her as she goes into labour, and then the child is born and it’s suddenly a boy!  And she’s the main suspect in everyone’s deaths.

I will note that, again, the atmosphere is pretty good in this movie.  They do build up some tense scenes while the clown doll is stalking and killing its victims or listening to things and seemingly plotting or making the phone call.  Again, though, the issue is with the story, but the story is flawed in an interesting way.

The main flaw in the story is that, well, there isn’t one.  The movie is a collection of all of the “evil doll” tropes that you’d find in those sorts of movies.  The serial killer who after death ends up in the doll, and animates it to continue its killing ways.  The fact that it wants to be reborn into the baby of one of the characters.  All of these could come from — and I think have been — plot points in the Chucky movies, but we never find out how any of this happens.  How did the serial killer end up in the doll?  How did it arrange for the main character to buy it, or even for someone like her to buy it (the woman at the store clearly wants to sell it to her, and the doll would need someone like her specifically to be reborn)?  How did it know how to literally co-opt her baby into itself so that it could be born again?  If you weren’t already familiar with the tropes, it seems unlikely that you could actually follow what was going on in the movie, and the plot would be utterly nonsensical, but if you are familiar with the tropes, you’ll note just how lazy this movie is in relying on the tropes but just dropping them in with no explanation and no context and just hoping that everyone will get it.  If you get it, you’ll hate them being that lazy, and if you don’t, you’ll just be confused.

Given that it’s a bunch of tropes with no context and no explanation in the story, this is not a movie that I would want to watch again, despite the main character being sympathetic and there being some atmospheric moments.  Thus, it will end up in my box of movies to possibly sell at some point.

Comprehensive Comments on “Tales from the Darkside”: Disk 10

January 8, 2022

So disk 10 is the first disk of the fourth and final season, which is the last chance the show has to at all impress or entertain me.  Unfortunately, the season starts off pretty much the same way all the previous seasons were, with sometimes some decent ideas, some big names, but overall a flawed execution that ruins any good ideas that they might have had.  But, on the plus side, this disk is short, only containing six episodes.

The first episode is “Beetles, where a predatory antiques collector collects a new mummy in a sarcophagus and is anxious to open it up and look for the jewels inside, when an Egyptian man knocks on the door and warns him not to mess with the sarcophagus or else it will kill him.  The collector shrugs off the idea, kicks the man out, and opens the sarcophagus and unwraps the money to find two impressive rubies in her eyes.  He takes them and is overjoyed at his find, but then starts to see beetles in strange places, including in bed with him when he sleeps.  The next day, the Egyptian man comes back, and the collector finally kicks him out at gunpoint and returns to the mummy, finding a small box of jewelry.  Getting drunk, he briefly sees the jewels as being missing but then finds them again.  As things go on, beetles start to come from the mummy’s eyes and we discover the Egyptian man outside playing a flute, seemingly to summon them.  They climb on the collector to his horror.  Later, the police come to the collector’s house on a type from the Egyptian man, and find the jewels but also find the man, dead, with beetles crawling out of his skin.

This episode really needed to commit to a role for the Egyptian man.  He either should have been legitimately warning the collector about a danger from the mummy at which point the beetles and the collector’s death would have clearly been from her, or he should have been after the jewels and used the threats of the curse and then his supernatural powers to get them.  As it is, we really have no idea what his deal is, other than that he is the one who summoned the beetles to kill the collector, and we never learn the connection between him and the mummy, and he doesn’t take the jewels and probably didn’t take the mummy so we have no idea what he was after.  Given that the only thing of interest in the story is that connection, that they never explained it really hurts the episode.

The second episode is “Mary, Mary”, where a woman photographer comes home to her house and treats the stuffed animals and things in it as if they were real, including a mannequin that she uses to film responses to video dating using multiple persona.  Her new neighbour calls her having looked up her phone number and asks her out on a date, which she pretty much ignores (after their first phone conversation she uses the answering machine to dodge him).  Later, she talks to the mannequin about it and the mannequin seems to answer, mostly about how men really like the mannequin and not her.  After that, we discover that she is the one making the voice for the mannequin.  Eventually, she decides to try to talk to and go out on a date with the neighbour — he left her tickets to some sporting event to go with him — and after dressing up in a lot of different outfits and taking on some different personas we can see that she’s having a severe anxiety attack over this.  The neighbour comes to pick her up and when the door is open he goes inside and hears something, and then notices that there are two mannequins in the apartment, one of whom looks exactly like the woman.

This episode is rendered nonsensical by attaching itself to the supernatural.  The idea that she might have a nervous breakdown over this, especially given her confidence issues and the fact that she was already a little loopy with what she did with the mannequin.  Him find her, then, broken by that strain would be a nicely tragic outcome, especially since the episode made it clear that he had seen her and been interested in her, not the mannequin.  Alternatively, having that revelation be the climax would have worked as well.  But what does it mean that she is now a mannequin?  Are we supposed to think that she always was, even though we saw her clearly as a person?  Are we supposed to think that she was turned into one somehow by her insecurities?  And by implication, would that mean that the other mannequin was originally a real person as well?  Ultimately, a serviceable episode is ruined by welding on a supernatural conclusion that is never explained and comes pretty much out of nowhere.

The third episode is “The Spirit Photographer, where an elderly spirit photographer buys a haunted house and discusses with his elderly skeptic friend his plans to capture a real, clear and distinct photograph of a spirit, with the help of a machine that will help the spirits maintain their energy while being photographed.  The friend is, obviously, skeptical, and the photographer proceeds anyway.  This house contained an evil spirit that possessed a man and drove him to suicide, so of course that’s the spirit the photographer wants to capture, especially after talking to the man who was driven to suicide and getting some details.  It turns out that the machine does seem to work but it has a bad effect on living flesh, so the elderly man gets sicker and sicker and even an appeal from his friend will not sway him from his goal.  Eventually, the spirit of the woman does indeed appear, and he gets his photograph, but then she starts to attack him and he takes her picture with an Instamatic camera, and drives her away even as she poses for his camera shots.  Satisfied, he lies down on the sofa.  The next morning, he is having a hard time finding anyone, and his friend comes in as an indistinct and spirit-like apparition in a hazmat suit and ends up telling him that he did get his photo, but died of a stroke thereafter, at which point the photographer happily shuts off the machine and passes on.

There are a number of good ideas here and the performances are good, and it’s a rare episode with a happy ending.  But there’s not really a plot or character progression here.  Stuff happens that is loosely connected but it doesn’t all fit together to make a good episode with a satisfying ending.  I can understand why this is an ending for this episode, but it lacks the oomph it could have had if the story was more tightly plotted.  Really, this is another idea that’s probably too big for a half-hour episode.

The fourth episode is “The Moth”, where a mother finds that her daughter is dabbling in witchcraft right before the daughter stumbles in having been stabbed by a woman who finds that she was cheating with her husband.  The daughter says that she’s going to die that night, but makes her mother promise to capture her soul as it exits her mouth so that she can come back to life before dawn.  The mother does so, and traps a moth in a jar, but then thinks that her daughter is too dangerous to live and so tries to break the jar so that her daughter will pass on.  However, while doing all of this, the daughter’s soul ends up in the mother and so the daughter does, indeed, live again.

Nothing happens in this episode and none of the characters are sympathetic, so this episode isn’t all that interesting.  This is an idea that is too small for a half-hour episode and so all the interest would be in how that idea is built upon, but since it isn’t built upon there’s nothing there of interest.

The fifth episode is “No Strings”, where a crime boss has just killed off the guy above him and takes his mistress to a warehouse to celebrate.  The boss’ henchman comes in with a puppeteer of full size puppets and makes him put on a show with his own puppet, but then produces the body of the guy he just killed and make the puppeteer hook up that body instead.  The mistress had also had the dead guy as a lover — before he died, obviously — and reveals to the audience that she and the henchman were planning on killing the boss.  Anyway, things go pretty well for the boss at first, but a strange wind blew through the warehouse when they were starting this and the spirit of the dead guy animates the discarded puppet and reveals the plot against the boss, and everyone starts shooting at each other but the boss ends up killing the mistress and the henchman and congratulates himself on his survival, until the dead guy animates his old body and impales the boss on a hook so that he can be operated as a puppet.  The puppeteer retrieves and cradles his puppet and leaves them impaled there.

Again, none of the characters are sympathetic — other than the puppeteer — and not much here is, again, connected with anything else.  Instead, we get the boss ranting about how great he is, a terrified puppeteer, and a plot to murder the boss that didn’t need to be there for the result we get, and an ending that could be karmic but is intertwined with the puppeteer and so loses something.  It would have been better if the puppet itself came to life and killed everyone but the puppeteer, which would explain the puppeteers love for the puppet.  As it is, stuff happens, but it isn’t all that interesting.

The sixth episode is “The Grave Robber”, where a team of archaeologists find an informant who finds them a tomb and wants to get paid instead of having the government take it.  It isn’t clear if they are more interested in the historical significance or the money, but anyway they set up to try to blow their way into the burial chamber when the door miraculously opens for them.  They get inside and discover that it’s the chamber of the chamberlain, and open his sarcophagus to find a gold chain with an amulet.  The archaeologists leave to try to get into the main chamber, but the guide tries to take the necklace which wakes up the mummy, who kills him.  He then threatens to kill the two of them as well, and they try a lot of different things to distract him from doing so, getting onto the topic of games, and finally settling on playing poker, and playing strip poker.  So the man  — the archaeologists are a male-female team — plays while the woman “advises” the mummy in how to play the game that is new to him.  So, of course, they cheat.  The mummy then talks about a woman he loved in the past, spends some time out of time mentally watching people play poker in Las Vegas, and then starts winning like crazy.  He reveals that his amulet is the key to getting out of the tomb and plays one final hand against the male archaeologist, who has a King-high straight flush and is confident that he’ll win … but the mummy — now dressed in the archaeologist’s clothes having left the archaeologist in the mummy’s bandages — reveals a Royal Flush.  The last hand was a bet against the two of them escaping versus the male archaeologist staying to guard the tomb in the mummy’s place, which the mummy now proceeds to use the amulet to ensure.  The woman asks if she has to stay down here and the mummy says that she looks like the woman he loved and the two of them leave the male archaeologist behind to start some kind of relationship.

This is an episode that seems like it’s meant to be a comedy but isn’t all that funny.  And if it isn’t funny, then it doesn’t really have a plot, and the characters aren’t developed enough for us to care about what happens to them one way or the other.  We don’t want to see the mummy win but don’t really care if the archaeologists get out either.  If it had been more funny or if it had developed the characters more, it might have worked, but it does neither.

This is not a good start, as the episodes are technically fine with some big names but there isn’t a satisfying story among them.  We’ll see what happens in the final 14 episodes (over two more disks).

 

Thoughts on “The Night House”

January 6, 2022

The basic premise of “The Night House” is a woman who has recently lost her husband is living alone in their isolated and large house when she starts to see ghostly apparitions.  While searching for an explanation for them, she discovers a horrible secret about her husband that actually hides an even more horrible secret about herself.

So, in watching this movie something that I have been noticing a lot lately seemed to be present here as well:  the atmosphere of the movie was actually pretty good.  It was tense in places and built suspense actually well.  So to that degree it worked as a horror movie.  However, the plot itself was utterly nonsensical and poorly written, so all we have are ultimately disconnected and confusing tense scenes that simply can’t be satisfying as the story around them completely drops the ball.

Here is that story.  After her husband dies, the wife in poking around discovers pictures of a woman that looks a lot like her on his phone, which leads her to believe that he was cheating on her.  She’s also been having the strange dreams and strange apparitions that hint that there’s something supernatural going on, and as part of that we discover that she had had a near death experience which will actually be really, really important later.  Anyway, she ends up discovering that he was building a copy of their house, and had taken at least one other lookalike there.  After looking around, she discovers a bunch of bodies buried there and figures out that he was in fact killing the lookalikes, and it is implied through other writing that he was killing them as substitutes for killing her.  Later, it is revealed that he had been contacted by a demon who had attempted to claim her when she was near death, who threatened him if he didn’t kill her to allow her to return to the demon, and he was killing lookalikes to trick the demon into keeping her alive, but the demon was tiring of the ploy and was going to make the husband actually kill her, so he committed suicide instead.

This … is a rather convoluted plot by anyone’s standards and on all of their parts.  It’s not likely that a demon would be fooled by someone who happened to look like her, since it is implied that he can sense her soul.  Also, since the demon tries to drive her to suicide at the end it would seem like if it wanted her so badly it could have done something cleaner than this rather complicated plan.  Moreover, the movie seems to get things a bit backwards.  After she finds out that her husband was killing those women, we have a scene where she is crying about how much she missed him, which is a bit odd right after she discovered that he was a serial killer seemingly interested in killing her.  It would have worked better if she had had that breakdown right before starting to see the apparitions, and expressed anger and despair after she found out that he was trying to kill her.  There would have been reason to doubt that there really was a ghost or if it was her grief that was making her see things (this is already implied in the movie).  It also would have made the apparitions that appeared at the end — that she thought was him — unequivocally terrifying, as it would have implied that maybe he was trying to finish the job and kill her off and she could have acted afraid instead of hopeful, although that would have killed the shock of the ghost that was supposed to be friendly to her trying to hurt her.  But then we wouldn’t have expected that the ghost of someone who was killing people who looked like her wouldn’t try to hurt her either, so it’s all a confusing mess.

What I think the movie really needed to do was build more suspense over whether her husband had really seen and talked to a demon or was using that as an excuse to kill people and potentially to kill her.  There’s actually quite a few hints as to that in the movie, and I think that if they had dropped the demon angle and simply had her have to deal with the ghost of her husband torn between killing her and wanting her to survive and have a happy life.  This would have allowed them to create the ambiguity in the behaviour, both when he was alive and when he was dead, and walk the audience through a mystery over whether he really was opposing some sort of demon or whether he was using that as an excuse to satisfy his own twisted desires.  Done properly, the audience could be led to believe different conclusions as things went along and we found out things that seemed to clearly indicate one or the other that were overturned by later scenes.  As it is, the demon angle seems tacked on and takes away the wonderful hints they give that raise the specter of whether he’s insane or if he’s really facing some kind of supernatural threat.

Given that I tend to be most interested in the stories in horror movies and this is one with good atmosphere and a terrible, nonsensical story, you can probably guess that this is going into the box of things that I might sell later when I get a chance.

Comprehensive Comments on “Tales From the Darkside”: Disk 9

January 1, 2022

I’m pretty much the epitome of “Early to bed, early to rise”, and also live in Canada which is somewhat northern, which means that at about the time of year when I was watching this it was before the time change and so it got dark right about the time I sat down to watch these episodes.  So for the most part I was watching these episodes with no lights on and in complete darkness right before I went to sleep.  It’s not a good sign for the show that despite all of this I was not creeped out by the episodes at all and it didn’t do anything to impede my sleep (in fact, I managed to doze off during it).  And since I recall “The Haunting of Hill House” creeping me out a bit when I was watching it, that only strikes even more against it.

This disk also tricked me, as it’s the only one in the third season that has eight episodes instead of seven, which meant that I had to stay up a bit later to finish the disk.  But, again, there’s no episode that stands out one way or another, so I’ll cover all of them here.

The first episode is “My Own Place”, where a financial professional finds an apartment where the landlady is an Indian — from India — woman, and finds that the apartment is great and after she dodges the question of the rent a couple of times she eventually says that it’s incredibly reasonable (due to rent control, she claims), and so since he’s always wanted his own place he accepts.  There’s a hole in one of the windows that she insists that they will fix.  Anyway, his girlfriend comes over and they are very happy about the apartment, but then the next day all of a sudden an Indian person from I think Bombay suddenly appears in the apartment and goes on and on about how great it is to live there, which annoys the financier because he was supposed to have it all to himself.  The squatter does various things to annoy him but when he complains to the landlady and to his girlfriend they can never see the supposed squatter.  At the same time, the financier is starting to have dreams of being in a crowded place in India.  Eventually, the issues around this are really bothering the financier, so the girlfriend offers to stay the night and deal with the squatter if he appears.  So when the squatter does appear late at night the financier of course … tries to hid him from his girlfriend, and when she eventually goes to him she thinks he’s insane and breaks up with him.  The next day he locks the squatter in the bedroom and nails the door to it shut, and when he returns there is a hole in the window and the squatter isn’t there.  While he breaks down apologetically for pushing the squatter to kill himself — even though there was no one who jumped or fell from the building — a group of Indian people grab him and throw him out through the hole in the window.  The episode ends with the landlady running the same pitch on a young woman, implying that this has happened before and will happen again.

The issue with this episode is that it’s nonsensical.  We don’t find out how this is possible, what the deal is, what the squatter wants, and why they kill the financier at the end.  In addition, he’s fairly sympathetic and so it just seems mean to have him lose his girlfriend and his life to an annoying squatter.  If there was a reason behind the behaviour, then this wouldn’t be so bad, but ultimately we have an annoying yet good-natured squatter that ends up getting the main character killed for no reason.

The second episode is “Red Leader”, where a shady businessman is celebrating the death of his partner and thus his taking over the entire business.  The partner’s widow arrives and it turns out that he was screwing her and right now is still screwing her because he bailed her husband out of bad debts by taking the partner’s shares in the company as collateral and since the partner can no longer pay he now owns the entire company, which of course enrages her and she storms out.  Soon after, someone with a jackhammer hammers a hole in his floor that leads to Hell, and it turns out that the person doing that was his partner, who is relegated to being a drone in Hell and wants to prove that he did bad things in life by showing them the real books and so to get to be a minion.  Since this incriminates the shady businessman and he’s planning on a late-in-life conversion to get him out of Hell, he refuses.  Then “Red Leader” — who is clearly Satan — shows up and offers to take the shady businessman to Hell but to make him an important person in charge of thousands or millions of souls because he needs evil souls that are competent and ambitious since he isn’t getting them lately, but the shady businessman obviously declines.  Then the widow returns, finds a gun on his desk, and shoots him dead, and pushes the body into the hellhole, and the episode ends with the shady businessman negotiating his agreement with “Red Leader”.

The idea that the Devil might want to give some competent souls sweetheart deals because he needs competent minions is a good one, and it would have been one that it would have been worth exploring more.  However, this episode spends most of the time establishing that the shady businessman is one instead of exploring that.  And without that, we lose what is the usual defining characteristic of Satan:  that he makes offers that seem advantageous — especially to evil people — but that ultimately have tricks built into them that makes them turn out to be rather terrible deals.  But the episode portrays the deal here as completely legitimate, ditching that aspect entirely.  We also don’t even get to see the businessman use his skills to find a loophole in the agreement and force a good deal from Satan.  So it’s a good premise ruined by a poor execution of that premise, mostly by it not really doing anything with that premise.

The third episode is “Everybody Needs a Little Love”, which is a noir-themed episode where a man is sitting drinking in a bar lamenting being single after a relatively recent divorce when a drinking buddy of his suggests that they aim for a middle ground between being single and being married, which ends up being them getting drunk and playing around with a female mannequin from the drinking buddy’s store.  The drinking buddy seems strangely attached to the mannequin, and ends up calling it the name of his ex-wife.  Things get even more weird when the drinking buddy invites him over for dinner and there’s a terrible smell in the room and the drinking buddy is treating the mannequin as if she’s alive.  A police lieutenant pops by later to note that it looks like the drinking buddy stole some things from the store other than the mannequin itself, and after he leaves the man goes to warn his drinking buddy about it.  Things have gotten even more weird, as the drinking buddy clearly thinks that the mannequin is alive and also thinks that she’s tormenting him.  And the smell has gotten worse.  As the man tries to restrain his drinking buddy he is hit from behind and when he wakes up the drinking buddy has been stabbed to death and the mannequin is gone.  It turns out that he’s been telling this to the lieutenant and claims that the mannequin hit him over the head and then would have killed the drinking buddy, but they found the body of the ex-wife in a cupboard, and a woman comes in to claim that the man and the ex-wife were having an affair — she saw them together at a restaurant, apparently — and the police theory is that he discovered that the ex-wife had been killed by the drinking buddy and killed him in a rage, and then it is revealed that the woman is the mannequin.

This is another episode that raises so many questions that it never answers.  Why did the mannequin come to actual life during the last event and became a real girl at the end, so much so that she could fool the police officer?  She had given no sign of ever being actually real before.  And why would she want to implicate the man in the murder of the drinking buddy?  It’s not like she needed the mystery solved because she didn’t resemble the mannequin that much and, well, wasn’t a mannequin anymore and so wouldn’t be suspected.  And since the only evidence of them having an affair was her word, surely even those police officers would check to see if she was a real person, which she might actually have a hard time proving that.  And why did she seem to actually torment the drinking buddy?  Nothing is explained and nothing follows from the events in the episode, so it would only be interesting if you liked the noir theme and even then there are better noir stories than this.

The fourth episode is “Auld Acquaintances”, which starts with an older woman looking around a witch prison’s exhibit in a museum.  Another woman arrives, and it seems like the two of them are looking to settle something with a pact that they had made previously, although the other woman claims that they are two weeks early.  She also says that she had a great year while the first woman says she had a terrible one.  We then get a flashback where two women are in that very prison, and the second woman is being accused of being a witch despite the fact that she isn’t one, and it turns out that her accuser was in fact being tormented by a witch … the other woman in the cell.  But it turns out that she left her talisman behind while spying on the second woman having sex with someone, and the second woman has found it.  She won’t give it back, and so after they fight over it she first woman actually drowns the second woman, but then she is revived and claims to have been offered a deal by what has to be Satan, but declined to become his lover.  She did get the talisman as a gift, and then the two women make a deal to share the talisman, which each of them getting for a year, and so the first woman gets the use of the talisman back and the second woman gets the first woman to teach her how to use it to make her life better, as she has no interest in doing evil or hurting people but just wants a good life.  We return to the present — that was hundreds of years ago — and the first woman insists that the time has come to exchange the talisman and accuses the other woman of seeking to break the pact which will have horrible consequences.  The second woman relents, but when the first woman puts it on she screams and is turned into a cat, as it turns out that the exchange point really was two weeks later but now that the pact has been broken the talisman belongs totally to the second woman.  It turns out that she spent her year making the first woman’s life miserable in the hopes of driving her to break the pack in this very way, and so she gathers up the transformed cat and walks off into her extended, happy life.

The plan here was rather convoluted and incredibly vulnerable to failure.  Why would the first woman’s life being miserable make her miscalculate the astronomical signs that signified when the exchange was to be made?  And since she knew that breaking the pact would have terrible consequences — she taunts the second woman with them, after all — she wasn’t going to just take it from her.  So this outcome wasn’t a very likely one, which makes the plan rather idiotic and uninteresting.  And the only other thing in the episode is the interplay between the two of them, but neither of them are sympathetic enough for us to care about them, which makes that rather pointless.  So it relies too much on a plan that makes no sense, and the characters are not interesting enough to carry the episode otherwise.

The fifth episode is “The Social Climber”, where a young man is working in a shoe shop that he considers to be a dead end job, despite being admonished by the kindly owner that if he works hard he can have a good life.  The young man is also looking to get married to a woman who works in a donut shop, but he still has ambitions beyond that store.  However, it turns out that the shoemaker can add some kind of magical nails to give people that he considers deserving success and happiness, and the young man finds a pair of these that give him a debonair look that lets him get into a Hollywood party.  An actress comes in the next day and the young man tries to impress her with his stories, which doesn’t work, so he tries using the shoes again.  But he doesn’t put them back properly and the shoemaker tells him not to touch them, but the young man can’t resist and takes the next pair out before the person comes to pick them up, and it turns out that the person who was supposed to receive them died the previous day, at which point there is a scream from back room and the young man ends up dead from putting on the shoes of a dead man.

There was a constant refrain in this episode about the right shoes being for the right person, but when making them the shoemaker seemed to be only creating blessings and not using that to create the person that was getting the shoes.  That’s also how it worked for the actress:  it gave her confidence, abilities and luck but didn’t make her someone else.  The magical change of clothes could imply him taking on that person’s life or abilities, but it really isn’t clear and since that’s the climax of the episode the confusion around what that all meant ruins the climax and the episode.

The sixth episode is “The Swap”, where an old, deformed man is looking to discover the secret of transferring souls into other bodies, using a recipe left by his voodoo practicing mother.  It turns out that he has an incredibly attractive wife who is only with him for his money, but she doesn’t get anything if she leaves him or if she doesn’t give him sex when he wants it.  She is having an affair with the handyman, but when he catches them he gets to add another condition to his will, even though she still gets everything she will have to jump through more and more hoops if he catches her with another man.  They decide to use the materials in the old man’s workshop to poison him, and we discover that he has most of the formula but is missing one ingredient, a seven letter word that has an “e” as the second letter.  So the two of them tie him down, take his formula, add hemlock to it and make him drink it, which seems to kill him.  Later, she discovers that the last condition is that she must marry the handyman, which thrills her, but she finds out after the wedding that the missing ingredient was hemlock and so the old man transferred his soul into the handyman’s body (and is deforming it as well) and if she wants the money she has to stay with him due to the communal property laws, which horrifies her.

None of the characters are sympathetic here, so I don’t really care about what happens to any of them, although what is effectively a rape at the end is a bit much.  That they’d use both his potion and the final ingredient is both contrived and idiotic, but it’s also obvious given how the episode is structured.  The condition in the will that she has to marry the handyman seems too convenient unless the old man knew what would happen, but the only reasonable answer here is that the old man didn’t have that as the condition but went to his judge friend after the switch and told him to lie and claim that was the condition, which explains why the judge is so amused by the whole thing.  Still, with unsympathetic characters with a stupid plan this isn’t very horrifying and isn’t very interesting.

The seventh episode is “Let the Games Begin”, where a man attending his high school reunion ends up collapsing from a heart attack, and a male angel and a female devil argue over who should get him, as both can make claims for him being good or being sinful.  They decide to adopt one human form each and, after reviving him, try to convince him to walk out the door with one of them and whichever one he walks out with will get his soul.  The angel picks his friend and in general tries to convince him to come with him by threatening to commit suicide — relying on his loyalty to his friends — while the devil adopts the guise of his sister-in-law and tries to seduce him into going with her.  This goes on through a death and subsequent revival until, finally, they draw up a temporary truce to potentially let him go and apologize to and take up with a former high school crush, and then the two of them physically fight with each other, but the physical contact overcomes them and they decide to have sex, but before they do they tear up their copies of his record giving him another ten years at least.  They take the room and throw him out of it, and he toddles off to make up with the old high school crush.

The idea of someone caught between good and evil and that the two sides would try things to convince him to join their side is interesting, but the episode doesn’t take it at all seriously.  Thus, the episode comes across as an episode that they meant to be a comedy but that, again, isn’t all that funny.  Also, that the two of them would suddenly want to have sex with each other makes no sense and isn’t developed at all, and it also simply comes across as carnal desire instead of something like love that would have been more interesting.  So not very funny and not very interesting, so it’s the squandering of a good premise.

The eighth episode is “The Enormous Radio”, where a young couple has their radio break, so the husband splurges on an enormous radio to replace it.  But it doesn’t quite work properly, and they discover that they can hear what their neighbours are doing, which is mostly fighting.  They are enthused by it at first, but then it bores the husband but the wife starts to get obsessed by it.  A big part of her problem is that what she hears are arguments and the seamier, hidden side of her neighbours, which ends up disturbing her with how bad and negative everyone is.  However, her reaction to it starts annoying the husband, and despite her pleas that they not fight and be like those other people they start fighting, and the episode ends with someone else on another radio listening to them argue.

The episode was serviceable until the very end, when the other person listening to them on a completely different radio ruined everything.  Up until that point, this episode could have worked as a strange and supernatural radio that gives them the ability to hear what their neighbours are doing and that the wife gets overwhelmed by the negativity, but with the other person listening to them that makes no sense whatsoever.  This, of course, opens up all sorts of questions about how this all works that the episode didn’t answer, and those are questions that it wouldn’t have needed to answer if they hadn’t gone for that twist ending.  So the idea wasn’t developed much but they could have gotten away with it except for the very ending, which spoils that notion and raises issues that the episode could have solved if the twist had happened earlier but since it couldn’t if it wanted to be what it was it creates issues that it is impossible for the episode to solve.

Season three has better writing and some good performances, but it still has a lot of trouble developing and resolving the ideas and issues the episodes raise, which quite often results in the reaction that the ideas are good but they didn’t do enough — or sometimes anything — with them.  Last up is season four and so I’ll see if it manages to put things together any better in the final season.

Thoughts on “The Cleansing Hour”

December 30, 2021

“The Cleansing Hour” is another Shudder exclusive that I happened to pick up on DVD for a reasonable price.  I’ve watched four of them before this one.  Two of them — “Scare Package” and “Party Hard, Die Young” — were really bad, and two of them — “Stay Out of the Attic” and “Shook” — were actually relatively good, and also happened to be the later ones.  This movie, then, is effectively the rubber match for evaluating if the Shudder exclusives are overall good or overall bad.

And to spoil it, this movie is actually pretty good.

The main premise is that someone who was raised Catholic but who … didn’t take to it, given that he was in a very strict Catholic boarding school is running what is essentially a popular Youtube channel where he claims to be an actual Catholic priest who is exorcising demons live.  He’s working with his long time friend from that school, who does all of the technical stuff while the “priest” does all the on-camera stuff.  Of course, it’s all a fake, and he hires actors to play the victims and doesn’t really exorcise anyone.  Moreover, he was never a priest — and possibly never even tried to become a priest — and lives a very hedonistic life, and is clearly only using the show as a way to get that.  However, one night their selected “victim” is killed on the way to the show and the friend’s girlfriend — who hates the showman and wants her boyfriend to leave the show — steps in at the last minute, but then is actually possessed by a demon, who wants to torment and humiliate at least the showman in exchange for not killing the girlfriend.

The movie spends most of its time as a Virtue Horror, with the demon taunting all of them to revealing their terrible secrets live online, including that the entire show is a fake and that the friend is skimming the merchandising money.  However, along with this the girlfriend — in the brief moments when she is released by the demon — pleads with them to stop doing what the demon wants and just let it kill her, because the demon is playing them.  What’s nice about that is that it makes sense that the demon is trying to trick them to achieve some hidden end, but for most of the movie we can wonder what that end is.

However, like the other two decent Shudder movies, the ending is a bit disappointing.  This time it doesn’t seem like it was done to set up a sequel, but more that the ending itself doesn’t come together.  What happens is that the demon is revealed to be the actual Devil, and he’s tormenting them — and insisting that they not cut or lose the feed — in order to draw as many people as possible into watching the show.  At the end of the time limit, everyone who was watching ends up become crazed, violent psychopaths who attack anyone who is near them.  At the same time, the girlfriend is released from the possession and we have a touching reunion as they get medical treatment.

The problem with this is that even after all of this we still aren’t aware of what the goal was that would justify the Devil doing this.  While what he’s doing caused chaos, he managed to infect a few million people.  Is this enough to cause a major disruption to the world and a huge overall increase in evil, perhaps even to the point of an apocalypse?  Then the happy reunion of the couple will soon be for naught as they are dragged into this new world of evil and have to deal with it.  But if it only has a minor and temporary impact, then what was the point of doing it that justified all that effort?  If the Devil scored a coup, then the happy ending for the couple and potentially the friends isn’t really a happy one given that the Devil scoring a huge coup is never going to be a good thing for the world.  But if it wasn’t a coup but was instead a minor and temporary victory, then it doesn’t seem like it would be worth all the effort to achieve.  So the happiness of the couple and the happiness of the Devil really clash here.

Still, that’s a minor issue that doesn’t ruin the movie.  The psychological torment works and the movie is paced well enough that we have time to note that it’s probably some kind of trick but not enough time to work it out ourselves.  That being said, I don’t think that there were a lot of hints dropped about what the actual nature of the trick was, other than the obvious one that it wanted a lot of people watching, although trying to cause discord between the two of them and getting the showman to sell out the girlfriend might have been a better goal, if not as dramatic a one.  Given that there don’t seem to be any hints that I could discover on a rewatch, I don’t have a great desire to rewatch the movie to discover those hints, and the plot and performances are good but not overwhelming.  It’s a pretty decent Virtue Horror/Psychological Torment movie though, and so it goes into the box of movies that I might rewatch at some point instead of the movie that I want to try to sell at some point.

So, for Shudder, so far it’s three decent ones and two bad ones.  I really do think that they’ve learned which movies work and which don’t and also might have more resources to put towards finding better unheralded movies, and so the later ones reflect that.  So I’ve gone from thinking that I probably should avoid their exclusives to thinking that I should definitely give ones that interest me a try, which is a great improvement.

Thoughts on “Darkest Hour”

December 29, 2021

So, it should surprise no one that I was interested in the movie “Darkest Hour”, since I have some interest in the politics and details of World War II.  I think I found it for a relatively low price and decided that I’d give it a try at some point.  With some time to spare on Christmas morning before I decided to cook my meal for the day, I sat down to watch the movie.

The thing about this movie is that it ultimately ends up being a movie that follows the life of Winston Churchill between the time he was elevated to Prime Minister to just after the defeat of France and the launch of the operation to rescue the army from Dunkirk, when he fights off a challenge to his authority from Chamberlain and Halifax that could have gotten him removed as Prime Minister.  But the reason I say that it follows his life is that while in general dramatic retellings of history tend to pick one main thread to follow and filter everything around that, “Darkest Hour” doesn’t do that.  One would think that Churchill fighting off the political challenge, and that thread gets the most attention, but there are lots of other scenes that have little or nothing to do with that, and the Dunkirk operation is given both a time and emotional importance that is rather out of place for that idea given that it isn’t used as ammunition by Churchill against his opponents, or even as an example that the people wanted to fight and that his opponents and War Cabinet were wrong about the will of the people and about not evacuating their soldiers.  So neither the Dunkirk crisis nor the political crisis seem to be the main threads, since the two of them aren’t connected to each other at all and both are too prominent to be a mere side thread to some other main story.  And it can’t be the invasion of France, because that really is a side note to all the other things going on.

So it could be a movie, instead, that focuses on Churchill as a man.  And it certainly does focus on him and on his flaws and relations to other people.  But again we don’t get enough scenes exploring his character for that to be the case.  He does things and we find out about him, but the point of the scenes never seems to be to show us the kind of man he is — even as an ambiguous character — and the ending focuses on his fighting off the challenge and with a notable speech, but it doesn’t come across as a defining moment for his character.  The movie could be focusing on the view of Churchill from his new secretary, but while she’s prominent in the scenes she’s in she’s entirely left out of a significant part of the movie, so that doesn’t work either.

That’s why I say that it’s a movie following Churchill through those days, because there is no other consistent thread in the movie other than that Churchill is moving through some crucial days leading up to The Battle of Britain.

That being said, other than that lack of a main thread it’s a well-written movie.  The dialogue and scenes mostly work, and Gary Oldman gives a really good performance as Churchill.  All we’re seeing are things that are happening, and yet the things are interesting and given an emotional gravitas that comes entirely from the performances and what we remember about the times as opposed to coming from the main thread.  That made it an entertaining movie and one that despite its political subject matter didn’t leave me bored.

Which, then, means that the most interesting thing about the movie is about whether or not I’d watch it again.  I liked the movie and was entertained by it, so you’d think it would go into the closet of the movies that I would definitely rewatch.  And yet, after watching it and liking it, I don’t have any great desire to watch it again.  In fact, I have more desire to watch or read or get some kind of real historical biography instead of watching this again, at least in part to determine what things in it are invented and which really happened.  I think the reason for this is that I’m not really into historical dramatizations.  The closet thing that I have that is one is “Hogan’s Heroes”, and that obviously isn’t any kind of real historical dramatization.  I am more interested in the documentary-style books and movies about history than about the dramatizations, probably because I want to know more and also am interested in all of the political, personal and military aspects of such events (for a war, and I tend to prefer military history to anything else).  So the lack of a central thread makes it work less well for me as a drama and it is too much of a drama to work for me as a history.  So it’s good and enjoyable, but not something that I want to watch on a regular basis.  So it will go into my box of movies to rewatch at some point in the future, but not to rewatch regularly.