Archive for the ‘TV/Movies’ Category

Revisiting “House of Demons”

March 23, 2023

I have to admit, I was a little concerned about rewatching this movie after rewatching “Living Among Us” and “Family Possessions”.  I had placed those movies in my box of movies to maybe rewatch, but after rewatching them promoted them to my closet for movies that I likely will rewatch at some point.  Now, I had enjoyed those two movies and I watched them before enacting that system, but I still did enjoy them more than I remembered, and found their flaws less annoying than I had the first time through.  Since one of the main reasons for me to revisit them was to see if my opinion of these three movies had changed now that I have watched more horror movies, this led to me a scary thought:  was the change in my opinion due to my being able to compare those movies to the other movies and appreciate what they did better when I saw what the alternatives were?  And if that was the case, could it be the case that instead of disliking “House of Demons” I might — horror of horrors — end up liking it?

Well, after watching it, I can say that all is right with the world and the world makes sense again.  “House of Demons” still sucks.

We start with a view of some kind of cult living in a house, and then show a group of people at the rehearsal party for one of their friends.  We discover that they were fairly close once, but drifted apart after an accident damaged the brain of another friend leaving him pretty much catatonic.  They all are supposed to stay at the house of the groom’s uncle, which happens to be the place where that cult was in the past.  The movie flips between showing the cult and their ritual and the four of them dealing with each other, until the cult leader and some of his followers end up in this time and strange things start to happen, including a demonic creature running around and them having strange visions about their past.  Ultimately, they have to deal with their personal demons to avoid the disaster that befell the cult while the leader attempts to corrupt one of them to his side to create a bigger sacrifice to allow him to prevent the illness of his brother.

This movie didn’t need to suck, as it has two good ideas.  Either of the ideas could have worked on their own.  If they had simply had this as a ritual that opened up some kind of portal that brought the personal demons of the people to the forefront, that would have worked really well as we would have had an explanation for the events but it could have focused more on them.  They also could have done a pretty good movie with the cult opening up the portals and the fallout from the cult leader’s obsession.  Heck, even combining the two of them would have worked with the cult leader being drawn into the future by their pain and trying to find a way to get back to where he was by manipulating them, as he notes that he feels that his ritual failed because of their situation.  Instead, he only ever interacts with one of them and so isn’t integrated enough with the others to properly intertwine the two stories but is too prominent to work as background and isn’t enough of a threat to work as a villain or threat either.

What this means is that the movie flips between the two stories, which makes the movie a bit incoherent.  What makes it worse is that while they have to flip between those two stories, it also has to flip between the personal demons of the other characters, which leads to some huge shifts in tone, with the one character being threatened by a couple cult members and then we move on from there to the one woman being flirted with by the cult leader.  Doing this also makes it quite difficult to develop the characters properly, and so their personal demons are treated pretty much perfunctorily.  We find out, for example, that the doctor’s parents were very scientific and insisted, for example, that there was no Santa Claus which plays into his ending, but we don’t really get much development for that.  Nor do we get much development of the one woman’s issues with her mother, which means that at the end the clever moment where we see her mother that she feels so inferior in looks to and she doesn’t look at all like she imagines her mother to look is lost because we never had enough development of that arc nor do we see enough of the mother at the end to be sure that that’s what’s happening.  Dropping one of the stories or integrating them better would have given more time to develop these stories better.

This movie also manages to fumble one of its most critical tasks, raising interesting questions about something that viewers normally take for granted but which can turn a movie incredibly boring if it’s fumbled.  In a movie like this, we need to be introduced to the characters and their relationships so that we can understand what the events mean and understand their personal demons for those plots.  This movie does that in the context of the party, but the issue is that the party is incredibly boring because we don’t know enough about these characters yet to care about what’s happening there and the party disconnects their stories from each other which means we find out about them in sequence, not all at the same time.  So there is a real sense where we wonder why we should care about this at all, and we don’t find out anything of enough import to make it worthwhile.  Introducing the main characters and telling us what we need to know about them is indeed something that needs to be done early on and it’s not going to win any real plaudits if you do it right, but doing it wrong sets the absolute wrong tone for the movie which can end up ruining it.  Here, what I would have done is drop the party and have them all arrive at the house, with the minor amount of exposition to explain why they’re all staying there before the wedding, and then have them reveal their issues as they talk to each other without having to meet the fiance, for example, as part of it.  They did do that a bit here anyway so it would have dropped a pointless scene and allowed them to drop hints of the horror issues that they were going to face at the same time.

This movie could have been good.  It had some interesting ideas.  But it just didn’t mix those ideas up properly and so left a mess instead of the tasty treat that it could have been.  I like some of the characters and could have liked them more with proper development, but since that doesn’t happen a lot of their elements come out of nowhere, like the doctor’s resolution of his guilt over the accident and coming up with an operation to help their friend, or the one woman’s willingness to kill her friends until she gets a phone call from her parents.  Sadly, they hint at the friend helping them with their problems but don’t make that part of the full resolution of everyone’s issues, and more could have been done with them facing their shared demons and his spirit attempting to help them through it, which also would have been a great idea.

Suffice it to say, this movie is going back into the box of movies to sell at some point.  It had potential, but didn’t fulfill it.

Next, I’ll be going back to movies that I haven’t already watched.

Comprehensive Comments on “The Twilight Zone” (Disk 6)

March 22, 2023

So now we start on Season 2, after Season 1 ended up being hit and miss.  How will Season shake out?

The first episode is “King Nine Will Not Return”. Here, a pilot wakes up in a crashed WWII plane in the desert, only to discover that all of his crew is gone.  As he tries to look around for them, he doesn’t see much but eventually sees some modern planes in the sky, and knows that he recognizes them from somewhere.  He eventually collapses, and the scene shifts to a hospital where it is revealed that he saw a newspaper headline that a lost plane from WWII had been discovered and just collapsed.  He wakes up, and it is revealed that he was supposed to be flying that plane but had a fever and couldn’t fly, and it never came back.  Thus, it seems that guilt caused his collapse, but when the nurse brings his shoes she empties sand out of one of them.

The issue here is that the episode’s structure causes it to hit the exact issue that the previous season’s episodes had.  As we start with him in the crashed plane in the desert, we know that a twist is coming and so spend all of our time trying to figure out what it was.  I think this episode would have worked a lot better if we’d seen him look at the newspaper headline and collapse, and then had him wake up in the desert.  Then we could have wondered along with him what happened and wondered if he was really here or not, which would have made the “empty sand out of the shoe” scene even more intriguing.  As it is, there’s nothing to indicate that he was really there and given the chain of events there really couldn’t have been any way for that to happen, so it seems like it comes completely out of nowhere.

The second episode is “The Man in the Bottle”.  An antique dealer who is struggling takes pity on an elderly woman and buys a worthless antique bottle from her, and when he and his wife open it it turns out to contain a genie who offers them four wishes, but is careful to note that they need to think carefully about the consequences of their actions.  The first wish they use to test the genie is to fix the broken glass in their display cabinet, which the genie does.  Then they wish for a million dollars in cash, and when the genie grants it they happily give a lot of it away … only to discover that they owe taxes on it and so end up with only $5.  After being admonished again to carefully think about the consequences of their wishes, the owner wishes to be in charge of a country where he can’t be voted out, and is turned into Adolf Hitler at the end of WWII, when the Nazis had lost the war and Hilter was about to commit suicide.  He desperately wishes for the wish to be undone, and it is … but that was their last wish, leaving them with nothing but a repaired display cabinet … and then the owner drops a broom against it, breaking it as well, as the two of them laugh about it.  Outside, the bottle reforms, ready for someone else to pick it up.

I liked the interplay between the owners and the genie, and the genie was delightfully urbane about the whole thing.  However, the genie’s motivations themselves are a bit muddled, making the plot a bit muddled.  I really, really liked the idea of them having to consider the consequences of their wishes and that they gave so much of the money away without thinking about how they’d pay the taxes fit into that perfectly.  However, when the genie turns the owner into Hitler right at the end of WWII that really comes across as the genie messing with them than of those being easily foreseeable consequences of their wish.  Yes, a modern country that doesn’t have elections would hit on that sort of thing, but it could have been right after Hitler took over or even Stalin and that would have worked as well.  But I did like the characters and their interaction, and it is an example of a plot where we know there is a twist and know that it’s coming — and might even know what it is — but the details around that are interesting enough to keep us interested and actually paying attention to the interactions in the episode itself.

The third episode is “Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room”, which follows a nervous and not very successful gangster, whose boss tells him to kill a bartender or else be killed himself.  As the boss leaves, the gangster sees a more confident version of himself in the mirror, and they proceed to argue over whether he should kill the bartender or not.  The confident version of himself won’t let him kill the bartender, and ultimately he doesn’t and his boss comes by to take him to task over it, at which point it is clear that the gangster is the more confident version of himself and he abuses his boss and throws him out, declaring that he might be able to get the things that his weaker self couldn’t get.

While this sort of idea could be interesting, this premise really, really doesn’t work.  Gang bosses are not going to let someone go, especially someone who abused them, and the main reason the gangster was even thinking about killing the guy was because he’d be killed if he didn’t.  Yes, he risked going to jail for a long, long time but that might indeed be better than dying.  All the confident side of him managed to do, then, was get him killed, which ruins any point that this could have made.  That this was simply the two sides arguing with each other doesn’t make it any more interesting, and the payoff was both expected and, as already noted, incomprehensible.

The fourth episode is “A Thing About Machines”, following a reclusive, stuck-up and irritable — so much so as to be irritating — man.  He has one simple problem:  the machines in his house seem to hate him, and in fact they keep trying to tell him to leave and ultimately chase him from the house, where his car chases him into a pool, where he sinks and drowns despite not being weighted down.

The man seems to abuse his TV at the beginning, but the show establishes that the machines were already abusing him at that point, and we have no idea why the machines were against him so much or, in fact, how they managed to sink him in the pool without weights.  Yes, the man was a pain, but he didn’t deserve this and we don’t know what the machines wanted.  Given that, this is a poor episode overall.

The fifth episode is “The Howling Man”, where a man doing a walking tour of Europe in 1925 becomes lost in a storm and prevails upon a monastery to help him.  They don’t want to, but since putting him out would kill him they eventually relent.  However, he hears a strange howling but the monks won’t answer him when he asks about it.  He finds the man howling in a cell and is told by the man that he is being unjustly imprisoned here by the “mad” monks.  The walker goes back and confronts the head monk about it again but doesn’t get an answer until he threatens to go to the police.  The head monk says that the prisoner is actually the Devil himself, but the walker doesn’t believe him and eventually sneaks back to release the prisoner, who is then revealed to really be the Devil, who escapes.  The scene changes to the present, with the walker telling the story to a maid, explaining that he spent his life trying to capture the Devil again, and has locked him inside a closet.  After the walker leaves, the maid hears howling and goes to open the closet door.

This one is actually fairly well done.  The premise is interesting and the twist works because we spend most of the episode following the walker as he tries to figure out the twist and then it pulls the rug out from under everyone, and then the ending fits well with the rest of the episode.  I did enjoy this one.

The sixth episode is “Eye of the Beholder”, where we see a woman with her face wrapped in bandages attended by medical professionals whose faces are constantly hidden from the camera.  She laments how ugly she is and hopes that the treatment will cure that, and we discover that this is her last chance at a treatment or else she’ll be sent away to live with others.  We also hear in the background a number of things indicating that this is some kind of totalitarian society based on conformity.  When the bandages are removed, it is clear that the procedure was a failure … the woman is, in fact, a quite attractive normal looking woman.  Then it is revealed that the medical professionals are ugly-looking pig-faced individuals, and she, after some resistance, is to be sent to a colony where all the “horribly ugly” people who look like normal people are sent.

This is a very famous episode, and for good reason as the premise is incredible.  However, I found the execution to be flawed as it seems to mix two themes:  the idea of conformity and the idea that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  If they had wanted to make this about conformity, what they needed to do was instead of making the medical professionals ugly make them normal looking and give her one small, almost unnoticeable flaw that meant that she didn’t conform to the norm.  This also would have allowed them to not hide the faces of the medical professionals as much, which would have given the twist away even if I hadn’t already known it.  However, the stronger point is indeed that beauty is in the eye of the beholder … but then it would have been much better to instead of holding out the hope that they would find each other beautiful to really drive home that in this society the standards for beauty aligned to what we thought of as ugly by having the two of them act as if they were being exiled to live around ugliness for the rest of their lives.  Implying that they would find themselves beautiful despite growing up in that culture encourages us to think of the “normal” people in that world as ugly as well, which pretty much scuppers that point.  So, a good premise, but a muddled implementation.

I had actually forgotten to write up my comments on this disk after watching it, and so only came back to it a couple of weeks later when I was trying to write up the next disk.  I remembered thinking that the season started off better but on actually writing down my comments on the episode that doesn’t seem to be the case.  Marc commented that Serling thought that most of the episodes that he wrote for the series were bad and I find that I have to agree with Serling on this one.  Some of them the bad ones were still better than the alternatives, but I wonder if part of my reaction here is like the one I had to “Eye of the Beholder”:  the ideas are good but the execution flawed which makes them all the more annoying.

Thoughts on “Bumblebee”

March 21, 2023

I had pretty much given up on the modern “Transformers” movies.  I think I watched the first three — at least the last of those because I got it in a cheap pack somewhere — but was never all that impressed by them, mostly because it couldn’t capture the aesthetics and themes of the original cartoon.  Sure, a non-animated feature film was going to try to be a bit more adult than a cartoon, but I didn’t find the shift one that made them more mature as opposed to make them, well, more explodey.  Since I actually liked Bay’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” movies, that was a pretty good indication that the “Transformers” ones were not up to snuff.  So I abandoned the entire series and didn’t look back.

Well, until this past weekend.  So why, if I had abandoned the series, was I willing to sit down and watch a prequel to them?  As it turns out, I ended up talking about this with a friend of mine — I think it was because of the trailer being released for the new film adding in the Beast Wars — and he said that “Bumblebee” was actually a good movie.  Now, his recommending it did not really mean that it was something that I was going to like.  Sure, this friend recommended “Doctor Who” to me, which I liked, and “Doom Patrol”, which I liked for most of the first season, but he also recommended “Farscape” to me, which I didn’t care much for, and “Star Trek:  Discovery” to me, which I hated.  So the best I can say here is that while we often do like the same things, it tends to be for different reasons, so if one of us likes it the other might well like it, but if there’s nothing in that thing for that person to like then we won’t like it.

What that means here is that his agreeing with me about the original movies (mostly) but commenting that “Bumblebee” was actually good piqued my interest, and so I made a mental note to look out for it if I could get it cheap or get access to it cheap.  And I managed to get it relatively cheap, and so decided to watch it.  And what I’ll say about it is that it is better than I thought it’d be, but still has a huge flaw that ends up hurting it.

This is, as noted above, a prequel to the original movies, tracing Bumblebee’s time on Earth and how he lost his speech synthesizer and how he preserved the Earth for the Autobots to land on.  It starts in the middle of a fight scene on Cybertron, with the Autobots being forced to flee the planet.  Bumblebee is sent to Earth to prepare it to be a base for the Autobots, but soon after landing he is attacked by a Decepticon that followed him there, I guess, who destroys his speech synthesizer — deliberately, since Bumblebee refuses to tell him where the rest of the Autobots are — and while the Deception is destroyed Bumblebee is gravely damaged and transforms into the classic VW Beetle, and loses consciousness and his memory.  Later, a young woman is living with her mother and her mother’s new boyfriend after the death of her father, which she is still broken up about.  She is trying to finish restoring a Corvette and goes to her uncle’s junkyard and finds Bumblebee.  After getting frustrated with not being able to fix the Corvette, she goes back to her uncle and appeals to get it, and he gives it to her as a birthday present.  She fixes it up and then Bumblebee transforms, and they start to develop a friendship.  Meanwhile, a pair of Decepticons are torturing Cliffjumper for information when Bumblebee’s beacon — reactivated when she was fixing him up — pings them revealing where he is, and so they destroy Cliffjumper and head to Earth.  There, they meet some military officers led by an agent who was attacking Bumblebee during the first attack and arrange to trade technology with them if they will help them find Bumblebee.  Meanwhile, Charlie — the young woman — teaches Bumblebee about music and gives him a new radio (which he soon learns to use to communicate like he did in the movies), and then a guy who has been crushing on her bursts in and sees Bumblebee, but she convinces him to to tell, and they eventually head off to a cliff where her fear of diving is revealed — she had thrown away her diving trophies before — and she is bullied a bit.  Then she leaves Bumblebee at home and tells him to stay in the garage but he gets into the house and trashes it in a slapstick sequence, but as he does so he plugs himself into a wall socket which causes an Energon surge that the Decepticons trace.  This causes a sequence where the military and Decepticons try to capture Bumblebee, and they manage to do so while Charlie is shocked into unconsciousness while the military guy spins a story that she stole government property, but she decides to break Bumblebee out with the help of her crush.  Meanwhile, the Decepticons learn that the Autobots are coming to Earth and prepare to destroy the Earth to prevent that and destroy them, and head off to send a message to Cybertron revealing that fact.  Charlie shocks Bumblebee back to life, and the two of them head off to stop the Decepticons, pursued by the military.  Her mother’s boyfriend and the family come to help them and distract and head off the military, and then Bumblebee tries to stop the Decepticons, while Charlie sees a way to stop the transmission and heads out to do that.  Bumblebee destroys one Decepticon and the other tries to stop Charlie, but the military guy attacks that Decepticon and Bumblebee engages her as well when the military helicopter is shot down — after saving the military guy’s life — and Charlie is able to disable the transmitter.  Bumblebee triggers a flood that would kill both him and the Decepticon, but Charlie dives into the water and swims down to him and this somehow revives him.  The military guy lets them go, Charlie is reconciled with her family and seems to be starting a relationship with her crush, and Bumblebee has to leave on his own, and picks up the Camaro as his alt-form, and drives off past a truck that resembled the alt-form of Optimus from the cartoon.

As you might have guess from reading the summary, this movie is a bit overstuffed, and I haven’t even fully described all the threads here (for example, Charlie gets the Corvette running at the end after giving up on it earlier).  Obviously with so many threads it was going to be difficult to develop them all properly, even in a movie that’s almost two hours.  And the movie doesn’t develop them all that well.  For example, Charlie’s fear of diving itself at the end comes mostly out of nowhere and the reason she didn’t want to dive earlier in the movie makes more sense as her being overwhelmed by the emotions — the last time she saw her father was when he cheered her on at a dive meet — but at the end she seems afraid to dive into the water for … some reason.  She had a crush on a boy earlier that only provided a small bit of angst for the guy who was crushing on her.  Even worse, there’s an interesting undercurrent where her reminiscing about her father triggers a memory in Bumblebee about Optimus trying to fight off a horde of Decepticons and being surrounded at the end, which provided a very interesting parallel between the two of them, but it’s never mentioned or brought up again.  There are lots of these elements in the movie, so much so that it seems like they wanted to keep every idea that they came up with in the movie no matter how they conflicted or whether they’d have time to play them all out.

Making all of this worse is the fact that they try to intersperse all of these threads together, which leads to some huge shifts in tone and hurts the development of the threads that they do try to develop.  Bumblebee’s getting used to Earth and restoring his memory shifts to the Decepticons killing Cliffjumper and coming to Earth, and even earlier we don’t even get him landing on Earth for more than a few minutes before he’s attacked again, after we just had a huge battle scene to start the movie.  And that fight was unnecessary because all it really does is show how he lost his memory and speech synthesizer, and that could have been caused by the pod crashing, which would have freed up some time to develop the other threads and created a more consistent tone.  I would have minimized the Deception threads until the end because we didn’t really need it and it really breaks the tone of the movie.  I would have also dropped the military guy’s plot because it is totally disconnected from Charlie’s plots until the end and didn’t add much.

Because where the movie is good, really good, is with the interaction between Charlie and Bumblebee, as he learns about Earth and her and they become friends.  These were some of the best scenes in the first movie as well, but they seemed to get more play and more focus than they do here.  All of this leads to an odd impression of the movie for me, because when Charlie and Bumblebee are interacting the movie is great, and some of the other scenes are good, but when it breaks the tone and fails to develop certain plots the movie isn’t very good.  Building off of that relationship and adding the other elements in later — and limiting them — would have made this a far better movie.

One final note is that the movie really does work to push the nostalgia button, constantly making references with music and TV shows to the 80s.  However, especially early on most of these references seem really forced, there just to make that reference and not as an organic part of the movie itself.  I can compare it to “Scream Queens” or “Guardians of the Galaxy” where the references seem natural and yet really do work as references.  This does get better later in the movie, especially when Bumblebee starts using the radio to communicate.

So it has its good points and bad points, and so for now I think it’s going into the box of movies that I might rewatch at some point.  I like Charlie and Bumblebee, and some of the other elements work, but it’s just way too overstuffed for me to want to rewatch it on a regular basis.

Revisiting “Family Possessions”

March 16, 2023

After revisiting “Living Among Us” I decided that the movie was better than I remembered and promoted it to the closet of movies that I will rewatch at some point.  I had considered this movie more or less as good as that one, so is this movie going to get that as well?

Here we follow a young woman, Rachel, as she and her family move into her grandmother’s old house.  The grandmother willed the house to her before her death, but has attached a condition to the inheritance that it only holds as long as Rachel herself lives there.  As long as Rachel is making it her primary residence, everything is paid for out of the estate, but if Rachel moves away the house will be sold and the entire estate will be donated to charity.  As her father has lost his job and the family is in dire financial straits, there is a lot of pressure on Rachel to stay in the house, even as she would rather go away to school.  As she explores the town, people react strangely to her when they find out where she’s living.  She meets another young woman who befriends her, and then another young woman and her father or something who treat her badly, and another guy who is interested in her.  After some taunting from the other two, her new friend reveals that the reason they’re acting that way is because her grandmother was actually in an insane asylum and not in a nursing home as Rachel thought, and it turns out that she was in there because she was digging up bodies in an attempt to perform some kind of magic ritual and thought she was a witch, and that the ritual was to transfer her body to someone else.  Meanwhile, strange things have been happening in the house, including both Rachel and her brother seeing a strange creature that they ultimately describe as a witch, even though it looks more like a simple monster than a witch.  Anyway, eventually Rachel finds her grandmother’s grimoire and her friend borrows it, and they discover that the ritual wouldn’t have worked because the sacrifices need to be alive when their body parts are sliced off — the ritual involves body parts involving the five senses — and she was trying to use dead bodies.  Soon after, we see people being killed for those very body parts.  Eventually, we see Rachel’s mother killed for a body part and then Rachel wakes up to an empty house and starts wandering around it, only to have her friend show up to tell her what’s happening.  They creep around the house a bit but then head to the basement, where they discover things set up for the ritual.  It turns out that her father is the one trying to do that because he was ticked off about not getting the estate, and after overhearing the two girls talk about the ritual is planning on blaming the murders on the friend and then inheriting the estate through the loophole of inheriting it after Rachel dies which means that he wouldn’t have the restriction.  He hears an odd noise, however, and when he looks in some kind of crawlspace about it he gets a vision of the witch and slices himself with the knife he was using for the murders, killing him and providing the last body part for the ritual.  Rachel and her little brother leave the house, and a mother and her daughter come to see the house.  There was a necklace that was given to Rachel that the friend commented could be used as a homing beacon for the spirit of the grandmother, and Rachel left it hanging on her bedroom door.  The little girl finds it and when her mother comes to find her after making an offer on the house the little girl isn’t responding and then the door to the bedroom slams, hiding her.

One of the problems I had with this last time was that it being the father seemed to come out of nowhere and that it had the opportunity to provide more red herrings for who the killer actually was.  I still think they underused that since there were so many candidates for the killer but they never really explored it, but knowing that it was the father made it more clear earlier that he was more upset by this than he let on, and it does provide an interesting emotional aspect since Rachel seems to get along better with him than with her mother, and yet he’s perfectly willing to kill her to get the house.  I still think this was a missed opportunity, but think that it’s not as much of an issue as I originally thought.

One of the things that most stood out to me the first time was that the movie is incredibly good at building tension, but seemed to drag it out too long so as to make it boring.  I didn’t mind it so much this time around, although it definitely drags things out too long at times, such as a long scene where one of the victims is listening at a door and we see the knife extended above her through the door for a long time before it falls, even though we a) know what’s going to happen since we know the killer is taking body parts and the only reason for her to be in that position is to lose her ear and b) there’s no reason for her to stay in that position that long.  Still, the tension-building still worked but didn’t bother me as much as it did the last time.

The production values for this movie are definitely indie/amateur.  Rachel, for example, does body language pretty well but sometimes slips up in delivering her dialogue.  However, the cinematography is fine, although perhaps not quite to a fully professional level.  So, yeah, it’s noticeably on the indie scale but not so much so that it really broke immersion.

The things I really liked about the movie remain.  Rachel is a likeable lead, the mystery is somewhat interesting, and the pacing pretty much works.  Given that, I found it to be at least as entertaining as “Living Among Us”, which means that it will get a promotion as well to the closet of movies that I will rewatch on occasion.

So that’s 2 of 2 getting a promotion.  Does that mean that I might actually end up liking “House of Demons”?  I’m skeptical, but we will find out.

Comprehensive Comments on “The Twilight Zone” (Disk 5)

March 15, 2023

This is the last disk of Season 1, and so far Season 1 has been a bit hit and miss.  I liked the first disk, was a bit less pleased with the second, and have found disks 3 and 4 quite disappointing.  Let’s see if the season ends on a high note.

The first episode is “A Stop at Willoughby”.  Here, an executive working with advertising ends up giving a huge account to a new and young co-worker, who promptly lands it, leaves the company, and takes the account with him.  His boss berates him for that and talks about how in this business you have to push and push, which causes the executive to insult him in a frustrated outburst.  On the train ride home, he falls asleep and dreams of a stop at Willoughby, a town from the 1880s that has a plain and simple life.  When he gets home, it is revealed that he didn’t lose his job, but that he isn’t really the sort of person who can take this competitive and “push push push” lifestyle, but it funds the lifestyle his wife wants.  He has another bad day at work, and dreams of the town again on his way home, and is about to get off when the train starts up again.  He resolves to get off there the next time he gets the chance.  After another terrible day, he deliberately sets up to have the dream again and then does get off, to a town where everyone knows who he is.  The ending reveals that he actually jumped off the train in the real world and died, and the hearse that takes him away is from the Willoughby and Son funeral directors.

This episode did something that would have helped the show in the previous episodes, by playing it straight and essentially implying that he was dreaming and delusional, but keeping a bit of mystery in what happened.  But this idea is too small for the episode.  We pretty much get everything we need to know early on, and so the conversations with the wife and the extra scenes in the office don’t add anything.  The conversations with the conductor could have covered all of that and worked better, but then half the material would be thrown away.  In theory, that material could have been used to make us feel the same frustration he felt, but it doesn’t really work that way and the wife scenes in particular are more exposition and so break that chain.  This was an interesting idea but, again, too small for the episode and so it dragged.

The second episode is “The Chaser”.  Here, a man is in love with a woman who doesn’t love him, and he’s tying up a phone booth calling her over and over again.  One impatient man pays off the other people in line and then pushes his way into the booth, and tells the man to go to a Professor — Daemon — to get his issues resolved.  When he meets the professor, he asks for a love potion but the professor wants to sell “Glove Cleaner”, but he insists and gets the love potion, which he uses on the woman he loves and it works … but her love is overly cloying and he tires of it, and so returns for the “Glove Cleaner”, which is a poison.  He attempts to poison her, but before he can give her the drink with the poison in it she reveals she is pregnant and he drops the glasses, musing that he wouldn’t have had the nerve anyway.

The premise of this is okay, but it’s far too predictable.  Since such a big deal is made of the “Glove Cleaner” and its deadly properties from the beginning, we know that he’s coming back for it and so there will be a twist around that.  Other than the professor’s comments at the beginning, though, the episode is not as bad as the previous episodes at adding what seems like unnecessary scenes or padding, but the predictability of the premise makes this a middling episode at best.

The third episode is “A Passage For Trumpet”, where a man who plays the trumpet tries to get on stage to play, but he’s alienated his friend by being drunk on stage and so his friend has to tell him no when he discovers that he is still drinking.  The man tries to play on his own but keeps missing one of the higher notes.  The next day, he pawns his trumpet and gets drunk, and then when he sees it for sale he decides to jump in front of a delivery truck.  When he awakens, no one can see him, and yet the people he encounters are all different from those he remembers, and he concludes that he’s a ghost.  He goes back to the club and once the door closes hears trumpet playing, and seeks out the man playing it who is sitting where he say the previous night.  The new player lets him play that trumpet, and the man can hit all the notes this time.  That player then reveals that the man is not actually dead, but that everyone else is, and the man has the chance to decide where he wants to go.  But all of this has convinced the man of all the great things that he abandoned but that are worth living for, so he decides to return, and the player walks away and finally introduces himself as Gabe, for Gabriel … a reference to the horn-playing archangel that the man had talked about earlier in the episode.  The man then awakens after being hit and is okay, but the delivery man pays him off for not reporting the accident and so he reclaims his trumpet and is playing it on the roof when a new woman in the building comes up to hear him, and it looks like romance between the two is in the air.

This episode is actually better, as we find out enough about the main character to sympathize with him and his story is somewhat interesting.  The episode drags a bit as he discovers that he’s a ghost — since we’ve figured that out before he did — but the twist at the end is nice — and referenced earlier — and it’s nice to get a happy ending.  I’ve liked a lot of the episodes with anthropomorphic characters that are used as guides, and this one is no exception.

The fourth episode is “Mr. Bevis”.  Here an oddball man is going about his day, getting pleasant responses from most people except for his landlady and his boss.  He’s late for work and that plus the oddities he keeps on his desk get him fired, and he is evicted because he’s late on his rent.  His eccentricities have made it so that he can’t keep a job, and so he ends up drinking in a bar, where it is revealed that his family has a guardian angel who offers to fix this day, but also has to fix some things about his personality.  It turns out that he is a model tenant and is getting a raise at work, but all of his eccentricities that made him popular with others have gone away and so he’s not the type of person to play with children or to bring carolers into the office anymore.  He then asks to have things go back to the way they were, saying that the things he lost were worth the issues he faces because of it.  The guardian angel complies, but still does some things to show that he’s watching out for Mr. Bevis.

This is another good episode.  The main character is sympathetic and even though we could indeed see the ending coming it all fits neatly together.  The best thing about it is that the idea fits the length of the episode.  We need to see the contrasts in the two days to set things up, and that fills in the runtime, and it all follows from the idea as presented.  So this is an episode that works pretty well.

The fifth episode is “The After Hours”.  Here, a woman comes into a department store looking for an advertised gold thimble, and is taken to a non-existent ninth floor — seriously, they clearly show it not existing as the elevator goes up — that is empty except for one odd saleswoman and her golden thimble.  When the woman rides the elevator down, however, she discovers that it’s scratched and dented and is directed to the existent third floor to complain about it.  Of course, the fact that she claims to have gotten it from the non-existent ninth floor puzzles the managers of the store, and as she walks along she sees a mannequin that looks exactly like the saleswoman and, well, freaks out.  They set her up in the office and she falls asleep, and when the floor manager sends another — non-mannequin — saleswoman to wake her up and get her out of the store as it’s closing that saleswoman gets called away and forgets to do it.  Thus, the woman wakes up in the store after hours and is locked in, and the mannequins start calling her name.  She ends up in the elevator again and on the ninth floor, and all of the mannequins surround her and push her to remember.  It turns out that each of them gets one month to be out in the world, and her month has passed but she’s forgotten that she was a mannequin and so didn’t return.  The strange saleswoman was, in fact, the one who was supposed to go out into the world next.  The woman accepts her case and the next day the floor manager sees a mannequin that looks just like her.

This is another episode that does things that the show really, really needs to do.  We know that there’s a twist coming in every episode, and here we know that the twist will involve mannequins in some way.  What we don’t know is what the twist will be, and while we could come up with the twist — I did before the end — there are a number of twists that it could be and so we are indeed carefully watching the episode to try to figure out what it could be, which makes the scenes that are added to add to the creepiness factor — her walking around a deserted floor or store, for example — don’t feel like they drag because we’re waiting to see what will happen.  And the fact that the main character is pretty and sympathetic and so we care about what is going on with her also helps.

The sixth episode is “The Mighty Casey”.  Here, the manager of a last place baseball team that we are told is going to fold is looking for someone, anyone who can play, and a “doctor” brings him a robot who is a great pitcher, and his pitching allows the team to start winning.  However, eventually the robot is revealed as one and must be taken off the team, and they try to get around that by giving him an artificial heart.  However, the heart gives the robot feelings and he doesn’t want to play anymore because he doesn’t want to ruin their careers, and so the team is about to fold, but the manager sees something in the blueprints and rushes to tell the doctor about it, and the ending implies that he might have created another team on the West Coast that was successful using robot players.

There’s not really much here.  It’s an okay episode, but the idea isn’t all that interesting and it doesn’t really flesh it out that well, but I didn’t hate it either.  So it ends up being kinda “Meh”.

The last episode is “A World of His Own”.  Here, a wife peeks through the window at her writer husband who is cuddling and having drinks with another woman.  She then tries to burst into the room, but when he lets her in she can’t find the woman anywhere.  However, she manages to trick him into admitting that he had a woman in the room, but he reveals that any character that he describes to his tape recorder will come to life, and proves it by recreating the woman and then destroying her again.  Eventually, as his wife attempts to leave he reveals that she herself is one of his creations, but she doesn’t believe him and destroys the tape, which cause her to fade away.  The writer then brings Mary back as his actual wife, and the scene ends with Rod Serling appearing on the set to declare that something so ridiculous is fictional and the writer reveals that he has a tape for Serling and destroys it, causing Serling to fade away as well.

This is another decent episode.  The idea is interesting and the interactions between the writer and his “wife” work relatively well.  The ending with Serling is an interesting idea.  For the most part, this is definitely a lighter and more comedic episode which mostly works.

The disk started off poorly, but ended on a high note with some really good episodes and some decent ones.  What’s clear from Season 1 is that this show has the potential to be great or to be terrible depending on how the episodes related to the premise that is repeated in every episode of these things taking place in “The Twilight Zone”.  Because of that, we know that pretty much any of these ideas will have some kind of twist to it, so how it handles that twist is critically important to the success of the episode.  Also, it does run into the problem that “Tales from the Darkside” had where if the idea is too small for the episode the episode seems to drag and to be padding out its runtime, which is death for a half-hour episode.  So far, I don’t recall very many — if any — episodes where the idea was too big for a half-hour and so couldn’t be developed properly in that time, but I do recall commenting a number of times that the idea was too small.

So that was the first season.  Let’s see what they learned from that one and applied to the second season.

Revisiting “Living Among Us”

March 9, 2023

So, as mentioned last week, I’ve decided to revisit the three movies that started the horror movie commentaries:  “Living Among Us”, “Family Possessions” and “House of Demons”.  I’ve obviously watched a lot of horror movies since then, and so I thought it’d be interesting to rewatch them and see what I think of them now that I’ve become much more experienced with a lot more horror movies.  Would I think better of them given how bad some of the others were?  Or would I think less of them as the things I found interesting about them would seem more common given the other movies I watched?  As such, while I remember at least some of the things I’ve written about them I’m not re-reading the posts to see what I said.  I’m going to simply watch them and see what I think.  The other interesting thing here is that I put the first two movies into my box of movies to maybe rewatch at some point, but all of these movies were obviously watched long before I came up with that category.  They were placed there because of what I thought of them and what I thought while re-reading the posts.  Obviously, for “House of Demons” since I didn’t like it it was placed in the “sell” box, but it will be interesting to see of any of them deserve a promotion after this rewatch.

And the interesting thing about “Living Among Us” is that it’s both more and less clever than I remembered it to be.

This movie is a found footage documentary-style horror movie.  It turns out that the world has discovered that vampires are, well, living among us due to the work of one investigative reporter who found out that some blood banks were providing them with blood.  This has obviously raised a lot of havoc in the world, and one of the sectional leaders has decided to allow that very reporter to film one vampire family to prove that they are normal.  Well, they aren’t all that normal, as it turns out, and the one “son” is in fact very aggressive while the parents seem to be trying to present a more normal and benign image for the cameras.  The female sound engineer also starts getting sick.  Eventually, the sectional leader himself arrives with his “daughters”, one of which is even more aggressive than the son is.  They perform a ritual where they bleed out a young woman whom they claim is a prostitute with HIV but which she denies, and then soon after the son takes them out while he and the other son go “hunting”, brutally killing some drug dealers.  This freaks the other two out, but they have to play it cool to try to get out, but they can’t keep it up for long and have to try to escape.  They run into the basement where there are a lot of bodies and a lot of feral vampires, and they discover that the sound engineer has been converted into a vampire and so she runs off to sacrifice herself to save them.  Using an impressive amount of anti-vampire items that the reporter smuggled in, they manage to kill the wife — who is the Elder of the family — and escape to their vehicle, but then the son whom they had burned — and showed that he could tolerate some sunlight — pops up in front of the camera and presumably kills them.  Then the sectional leader while being interviewed smugly acts like there is no evidence that they did anything, but the head of the station comes on and reveals that they had the footage that we’ve been watching the entire movie, which makes the sectional leader look like he’d just swallowed a fly.  And the movie ends.

I’ve obviously seen a few of these sorts of movies, but what works really well about this one is that since the framing device is of a professional documentary by professionals, it doesn’t look, well, as amateur as some of the others do.  For the most part, we see things through the “eyes” of one or two cameras but it doesn’t look as shaky or fuzzy as some of the other ones do.  This allows us to avoid getting distracted by how the movie looks and instead focus on what is happening.  Thus, overall the movie looks and feels far more like an actual professional movie than some of the others do.  On top of that, the acting in general fits.  There are less times where the lines feel artificial or, well, like acting than we’ve seen in some such movies.  Again, this is a big help in maintaining immersion and allowing us to take the movie as it is.

Why I say the movie is less clever than I thought it was is because there’s a scene where the reporter goes into a church to get something.  I had not remembered that he showed them what he picked up, but on the rewatch it was indeed revealed that it was holy water, which they were told not to bring.  Without that revelation, when we find out later that he had the holy water and a bunch of other items it was an interesting twist that nevertheless fit in with the personality of the reporter.  Now that we know beforehand, we know what he got in the church and so there was no mystery there, and when everything else is revealed it’s just in line with what we already knew.  So I really think cutting where he reveals what he got would have added a lot more to the movie.

But it’s more clever than I thought it was because it does seem to work in a lot of little things and even world building that may not be obvious at first.  One problem that I had the first time is that it is revealed that they always planned to not let them go back to the station, but if they went to that house and then disappeared that was going to raise more suspicions, and they wanted to alleviate suspicions in a plan to take over.  However, since they tried to turn the sound engineer it’s actually plausible that they planned on turning all of them, and then we can presume that once they were vampires as well they would support their goals, and they could argue that they were so impressed that they willingly converted.  It’s still not a great plan, but there might be a plan there.  Another problem that I had the first time I watched it was wondering how the footage got out, but the movie is indeed clever enough to explicitly have the reporter ask the question of the son that if they are killed how does the footage get out which the son is clearly interested in, and he says that he could take it himself.  Since the son is the one who killed them, it looks like that’s exactly what he did.

There are also some interesting things about the world.  First, if you read the text at the bottom of the news reports, it looks like this world is one that is fairly “crapsack”, as there are a lot of problems and protests going on.  I’m not sure that I care for that, but it does reveal that this is not our world but similar enough to it for us to relate to it.  Second, and more importantly, there is a very interesting difference between the older and the younger vampires.  The younger ones see humans as nothing more than prey and seem quite attached to the hedonistic aspects of being a vampire, as the son even notes that he kills just because it feels good, and the two “daughters” get into a make-out session in the pool.  The older ones seem less directly hedonistic, but also enjoy the ritual, and so seem to enjoy a more “cultured” way to satisfy their desires, which are less for blood and are more for sadism and torment.  As we see here, the attitudes of the younger ones clash with that of the older ones and cause problems for the older ones, as the younger ones want humans to be in fear and the older ones want to look benign to gain power more subtly, and the son’s releasing of the footage is likely to spawn the very war against the vampires that the elders were trying to avoid.

Ultimately — and I think this is in line with what I said last time — this movie is an okay movie in a world that is itself far more interesting than this movie is.  I’d really like to see more works in this universe that might explore this a bit more.  That being said, because its production values are pretty good and the movie is more clever than I gave it credit for, this movie is getting a promotion to the closet where I keep the movies that I will likely rewatch again.  It’s as interesting, if not more so, than a number of the movies that I’ve put in there already.

Next up, a rewatch of “Family Possessions”.

Comprehensive Comments on “The Twilight Zone” (Disk 4)

March 8, 2023

My biggest impression of this disk is that the biggest enemy of these episodes is that they are part of “The Twilight Zone” itself, which means that they have to fit in that structure … and that structure includes that there’s always going to be a twist coming.

The first episode is “A World of Difference”, which starts with a man walking into his office, talking to his secretary, and making plans for a getaway with his wife and daughter.  However, soon after the office transforms or reveals itself to be a set for a TV show, and everyone there acts like this is all a show, while the man insists that he is the main character of the movie and acts accordingly, trying to find his home with the help of his ex-wife who only wants to be with him to get some money he owes her.  Things proceed this way for a while, until finally he runs back to his office and ultimately disappears again to reappear in the original world, where it is revealed that he was missing for most of the day, and he leaves with his wife on their trip in some desperation, at which point we flip back to the other world and discover that he has disappeared from that world.

Since we’re in the context of “The Twilight Zone”, we know a twist is coming, and so aren’t likely to believe that he was just delusional or had fallen into one from too much drinking, as the episode implies. Moreover, the episode itself shows us that the wall of the office was there originally and then gone when it switches to the set, so we pretty much know that there are indeed two worlds here.  We are also well-aware that he’s acting as the character from the show long before the episode reveals it dramatically right before a commercial break.  Despite these flaws, this episode would work as a general drama where we could wonder whether he was just delusional or whether there were different worlds, but in the context of “The Twilight Zone” we’re quite sure that it’s not the simple answer of delusion, especially given how much effort the episode puts into making us thing that he’s just delusional, and so all that time is wasted and so is ultimately boring.  Since we are sure that the obvious answer isn’t all the time spent trying to convince of that seems pointless and so takes us away from what’s really interesting:  the twist that we know is coming.  We aren’t spending that time either immersed in the idea that he is delusional nor considering it as the right answer, so it doesn’t seem relevant to what we know will happen in the end, which ultimately makes it boring.

The second episode is “Long Live Walter Jameson”, which highlights a professor of history who quotes from a journal from the Civil War era as a way to give a real, first-hand account of those historical events.  Another professor invites him over for dinner and after establishing that they are good friends and that Jameson is about to marry the other professor’s daughter the other professor confronts Jameson with the idea that he actually was the person in that journal and that he has immortality, including the ability to no longer age.  They have a confrontation over it, and Jameson decides to leave and take the other professor’s daughter with him, to start another new life.  However, before he can do that, he is confronted by a former wife of his that he abandoned before it became obvious that he wasn’t aging, who is quite bitter over it and shoots him, which causes him to age rapidly and ultimately turn to dust before the other professor’s eyes.

Here, again we know that there will be a twist and so the time spent establishing Jameson’s character and the verbal fencing revealing his immortality again seems to drag and mostly pointless, although it was an interesting idea to reveal it part-way through.  However, what then ends the episode falls flat.  Jameson does not seem to be a bad enough person to justify the reaction of the woman to him, and his comments at the end that he can finally die don’t follow from the rest of the episode as that doesn’t establish him as a bad person or as someone dissatisfied with his life.  There are some interesting points that could have been explored here, but the context of “The Twilight Zone” again means that we aren’t going to get a simple and standard story out of it, and in this case the twist at the end is unsatisfying.

The third episode is “People Are Alike All Over”.  A couple of astronauts are looking at a spaceship that they are going to take to Mars, and one, the scientist, is worried about what they’ll meet out there but the other attempts to reassure him with the idea that people are like all over.  They end up crashing on Mars, and the other astronaut is critically injured, but wants to go out and see what Mars is like, but the scientist hears things outside of the ship and doesn’t want to.  The other astronaut dies but then the door opens and a group of very human-like people appears, and they seem friendly.  In a night they build the scientist a replica of his house, and he goes inside, but then discovers that he can’t leave and that there are no windows.  One window finally opens to reveal bars and to show that he’s in a zoo, and he wryly comments that people are alike all over.

Again, this is “The Twilight Zone” and so we know that when the natives are revealed to be friendly only half-way through the episode that they aren’t really that friendly, but that’s from the structure of the show itself and not from what the episode itself hints at, although there are hints of it with a woman who seems unhappy about what is happening (and can’t stand watching him in the cage at the end).  The entire initial sequence where they crash has no bearing on the rest of the episode and so seems pointless, and isn’t even used to reveal character or build suspense about what’s out there.  I also didn’t find the comment that the natives were people like us all that convincing, although that is likely a sign of the times since in these days the idea of keeping a primitive in a cage or zoo to be looked at is unthinkable, but it might not have been that way at the time.  Either way, we don’t know or feel enough for the scientist and since we are looking for the twist it doesn’t have the impact it should.  Again, this is a decent drama that is spoiled by us looking for the twist as we have come to expect from “The Twilight Zone”.

The fourth episode is “Execution”, where a criminal in the Old West is about to be hanged for his various crimes, suddenly disappears as he is dropped on the noose.  It turns out that he was brought forward in time to be studied, but the scientist who did that suddenly starts to believe that this is a criminal and eventually decides to send him back to be hanged, which causes the criminal to beat him up and run off into the street.  He can’t deal with the newness of that world, and so returns to the lab, where he meets someone else who was going to rob the lab who ends up shooting the criminal.  That thief then ends up locking himself into the time machine and gets sent back to the past at that moment and is hanged in the first criminal’s place.

The opening and closing narration talks about this being an examination of justice, but I don’t see this as really saying anything about justice or exploring it in any interesting way.  We aren’t sure if this justice is what they deserve or is ironic or what, and the fact that the criminal isn’t sympathetic but is the viewpoint character makes us not want to consider his death tragic, and so do not consider the thief ending up suffering the death meant for him simply appropriate.  The earlier episodes that used an anthropomorphized representation of the abstract concept worked a lot better and were a lot more interesting.

The fifth episode is “The Big Tall Wish”, where a boxer is trying to make a comeback and a little boy makes a “big tall wish” that the boxer would win and not be harmed.  The boxer doesn’t believe in such things, but ultimately is losing the fight — helped by his hurting his hand earlier in the evening arguing with a promoter — and is about to be counted out when suddenly everything shifts and his opponent is counted out instead.  He revels in the win for a while but then ultimately can’t accept this discordance and because he can’t believe it things shift back and he loses.  The boy then declares that he doesn’t believe in wishes anymore because it didn’t come true.

The characters here are interesting, but again too much time is spent on the lead-up when we know that there will be twists.  So we know, for example that the wish will work, and then are waiting to see how it all gets upended at the end, and other than the constant refrain of him believing that the wish worked nothing there really leads up to the end of the episode.  I liked the characters and the idea, but it would have worked better in a different series where there was the chance of him accepting the belief at the end.

The sixth episode is “A Nice Place to Visit”, where a small time criminal that nothing has ever gone right for is fleeing from a robbery and gets shot by the police, and a man in a white suit called “Pip” comes up to him, wakes him up, and promises to give him everything he has ever wanted.  The man is skeptical, but eventually goes with him — while holding a gun on him — and is led to a lovely apartment with, well, everything he has ever wanted.  Eventually, Pip reveals that the man is dead and this is afterlife, but doesn’t say what afterlife it is.  The man enjoys all the hedonistic pleasures that he had never been able to have before, and only idly muses that he doesn’t think he did anything good enough to end up in heaven.  He eventually looks up his record, only to not find any good deed on it.  Eventually, he gets tired of winning all the time and asks Pip to send him to “The Other Place” instead, at which point Pip reveals that this is “The Other Place”, and he must live here forever.

The narration hints that this is a man who had everything go wrong and never caught a break and that’s why he’s a criminal, which clashes with his record and his deserving this sort of punishment.  Moreover, the episode artificially keeps that he’s in “The Other Place” a secret since Pip seems to be trying to tell him that only to be interrupted but then when other opportunities arise fails to even make the attempt.  Again, as this is “The Twilight Zone” we know a twist is coming and so know that this is not heaven before they reveal it.  Finally, it isn’t clear that this really counts as “The Other Place” because his biggest complaint is that he can never lose but Pip is willing to make it so that he could lose, which then would end up far closer to the sort of world the man wanted.  He hints at the issue being that it is all artificial, but that’s not all that credible.  So it’s not a very interesting exploration and again the lead up to it doesn’t tie that well to the twist — although better than a lot of the other episodes on this disk — and so seems to drag.

The last episode is “Nightmare as a Child”, where a young teacher encounters a young girl on the stairs of her building and ends up in a long conversation with her over things in her past.  It turns out that she has seen someone she recognized for some reason and that her mother was murdered as a child.  The man that she somehow recognized talks to her, and then later is revealed to be the man who killed her mother, which she realizes and then runs away from him after he confesses to the murder, and he ends up dying from falling down the stairs.  The detective and a psychologist posit that the little girl was her younger self revealing what she needed to know, and at the end she hears a little girl singing the song that her other self was singing, but it turns out to be a different little girl, and things are right with the world again.

This is the closest that the series has come so far to playing it straight, but it came way too late to save the previous episodes and it still isn’t playing things all that straight.  This is a decent dramatic episode but again the looking for the twist somewhat hurts it, so it would be more enjoyable in a different and mostly straight dramatic series.

The structure of “The Twilight Zone” often hurts the episodes that would work best as straight dramas with a twist because we know that there will be one and so spend all of our time looking and waiting for it.  Without the possibility of it being played straight, that’s all that we can do.  Either they needed to play the theme straight more often or else make the lead up to the ending better set up the twist so that we don’t feel like that was wasted time.  I really feel here like these episodes are decent dramas and would be great … in another series.

I also commented while talking about “Tales from the Darkside” that the issue with a half hour show is that you can end up with ideas that are too large to be properly explored in one episode and so aren’t fully developed in it or too small for an episode and so a half hour episode seems like it drags because it’s adding a lot of other things in to fill out the runtime.  Here, a lot of these episodes seemed to center around ideas that were too small for an episode as the episode really seemed to be padding things out by showing us things that we didn’t really need to know and that didn’t relate to the twist or ending that much, and so were dull at the time and weren’t redeemed by being revealed to be really meaningful at the end.

I’ve also commented that the narration is something that elevates “The Twilight Zone” when compared to “Tales from the Darkside”, but that only works when the narration aligns with the episode.  Here it often doesn’t.  The best example is “A Nice Place to Visit” where the narration seems to want us to feel sorry for him while the episode absolutely doesn’t.  I had noticed that before but it was pretty egregious in a few places here.

That being said, I think that the quality of writing is better, but the extra length and the writing style sometimes still ends up with it seeming more boring than some of the episodes in “Tales from the Darkside”.  Hopefully we’ll be getting back to better episodes soon.

Thoughts on “Apparitions”

March 2, 2023

After the ambiguity of “Haunt”, where the movie started well but ended really, really poorly, “Apparitions” is a breath of fresh air, in that the movie is, ultimately, just plain bad.

It starts out promisingly, actually, as it has a sympathetic protagonist who is a survivor of an incident where her parents were killed and she’s been living in foster homes and the like every since.  She is graduating and while she’s hanging out with her friend — who didn’t actually graduate but is faking it so her parents don’t catch on — and at that point a woman from her past appears and there is tension between the two, and when the friend goes to get information about the protagonist from her she’s very brusque and refuses to say anything.  Later, the protagonist gets a letter from a lawyer saying that she has now inherited the family home, and then when she goes to visit her boyfriend he’s hiding from her and trying to get the woman he’s cheating on her with out of the house, but the protagonist gives up and sees her, and so discovers that he is cheating on her, and then decides to drive off alone to visit the house.  Meanwhile, as she leaves, the boyfriend is grabbed from behind in the house and dragged into a bedroom.  The protagonist ends up in a small town near where her house is and talks to the owners of the local pub, who all discourage her from going to the house and point out that bad things happen there, but the protagonist goes anyway.  As she gets there after dark, the car stalls out and she ends up being overcome by fright and calls her friend, but then goes into the house anyway.  Meanwhile, the call has pushed the friend to seek out the woman from the graduation, who turns out to be a detective who investigated the murder case of the protagonist’s parents, and the two of them ultimately end up going out for coffee after a break in and the friend almost being shot, where the detective explains that bad things tend to happen to people around the protagonist, especially to those people who are mean to her, implying that the protagonist herself does it.  Meanwhile, it turns out that the house is made up for her and there’s someone else there, and the protagonist gets memories of the murder and hides in her bedroom.  The other two, meanwhile, have headed out to find the protagonist and stop at the same pub, where it turns out that the detective is good friends with them.  Back at the house, we finally find out that the person in the house is someone hired to look after it … but it turns out that he’s her real father, and is the person who has been killing all the people around her, and that he’s kidnapped her cheating boyfriend and killed the woman he was cheating on her with, and he wants her to prove that she can take care of herself now by killing him.  She tricks him into thinking that she would do that but then stabs him, frees her boyfriend, which ends up starting a chase between all of them.  The friend and detective arrive and participate in the chase, with the detective being injured, but at the final fight the detective manages to shoot the protagonist’s father from behind — you know, that sort of “He’s going to kill her and there’s nothing she can do and she gets rescued at the end” kind of thing — and they all move on with their lives.

What really bugged me about this movie was that it had some decent elements and could have been good but it flubbed them all.  The character of the detective is an interesting one because it could have worked to do, well, what it did, which is to provide us with the exposition we needed while the protagonist provides the scares.  But instead of dribbling the information out as the movie went along it stops the movie in the middle to info dump on us.  If instead of her not talking about anything in the protagonist’s past at the graduation and instead simply saying that if she starts acting weird the friend was supposed to call her, she had added that the friend should be careful because bad things happen to people who get close to the protagonist, we would have had the beginnings of a good mystery here that would have made the scene with the boyfriend make more sense and been more tense.  Of course, from the way that was filmed we knew that she didn’t do it so that wouldn’t have worked anyway.

However, the detective is played by one of the people who is running the movie, and it shows as that character is one that the movie is far too impressed with for the role that it plays.  She gets the cool lines, the cool motorcycle, the cool persona, and gets to kill the murderer at the end.  This is all despite the fact that in terms of her character she’s a supporting character at best and the friend and the protagonist are both more main characters and have a more interesting dynamic that it would have been nice to explore and fulfill.  The character is just far too prominent and far too “cool” for the role the character is supposed to play, which even ties into the ending.

See, the detective is presented as suspecting that the protagonist herself is responsible for these things, which we know isn’t true from the very start.  So when she shows up at the house and goes off on her own to find them, I suspected that she would carry on with this and accidentally shoot the protagonist, which would have made for an interesting ending.  But she’s converted incredibly easily to the idea that the father is the killer — well, by him attacking her, which does make sense — which makes that entire aspect meaningless.  So that itself cannot provide a good ending, and the detective is too much of a side character for that conversion to matter — plus the movie hints that the detective was always sympathetic towards the protagonist anyway — and so all we can rely on is the resolution to the mystery.

Which was itself bungled.  Before we really get a sense of what the mystery is about, it is revealed that the murderer is her father.  Or, as it turns out, her real father, which he info dumps on us.  This character completely comes out of nowhere and is never even hinted at before, and this is the resolution to her mystery, a mystery that she gives no impression that she was really aware of and that we only learn about through the info dump from the detective.  So the movie resolves the mystery before we really get what the mystery is, with something that is completely contrived and comes out of nowhere.

Again, I found the protagonist sympathetic, with the potential for an interesting mystery and an interesting dynamic with her best friend.  However, it focuses too much on the minor character of the detective and doesn’t develop anything properly, which means that this is a movie that’s going into my closet of movies to maybe sell if I get a chance.

Next up, I plan on going back to the beginning and revisiting the three movies that started it all.

Comprehensive Comments on “The Twilight Zone” (Disk 3)

March 1, 2023

I found this disk to be a bit disappointing, as the episodes didn’t seem to work as well as the previous disks (and noting that I had some issues with some of the episodes on the other disks).  It’s pretty clear to me so far that the first disk and so the first eight episodes were the best so far and the ones that are filling out the middle of season 1 are definitely weaker.  But let’s get into them:

The first episode is “The Hitch-Hiker”.  Here, a young woman has been driving across the country for a vacation and the episode opens with her getting her tire repaired, and the mechanic notes that at the speed she was going she’s lucky that she just ended up on the shoulder and didn’t end up getting killed in a more serious accident.  As she follows him into town to get the tire repaired, she notices a hitchhiker by the side of the road and feels discomfited by his presence, but dismisses it.  After she gets the tire fixed, however, she seems him again.  As she drives along, she keeps seeing him despite the fact that he shouldn’t be able to keep ahead of her, and no one else sees him and they note that he shouldn’t be hitchhiking where she’s driving anyway.  This keeps going with her getting more and more frightened and dodging construction and the like to try to avoid him, until she runs onto a railroad track trying to beat the train to get away from him and the car stalls on the tracks, and she barely gets going again to avoid the train.  Finally, she takes a side road and ends up out of gas, and gets a seaman to ride with her the rest of the way, but she keeps seeing the hitchhiker and the seaman doesn’t, and as her behaviour trying to escape him gets more and more erratic he leaves the car and leaves her alone.  Eventually, she gets somewhere with a phone and calls her mother, only to discover that her mother is hospitalized from a nervous breakdown suffered due to the news that her daughter — meaning her — died in a car accident.  She then realizes that she really died in that accident and that the man is going along with her to take her to her final rest.

“The Twilight Zone” has a rather unique trait that means that certain episodes don’t work as well as you might think, like we discovered on the last disk.  The issue is that there is pretty much always a twist to one of their episodes, and in fact that’s probably the defining trait of the series.  That might not sound like an issue, but what it means is that the audience is going to be inclined to look for the twist and look at what hints at the twist while watching the episode.  This risks taking them out of the episode unless they are careful to provide lots of things to distract the viewer while building the story.  Here, the episode is following the woman and she is narrating everything, which means that we have lots of time to think about the twist before it happens.  One problem this can result in is that we figure out the twist before it happens, rendering the twist ineffective since we saw it coming.  I in fact figured out the twist pretty much as soon as the mechanic noted that she should have died from that tire blowout.  Another problem is that it hurts immersion, as we spend our time thinking about the twist and looking for hints instead of getting immersed emotionally in the situation and in the characters.  Here, the woman is pretty and sympathetic and the episode does a good job of setting it out so that our feelings of tension and fright build along with hers, but I couldn’t get into it as I was thinking about the twist.  “The Twilight Zone” is not a series where that sort of slow burn is easy to pull off,  because we’re always waiting for the twist to happen, and anything that gives us time or encourages us to think about what’s going on is going to cause us to break immersion, whether that’s exposition, discussion or simply a slow build of tension.  You can argue that that’s only the case for those of us now who look back on the show and know what it does, but this is the 16th episode and all the previous ones had big twists in them.  At this point, we are reasonably expecting a twist and it now has to be a goal of the episode to distract us from thinking about that twist until it happens.

The second episode is “The Fever”.  A man and his wife have won a trip to Las Vegas, and she’s excited about it and excited about gambling, while he thinks it immoral.  He ends up being pushed to play a dollar slot machine and wins, but insists that he’ll take the money and save it.  However, he keeps hearing the voice of the machine demanding that he play, and so he goes down and plays, and of course gets hooked, losing lots of money while railing about how terrible the whole thing is.  Finally, with his last dollar he is sure that he’ll win … and the machine breaks down.  He hallucinates the machine coming to his door after that while his wife doesn’t see it, and eventually he feels that it pushes him back and to crash through the window, where he falls to his death.

This one is just a standard episode about the dangers of gambling, only adding on a small idea of the machine being somehow alive and acting of its own accord … but since no one else can see that happening that itself isn’t clear.  I knew from the beginning that the person who gets “The Fever” as described in the intro would be the moralistic man, so that isn’t even a surprise.  That left this episode as being surprisingly dull and pedestrian, not in line in terms of concept or implementation of the even the average episodes that we’ve seen before.  Thus, I dislike this episode more for it being disappointing rather than it being bad.  It’s just not special enough in any way to end up in this series.

The third episode is “The Last Flight”, where a British WWI pilot ends up landing at an American Air Force Base in France in the 50s and has to try to convince the General and the other officers that he’s really from WWI.  It turns out that a famous British general is coming for a visit, which panics the pilot because they were wingmen and the pilot ultimately left him to die because the pilot is a coward.  Then when the one American officer who believes him makes a comment about changing history the pilot decides to fight his way back to his plane and take off again to save the general.  The general then arrives at the base and pretty much confirms the pilot’s story, mostly because the pilot’s effects were never returned … because they had been confiscated by the Americans.

It might not have been as well-worn a trope in the 50s when the episode was made, but the idea that he might have come into the future and that that might have changed things isn’t all that strange an idea, at least not to me.  And the episode itself really wants to treat that like it’s commonplace since for the episode to work we need to take that as a given.  Given that, the time it spent focused on discussions around that comes across as not particularly novel, which wouldn’t be an issue except that taking that time leads them to give the actual decision to go back and save that general too little time.  He simply jumps off to do it based on a casual remark that the other officer makes, with no idea if it’s even true or if it even makes sense.  More time for them to investigate it and to introduce reasons for the pilot to decide that he needed to overcome his cowardice to save that general — such as the general’s report on the matter saying that he saw the pilot die — would allow us to be certain that this was the case and would have given room for the pilot to be torn between his cowardice and his knowledge that he himself, by overcoming that, could save many lives, and make the conclusion that it would give his life meaning more heft.  As it is, it’s not a bad episode, but lacks any real punch and so is only carried by the performances into the “Average” zone.

The fourth episode is “The Purple Testament”, where in 1945 as WWII is raging in the Philippines a lieutenant in the American forces comes back to the encampment after a mission and notes that he saw a light on the faces of the four men who died in the mission before the mission, and wrote their names down as casualties the day before the mission.  His captain is dismissive, and consults a doctor about it, but at the same time the lieutenant is visiting one of the injured and sees the light on his face, and he dies even though he was tagged as one who would recover.  Then, before the next mission, he sees the light on the captain’s face and tells him about it, and the captain is killed in that battle.  The lieutenant is to be rotated out of the line for a while to recover, and looking in the mirror sees the light on his own face and that of his driver, and is killed when the jeep hits a mine on the way back to HQ.

The issue with this episode is that while the idea is good, there’s no real emotional heft to it.  His visions don’t cause him significant issues with other people, and he isn’t considered insane enough to stop him from going on the next mission, and he never seems to try to prevent these events from coming true.  So we just get an episode where he talks about what he sees and sees that people will die before they do, but nothing else really comes of it.  Ironically, the “Tales from the Darkside” episode “I Can’t Help Saying Goodbye” did it a lot better, giving us a more emotional story with the gift causing the little girl grief and ultimately causing her death, making her seeing her own death incredibly poignant.  This episode is just a pretty plain implementation of the concept.

The fifth episode is “Elegy”, where a spaceship containing three crewmen gets lost and lands on a planet that is almost identical to Earth … except that everyone seems frozen.  They walk around and find people frozen in what seem to be poses of them achieving their greatest wishes, and finally find someone who can move, who tells them that this is a cemetery where rich people can live out their greatest wishes after dying.  The man ends up poisoning them to preserve the peace of that place, and places them on their ship as if they were heading home, their own wish.

This is another plain episode, but I liked it a bit better because it did the decent thing of building the mystery in us as we explore it and then springing the twist on us later.  And it drops hints that these are fantasies, with a woman that I found cute but that wasn’t beauty queen material winning a beauty contest.  But ultimately there isn’t really anything interesting done with the concept, and it being a place for people to go after they die is the least interesting take they could make on the topic … even less interesting than just leaving it as a place for them to live out their greatest wishes and the caretaker putting them into it as well because he thinks it better than letting them risk returning home.

The sixth episode is “Mirror Image”, where a woman waiting for a bus asks the clerk about it and he gripes that she keeps asking about it every few minutes, when she hadn’t asked before then.  She also notices that her bag has been checked even though she didn’t check it, and when she goes into the washroom the cleaner comments that she’d done that before.  And then her bag is suddenly unchecked.  She eventually meets another man who is waiting for the bus, too, and they talk about these odd things a bit, and then when the bus arrives she notices herself in the window of the bus, who gives her a smug smile, and refuses to get on, and so the man and clerk end up calling the police to get her hospitalized to be checked out … and then the man sees a copy of himself and runs after it while it looks back on him tauntingly.

Until the man arrives, this episode works pretty well, as it follows her as things get more and more strange which lets us wonder along with her what’s going on.  When he arrives, they start talking about parallel universes and such, and it turns out that this is what is happening, but we have no idea at the end how it works or why their mirror images seem to want to taunt them and hurt them, which spoils the entire ending.

The seventh and last episode is “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street”, where we see a peaceful, average, American street where everyone is happy until there’s a flash and then all the power goes out and nothing mechanical will work, even the cars.  A boy comments that this is how the aliens invade places in a story he heard, where they send down lookalikes first to set things up and then invade this way.  This ultimately creates an aura of paranoia on the street itself as they start accusing anyone that anything odd happens to or that has anything odd about them, such as the one man whose car starts and stops on its own or the main character, Sam, who has a ham radio in his basement.  Things build until one man who went to check the next street over returns and is shot, and while there is a bit of remorse over that when things start acting up — lights coming on and going off in houses, and so on and so forth — they all erupt into paranoia and violence, and a couple of aliens note that this is how it always works and that this is the way they will invade the planet,

This is a famous episode, and Chuck Sonnenberg over at SF Debris covered it as well.  And it’s a good episode with a good concept that works … right up until the end, because the aliens are wrong about how just causing some oddities leads to this sort of paranoia.  If it wasn’t for the kid’s story and the one man not returning from the next street over in hours instead of minutes, things might have worked out a lot differently.  If the aliens arranged for both, then they actually had to do quite a bit to make this happen, and if they didn’t, then they can’t say that these things just happen.  Either way, it would have worked better for there to actually be no threat, as that would have driven home the message about paranoia a lot better.

All-in-all, a disappointing disk.  Let’s see how the next disk works out.

Thoughts on “Haunt”

February 23, 2023

Finally stepping out of the pack that I’ve been talking about for the past month, I moved back to single-shot movies with “Haunt”.  This is a pretty recent movie and is advertised as being by the writers of “A Quiet Place”, which is a movie that I’d heard a lot about but isn’t the sort of movie that I’d be interested in (it might be able to build good tension but that sort of movie would likely end up boring me or tiring me out).  This movie had an interesting start but would it be able to stick the landing?

The premise here is that a young woman — I think she’s in college or something — has an abusive boyfriend and, as it turns out, her father was abusive towards her mother as well, and she wants to break up with the boyfriend but as it’s Hallowe’en she gets convinced to stop sitting in her room and ignoring his apologetic texts and go out with them to do … something fun.  They end up at a haunted house and decide to go in and give it a try.  Meanwhile, they actually ended up there because they were being followed by someone, who is revealed to be her boyfriend.  As they proceed through the house, things seem like simple scares but things get creepier and creepier, with a simulated murder and then as some of them go through a vent maze one of their party disappears and then ends up in the “simulated” murder scene … which then seems like a real murder.  This freaks them out, and so they break the rules and instead of moving forward try to move back, while at least some of the denizens of the haunted house try to kill them off.

I will talk about the ending a bit later, because it’s necessary to understand that to understand where the movie fails.  The thing about the movie up to about this point is that it was actually doing a good job of setting up points to pay off later.  I’ve griped numerous times about modern movies and how they seem to put elements into movies that they think should be there but only in a perfunctory fashion, so that they end up being there to be there and yet don’t end up actually doing anything in the movie.  Up to here, though, this didn’t seem to be the case.  They brought up the abusive boyfriend early and tied it in to her history later on, and they even kept the abusive boyfriend in the picture to be used later (or, perhaps, to even have him be ultimately behind what was happening).  At the same time, what is going on in the haunted house and why they are doing these things is also an interesting mystery, and towards the end when she ends up in a room that seems to be a lot like the room in her house it seems like it does bring the various plot elements together in some way.  For most of the movie, then, it seems to be using these elements precisely the way they should be used in a movie.

But this turned out to be all style and no substance, and while for most of the movie I was able to go along with them by the end of the movie it became clear that they weren’t using these things properly at all.  The abusive past is part of her history, sure, but it’s not used for anything.  Her boyfriend shows up to rescue her, isn’t involved with them, and the movie never even hints that he’s involved with them before killing him off.  This leaves things clear for her new beau but we don’t really learn enough about any of them to tell if the new beau is better or worse for her than he was.  We never really learn what the deal with the haunted house was, nor why they had a room like her old room in that haunted house.  I was able, then, to go along with it until it became obvious that they hadn’t and weren’t going to properly develop and pay off these elements, at which point the entire movie completely fell apart.  When she battled her way past the last minions and drove away with her new beau, that should have been triumphant and a symbol of her overcoming her issues, but none of that is tied into any of her issues and so it can’t properly close them.  Even worse is the “second ending” where she returns to her house and the head guy from the haunted house follows her there and she blows him away with what I think is the shotgun from the haunted house.  Again, this should be triumphant and link to everything else and be freeing for her, but it isn’t because there is no link from him to her, and so it’s just a scene that should have had meaning and is played like it has meaning but ultimately has no meaning.

That’s the sad thing about this movie, and what really ruins it.  For most of it, it manages to emulate the elements that would provide real meaning so well that it really looks like it’s going to do that properly, but at the end it becomes clear that it hasn’t actually done that, but it still seems to want to pretend that it does even past the point where we in the audience are indeed entirely aware that it hasn’t and isn’t going to . That was the point where the movie lost me, and where I went from enjoying it and thinking that it could have gone into my closet of movies to rewatch to deciding that I was never going to watch it again and so it will end up in my box of movies to possibly sell.  The production values are good and there is a relatively sympathetic lead, but how it all falls apart at the end just makes it too annoying to watch.