Posts Tagged ‘horror’

Thoughts on “#Like”

May 25, 2023

This is the first movie that I watched on “Shudder”, and it isn’t even a “Shudder exclusive”, although it is a more modern movie.  It also seems to be an amateur movie, with a small cast run entirely by the principals.

The basic plot is that a college age girl has lost her younger sister to suicide.  It turns out that the sister had been going online and got into an online relationship with a strange man, and that man asked her to do a number of things — some of them sexual, like flashing him — which she did because she liked and wanted the attention, but when she refused to keep doing it the man sent the photo to all of her school friends, who treated her like a slut, which is what drove her to commit suicide.  The protagonist feels very guilty about not helping her sister when she complained about this, and keeps trying to find a way to make the man pay through looking at the messages and even signing up herself as well as pretending to be her sister, and then an off-hand comment convinces her that a local man is the one who did, based on rather thin evidence.  She then contrives to drug him and lock him up in a bomb shelter, and she humiliates him in an attempt to get him to confess to what he did to her sister.  As it turns out, he’s innocent and so can’t confess, and so this goes on for a while until, utterly despondent and about to be outed by her friend for locking him up, she seems to try to commit suicide by eating some of the drugs in a pizza that she made or was going to share with him, but he manages to revive her and leaves her on her own sofa to recover.  It seems like he kept his promise not to rat her out, but as she walks along she sees someone driving by and has to wonder if that person is indeed the one who interacted with her sister.

This plot is aimed at a psychological thriller, but it falls flat.  The way such thrillers work is that you have the person who likely is guilty trying to manipulate them and pretending to be innocent to cause them to doubt or snap and make a mistake, while the person trying to make them pay for their crimes is playing against them in the same way.  But the purported abuser here is actually innocent and isn’t all that bright, and so he can’t really play the manipulation game against her.  He really does have no idea what she’s talking about and isn’t smart enough to try to play her to get his freedom.  And since she isn’t all that bright either — necessary for her to jump to the wrong conclusion and think that kidnapping him is a good idea — it’s not like her interrogation and humiliation is all that clever either.  So pretty much all of the elements that make for a great psychological thriller are lost.

There are elements of two other stories here that would have worked better.  The first would have been to follow on from the investigation itself and have her be drawn further and further into the seamy world of these sorts of things, putting herself more and more at risk and doing more and more things to try to find out who the guy her sister was interacting with was.  The movie spends a lot of time on the investigation and I think it would have made for a much better movie if it had simply gone all the way with it.  The other story follows on from her desperate plan to kidnap the man and so show her acting more and more insane in an attempt to alleviate her guilt.  In a sense, that’s kinda what they did, but they spent too much time on the kidnapping part and she doesn’t act that insane there for that to be the takeaway from the movie.  Yes, my saying this could be me asking for them to make a different movie than the one they actually wanted to make, but these elements are there and the psychological thriller they were working for really didn’t work.

I also found the situation with the sister a bit underwhelming.  For them to pull off the nebulous threat at the end like they do, we have to feel that the person she was interacting with was a threat, and was a real, physical threat.  And the sister herself in some of her diaries seems afraid that the guy is coming to or is going to come to her house.  But when we find out the details, it seems like there was no real physical threat at all, and not much of a threat in general.  All he did was release the flashing picture to her schoolmates, and it’s mostly their reaction that drives her to commit suicide.  This makes the man himself less of a threat than the movie makes him out to be.  This might reflect how the younger people today view things, but someone who simply asks for pictures and releases them when crossed just doesn’t seem like such an incredibly evil and dangerous person to me, and it would have been so easy to make him more of a threat in line with the fear she feels at the end.

The movie also doesn’t really bring all of its plot elements together even as it sets out some interesting ones, as I commented above.  One of the worse ones is a guy that is interested in the protagonist, and who turns out to be the son of the guy she kidnapped.  He then attempts to sexually assault her when she refuses to kiss him.  Thus, there’s an implication that maybe he’s the one who was interacting with the sister.  It would explain the circumstantial evidence that the protagonist found and explain how he could release the picture so easily to her classmates and didn’t post it publicly.  It also would have made the scenes where he gets close to her important scenes and not just distractions from her interactions with the man, and also would make his being the guy’s son important, if perhaps a bit overly contrived.  However, they don’t follow through on this and the ending implies that the guy interacting with the sister was someone else, so all of that is lost.

Now, given all of this, you might think that I hated this movie.  But I didn’t.  The movie itself was kinda entertaining.  The pacing was good and despite her basically torturing an innocent man the protagonist is sympathetic enough that we want to see what happens to her.  I actually really did like the investigation part and her guilt is reasonable given the circumstances.  Even though it doesn’t work as a psychological thriller, the kidnap scenes mostly work and the ending where he saves her life anyway fits and works on an emotional level.  The movie is surprisingly well done for what it tried to be and for the flaws it had.

Now, since this is on a streaming service this isn’t going to be going into closets, and so I can only talk about whether I’d rewatch it again.  I found the movie surprisingly entertaining, but also feel absolutely no desire to watch it again.  This is mostly because there’s nothing really in the movie to rewatch.  There are no interesting subtleties in the plot or characters that I might want to watch again to admire that subtlety, and there are no real elements in the plot that I would think of differently knowing how things turn out.  It was surprisingly entertaining, but not entertaining enough to watch again just for fun, so I don’t think that I’ll be watching this one again.

Comprehensive Comments on “The Twilight Zone” (Disk 15)

May 24, 2023

This disk finishes off Season 3 before we get a fairly significant format change, so let’s see how these episodes play out.

The first episode is “The Dummy”.  Here, a ventriloquist has a successful act with his ventriloquist dummy, but after his first set his agent comes in and catches him drinking, and talks about some kind of mental disturbance that he had in the past.  The ventriloquist, it turns out, thinks that the dummy is real, but decides to lock the dummy away and pick up a different one for his second set, which seems to work.  However, after things close for the night he hears the voice of the dummy in his head, and finally goes back to crush the dummy, but crushes his new one instead.  There’s more banter, and then we see the set the next night, where the ventriloquist is the dummy and the dummy is now the ventriloquist.

While it’s not his story, as this is a Serling episode it’s pretty wordy.  It’s also fairly predictable and yet things aren’t explained very well, and the two of them changing places seems a bit contrived and convenient.  I guess the dummy really was real, but why and how the two switched places isn’t made clear, and there was a lot of room to develop that more dropping some of the side comments and conversations that really didn’t amount to much.

The second episode is “Young Man’s Fancy”.  Here, a confirmed bachelor has just gotten married to his long time love interest who he couldn’t marry because his mother didn’t want to let him go, but now that she’s dead they can get married, and so are preparing to sell the family home and go away for their honeymoon.  However, he is feeling nostalgic and she has to keep prompting him to go upstairs and pack.  Strange things keep happening to the wife that align with things he said his mother did.  Eventually, the mother reappears and the man turns back into a little boy, telling her to go away as he stays with his mother.

The idea isn’t a bad one, but the episode itself is a bit plodding.  As you can see from the plot summary, not much happens and so it’s only the suspense angle that can drive it, but we pretty much know what’s happening from the start, so it falls a bit flat.

The third episode is “I Sing the Body Electric”.  Here, we have a family where the mother has recently died and the one girl, Anne, is acting up in school and the other two children spend a lot of time withe babysitters and housekeepers because the father works so much, which has caused another family member to want to have the children taken away.  They don’t want to be split up, so they see an ad for a synthetic babysitter and decide to check it out.  It turns out that they can make it look any way they want, and while the two younger children want their “grandma” to look like their mother, Anne doesn’t and declares that she will hate it if it does, and runs out … so the younger children make it look like their mother anyway.  When she arrives at the house after being built, Anne is indeed upset and angered by it, and this doesn’t get any better until there’s a confrontation and Anne runs away.  “Grandma” follows, and Anne eventually reveals that she hates her mother because her mother ran away … meaning that she died and Anne irrationally things that her mother could have done more to stay alive.  Anne runs off into traffic, and a truck is coming down the street and would strike her, but “Grandma” pushes her out of the way and is hit herself, which devastates Anne … but then “Grandma” gets back up and comforts her and her father because both of them were angry at their mothers for dying on them, but “Grandma” cannot die and so will never leave them that way.  We fast forward to when the children are adults and “Grandma” has to go back to the factory, hoping that eventually she’ll finally attain a real life.

This episode isn’t bad, as the dramatic elements work and the performances are good.  However, the episode is a bit overstuffed with elements, which means that some things seem to be rushed and come out of nowhere, like with Anne’s revelation which at least had a little setup, but the father having the same issue comes completely out of nowhere.  Also, the end doesn’t really add much and seems to be a bit of a Downer Ending considering how “Grandma” attached herself to the family, and takes up time that could have been used to develop things more.  But I did like Anne and her father, which provides an important attachment that makes the episode work better than some of the others.

The fourth episode is “Cavender is Coming”.  Here, a young woman who is an utter klutz is given a guardian angel who has 24 hours to improve her condition or else he’ll get reassigned because he’s a bit of a goofball.  Anyway, he comes down and decides that her problem is that she doesn’t have money, and so makes her independently wealthy and moves her into the upper crust.  And she hates it and wants to go back to her screwed up life with her friends, none of whom recognize her anymore.  She prevails on him to reset things, and he does, which makes her happier in her life since she realizes the things she has there are better than what she could have gotten otherwise, which satisfies the condition for the angel to not get demoted … but to not get his wings either, and so he’s assigned to help other people … and Serling warns that it could be you and that you’d need luck if it is.

This is clearly meant to be a comedic episode, especially since Carol Burnett is brought on as a special guest star as the woman.  But things aren’t all that funny, and the message is an obvious one.  It’s okay, but not a great one.

The last episode is “The Changing of the Guard”.  Here, a teacher at a boys’ school teaches one last class before the Christmas break and is called in to the headmaster’s office and eventually is told that a letter from the board that the teacher hadn’t managed to read is them retiring him, since he’s past retirement age.  This devastates him, and causes him to doubt that he has had any lasting impact on any of his students, and with the loss of his job and that feeling he decides to commit suicide, but as he prepares to do so at the statue of the founder of the school the bells ring and he goes to his classroom, where a number of his former students who are now dead suddenly appear.  They all explain that his poetry class did impact their lives and things that he taught them through that allowed them to make the differences that they made in their lives … and their deaths.  As they fade away, the teacher concludes that his life might have had meaning and that he is now prepared for the changing of the guard.

As a Serling script, it’s a bit wordy, which mostly works since the teacher is indeed someone who would be that wordy, but at times his words do seem to drag out the episode a bit.  I also would have liked them to make a better link to the “changing of the guard” by having one of his former students be the person who was going to take over the class, driving home the idea that the teacher had changed lives and had taught that student who now will change lives the way the teacher did, following the teacher’s example.  Finally, this is a decent drama, but it really doesn’t have much to do with “The Twilight Zone” and so isn’t particularly suited for this series.

One thing that I really noticed this time is that Serling’s intros and outros are well done, well written and delivered incredibly well.  I do really like them.  I just wish they were used better to set up and explain the episodes, which is how they can be best employed.  Beyond that, the episodes tend to be mediocre, and Serling’s tend to be wordy.  They usually aren’t terrible, but usually could be a lot more than they are.

Now, from what I am led to believe the next season doubled the length of the episodes, which would give Serling some room to play with.  Let’s see how that works out for him.

Shuddering …

May 23, 2023

So I recently plugged in my Roku box, and subscribed to Shudder, the horror movie streaming channel.  I had to finish off the “Final Destination” movies before I could start watching movies on it, but of course I started thinking about how I was going to go about watching the movies on that streaming channel.  I took a quick look at it to see if it would even run, and saw that there were a number of movies and that some of them were creature-type movies that I’m not normally fond of.  I figured, however, that there were about 1 – 200 movies on the channel and so figured that what I’d do is start alphabetically and go down the list, watching all of them — even those creature movies — and only skip the ones that I had already watched or really, really, really wouldn’t like.  Sure, given that I watch about one a week that would still take years, but since I would be mostly watching them to talk about them on the blog watching the ones that I normally wouldn’t could lead to interesting things to talk about on the blog.

But before I did that, I went and looked to see how many movies were actually on the channel, and it turns out that there are … 5 – 600.  Yeah, that’s a lot more than I expected.

So I had to reconsider how I’d approach the channel.  If I watched all of them in alphabetical order, that would take me, oh, about 10 years or so.  The channel probably won’t be around that long.  But going through all of them and noting which ones were interesting and creating a priority list of them was going to be a lot of work, would still produce a list that would take years to get through, and one that would be constantly updating since they were going to keep adding and removing movies from the list.  Starting at the top and working my way down would be easy but would run the risk of my missing out on movies that I really, really wanted to watch because they were at the end of the list, but going through the entire list to find them would still run that risk and be a lot of work.

Since, again, my primary purpose for subscribing to the channel is to find movies to write about for the blog, I decided that going through the list would be the way to go.  Now, one additional complication is that Shudder also has lists per category, like “Supernatural” and so on, and so I could use that to pare the list down a bit.  Except that a lot of the other ones are “Psychological Thrillers” and more ordinary murder-type stories, and I actually like those as well, so I didn’t want to limit myself to the “Supernatural” category that might be what I was most interested in … especially since, again, I’m watching these to talk about them on the blog and so those other movies might be interesting as well.

So, ultimately, what I decided to do was start at the top of the list alphabetically and work my way down, but to check first to see if the movie sounds at all interesting before watching it.  However, I’m going to be pretty open, and so will only reject a movie if it’s not the sort of movie I watch — and so that would cover most of the creature features — or it sounds really, really bad.  And given the movies that I’ve already bought, that’s a pretty high bar — or, perhaps, low bar — to pass.

I’ve started watching these movies already, and of course Shudder threw me another curve, as on the Roku app you can’t sort movies alphabetically, or at least it’s difficult to do.  However, if I look on my laptop it allows me to sort them that way, so I can pick the next one from the list that way and then search for it in the app when it comes time to watch the movie.  That seems to work pretty well.

So for the next little while, most of the horror movie posts will be of movies that I watch on Shudder.  I’ll have to watch some of the DVDs that I still have, although I’ll have to add them on at some point instead of replacing the Shudder watches with them.  It also means that I’ll feel no reason to buy new horror movies for quite some time, which actually has a major impact on my overall schedule (I don’t need to go to Walmart weekly to check out new arrivals, and don’t need to go to any stores that sell them, etc).

Final Thoughts on “Final Destination”

May 18, 2023

As I noted while talking about the first movie, when I first heard about this premise I didn’t think much of it, which was a view that my coworkers weren’t too impressed by.  However, after watching these fives movies, I have to say to my coworkers that I was right.  The premise — and execution of that premise — was indeed pretty stupid.

Now, of course, part of the reason why I didn’t like it was because I prefer the conception of Death as being neutral, if merciless and implacable, and this premise required Death to be malevolent, and especially in the fourth movie to be malevolent for no reason.  This should have had a huge impact on the world and yet it seems like it didn’t, although perhaps you could argue that how blase people are about these Rube Goldberg-type disasters that start off the movies might indicate that this is a world with a more malevolent Death/Fate who likes arranging these sorts of things for fun.  Still, if that was what they were going for, they should have made that clear.

Which leads to another issue with the series, which is that the premise itself is an odd and confusing one that could have used more development through more movies with a clearer idea on how they might be able to avoid Death, and the movie never actually advances the lore in any real way, and any attempts to hint at interesting interpretations aren’t developed and are often contradictory to what happened in earlier movies and are built to explain things that the lore in the earlier movies already adequately explained, making them easy to ignore for anyone who actually cares about the lore and explanations.  Thus, we never really get to understand what’s going on and so can only strap in for the ride again as the same things keep happening over and over again.

This results in the series being very formulaic, with each movie basically doing the same thing with the same plots and the same sorts of deaths.  Now, you can argue that a horror movie franchise sticking to the formula that made it successful is not only not a bad thing, but is instead a thing that most of them actually do.  But even if we look at slasher movies, we can see that “Friday the 13th” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street”, despite not needing to, actually did at times try to advance and develop lore and mix things up so that it wasn’t just the same formula over and over again.  It wasn’t just the case that a group of camp counselors came back to the camp and were killed again or that a new set of teens were being killed in their dreams, and those premises themselves actually allowed for that since you could mix things up in that formula with new dreams and ways of killing and everyone would be happy.  Here, to stick to the formula without adding to the lore meant doing the same things over and over again in slightly different ways which got really tiresome over the long haul.  Developing the lore would have given us new insights which could have given us new ways of looking at things which could have led us to feeling that progress, at least for us, was being made and so it wasn’t just the same-old same-old thing happening again with slightly different characters and slightly different ways of killing them, making the series less boring.

Still, the most unique thing about the series is probably the Rube Goldberg nature of the deaths, and with the exception of the third one the movies do, in general, manage to pull that off.  So if that’s something you like, then you might like this series.  I’m not that thrilled by that sort of thing, and so wasn’t into the movies, and so won’t watch any of them again.  So it goes into my closet to maybe get rid of at some point.  I think it could have been more if they had explored the premise a bit more, but they never did and that leaves nothing but the deaths to hang onto.

With that done, I’ll start looking at some of the 600 or so movies on Shudder, now that I have that running.  Yeah, to get through that might take a while …

Comprehensive Comments on “The Twilight Zone” (Disk 14)

May 17, 2023

So the last disk was more entertaining but still exhibited what I feel are the flaws in the series.  Let’s see if that keeps on going as we head towards the send of Season 3.

The first episode is “The Fugitive”.  Here we have an old man who is playing with some children, and is especially attached to a young girl who has a problem with her leg and has to use a brace, but it turns out that he has some strange and magical powers, including the ability to shapeshift.  He turns out to live in the same building with the little girl, and when he takes her home and uses his powers to make his roller skates disappear some guys are watching him suspiciously.  It turns out that the little girl’s parents are dead and she is living with her aunt who disapproves of the old man and, it seems, any kind of fun at all and seems to dislike the girl.  The two men come up after the little girl is sent to bed for being out for too long and talk about trying to find the old man, and so the little girl sneaks up to tell him about them, and he talks about having to go away.  But the men come up to find him, and he changes into a mouse and sneaks out with the girl.  He tells her that he is from another planet and the men are there to take him back, so he has to find another planet to go to.  He first heals her leg — he didn’t do it before because it would reveal where he was, but that doesn’t matter now — and then turns into a fly and flies out the window, but the little girl chases after him and runs into the men, who demand to know where the old man has gone, but she insists that she doesn’t know and wouldn’t tell them if she did, and so they take their last option and use their powers to make her unconscious and in a state where she is about to die.  The old man comes back and heals her, and of course they are waiting.  It turns out that he’s not really on the run because of a crime, but because he’s the king of their planet and didn’t want to do that for another 4000 years.  Now that they’ve found him and want him to come back, he has to go back, but the little girl wants to go with him and they can’t let her go.  However, she comes up with a plan to get around that and he shapechanges into a copy of her, and so they have to take both of them since they can’t tell which is which.  The ending says that she lived there and became queen, because his real form is of a young human and not an old man at all.

This really is the sort of episode that you need for a show with a format like “The Twilight Zone”.  It’s entirely a character piece, and the interactions between the old man and the incredibly adorable little girl really work, and while we know that there’s going to be a twist coming we are too involved in the characters to think about what that is.  Which is good, because the twist isn’t particularly interesting and is a bit predictable (we knew that he’d be at least a fugitive for something that we wouldn’t consider bad).  The only real weakness is that when the little girl is near death her aunt really does seem to care about her, and the little girl leaving without a word loses the possible redemption arc for her that that set up.  Still, this is a much better episode than a lot of the ones lately.

The second episode is “Little Girl Lost”.  Here, a little girl calls out for her parents but when they go to find her she isn’t in her room, and they can only hear her voice.  They call a physicist to help, but while they are waiting the family dog runs into the room and under the bed, and disappears as well.  It turns out that she has fallen into a portal to the fourth dimension which is causing havoc with the dog finding her and with them keeping track of her.  Eventually, the father reaches into the dimension to try to grab her, and falls in.  The physicist tells him to hurry and call the dog to him — who has found the girl — so that they can get out, and when they finally do the physicist explains why:  they had just gotten out in time before the portal closed, and the father was actually half-in and half-out of that dimension.

This is another way that you can make “The Twilight Zone” episodes work:   make it so that the characters are trying to figure out the mystery along with us.  The twist isn’t particularly interesting, and the biggest flaw in the episode is that the physicist is either coming to conclusions on no evidence or logic or is refusing to tell them why they are doing things, but when they aren’t trying to do exposition the tension and drama works fairly well.

The third episode is “Person or Persons Unknown”.  Here, a man wakes up in bed after a bit of a bender and discovers that his wife has no idea who he is.  He then goes to his job and finds that they have never heard of him and that someone else has taken his job.  Since he works at a bank, his acting out on this gets him arrested and sent to an asylum, where the doctor insists that the person he’d thought he was has never existed and offers to let him prove that he is who he thinks it is, but everyone he calls has never heard of him either, including is own mother.  He suspects that someone is setting him up and runs off to find one of the little things that they might have missed, and eventually goes to pick up a photograph that he took with his wife, who now insists she’d never seen him.  When he first looks at it, it seems intact, but when he shows it to the doctor it’s just a picture of him on his own.  He then wakes up as if it was a nightmare, but then it is revealed that his wife is someone that he doesn’t recognize, potentially starting this all over again.

This again has the right sort of format for “The Twilight Zone”, where the main character is trying to figure out the mystery and twist along with us, so we are speculating about it at the same time as they are.  However, the twist in this episode isn’t a particularly good one, and since they wouldn’t show us the wife’s face at the end we also knew it was coming, so the ending makes the episode more disappointing than it might have been otherwise.

The fourth episode is “The Little People”.  Here a rocket has landed in a gully on a planet, and the Commander and his navigator are fighting over the work of fixing the ship and when they can take off again.  It turns out that the navigator wants to be in command and hates taking orders.  Eventually, the navigator finds a colony of microscopic people and uses his size to threaten them into treating him like a god, which ticks off the Commander.  Later, the Commander finds the navigator abusing the little people — having them build a statue of him, for example — and tells him that the ship is fixed and they’re leaving.  The navigator refuses to leave and threatens to shoot the Commander if he tries to make him leave, so the Commander leaves and the navigator sets out to keep tormenting the little people, only to have two giant people appear and pick him up, crushing him by mistake and killing him.  The two giants leave, the little people celebrate, and pull down his statue.

The main issue here is that as a Serling episode there is a lot of speechifying but not a lot happens.  Because the twist is about the even larger humans, all of the conflict between the Commander and the navigator is irrelevant, and because the navigator was killed by accident it isn’t even a karmic death for him, with him being treated by them the way he treated the little people.  We don’t even get the little people rising up against him or his going mad from loneliness like the Commander said he would.  It’s an interesting idea, but it isn’t properly developed and the speeches don’t add to it, explain anything, or give any meaningful character development.’

The fifth episode is “Four O’Clock”.  Here, a man who gathers a lot of information on “evil people” and calling in to get them fired from their jobs and ruining their lives decides that he is going to punish all of them a four o’clock that day.  A woman comes in to confront him over ruining the life of her husband because he didn’t manage to save a woman in the hospital emergency room, and from her he gets the idea that have all the evil people shrink at four o’clock.  He warns the police and an FBI agent comes to question him about it, and concludes that he’s just an insane and small-minded man and leaves.  Four o’clock comes and the man himself shrinks, being one of the “evil” people he wanted to stop.

The main issue here is that, again, there is a lot of speechifying in this episode, but almost all of it comes from the main character, who is thoroughly unpleasant and not exactly rational.  So we have to sit and listen to that idiot go on and on about stupid things, and we have far more sympathy for pretty much everyone else in this episode than him.  This also makes the twist too predictable, given that he’s pretty much as evil as the people he considers evil — and seemingly more so — and so it’s likely that he’s going to be hoisted by his own petard … and wouldn’t be at all a good ending if he wasn’t.  Thus, this is ultimately an unpleasant episode to watch because it focuses on an unpleasant individual, and when he gets shrunk at the end we feel less satisfaction and more “Finally!”.

The sixth episode is “Hocus-Pocus and Frisby”.  Here, the man who runs the local general store loves to sit and spill tall tales about things that never happened to him, and while he’s doing that a couple of strangers drive in and he regales them with his tales about how great he is.  Later, as he is closing, they reveal themselves to be aliens and abduct him to their spaceship, and they are looking to take Earth’s most impressive human specimen and by his own words that’s him.  He denies it, but can’t get away and is knocked out, and when he wakes up they are mere minutes from taking him away.  He plays his harmonica — which he does badly — and it badly hurts the aliens, allowing him to escape.  When he gets back to the shop, the people throw a birthday party for him and give him a trophy for being the World’s Best Liar in appreciation for his tall tales that they don’t believe.  They ask him to tell another tale about what happened to him, and he tries to tell them the truth, but of course they don’t believe him.

Again, this episode is full of speeches and tall tales from the main character that get old really fast, and he isn’t a sympathetic character so we don’t really care about what happens to him or that he escaped.  If he really had been telling those stories to entertain people, that would be one thing, but it really seems like it’s all about self-aggrandizement, and while in theory his not being believed about the one true story would be karmic justice — there is a link made to the story of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” — it doesn’t seem like them not believing him here has any nasty consequences for him and so there’s not really any justice there at all.

The seventh episode is “The Trade-Ins”.  Here, we are set in the future and an elderly couple is going to a company that will give them younger replacement bodies for a price.  The elderly man is suffering from great pain which makes this something they need to do soon, but once they’ve picked their bodies they discover that they can’t afford both, and while the woman insists that the man take the body and she can wait they decide not to do that.  The old man then goes to a shady gambling den to try to win the money, and after spinning his yarn he ends up winning the sympathies of the guy who runs it who tosses the last hand so that the old man can go away with what he came in with.  He then decides to take the body for himself, but when he does that the woman, despite being supportive at the start, is shocked at his appearance and he decides to back out so that they can age out and die together.

Nothing really happens in this episode, and so while the dialogue and acting is good and does lead to some emotional scenes there really isn’t a solid connected plot here and nothing of consequence happens.  Also, it isn’t clear why the old woman suddenly rejected him, and I really thought that she was going to die then making it pointless.  So not a good episode.

The final episode is “The Gift”.  Here, we start in a Mexican village where a strange ship has landed nearby, and when the police go to investigate one officer ends up dead and the other claims to have shot the alien creature who killed the other officer.  They call in the military and everyone runs inside to lock up in case it comes to the village, although the doctor and one strange little boy who loves the stars aren’t as frightened.  It turns out that the man who was in the ship turns up at the tavern and is badly injured, so the doctor and the little boy take care of him after he knocks out the tavern keeper.  When the tavern keeper recovers, he pretends to be okay with it, but rats them out to the police and the military.  The man gives a “gift” to the little boy that was supposed to prove that he wasn’t a threat, and then escapes to try to get back to his ship, but is hemmed in by the police and military.  He tells the little boy to reveal the gift, but the mob sets it on fire, and the man is eventually shot and killed.  It turns out that the “gift” was a book that revealed a vaccine for cancer, but when it was burned the formula was lost.

Again, a lot of talking, but none of it advances the plot, sets up the twist, raises interest in the twist, or develops the characters, which makes it an episode that not much happens in.

The sad thing is that this has become a hallmark of Serling’s episodes.  He likes to write speeches and likes to moralize, and while I think his writing is good it really, really doesn’t work in “The Twilight Zone”, because the episodes are a half-hour long and so we don’t have the time for speeches that don’t develop the plot or characters, and we always know that there’s a twist coming and so end up disappointed with all the speeches that ultimately aren’t relevant to that twist at all.  It’s gotten so that when I see Serling’s name as the writer I know that it’s going to be a disappointing episode, which I hate, because it makes it seem like I think he’s a bad writer, and he isn’t.  It’s just that there really isn’t the room for the sorts of speeches he loves in “The Twilight Zone”, especially when he has a limited number of character and personalities to play with.  That’s why the first three episodes — that are not by him — work so much better than the last five do:  they are written to fit into the premise of “The Twilight Zone” better than Serling’s generally are.  So to again compare to “Tales From the Darkside”, the writing here is better but I think the premise is more restrictive, which means that Serling can write well and yet not write well for “The Twilight Zone”, whereas “Tales From the Darkside” was less restrictive but simply not done as well.

The next disk finishes off Season 3, so let’s see how that season ends up.

Thoughts on “Final Destination 5”

May 11, 2023

This is the last of the “Final Destination” movies that I have in that pack, and for a number of reasons I was very, very glad it was.  As usual, this one follows the formula to a tee and again seems like a reboot, but there’s actually one clever bit in it that makes that last part make sense.

A group of people are going on a corporate retreat and when the bus is stopped on a bridge that’s under construction one of them has a vision that the bridge is going to collapse and kill everyone, so he runs off the bus and a number of people go after him, all of which end up being saved when it actually happens.  An interesting point here is that his girlfriend — who just broke up with him and it is revealed later did so so that he would take a dream job that requires him to move away to Paris — actually likely survived the disaster the first time and so is not in line to be killed.  Anyway, the deaths start up again but when one of them manages to have someone else be killed in the accident meant to take him instead they for no good reason decide that if they kill someone else they get their lifespan and so can survive that way, and so one of them, grief-stricken and angry, tries to kill the girlfriend to get her lifespan and ends up dead.  The two of them survive and end up on a plane to Paris, which is where the reason why there are no references to Flight 180 becomes clear:  they’re on Flight 180 and die from that crash, which makes this effectively a prequel to the first movie.  Also, the guy who survived finds out that the guy he killed suffered from a brain aneurysm and didn’t have long to live, and promptly is killed off by debris falling from the plane itself smashing the bar he was standing in.

Let me address the new idea of being able to avoid dying by killing off someone else and taking their lifespan.  There is no reason to think that this would work and in fact it contradicts the second movie in that that’s not how the two who survived that movie survived things.  Worse, though, is that they stick with that explanation — introducing the aneurysm as a reason why the guy who survived originally — despite the fact that all of those deaths are consistent with what the previous movies said:  when someone avoids their make-up death, they get skipped until the rest of the list is completed, and the main character was next on the list, and so once he died it would be time to kill the guy who got skipped again.  Again, this element wasn’t explored and so came out of nowhere, contradicts the rest of the movies, and is not necessary to explain what happened and so we can easily conclude that they were just plain wrong and the original mechanism was still in play.  So, again, this doesn’t really add to the lore or explain anything and so we are left with what we knew from the first movie itself.

I will say that this movie does a better job of personalizing the victims and driving a lot of the action from that, with the break-up because of Paris, his working in a restaurant, the one guy watching his girlfriend die and then being broken up and going nuts over that, leading to the ending.  I still don’t think it did it as well as the first movie, though, but at least it’s something.

Also, they do manage to do decent Rube Goldberg deaths in this movie, even doing some fake-outs, so if you like that sort of thing — which is the only reason to like this series — you probably won’t be disappointed.

As for me, I never liked the premise and it didn’t get better the fifth time it was pretty much used with no real evolution or giving us any new explanations for what is going on.  As such, I don’t really want to watch this movie again, either.  I’ll have one more post summarizing the whole series and then move on to movies on Shudder, the other reason I was glad to finish this series.

Comprehensive Comments on “The Twilight Zone” (Disk 13)

May 10, 2023

I think this disk encompasses how “The Twilight Zone” is different from “Tales From the Darkside” and yet why I’m disappointed in the series as a whole.  So let’s get down to the episodes!

The first episode is “One More Pallbearer”.  Here, a wealthy and powerful man has built an underground bomb shelter and set things up to fake a hydrogen bomb attack, and then invites three people who humiliated him in the past:  a school teacher who failed him and called him out in front of the entire class for cheating and then trying to pin the blame on another student, a reverend who called him out in the pulpit for presumably seducing and then abandoning a young girl, and a military officer who had him court-martialed for cowardice.  After he reminds them of this, he tells them that he has information that there will be a hydrogen bomb and missile attack and that the world will end, but they can all survive in the shelter with him.  All they have to do is apologize and beg his forgiveness, and they will live.  Despite them all believing that the world would end, they all reject the offer and leave, which drives him into a rage as his faked attack plays out.  He stumbles out of the shelter into a devastated world, but it turns out that all of that is an illusion and he has been driven insane by how they all rejected his offer.

I think that’s what they are implying there, anyway, because Serling’s opening monologue says that he’s rich.  However, since he’s quite disheveled I wondered if he wasn’t rich at all, but was instead a homeless person fantasizing about getting revenge on the people that he felt were responsible for him being in that state, and going mad when his own imagination proved that they had more integrity than him and that he deserved what he got.  This ending is okay, but not as interesting as that one would have been.  Also, this episode contains a lot of Serling’s trademarked moralizing speeches to his normal often overdone and annoying degree, especially the school marm’s rants against the rich man.  The reverend does a better job of expressing the same ideas more succinctly, which ends up making them more powerful.  Still, even if the episode seems to drag out the conversations, the interplay between the four is fairly well-written and well-acted, which means that it’s entertaining to watch.

The second episode is “Dead Man’s Shoes”.  Here, we open with a body being dumped in an alley, and a homeless person finds the body and notes its distinctive pair of shoes, which he then takes.  Soon after, he starts feeling and acting strange, and it turns out that wearing the shoes allows the original owner of them to take over his body, which he uses to find his apartment and set up a plan to get revenge on the person who killed him, his former partner in … shady enterprises who wanted to take over the entire business himself.  However, while he manages to avoid the first ambush that killed him the last time, he doesn’t dodge the second, and insists with his dying breath that he will be back.  That body is dumped in the same alley and another homeless person — one that we were introduced to earlier — finds the shoes and, having always coveted them, takes them himself … and starts to act as if he’s possessed again.

As you can see from this summary, there’s not a lot of content here … or, at least, content that’s really relevant to the plot.  And since the episode sets out the main twist early, the twist itself isn’t all that interesting of a one.  Again, though, the conversations are relatively well-written and well-acted, which makes it more interesting than it would have been otherwise, but still nothing really happens in the episode.

The third episode is “The Hunt”.  Here, an old man and his wife live in the backwoods, and the old man heads out to do some hunting — for raccoons — against his wife’s wishes.  His dog runs after a raccoon and falls into a creek or something, and the old man dives in after him.  The raccoon comes out, but they don’t.  The next morning, the two of them wake up on the bank and walk back to the house, but the two people they come across are digging a grave for his dog and don’t react to him.  Finally arriving at home, his wife doesn’t react to him either and talks as if he’s dead.  Finally accepting it, he heads out along the trail that he’s supposed to walk on, and comes across a gate, with the gatekeeper claiming to be St. Peter and telling him that the place behind the gate — which has a cloud of smoke coming from it — is heaven, but he comments that the dog can’t come in and that there’s no hunting in heaven, and the man refuses to enter without his dog, so he moves on.  Then he comes across someone claiming to be an angel who tells him that he can enter heaven and that his dog can come, too, and that there’s hunting, and reveals that the first person was Satan, trying to deceive people into entering Hell instead.  The old man then wonders if his wife will manage to see through the deception, but the angel says that she will have no problems with that, likely because she is religious.  The man and his dog then enter Heaven.

This episode has some interesting ideas, but is really made by the lines and acting of the old man and the old woman.  Their interaction early on is interesting and gets us into the story early, and the old man’s commentary on what’s happening is delightfully folksy and so keeps the episode moving, even though there again isn’t all that much plot-relevant stuff happening.  The nature of the trail and the deception opens up a lot of questions, but we can forgive them because it’s a potential exploration as per this entire series rather than something that is necessarily true.  This is one of the better episodes so far.

The fourth episode is “Showdown with Rance McGrew”.  Here, a rather arrogant and untalented actor is playing a famous TV cowboy, and after demonstrating how he isn’t at all like the cowboys of old and how they don’t care about portraying the historical examples they use at all accurately, he gets sent back in time to face the real Jesse James … and fails miserably at it.  James then makes a deal with him:  he can return to the present if he changes things to portray things accurately.  He does, but then James is revealed to still be there as his “agent”, noting that he will be keeping an eye on him and suggesting other changes that he’d like to make.

Again, the dialogue and interactions work well, but the issue here is that neither the main character nor James are at all sympathetic.  The main character is pretty pathetic across the board, and doesn’t seem to learn anything from the experience, and the changes that James ends up advocating for are self-centered ones that would hurt the TV show itself, as they have him win more often despite him being a black hat villain.  That hurts the episode overall.  If James had been more directly opposing misrepresentations and the main character had learned something, it would have worked a lot better.

The fifth episode is “Kick the Can”.  Here, we focus on an old folks’ home where they are all feeling and acting old, but one of them notices some kids playing and gets the urge to play again, thinking that the reason people get old is that they forget how to play.  He wants to try it, but his long-time friend reports him to the doctor and they think that he’s becoming senile.  Not giving up, he rallies all the other residents together to play “Kick the Can” and they go out into the yard and play, and end up being turned into children, and the friend realizes that the main character was right too late and asks them to wait for him … but they won’t or can’t, and as established he can’t do it himself, so he’s stuck being old when everyone else has become young.

Again, we can forgive the episode for not thinking about the consequences of this — where are the children going to live, for example — and again there’s not much content here, but again the performances and conversations carry the episode.  This is an episode that really could have felt like it dragged but there’s enough content here and the conversations work well enough to carry it through.

The sixth episode is “A Piano in the House”.  Here, a wealthy man and theater critic goes into a curiosity shop looking for a player piano so that his young wife will stop trying to learn how to play the piano, and discovers while trying it out that with the right music a person will reveal their real nature and innermost thoughts.  He brings it home and plays it for the servant, who reveals that despite his dour countenance he finds the critic’s abuse to be funny and is a fairly jovial person himself.  He then plays it for his wife who reveals that she might have loved him once but hates him now, and that she thinks he only married her to find someone who would put up with his abuse.  The critic loves this, and plays it for the guests for her birthday party.  He plays it for a friend first, who admits to being in love with and having an affair with his wife.  Once all the other guests arrive, he uses another woman as an example and uses it to humiliate her, which causes the guests to be less than thrilled with him.  The next roll, however, gets him to reveal his innermost thoughts, which are that he’s a spoiled and fearful child and is acting out to hurt others before they hurt him.  This causes the guests to leave and his wife and the friend to leave him alone.  He throws a tantrum, and at the end the servant comments that he’s just not funny anymore.

Again, the strength of the episode is in the conversations and interactions, which are well-written and well-performed.  That he’d end up revealing who he really is, though, was telegraphed and so the ending is more of a dramatic one than a “Twilight Zone” one.  One thing that I’ve commented is that a number of the episodes would work better as regular dramas, but despite the structure working out that way we really do need the supernatural element here to reveal everyone’s true faces.

The seventh episode is “The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank”.  Here, we start with the funeral of a young man, but he then comes to life, which freaks everyone out, but they are all mollified when his younger sister accepts him.  He starts to demonstrate strange abilities — a bouquet of roses he brings to his girlfriend dies before he can do that, he wins a fight against her older brother when he’s never won before, and so on — which causes the townspeople to turn against him, but he proposes to his girlfriend and she accepts, and then he hints that with his “powers” he could do bad things to them so they might not want to tick him off too much.  When they leave, his now-fiance asks if he’d really do that, and he says he was lying.  However, he still demonstrates that he does have some strange powers.

Again, the strength here is in the dialogue and characters, as the main character is engaging and sympathetic.  The twist is, again, a bit weak, but again we do at least need the supernatural elements to build out the story.

The last episode is a famous on in “To Serve Man”.  Here, we see aliens arrive on Earth, and they promise to give us lots of technology and to turn Earth into a paradise, and want to create an exchange program between their worlds and ours, shuttling people from their planet here and people from Earth to their planet.  They talk through telepathy, but pass lie detector tests, and have left behind a book that the main character’s group is trying to decode, but they only really manage to get the title, which is “To Serve Man”, which is promising.  The main character finally gets his chance to go, but his female colleague, waiting for her chance, had decided to keep working on the book and at the last minute goes to the spaceship having discovered that it’s really a cookbook … but he’s forced onto the ship anyway, as it was too late.

The episode is told as a flashback, which works fairly well.  Again, the writing of the conversations and the acting works well.  However, I think that if I hadn’t already known the twist I wouldn’t have liked the episode as much, because again the episode spends a lot of time talking about how great the aliens are and the wonderful things they are doing, which given that this is a “Twilight Zone” episode means that there’s some kind of twist that will undo that.  So if I hadn’t known what the twist was in advance I’d have been spending the entire episode waiting for it to come off.  Also, the twist is handled poorly, as the episode spends a lot of time setting up the aliens as benevolent with scenes that could have been done with simple exposition and yet we don’t ever get any scenes with the translation of the book to whet our appetites and to show that there’s something odd going on, and so we just get a “It’s a cookbook!” scene at the end that comes out of nowhere.  Some of the time spent talking up the aliens could have been spent setting up the twist.  I also noted that, intentional or not, there are a lot of parallels between this episode and the original “V” miniseries, with the multiple saucers, promises of peace and technology, going through the U.N. to set this up, and ultimately wanting to eat the humans.

Ultimately, the difference between “The Twilight Zone” and “Tales From the Darkside” is really the quality of the writing and acting.  “Tales From the Darkside” did have some well-known actors, but many of them didn’t act all that well nor did the writing do much for them.  In “The Twilight Zone”, the writing and acting are better, but it amazingly has a tendency to drag in part because of that, as it focuses on those things at the expense of building out the plot, and in a half-hour show you don’t have a lot of time to waste.  The episodes, then, work best when the characters and their interactions are compelling to make us not care too much about the plot.  But there’s an issue here, which is that pretty much every episode of “The Twilight Zone” has a twist and since we are aware of that we can’t stop caring about the plot.  If we already know the twist or the episode sets it up too obviously, then we can enjoy the interactions, but then the twist comes across as weak.  If we don’t know the twist, then we can’t really enjoy the interactions because we keep looking for the twist.  The best episodes, then, are the ones where we are trying to figure out the twist along with the main characters so we can enjoy both, which is why “To Serve Man” would have been so disappointing, since it had the perfect structure for that sort of mystery but spent so much time talking up the aliens that it never developed that.

Still, this was a more entertaining disk, at least.  Let’s see if that continues with the next disk.

Thoughts on “The Final Destination”

May 4, 2023

So, this is the fourth movie in the pack of “Final Destination” movies that I bought, and as it turns out it isn’t the final destination movie as there’s at least a fifth, which is in that pack.  As I’ve noted in the past, I wasn’t all that fond of the premise to start with, and the movies have generally been disappointing, so let’s see how this one works out.

As per the usual formula, a group of people are attending a NASCAR race, and the lead character again has a vision of a huge accident that causes the stadium itself to collapse and all of his friends to die.  Freaked out, he screams for everyone to leave and ends up getting kicked out by security, along with a few other patrons, one of whom gets kicked out without his wife.  As they all blame each other, the accident happens.  Again, as per the usual formula, the people who were saved start dying, starting with the man whose wife was killed as he tries to kill the security guard for kicking him out without his wife which he irrationally thinks caused his wife’s death.  As things progress, they come up with a theory that they can end things in a certain way, and use as evidence that it worked that the security guard has been trying to kill himself all day and can’t, but we know that this isn’t the case because if they had actually stopped the killings they would be able to die.  Anyway, he ultimately prevents the deaths of two of the female characters while not being able to stop the death of the security guard, and we move a few months into the future where he starts having premonitions again, and then notes that maybe all of this happened to get them into the situation they were in now, which is how Death wanted to kill them, and then a truck ends up hitting and killing them.

This movie is effectively a reboot, as while there is one small reference to the original film’s Flight 180 for the most part it completely ignores it.  So it follows the formula, and does keep the Rube Goldberg nature of the deaths, but it doesn’t have an interesting connection to the earlier films at all and so can’t build on them.  This has actually been a major failing of the series as a whole, although the previous movies actually did try to build on the lore, at least, from the first movie while this one tries to reinvent it completely.  This actually wouldn’t be bad as because there aren’t any real references to the previous movies this would mean that the characters have to figure it out for themselves which would allow them to actually develop an interesting lore around it.  Sadly, aside from a few speculations the characters don’t seem to be that interested in what is actually going on, which is also a sharp contrast from the first movie.  Given this, we have a movie where the characters don’t know what’s going on and where the movie doesn’t use the lore from the first movie, so it doesn’t develop anything itself and so needs to be attached to the previous movies to make any sense, but ignores the previous movies so much that it feels disconnected from them.  As I said, it seems like a reboot where the writers still expected us to have watched the previous movies to make sense.

This isn’t made better by the fact that the movie itself seems to contradict the previous movies in what it says about the lore.  I’ve already noted in the summary that they somehow come to the conclusion that they’ve managed to stop the killings by a method that a) we know from the previous movies wouldn’t work and b) with evidence that we know doesn’t mean that (the security guard trying to kill himself and failing).  For those who have watched the previous movies, we know that this won’t work and so aren’t at all surprised when it doesn’t.  For those who haven’t, the idea comes out of nowhere and so they also wouldn’t be surprised.  So it falls flat no matter what the audience is.  The idea that Death was arranging things so that they’d die the way they did is an interesting one, but it isn’t at all developed and so comes out of nowhere.  It also makes Death far more malevolent that he seemed in the previous movies.  Which means that it ends up being interesting as an idea that plays off of the previous movies, but isn’t really consistent with it and so doesn’t provide the explanation for what’s happening that we might have been looking for, but if you haven’t followed the previous movies it comes completely out of nowhere.  So we don’t need that explanation for the endings of the previous movies and it isn’t really consistent with it, and if we take that movie as a standalone movie it comes too far out of left field to provide an explanation for what happens in this movie.

The movie fits the formula of the first movie to a tee, and doesn’t do much with it.  It also fails to do what the first movie did and really make us feel a connection to the characters that could carry us for a bit, which has been the big failing of all the sequels.  As such, I don’t have any real interest in watching it again, although the murders are sufficiently involved to scratch that Rube Goldberg murder itch that is probably the only good thing about the series as a whole.  I don’t think I’ll watch this one again.

Comprehensive Comments on “The Twilight Zone” (Disk 12)

May 3, 2023

While watching this disk, I came up with an interesting theory about why I haven’t been all that thrilled with the series despite its towering reputation and good writing and decent ideas.  I’ll relate that after I go through these episodes, although that I managed to come up with that theory here probably spoils the fact that I wasn’t that thrilled with these episodes either.

The first episode is “Deaths-Head Revisited”.  Here, the former head of the concentration camp at Dachau returns in what was the present day then to revisit it and all of the sadistic things he did to the inmates incarcerated there, but then is confronted by one of them and eventually realizes that that man was someone he had actually killed right before the camp was liberated.  He is to be tried by a court of the inmates he killed, and of course there can only be one verdict, which is guilty.  He is then driven mad by being made to experience the tortures he inflicted on the inmates of the camp, and the episode ends with him insane and in pain, but with no explanation for what’s causing that.

One comment that I’ve made on a number of occasions is that some of these episodes would work really well as dramas but suffer from having to be in “The Twilight Zone”, and this is one of them.  The story of the former head of a concentration camp who returned and was driven insane by his own mind and memories would work really well, especially if instead of the man being unapologetically sadistic he was more of a “I did my duty and you deserved it” sort of person, and thus when confronted with his memories of the events found that certainty shaken, and it could easily be the case that the reason he came back was because he wasn’t certain at all.  Here, he comes back only to revel in his sadism, it seems, and since this is “The Twilight Zone” we are pretty sure that he was indeed confronted by the people he tortured and killed, which makes it a weaker message and weaker plot.  It isn’t bad, and it is well-written, but without those extras we end up watching a sadistic person get punished, which is more potentially cathartic than dramatic.

The second episode is “The Midnight Sun”.  Here, a young woman and an older woman are the last people living in their apartment building in New York, as almost everyone else has headed north because the Earth’s orbit has shifted and keeps moving it closer to the Sun, which is causing things to heat up.  Things keep getting worse and worse and they are eventually confronted by a man whose wife and infant died from the heat and who threatens them but eventually runs away because all he wanted was water.  The older woman dies, and things heat up to a great degree and melt the young woman’s paintings.  She then wakes up, and it is revealed that she is sick and is instead living in a dark and frozen New York because the Earth’s orbit has shifted away from the Sun, and she only felt hot because she had a high fever.

I really like the main character here, as I think she does a good job and seems nice and sympathetic, which means that I empathize with her plight.  Unfortunately, the twist isn’t all that great of a one, as normally you’d expect the twist to be that things get better too late for them or something, rather than a completely different sort of doom.  There is also a philosophical issue that isn’t addressed here which is that if the orbit was changed and there was no way to restore it, then moving south or north or trying to keep cool enough or enough water to survive is only delaying the inevitable, and so the more rational thing to do might well be suicide instead of staying around for it.  I like the main character but don’t care for the plot, which means that this is a bit of a mediocre episode.

The third episode is “Still Valley”.  Here, a pair of Confederate soldiers are on patrol looking for a Yankee force, and while they hear them coming the sounds suddenly stop.  One of them is pretty much a coward, so the other one heads into the nearby town and finds that all of the Yankee soldiers are frozen in place.  He eventually finds an old man who says that he did it with witchcraft, and says that he can win the war for the Confederacy with powers from the book on witchcraft he has, but he’s going to die this very day and so gives it to the soldier to win the war.  After he proves to his commanding officer that he can use the book to do witchcraft, the soldier starts to read the book but when he gets to a part where he has to renounce God to cast the spell he refuses to do so, making a comment that while the enemy are the “damned Yankees” doing this would make them the damned.  Eventually, they all agree, and the book is burned.

This is an idea that’s too big for a half-hour episode, especially given how much time the episode takes to dramatically set up the characters of the two soldiers and the mystery of the deserted town.  With all of that, the rejection of the magical powers at the end is incredibly anti-climactic, and there’s no real exploration of any of the issues that such a book would raise.  This episode drags for the first part and then ends far too quickly.

The fourth episode is “The Jungle”.  Here, a man has recently gone to Africa to set up a project to build a new dam, and his wife has been gathering all sorts of protective talismans, because as it turns out the witch doctors of the tribe that are being displaced have cursed everyone involved if they proceed with it.  The man talks a lot about how even if what the tribe talks about seems like nonsense, it’s no more ridiculous than their own superstitions, but they go ahead with the project and the man returns home, leaving behind a lion’s tooth talisman that his wife slipped into his pocket.  His car won’t start and so he needs to go through the city with the sound of the jungle echoing in his head every so often, but he eventually gets home and finds that there’s a lion in his bedroom, which likely indicates that she herself turned into a lion to attack and presumably kill him.

This is a plot that’s too small for a half-hour episode, mostly because it doesn’t really tie into the superstitious aspects very well.  It drags throughout most of it with its attempts at suspense and drama, and as noted above it isn’t clear what that lion actually is or why it only showed up there.  The main character is actually acted quite well, but there’s just not enough plot here to be interesting.

The fifth episode is “Once Upon a Time”.  Here, a man who is completely unhappy about how things are in 1890 and who works for a scientist comes across the scientist’s helmet that would take him to any time he wanted, but only for a half hour, and tries to set it to go forward in time, but finds that the future is even noisier and more expensive and, in fact, worse than his own time.  However, he has to recover the helmet, and meets a scientist/academic who has studied the 1890s and thinks he would rather live there, and so while they try to get the helmet fixed in the half hour time limit once that’s done the scientist steals it to go back, even though the man says that they can go back together, and so the scientist sets the time to the 1890s and the man tackles him at the last minute, and they both return to the 1890s.  Fast forward a few months, and the man is now incredibly appreciative of his own time and the scientist doesn’t want to stay there because of all the things that are lost from modern times, so the man puts the helmet on his head, sets it to his own time, and sends him back to his own time.

This is clearly meant to be a comedy episode, and setting the 1890s sections as a silent movie is clever.  However, it’s not all that funny in and of itself, and even worse it makes a complete hash out of the 30 minute time limit.  One would expect that they would be returned to their own time automatically then, but what they ultimately do is set the helmet to return to the 1890s instead and the scientist stays for far longer than that in the 1890s, but then is sent back to the future without there being any fear of his coming back in 30 minutes, all of which means that the 30 minute time limit is only there to add time pressure for fixing the helmet but otherwise doesn’t actually apply.  So the plot would be okay for a comedy episode but it manages to mess up its own plot doing so, which is always a negative for me.

The sixth episode is “Five Characters in Search of an Exit”.  Here, soldier wakes up in some kind of strange smooth, cylindrical prison is tries to find his way out, only to be interrupted by four other characters — a clown, a hobo, a ballerina, and a bagpiper — who say that they’ve been in this place for a while now and that there’s no way out.  Every so often, some strange sort of bell rings.  The soldier refuses to give up and eventually comes up with the idea that with all of them here now if they stand on each others’ shoulders then one of them might be able to get over the lip of the cylinder and see what’s going on.  They try it with the ballerina on top first, but she can’t reach and they fall, and she strains her leg.  The soldier then tries again with himself on top using his sword and a cloth rope as a grappling hook, and he gets over the lip but then yells out in shock and falls over the lip.  Outside, it turns out that he’s a doll being collected for a doll drive for orphans and gets put back in, with the outro using the ballerina’s line about them being the “unloved” to hint that they might not be unloved for much longer.

This was one of the episodes that Chuck Sonnenberg covered over at SF Debris, and so I knew the ending as soon as I started watching it.  However, this is an episode that I enjoyed, and I would have enjoyed it even more if I hadn’t already known what the ending would be.  The reason is that with the five characters there’s a lot of things going on, and all of them get involved in trying to solve the mystery — and the ballerina throws out a bunch of ideas that are totally consistent with what “The Twilight Zone” could and even had done up to that point — which means that we go along with them in trying to figure out the mystery.  We probably couldn’t solve the mystery from the almost completely non-existent clues the episode presents, but it keeps us interested as things go along, and the interaction between the soldier and the ballerina and the soldier and the clown are still interesting.

The seventh episode is “A Quality of Mercy”.  Here, a platoon of soldiers in the Philippines is trying to wipe out a group of Japanese soldiers that are holed up in a cave at the end of the war in 1945.  They mostly want to leave them alone and bypass them, but their new lieutenant comes in and wants them to attack.  Right before the attack, he is shifted to 1942 as a Japanese soldier attempting to do the same thing to a group of American soldiers hiding in the same cave.  He doesn’t want to wipe them out and uses the same arguments that the sargeant tried to use against him, but it doesn’t work.  He then flashes back to 1945, and at least delays the attack, and then the news of the nuclear bomb being dropped ends the war which means that they don’t need to take out those soldiers after all.

The idea here is good, although I was disappointed in the ending, as they never really made it clear that the lieutenant was going to refuse to attack the Japanese soldiers due to his experience, as the fact that the orders changed meant that he didn’t have to.  This made the entire shift a bit pointless, especially in terms of the lessons the lieutenant learned.  Otherwise, the lieutenant wasn’t a sympathetic character which made me care a bit less about his realization at the end.

The last episode is “Nothing in the Dark”.  Here, an old woman who never goes out hears a gun battle with the police outside her door, and hears a police officer pleading for help.  She resists opening the door to help him, but eventually relents.  It turns out that the reason she never goes out is that she’s seen Death outside in the past — even though he wears different faces — and wants to avoid being touched by him.  She gets a notice that the building is going to be demolished in an hour, and then the police officer reveals himself to be Death, who used this ruse to get her to trust him, and that since he has touched her she is already dead, but there is nothing to fear with death, and they walk out into the sunlight together.

Given my own views on Death as an anthropomorphic figure, I do like the more neutral or even good presentation of him here.  However, that he was Death was far too predictable and there isn’t really enough plot here to carry the episode, even though the performances are good, so it did seem to drag a bit.

And, see, that’s been my issue with these episodes.  They drag.  But they drag in an interesting way.  It’s not the case that they drag because they are boring, but instead because the series is trying to be dramatic.  The series likes its philosophical speeches and discussions, and likes its suspense building and to draw out the drama.  But the content of the episodes isn’t really enough to justify that a lot of the time, and so the episodes end up spending a lot of time doing nothing in an artistic way, and I get tired of all the nothing.  The reason I liked “Five Strangers in Search of an Exit” is because the characters there spend a lot of time doing stuff, even if that’s only talking to each other and teasing out the situation and their own relationships.  For most of the other episodes, not enough happens to keep my interest despite the episodes being well-written and often well-performed.  Yes, we don’t need “action” but there isn’t even enough philosophical discussion to keep my interest, and you know that I’m someone who likes philosophical discussion.  So the episodes, for me, fail because they don’t do enough, even as I concede that things like the dialogue and performances are good.  This is in sharp contrast to “Tales From the Darkside”, where the quality wasn’t as good but usually more happened.  It’s an interesting conundrum.

Thoughts on “Final Destination 3”

April 27, 2023

So this is the third movie in this series, and I haven’t been all that impressed with the previous two movies.  Part of this is clearly personal to me, since I don’t care for how it makes Death a malevolent figure with a Grand Design when it could have gone with a neutral Fate with a Grand Design, and I’m not generally impressed by the Rube Goldberg sorts of deaths that the movie goes for.  However, the movies themselves have a number of flaws — especially with regards to its premise — that could easily ruin them if you don’t turn your brain off and simply focus on the complicated death scenes.  So I wasn’t really looking forward to watching this movie.  Then again, it was written by Glen Morgan and James Wong, who are probably more famous for “X-Files” but also did “Space:  Above and Beyond” and so I had some hopes that it might be good.

The plot here is pretty similar to the first movie.  A young woman at an amusement park with her friends gets on the rollercoaster and then gets a vision that it will crash, and so leaves, taking a number of her friends and acquaintances with her.  The coaster does crash, but again soon after the survivors start dying off.  It turns out that the main character can get hints about how they’ll die from pictures she took that night, and so they try to prevent the deaths in the same way as the first movie.  Eventually, the last three survive — the main character, her love interest, and her sister — and they go on with their lives until on a subway in the city she has a vision of meeting the other two for no real reason and the car crashes, and then that starts actually happening but the movie ends before we discover if they actually died or not.

The most surprising thing about this movie, for me, is just how boring it is.  Despite returning to these characters all having existing relationships, none of those relationships are interesting and nothing is done with them.  On top of that, the deaths themselves aren’t anywhere near as complicated as they were in the first two movies, and so even the deaths are unimpressive and uninteresting.  It also doesn’t explain what’s happening any better than the previous movies, and introduces the new mechanism of showing the deaths in the photos which is never explained, makes no sense, comes across an awful lot like them reading into what they see on the photos, and is an unnecessary change from what happened before.  Really, all I can say about this movie is that it’s a shallow copy of the first movie without properly using even those elements of the first movie that worked, by creating characters with relationships that are just there and are never used, and by having them be chased by Death without properly setting up complicated death scenes, and by using a vision power to try to prevent the deaths that is less interesting and more complicated and confusing than what we had in the previous two movies.

Interestingly, in looking up the movie to see what the plot was — which says a lot about how boring the plot is given that I couldn’t even remember what it was — I noticed that Wong and Morgan had also written the first movie, which makes it all the more puzzling why this movie seems like a shallow copy that never really got what was good about the first one.  You’d think they would have at least did the exact things they did in the first movie, but they didn’t manage to do that.  As it is, the movie is horribly boring and doesn’t even provide the Rube Goldberg death scenes that differentiate these movies from other horror movies.  I really have no interest in watching this one again.