thriller

Thriller

More than three decades before Michael Jackson changed MTV forever with his Thriller video, Boris Karloff hosted a series that now seems like a bold, dangerous prototype for The Outer Limits and Twilight Zone that would come a few years later.

I had heard about some of these episodes for years before there was any way to actually see them. In the days before home video, the only way to see an old show like this was for your local station to show it late at night as filler. But unlike those later series, Thriller didn’t make it to the magical 100 episode mark so it occupied space in very few local TV catalogs.

Now, however, Thriller is out on Netflix (DVD) and I immediately set out to avail myself of the chance to finally see the episodes that had been whispered about by horror fans since I was just a kid.

The first one I watched was “Pigeons from Hell,” based on a short story by Robert E. Howard. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to see old media like this in the context of its time period and the bar for shock value has been set so high in the intervening years that it’s hard to imagine what it must have been like for viewers in 1960 watching a character come stumbling down the stairs of an old, decrepit mansion with an axe buried in his head, but I”ll bet their dentures popped right out of their heads.

Thriller is kind of like a pre-Hays Code movie of television shows. It’s bloody and violent and characters don’t necessarily get what’s coming to them. It’s not as sentimental as Twilight Zone nor as kooky as The Outer Limits. It tells its stories with a kind of gruesome glee, reveling in what must have been quite shocking back in the day.

One thing that always gets me when I watch old TV shows is the languid pacing. They had a full 50 minutes to tell their stories (though some of the shows are actually listed as being an impossible 60 minutes long in IMDB) and they take full advantage of it. Today’s 42 minute running time has necessitated more efficient storytelling via the use of jump cuts and lots of implied action.

I have to say I prefer the modern pace. I find myself wishing they would just get on with it when they’re showing me a guy get out of a car and go into a house and then cut to the living room so we can see him come through the door and then follow him to the kitchen. I mean, come on. In “The Hungry Glass” we watch William Shatner go through the entire process of developing a photograph.

That’s all technical stuff and once you get used to it, it sort of fades away and you’re left with just the stories. And, oh, what stories they are. Writers like Robert E. Howard and Robert Bloch provided the stories and the screenwriters adapted them with the no-holds-barred enthusiasm common to young media before the grownups move in and take over.

I also watched some episodes of The Outer Limits that I had heard about but had never seen. Some, like Demon with a Glass Hand, are excellent and hold up perfectly well. Others, such as The Zanti Misfits are bizarre misfires that make little, if any, sense.

But at least I’ve finally scratched that itch and gotten closure on the long rumored shocking episodes of a legendary series.

dontbreathe

Don’t Breathe

This is an interesting entry in the cul-de-sac of modern horror that has to do with home invasions but only because its narrative and characters are so confusingly motivated. In most cases we’re wired to root for the people inside the house against the invaders, but Don’t Breathe tries to take us in a different direction.

SPOILERS FOLLOW

Read More

star trek beyond

Star Trek: Beyond

Sigh. Is any Star Trek movie ever going to live up to the original reboot? Probably not. That is damn near a perfect Star Trek movie, in that is about people, about big ideas and it’s more existential than a Star Wars movie.

Into Darkness was… I don’t know what that one was. A mistake, I guess. And they’ve come back strong with Beyond. This is a very good movie. A fun ride, a beautiful thing to look at, but it was a little emotionally flat. For a Star Trek movie.

Part of the problem, I think, is that they paid short shrift to the villain. He’s barely in the movie until the last third and his backstory comes at you fast and furious in the third act like they forgot about it and then just had to shove it in there at the end.

This might be because they wanted to preserve the element of surprise but I don’t know anyone who was surprised by that reveal.

The B-story between Spok and Uhura didn’t really amount to much. Kirk road a motorcycle and there was a cheesy callback to the original’s excellent use of Sabotage. Like I say, it was a good science fiction movie, it just didn’t feel like a Star Trek movie.

It felt like a Fast And Furious movie. Action scenes with a thin layer of emotional context applied as a veneer.

The proof of this, I think, is in how pumped I was when I left the theater but how I never really thought about the movie again until I sat down to write this post a month later.

But it was better than Into Darkness! That’s the real take away here. No matter what else might have been a little bit wrong with it, it was better than Into Darkness.

 

stranger-things-banner-600x300

Stranger Things

A Spielberg production of a Stephen King novel directed by Richard Donner and scored by John Carpenter would not be better than this series by the Duffer Brothers.

Watching this show, I get the thrill of something unexpectedly new mixed with the chills of nearly perfect nostalgia. But I’m also struck by questions like where did they find so many kids who can actually act and who the hell are the Duffer Brothers. Sounds like a comedy juggling act.

My wife insists we watch just one episode a night (followed by a Mindy Project pallet cleanser so she doesn’t have nightmares) or I would have binge watched the whole thing in on Amy’s ice cream fueled all-nighter.

Highly recommended.

purge

Purge: Election Year

You know how you sometimes go to a party for some innocent fun but you run into a guy who has very strong feelings on a certain subject and he won’t stop ranting at you all night? Even if you actually agree with him, he’s still a drag to be around.

That’s how I feel about the latest Purge movie. I’m a liberal, a progressive, someone who is extremely worried about the imbalance of wealth and power that has been created by the NeoCon policies of the last 36 years. I get it. I get all of it. But I really don’t need someone to shout it at my face while I’m in the movie theater.

Election Year is only slightly less subtle than a train derailment. It’s filled with stereotypes doing stereotypical things. Characters are what they represent, there is no subtext. It has more cliches than a Michael Bay movie. And it’s not fun. Here is a movie about a night when an entire country goes batshit crazy and, somehow, it’s boring. Really, really boring.

Except when it’s insulting. I’m not going to go into the whole subject of why liberals feel entitled to put the most racist and demeaning lines in the mouths of their characters of color. I’ll just say that the only response to the movie by the audience in this showing was when a black character uttered the line, “I see a whole lot of black people and we just sittin’ here like a bucket a chicken.” And the response was not a positive one.

Bottom line: Don’t waste your money. Go on Facebook and have one of your Aunts forward an ALL CAPS screed from a friend of a friend who knows Mitt Romney’s cousin’s gardener.

fargo-tv-600x370

A Beautiful Corpse

American Horror Story started it, as far as I can tell, but Fargo and True Detective have picked up the idea of telling a new story, with new characters but in the same vein every season. I know some people think of this as cutting off your nose to spite your face but it does solve a very real problem with modern television shows: living too long to go out with grace.

Breaking Bad accomplished this with short seasons. It was on for five years but only produced 62 episodes. A normal, network TV show would have been over a hundred eps by the end of season five. And that’s the goal. Ultimately, it’s not about story or quality, it’s about syndication. Make 100 episodes and everybody gets paid.

Better Call Saul only comes to us in 10 episode chunks.

I can’t help but feel like the end is so ugly that it diminishes the beginning. Castle started out as an intriguing and funny take on the standard procedural everyone under 60 has gotten so tired of, but it has ended up a punchline, with its star’s waistline expanding to mirror the bloatedness of the show. Every major character has been kidnapped twice, shot twice and been suspected of being the killer at least once.

So Castle won’t be remembered with the same love that we have for Breaking Bad. Rather, it will get tossed in the same file as Wings, According to Jim, Smallville and 2.5 Men. Well, that’s not really fair. 2.5 men was never any good.

In other words, guests that overstayed their welcome and left the bathroom a stinking mess on their way out.

But shows like AHS and True Detective and especially Fargo, are more like reading a new book by the same novelist every year. New story, new characters but same story telling style. And it’s awesome.

nbc-grimm

Grimm

Buffy laid the groundwork of season long arcs leading up to an ever worsening Big Bad. And it worked like a charm for them for three years. But that annual need to raise the stakes ended up leading to The Initiative in season 4, a concept that nearly undid all the good from the three seasons that came before it.

Here’s the problem with raising the stakes: Gothic stories need to be intimate and need to occur in confined spaces. The moment you open your aberration up to go worldwide you leave the vastly more interesting realm of the Gothic and enter the much more chancy world of weak kneed science fiction.

Rule #1: Never mix fantasy with science fiction.

If you create a world with shape shifting creatures who can be summoned by magic spell, do not under any circumstances create a high tech government facility to interact with them. Technology undoes mythology.

Don’t get me wrong. There are techno-gothic stories like Reanimator but in those cases the horror comes from the technology and is enclosed within the world the technology touches. No one chants a magic utterance to bring the dead back to life in Reanimator. It’s all technology. Grotesque and macabre but technology all the same.

It appears Grimm tried to correct its rambling, unfocused season 4 by going full on Initiative in season 5. All the tropes are there, the shiny underground facility, the grim (NPI), stone faced members of either side of the conflict reciting their justifications while our hero is trapped in the middle. There is some body swapping, lovers turn to enemies and vice versa. The product of a long forgotten story line returns as a powerful force of chaos.

Once a tight knit Gothic story blows up into a full blown world at war epic, it’s impossible to go back to the intimate storytelling that got the show going in the first place. To my mind, Buffy should have ended with The Gift, by far its most powerful episode and Angel never should gone to work for Wolfram & Hart.

And Grimm never should have jettisoned the Royals for the Black Claw. While I was never fond of the Royals story lines or the low rent green screen graphics that “took us to Europe” the idea of the Royals was far more in line with the Gothic mythology of the series than the awkward mix of high tech and ancient black magic that has defined this year’s arc.

Be honest with yourself. Wasn’t it more fun to watch Nick discover the world of the Grimm than to try to keep up with the huffing and puffing of this frantic and increasingly overwrought story?

Blacklist

Black List

The Black List is approaching a moment where it might just do something that I don’t think a network TV series has ever done: Move on from a major character and tell a new story.

Spoiler Alert: I don’t watch Game of Thrones or Walking Dead so I have no idea what everyone is pissing on about over there. But even if they do kill off major characters they aren’t coming to the end of one story and starting a new one.

Is Liz really dead? If she’s not, this show is going to go in the tank in a hurry. Viewers will let you prank them only so much but once they get emotionally involved in a character loss, bringing them back is largely seen as a betrayal of trust.

Read More

Batman-vs-Superman

The Zack Snyder Problem

Batman vs. Superman: Longest Title Ever has fizzled in the theaters just like Man of Steel that preceded it and yet DC/Warner Brothers is still planning on giving The Justice League movie(s) to him and his monochromatic palette for some reason.

This news got me curious about Snyder, someone about whom I knew very little, so I looked him up on IMDB only to discover a litany if promising trailers that delivered disappointing movies. Essentially, his resume begins with 300, a movie for which he used the graphic novel as an exact, unwavering blueprint, and then stumbles into one hyper-visualized mess after another: Watchmen, Sucker Punch, Man of Steel, BvS:DofJ.

The only outlier in the bunch is his first movie: Dawn of the Dead, the success of which I assume had more to do with James Gunn than Zack Snyder.

So why does DC continue to give their bread and butter titles to a man who disappoints them repeatedly and without fail? Are they in some sort of toxic relationship where Snyder comes back to them after every letdown and says, “Baby, why don’t you give me just one more chance?”

Do they have Zack Snyder confused with Scott Snyder?

Probably not. Most likely it has to do with the fact that, far from the “what have you done for me lately?” culture Hollywood is supposed to have, some people can dine out on a single success for very nearly ever. It also doesn’t hurt that even though Snyder’s movies aren’t very good and they suffer precipitous declines after the first weekend, they do make money. Not as much as they would if they were good, but enough that DC and WB aren’t filing Chapter 11… yet.

So the real concern is not why do they keep giving their properties to Snyder, but why don’t they care about quality? Why isn’t DC’s editorial board blustering and harrumphing about their top properties doing belly flops on weekend #2? Why doesn’t DC care about producing a quality product? You think Marvel would let half baked turkeys like these out of the oven?

No way.

The news out of DC has not been good for a while and no one seems willing to do what it would take to turn the ship around before it strikes an iceberg. One of the consistent threads running through the rumor mill is that poor management mixed with rampant cronyism (and serial sexual harassment) is keeping the company on a downward path and rather than soliciting direction from their creative staff, management is imposing disastrous, flailing cartwheels like the New 52 and firing creatives who don’t toe the line. If that’s truly the case then Snyder’s middling series of failures would be quite at home there.

Ghost In The Shell

ScarJo In The Shell

A large, very vocal population of rightly concerned people have been loudly pointing out that Hollywood has a tendency to cast white actors in the roles of minority characters.

This is a brand new practice that started just the other day in 1931 with a white man playing Charlie Chan. And if that sounds like racism squared then you heard me correctly.

Read More