Horror on TV: Degrassi: The Next Generation 4.14 “Secret, Part One” (dir by Eleanore Lindo)

Tonight’s televised horror comes to use from the year 2004 and the nation of Canada!  Love you, Canada!

In this episode of Degrassi: The Next Generation, the students at Toronto’s Degrassi Community School are still struggling to come to terms with a recent school shooting that left one student dead and another paralyzed.  What better way to help the school deal with their trauma than a play?  And what better play to select than an adaptation of …. Dracula?

J.T. (Ryan Cooley) and Libertry (Sarah Barrable-Tishauer) are directing their own script.  Starring in the play is Emma Nelson (Miriam McDonald).   Before the shooting, Emma was known for being rather strident about her political and environmental activism.  After the shooting, Emma has been spiraling out of control.  And, as we all know, spiraling out of control on Degrassi inevitably leads to a visit to the ravine where all-around trouble-maker Jay (Mike Lobel) has a van and a collection cheap bracelets.

Meanwhile, in another part of the school, Ashley (Melissa McIntyre) tries to get Craig (Jake Epstein) to join a support group that will help him deal with his recent bipolar diagnosis.  Craig is upset to discover that Ellie (Stacey Farber) is in the same group.  This episode was the start of the very long and very angsty Craig/Ellie relationship arc.  When I first watched Degrassi, I always related to Ellie and I still do to a certain extent but, in retrospect, I think I was probably a lot more like Ashley when I was in high school.

This episode of Degrassi aired, in Canada, on November 30th, 2004.  This episode was considered to be so controversial that it actually made national news when it later aired in the United States.  (I can actually remember watching some outraged wannabe censor talking about how Degrassi was a corrupting influence.)  Part Two of Secret, which we’ll get to tomorrow, was even more controversial.

As for how this fits in with October …. it’s Dracula!  And really, when you think about it, Jay’s a bit of a real-life Dracula.  That’ll especially become clear in the next episode.

Anyway, here is tonight’s episode.  Remember — whatever it takes, you can make it through!


N. By Stephen King; Review By Case Wright


What if you’re not crazy?  What if you’re finally seeing the truth that everyone else is too afraid to see?  Is the revelation too much for your mind?  Could your mind be both the doorway to hell and the gate keeping the evil old ones at bay?  Most importantly, can a person’s mental illness infect another person?  Stephen King’s “N” is a hybrid of Lovecraft and Modern Psychology where we are forced to learn the answers to these questions.

The story was both a novella and adapted as a comic book/olde-timey radio-show.  Confused?  Let me explain.  N was first published as a novella, but instead of getting made into a comic book or as is typical of King’s work- a movie or miniseries, it became something else.  Marc Guggenheim adapted the work as an all dialogue webseries similar to the serials of the 1930s and 40s and presented the story as a series of hyper-detailed comic illustrations.  You can see it in its entirety below.

I have also read the novella several times.  Honestly, sometimes I’m not sure why I like a particular Stephen King story more than another, but it seems to be when the characters are so real that they could be you or your neighbor.  Yes, the monsters are spooky, but it’s the people, their story, their lives, who just happen to have to also deal with a monster or four.

The story begins with Sheila Bonsaint who is in mourning from her brother’s suicide.  She is calling her friend who is reminiscent of Anderson Cooper to look into why her brother John killed himself.  She believes it’s because of his contact with a patient named N.  The story shifts to John’s perspective describing a patient N who suffers from extreme OCD.  N believes his OCD rituals keep the portals between our world and the hell world closed.

N describes how he encountered a field with rocks similar to Stonehenge in Maine and that by viewing the structure, he caused the structure to activate and potentially release an ancient evil that will consume mankind.  He begins to do OCD rituals to keep the portal closed, but realizes that he must sacrifice his life in order to shut the gate forever.  Unfortunately, John becomes infected by N’s mental disorder and becomes overcome with the need to investigate the structure, which activates it again and causes him to spiral into the same OCD as N.

This story struck a very strong chord with me.  Last year, I began to take a long road into facing my own PTSD experiences in the Army.  When I would tell the medical professionals in the VA about what happened, one cried.  My stories had infected them and left them different afterwards.  The world was less clean, less safe, and much darker.  Now, like N, if I have to tell a person the stories, I begin by saying that I am sorry because what I will tell you, will change you.  I suppose that is what humanity does; we share our burdens and our curses.  Maybe that’s how we keep the gate to hell closed?

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Single White Female 2: The Psycho (dir by Keith Samples)

13 years after the release of the first Single White Female and a countless host of imitations, an official sequel was released straight-to-video in 2005.  Subtitled “The Psycho,” (because apparently, Jennifer Jason Leigh was totally stable in the first film), Single White Female 2 tells the story of what happens when one roommate becomes obsessed with the other.  It all leads to murder and sexual infidelity and sudden hairstyle changes.

Maybe you’re thinking that this sounds exactly like the first Single White Female.  And, okay, there are some similarities.  But just consider some of the differences!

1. In the first Single White Female, Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character grows obsessed with Bridget Fonda after moving into Fonda’s apartment.  In Single White Female 2, Tess (played by Allison Lange) becomes obsessed with Holly (Kristen Miller) after Holly moves into Tess’s apartment.  See, this time, the psycho has her name on the lease.  HUGE DIFFERENCE!

2. In the first Single White Female, the plot is set in action after Bridget Fonda discovers that Steven Weber cheated on her.  In the sequel, the plot is set in motion by Holly’s original roommate, Jan (Brooke Burns), seducing a client who Holly was also sleeping with.  Again, that’s a huge difference and it also leads us to wonder if maybe Holly just sucks at choosing roommates.

3. In the first Single White Female, Jennifer Jason Leigh played an unstable bookstore employee.  In the sequel, Tess is a nurse who has a history of killing people who she feels would be happier dead.  In other words, Tess is a psycho with a mission.

4. In the first Single White Female, Jennifer Jason Leigh’s character hung out in a sleazy S&M club.  In the sequel, Tess actually performs on stage.

5. The first Single White Female actually looked like a real movie whereas the sequel has the flat and rather bland look of a film shot for and on video.

6. In the first Single White Female, you could understand why an insecure person would want to steal Bridget Fonda’s identity.  In the sequel, Holly’s identity doesn’t seem to be interesting enough to justify trying to steal.

7. In the first Single White Female, Jennifer Jason Leigh gave a performance that inspired both fear and sympathy.  In the sequel, Tess is just your typical straight-to-video movie psycho.  There’s no indication that she could have ever been anything other than a straight-to-video movie psycho.

8. The first Single White Female was a good film, almost despite itself.  The sequel is rather dull.

So, I guess my point here is that, if you want to watch a movie about a roommate stealing someone’s identity and getting a new haircut, the first Single White Female is the one to go with.  The sequel doesn’t really add anything worthwhile to the story, nor does it improve on it in any way.  Give some credit to Brooke Burns, who plays Holly’s untrustworthy ex-roommate and who, at the very least, seems to understand the type of movie in which she’s appearing.  Brooke Burns gets the worst lines but she at least seems to be having fun delivering them.  Otherwise, it’s best just to forget about this sequel.

Insomnia File #40: The Spanish Prisoner (dir by David Mamet)

What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

If, at 3 in the morning on Wednesday, you were struggling to get to sleep, you could have flipped over to Flix and watched the 1998 film, The Spanish Prisoner.

Joe Ross (Campbell Scott) is an engineer.  He’s a quiet, polite, and always considerate man.  At one point, he’s told that he’s “too nice” and, watching him, you can’t help but agree.  Joe works in an otherwise bland office where the walls are covered with menacing posters that, in an accusatory manner, announce, “SOMEONE TALKED!”  Paranoia is in the air but Joe, for whatever reason, seems to be incapable of sensing it.

Joe has just invented something called The Process.  It’s deliberately left obscure just what exactly The Process is but we do know that it stands to make Joe’s boss, Mr. Klein (Ben Gazzara), a lot of money.  When Mr. Klein invites Joe and the company lawyer, George (Ricky Jay), to an island retreat, Joe assumes that it’s so Mr. Klein can offer him a lucrative cash bonus as a reward for creating the process.  Instead, it turns out that Mr. Klein has no interest in giving George any extra reward.  Instead, Klein feels that Joe should just be happy to be a part of the company.

On the island, Joe takes a picture of a mysterious man named Jimmy Dell (Steve Martin).  Jimmy offers to give Joe a thousand dollars for the camera.  Joe, instead, hands over the camera for free.  Later, Jimmy tracks down Joe and apologizes for his behavior.  He and Joe strike up an unlikely friendship on the island.  Upon learning that Joe will soon by flying back to New York, Jimmy gives Joe a package to deliver to his sister.  Joe agrees.

It’s not until Joe is on the plane and in the air that he starts to wonder about what’s inside the package.  It doesn’t help that his secretary, Susan (Rebecca Pidgeon), won’t stop talking about you never really know anyone and how easy it is to trick an innocent person into becoming a drug mule.  Finally, Joe steps into the plane’s lavatory, unwraps the package, and….

And that’s all I can tell you without spoiling the film.  The Spanish Prisoner is a film about a dizzying confidence game, one that is full of nonstop twists and turns.  No one in the film turns out to be who you thought they were when you first saw them.  At times, it can be a bit hard to keep up with the plot but that’s actually a part of the fun.  The Spanish Prisoner keeps you guessing and, fortunately, Campbell Scott gives a likable enough performance that you’re willing to explore the maze at the heart of this film with him.  Steve Martin is also wonderfully sinister as Jimmy, using his own “nice guy” image to keep us off-balance.

As you might expect from a film written and directed by David Mamet, the dialogue is heavily stylized.  The characters all move and speak at their own odd rhythm.  Lines that should be innocuous take on a dangerous edge and it becomes impossible not try to read between the lines of even the simplest of exchanges.  It creates a rather dream-like atmosphere, one in which you’re never quite sure what’s real and what’s just another part of the game.

The Spanish Prisoner is an intriguing mystery and one that seems like it will definitely reward repeat viewings.

Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans
  18. Only The Strong
  19. Great Expectations
  20. Casual Sex?
  21. Truth
  22. Insomina
  23. Death Do Us Part
  24. A Star is Born
  25. The Winning Season
  26. Rabbit Run
  27. Remember My Name
  28. The Arrangement
  29. Day of the Animals
  30. Still of The Night
  31. Arsenal
  32. Smooth Talk
  33. The Comedian
  34. The Minus Man
  35. Donnie Brasco
  36. Punchline
  37. Evita
  38. Six: The Mark Unleashed
  39. Disclosure

Straight From The Direct-To-Video Film Vault: Laser Moon (1993, directed by Douglas K. Grimm)

Like so many straight-to-video thrillers from the 90s, Laser Moon opens with a serial killer.  This one stalks women whenever there’s a full moon.  His weapon of choice appears to be a laser pointer but it’s supposed to be a real laser.  When late night DJ Zane Wolf (Harrison le Duke, doing a barely passable Eric Bogosian impersonation) starts getting phone calls from a man claiming to be the killer, Detectives Barbara Fleck (Traci Lords) and Vincent Musso (Bruce R. Carter) get involved.

If you’ve ever wondered what would happen if you mashed up Talk Radio with the type of movies that used to play regularly on late night Cinemax, the end result would probably be better than this.  Oh, don’t misunderstand.  Laser Moon tries it’s hardest to be something more than just another low budget, direct-to-video thriller.  Zane Wolf claims to be a cynic and he smokes a cigarette right in front of a “no smoking” sign.  (I have pictures of myself doing the exact same thing in high school.  Take that, evil sign!)  When the killer calls Zane Wolf’s show, the discussion involves all sorts of philosophical issues but the problem is that neither one of them has much to say.  Zane is a cardboard nihilist, the type who can’t come up with anything more profound than telling his listeners to “do what you’re afraid to do.”  “You walk alone,” he tells another caller.  Why are people listening to this guy again?

Traci Lords is miscast as a police detective but she still gives the best performance in the film, showing once again that there was more to her as an actress than just her notoriety as a former underage porn star.  Laser Moon may be one of her worst films but at least it ends with a twist involving the use of holograms.  That’s not something you see every day.

Video Game Review: Vampiric Tower (2000, Mike Behrens)

Vampiric Tower is a simple but addictive puzzle game that I found on the Internet Archive.

In this game, you are a purple haired vampire in a ten-story, fifty-room tower.  Your goal is to go through each room and collect all of the vials of blood.  Only after all of the vials have been collected will the door to the next room open.  At first it’s simple:

Things get more complicated with each room that you enter.

For instance, in the room above, there’s plenty of blood but there’s also objects in the way.  Fortunately, you can turn into a bat and fly over the obstacles but there’s only so many times that you can transform and you always have to return to your “human” form if you want to collect the blood.  You can push the obstacles out of the way but, if you’re not careful, you can very easily ended up locking yourself into a corner.

Each room has more obstacles than the last and you’ll have to be smart about how you use your transformation powers if you’re going to get all of the vials.

You’re also not alone in the tower.

Those jack o’lanterns may not look dangerous but get in their line of sight and they’ll kill you.

Vampric Tower is a simple puzzle-solving game but it’s also very addictive.  No sooner have you managed to figure out how to escape one room than you find yourself in an even more elaborate and dangerous location.  How quickly can you make it through the vampiric tower?  Play the game to find out!

Halloween Havoc!: Peter Cushing in TWINS OF EVIL (Universal/Hammer 1971)

cracked rear viewer

British babes Mary and Madeleine Collinson became the first set of twins to not only star as Playboy Twin Centerfolds (and we’ll get to that at the end of this post!!), but to star in a Hammer Horror film, 1971’s TWINS OF EVIL. Not only that, the lasses got to play opposite Hammer icon Peter Cushing as their puritanical, witch burning uncle. It’s the final chapter in Hammer’s Karnstein Trilogy (preceded by 1970’s THE VAMPIRE LOVERS and 1971’s LUST FOR A VAMPIRE), based on characters from Sheridan LeFanu’s 1872 novella , and it’s a sexy, blood-spattered scream!

As uncle Gustav Weil goes around the countryside burning young girls at the stake, his recently orphaned twin teenage nieces Maria and Frieda arrive from Venice. Prudish Uncle Gustav disapproves of the girls’ plunging decolletage (“What kind of plumage is this? The birds of paradise?”). While Maria is shy and demure, Frieda’s a…

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Horror Scenes That I Love: Bela Lugosi Introduces Himself In Dracula

I swear, nothing annoys me more than when wannabe hipsters go out of their way to trash old movies.

You see that a lot on twitter.  People who, for the most part, haven’t even studied film or cultural history will try to post something snarky about a film that was made decades before they were born.  They either make fun of the acting or the dialogue or they attempt to call out the film for not being properly woke.  It’s an easy way to get likes and retweets but it’s also about as intellectually lazy as you can get.

For instance, there’s a tendency to dismiss the 1931 version of Dracula and Bela Lugosi’s performance in the lead role.  Personally, I do think that Dracula is a bit too stagey (it was, after all, based on a stage play that was based on Bram Stoker’s novel) and I wouldn’t put it up there with director Tod Browning’s best work.  The Spanish-language version of Dracula, which was filmed at the same time, is technically a better film.  But, that being said, I will accept no criticism of Lugosi’s performance.  Lugosi is the perfect Dracula.  If he seems overly theatrical …. well, Dracula’s a pretty theatrical character.  It has to be remembered that Lugosi is playing a character who is supposed to be several hundred years old.  If he acts like a man out-of-time, that’s because that is exactly what he is.

Ultimately, it comes down to this — a lot of actors have played Dracula.  Some of them have been very good in the role.  Some of them have been very bad.  But, if not for Lugosi, none of them would have had the opportunity.

So, in honor of that legacy, today’s horror scene that I love comes from the original Dracula and features Bela Lugosi at his creepiest:


Book Review: Air Force One Is Haunted By Robert J. Serling


A few weeks ago, I was going through my aunt’s collection of old paperback novels, searching for anything that I could possibly review during October.  While I found a good deal of promising books, I have to admit that I almost squealed for joy when I came across Air Force One Is Haunted.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I had never heard of the book before and I knew absolutely nothing about the plot.  But I saw that title and I knew I just had to read it.  I mean, seriously — Air Force One Is Haunted!  That’s like the greatest title ever!  I looked at that title and I asked myself, “What’s haunting Air Force One?  Angry druids?  Zombies?  Succubi?  Woodrow Wilson?”  Either way, it sounded like it had the potential to be terrifying!

Then I got home and I read the book and I discovered that …. well, let’s just say that my imagination got ahead of me.

Air Force Is Haunted was originally published in 1985 and the author was not only a world-renowned aviation expert but he was also the brother of Twilight Zone-creator Rod Serling.  So, it’s perhaps not surprising that Air Force One Is Haunted feels like an extended episode of The Twilight Zone.  It’s one of those things where a good but conflicted person has the chance to do something that seems like it might be good for him but it will also be bad for the world at large.  Fortunately, a ghost shows up and gives him a lot of advice.

The conflicted person, in this case, is President Jeremy Haines.  Haines is in his second term and it seems like the entire world is falling apart around him.  America’s in the middle of a great depression.  Russia and China are teaming up to possibly try to take over the world.  President Haines could always launch a first strike, which would wipe out Russia as a world power but which would also kill a lot of innocent civilians.  He can’t make up his mind what to do and, as a result, people across the world are starting to view him as being weak.  The President has even started to see a psychiatrist but they’re soon too busy having tasteful, mass market paperback-style sex to actually do anything about the President’s issues.

If only there was a mediocre ex-president that Haines could talk to and get some advice from!  However, it appears that even Jimmy Carter is refusing to take his calls.

That’s when FDR shows up.

That’s right.  It turns out that FDR is haunting Air Force One and, whenever President Haines boards the plane, he ends up getting advice from him.  FDR has a lot of stories to tell about governing during an economic depression.  He also says “Bully,” a lot, even though that was Teddy’s phrase.

Anyway, I think the book would have been a bit more interesting if FDR had turned out of be some sort of malevolent demon who intentionally gave President Haines bad advice that eventually led to World War III.  And, to be honest, I kept expecting that too happen.  I kept expecting FDR’s eyes to suddenly burn like hellfire as he said, “Burn it!  BURN IT TO THE GROUND!”  But that never happened.  Instead, this is one of those books where FDR is the greatest dead president ever and, in the end, middle-of-the-road liberalism keeps the world safe for democracy.

As you’re probably guessing, this is kind of a corny book but it is written with a lot of sincerity.  One gets the feeling that Serling really did feel that, if only America’s leaders just looked to the ghost of FDR, every problem in the world would be solved.  The book is also overwritten in the way that well-meaning, melodramatic novels of the past often were.  One character is identified as having a “gnawing ulcer of doubt” deep in the “bowels of his conscience.”  (Ewwwwwww!)  That’s the type of book that this is.  It’s definitely a product of its time but, if you’re a history nerd like me, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

If anyone is haunting Air Force One, I personally hope that it’s Rutherford B. Hayes.  He was the best!

International Horror Film Review: The Student of Prague (dir by Stellan Rye and Paul Wegener)

The year is 1820 and Balduin (Paul Wegener) has a problem.

Yes, he might be the most popular student at the University of Prague.  And yes, he may be known as the greatest swordsman in the city.  And yes, he might get invited to all of the parties and he might have a lot of friends who all look up to him.  However, what Balduin does not have is money.  While everyone else seems to be living a life of luxury, Balduin lives in a tiny room where his only luxury is the mirror in which he often appreciates his own reflection.

Balduin could really use some money because he’s fallen in love with Countess Margit (Grete Berger) but there’s no way that a member of the noble class could ever marry a destitute man.  Instead, it appears that Margit is destined to marry her cousin, the Baron (Fritz Wiedermann).

However, an old man named Scapinelli (John Gottowt) claims to have a solution.  He promises to give Balduin a fortune in gold if he agrees to let Scapinelli remove just one thing from his room.  Convinced that he’s fooled the old man because he has nothing of worth in his room, Balduin agrees to Scapinelli’s conditions.  Scapinelli promptly turns to the mirror and, as Balduin watches, Balduin’s reflection steps out of the mirror and then leaves with Scapinelli.  Balduin starts to laugh hysterically.

So now, Balduin has no reflection but he does have a lot of money!  Balduin sets out to try to win Margit away from the Baron.  Making things difficult is that, no matter where Balduin goes, someone always seems to be following him. Sometimes, it’s a mysterious wandering girl (Lyda Salmonova) who always seems to be intent on eavesdropping on every conversation that he has.  And then other times, it’s his doppelganger!  There’s now two Balduins running around Prague and, whenever the first Balduin finds himself alone with Margit, the second Balduin always seems to pop up and ruin everything.

Obviously something must be done….

This German silent film was first released in 1913 and it’s considered by some to be the first feature-length horror film.  (Georges Méliès directed several films featuring ghosts and haunted houses but the majority of those films ran only a handful of minutes.)  It’s also considered to be one of the first art films and, since Paul Wegener financed the production and distributed the film himself, also the first independent film.  It was also the first film to make use of the type of double exposure tricks that we today take for granted.  In 1913, audiences were stunned to see Paul Wegener apparently acting opposite himself.  The film was a big hit, with none the less than psychoanalyst Otto Rank praising the film for its psychological depth.

Of course, to watch the film today, audiences have to adjust both their expectations and the way that they take in and process cinematic storytelling.  As of this writing, The Student of Prague is 106 years old and it’s definitely a film of its time.  The camera largely remains stationary and, from a modern perspective, the film is rather slow-paced.  And yet, the film’s story remains rather intriguing.  Despite the static camera work, the film manages to create and maintain a properly ominous atmosphere and a scene in which Balduin and Margit attempt to meet in a cemetery is effectively creepy.  Paul Wegener’s performance holds up well.  Largely eschewing the overly theatrical acting style that we usually tend to associate with silent cinema, Wegener gives a nuanced and effectively subtle performance as both Balduin and his doppelganger.  When he’s acting opposite of himself, you don’t think about the fact that you’re witnessing an early camera trick.  Instead, Wegener creates two separate but believable versions of the same character.  The doppelganger represents all of Balduin’s undesirable impulses and everything that has kept Balduin from achieving happiness.  By the end of the film, Balduin can’t live with his doppelganger but he can’t live without him as well.

The Student of Prague is an interesting piece of history and one that every true student of horror should watch and learn from at least once.