Horror on TV: Degrassi: The Next Generation 9.17 “Innocent When You Dream” (dir by Eleanore Lindo)


The world of Degrassi is like our own but not quite.

For instance, on Degrassi, Kid Rock was named Kid Eldrick.  When Darcy started posting racy pictures of herself, she posted them not on MySpace but instead on MyRoom.  A few seasons later, when Alli created the infamous I Hate Holly J group, she did so not on Facebook but instead on Facerange.  Oddly enough, I think Degrassi‘s Twitter was called Twitter as well, which just proves that Twitter is the one social media network that you can’t escape.

Finally, in the world of Degrassi, students did not read Twilight and then fantasize about being a vampire’s lover.  Instead, they read a series of YA books called …. Fortnight.  Of course, this was before Fortnite itself became a thing but still, it’s always somewhat amusing to hear Degrassi students talk about how romantic they find Fortnight to be.

In tonight’s episode of Degrassi, it turns out that Clare Edwards (Aislinn Paul) is not only obsessed with Fortnight but she’s also having dreams about her classmate, Declan (Landon Liboiron).  It kind of makes sense because Declan is totally a vampire name.  The first problem is that Declan is dating the seemingly-evil-but-not-really-that-bad Holly J (Charlotte Arnold).  The second problem is that Clare might be turning into a vampire herself.

In this episode’s subplot, Sav (Raymond Ablack) directs a music video and Degrassi‘s house band, Studz, performs House Arrest for the thousandth time.  Even though Spinner (Shane Kippel) graduated several seasons ago, he’s still Studz’s drummer.  It’s all so Sav can try to win back Anya (Samantha Munro), which was a storyline that just went on and on.

This episode first aired on May 7th, 2010.

Joker (dir. by Todd Phillips)


JokerPosterWhen I used to play games like Vampire: The Masquerade, they had this disclaimer that said: “You are not really a Vampire. If you can’t distinguish between fantasy and reality, you need to put this book down.”

I think the same can be said of Todd Phillips Joker, and it may be the source of a lot of the fear associated with it.

I believe the big fear that everyone has with Joker is that it’s going to incite people to violence and/or mimicry. It’s the same kind of fear that probably happened with films like Death Wish and Taxi Driver. It’s also the kind of thing that did happen with 1993’s The Program, a film that contained a scene with kids laying down in the middle of a busy road. Someone actually tried it, and ended up dying. As a result, people get a little nervous when Hollywood produces something that could lead to someone mimicking what they see on screen. In that sense, any film has the potential to have an idiot try it out, despite all of the warnings.

If that makes you in any way uncomfortable, the movie will be out on VOD in 3 months time, not a long wait. Still, Joaquin Phoenix’s performance is easily worth the price of admission.

Looking past all that, Joker is actually very good. The Crow, The Dark Knight and Conan the Barbarian are comic book films, but are so serious that you wouldn’t really associate them with a comic unless you knew it beforehand. Joker falls into the same category for me. This might be a little off putting for some who are expecting a more “comic action” like performance along the lines of say, Batman Forever. It’s the kind of film where if you stripped the credits from it and sat someone down to watch it, they might not figure it all out until 3 quarters of the way in. It feels like just another film, save that happens to be dropped in Gotham City.

Joker is the story of Arthur Fleck, a man with a variant of Tourettes that causes him to laugh at inappropriate moments, among other issues. Working as a clown and hoping to become aThrough a series of events, Arthur falls and is pushed until he reaches a breaking point. That is the quickest way to explain Joker without divulging too much. Let’s focus on the particulars.

Todd Phillips’ direction is good here. We move from scene to scene with ease, and as far as I could tell, there didn’t appear to be any editing issues (which is more than what I can say with The Dark Knight). Gotham is a dark, gritty city, reminiscent of NYC during the late 70’s. The film also manages to make connections to DC Lore in some great ways, My only complaint there is that while it’s a city that could use the Batman, it wasn’t exactly screaming for help. Personally, I thought it would be better if you saw that Gotham had more issues of corruption or crime. Nothing bad, just a nitpick.

From a casting standpoint, Phoenix is the heart and soul of Joker. Having dropped some weight for the role, Phoenix throws himself fully into the role of a man trying to keep it together while his world slowly crumbles. Come awards season, I would be shocked if he wasn’t at least in talks for nominations. Between the moments of laughter, there’s a lot of pain being expressed. Granted, this isn’t entirely new to Joaquin Phoenix, who had a similar role in The Master, but he definitely takes it to some new levels here.

 

Zazie Beetz (Deadpool 2) is okay here as a woman living in the same apartment complex as Arthur, but isn’t given too much to do here. The same could be said of Frances Conroy (Six Feet Under), who plays Arthur’s mother, who tries to keep him on the right path. Robert DeNiro also stars as a late night tv show host who Arthur admires, which will remind some viewers of Martin Scorcese’s The King of Comedy. Of particular note is the score of the film, handled by Hildur Gudnadottir (Sicario: Day of the Soldado), which ties in nicely to every scene with its haunting themes.

If I had any problems with Joker, it would be that the film makes it sound like being a loner automatically qualifies you for crime. There are tons of people who prefer solitude to companionship (or at least in short doses).  It showcases both Mental Illness and firearms in such a way that could scare some audiences, suggesting that if you are medicated and stop, you will eventually cause someone some harm. If you own a gun, someone will probably be harmed. Having grown up around cops, guns, and family members with Bipolar Disorder, I don’t agree with that. This didn’t make the film bad in any way for me. In the context of the film, however, Joker is bound to raise some concerns.

Again, it’s mainly nitpicks, but for a story that shows the rise of a villain, it does work.  There’s nothing mystical about Joker’s rise, and perhaps that’s scarier than finding out he was irradiated by gamma rays or some other superpower. I will say that watching Phoenix have these strange moments of slow tai chi like movements had me wondering what was up with him. That was strange, indeed.

Joker is also a film that doesn’t have a whole lot in the way of action. If you’re expecting a major third-act action sequence, it’s not exactly there. As a dramatic piece, Joker excels at moving the story forward, and as someone who was originally tired of the idea of yet another Batman related story (with all of the heroes /villains DC has at their disposal), this film was quite the surprise.

Overall, Joker is definitely worth the watch for Joaquin Phoenix’s performance, though if you’re not ready for it at the theatre, you can always wait for it on Digital / VOD.

 

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: The Ghastly Ones (dir by Andy Milligan)


A young couple — both of whom are dressed in clothes that appear to come from the 1890s — enjoys a romantic and sunny excursion to an isolated island.  Unfortunately, their day is ruined when they’re discovered by a buck-toothed hunchback named Colin (played by Hal Borske).  Death and dismemberment follows.

Somewhere in New York, three sisters are informed that their father has died but that neither they nor their husbands can receive a cent of their inheritance until they fulfill one very specific requirement.  According to their father’s impossibly elderly attorney (played by Neil Flanagan, who is made up to look like an old witch from a community theater production of MacBeth), the sisters and their husbands must spend three nights in their father’s mansion.  Of course, the sisters agree.

Upon arriving at the mansion, they discover that the mansion is being looked after by two maids and a hunchbacked, buck-toothed handyman named …. COLIN!  Within a few minutes of meeting everyone, Colin eats a live rabbit while everyone watches.  Later the remains of the rabbit shows up in one of the sister’s bed, along with a note that reads, “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit!”

Speaking for myself, I would probably leave as soon as I saw the handyman eating a live rabbit.  I mean, none of the sisters appear to be struggling financially but then again, greed is a powerful force.  Instead, everyone settles in for their three-night stay, which leads to 1968-style sex scenes and a lot of footage of people sitting around and talking about nothing.  For a low-budget grindhouse film, this is an extremely talky movie.

Anyway, eventually people start dying.  Someone gets pitchforked.  Another person is found hanging by his ankles.  There’s a rather bloody disembowelment and someone else loses their head.  Bloody X’es are left on doorways.  Who is doing the killing?  Hmmm …. well, Colin is the obvious suspect since we already saw him kill two people for absolutely no reason.  But, it turns out that Colin has a little help.  That’s right!  The Ghastly Ones comes with a twist ending that you’ll see from miles away.

So, what exactly is The Ghastly Ones?  It’s an extremely low-budget film, full of unlikable people dying in various grotesque ways.  It’s an oddly moralistic film, with everyone dying because their greed prevents them from doing the sensible thing and leaving the house.  It’s also apparently a period piece, with everyone dressed like they belong in the 1890s even though you can clearly hear the sound of cars in the background of a few scenes.

In short, this is another Andy Milligan film!  Filmed on Staten Island and featuring a largely amateur cast (though one of the husbands is played by Richard Romanus, who went on to appear in Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets and has since had a respectable career as a character actor), The Ghastly Ones is just as bad and weirdly hypnotic as you would expect any Andy Milligan film to be.  Milligan even makes a cameo of sorts in the film.  Listen closely and you can occasionally hear him off-camera, feeding the actors their lines and, at one point, telling one of the sisters to “roll over.”

It’s a terrible movie and yet, it’s also strangely fascinating.  I think that’s because Milligan’s ineptness was matched only by his anger and that anger (along with a lot of pressimism) courses through the entire film.  Every frame of the film drips with Milligan’s sincere disdain for the greedy and selfish characters who appear throughout the movie and, as you watch, it becomes obvious that Milligan had more sympathy for Colin than for any of his victims.  (Of course, two of Colin’s victims were just two innocent people in love who were trying to have a nice picnic so perhaps it’s for the best not to dwell too much on what that might mean.)  Milligan directs this story with an intensity that doesn’t quite make up for the lack of talent involved but, at the very least, it does keep things vaguely interesting.  “Who are the Ghastly Ones?”  Andy Milligan seems to be asking.  “We all are.”

By the way, between this and Guru, The Mad Monk, I have now watched two Andy Milligan films in one week.  Pray for me.

When Bronson Met Perkins: Someone Behind The Door (1971, directed by Nicolas Gessner)


Dr. Laurence Jeffries (Anthony Perkins) is an American-born neurosurgeon living in the UK.  One night, as Dr. Jeffries is preparing to head home, he meets a confused and frightened man who is identified in the credits as being The Stranger and who is played by Charles Bronson.  The Stranger has no memory of who he is or how he came to be where he is.  Dr. Jeffries takes the Stranger back to his house.  Dr. Jeffries says that he often takes patients back home for overnight observation but it turns out that he has more than treatment on his mind.  Dr. Jeffries knows that his wife, Frances (Jill Ireland, who was Bronson’s offscreen wife), has been cheating on him with her French lover.  What if Dr. Jeffries can convince the Stranger that Frances is married to and cheating on him?  Could The Stranger, who may have already attacked another woman on the beach, be manipulated into murdering Frances’s lover?

Before Death Wish made Charles Bronson a box office force in the United States, he was a huge star in Europe.  Someone Behind The Door is one of many films that Bronson made in France before he returned to America.  It’s always interesting to see Bronson’s European films because European directors were willing to cast him as something other than just a vengeance-driven vigliante.  In Someone Behind The Door, Bronson actually gets to play someone who isn’t in control of his fate and who doesn’t always have the perfect tough guy quip on the end of his tongue and Bronson gives a surprisingly good performance.  He brings The Stranger’s inarticulate fear and eventual rage to life.  Indulging in his usual nervous mannerisms, Anthony Perkins matches him every step of the way.

Someone Behind The Door largely takes place in just one location and it’s really too stage-bound to be successful.  Still, fans of Perkins and Bronson should find the pairing of the two to be interesting.  The pair play off each other surprisingly well, with Perkins nervy energy bouncing off of Bronson’s physicality.  It’s too bad that this was the only time that these two actors appeared opposite each other.

Video Game Review: Vacation Gone Away (2002, Milibus)


Vacation Gone Awry is an old-fashioned text adventure where you wake up on the first day of your vacation in Germany and you discover that your family has disappeared!

Searching your three-room cabin doesn’t do much good.  Your wife and your daughters are nowhere to be found.  Even looking under the bearskin rug doesn’t reveal the trap door that I had been led, by years of playing text adventure games, to expect.  Finally, I went outside, got in the car, and decided to just drive away.

Right, it’s not going to happen.  Your family may have abandoned you but you abandoning them is not an option.

If you do go back to the cabin, you will eventually discover what has happened to your family.  Like many of the puzzles in Vacation Gone Awry, the solution to this problem is to specifically look at everything.  That may sound easy but the cabin is do detailed that it can be easy to get distracted.  I wasted ten turns in the cabin’s bedroom, trying to open my wife’s makeup bag before I finally accepted that it wasn’t an important clue.

Once you discover what has happened to your family, you are free to once again get in your car and attempt to drive into town.  However, while driving, this happens:

It seems that aliens have accidentally lost a piece of their spaceship and now a group of research scientists are on the verge of opening it up and killing everyone in the vicinity, including you and your family.  You have no choice but to make your way through a blizzard, find the research station, and stop them!

Your enjoyment of Vacation Gone Awry will depend on how much patience you have for searching locations and solving puzzles.  This is one of those text adventures where no door can simply be opened.  Instead, you have to figure out how to unlock it.  Finding the solution will often depend on not only carefully reading the descriptions of the location but also taking a closer look at things that you may have already examined.  Especially when compared to more recent works of Interactive Fiction, Vacation Gone Awry is puzzle-driven instead of plot-driven.

It’s challenging but, if you’re a puzzle person, there is enjoyment to be found in the game.  Vacation Gone Awry is available for free on several sites.  I played it at the Internet Archive.

Good luck saving your family!

Horror Scenes that I Love: Checking Out The Boat in Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2


The scene below comes from the 1979 Lucio Fulci masterpiece, Zombi 2.

In this scene, a mysterious boat is floating towards New York City.  Two cops are sent to check the boat out and, as they eventually discover, the boat isn’t quite as deserted as they thought it was.

Now, there’s a few reasons why this scene is important.  Number one, Zombi 2 is an Italian film that was designed to pass for an American film.  (Technically, it was sold as being a prequel to Dawn of the Dead, which was released under the title Zombi in much of Europe.)  In order to maintain the illusion, Italian filmmakers would often spend a day or two shooting on location in a recognizable American city.  More often than not, that city would turn out to be New York.

Number two, since Zombi 2 was promoted as being a bit of a prequel to Dawn of the Dead, one could argue that this scene shows how the whole zombie apocalypse began in the United States.  It wasn’t radiation from space or Hell running out of room.  No, instead, it was juts a boat floating from an island in the Caribbean all the way to New York.

This scene is also memorable because of the “boat zombie,” who is one of the best-known of the movie zombies.  Even people who have never heard of Lucio Fulci will probably recognize the boat zombie.  He’s an icon of the undead!

Finally, this scene sets up one of the greatest closing shots in the history of zombie cinema.  New York beware!

Paperback Review: The Vampire Curse by Daoma Winston


Yesterday, Erin shared the cover.  Today, I’m reviewing the book!  That’s what teamwork is all about!

This 1971 novel is all about an 18 year-old named Teena Halliday.  Needless to say, anyone with a name like Teena Halliday is going to be young, beautiful, and innocent.  Teena was perfectly happy living in a Mediterranean villa with her mom but then her mom had to go off and get remarried.  With her mom heading off to South America on a whirlwind honeymoon, Teena is being sent to Massachusetts, where she’ll stay with the Rentlows, some distant relatives that she has yet to actually meet.  Teena is hoping that, once she’s in Boston, she’ll get the chance to spend some time with her father.  However, when Teena arrives, her father is nowhere to be seen.

Instead, Teena is met by the mysterious but handsome Rory, who takes her to Rentlow Retreat.  Teena meets the Rentlows and discovers that they’re a bit more eccentric than she was expecting.  Neither Uncle Charlie nor Aunt June seem to be happy to see her and Teena’s cousin Estrella obviously views Teena as being competition for Rory’s attention.  In fact, the only person who seems to be the least bit welcoming is Jeremy Rentlow.

Jeremy is a world-renowned sculptor, despite the fact that everyone and everything that poses for him seems to end up dead.  The family seems to always be nervous around Jeremy.  Could it have something to do with those rumors that Jeremy might be a vampire?  Teena isn’t quite sure what to make of Jeremy, especially when he starts to tell her that she’s the most beautiful woman that he’s ever seen and that she simply must pose for him.  Teena is hesitant but what else is she going to do?  I mean, she has to do something to pass the time, especially considering that her dog Scuffy dies of a mysterious “wasting” disease shortly after Teena arrives at Rentlow Retreat.

Of course, soon, Teena is not only starting to feel a bit anemic herself but Jeremy suddenly announces that they’re going to be married and Teena is not to leave the estate!  Is Jeremy a vampire or is he a human with serious and dangerous control issues?  Is Teena being drained of blood or is she feeling weak because of the stress of the situation in which she’s found herself?  You can probably guess the answer to both of those questions.

Just like Air Force One Is Haunted, The Vampire Curse is one of the books that I found while searching through my aunt’s old paperback collection.  It was a fun and (at 196 pages) quick read.  It’s very much a gothic romance first and a vampire story second but there’s an undeniable charm to the efficiency with which author Daoma Winston told the story.  Everything you could want from a gothic romance is here: breathless, first person storytelling, an old house, an eccentric family, a dark secret, passionate kisses and, of course, a hedge maze.  There’s always a hedge maze.

The Vampire Curse was an enjoyable read.  I’m a bit stunned that Lifetime has never adapted the book into a film.  If they can turn everything credited to V.C. Andrews into a “film event,” surely they can find some time for The Vampire Curse.