Stranger Things, S3, Ep 5,6,7,8, Spoiler Review by Case Wright


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I am reviewing these four episodes as a block because only 25 minutes mattered combined.  In fact, the show rapidly devolved into gross out scenes, cartoonish hijinks, cartoonish Russians, and a terrible song and dance number duo….really.  The only way this season could get rave reviews is if the reviewer binged the show and was too tired to analyze it.  I get it- you’re around your friend(s), your girlfriend is virtual, and you can barely afford your Brooklyn apartment on your blogger salary; however, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be critical of a show that really should just go away.

I’m adding on to my review here to discuss what makes Stranger Things so terrible now.  This series was heavily influenced by Stephen King and likely Salem’s Lot because of the repeated Vampire monsters.  More importantly, season 1 was great for the same reason that Stephen King’s stories are great- It’s not about the monster in the house; it’s about how the people are living in house with a monster.  These are your neighbors and now have to deal with something beyond reality and that was exactly what Stranger Things Season 1 was about.  There is one other theme that make Stephen King’s stories terrifying: it’s not Randall Flagg, the Werewolves, The Clowns; it’s about people who are supposed to be caring for you, but in fact do not.  This theme is in nearly every Stephen King book and it was present in Stranger Things Season 1.  El called Evil Modine “Papa” even though he was an abusive kidnapper who didn’t think anything more about El than a piece of lab equipment.  The series now has left all those themes behind to become a husk.

The last four episodes broke discretely into three distinct and equally boring and poorly executed quests: 1) Joyce, Hop, Alexi, and Weirdo try to destroy the machine opening the gate. 2) Dustin, Erica, Steve, and Robin try to escape the bunker and annoy everyone. 3) The original gang drag El around so she can get her ass beat.

Episodes 4 – 7:  Joyce and Hop go through town looking for answers and end up kidnapping a Russian engineer – Alexi.  They take him to the creepy weird guy from last season and without any story arc Alexi is all in to help.  He gives them schematics to infiltrate the Starcourt Mall underground bunker and how to destroy the machine.  Why does Alexi do all this? Who knows?  It’s a good thing Alexi is so detailed because he dies later and it doesn’t matter.  But, we do get A LOT of corny banter and goofy car scenes:

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Hop steals this car in the most corny and unrealistic way possible.  It’s corny, but it makes up for it by being cartoonish and boring.  There are A LOT of scenes where they are driving around and mostly Joyce yells a lot at Hop and Hop yells at Joyce for roughly 38 times.  It’s really dull.  They manage to infiltrate the base eventually try to destroy the machine.  Do they make it?  We have to get through many many pratfalls to find out .. wakka wakka wakka.

Dustin, Erica, Steve, and Robin infiltrate the base…..and Steve and Robin get caught right away.  This could have been a great suspenseful plot point, but instead we get hijinks!!! A goofy Russian General who makes this face a lot:

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This “torture” sequence goes on for a long long long while and really goes nowhere, which is especially disappointing because there were a couple of episodes that had real suspense.  Instead now, we get this comic book torture guy:

It’s really goofy.  It’s like the Duffer Brothers couldn’t figure out if this show was horror, comedy, or just paint by numbers garbage.  Dustin manages to bust Robin and Steve out because that’s super believable after making Dustin the LEAST physical of the bunch for 2.8 seasons.

El and the gang start to battle with the least effective monster ever.  For a Big Bad Vampire monster, it can’t see very well, it has a vague agenda, and it’s unclear what can actually kill it until the penultimate episode, which sets up Hop’s likely death.  Yes, it looks gross:

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BUT it’s REALLY REALLY bad at finding and killing things that matter.

They, of course, manage to kill off the big bad, but that was never really in doubt.  What was amazing is how the writers derailed the story in favor of WACKINESS!

The “scary” general goofs around A LOT:

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So funny how it derails the suspense. Sigh.

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Above: a not funny joke was made. They laughed for a very long time.  The person on the right is Alexis.  He dies and it doesn’t matter.

The big fight with the big bad where Hop gets sacrificed: the show ruined itself.  It didn’t just go for wackiness; it stalled the epic last monster fight scene where everyone is about to die for a no kidding Song and Dance sequence- REALLY!

I remember when this song sequence started because I was young man with two newborns.  When it ended, I was sending my girls off to college.  The third picture? Yep, that’s a split screen singing moment.  It …. just….kept… going.  I was really rooting for the Monster.

Did the first four episodes give me hope? Yes, but that hope and good will was squandered by plain old corny scenes and cartoonish sequences.  Maybe, we all entered  the upside down because there is no way a third season like this should have made it to daylight without all laws of physics and reason being reversed.

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Stranger Things, S03,Ep4, Review By Case Wright


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Episode 4 had a lot going on.  It’s like the show doesn’t know how to maintain suspense from one episode to the next.  The previous episode had nothin goin on and this one was like 10 pound sausage in a 5 pound bag.  This is actually a pretty good season and the creators know that they peaked in the first season because of the incessant flashback clips to season 1.

We open with Heather and Mullet-Renfield setting up her parents to be disgustingly consumed/converted by the Monster Vampire- It’s Gross!  Of course, after following the NXIVM case, maybe we should let the Vampire Monster win?  Are we really that great that ya know we DESERVE to live.

This season is all about breaking up, reuniting, and moving on.  Dustin is breaking away and making older friends.  I’m pretty sure that Will is about to come out- Good for Him and good for the show!

Speaking of Dustin, he, Robin, and Steve are trying really hard to infiltrate the Russian mall area and they recruit Erica (Sister of Lucas) to do it.  I gotta write that she was a scene stealer.  It’s clear to me that she could be a huge star.  Erica fits through the air vents, which are actually normal sized- Good work set department.  When they enter the secret room, they hit a BAD button and they accidentally go DEEP underground.

Hop and Joyce are on the hunt for information and they get it by beating the snot out of a very smarmy Mayor (Carey Elwes) we learn that he was on the take with the Russians, the Russians own the mall, and they are buying up most of the town.  Evil Mall, Evil Russians, Evil Food Court!

The kids get back together to do battle with Mullet-Renfield.  They surmise that because the creature likes cold, they will lock Mullet-Renfield in the pool sauna.  And…. it kinda works?  They manage to activate Mullet-Guy into a vampire drone, but El, unlike previous seasons, gets her ass beat.  It’s brutal.  She does throw Mullet-guy through a wall, but why do this anyway?  Did they really need to prove his guilt?  They could’ve just followed him back to his evil lair and he wouldn’t have known they were on them.  The problem they all took their stupid pills off camera. Kids yesterday?

It would seem that we have reached a major Arc Spin-around.  It would make sense for all the heroes to lose a lot soon.  Hop will probably lose his job, Mullet-Renfield has amassed an army for the Sticky Vampire Monster, The Russians are evilling, and Dustin, Robin, Erica and Steve are going down a mineshaft.

Side plot: Creeper and Nancy get fired from the paper by the converted Editor, but she will keep pursuing the story …. for some reason.  Nancy, why not just go to community college? What are wasting your time for?  Is this Barb guilt?

It’s looking grim, BUT this is a good thing.  This season is actually keeping my interest and has real suspense even if the episodes themselves are uneven.  I’m not sure the series deserves another season yet; so, I’m hoping they give some closure this season.

 

Night Surf, Review By Case Wright


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Where do stories come from? Not important or interesting.  Why are some stories shot out like a cannonball from an artist’s brain in a matter of days like Kerouac’s “On The Road” and even written on a scroll; whereas, some stories take a decade or more of developing until they are born like Stephen King’s The Stand?  Very Important and Very Interesting!  I will not be discussing King’s opus The Stand, but rather how it evolved from Night Surf.

Night Surf was written for the University of Maine literary magazine in 1969 when King was twenty-two.   Night Surf introduces us to the plague that kills off mankind and how people can be pulled to darkness when no one is looking. The disease is even called “A6” just as it was called in The Stand, but The Stand didn’t get published until 1978.  Why did it take so long for The Stand to incubate and his other stories seem to shoot from him like they are on a sluice?

I see this dichotomy in my own writing.  For some stories, I’ll get pieces of dialogue and scenes in my head that kick around for years, but I don’t know how they fit together like a jigsaw puzzle with too many smooth edges.  I can’t speak for Stephen King, but for me the longer developing stories occur when I’m picking at something personal like an emotional wound that’s been puffed out by pus, but not yet ready to drain.  I guess I just want to hold onto the pain; maybe, King does too?

Night Surf takes place on the New England coastline when summer’s ending, but it’s not just the leaves dying on the trees; humanity is blowing out from a massive viral extinction event.  The disease is called A6- a superflu.  In The Stand, he refers to the virus also as Tube Neck and Captain Trips.  The world is not quite dead yet, but it’s getting there.  The story is narrated by Bernie who is spending humanity’s last days at a beach town.  At first, the group believes that they are immune from the disease and demonstrate their superior immunity with the most primitive act of all: Human Sacrifice.  A man who’s dying from the flu comes to their town and, instead of caring for him and helping him die, they burn him to death in a bonfire.

Why burn him?  They describe it almost like a sacrifice to the beach itself.  The act seemed to me to be more like a line in the stand between the dying world and themselves.  The mere mortals are simply cord wood and can be used for fuel.  Their perception as the kings of humanity is vindicated by their health because they are immune and the rest of humanity perished.  It harkens to the idea of the Puritans where the Select were touched by God and were guaranteed success in life and VIP treatment on the ethereal plane.  Of course, the Puritans would balk at using lesser people as a duraflame.

Soon after burning the flu victim alive, Bernie realizes that one of his comrades has A6 symptoms and will soon die, indicating all of them might expire soon.  The story forces us to look at what allows us to be moral.  Are we only good because society will punish us if we are bad?  It could be argued that they looked at the immolation as a last hurrah, but I think that is wrong because at the time in the story, they believed they were immune.  If their friend had developed symptoms before the unlucky traveler arrived, would they see him as their brother or would they have burned them both to adamantly declare their superiority?

The theme of people being seduced to darkness is throughout The Stand, but in this story, they don’t get the devil made me do it excuse; the group murdered because they could and felt like doing it.  After the immolation, we return to Bernie’s backstory, humanizing him even more.  It seems King is saying that this horrendous act was just another act in a number of countless acts that Bernie did from birth to his upcoming demise.  Maybe doing evil is just as common as getting the paper? I hope not, but as the great philosopher Bobby Dylan said, It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there.

This story is more relevant to me today than when I first read it years ago.  What makes it more difficult for me is that the people in the story are just so normal.  I hope none of my readers will ever have to do this, but I’ve looked right into the face of evil once and the man looked like he could have been a cousin.  When I remember the encounter, it still chills me to the bone.  I met a Bernie once; maybe, you have too, but you didn’t know it.

The Ledge, Review by Case Wright


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The Ledge by Stephen King is a masterclass in realistic suspense.  I’ve never been forced by a mom boss to circumnavigate a highrise with crazy gusts, but I believe that it would be like this story.

Stan Norris is an Ex-Con now Tennis Pro who is love with a mobster – Cressner’s wife.  Stan is a parolee and fell for the mobster’s wife and helped her escape to they could run off together.  Unfortunately, Cressner captures Stan and says that he put heroin in Stan’s trunk.  He can either go back to prison or circumnavigate a ledge around his high rise.  If he succeeds, he gets Cressner’s wife, Twenty-Grand, and freedom.  If he fails, he’ll be a pain for the street cleaners.

There’s a reason I joined a land based military branch; heights are not great.  Stan does not have these qualms.  He agrees and faces freezing wind and a diseased pigeon who starts pecking at his right ankle….yuck.  Pigeons are nasty.  Side note: they are totally unprotected in any city and state. Therefore, if you’re hungry, feel encouraged to take one out and braise it!  

He manages to get around the building and back inside, but Cressner is waiting for him and slightly broke the deal.

The story reads like an anecdote or almost a confession.  I highly recommend reading the story or listening to the John Glover audiobook performance.

Horror Review: “One for the Road” (by Stephen King)


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Stephen King is a name in horror literature that pretty much everyone has heard of. Some would say he’s the most important horror writer of the 20th-century. Others would say that his work has been a mixed bag with his earlier novels being his strongest run as an author and the second-half of his career being just ok.

One thing he cannot be accused of is taking his time between books early in his career. This man was as prolific a writer as George R.R. Martin is glacial with his own literary turn-out. Even before he was finally able to publish his first novel with Carrie, Stephen King had written hundreds of short stories with some of them being published under a pseudonym in men’s magazines of the time or later on in his career as the public clamored for more Stephen King tales.

One such short story would be included in Night Shift. This collection would be the first of many. It would be in this collection that he pens a very quick, but very frightening tale of events that occurred after the end of his second published novel, ‘Salem’s Lot (recently reviewed by our very own Lisa).

“One for the Road” occurs many years after a huge fire tore through the town of ‘Salem’s Lot, Maine. The short story is told by one of the elder fixtures of Falmouth, Maine. A town that straddles the town of Jerusalem’s Lot. While the surrounding and neighboring towns and it’s residents never outright say what continues to haunt and stalk the burnt and abandoned town of ‘Salem’s Lot, they silently acknowledge to themselves just what happened to it’s people.

The story’s told first-person through elder Falmouth native Booth as he sits in the local bar owned by his friend Herb Tookey. Set in the depths of a hard, New England winter, we see the third character in this narrative arrive near-to-death freezing in family man Gerald Lumley whose family car broke down some miles from the bar in the driving snow.

Soon enough Booth and Herb hear this family man’s sad tale of leaving his wife and daughter in the broke down car while he went for help. It’s only when Gerald Lumley mentions having his car break down near the outskirts of a town called Jerusalem’s Lot that the two elderly patron and proprietor reluctantly help the distraught father in trying to get back to his family.

The rest of the story is a master-class in Stephen King building up the tension and dread at what the two Falmouth natives think they might find once they get back to the Lumley car. King allows the mood and unspoken horrors that these locals know to drive the mounting danger both physical and spiritual that these men have awaiting them at the outskirts of what the locals call The Lot.

For his later predilection to being too focused on world building the settings of his later novels, King shows that he’s still a master at maximizing the limited time a short story format allows a writer to create an experience for the reader as rich and satisfying as his massive epic novels.

“One for the Road” is a terrifying quick tale that gives readers of his ‘Salem’s Lot novel to find out what happened to the area once that novel ended. While the protagonists of both the novel and this short story do end up doing the right thing when presented with evil it also shows that both stories buy into King pointing out that evil never goes away. One could only contain it and once in awhile it creeps out to stalk and frighten.

Nightmares and Dreamscapes: From the stories of Stephen King, Battleground, Review by Case Wright


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Happy Horrorthon!!! I decided to do a bit of a hybrid review of one of my favorite stories:  “Battleground” by Stephen King.  This book is part of a short story anthology in Night Shift.  Battleground was written in 1972 by King.  This was back in the days when he wasn’t just hungry, he was starving.  He was working in laundries, substitute teaching, maybe even a paper route.  This particular work was published in Cavalier, which was a low-rent Playboy.  In those days, he would sell stories to Swank – a low-rent Penthouse as well.  Many of these stories were real gems or at least gems in the rough.  For example, Night Surf (Cavalier and Night Shift) evolved into his opus The Stand about a decade later.  Battleground was made into a 52 minute long episode of the above short-lived series (watch them on youtube before they are taken down!!!).

This episode starred William Hurt and like the short-story there is ZERO dialogue, giving the episode a silent movie feel that is very compelling.  Throughout the episode, you only hear ambient noise or grunts or yells, but no spoken dialogue.  In fact, even when a newscaster is announcing that a murder has taken place, it’s done with subtitles.  This is as close to genius television as it gets.  I was truly saddened that it was not renewed.

The episode depicts William Hurt as a nameless hitman who is taskered to kill a toymaker.  He does.  When Hurt goes back home to his San Francisco condo, he receives a package.  Inside the package is compilation of army men and “additional surprises”.  These aren’t your grandpa’s plastic army men; however, they are alive and they have cruel intentions for Mr. Hurt!

Within moments of opening the package, the army men attack William Hurt in very Army like fashion. They take a covered position under Hurt’s couch and open fire, forcing William to flee to the bathroom.  This solace is short-lived because they have mini-howitzers.  Yes, I was primed to like this one.  There are even mini-helicopters that attack Hurt and they send nasty notes to one another demanding and refusing surrender.

The battle to avenge the toy maker’s death continues even out to the ledge of the building, which is likely an Easter Egg to another King story “The Ledge”.  Hurt prevails against the army men, but there are two more “Additional Surprises” 1) a commando who very resourceful and 2) a mini thermonuclear device.  The mini thermonuclear device is the only dumb part of the story because there is no such thing as a tiny Thermonuclear reaction – these are atoms we’re fusing or splitting afterall.  If detonated (regardless of its “mini” nature) , it would’ve destroyed all of San Francisco, but let’s give King- a liberal arts major- a break on that one because it’s still a fun story.

I will review a few more of these stories that were in Night Shift or episodes from this show.

Happy Halloween!!!!

Cycle of the Werewolf, Book Review by Case Wright


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Happy Horrorthon!!!! We are already in week 2 and we are makin’ it work!!!  Cycle of the Werewolf is very 1980s Stephen King.  It clocks in at 100+ pages and moves briskly.  In comparison, The Stand was 1000 pages and one chapter was actually from a Golden Retriever’s point of view….really.  If you ever watched old movies on Showtime, you’ll remember this story as “Silver bullet” starring Corey Haim.  The movie was actually fairly close to the book, except no Gary Busey.

The book takes place over the twelve months of the calendar year and I almost did this post as Twelve Days of Christmas song, but with werewolves….it could’ve worked!  The first six months follow the werewolf killing on every full moon in Maine.  As usual in Stephen King’s books the people of Maine are total dirt bags of all varietals: blowhard dirt bags, wife-beating dirt bags, racist dirt bags, and drunken dirt bags.  In short, the townsfolk could all use some killing.

The month of July comes and the story shifts to Marty, a handicapped child, who really loves the 4th of July.  As in the movie, Marty gets a bunch of fireworks from his Uncle and uses them to make the werewolf purblind.  We learn the werewolf is the town Baptist preacher.  As the months progress, Marty starts sending the preacher poison pen letters urging him to kill himself and signs his name to provoke a final confrontation.  The confrontation is a bit anticlimactic because Stephen never really fleshed out the story and the final battle is no different.  There is no close game or near run thing…nope…werewolf comes into the house, leaps at Marty, and Marty kills the werewolf dead. Boom.  That’s it.  It is fun to read these old Stephen King stories; he’s clearly still flexing his creative muscles and not totally sure of himself.

Have a spooky night.