Guilty Pleasure No. 42: Harper’s Island

Oh my God, do you remember Harper’s Island!?

Way before The Walking Dead and American Horror Story made death and gore safe for mass consumption, Harper’s Island was the scariest show on television.  I have to admit that, when I first heard about the show, I wasn’t expecting it to be.  Way back in 2009, whenever the commercials for the show would air and that little girl would go, “One by one,” I would roll my eyes so hard that I once nearly gave myself a concussion.

“Really?” I would say, “A slasher television show where at least one person dies every week?  And it’s going to be on network TV?  There’s no way this is going to be bloody or scary enough to be worth watching.”

However, I did watch the first episode because I figured that I could at least be snarky about it on twitter.  (I had joined just a few months before the show premiered.  Harper’s Island was the first show that I ever live tweeted, even though I didn’t even know that there was such a thing as “live tweeting” way back then.)  The episode opened with a man tied to the propeller of a boat, screaming as the engine started.  The episode ended with Uncle Marty (played by special guest star Harry Hamlin) getting chopped in half by an unseen assailant.

“AGCK!” I said.

I was hooked from that episode on.


Believe it or not, Harper’s Island wasn’t just killings.  It actually did tell a story, about a young woman named Abby (played by Elaine Cassidy) who returns to her childhood home, on Harper’s Island, for her best friend’s wedding.  Many years ago, Abby’s mother was among those who was killed by a serial killer named John Wakefield.  From the minute that Abby arrives, she feels that something bad is going to happen and it turns out that she’s right.

Of course, Abby’s not the only one on the island.  There’s the other members of the wedding party.  There’s the island’s inhabitants, the fishermen and the deputies and the cafe owner and the local reverend whose destined to lose his head in the woods.  They’ve all got their quirks and subplots.  Boisterous Malcolm (Chris Gauthier) is in desperate need of money.  Local fisherman Jimmy (C.J. Thomason) is still in love with Abby.  The groom, Henry (Christopher Gorham), has issues from his past that he needs to deal with.  Some of them are likable.  Some of them are annoying.  Some of them, like spoiled Chloe (Cameron Richardson), are meant to be annoying but become likable as the series progresses.

And, in the end, none of their hopes and dreams really mattered because, by the end of the show, everyone was pretty much dead.  The ads for Harper’s Island promised a bloodbath and that’s what the show delivered.  It wasn’t just that at least one person died per week.  It was also that they usually died in the most macabre and disturbing ways possible.  This was the type of the show where the most likable groomsman ended up getting chopped into pieces and then tossed into an incinerator.  Another wedding guest chose to drown herself rather than be attacked by the killer.  Sometimes, the killers didn’t even have to be around for someone to get killed.  Who can forget poor Booth (played by Sean Rogerson), accidentally shooting himself in the leg and bleeding out while America watched?

And yes, you did watch every week because you wanted to see who would be the next to die.  (That’s where the guilty part of the pleasure comes in.)  But you also watched because the show was produced and directed so well.  The island was a wonderfully atmospheric location and the cast really committed themselves to bringing the show’s morbid reality to life.  At the time, it was the darkest show on television and it could have been even darker because, originally, the plan was for the killer to get away with it.  In the end, karma caught up with the killer but not before we were all traumatized upon discovering just who was responsible.  Harper’s Island‘s mystery was as intriguing as its deaths were bloody.

Being ahead of its time, Harper’s Island struggled in the ratings and it was never a big hit with critics.  But, with the help of Netflix and the the occasional marathon on SyFy, Harper’s Island‘s reputation has improved and grown over the years.  Looking back, it’s easy to see that Harper’s Island was not only the forerunner to American Horror Story but it was also a far better series.  American Horror Story tends to condescend to the horror, keeping the genre at arm’s length through misdirected pretension.  It’s a show for people who think that they’re too good for horror.  Harper’s Island, on the other hand, fully embraced both the horror and the melodrama and it did so without apology.

Seriously, what Halloween is complete without a trip to Harper’s Island?

Previous Guilty Pleasures

  1. Half-Baked
  2. Save The Last Dance
  3. Every Rose Has Its Thorns
  4. The Jeremy Kyle Show
  5. Invasion USA
  6. The Golden Child
  7. Final Destination 2
  8. Paparazzi
  9. The Principal
  10. The Substitute
  11. Terror In The Family
  12. Pandorum
  13. Lambada
  14. Fear
  15. Cocktail
  16. Keep Off The Grass
  17. Girls, Girls, Girls
  18. Class
  19. Tart
  20. King Kong vs. Godzilla
  21. Hawk the Slayer
  22. Battle Beyond the Stars
  23. Meridian
  24. Walk of Shame
  25. From Justin To Kelly
  26. Project Greenlight
  27. Sex Decoy: Love Stings
  28. Swimfan
  29. On the Line
  30. Wolfen
  31. Hail Caesar!
  32. It’s So Cold In The D
  33. In the Mix
  34. Healed By Grace
  35. Valley of the Dolls
  36. The Legend of Billie Jean
  37. Death Wish
  38. Shipping Wars
  39. Ghost Whisperer
  40. Parking Wars
  41. The Dead Are After Me

Film Review: The Wedding Chapel (dir by Vanessa Parise)

Sarah (Emmanuelle Vaughier) is a painter who is frustrated because, despite her obvious technical skills, her work still lacks the spark of passion and imagination that it needs to be truly special.  Not only is her first show panned by a snooty art critic but her boyfriend dumps her on the same night!

Jeanie (Shelley Long) is a widow who is still adjusting to life as a single woman.

They are mother and daughter and together …. THEY SOLVE CRIMES!

No, actually, they don’t.  (Though I will say that I think a film or a show or a series of books about a mother/daughter crime solving team would be great and I’m a bit shocked that there aren’t more of them out there.)  Instead, what Sarah and Jeanie do is they return to the small town where they once lived.  It turns out that greedy developers want to tear down the family home. It’s all about eminent domain, which is a totally evil thing that should be condemned more frequently in the movies.

Anyway, it turns out that it’s not just the family home that’s due to be demolished.  The developers are also planning on tearing down the nearby chapel.  While Jeanie’s busy having flashbacks to her teenage years, Sarah’s getting involved in trying to save both the chapel and the house!  Helping out Sarah is a local politician and lawyer with the unfortunate name of Roger Waters (Mark Deklin).  Not helping Sarah is the local sheriff, who keeps arresting Sarah, tossing her in jail, and forcing her to wear one of those really unflattering orange jumpsuits.  Roger bails Sarah out so many times that he soon finds himself falling in love with her.  Sarah, however, doesn’t want to get tied down in a small town.  She has an artistic career to pursue, assuming that she can get in touch with her emotions.

Speaking of love, Jeanie is haunted by memories of her ex-boyfriend, Larry.  As far as Jeanie knows, Larry left for Vietnam and never returned.  She’s always assumed that he must have died during the war but what if …. well, let’s say that he didn’t die in the war.  And what if Larry (Barclay Hope) just happens to be living in that small town?

Oh my God, love’s all around!

First released in 2013, The Wedding Chapel is an exceedingly pleasant film.  Seriously, almost everyone in the film is extremely considerate and nice.  Even the oafish sheriff doesn’t mean to be a jerk.  He’s just doing his job.  Sarah attempts an act of civil disobedience but it’s literally the most mild protest that you could imagine.  This is the type of movie where everyone lives in a nice house and every lawn is perfectly manicured.  Even the abandoned buildings are surrounded by freshly cut grass.  The chapel may be deserted but you’d never know it from looking at it.

It’s a thoroughly predictable movie but, at the same time, it’s too good-natured to be disliked.  No one curses.  No one makes any racy jokes.  This is the type of movie that you could safely recommend to your great-grandmother without having to worry about her getting mad at you afterwards.  Emmanuelle Vaughier gives a pretty good performance as Sarah and director Vanessa Parise does what she can to keep the film from drowning in sentiment.

Since the Halloween season is upon us and this site is going to be 90% horror for the rest of October, I decided that the final movie I would watch in September would be the least terrifying film I could find.  The Wedding Chapel filled that role well.

Film Review: The Butterfly Effect 2 (dir by John R. Leonetti)

“Hey, everyone!  Let’s remake The Butterfly Effect, just without any of the goofiness that made the first film so enjoyable!”

That would seem to be the logic behind 2006’s The Butterfly Effect 2.  Since the first Butterfly Effect was a minor hit (I saw it in the theaters!), it was inevitable that there would be a sequel.  And since the first Butterfly Effect is currently on Netflix, it’s also inevitable that the sequel would follow it.

Anyway, Butterfly Effect 2 is just like Butterfly Effect except, instead of a guy trying to fix his entire screwed-up childhood, the sequel is about an office worker named Nick (Eric Lively) who has just had a really bad year.  His girlfriend and his two best friends were killed in a traffic accident.  He lost a big promotion at work.  His apartment is a mess and he keeps having these hella icky nosebleeds.  Agck!  Nick, however, discovers that if he stares at an old picture, he can be transported back to the moment that the picture was taken.

Since Nick obviously didn’t see the first movie, he proceeds to start changing the past.  He prevents the deaths of all of his friends but now, in the new timeline, he actually has to work with them and this results in him getting fired.  He then goes back in the past to keep a jerk from getting a promotion but this leads to Nick getting the promotion instead, breaking up with his girlfriend, and becoming an ennui-stricken bachelor.  Apparently, being a wealthy bachelor means doing business with organized crime because Nick soon has people trying to kill him.  Maybe there’s no way to create a perfect present, the film suggests.

And the film might be right but that doesn’t make it any less boring to sit through.  The Butterfly Effect 2 is just never as much fun as the first film.  It lacks the goofy charm of Ashton Kutcher and most of the timeline changes are rather dull.  The sequel never matches the glory of Ashton Kutcher waking up to discover that he’s gone from being a disheveled psych major to being a clean-cut, sweater-wearing frat boy.

The Butterfly Effect 2 was directed by John Leonetti, who would later direct the genuinely creepy Annabelle.  Of course, he also directed the absolutely awful Wolves at the Door.  As for The Butterflyn Effect 2, it’s not creepy but it’s also not awful enough to be memorable.  More than anything, it’s a bland movie.  It’s just kind of there, floating in direct-to-video, Netflix limbo.