Monday, 10 December 2018

Doctor Who Season 11 First Impressions: Episode 10 (The Battle Of Ranskoor Av Kolos}

This is the way the season ends; not with a bang, but a whimper.

Through the ruin of a season, stalked the ruin of a showrunner.
You know, maybe this would have landed better if we didn't have the news that the New Year's Day special in a few weeks is our only televised Doctor Who for 2019. That's one hell of a bummer and 2016 was a real long drag of nothing, and now we get to do it all over again. Joy. Any hope we'd have gone out on a high note was dashed by the actual quality of the final episode of 2018. It's not bad. Not really. There's no political outrage behind a fun episode like there was with Kerblam!, and no outright indignation at being patronized like with, say, a Toby Whithouse episode. In the end, this is just a Chris Chibnall joint. It's just as passable and of the moment as pretty much the rest of his contributions this year. Let's deal with whatever the hell he put on screen, then. It's time for The Battle Of Ranskoor Av Kolos. Hey, I typed it without looking up. Go me.

Monday, 3 December 2018

Doctor Who Series 11 First Impressions: Episode 9 (It Takes You Away)

And now I'm mirroring you. Fuck.
NOW we're talking here. THIS is the kind of Doctor Who I go gonzo for. I mean, I love me a good emotional through-line (and the episode even has that to boot so HOLY FUCK IT'S FIRING ON ALL CYLINDERS) but I really dig Doctor Who when it's going full Bidmeadean science-magic and just getting a little goddamned weird while it's at it. I MEAN DID YOU ALL SEE THAT TALKING FROG? THEY WENT THERE! HOLY FUCK! I could end the first impressions here by just gushing about how the denouement of this episode was a sentient pocket mirror universe taking the form of a talking frog with an elderly black woman's voice holy fuck you guys they went there, but I think I'd like to get a little more in-depth. I used Bidmeadean back there, and that might not mean a lot to you. Christopher H. Bidmead was script editor for Doctor Who in 1980, and he was at the creative helm during Tom Baker's final season, Season 18. (Coming soon to Blu-Ray, fuck yes!) Season 18 had its highs and lows, as most of classic Who did, but its particular relationship to magic-as-science, the filmic and surreal, and general theories of things like evolution, probability, and entropy make it, at the least, really ambitious and just... weird. Doctor Who, if nothing else, loves the weird. Remember that time the moon turned out to be an egg? Yeah. Weird. Except general consensus is that this episode ruled, as opposed to Kill The Moon. My own opinions on moon eggs aside (I lied, here they are, it's gonzo genius), we're gonna look at It Takes You Away and see how it weaves the weird, the Bidmeadean, and the emotional into something that really stands out.

Monday, 26 November 2018

Doctor Who Series 11 First Impressions: Episode 8 (The Witchfinders)

Thanks to Kat for this, because it's basically perfect.
We're going to play a little game over the course of this text review, and it's called "Why In The Fuck Are The Historicals The Episodes I Like The Most In Series 11?". The game, as it is, is pretty self-explanatory as far as the title is concerned. The Witchfinders is the third story set in the past this year, and as far as quality goes it's like... oh, I don't know. Third? Fourth? Somewhere around there for my personal rankings. The other definite members of the top three are Rosa and Demons Of The Punjab, with that number three spot nebulous. We're not worried about that right now. What we're worried about is The Witchfinders, and how it basically works. It fumbles the football at the end a bit, but not enough to ruin things for me overall. The hell with it. Let's dive into that icy pond that is this episode and prove that we're not a witch. Or are one. This metaphor got away from me. It's time to talk about the episode.

Okay, so by now I'm getting a sense of the default mode of the Whittaker era. It's a delicate balancing act between the Doctor being active and passive. We start off as passive, with the whole chestnut about not fucking about with history. Then the Doctor, in the midst of a witch trial where an innocent woman is dying, says fuck it and interferes. Good on her. Too bad it didn't save the woman, but the mere willingness to step up and meddle is applauded. This puts the Doctor in an active role for most of the episode, as she tries to stop the whole witch hunt thing along with figuring out what the fuck is going on. She remains mostly active until the ending, in which we go back to that passivity and not fucking around with history. Usually that shit doesn't work for me, but here it doesn't interfere with me liking the episode. Demons Of The Punjab and Kerblam! established this for me. This balancing act is basically what defines Whittaker under Chibnall for me, warts and all. (It's a pun because witches.) The Doctor's passivity, at least, is aimed in more of a right direction. In Demons, it was used to underline the beautiful tragedy of Prem and Umbreen. In Kerblam! it was the equivalent of staring capitalism right in its greedy little goddamn dollar-sign eyes face and going ‾\_(ツ)_/‾. Faced with 35 innocent women being drowned by witch paranoia, the Doctor vows to make it stop. She does, basically. It's her who gets the big Scooby-Doo esque reveal of what Becca Savage's motivations and beliefs really are, and it's her who gets to use her sci-fi powers to stop the mud monsters at the end. We will have much to say about those two in a second, but let's talk about the Doctor's difficulties in this one. Here, more than ever, her gender is used as an obstacle to solving the plot. It's interesting because I thought all the scripts had been written without her gender in mind, like before Whittaker had even been cast or anything, but maybe editing happened after the fact. Whatever the case, we do get our first female Doctor's take-charge attitude being ignored because she's a woman, and she's subjected to a witch trial. Hm. It's a unique obstacle.

We'll get to the absolute ham of Alan Cumming, but the far more interesting villain is Becca Savage. She starts off, of course, as your typical God-fearing witch hunter looking to drive Satan out of their Christian village, like you do when it's the 17th century and you live in the North. What makes her utterly compelling to me is that end reveal of why she's so adamant about killing witches; because she's been possessed by alien mud/stalked by reanimated corpses possessed by alien mud, is convinced it's the work of the devil, and honestly believes that killing other sinful witches will purify her and make everything better. It's a wonderful mix of zealotry with the utter conviction that she's the heroine of her own story and is doing the right thing which makes her a fascinating villain, up there with Judge Frollo from Disney's Hunchback of Notre Dame as a Lawful Evil villain who believes her actions are just. Then she gets possessed totally by alien mud, and... oh dear. What once was a compelling villain who you could believe was acting via her own moral compass becomes a generic alien who wants to take over the world. The Morax, who admittedly are pretty macabre when they possess corpses and shamble about, become something akin to Mark Gatiss's The Web Of Caves Sketch. "I... I'm bad." Actually, come to think of it, didn't The Unquiet Dead also have corpse-possessing aliens which turned out to be one-note "I'm bad" types? Goddamn. The point when this episode switches from its compelling human villain to shitty mud people wanting to take over the world is when it loses me. In fact, shit doesn't even last that long. The Doctor burns a magic cyber-tree and they light the mud king on fire. The end. It's tacked on. It's dull. It distracts from the very human villain who was so much more interesting. I don't care for it.

And then there's Alan Cumming. Dear god. The ham. Stalking around in a disguise for the first ten minutes or so like a 17th century Tuxedo Mask (thanks, Rainiac), his King James is an absolutely ridiculous character, but a dangerous one nonetheless. It's a very interesting dissonance, and it's one that had me from "oh my god this is silly I love him" to "oh he's a sexist ass, I hate him" in about ten seconds flat. Somehow Cumming pulls off this tightrope. He's reprehensible, but also clearly having a great delight in being over the top. He, of course, pulls a Robertson and lights the mud queen on fire, raises the Doctor's ire, and gets away because that's what happens to people who make the Doctor cross now; the passive switch gets flipped. I'm more forgiving of it here because of simple realistic expectations. As much as I might want a Time Lord Victorious to shove King James into a ditch for being an asshole and "burning the witch", I know damn well that Doctor Who isn't going to mess with the arc of history. You may want it to, but it's less jarring when it's history as opposed to some fictional idiot the writer literally invented to do a bad. The passivity doesn't work as well as Demons Of The Punjab, but it's not as frustrating as Arachnids In The UK or Kerblam!. That, then, was The Witchfinders. It works. It basically works. It's middle of the road Doctor Who that doesn't particularly strike many sour notes with me, and the disturbing thing is that's enough to make it one of the better episodes this season. Will either of the final two boot it off the list? God, I hope so.

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Doctor Who Series 11 First Impressions: Episode 7 (Kerblam!)

Here's your late stage capitalism sympathies, ma'am.
I was on a little vacation, damn it. This was supposed to be an easy one. It very nearly almost was! Then we got what we got. Okay. Okay. I can do something with this. It will echo what others have said to a degree, but in the end I'm but one perspective and I'll link some others which are more critical at the end of all of this. Kerblam!, then. Yes, with the exclamation point and all. Sitting in a room with one of my best pals while I was visiting him in the now-snowy wastes of Gander, Newfoundland... we sat back and watched Kerblam!. It was, all in all, a very enjoyable 45 minutes or so. I want to state upfront that, God help me, I had fun with this one. It's very well-designed, the concept pitch is wild and fun, the atmosphere is tight, the robot design is a perfect uncanny valley, and even the final reveal of the grand plan is such a simple and genius mass murder method that you can only applaud it. This is very good television, on the level of the gears of the sausage factory. What it also happens to be is something that Twitter has fucking eviscerated while I was away. I should clarify, that's my Twitter feed. The one full of lots of smart folks who absolutely lean left and came away from Kerblam! with various levels of disbelief and outrage. I didn't catch it at first, mostly because me and my pal were kind of chittering away and all, but on deeper focus? Oh yeah. There's a lot wrong here. The structure is sound, but the foundation is problematic to the extreme. I'm going to throw out an extreme statement and then try to back it up over the next few words. If I fail, feel free to call me on it. Okay. Kerblam! is the Talons Of Weng-Chiang for the 21st century. Wow. Holy shit. That's bold as fuck. What do I mean by that? It's expertly-crafted science fiction entertainment that's well-acted and, in any other respect, would be a hallmark of its era... but then the underlying message, text, and subtext come in. It's either enough to roll off your back and make you not notice because you had so much fun, as I (admittedly) did for those 40 minutes when I didn't know where this was going... or it appalls and offends, violating what one perceives as the heart and soul of Doctor Who. Wowie wow. Let's dig into THAT.

Elizabeth Sandifer, a lady who at this point basically inspired half of the words I blurp out on this red and white abomination, called Kerblam! "a perfectly good episode of Doctor Who that just happens to be... you know, evil.". Evil's a word you can use to describe an episode that's "Doctor Who vs. Amazon" in which Doctor Who takes the side of the exploitative mega-corporation acting above the law and upholds late-stage capitalism but in space. I fault nobody for referring to Kerblam! as such, but I want to take a different approach. A different word to describe what's going on here. That word? Insidious. This is why Kerblam! both works as an incredibly fun and enjoyable ride, and why so much of my left-leaning Twitter hates the everloving fuck out of it. Let me break down the crafty way this episode sells you. We have shady shit happening at Kerblam!, which is just Space Amazon, where the workers can't talk too much during their shift and they're basically monitored at all times. People are disappearing and the Doctor got a "help me" message in her space package which had a fez. That right there is the first bit of insidiousness, in a way. Continuity references to make you feel safe. There's even one to the David Tennant episode with Agatha Christie and the space wasp. That's a minor niggle and it's not being fair, not really. No, where we get the retroactive problem is with the plot. We obviously know the delivery robots are up to no good and killing workers, but why? We assume, of course, that Kerblam! is going the extra mile and vaporizing its own employees for some nebulous reason. Even the Doctor assumes so, finding plenty of evidence that seems to support her claims. She makes things clear to the people at the top in the Kerblam! offices; if there's some no-good bullshit going down, some corporate shenanigans, she WILL royally fuck it all up and ruin their shit. Yeah! Hell yeah! This is the kind of shit that I and other left-leaning folks love about Doctor Who! Hell, my favorite classic era of the show are the McCoy years, where he basically does this shit every other serial. When we found out Kerblam! was an episode about Space Amazon, we were hoping that Doctor Who was going to burn that fucker to the ground and walk away from the ashes!

That is not what happens. The fucked-up shit is, writer Pete McTighe is putting all the shit we want to see, all the prepping to tear down Kerblam! and stop corporate's evil plan... as a fucking red herring misdirect. No, the actual plot's over here with the janitor who wants to kill millions of people and make it look like Kerblam! did it so they go out of business and people don't trust robots so more real humans get hired for jobs and aren't replaced by robots. Dear god. Dear fucking god. I don't even want to begin to unpack that, but I have a feeling if I did I'd find nothing but bales of fucking straw. It gets worse. The system itself is rebelling against this attempt to make it kill millions, which would be admirable if it didn't try to dissuade the janitor from enacting his plan by KILLING THE GIRL HE LIKED. Yes! YES THEY DID THAT! Doctor Who somehow has pulled off a fridging, where the manpain that motivates the plot at the cost of the girl's life is centered on THE EPISODE'S VILLAIN. I have NEVER seen that before. I know I'm in the middle of a bad thing rant, but I'm giving you an oasis of positivity. The scheme here is killer bubble wrap. That is, bubble wrap that explodes when you pop it. This is fucking genius. EVERYONE pops fucking bubble wrap! As a murder method it's creative and inventive in turning an ordinary thing into a source of horror! As a grand scheme strawman against automation via mass murder? Jesus Christ. So, in the end, the Doctor slots into her passive role once more. Kerblam! aren't taken down a peg, the system isn't retooled for literally murdering an innocent woman to make the Nice Guy who has a crush on her sad and not blow up people, and nothing is changed. Everyone who works at Kerblam! is given a month off and two week's pay. Yes. You heard me. Think about it. That's such a darkly comic line that was meant in sincerity that I think I need to lie down.

That's... Kerblam! I got pretty mad at it myself. This is a paradox of an episode. It's not the kind of Doctor Who that I like, and it in fact wears the kind of Doctor Who that I like as a fucking masquerade in order to fool my dumb brain into liking it, and it works. God help me, it works at that because I still have that contact high of the fun I had the other evening watching it. Insidious is the word. Elizabeth Sandifer called it evil, and here's her thoughts. Caitlin Smith, the biggest Clara Oswald fan I can think of that isn't Jenna Coleman herself, had a real good Twitter thread about this. I'm still just very tired. Kerblam!, if you judge it solely on its first 40 minutes of your very first time seeing it unspoiled, is probably the third-best episode this series... but it's teetering on the edge. God, I hope something comes along to unseat it. I really do. In 40 years, will we have passionate defenses from brigades about this like we do with Talons? Christ, I hope I'm not part of this fandom to see that if it happens. Let's shut the book on that, for now.

Monday, 12 November 2018

Doctor Who Series 11 First Impressions: Episode 6 (Demons Of The Punjab)

Fine. I'll say it. Of the six hours and change that the Whittaker era has aired so far, this is the best one for me. The only one that comes close to it is Rosa, and Rosa is... well, it has different strengths. It's a very good episode, but one I don't feel qualified to talk about and one that's so tense, uncomfortable, and oppressive in its realistic atmosphere that revisiting it isn't exactly a Saturday evening comfort with chips and a drink. Demons Of The Punjab isn't quite that, either, but it's more of a dramatic tragedy. I've made much, be it here or on Rainiac's podcast, about the somewhat disappointing idea of the Doctor not always saving the day in these episodes. Some situations, like Arachnids In The UK, are tonally off for me. Sometimes I'm fine with it. This is the time I'm the most fine with it, because this isn't a story about "saving the day". This is a story about loss, tragedy, and prejudice told against the backdrop of a historical event, a family torn apart by events and beliefs far beyond their farm. It's a story that presents itself as a day to be saved, and twists itself to reveal its tragedy. This is something to be observed, and we're stronger for having observed it. This is Demons Of The Punjab, and it's incredible.

In the end, it's a story with Yaz as the focus. Yaz, who wants to know more about her grandmother and asks to go back in time and just observe. Already I can draw some parallel between this and Father's Day, waaaay the fuck back when the revival of Doctor Who began. That actually was my very first full episode of the show I saw, and it's the reason I'm sitting here typing this up. So, you know, I'm invested in this sort of plot. That gets us to India 1947, and the revelation that Yaz's grandma Umbreen is marrying someone who isn't Yaz's granddad. This is a secret history, a truth kept from Yaz and us. What's not exactly a secret history, of course, is the partition of India. I don't know much about the historical event, being from the other side of the world, but you get a sense of it. Colonialism splitting India in two, stoking fires of prejudice as Hindus turn on Muslims, and widespread riots all over the place. We get little sense of this outside of the farm. The bad things are happening away from us and there's no stuffy Captain Cook types around. Of course, we have Prem's brother Manish who is wary of this marriage. This is some Romeo and Juliet stuff, except with religions instead of houses. Okay. That's a good story on its own, and it's mostly what we get... but this ain't a pure historical episode. No, we have some space aliens.

Oh, these guys are fun. The Thijarians, on first viewing, are made to look like monsters. We buy it because this is Doctor Who and it's traditionally been a monster-fighting show. What's especially interesting is that things are termed and couched in the trappings of the Moffat era at first. The Thijarians are described as the deadliest assassins in the universe from the dawn of time or whatever, and the Doctor's putting her foot down and declaring that she'll stop them if they're up to no good is very Doctor-ish. You could imagine Matt Smith or even David Tennant delivering those lines, no sweat. Of course, it's not an evil plan. The Thijarians aren't invaders. They're reverent watchers who travel time and space to witness the final moments of the dead, memorializing them in their little space dust can... and they're here because Prem is doomed to die. It's odd that these guys know that Prem's time is up and it's all unavoidable Web Of Time bullshit but the, you know, Time Lady has to be told this. Just minor eyebrow-raising, nothing more. Of course, the savvy audience member probably knew this was coming. The turbulent time, the historical setting, the fact that Prem isn't Yaz's granddad? He has all the trappings of a man doomed to die, and the tragedy looms over the program... but the twist changes things. This is no longer a Moffat-era story about stopping the bad aliens as Protector Of The Planet. This is a Whittaker story. This is a fixed point. The group knows this and could leave... but they want to stay. To see it out. To make sure Prem isn't alone.

In the end, it's not the Thijarians who were the titular Demons of the Punjab. No, it was the anti-Muslim hate that lead Manish to kill an old man just so an interdenominational wedding wouldn't happen, who literally rallied up a small mob of armed men on horseback, who killed his own brother out of fear and hate for these other people. In the end, it's a lot like Rosa. The Doctor can't beat that back with magic science and a sonic. All she can do is do her best, and so her companions do, too. They'll take this event with them for the rest of their lives, and Yaz will hold on to that broken watch as a reminder of the good man who died that day. Her nan ended up living a good life, all things told, but the memory remains. The Thijarians pay tribute to Prem, and all those who died in the riots of the Partition. To bring things back to the Moffat era, I'm sure Prem lives on within Testimony. Most important of all, his story lives on with us. This story has gone out into the world, and we've experienced a beautiful tragedy. The Doctor can't always save the day... but she can make the day better. She can officiate a wedding and let two loving people join in unison. She can be there for you. She can, in a sense, be there and hold your hand... just like Rose ended up doing in Father's Day. This is something to be observed, and we're all stronger for having observed it. If Doctor Who in the Whittaker era has to be more tragic than a day-saving adventure, please let it be more like this. Not a surprise downer, or a rushed and hastily wrapped-up ending. A beautiful tragedy weaved into every aspect of the show's runtime. Melancholy doesn't get much better than this.

Monday, 5 November 2018

Doctor Who Series 11 First Impressions: Episode 5 (The Tsuranga Conundrum)

Baby has a glowy tummy =)
Oooh, now this is spooky. I'm writing this from inside some sort of time warp. Like, more so than usual. The Internet is currently out here, and it looks to be that way until at least Tuesday evening. If you're seeing this on Tuesday evening, the 6th of November, then you'll know I got back on time. Any later and you know it took me longer. Beyond that, you're way in the future and looking back at this. (Future intrusion note: 24 hours early, hooray!) I'm talking about timely post-airing first impressions, though. So, what did Chibnall put in front of us here? Hmm. I don't know. It would be mean to call The Tsuranga Conundrum the worst episode of the Whittaker era so far. It would also be inaccurate. It isn't bad. It didn't offend me. On the flip side though, it didn't wow me in a way that other episodes this series did. For better or worse, there's no real element in this that speaks out to me and makes me feel a passion, be that praise or damnation. This was perfectly servicable Doctor Who that gave me mild entertainment on a Sunday night. In that regard, it's almost exactly what I expected from the Chibnall era before it aired. The problem is that we had those other four episodes that gave me a lot to talk about, be it good or bad. Still, we'll make something of this. Or try to.

Okay, so it's basically a base under siege story. Boneless Alien, a Twitter pal called it. You got a little fucker running around in a spaceship doing bad shit and threatening to destroy the works of it, and the Doctor and friends have to save the day. Let's try and go on what I liked with this, I guess. I like the panic of the Doctor once they arrive on the hospital ship, and her desperate need to get the TARDIS clashing with the hospital guy's sensibility, leading to the Doctor realizing humility and apologizing. That's a new choice that I can't really see many other Doctors going for. It gives me something to work with. Similarly, the Doctor's speech about antimatter and positrons is absolutely wonderful. Nonsense scientifically, if forum goers are to be believed, but the passion and energy behind Whittaker's delivery of it really shone through. There's a real sense of trying to put the Doctor's back against the wall here, with no TARDIS and no sonic screwdriver to save the day. Okay, she gets her sonic back eventually and that does save the day, but the sense of improvisation and plotting on the fly is lovely. This is a Doctor who, to quote one of her past selves, could save the universe with a kettle and some string. Aesthetically, these are some very pretty corridors to be running down, all white and slick. It's a very different space aesthetic from, say, The Ghost Monument, which had "used future" spaceships. I dig it. Of course, there's the monster. The Pting is a neat concept, I guess. It's a space gremlin. It gets in your ship and fucks it up. Okay, it's a neat concept. More to the point, the Doctor actually gets a fairly decisive victory here. She doesn't kill the Pting, but it was more a force of nature and didn't have to die. That and only two people bought it in this one. Compared to the grim business or half-hearted resolutions of the previous stories this season, this is, so to speak, more like it. You'd think, though, they would have shown the Doctor getting back in the TARDIS given the urgency with which she was worried about leaving it in a space junkyard, but this is a very minor nitpick and I can accept "it was just fine and they got back in it and left okay" as an offscreen resolution.

Well, then there's the pregnant guy, about whom I'm not sure how to feel. With no Internet I can't give you any takes from, say, trans masculine men who may or may not have found this a flat note. I knew, going in, that we'd have a pregnant man as a supporting character and he would kind of be the comic relief, which frankly terrified me and others. I didn't get THAT much of a horrible vibe of the comedy being based on "ha ha ha it's WOMEN that get pregnant, not men, look how funny!" or anything, but again... I'm not the authority on this. Similarly, this ties into Ryan's plotline where the reluctant dad-to-be reminds him of his dad, and he encourages the guy to keep his kid. I found it sweet, but others could take that as anti-adoption. Again, not the authority, wish I could look up takes online to offer an alternate perspective, but I can't. Beyond those notes, what are we left with? An average episode of Doctor Who. Corridor running in space while a monster attacks. It's just fine, really. There are some weird notes, as mentioned above, but nothing that played too sour for me personally. I wasn't enthused, but I wasn't appalled. Really, that's the slight disappointment. Sometimes Doctor Who is just okay. We wish it can bat a home run every time, but sometimes it just makes it to first base. Better than striking out, as we've seen with other terrible moments. It's probably not going to be anyone's favorite episode of Doctor Who, but it doesn't have to be. As an hour of entertainment, it worked. That's all it batted for, and it made that. Good.

Next up to bat: The partition of India. This happened in 1947? Oh dear. Colonialism.

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Another 31 Days, Another 31 Screams: Day 31 (Halloween 4: The Return Of Michael Myers)

It wasn't supposed to be this as the capstone, you know. I would have done the new Halloween movie that came out 12 days ago, but I don't live anywhere near a movie theater to have been able to seen it. My backup was Halloween 3, but then I found you couldn't legally grab that on either Youtube OR Netflix... a fact which really pisses me off because I SAW IT in the bargain bin at a Wal-Mart during a trip last month and thought "Ehh I'll get it digitally for Halloween night". Guess the "trick" in trick or treat is on me, huh? So, the hell with it. This is the best we've got with regards to keeping up traditions and watching a Halloween movie on Halloween night for the blog. This? Christ. You can't really be mad at it, can you? It's almost like a goddamned monkey's paw wish for everyone who bitched that Halloween 3 wasn't about Michael Myers again. Oh, you want the spooky boy in the boiler suit and Shatner mask to stab people again? HERE'S EXACTLY WHAT YOU ASKED FOR! I know we didn't get to Halloween 3, but let me be clear: I didn't love Halloween 3, but I certainly enjoyed its freshness a hell of a lot more than I did Halloween 4. Halloween 4 is... it's trying in some aspects. It really is. One more deep dive to end the spooky season, and then we're free. Well, you're free.

A weird pattern that Halloween fell into was going back to basics once a decade. We saw this last year with Halloween H20, we saw it this year in cinemas with the 2018 film... and here with Halloween 4, we sort of see it. I get the vibe that the people in charge of this were going back to what worked; spooky man goes to Haddonfield to kill family member. Yes, I know that wasn't what 1978's film was about, but Halloween 2 with the siblings reveal is the only other one of these that actually stuck in canon because it happened literally right after the end of the original. So, this one's about spooky Michael Myers busting out of captivity to go to Haddonfield and kill Laurie Strode's daughter, Jamie Lloyd. Why? I don't really know Michael's motivations at this point; he doesn't even have any baseline shamblings about teen sexhavers like Jason Voorhees. Maybe he just wants to finish the job and kill all of his family, and anyone who gets in the way. Make no mistake, though, he's no mindless shambler. Killing a power company guy by throwing him into a substation to knock out all the power in Haddonfield is calculated and plotting. There are gears turning in his head. Gears on how best to kill and intimidate folks before killing them. Things are a bit gratuitous, yes, but there are some moments of restraint where we don't see the how and why of someone dying. We could have used some more of those, but okay.

Then we come to Jamie Lloyd herself. She's just a little kid, and the child actress is doing her best. She's the key of all of this, being Michael's ultimate target, but there's much more going on here. There are little callbacks and mirrorings to the original, particularly the fact that she chooses a clown costume for herself like Michael's from the opening of the original movie. Fuck it, let's just talk about that ending, huh? Implications of Jamie Lloyd as the next vessel of the blank-faced evil which defined Michael Myers, and a horrified Dr. Loomis screaming at the sight of it. It's one hell of a downer ending... which gets basically reversed in the next movie, but we are in no way worrying about Halloweens 5 and 6. This is, in some respects, the best part of the movie. Ain't that depressing? I'm basically saying I liked it when it was over. Really, this is fine. If you were morbidly offended by Halloween 3 daring to be "the Zelda 2 of slasher movies", then this is your Link To The Past. It cemented Halloween as the story of Michael Myers trying to kill his family. Forever. Forever and ever. I hope you're happy. As for me, this marathon is a lot like Halloween 4. I liked it when it was over. That'll be a wrap for this year. Will there be a 31 Screams 4? God only knows. All I know is I have to worry about NaNoWriMo now, and in a week I'll be begging to write about horror things for 30 minutes a night. We'll see you for more Doctor Who on the blog. Enjoy Halloween. Don't eat too much candy and make yourself sick. Bye.

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Another 31 Days, Another 31 Screams: Day 30 (Trick R Treat)

Oh my god. Oh my god. Oh my GOD. We've really lit a fire under my ass in regards to enthusiasm now. No fucking around with song reviews, or dual Doctor Who reviews. This is a straight-up horror movie and I am here to tell you that it's fucking brilliant. I haven't had this much fun watching a horror thing for the blog since... actually let me check. Tucker And Dale Vs. Evil? From two years ago? I guess? I don't know how this will hold up on a rewatch, but as of right now I'm sold on it. This movie is goddamned hilarious, but it's not a comedy. Not quite. No, it's a really dark sort of humor that comes from the way it both sets up its situations and subverts your expectations at every turn. I could stop the post here and yell loudly while waving my arms, metaphorically in text of course but you've got a good mental image of it now, all about how you need to throw on this movie and enjoy it without an asshole like me spoiling all the good parts. You can get it on Youtube for 4 bucks like I did, or less if you know what you're doing. For the love of God, check it out before I spoil some of the fun twists and mechanical shit. I guess that counts as your spoiler warning, so let's go into things a bit deeper.

This movie has some vague resemblance to Creepshow, another underrated classic horror anthology film which I adore. It has a bit of an anthology thing going for it, and a bit of that comic book aesthetic. It sadly doesn't go all in on the latter, but the way it plays with anthology is interesting. There are seperate vignettes going on, but they all tie into each other in little ways. You'll see something spooky happening with someone's neighbor, and then find out what happened from their perspective an hour later... but before that you'll have the protagonist of that first story show up in a different vignette altogether. It basically almost works, as you still get a constant sense of surprise and fun at noticing all the connections. The only place it dragged on for me was the final segment, on that neighbor. It took a little too long for things to catch up to audience knowledge, and once it did there were some fun twists... but it still was a bit of glancing at the watch and waiting for the movie to catch up. Still, that and a few nasty moments are the only sour notes in an otherwise breezy 80 minute movie. Let's gush about some of the stuff I loved.

This is a movie all about Halloween, in the sense of ancient traditions and the veil between the living and the dead being thinnest on Samhain and all that shit, but it's also got the typical slasher thing of transgression going for it. The opening of the movie is basically OHH YOU PUT YOUR JACK-O-LANTERN'S CANDLE OUT TOO EARLY, NOW YOU DIE. The transgressors get punished, but it's not all just typical slasher fare of sexhaving teens. No, some of these people actually deserve what they get. More to the point, they play wild with the dark comedy. In the end I couldn't help but laugh my head off at some of the bleak turns this story took. Nasty people getting their comeuppance in darkly comedic ways. The funniest part of the movie, I think, was early on when a man's murdered a trick-or-treater and gets into hijinks while trying to bury the body in his own backyard. The end of his segment seems like it's going one way and you think "Oh god no" but then the twist happens and you're roaring with laughter because OH MY FUCKING GOD THEY DID THAT INSTEAD! Then the character shows up as a twist for ANOTHER segment, and the reveal of what's going on with those particular characters (and the grisly end of that first guy) is just incredible. This movie, y'all. This fucking movie. I ruined some of it but please. View it. I adore it now, and I hope I still do next year when I give it a rewatch for the next spooky season. Speaking of, we're right on the door of Halloween. You know what we gotta do. Yeah. We gotta watch one of THOSE again.

Monday, 29 October 2018

Another 31 Screams Day 29: Doctor Who Series 11 First Impressions: Episode 4 (Arachnids In The UK)

I used this shot because 1) no giant spiders to trigger anyone's
arachnophobia and 2) reflection in the glass.
Call it a combination of serendipity with the timing of this episode's subject matter and airing, and of sheer laziness on my part, but it's my word space so we're going to combine the 31 Screams marathon with Doctor Who First Impressions. It'll be a fun journey, and we'll get to yell about spooky giant spiders. To that end, we have episode 4 of the Whittaker era. In hindsight, by now in the Capaldi era I had a sense of what we were going for. Listen was a masterpiece, a high point of Season 8, and a welcome sigh of relief after a rocky start. Arachnids In The UK is not that, but I'm not here to make comparisons beyond that remark. This one's a clear case of the journey being more satisfying than the destination. We'll get to the destination, of course, but that journey is a real fun one for the spooky season! Aside from Tim Shaw and his random slasher-esque killing of people, this is the first outright dance with horror undertones that the Whittaker era's undergone. Last week was an uncomfortable tension that hit close to home because it was real, but this is just spooky spider shit. It's a fun kind of scary, and it's hard not to have fun on the ride. So, here's the ride. Here's Arachnids In The UK.

Why not kick it off with the Yaz focus? With three companions this series, it's obvious that a bit of shuffling was going to happen with the focus. Ryan and Graham are the main dramatic players in Ghost Monument (on account of losing Grace), then Ryan and Yaz in Rosa (on account of race), and now it's Yaz on account of glimpses into her family life and roping her mom into the adventure. You do get a better sense of Yaz as a character by way of her family life, and it's a sense that she's a bit of a loner with a somewhat overbearing family. People have nitpicked that she doesn't react to anything by virtue of her police officer background, and I suppose that's valid but it didn't pull me out of the episode. She's got some great interactions with her family and her mom, and I appreciate her all the more thanks to this one. The show has to work a little harder with Yaz's beats, I feel, since she doesn't have the same family relationship that lets Ryan and Graham work naturally together, but in this case I'd say they nailed it.

Okay then. Spiders! What's refreshing about this is how it seems tailor-made to be a continuity reference story, but then isn't. Giant spiders? Oh, that's just Planet Of The Spiders with Jon Pertwee. They grew giant thanks to toxic waste in a coal mine? Oh, that's just The Green Death also with Jon Pertwee. I gather Chibnall is fond of the Pertwee years, then... but we don't get any wink wink nudge nudge about it. We did get a Venusian aikido reference two weeks ago, but this is a remarkable bit of restraint. The man has to have known about those two episodes when plotting this out, and yet he doesn't come out and say it. If you binged most of 45 year-old Doctor Who like I have, you know it and the show doesn't need to say it. If you haven't, then it just seems like an original and new idea. It's a basic spooky thing, but it works. There are spiders. Spiders are inherently scary, giant ones even more so. The bit where a spider breaks through the bathtub is particularly effective in this regard. They're not even evil spiders, they're just unfortunate mutations brought about by bad negligence... which leads us to the end of the ride, and the problem.

The problem is Jack Robertson. He's a jerkass rich man who refuses to take any responsibility for the problem. You're not meant to like him, and he's basically a Donald Trump expy. He sucks, but he's an effective antagonist in that regard; he's there to get your blood boiling and be an obstinant obstacle to the Doctor and friends, and he excels at that. My problem comes from the abruptness of the ending. He shoots a defenseless giant spider who was dying anyway, the Doctor gets mad at him for it, and... he just walks away and that's the end of the conflict. For Doctor Who, this is lacking. This is a show that's shown us a Doctor who, over multiple incarnations, will tear down people like this. It's become such an essential and satisfying part of the show for me that its absence actively lowers the quality of the show for me. He just gets away with being irresponsible and violent and going against the Doctor's wishes without so much as a "don't you think he looks tired?". I don't like it. Maybe he'll come back and get his comeuppance, but as of right now I am dissatisfied with the way things ended. One may argue it's more realistic that sometimes the bad person gets away with it, and if that's your view of Doctor Who I won't fault it... but it's not mine. The Doctor Who I love has the bad person get their karma in the end. I can't get behind it. It's a crucial misstep in an otherwise fun hour of giant spiders and spooky stuff. Still, we'll see how things play out. For now, while I can't claim Arachnids In The UK is the finest hour of the Whittaker years so far? I can say that it's still a fun ride. We'll just have to have faith and see where it takes us next.

Sunday, 28 October 2018

Another 31 Days, Another 31 Screams: Day 28 (Michael Jackson's Thriller)

Again, like I said last time. We're really stretching shit thin here in the final days. To that end, we're really going to try and get a couple hundred words out of a 13-minute music video for a spooky pop song. Yes, really. I could try and fill shit up by doing my usual stalling, much like I'm doing right now by extending the point out juuuuust long enough to drag things out. But I won't. Aside from that last sentence. And this one. Well, what can we say about this? Let's leave the song itself alone for now and focus on the actual music video aspect of it, since that's easy enough. I'm no music critic, but I can try. I can also comment on what the man put on screen to accompany his music, and we're going to do that. I oddly get the same vibes from the beginning of this as Stephen King's It. That seems crazy, but hear me out. There's that same 30 year-cycle of nostalgia thing happening for old 50's monster movies. One only needs to look at Michael Jackson in his cool jock letterman jacket, or the way his girlfriend's dressed up, to really see it. And then he turns into a werewolf. We haven't covered John Landis's An American Werewolf In London, but suffice it to say that the movie had some fucked up body horror werewolf transformation in it which made Michael Jackson go "HEY MAN TURN ME INTO A FUCKED UP WEREWOLF FOR MY MUSIC VIDEO". So they did. So they did, and it's just as fucked up and horrifying even though he kind of looks more like a cat. Oops, it was all a horror movie! Yeah, Thriller's got layers. I guess we're in the 80's now and then the music starts up. Pointedly, it's not structured at all like the actual single. You get all the verses from Jackson first as he dances around his girlfriend trying to spook her, then Vincent Price raps, THEN Michael Jackson is a zombie and we get dancing and THAT'S when you get that killer fuckin' chorus of 'CAUSE THIS IS THRILLER. Holy shit. In music video form, they build up to the damn thing. You thought a 90-second buildup in the song itself was enough? Try this on for size.

Yes, let's try and analyze the song. It's very, very good, isn't it? I'm not some weird contrarian on this either, as millions of people seem to agree. I'm fairly sure that Thriller was the best-selling album of all time until recently, when it was dethroned by, of all things, The Eagles' Greatest Hits. Which got spun a shitload in our house back in the 90's, much more than Thriller ever did. I am inclined to frown upon my family's musical tastes for this. Being a pop song, it is of course catchy and absolutely killer. That funky goddamn synthy bass line is what makes it, and when you get to that chorus things just go into full overdrive. With all the spooky werewolf howls and other noises, it's as if the audio itself is haunted as you blast through it. Of course, we have to talk about Vincent Price's bit. It seems wild on paper: "yo what if we got a horror icon to do some spoken word spooky stuff as the climax of the song?". It absolutely should not work, but coupled with those funky tunes and spooky noises? He pulls it off. The whole song pulls it off. Forget your goddamned Monster Mash, this is actually a banger and should be blasted for the Halloween season, as loud as you can without pissing off your family, pets, and/or neighbors. I think that will do it. I'm going to groove out to this song until a spooky Doctor Who episode about spiders airs. It should be entertaining! See you tomorrow for that.

Saturday, 27 October 2018

Another 31 Days, Another 31 Screams: Day 27 (More Angry Video Game Nerd Halloween Episodes)

As we get closer and closer to the end of the month and Halloween proper, there's always a desperate sense of "oh dear Jesus just do a final few entries on dumb shit to fill out the marathon". That mentality will be prevalent for the next few days, I'm sure. Take today's, for instance, where we once again try to talk semi-seriously about a man's exaggerated parody of yelling at Nintendo games. Say what you will about James Rolfe, but the man has a passion for horror media and it shows in his Halloween-themed episodes of The Angry Video Game Nerd. Of which I viewed three more. These are all older episodes, but fairly good ones. Well, good for a show about yelling at Nintendo games, anyway. Let's dive into whatever the hell this is.

This and the next one are fun because they're a bunch of games tied around one theme; in this case, Dracula games. No Castlevania, but he would do a 4 part video series on the older games for one spooky season. The whole gag with fucking around with an old text adventure parser is what you'd expect from the Nerd, but it's still amusing enough and something we all no doubt did in our youth. I had actually forgotten that Drac's Night Out existed before I loaded this one up again, and looking at the video it seems that may have been for the best. Then again, I like a lot of games he doesn't (CASTLEVANIA 2 CASTLEVANIA 2) so who can say for sure? The most interesting thing in this one, for me anyway, is his look at the games based on the Coppola adaptation of Dracula from the 90's. I remember a friend of mine had the Game Boy version, and its title theme is burned in my mind. The NES game's nonsense music is actually a strange and shrill mix of what I assume is European PC composition and just sheer chaos on purpose. It sets an odd mood, and I kind of dig it. This is also where his joke about "Fred Fucks" comes in, which... well, that got co-opted by a certain game designer a few years later. That's a horror we're not ready to unearth again, so let's go to another video.

A little messier, this one, since there's less material to cover. The whole "Frankennerd" idea is goofy and dumb, but it does what it needs to do. I assume it's Mike Matei under there, but who knows. Well, the credits know, but I didn't look and I'm making a point to not look now. The two SNES games he covers here are pretty brief dives, and don't look too remarkable. The Bandai Frankenstein game almost looks passable, challenging, and fun. He does, of course, have his gripes, but this looks like a flawed but fun gem on the surface. You almost want to ask James Rolfe about his actual opinion on the game. Yeah, you can't use the satire excuse completely when it comes to the man, but I'm sure some of it is played up. Could be fun to check out a longplay of this game after I'm done writing all of this. The finale, with the Frankennerd choking the Nerd to death while the Nerd desperately tries to beat his bad Frankenstein NES game, is a total chaotic mess that still manages to be funny. Yeah, not much to say on this one. A decent watch. Which leads us to...

Oh yes. The big one. The game that helped make the Nerd character into a popular thing, and a source of trauma for the character (and James Rolfe, no doubt) that had to be embellished upon and explained. This is where the influence of the Nerd on retro gaming culture can be felt most; load up any Top 10 List of the worst or hardest NES games, and there's a chance you'll see Jekyll and Hyde on there. As it's not a ubiquitous childhood-scarrer like, say, Battletoads or Ninja Gaiden or something, I have to put this down to the James Rolfe effect. Is it a bad game? Hell if I know. I played some of it and just found it sort of dull, really. You walk to the right and jump over the occasional thing. Then again, I know the general idea of what to do thanks to this video. If I really wanted to, I could beat the fucker... but there's no drive to. This, then, is a personal exorcism from James Rolfe. Using his character to vent frustrations over a bad game that stuck in the mind as a child. In that regard, it's brilliant. The bit at the end where he goes all avant-garde and calls it a secret masterpiece which represents the duality of man and Victorian societal attitudes is the best part for me, as that's the kind of shit I unironically love doing when I write. That's Nintendo Project level shit, and it speaks to me. Good or bad, this one's an iconic bit of AVGN canon which actually has influenced how people think about these old games. The video itself? It's fine. The ending's goofy, sure, but AVGN always has that level of dumb crudeness to it. That'll do it for tonight. Four more to go. We'll bullshit our way through this.

Friday, 26 October 2018

Another 31 Days, Another 31 Screams: Day 26 (Doctor Who: Midnight)

"And now I'm mirroring you"
      "And now I'm mirroring you"
I promised you your Doctor Who writeup, and here it is. This was, for the longest time in my memory, the single scariest episode of Doctor Who ever. Most people would cite Blink, and Blink is pretty good at it and has a neat concept. Midnight, though? This stuck with me for all these years. Ten years on and I still remembered it vividly. What about Midnight makes it work? Let's start with the ambiguity, I guess. Steven Moffat, as much as I've adored the things he did with the show when he had a hand in it? He did kind of make the Weeping Angels less scary after a point. Oh, their two-parter in the first Matt Smith season worked (mostly) but after that? Not really. Familiarity breeds a sort of reliability. Oh, thank God. It's just the Weeping Angels, don't blink and we'll be out of this one. Midnight, though? We don't know what the holy fuck the monster was. We never will. Russell T. Davies never took another crack at it, and he shouldn't. Explaining this away would take the magic out of it. It's remarkably fresh for this particular era of the show, where the Doctor was a bit of a mythic know-it-all... but that's really what makes the episode effective. This is an episode of Doctor Who all about human paranoia and fear, and it's also an episode where being Doctor Who is not only a bad thing, but the worst possible thing. Any other day, being the mythic know-it-all is what makes the Doctor the hero. Here it makes him suspicious and drives a further wedge between him and everyone when the shit hits the fan, and he fails to save the day. The situation is actively made worse by his attempts to be the dashing Doctor who saves the day, and an extra person dies because of it. This shit is grim.

I don't usually go for that shit when it comes to this show. I like my Doctor Who to be generally uplifting and full of hope. The fact that Midnight is one of the few forays into the pure despair and nihilism of "the Doctor doesn't save the day" actually makes it stand out. If the entire show were like this, it would be utterly dire. Hell, the episode after this, Turn Left, is also an episode that shows what happens when the Doctor doesn't save multiple days on Earth. Turns out the planet gets nuked and falls into a police state with concentration camps and shit. It's bad news, but it's not horror. No, in context of the series in which this aired, this is a string of episodes set to put the Doctor and his companion at their lowest points before rising up and saving the day in the finale. Well, we know the narrative cost for Donna Noble, but LET'S NOT GET INTO THAT. Let's talk about the actual horror. A bunch of people trapped on a space train, and one of them gets possessed and starts repeating everything the others say. It's simple. It's genius. It's almost Moffat-esque in how things play out with the rules of the monster; I could see something like this in his era for sure. The tension only builds as the repeating escalates, soon becoming outright mirroring happening simultaneously... and then stealing the Doctor's voice and reversing shit. Any and all attempts by the Doctor to do his usual thing and save the day backfire due to the intense paranoia the people have. Indeed, he doesn't stop them from throwing the possessed woman out in the end; all he's done by refusing to let them do it in the first place is create a scenario where the hostess of the train dies as well. It's a nasty piece of work, this one, but that's what makes it an effective piece of horror. It's grim and uncomfortable, and sometimes that's worth more than any strobe light shots of Weeping Angels.

Thursday, 25 October 2018

Another 31 Days, Another 31 Screams: Day 25 (A Quiet Place)

Did I hype up a Doctor Who episode for this one? Too bad, spooky movie time. I say that and all, but believe it or not A Quiet Place manages to carry some of the same themes and emotions as Heaven Sent did, and be a really proper tense horror film. I certainly wasn't expecting what I got when I fired the thing up, but I can't say what I got was bad in any respects. No, like Heaven Sent, this is a movie about loss and grief and hope in the face of total despair. The total despair this time is the end of the world, or as close to it as we can tell. I kept expecting to see an extended flashback to when the shit went down, but by about 20 minutes in it became clear that the movie wasn't interesting in telling that story. No, there's just spooky monsters which are ultra-sensitive to sound that have brought about worldwide devastation, according to some newspapers we can see. This isn't a movie about the end of the world, it's one about coping with a post-apocalypse. It's a survival movie, both survival of actually staying alive and the survival of the one family who's our focus. It's hard, of course. Their youngest son, ripped to shreds in the cold open so suddenly. Loss and grief and guilt permeate the proceedings, but there's also that tension. Very quickly we learn that these monsters are fuckin' vicious when it comes to sound, and something as simple as glass breaking will make the little bastards hustle to investigate and kill whatever in fuck made the noise. Peter Capaldi just had to outrun a monster every 82 minutes.. This poor family can't talk above a whisper or a speedy jackass with scythe arms will cut off their heads. This leads A Quiet Place to be... well, a very quiet and thoughtful little film about this family. When noise comes and shit happens, though, you feel it. Holy hell do you feel it. I hesitate to call its use of jumpscare loud noises in any context that actually scared the shit out of me, but they are the most effective at changing the tone.

Then there's the whole climax, of course. I'm gonna spoil the movie in this part, and since it's recent-ish I will plop down the spoiler warning. Bail out now if the idea of this movie appeals to you. Still here? Okay. So, the family's oldest child is a deaf girl, which is not only great for representation but also makes things a lot easier for communication; the family can just use sign language to talk in the quiet moments. This also makes the monsters her dark mirror: she can't hear, whereas they can super hear. Dear Dad was working on making her a new hearing aid out of stereo parts, but now he's dead and gone after sacrificing himself to save the kids. How will we get out of this one? Turns out the feedback from her non-working hearing aid, when amplified, really fucks up the monsters. I love this idea a lot. Going into it, I thought this would just be a grim affair with no real hope to it, just a family surviving. This gives us a sliver of hope, as they kill one of the monsters at the end... and with more coming, Mom raises the shotgun and pumps it. Fade to black. Fuck me. Sound, their greatest asset and their greatest weakness. You could poke at that and ask about the outside world, but we're not meant to know about any of that. Maybe people in big cities figured this shit out ages ago. It's not the concern of this movie's focus on one family out in the middle of nowhere. Either way, I really enjoyed this one! The tension was high, the premise pretty unique, and it had that crunchy emotional shit I adore. A real winner. Tomorrow will be Doctor Who. Promise.

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

Another 31 Days, Another 31 Screams: Day 24 (Doctor Who: Heaven Sent)

We've been here before, of course. A little under three years ago, when this first aired. This got suggested for the marathon and I thought it'd be fun to go back to it. Mostly because it was a known quantity, and actually quite a spectacular episode. Many would call it the highlight of the Capaldi era, and I can't fault them for it. Me? You know where I fall on the sides of Heaven and Hell. For now, we have to try and analyze the now-known quality of Heaven Sent in the context of horror. Rather obviously, we have a shambling monster created out of one of the Doctor's childhood fears. That's fun, and on airing I remember writing about it in context of Stephen King's It, but I want to roll with the more subtle touches. This is a horror story, but a horror story about loss, grief, guilt, confession, and obsession. The Doctor has just lost his best friend, the ever-wonderful Clara Oswald, and this mysterious castle he finds himself in is his own prison. Yes, it's all engineered so he tells secrets about the "Hybrid" and all that, but he pointedly refuses to. This is 35 minutes of Peter Capaldi, all by himself, playing a man coping with the loss of his companion and friend... except, she's not really gone, is she? No, she sleeps in his mind, someone for him to bounce his thoughts off of. Someone to motivate him to do what he has to do, and ask the right questions. Except... that's not really her. I don't want to talk about the next episode, but it has to be said: the Clara that motivates the Doctor to keep going here is not the real Clara, the real Clara who reacts in horror at what he did to himself once she finds out what he did. She's not, but this Clara echoes the original Clara, the carer who helps the Doctor realize how he's going to win.

I was going to start this off by saying it didn't compare to most horror, but it has the elements. The gothic, imposing castle. The obvious monster. The thousands of skulls. It's a personal horror story, but unlike other personal horror stories like... well, Oculus or 1408, it doesn't rely on creating a nightmarish surreal reality. Everything that happens within the castle actually happens, and reality doesn't melt or any shit like that. No, Heaven Sent's big twist is that of cycles. It's been three years, you've all had your advance spoiler warning; the Doctor goes through billions and billions of cycles in this place in order to punch down a diamond wall and escape rather than tell his captors a simple secret. Obsession and guilt. He lost Clara over this, and he wants to give up but his own stubbornness (and his inner Clara) won't let him... so he burns himself up over and over again, all in this stubborn obsession. In the end, the Time Lords weren't his torturers. The Doctor did it all to himself. He does get out, but what do you suppose that does to someone? His grief and guilt manifested in his own torture in a fucked-up castle, and if that's not Halloween enough for you I don't know what is. I'm getting out of this one while the getting out is good. There's not much else to say that I didn't already, in the past or in the future. Heaven Sent is real good, but is it the scariest Doctor Who? No. No, that honor goes to another episode. Not Blink, but another one. Come back tomorrow.

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Another 31 Days, Another 31 Screams: Day 23 (Prince Of Darkness)

The holiest of artifacts.
MORE mirror bullshit? AND it's a John Carpenter movie? Oh hell yes, now we're talking. This is a movie I've been aware of for quite some time, as I vividly remember reading an old synopsis with GIFs of it on I-Mockery. Yes, we're going way the fuck back there. So, broadly speaking, I knew the beats and strokes of this movie. The devil's in the details, or in this case, the swirling big can of green Satanic mouthwash. We'll go relatively wild with the mirrors since they're part of the climax and all, but I want to get a little more gonzo with what this movie's playing with as it escalates. So, here that is, then; John Carpenter's Prince Of Darkness is Season 18 of Doctor Who, if it were a horror movie. That will require some explanation, but we've got time. Season 18 of Doctor Who leaned more towards science, but it also was unafraid to use science in such a way as to basically make it magic. As an example off the top of my head, "tricking" a scientific time loop that you're trapped in by mimicking the actions that are looping out of synch with the loop itself. This is a movie that's dripping with science, having its characters as a bunch of scientists studying a fucked-up can of... green Satanic mouthwash. It's also a movie that posits that God and Satan are aliens or some shit, and that if God controls all matter there must be an anti-God of anti-matter, and it lives on the other side of mirrors... and I've lost you, haven't I? Yeah. There is some heady shit going on here, but it's all going on in the background. Science and religion are stuck in a haunted church together as the ultimate evil corrupts both of them. What do we get from this nightmarish display?

A lot of people gagging at getting Satan-brand Scope in their mouths, as it turns out. Prince Of Darkness is a slow burn, but John Carpenter's very good at horror and his brand is on full display here. You've got a handful of real gory moments, but the tension's really what makes this terrifying. The most interesting aspect to me are the tachyon dreams. Premonitions from the future sent back in time by tachyon waves, manifesting as dreams of a live recording of events to come. You could make a whole movie about that shit, and the fact that it's explained away in pure science terms is what gives me the whole Season 18 vibe. Then, of course, there's the mirroring. Before we get into that, it's interesting how Oculus mirrors the structure here a bit. The two movies aren't being deliberate about it, but you have people studying a cursed object with great scrutiny before fucked-up shit starts happening because of it. That's funny, considering how central mirrors are to the climax. Yes, we have the dark mirror of God, the Anti-God which lives on the other side of a mirror and will be brought forth by the proper host body for the green Satan juice. Whatever this thing is, it's beyond both science and religion, and this is made textual, literally textual in fact, by the possessed typist who types out a message before another scientist is got good by the green juice. No salvation for them, be it from the Holy Ghost or "the God Plutonium". The mirror image of God, ready to come through. How do we stop it?

Delaying the inevitable, I suppose. Shoving the host into the mirror world, along with yourself, and being sealed there by Donald fucking Pleasance throwing an axe at the mirror. Of course, the ending suggests that shit is far from over, and ends pretty damn ambiguously... which I like. Yeah, I dug this one a lot. Not just because of mirrors being my brand at this point, but because it's science horror. Indeed, Carpenter hides the writing credit for this as "Martin Quatermass" so that should tell you exactly the vibe which was being aimed for here. Science horror. Ooh, I like that quite a lot. It's far more than that, though, as the whole Season 18 comparison I keep making shows. Granted, I've only covered a sliver of Season 18 here, but it was enough. Science about other universes meets vampires. Tachyons and differential equations meet Satan and mirror monsters. This is quite a neat little one! Thanks, John Carpenter. Now, what next...?

Monday, 22 October 2018

Another 31 Days, Another 31 Screams: Day 22 (Oculus)

In this scene, Clara is cleverly disgused as Karen Gillan.
A horror movie about a haunted mirror? AND it's got a former Doctor Who companion as one of the leads? How the hell can I NOT do this one? Yes, the time has finally come. I get to apply all that weird mirroring shit I made myself infamous for during the Peter Capaldi era to a spooky movie all about it. The former Doctor Who companion is not the one I applied all of this to originally, but Karen Gillan is pretty great all the same. So, too, is the movie! I went into this not knowing quite what to expect, and it's real good I did that. Aside from a general theme of mirroring and a bunch of other things, this movie is a proper mindfuck of surreality. By around the midpoint you start to doubt what you're seeing. Past it you definitely doubt what you're seeing. Near the end, you wonder if any of what you saw was "real" to begin with. There's a Stephen King adaptation I've not covered for these yet; 1408, starring John Cusack. I only saw that movie once when it came out, but Oculus reminded me of it. Mostly because 1408, like Oculus, has the slow but steady breakdown of reality to make you doubt what you're seeing. I'm not sure what I saw for the last 100 minutes but let's try and chart it. Key word, try.

Okay, so I may or may not use the word mirror like 85 times in this. This is my playground now. Welcome to prime time, kids. So, how the hell does a haunted mirror kill you? Fucking with your head and perceptions, basically. The idea here is neat enough; two kids slowly watch their parents go crazy and their dad murder their mom, and 10 years later they come back to the house, haunted mirror in tow, because Karen Gillan's character wants to prove that the mirror is haunted. Simple setup, and the way they play the movie out is in parallel timeline, cutting back and forth between past and present. Of course, the shots mirror each other as we transition, but then... things start getting messy. The mirror's influence is felt, both in past and present, and things begin to blur. In a mad way, time starts to mirror itself. Things from the present showing up in the past, images from the past showing up in the present. In either time setting, shit begins going wrong in weird ways and showing fucked-up things that may or may not happen. The tension's high in this one, and there are only a few shots that use pain and blood as the primary scares. Everything's about perception... and how fitting, given that the main haunt of the movie is a thing that reflects images back at you. The movie itself is an unreliable narrator as things break down, showing you one thing and then revealing a totally different thing that happened.

Of course, the entire events are mirrors of each other. A woman convinced that something's going on with the mirror. A man who thinks that things are fine, but is himself being fucked up by the mirror. I'll be honest with you. I thought I had more playground to roll with, but I don't. There's only so many ways I can say that this movie toys with your perceptions and alters reality for 100 minutes, but it does. I can't say I'm entirely satisfied with how it ends, but I AM satisfied with just how much the ending mirrors itself, showing the grim finale of both past and present. That mirror is one tricky bastard, a cursed object all on its own... and if you keep questioning what's real and what's not in this one, you'll hurt your head. If you like being confused and a healthy dose of surreality, and don't mind mirror bullshit, go fire this one up. As for me... well, I'll reflect on what to do next. HEH! HEH! HEH!

Doctor Who Series 11 First Impressions: Episode 3 (Rosa)

This was always going to be a difficult one to write. I knew that ever since I found out that Doctor Who was doing a Rosa Parks episode. The masculine-presenting white person from Newfoundland with an obscure blog writing about Doctor Who's brush with American civil rights and racism? I am way out of my depth. Part of me just wants to throw up my hands, say "I thought it was good TV" and then just link to a bunch of articles written by people of color on the episode. God help me, though, we're going to try and say something about this episode. Just... take my opinion with a grain of salt, okay? And if I get anything wrong, do let me know and call me out. Okay. So, we are sort of still playing in that weird Hartnell tribute mode because what we have here is almost a historical. Of course, being new Doctor Who, it's a celebrity historical with a famous person from history. It's also not a pure historical story as there's a villain with sci-fi tech in Alabama. That being said, this episode has some of the most uncomfortable tense atmosphere I've sat through in Doctor Who... and it's because of the racism. I made a big deal out of how hostile planet Desolation was in last week's episode, but that was a jolly romp compared to this. Doctor Who's Alabama 1955 is dangerous, raw, and cruel in a way we haven't seen before. Because of all the goddamned racism. With two people of color on the TARDIS team, this is absolutely the worst place to be. Ryan gets the worst of it, given that he's black, but Yas gets her fair share as well. They have some moving interactions with each other in the episode, and it's lovely to see them stick together and try to be supportive of one another in such a hostile environment.

Let's talk about that villain, and his scheme. Kresko, the meddling greaser shitlord who's actively here to fuck with established history. No, not even fuck with. Gently nudge. Fiddling with things here and there to try and stop the circumstances which led to Rosa Parks sitting in that seat and refusing to get up. Why? Because he's a racist from the 79th century who wants to set back civil rights and put black people in their place (his words, not mine). I have been thinking about this literally since the episode finished and it's still a jumble. My immediate comparison point is Lord Sutcliffe from Thin Ice. That was a story which raised the idea of Bill being worried that history would be unkind to her, it not doing so, and then Lord Sutcliffe being a sudden shock of unkind racism 30 minutes in. He was also trying to murder people to get his own way, and it was satisfying to see his rage as he was denied what he wanted and then died a poor man's death under the frozen Thames. Kresko, for all his meddling and literal plotting to wipe out civil rights, is a remarkably chill racist. Compare him to the white-hot indignation that the white people of Montgomery display in the episode against black people, and he's just sort of casual about it. It's chilling, and also a little depressing. Yes, we get our acknowledgement from Yas and Ryan that while racism isn't as bad in their time as it is in 1955, it's still pretty fucking bad. The show would have been disingenuous if it tried to claim otherwise... but it's morbidly depressing that they canonize 79th century racism. To such a degree that a man would literally go back in time to set black civil rights back by 6000 years. We can do better in 8018. Hell, we can do better in 2018. Should Kresko have had a privileged freakout along the lines of Sutcliffe, and have his plans and plots more definitively stopped? I don't know. All I know is what was on screen. The detached casual racist gets blasted back into the distant past. Good. Butterfly effect that shit, fucko.

So, does it work? It worked for me, but again... I am not the person to be asking. It's an episode which was deeply uncomfortable and emotional to watch, but that very well could be due to the whole privilege thing. I'm glad they told the story they did, but... god, I don't even know how to end this one. I really don't. I liked it, but I'm the last person for whom liking it should be taken as any meaningful endorsement. Go look at what people who don't have the level of comfy privilege I do thought of it. The shocking oppressive atmosphere of racism was just uncomfortable for me. For a person of color, I can only begin to imagine how traumatic, moving, and relatable it might have been. For someone marginalized, I can't fathom what this one means... be it the episode's strengths or its missteps. I'll end by giving you two varying takes. The first, a Twitter thread from Black TARDIS livetweeting the episode. The second, Elizabeth Sandifer's review. That'll do for this week, I think. That will do just fine. Until I have to podcast this thing, anyway. Oh god.

Next week: You're the blessed, we're the spiders from Mars.

Sunday, 21 October 2018

Another 31 Days, Another 31 Screams: Day 21 (Dream Hunter Rem)

Ooh. More obscure deep cut stuff to delve into, if ever so briefly. So. What do we have here? Something I'm not completely finished with, but I don't have much time left to do so. Besides, I have enough material to get through a post on it. This is Dream Hunter Rem, and... what the hell is it? Well, the three episodes of it I watched were released one after the other from 1985 to 1987 as OVAs. You can definitely tell because of all the blood and nudity. We'll get to that. You can almost treat them as short movies, since the latter two clock at just under an hour. The first is a 45 minute affair that has two separate stories in about 22 minutes or so, like a regular half-hour show would. What the hell is it? A cute green-haired anime girl who investigates the supernatural and dives into people's dreams to save them from demons causing nightmares. We are absolutely on brand, considering the first OVA was released the same year as Elm Street 2 which we did yesterday. Hell, the second half of that has the most Elm Street-like plot, involving a serial killer who dies and then comes back as a dream ghost to kill people while they're asleep. I'd say that one was my favorite of the ones I viewed today, mostly because it's absolutely goddamned wild with its imagery. Make no bones about it, this shit gets vicious. Heads come off and people melt and all sorts of other nasty nonsense. The sheer horror of it all is juxtaposed by... a cute anime girl who transforms into something off of a goddamn cheap fantasy novel, with a sword and bikini armor. Oh, and in the real world she's got a Magnum with silver bullets that have crosses engraved in the heads. Because fuck vampires AND werewolves at the same time, I guess.

Rem is absolutely a very strange series of episodes, and ones I find it hard to recommend. I did enjoy the third OVA, which mixed a headless horseman ghost with traditional Japanese samurai to have a headless samurai come back from the dead... but at that point it wasn't really about diving into dreams. It was just Rem fighting a ghost for 55 minutes. It was very good, but it didn't have the surreal crunchy dream quality to it. Episode 2 was the best in this regard, with dream kills and some quite striking imagery, but something about it didn't click with me. Even if it ended with the haunted clock tower the episode's vengeful demon was locked in turning into a giant robot and no I am not kidding holy fuck Japan. No, the thing that keeps me from shouting that you should go see Rem is the nudity. The original first episode was straight-up a hentai, and you can absolutely see where things would veer outside of PG-13 even in the later, non-lewd cut. It's questionable fanservice, to be sure, but it's only there for a short time. If that helps you any. I just had to bring it up because I don't want you bumbling into it like I somewhat did. There's two other episodes of Rem made in the 90's, called New Dream Hunter Rem. I'm going to delve into those but I've not as I write this. No, just the three will do for today. If nothing else, Rem is...  a very interesting thing to watch. This is a short one as I am pressed for time, but you know. If the premise interests you and you don't mind the stuff I've tried to warn you about, fire up some Rem. It's bloody in spots and has some weird bits, but overall it's pretty neat. I think. I'm still really not sure.

Saturday, 20 October 2018

Another 31 Days, Another 31 Screams: Day 20 (A Nightmare On Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge)

Dreams come true.
Really, it was either this or the one that Rachel Talalay directed, and I don't know enough about directing to talk about the wild shit she did in it so... Part 2! Which is, paradoxically, one of the most discussed AND least discussed films in the whole Nightmare On Elm Street series. I should clarify that statement; people talk about it, but they talk about it because of a major element of subtext going on in the movie and not so much because it's an iconic entry in a famous slasher series. Countless ink has been spilled on the subject, no doubt, and I have to at least mention it in this post. Yeah, there's gay subtext floating all through this thing. You'd think I'd have a lot to say on this, but I don't. Mostly because 1) the work's been done before and 2) it would have required me digging deeper into the special features and video essays to properly cover. The most blatant it gets textually, of course, is our poor hero staggering into an S&M bar and getting caught by his gym teacher who's in a leather vest, followed minutes later by the gym teacher being tied up and ass-whipped by telekinetically-moving towels before Freddy slashes the fuck out of him. This is also the first kill of the movie, 35 minutes in. Yeah. There is something going on here but I am in no way qualified to be talking about it... so I'm not going to. Take it on good faith that people who know what they're doing have discussed this in depth and can be found out there, and let's move on to the shit I know; alchemy and the power of love.

There is some real wild shit going on here that doesn't quite go on in the other movies, from what I recall. Even if it does, this one did them first by virtue of chronology. The dream aspect is carried over, of course, but it's all used for surreality. As poor Jesse is going through the bender, so too do all your perceptions. Absolute weird shit going on, but the point of the movie is the mixing of these worlds. Dream becoming reality. Freddy Krueger, who wants revenge against someone due to the title but I don't know whom, seeks to use Jesse to bridge the gap. To become real. This lets weird shit happen in reality, particularly involving heat. The house gets hotter as we go along, shit starts lighting on fire, birds exploding... it didn't click with me until near the end that this was all because Freddy, you know, was fucking burned alive. His manifestation in this world mirrors his previous last moments! Goddamn, that's clever! Why Jesse? Because he lives in the house where Nancy killed Freddy in the last movie, and I guess he lives on somehow waiting for a host. Now I'm really curious which movie made it canon that Freddy came back to kill kids and get his revenge on the parents. This one doesn't make it textual, and I'm wondering now if I imagined it. I do like how this one's a slow burn, though. Until the shit hits the fan, you only get two actual murders. The first we mentioned, but the second's wild because Jesse becomes Freddy in a real fucked-up transformation scene. Like some kind of horrific magical girl. Keep that one in mind, we're gonna come back to that. Eventually, Freddy does manifest in reality, and what follows is him running around a pool party and slashing teens. It seems off in an Elm Street film, but in a movie about dreams becoming reality this is par for the course.

The climax to this movie, and Freddy's weakness, is literally love. I can already hear a lot of people rolling their eyes, be it now or in 1985. Yeah, he can't kill the female lead because she loves Jesse and that is holding Freddy back. On the surface, it sounds silly as hell. Digging deeper, I can see some wild merit in it. Mostly because I wrote 20,000 words about Sailor Moon and I'm like a shark sniffing blood when it comes to utopian idealism. This isn't quite it, but it's almost it. A more tragic movie would kill Jesse and Freddy, together. Indeed, Lisa tries to stab him but it doesn't work out because... Freddy's stab-proof? I guess? No, what we get is Lisa confronting Freddy in an abandoned factory while all kinds of fucked up shit happens because... shit, dreams are reality now! Anything can happen! Lisa confronts Freddy, seeing right past him and looking to Jesse and declaring her love for him. Freddy is at first taunting, saying Jesse's dead... but as he starts to bleed from the sheer force of the returned love? His tone changes. He gets more panicked in his declarations that Jesse's dead. Eventually it's enough to burn him up, and things are mirrored once more. Freddy burst out of Jesse, and now Jesse bursts out of Freddy's re-burnt corpse. Yeah, we get a dumb fakeout dream scare that literally has a fake scare in it; Freddy's toying with us now. I liked this movie! I liked it a lot! Shame there's no other Elm Streets quite like it, as we went back to the well of killing in dreams and added the new wrinkle of "themed" dreams... but that's talk for Part 3, if we ever do that. For now, I gotta say... this one was nice. As nice as can be for a movie with a zombie dream murderer, but that's Halloween, kids. That's Halloween.

Any other dream shit I can look at?

Friday, 19 October 2018

Another 31 Days, Another 31 Screams: Day 19 (Sharknado)

This is stupid.
It's another one of those entries. Yes, time again for both you and I to throw up our hands and say, succinctly, "the fuck?". The fact that a movie like this got made doesn't surprise me. Lord knows there's a million low-budget shlocky so-bad-it's-good shark movies out there. The fact that this one achieved the notorioty that it did, getting five sequels? That baffles me. You're kidding if you think I'm touching another five of these, but let's look at that Wikipedia link and see how farfetched they get. We go from a B-movie disaster picture melding Twister with Jaws to... the end of the world? A time travel plot about battling other Sharknadoes throughout history and then undoing the franchise? What in the actual fuck went on with this series? I was there when this came out. I PVRed it on Space, I watched it, and well... I still don't know. I guess a shitload of people wanted this particularly brazen over-the-top nonsense, and I can't claim myself exempt because I've seen the fucker twice now. Let's try, somehow or another, to take this in some sort of direction. If I could do it to Godzilla 1998, I can make an attempt with Sharknado. God help us, this is our analysis.

A charitable reading of the film would suggest that this trades in subversion and dark comedy. You don't think so-and-so is going to die, but WHOOPS HAHA THEY TOTALLY BIT IT. A less charitable one would say it makes no goddamned sense and has tonal whiplash left and right. The opening certainly has jack and shit to do with anything that happens, beyond giving you more sharks killing people. John Heard, creepy old man character that he's playing, probably should have lived past the 1/3rd mark. Tara Reid's new boyfriend literally exists to be a jerk for two minutes and then die. The wildest, of course, is the poor bus driver. He makes it out of a tough situation only to die in a wild bit of black comedy. There's one swerve to this logic, which we'll get to in the hero shot of the movie, but let's talk about those goddamned sharknadoes. On paper, of course, it is absolutely fucking stupid. Indeed, the movie is more about sharks than the tornadoes which accompany them. I think only one person actually dies to the suction of the tornado, compared to a shitload who fall prey to shark attacks. You'd think someone just wanted to make a tornado movie and tried to make it THE COOLEST SHIT EVER by making the tornados full of fucking sharks, but it's the other way around: the tornadoes support the sharks. There's also the matter of literally blowing up the tornadoes to dissipate them with a rush of warm air, which... That can't possibly make any real scientific sense, can it? It's technobabble that almost makes sense. I guess.

The best goddamn bit of the movie is the ending, actually, and no I am not trying to make a clever joke about how the high point was when the credits roll. The honor goes to the moment when protagonist Fin leaps into the mouth of a shark with a revved chainsaw, and cuts his way out from the inside. That is the kind of absolutely dumb shit I expect from a movie that fuses sharks and tornadoes, and it's a pity we didn't really get too much more of it. Oh, the movie's dumb and gory but it never reaches anything near as gloriously stupid as that moment. Hell, he even cuts one of the supporting characters who got eaten earlier out of the shark! And she lives! Is it contrived? God yes. Is it one final reverse act of subversion? Oh lord yes. How about that? I managed to find a weird dark mirroring in Sharknado of all things. Okay. Fuck it. We are getting out while we still can. The day I find deeper ground to tread in a fucking movie about shark tornadoes is the day I just publish this post and lay down for the rest of the night. Oh look. That's right now. See you tomorrow.