We open with some impressive underwater footage, which given the show’s budget, is probably of the stock variety, before cutting to Jonah, and evil salvage ship captain using a cursed lantern. It exposes the location of buried treasure on the ocean floor, but the diver who recovers it must then be burned by the lantern’s flame. Probably. Since we’re coming in at what would usually be the end of one of these stories, it’s a little hard to tell. Luckily, Jack and Ryan are there to grab the lantern before anyone else can get killed, so we’re pretty much done, right?

Back at Curious Goods (which we now see is located on Druid Avenue…999 Druid Ave…) Jack is explaining the “upside and downside” of the curse as he and Ryan prepare to leave for an astrologer’s convention as a storm is brewing up. But as they leave, we see that Noah and his surviving henchman have followed them to the shop. While Micki gets the shop ready for the storm, Noah and his henchman scheme a way to get into the vault (which Noah, conveniently, knows about from when he purchased the lantern from Lewis). The storm worsens into a hurricane and Micki agrees to babysit Richie, a neighborhood boy, and Noah kills a utility worker and steals his equipment to bluff his way into the shop. Richie is a stereotypical 80s tv brat, scaring Micki and pestering her to let him read Ryan’s comics, but this does of course mean that he is the one to discover Noah attempting to break into the Vault.

Noah ties up Richie and forces Micki to tell him how to get into the Vault. At first she plays dumb, but a little fire to her hair convinces her to switch tack and try to bluff him into giving her access to the Manifest. This plan doesn’t really come to much, and she’s eventually forced to open the Vault, just as a policeman finds the dead utility worker. Noah’s henchman is completely unable to bluff the cop and gets shot through the door for his trouble, prompting Noah to lock Micki and Richie in the now open Vault, as he grabs a random antique to face off with the cop. Noah stabs the cop with the antique, which presumably is not how this one works as nothing special happens, and takes time to steal his dead henchman’s valuables. When he returns, Micki and Richie make a break for it with the lantern. Unable to escape, they arrange a trap to electrocute Noah when he grabs the lantern. He recovers quickly, and even being thrown down the stairs only slows him down, but is ultimately defeated when Micki uses a mirror to reflect the lantern’s light back on him. And the next day Jack and Ryan come home and complain about what a terrible night they had.

It’s a bottle episode, and it’s a “cast-light” one to boot. Nothing in particular is wrong with either of those things, but the combination of a rather uninteresting antique, an undeveloped villain, and the one setting does cause the story to drag more than a little. Like last time, though, Robey actually acquits herself well when given something to do, and she carries what little story there is admirably.

A Very Robey 80s

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There are things from your childhood that you barely remember. And, because you were so small when you saw them, you are utterly unable to articulate anything about them to others, and they end up sounding like some feverish dream you had when you were sick. Eventually, you start to half-accept that you never actually saw it, or if you did, that it was fundamentally different from what you remember.
Then you’re in another state and find it in the “Under $10″ bin at at national discount chain.

Witch’s Night Out is an animated special about Tender and Small, who are looking forward to dressing up and scaring people on Halloween. Unfortunately, Goodly and Nicely (yes, really), with help from Malicious and Rotten (oh, God, yes, really), decide that what Halloween really needs is to be made into a meaningful, sophisticated holiday for adults, and so they plan to hold a party at the allegedly haunted house in town. Tender and Small end up having their night ruined, and not even a bed time story from their baby-sitter Bazooie can cheer them up. At the party, which looks more like a prelude to a particularly creepy orgy, the witch (voiced by Gilda Radner and looking like an extra from Grey Gardens) who lives in the house is frustrated at her inability to scare anyone. She hears Small making a wish for a scary Halloween and rushes off to the children, transforming them into monsters. The monsters scare the party-goers, which also fails to make the children happy, and the witch loses her wand in the process. Just as the townspeople are preparing a lynch mob to kill the children, the witch gets her wand back and calms everyone down by agreeing to transform the townspeople into their heart’s desires for one night.

As animated holiday specials go, this is a particularly strange one. The character designs are very simple, consisting broadly of outlines and barely rendered faces. Thematically, it fits, what with the characters named by traits thing going on, but it also makes for a very dated appearance. It looks exactly like what you would expect a slightly cheap effort by a bunch of animation school students to put out in the late 70s. It’s not particularly funny, or engaging, despite Radner putting out some one-liners as the witch, so it’s probably not terribly surprising that it never entered the holiday film canon. Mostly what I remember from it as a kid is how Nicely, the fluffy ball of pink sweetness, was absolutely horrifying.

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Some films never really get their due. Philip Ridley’s The Reflecting Skin is certainly one of those. It’s a lyrical dark fantasy about the “nightmare of childhood”, as one character puts it, with deep symbolism and ambiguity layered over it. But apart from some notoriety in gore fan circles for a sequence featuring an exploding frog, it’s been mostly neglected. Even the DVD release was a bare bones affair dumped out cheaply by Miramax to try and capitalize on Viggo Mortensen’s Lord of the Rings celebrity. Which is a shame, as it’s a hauntingly beautiful and unsettling film.

Seth Dove is a young boy growing up in rural Idaho at some point after the second World War. He spends his days tormenting the local widow, Dolphin Blue, and getting into minor squabbles with his friends, when he’s not being abused by his mother or ignored by his father. Local children, we soon learn, have been going missing, and Seth, after listening to his father describe a pulp novel about vampires he has been reading, comes to believe that Dolphin is killing the children. The local sheriff, however, pins the blame on Seth’s father, who is known to be a closeted gay man. The real culprits seem to be a group of greasers driving around, seemingly unnoticed, in a hearse-like black cruiser, but the suspicion drives Seth’s father to kill himself. Seth’s brother, Cameron, is released from the military, where he had been involved in nuclear testing on Pacific islands, to care for Seth, but instead begins a sexual relationship with Dolphin, furthering Seth’s obsession with the vampire motiff. As more children die, Seth retreats further into fantasy, even concocting a story about an aborted fetus he finds being the “murdered angel” of one of his friends. Cameron begins to display signs of radiation poisoning, which prompts Seth to make one final effort to save his brother. He lures Dolphin into the care of the greasers, but when her body is found Cameron continues to reject him, leaving Seth shattered.

There are a lot of arresting images and suggestive themes running through this film (drinking and water in a dry, landlocked area are particularly common), but it’s hard to pin any of them down concretely, since the film operates on a kind of dream logic. Partly, it’s that everything we see is filtered through Seth’s understanding of the world, which is childlike both in terms of naivete and in that certain sadism that children can possess. Seth does not understand what is going on around him, and he latches onto fantasy notions and play to try and make sense of his world, but it’s clear that he doesn’t understand distinctly the differences between what is real and what is play. But there’s a further ambiguity over how much is real or fantasy or something else. The murderous greasers, for example, escape the notice of everyone but Seth and people who are soon to die. There’s something vaguely unreal about them, and the cryptic way in which their leaders asks Seth if he’s ready to go for a ride suggest that there’s more than just anonymous child killers to them. But every time the film goes in directions like this, it elides the question, leaving a viewer to simply accept that these are not puzzles that can or are meant to be solved.

I think ultimately that is the best approach, as it ties into the two thesis statements, of a sort, that the film offers, both from Dolphin Blue. The first, is that “sometimes terrible things happen quite naturally” and that is what the film shows us. That all the terrible things that Seth sees and experiences, in a twisted way, follow from the little actions and silences that have gone before. The second, offered near the end, is that this is all “the nightmare of childhood” the gradual loss of innocence and surety as knowledge and age affect someone. By the end of the film, Seth’s childhood is over and all his friends are dead, but he’s still not ready to go for that ride.

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Horrorween, 2006, Al Sarrantonio
It is remotely possible that I occasionally buy cheap used books for this.

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In suburban Not Canada, a drifter inquires about a room for rent at a not at all suspicious looking home, where the landlady has been looking for a male tenant to fill the void left by her late husband. He thinks he’s in store for widow nookie, but nope, vampire, with a magical cape that lets people travel through time.
This is one of those “just go with it” episodes, by the way.

Our heroes show up just in time for Frank the drifter to get turned into a landlady, hypnotize Micki, and whisk Ryan and Micki with him to 1875 London. Which is filmed in black and white.
As I said, a “just go with it” episode.
Micki and Ryan almost immediately make the aquitance of Abraham, an Irish writer, and his new bride Caitlan, who offer to take the pair who can’t seem to stop dropping broad “we’re time travelers” hints home with them. Frank, in the meantime, takes quite naturally to being a vampire, and starts depleting the local prostitute population. Subtle as ever, Micki and Ryan spill the beans to Abraham and Caitlan that they need to recover a magic cape from a vampire to get home, while Micki slowly succumbs to an eerie state caused by Frank’s hypnosis. Ryan, at least, is genre-savvy enough to want to wait for the morning to track down Frank, though the arrival of an angry mob searching for a vampire brings him, Micki and Abraham out into the fog.

Micki’s hypnosis eventually leads the trio to Frank’s lair, where our vampire has found that removing the cloak turns him into an aged monster. Micki nearly gets the boys killed, but a handy application of garlic lets everyone make their escape. Leaving Micki in Caitlan’s care, Ryan and Abraham stock up for a day of vampire killing. Unfortunately, sunset comes early and Frank tracks down Micki to Abraham’s flat, killing Caitlan in the process of taking his “bride.” Events culminate in Frank’s lair, where Abraham stakes him and Micki and Ryan use the cloak to return home. Once there, Jack deduces that Abraham was Bram Stoker and the events served as the basis for Dracula because of course they did.

This…is a very silly episode. Not just because the antique is the most vaguely powered one they’ve encountered yet, nor for the matter of fact way the show drops in the idea that vampires are a thing, but also for the extremely tiring black-and-white sequences which make up most of it. The one bright spot is Robey, clearly having a ball hamming it up and chewing scenery in her hypnotized scenes.

A Very Robey 80s

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