Author Archive

Hell House, 1999 ed., Richard Matheson
I’ve talked about Matheson and this book and the film version on multiple occasions, and it remains a very peculiar story that uses haunting as a metaphor for male anxiety, in defiance of the usual ghost story tropes. So…yeah.

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We open with film student Darius Pogue is sitting in a cinema, watching a revival of the 1941 The Wolf Man, and probably annoying the other patrons by quietly reciting along with the dialog. After the film is over, he heads into the alley next door, and scratches his with with a wolf-paw, under the full moon, while reciting the “wolfsbane” dialog from the film, unaware that bullying fellow student Blair and his cronies are filming him in the midst of his psychotic break. The next day in class, the professor is attempting to lecture on the realism and naturalism of 30s cinema, when Blair interrupts with a snotty comment about the superiority of foreign film and Darius praises the “scarlet cinema” for its uniquely American perspective on film, to the professor’s approval. So Blair interrupts class again to show the footage he shot last night, further annoying the professor. And, slight aside here, but having taken some film and cultural studies courses in my time, the notion that the snotty film students are dismissive of American genre productions is a tough pill to swallow. Also, who the fuck calls horror movies “the scarlet cinema?” No the fuck body, that’s who.

Anyway, back at the shop, the gang is in the midst of doing some repairs when fellow film student and object of Darius’ crush, Carissa comes in looking to rent some merchandise for her student film, which leads to her and Darius renting cameras from and old friend of Jack’s. Darius finds himself drawn to a vintage film camera, and steals it when the shop owner refuses to sell. Back at his dorm room, Darius, who likes werewolves more than I do and it’s sort of known as a thing with me, is lamenting the unfairness of life when the camera turns itself on and starts playing back footage of The Wolf Man, specifically the transformation sequence, intercut with footage of the camera shop. This all culminates in footage of a wolf man killing the store owner, while Darius watches in his dorm room. Jack, on his way for a drink with his friend, discovers the police taking the body out of the shop, and so heads back to the shop to get Ryan and Micki to search the records for anything to do with cameras or werewolves. Meanwhile Darius, who had also been in the crowd, returns to his dorm to open up the camera and finds the message “3 deaths and you get your wish” written on the film inside. Another run-in with Blair the next day pretty much moves him to the top of Darius’s hit list. While Jack and Micki learn that Lewis never cursed anything to do with werewolf lore, Ryan’s investigations lead him to the revival house and Darius, because we only have twenty minutes left in this episode. Darius films Blair and his late 80s car phone, which leads to Blair being killed by a wolfman, and Ryan finding Darius.

Darius, whose cover is now blown by narrative demands, starts filming Ryan as well, who manages to escape when Darius is distracted by a neighbor because the rules for this curse are kind of vague. At the shop, Jack finds mention of a tri-lens film camera in the Manifest and gears up for some werewolf hunting, and at the college the film professor opens the mid-term project sessions with a screening of Darius’ film, consisting of the footage of Blair’s death, which prompts a lecture from the professor about tasteless and irresponsible film-making instead of a call to the police. And, so, Darius starts filming the professor before storming out of class. Jack goes to get some silver bullets made and learns that Darius had some made too, just as Carissa comes in and tells them about the professor raking him over the coals. The gang arrives too late to save the professor, and Darius is then bitten in a not at all homoerotic manner by the now living werewolf, which he kills with silver bullets. The wolfman dissolves in a burst of burnt celluloid as Darius begins to transform in the light of the fourth fool moon in a row. The gang arrives too late to stop him, but they do recover the camera, and save Carissa, who Darius is now stalking. They lock her in the vault in the shop, to little effect, and Ryan saves the day when he strangles WolfDarius with the silver-nitrate coated film in the camera.

“Film nerd werewolf” is a story concept that deserved a better episode than this. I’m not sure if the script ran short or what, but there’s a notable over-reliance on clips from the 1941 film as filler, and several repeated sequences. The regulars aren’t given much to do, unsurprising in the wearker episodes, and the resolution of the werewolf problem relies heavily on coincidence and convenience. The antique itself is also poorly conceived, as the whole “bring a werewolf to life” thing is odd given that there already is a werewolf killing people when it’s used and Darius wants to be a werewolf not have one. But we do have some more confirmation for the theory that the antiques don’t work for just anyone, as the camera clearly sat around, possibly through multiple owners, before Darius found it and used it (though the possibility of an owner using it before it ended up in the shop does exist).

A Very Robey 80s

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The Good The Bad And The Infernal, 2013, Guy Adams
A weird western about several disparate groups of individuals trying to find Wormwood, a semi-mythical town that appears once every 100 years, containing a doorway to the afterlife. This time (the 1890s) it appears somewhere in the American West.
It’s a brisk book, with an engaging set of characters, even if a few of them are trying too hard to be memorable.

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Somewhere, what appears to be an office block in Not Canada, a John picks up a very tv-friendly prostitute and brings her back to his house. Only, instead of bringing the woman home for some adult fun, the John, disgraced scientist Warren Voss, straps her down to a gurney and uses an antique syringe to extract some sort of glandular fluid. Which he then injects into his animalistic daughter, calming her down. As we learn when his former colleague stops by, the daughter, Amanda, has some kind of degenerative hyper-violence condition that requires hospitalization, which Voss is of course refusing because he has access to a magic cursed antique syringe and is passing off their effects as “private research.” Over at the shop, Jack and Ryan are wondering if this string of prostitute murders they’re reading about in the paper could be related to an antique when Micki arrives with her previously never mentioned best friend Linda, who is in town looking for a new apartment.

Back at the Voss house, his most recent “donor” escapes, and just happens to be hit by Linda’s car as she drives back to the shop after a date with Ryan. That’s right, we’ve not only got a “never mentioned before friend” but a love interest, too! So we know something terrible will happen to Linda. And sure enough, while Ryan goes to make a phone call, Voss knocks him out and abducts Linda. Voss immediately sets to work extracting fluid from Linda, and as he records his experiments we learn that he doesn’t even realize that he’s using an evil magic antique and thinks he’s doing real science, with plans to transplant tissue into his daughter to cure her condition. The police, meanwhile, aren’t much more help to our protagonists than saying “yep, that’s the missing prostitute, and whoever had her has your friend,” leaving the heroes to investigate on their own. The combination of needle-marks and a man in the lab coat allows Jack to narrow the search down to a 19th century doctor who claimed to be Jack the Ripper, which means Lewis got his hands on two items from him.

Back at the Voss house, a court-appointed nurse arrives just in time for Amanda to regress to her hyper-violent state again. When the nurse sees Voss adminster an injection to Amanda, she calls the authorities, and gets thrown down a flight of stairs for her trouble, just when Micki arrives to get herself kidnapped as well. Micki comes to in a cage, hog-tied and wearing a hospital gown, and sees a completely bestial Linda strapped to a gurney. Voss, unsurprisingly, is dismissive of Micki’s efforts to convince him that the syringe is cursed, and explains his goal to end violence and murder by transplanting brain tissue into his daughter. Jack and Ryan, meanwhile, track down Voss’s former colleague, the registered buyer of the syringe, and learn that Voss was fired after accidentally injecting his daughter with the disease that caused her hyper-violence. When Voss vivisects Linda to prove his theory, he then uses the syringe on Micki in preparation for the transplant, with Jack and Ryan arriving just as he begins to prep for the surgery. Their arrival prompts Voss to sic a near-feral Micki on them so he can escape with Amanda, who turns on him and kills him when he lingers a little too long. Micki is restored, Amanda is committed, and Jack gets to wax poetic about how even love isn’t a good motive for murder.

This is one of the messier episodes, and definately a bit hard to pin down. The main cast sits out for a good chunk of it, and aren’t given much to do when they are around. The story, despite name-dropping Jack the Ripper, is really taking it’s cue from The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, with maybe a smidgen of Eyes Without A Face thrown in there as well. But what the episode mostly seems to be about is abducting and torturing women. It’s not a well the show goes to all that often, but it always feels off when it does, as it’s not really a subset of horror tropes that works well with the show’s premise and cast.

A Very Robey 80s

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We open on a picturesque Not Canada cemetery, as Joanne Mackie (previously seen in Vanity’s Mirror reflects on the circumstances that lead to the death of her sister and boyfriend, namely her sister getting her hands on a cursed compact and going on a killing spree with it. Luckily, Joanne has taken the locket and is keeping it safe, so that it can’t hurt anyone ever again, and she’s doing so by keeping it with her in her purse and taking it out to vow never to let anyone use it hurt anyone from time to time. So we know where this is heading. Especially since in the next scene we find out that Joanne is working as an assistant on a fashion shoot, which is definitely not the type of environment where vain or ambitious people might find a cursed antique a useful means of getting ahead.

At the shoot, aging super-model Tabitha is being upstaged by younger models and ignored by her photographer/lover Emery, and no matter how much fussing over her Joanne does, it’s clear that Tabitha is on her way out professionally. So it’s entirely expected that, when Joanne gets called to the set, Tabitha finds the compact while searching for some touch-up powder. Joanne doesn’t learn the compact’s missing until after she finds out that the magazine publisher orchestrating this shoot plans to have Tabitha fired and the entire shoot redone with the younger models. Tabitha argues with her plastic surgeon over the advisability of having more work done when she shines the light from the compact into his eyes, causing him to fall off a balcony and die, and magically restoring a portion of her looks. Over at Curious Goods, Micki and Ryan are dealing with Jack’s incredibly severe case of Man Flu when Joanne arrives and confesses that she lost the compact. Taking Micki and Ryan back to the shoot to look for the compact, they’re in time to see Tabitha arrive and get rehired, on the basis of her looking nowhere near as old and tired as she had in the previous photographs Emery had shown the publisher, but still old enough that the cover is a toss-up between Tabitha and one of the younger models, Sandy. At least until Tabitha shines the compact in Sandy’s face, who goes on to have an easily preventable accident involving a can of aerosol hair spray and a cigarette. Her callous attitude towards the horrible disfigurement of another model prompts another round of flash-backs for Joanne, clueing her in on where the compact went.

At the shop, Jack realizes that the compact works differently for Tabitha than it did for Helen because they’ve misunderstood the nature of the curse; it doesn’t make people fall in love with the holder, it feeds off the vanity of the holder to enact their revenge on others. The gang rushes off to the photoshoot, as Tabitha fumes over learning that Emery has been cheating on her with Kamichi, the remaining model, and flashes both of them with the compact during the shoot. When a bank of lights crashes down on the pair of them, Joanne snatches the compact away. She quickly gets cornered by Tabitha, who grabs the compact back just as Micki and Ryan arrive, with Micki grabbing a make-up mirror and shielding Joanne’s face with it when Tabitha tries to shine the compact on her. The reflection of the light hits Tabitha, who quickly ages into a dried out husk.

There’s a lot of fancy 80s ladies in this episode, which is unsurprising given the subject matter, but all those fancy ladies leads to a lot of padding. As if the flashbacks weren’t enough (about 15 minutes of the 42 minute run time is devoted to them), a fair amount of time is eaten up by showing models standing around getting photographed. It makes for a very short episode, dragged out. We’ve already seen the antique in question before, but learning that they function differently for different people creates an interesting wrinkle, and goes some way towards answering some of those questions raised by the more specific and narrowly functioning cursed antiques. It also supports the theory that it takes the right kind of person to get them to work, as the compact never even tempted Joanne, who had it in her possession for at least a year.

A Very Robey 80s

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