On a brisk evening in Not Canada, a businessman leaves work to buy a carnation for a homely woman’s flower stall. He understandably becomes distressed when she starts making insistent romantic overtures, but changes his mind and becomes smitten with her after she shines a light into his eyes from a compact mirror. They sneak off to an alley, and because it’s this show, she kills him by dropping a ladder on his head. She’s hit by a truck while making her escape, and the compact rolls off into the crowd, where it’s picked up by a homely teenage girl.

At Curious Goods, Jack and Ryan are congratulating themselves for recovering 23 cursed antiques (and since this is episode 15, whoo, expanded universe openings!), while Micki (wearing a fez) points out that that is less than 10% of the number of curses out there. To keep her happy, Ryan finds an object sold locally they can track down, a gold compact. Meanwhile, at a Not Canadian high school, Helen, the girl from earlier, is walking across campus and petulantly arguing with her sister Joanne and her sister’s boyfriend Scott, when some other boys begin making fun of Helen’s looks. Scott comes to her rescue, and it’s clear that Helen has a strong crush on her sister’s beau. At the shop, Micki and Ryan report that the woman who bought the compact is dead, though her landlady reports that she had many gentleman callers, while Jack notices in the newspaper article about the woman’s death you can see a girl in a letterman’s jacket picking up something, because of course you can. Back at the school, a vaguely Conan O’Brien-ish looking boy makes a semi-sincere effort to ask Helen out to the prom, but she angrily rejects him, causing him to get angry and storm off calling her names. Which is when she takes out her compact and flashes him with it, causing him to profess his love for her. Helen realizes that he’s sincere, and enjoys showing off his infatuation with her to the school, but sours when Scott utterly fails to be jealous. So she lures Conan into the school’s trash compacter and turns it on, killing him.

At the shop, our heroes have been scouring local high school yearbooks looking for the girl in the photo. Conveniently, like all high school girls, Helen is listed in the phone book, so Micki plans to pose as an antique dealer to buy the compact while Ryan checks out the school. When Micki gets to Helen’s house, Helen is the only one who seems nonplussed over Conan’s death, and angrily insists that she doesn’t have the compact, and Ryan is elected to go undercover at the school despite being obviously too old to be a student even by “tv high school student” standards. The next day at school, Conan’s buddy, an 80s version of early 2000 Shia LaBeouf, confronts Helen over Conan’s death, so she whips out the compact on him and makes him lie down on a table saw. Ryan catches up, and in trying to get away from a girl with a mirror, manages to fall off a catwalk and knock himself out. That night, Joanne is thrilled to discover that Helen is planning to go to prom, but Helen is cagey about who her date is, because of course she is planning to use the compact on Scott. Once she does so, the pair of them beat Joanne and place her in a deathtrap designed to look like she hung herself…with a gag and her hands tied behind her back. Micki and Jack find Ryan and learn that Helen has the compact, leaving Jack to go rescue Joanne in the nick of time and the others to crash the prom. When confronted with the inevitability that she’ll have to kill Scott, Helen takes him to the school roof and jumps off with him. In the resulting chaos, our heroes are unable to recover the compact, leaving it to be discovered by someone else.

This is one of the stronger episodes in the series. It’s nicely plotted and paced, with a villain whose motives are understandable while remaining unsympathetic. The “upside/downside” nature of the curses is clear, and the tendency for the antiques to fall into the hands of those predisposed to use them is subtly acknowledged. Most importantly, and in a clear change of pace for the procedural nature of the show, the heroes actually “lose” this one. It’s quite a key acknowledgement, as it establishes that these really are big stakes and dangerous things the heroes are dealing with, and they quite simply can’t count on always coming through in the end they way they’d like.

A Very Robey 80s

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The Falcon: The Falcon Strikes, 1982, Mark Ramsay
Though not as common as Western or Espionage themes, the “men’s adventure” genre did delve into fantasy from time to time.
Seriously, the “writing sample” teaser on this is the main character getting a hand-job.

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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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© 2012 Dorian Wright Some Images © Their Respective Copyright Holders