When the title of the episode is “A Friend to the End” and we open in a cemetery, we know we’re in for something slightly twisted this time. In this case, it’s Howard and Marjorie, a nice older couple doing a bit of grave-robbing, stealing the corpse of a boy who died in 1891. They take him to their Not A Murder House style home and place the bones in a coffin, just in time for the foreign au pair to arrive and get attacked by the corpse, which then transforms into a real live boy. Well, relatively speaking. And then we cut from the grainy flashback to a modern art studio, where DeJager is using the Shard of Medusa to create vaguely sapphic statues with the models she kills. When Ryan is too late to save her latest model, Micki decides to volunteer, just in time for JB, Micki’s never before mentioned nephew by her never before mentioned sister is dumped on them apparently for the nth time. Rather than call the Not Canadian Child Protective Services, the pair gives the kid an antique bicycle and tells him to entertain himself at the park, as they prepare to go deal with a stock evil lesbian.

JB heads out to the projects and meets a gang of kids doing stunts on their bitching mountain bikes, unaware that they’re really just amusing themselves by bullying him. Specifically, by daring him to go into the Not A Murder House where Ricky and his parents, and a whole slew of alleged other people, went missing, leaving behind only “blood and gore.” Inside the house is decrepit and rotting, save for a child’s play room in pristine condition, and a voice asking JB to be his friend, prompting JB to run outside and discover that his bike has now been stolen. Back at the shop, Micki and Ryan, who have dealt with time-travelling vampires and doll houses that eat people, are skeptical of JB’s claim to have seen a ghost, and so when Micki and Ryan go off to deal with DeJager, JB sneaks out to the prove there’s a ghost. Instead he finds Ricky, a slightly anachronisic boy, leaving alone in a deserted, decrepit house, who wants his new friend to stay with him but forbids him to enter a specific room, in between having fits and flashbacks to an abusive 19th century father. When JB decides its time to go back home, Ricky asks for him to call the drugstore to send someone over, so that Ricky can kill and eat him as he starts to turn back into a corpse. Meanwhile, back in the B Story, Micki and Ryan manage to get the Shard of Medusa back.

It’s a short lived win, though, as Micki and Ryan get back to the shop to find DeJager holding JB hostage. She gets away with the Shard and JB throws a tantrum when Ryan continues to insist that he’s making up stories about Ricky. Because Ryan knows where his priorities should lie. Ryan goes over DeJager and Micki stays with JB, who sneaks out again the next day when Micki forbids him to see Ricky again, prompting her to actually stop and think and so quickly finding evidence that, yep, the Not A Murder house is actually a Murder House! And not only that, but the owners were corresponding with Lewis Vendredei and bought things from him! Micki rushes off to save JB, who turns on Ricky when he sees the boy try to kill a cop, and winds up trapped in the corpse storage room under a broken stairwell. Ricky gets the jump on Micki when she arrives and is about to kill her when JB pleads with him to let her go because they’re friends, at which point either the magic runs out or Ricky relents, and turns back to a pile of bones. And so JB goes back home learning an important lesson about friendship, and Ryan fails to stop DeJager from escaping.

This is one of occasionally frustrating episodes the series throws out, because it’s so close to being good but just misses the mark. There’s some ambition going on here, with some interesting lighting and camera angles used to build suspense, but the child actors making up the bulk of the scenes using those techniques take you out of the story a bit. There’s also the rather jumbled Shard of Medusa subplot, which is nice in that it’s another “one that got away” story, but it’s a big hook to use and not really do anything with. Then there’s the fact that we have two queer coded villains here, the stock Evil Lesbian, DeJager, who is only in that subplot that doesn’t go anywhere, and the fey dead boy Ricky, whose almost obsessive attachment to JB reads like subtext trying to break through the limits of what the censors would allow with preteen characters. We have both a regressive queer and an almost maybe kinda sorta progressive but not really queer in the same story, and it creates a bit of whiplash.

A Very Robey 80s

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In the balmy 1982 of Not Canada, a gambler is bragging on the phone to his bookie how his “new system” will wipe him out. So it’s no big surprise when said gambler gets shot moments later. In “the present”, in the same sitting room, Donald Wren (played by recurring guest Denis Forest) smashes the television and argues with his mother about his gambling debts, so we can presume like-father-like-son thanks to narrative causality. A supposition confirmed when Donald hides in his mother’s shop, leaving his mother to deal with the guys he owes money to and presumably the same guys who killed his father. Angelo, the nice mob enforcer, punches out Ma Wren and breaks Donald’s hand before ransacking their home/thrift shop for anything of value to cover Donald’s debt, eventually finding a World Series ring. When Angelo puts it on, he’s thrown and dragged around the room, making a good facsimile of being beaten to death. When Donald takes the ring back from the corpse, the gemstone on the ring shows him the name and number of an upcoming horse race. So, World Series ring that kills people and then predicts the outcome of sporting events. Lewis was apparently reaching the day he crafted that curse.

Back at the shop, Ryan and Micki are hitting a dead end trying to track down a 1919 World Series ring (shockingly), which is the very first item that Lewis cursed. Since the ring was connected to a team that threw a game, and the original owner died, they decide to check out local gambling connections for reasons. Meanwhile, “Mister Macklin”, head of the local syndicate is none too pleased to hear that the guy he sent to rough up Donald has gone missing, and dispatches another goon. In the meantime, Ma Wren tracks down Micki and Ryan, and tells them that she’s lost the World Series ring that her husband used to predict the future and she fears that Macklin has it now, and that she sat on this information because, well, when you know you’ve got an evil cursed object in your house and someone writes to you out of the blue offering to buy it, trusting that they’ve got good intentions isn’t the smart move. And Donald, for his part, kills the goon sent to squeeze more money out of him.

Since it was apparently a slow news day in Not Canada, Micki and Ryan spot a front-page news article about Donald winning big on a bet, who is currently going around flashing wads of cash and bragging about how he’s going to bust Macklin-just as his father did before being killed. Oh, and he kills a barfly who gets mouthy at him. Ma and the cousins track Donald down to a bar, where he promises his Ma that he won’t use the ring anymore, really. So Micki decides to stay at the bar and seduce Donald for the ring, because obviously that’s a lie. Which rather backfires when, after getting in the car, Donald notices Ryan following them and accuses Micki of working with Macklin. He pulls over and tries to force the ring on her, and she only manages to get away when Macklin’s real goons show up. When Donald refuses to tell Macklin how he’s winning, Macklin takes a finger, because damn, this episode wasn’t brutal enough. And then Ma shows up to try and help and only gives Macklin more leverage, while Micki and Ryan hang about outside. Ma keeps trying to manipulate Macklin into putting on the ring, even as the action moves to an underground boxing match next door to Macklin’s club. When he finally does, and beats himself to death, Donald has a full psychotic break, and Ma shoots him, just like she shot her husband. And so Micki and Ryan let an admitted double murderer walk free.

Fairly mediocre episode, all things considered. Apart from the mentioned hook that it’s the first thing Lewis cursed, the ring isn’t very interesting and the way it works is fairly convoluted, even by this show’s standards. It’s also a fairly bloody episode, though relatively light on gore in comparison to some, but with several lengthy sequences of people being brutalized. It’s also another episode where the regular cast are pretty much spectators to the main action, which is fine when the guest cast is given a compelling story, but Donald is one of the more pathetic folks to end up with an item, and to be honest, you’re mostly just waiting for something terrible to happen to him.

A Very Robey 80s

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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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