The Doll Who Ate His Mother, 1985 ed., Ramsey Campbell
I like how understated and not at all evocative Campbell’s titles are…
The Doll Who Ate His Mother, 1985 ed., Ramsey Campbell
Now that the messy business of exposition is out of the way, we can get right in to the nitty-gritty of artifacts cursed by Satan killing people. And so we open on our second episode at the “The Eternal Brotherhood,” an apparently non-denominational order of monks who have decided against selling their monastery, to the appropriately humble chagrin of Brother Not Evil. Sadly, while the Abbot goes to feed his pigeons, a hooded figure using an antique quill pen writes about the terrible fate of the Abbot, who then dies by green-screen.
We cut to Jack, Mickey and Ryan in the shop, as Ryan reads a news article about a monk who can predict the deaths of others. Mickey, who just last week was nearly killed by an evil doll, scoffs at the suggestion that it is possible to tell the future, while Jack talks about Nostradamus as if he was not a translator of ancient texts whose works were twisted by later writers into alleged prophecies. Jack sees the paper and recognizes the quill as one he procured for Vendredei, made from the feather of a Chilean condor (the worst kind, apparently), and thus obviously a cursed object. Jack hatches a plan to sneak into the monastery as visiting monks while Mickey scoffs at the notion of a monastery not allowing women inside because she apparently has no idea what a monastery is.
The monastery is the usual horror movie type, with lighting by candle, flagellants and torture chambers. The torture chamber includes a working guillotine, because why wouldn’t it? Brother Not Evil suspects that Mickey and Ryan are journalists, attempting to get close to Brother Curry, the Death Oracle monk, so he assigns Brother Narc to keep an eye on them. Mickey and Ryan find Brother Curry’s room deep inside the torture dungeon, and learn that maybe telling someone “we know all about your evil cursed pen that kills people” isn’t the best way to get people to co-operate. The next day, Brother Curry predicts that the Abbot will die, and sure enough, just before midnight a new Abbot is selected and dies by bed canopy, despite Mickey and Ryan’s attempts to save him. Brother Not Evil interrogates the pair, trying to determine who they really are, and shortly Jack arrives as well to help, along with a facsimile pen to make a switch. Meanwhile, it transpires that Brother Not Evil, the new Abbot, is a murderer on the run and Brother Curry is his ex-con patsy, and Brother Not Evil has been using the pen as part of an elaborate real estate fraud scheme to gain control of the monastery and sell it to developers. Brother Curry gains a conscience too late to spare himself a death by guillotine, and Brother Not Evil attempts to have Mickey and Ryan killed as well, only for his plan to fail because he doesn’t actually know their real names.
Jack searches the monastery and finds the original bill of sale for the pen, and Brother Narc discovers that Mickey is a woman when he spies on her through the gloryhole in the monastery shower.
As a sophomore effort this wasn’t too bad. The plot runs a bit slow, leading to a rushed final act, and there are an awful lot of contrived coincidences and convenient set-pieces that don’t hold up to any kind of logical scrutiny. But we do get a hint of how the curses work, with Jack explaining that the pen could only do evil, by way of explaining why Brother Not Evil only used it to kill instead of, say, writing that he won the lottery. But it’s also implied that the objects require the will of a user to really work.
A Very Robey 80s
Paw Enforcement, 2014, Diane Kelly
Hey, remember that cult tv show about the people who had to track down the antiques with mysterious properties before they could be misused? It starred a mis-matched male/female duo who took their orders from a curmudgeonly older man, and despite taking place in America, it was very obviously filmed in Canada?
Yeah, Friday the 13th: The Series, aka Friday’s Curse*, the syndicated Canadian drama starring John LeMay and Robey, cleaning up the mess their uncle left them after his deal with the devil went south.
We open on a rainy night in not-Canada, as a family takes shelter inside Lewis Vendredi’s Antiques (street address 999). Inside the man himself is agitatedly consulting a ledger, trying to hurry the family out, but forced by not-Canadian social convention to honor the fact that technically he’s not closed yet. We’re meant to get the impression that the mother of this family, Irene, is a mean and cruel woman, but given that her step-daughter Mary’s immediate response to being told not to touch the expensive antiques is to go right ahead and start knocking them about, I think I side with Irene here. Especially when Mary grabs an antique porcelain doll and runs out into the rain with it.
Once outside, Mary is questioned by two teenage boys fixing a car about the whereabouts of her parents. Mary’s response is to have her doll, Vita, slash one of the boy’s throats. Upon returning to her parents, she claims that two boys were picking on her. I’m starting to wonder about the circumstances of Mary’s mother’s death. Vendredi sees the doll and finally throws the family out. He gathers some antiques and storms downstairs and places them in an iron vault, only to have something invisible follow him down, burning cloven-hoofed foot-prints into the floor. Eventually the antiques come alive and Lewis falls down an elevator shaft into Hell.
Six months later, in another part of not-Canada, Michel Foster is preparing to leave to deal with her uncle’s estate, while her douchebag lawyer fiance plots to sue her cousin for the entirety of the inheritance. This is a nice way to foreshadow Mickey’s terrible taste in men throughout the series. At the antique store she finally meets her cousin, Ryan Dallion, aka “Ryan the Lion,” who we know is a fun guy because he’s wearing a funky t-shirt tucked into his shorts. Mickey can’t wait to sell everything, Ryan is excited about owning all the cool and creepy articles, but after Mickey gets locked in the cellar and sees the doll Vita moving on its own, she apparently convinces Ryan to sell, because we cut to a “going out of business” sale in the next scene. Mary’s father comes in to buy the doll, and now the roles reverse with Mickey reluctant to sell, but the doll goes home to Mary because if it didn’t we’d still have twenty minutes to fill.
That night Mickey and Ryan are surprised by an intruder, Jack Marshak, who has come to rob the place because Lewis owed him money. Learning of his death, Jack explains that Lewis was dabbling in the occult, specifically what the subtitles call “dusins” in an attempt to gain immortality. Easily convinced, Ryan and Mickey show Jack the ledger they had uncovered earlier, and Jack is able to show that every antique Lewis sold was followed a few days later by a death connected to the owner.
Meanwhile, Mary is becoming reaquianted with Vita, and the two hatch a plot to kill Irene, for having the audacity to expect Mary to not leave her bicycle in the driveway. You know, as much as they’re trying to play Irene up as unreasonable and a wicked step-mother type, Mary is awfully easily persuaded to resort to murder in retaliation for facing punishment for admitted misbehavior on her part. In any case, Mickey and Ryan arrive too late to prevent Mary from pushing Irene down the stairs and are unable to get the doll back.
After suffocating Irene in her hospital bed, Mary is left with a babysitter, who she and Vita strangle and crush under a bookcase for daring to ask the girl to maybe take a nap and not make herself sick eating cookies. Mickey and Ryan arrive, and while Ryan attempts to help the elderly babysitter, Mickey goes and tries to take the doll back from Mary, who has gone to a nearby park. Vita animates various pieces of playground equipment in a half-hearted attempt to kill Mickey, but is ultimately defeated when Ryan arrives and pushes Mary off the merry-go-round, ending her murder spree and recovering the doll. Mickey, Ryan and Jack now begin the long process of recovering all the cursed antiques they and Lewis have sold.
As first episodes go, this is a little long on exposition, and a little slow to introduce characters. That’s probably to be expected, but what it means is that we have to pretty much accept that both Ryan and Mickey are so quick to accept that, no, the devil and magic are literally real. The choice of an evil doll makes sense as well for a first episode, as it’s a horror staple, and they largely limit Vita’s actions to telekinetic activities to get around the fact that, while creepy, dolls are never really all that scary. The limits and nature of the cursed antiques aren’t really explored here, either, but the suggestion that the antiques need to be owned by the right person to really do their worst is suggested, as despite the attempts to convince us otherwise, Mary is quite clearly easily inclined to casual murder already.
A Very Robey 80s
*Warehouse 13? Never heard of it…
The Klarkash-Ton Cycle, 2008, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert M. Price ed.