Reaper Man, 1992 US edition, Terry Pratchett
Reaper Man, 1992 US edition, Terry Pratchett
It’s county fair time in Not Canada, and the 80siest couple imaginable are enjoying themselves on the midway. About the only attraction they don’t visit is the wax museum of notorious criminals run by Aldwin (returning guest murderer Angelo Rizacos) and his put-upon wife Marie. Aldwin’s also extremely jealous, going so far as to assault another carnie, Danny, when he goes to help Marie when her severe headache causes her to collapse. Aldwin takes Marie’s handkerchief and puts it in the pocket of the Lizzie Borden figure, instructing it to “take the pain away.” And so it comes to life and kills our 80s couple (with an ax, number of whacks undetermined).
At the shop, Ryan has been stood up for a date, again, and so cajoles Jack into going to the carnival with him since Micki is out of town. At the carnival, Ryan has a meet-cute with Marie, and continues to blatantly hit on her even after meeting Aldwin, though he does manage to marvel at how life-like and realistic Aldwin’s sculptures are (which makes sense, given that it was apparently cheaper for the production to pay extras to stand still in costume than rent actual wax figures). After another fainting spell, Ryan meets Danny and decides that he and Jack need to investigate, for reasons, even before Lizzie goes out on another round of ax-murdering cures. The next day, Ryan is determined to interfere in another person’s family life without just cause, Jack learns that there has been a spate of beheadings at the carnival, and Marie finds blood on the Lizzie figure that her husband dotes on. The last of which triggers flashbacks of the murders in Marie, which isn’t suspicious at all. Ryan, meanwhile, sneaks past the police barricade around the murder scene and finds a wax finger lying on the ground, while Jack discovers a long history of beheadings associated with the carnival. Danny meets up with Jack and Ryan during their snooping around and tells them that Marie was a townie who started following Aldwin around, right around the time that the beheadings started following the carnival around, and that Aldwin seems strangely unconcerned over her frequent fainting spells. As Ryan and Jack utterly fail to find anything in the manifest that seems to fit this case, Aldwin sics Lizzie on Danny, and we see that Lizzie bears an uncanny resemblance to Marie.
The next day, Jack finally finds mention of a handkerchief that was given to Madame Toussaud as payment for casting the death mask of Louis XVI, with the connection being that Louis was beheaded just like the carnival victims and sure why not this show has done sillier connections. Jack searches fruitlessly for clues at the carnival, while Ryan talks to Marie and discovers that she can’t seem to remember anything that happened prior to her marrying Aldwin, who interrupts them with a cry of “Hey Rube” and has Jack and Ryan ejected. Back at the shop, the pair are attacked by Lizzie, who wrecks some counters before being incapacitated via improvised blow-torch by Ryan, revealing that, yeah, Lizzie is Marie. Who is made of wax. Just as Jack is about to take the handkerchief away to the vault, Aldwin appears with a gun and whisks Lizzie-Marie away to the carnival. Ryan chases after them, which somehow results in the sideshow catching fire, prompting Marie to (rather gruesomely) melt herself to end the evil. And in our coda we learned that the wax figures were people dipped in wax because of course they were.
This is one of the, and I hate myself for using the word, “tropey” episodes of the show, part of a long run of stories riffing on standard horror achetypes, with House of Wax getting the nod here. The absence of Robey is felt, as without her we get John LeMay once again playing a doomed romance role, and we’ve kind of seen that with his character a few times now already. The antique itself is one of the more complicated ones, what with the bringing wax figures to life that then must behead people to become human thing, which just sort of begs the question of how anyone would ever figure that out without Lewis providing directions.
Work on a film set is going slow, much to the annoyance of aging diva Tanya Sloane, because her leading man William Pratt has disappeared. A few extras are alternatively disappointed at not getting to catch a glimpse of Pratt and grateful for earning some money without actually having to do anything. While a heavy-breathing voyeur watches, one of the extras goes back to the set to look for her purse, only to get a flood light dropped on her head and her blood sopped up and put in a jar. At the shop the next day, Micki is excited to be providing set dressing for the film with presumably uncursed antiques. On set, the director is annoyed at the police slightly delaying filming, but Pratt is actually around today, along with his Very Important box, so no points for guessing who the killer is. Once filming actually starts, Pratt is smitten by the sight of Micki, which we can tell because we suddenly get slow-motion close-ups of her face as she walks by. Their meet-cute is interrupted by the news that a muck-racking journalist has made his way into Pratt’s trailer, asking slightly threatening questions about how someone can go from complete and total unknown to biggest box office star in the world in only a few years because this is apparently his first day as an entertainment reporter. Unsurprisingly, after making veiled threats at Pratt, the reporter is killed in his hotel room that night by a room service waiter, who leaves with some blood.
On set the next day, Pratt deliberately sabotages a scene with Tanya in order to get the director to replace her with Micki. While she’s getting made up, Ryan learns that Pratt does his own make-up, using his own personal make-up kit, which triggers his suspicions that something is up because we’re now in the second act and none of the regulars are looking for an antique yet. Micki’s scene goes off perfectly, but Tanya calls her agent who calls the studio, scuttling Pratt’s plan. Ryan, meanwhile, starts digging through the Manifest, much to Micki’s annoyance, especially when Ryan points out the rather high death rate associated with the movies Pratt works on, though after they argue Jack does manage to find a listing for a make-up case once owned by John Wilkes Booth, because historically there really haven’t been all that many famous evil actors. While Micki gets ready for her date, Tanya broods in her trailer about the lack of respect she gets, when Pratt interrupts her. He beats her to death with an award trophy, sopping up her blood and dripping it over his make-up case. As he applies the make up, we see that Pratt is actually badly deformed, but when he steps out of the trailer he’s handsome again.
Pratt treats Micki to an exotic lake-side dinner, and tells her about himself, notably his loneliness and his desire to make a version of “Beauty and the Beast” in which the Beast stays ugly, as well as various other lamentations about how people only care about you if you’re attractive. Jack checks up on the name of the man who bought the make-up case with a theatrical agent friend of his, and finds out that the man was a badly disfigured, but talented, actor who could only get bit parts in horror movies, who ended up in an asylum after killing the boyfriend of a costar he was infatuated with, using an ax, which caused her to fall off a cliff for reasons. Ryan searches Pratt’s trailer and finds out that the actress who fell off a cliff is a dead ringer for Micki, but he fails to find the make-up case before Pratt takes it with him on a trip with Micki to the same mountain cabin where the deaths occurred. Since Ryan got a love scene last week, it’s Micki’s turn now, and in the morning she gets to see Pratt’s make-up start to wear off, prompting a brief road-trip for him to kill a gas-station attendant in an ultimately failed attempt to recharge the make-up kit. Pratt’s mental state deteriorates to the point where he’s unable to tell the difference between Micki and Diane, the actress he was obsessed with, and he eventually shows his fully deformed face to Micki. Jack and Ryan arrive in the cabin in hopes of rescuing Micki, and instead discover that she has managed to calm the now completely delusional Pratt. And in our denoument we learn that Pratt has been returned to the asylum, and to reassure Micki that she did see good in him, Jack tells her that William Pratt was the real name of Boris Karloff.
Last week the show riffed on Phantom of the Opera, and it’s Beauty and Beast this time around, and overall this works out better. The bloody make-up case making someone handsome doesn’t really jive with the whole “John Wilkes Booth” angle, other than it’s a name people will recognize, but the nature of the curse is appropriate. A lot of good work is done by John Bolger, playing Pratt, who manages to make the character extremely sympathetic despite being a murderer.
A Very Robey 80s
A Very Beefcake Bolger
Thor, 1994 ed., Wayne Smith
Micki is desperately trying to encourage some culture in Ryan by taking him to a symphony performance. While Ryan makes googly-eyes at Leslie, a pretty young second violinist, a mysterious masked figure is busy backstage killing a janitor with a violin bow. Because, in case you hadn’t guessed it, this is the Phantom of the Opera riff episode. While Ryan unsuccessfully attempts to creep on Leslie backstage, Micki finds the police out front dealing with the murder. The next day, Leslie hears a mysterious violin being played in the empty theater, and gets spied on by the killer, then goes to the music store to buy some LPs…and gets hit on by Ryan who is apparently following her because he has randomly decided to be That Guy this week.
Back at the shop, Jack is having Ryan listen to some classical LPs, in the mistaken belief that Ryan is into music suddenly for anything other than gonadal reasons, and plays him some of the work of Janos Korda, who died in a car crash five years ago, but is still releasing new music somehow. And for a group of people who know of multiple ways that people can come back from the dead, this factoid doesn’t interest them much. Later that night, during a rehearsal at the concert hall, the lead violin chides Leslie for her sloppy, distracted playing, angering the masked figure into murdering the lead violin during his rooftop smoke break. Killing with the violin bow allows the killer to move his horribly burned and scarred hands enough to play. Ryan, who has somehow gotten backstage, escorts Leslie home after the murder is discovered, where she has nightmares of Korda burning. And at the shop, Micki puts two and two together on multiple people dying the same way, Leslie being a violist with a “hypnotic” hold over Ryan, and a cursed violin in the Manifest. And, meanwhile, Leslie sleeps with Ryan, much to the anger of the masked figure.
After getting her Ryan nookie, Leslie heads back to the concert hall to rehearse, when the sounds of violin music bring her to the rat-infested corridors deep beneath the building. In a lushly appointed room she meets the masked figure, instantly recognizing him as Korda and seeming terribly unsurprised at the fact that he’s still alive. And at the shop, Micki tells Jack that the person who bought the violin from Lewis did so on behalf of one of Korda’s students…Leslie. She also finds a detailed history of dead musicians in the time leading up to the annual release of “lost” Korda pieces. Leslie gives the “it’s not you, it’s my ex who’s back from the dead” speech to Ryan before going to help Korda record a new piece, finding out that he’s the one who’s been stabbing people along the way, which puts a bit of a damper on her enthusiasm. Micki, still thinking that Leslie is behind the murders, breaks into her apartment and finds Ryan, who puts all the pieces together once the backstory is explained to him, and then rushes off to the concert hall. While he’s playing the hero, an unmasked Korda (looking surprisingly like a guy in a Halloween store Freddy Kreuger mask) ends up stabbing Leslie in his attempt to kill Ryan. Korda carries Leslie’s body to the stage for…reasons, leaving Ryan to mourn heroically for a minute before chasing Korda up to the catwalk, where the sight of Leslie’s body compels Korda to jump to his death for…reasons. And leaving Ryan 1-2 on girl-friends.
This is definitely one of the better staged and shot episodes, with some very impressive visual compositions on display. Unfortunately, the whole “let’s do Phantom of the Opera” theme is handled in as pedestrian and obvious a way as possible, with Leslie’s romance with Ryan particularly forced and unconvincing. The violin is also not very interesting as a cursed object either, with a straight-forward tit-for-tat curse that operates on basic wish fulfillment rather than exploiting the violin’s intrinsic properties or history.
A Very Robey 80s