Tuesday, October 31, 2017

TERROR TEE-VEE: A Countdown to Halloween (Day 29)


Inspired by the cult quirky and strange horror/sci-fi/mystery show from the 1970s KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER, Chris Carter wanted to create a show full of suspense and the unexplained, a show dedicated to purehearted principles such as the search for the truth, where ever the search takes one.  And so, he created The X-Files, which ran for 9 seasons and 202 episodes.  It then spun off into two movies and a six episode revival season.  It will return soon for it’s eleventh season and ten more episodes to begin in January of 2018.

The tiny, much maligned department of the FBI that is devoted to solving the weird cases for which there are no feesable explainations is called the X-Files. Eager Fox “Spooky” Mulder (played by David Duchovny) gladly toils in the shadows, driven by a desire to solve his very own potentially paranormal case—the disappearance of his sister.  But, his sister’s case just feeds his desire to seek out the truth, which he has come to understand has been suppressed by a conspiracy of those in power behind the powers that be.

Dana Scully (portrayed by Gillian Anderson) is an agent on the rise, a medical doctor and a healthy skeptic when it comes to things unexplained.  She is assigned by those powers behind the powers to look into the work of Mulder, who they fear may learn too much of the way the world truly is.  Of course, Dana comes to see the world more from Mulder’s point of view after her scientific mind cannot explain away undeniable proof of the paranormal and extraterrestrial.

Of course, this was just the beginning of the series and it went on to become a great feature for one-off “Monster of the Week” stories and it’s continuing central story called “Mythology” episodes. Episodes ranged from terrifying to hilarious, from thought-provoking to open-ended. Like any series that lasts several years, the quality of the show varied greatly episode to episode.

The series always worked for me because of the dynamic between Scully and Mulder—put them in any situation and the debate they have over the simple facts can keep my interest.  It is a case of perfect casting and I’m not sure it would have worked as well with any other combination of actors.  Their characters, each in their own way, knowing that “The truth is out there” and that they want to believe.

Key scary episodes to watch on Halloween: 




“Die Hand Die Verletzt”

“Field Trip”

Monday, October 30, 2017

TERROR TEE-VEE: A Countdown to Halloween (Day 28)


Created by the team of Joe Ruby and Ken Spears for Hanna-Barbera in 1969, Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! ran for two seasons before moving from CBS to ABC and a change in format.

The series focuses on four teenagers and their talking dog who travel around in a van called the “Mystery Machine” solving mysteries and crimes using deductive logic, creative trap-building and general pluckiness.

Fred plays the role of lead detective, Velma is the intelligent mind of the group, Daphne seems the danger-prone damsel and Shaggy and Scooby are the fraidy-cats who have to overcome their fears to help spring the traps on the bad guys.

Beyond solving mysteries, Scooby-Doo is all about facing your fears and overcoming them. While Velma Freddie and Daphne represent the rational mind, Shaggy and Scooby clearly represent that side of us that fears the unknown. It was probably the first piece of fiction many kids watch where it was about putting aside superstition in favor of the power of reason. Evidence over gut feelings.

And anytime this character line-up was changed, the series didn’t seem to work.  When some characters were dropped to add others (that’s you Scrappy-Doo), the dynamic didn’t work.  It was as if there was a perfect balance reached with this quintet. But then, it primarily entertained better than most shows of its ilk due to a combination of great character design, voice acting and engaging stories.

Keep the line-up the same and you have the dynamic that seems to work, no matter what other changes you make.  You could send these characters into space, under water or another reality and they seem to work well together.

Scoob-Doo is such a gold standard in pop culture, it’s hard to believe TV Guide only named it the 5th Greatest TV Cartoon of All Time (behind The Simpsons, The Flintstones, Looney Tunes and Peanuts).

That's nice and all--you say?  But what about a horror, scary or terror element that I've not successfully mentioned yet--you say?  Well, these kids were up against some pretty scary dudes to a wee one watching back in the 1970s--you be the judge:

Sunday, October 29, 2017

TERROR TEE-VEE: A Countdown to Halloween (Day 27)


With richly spectacular visuals, imaginative plot twists and crisp performances, the story of the long hard takedown of Hannibal Lecter by Will Graham was a feat to behold.  And it’s a shame we didn’t see it quite come to completion.

Hannibal is based on a series of novels by Thomas Harris that portray FBI criminal profiler Will Graham and his hunt for a murderer that has him turn to, Hannibal Lecter, the most ingenius serial killer he has ever met for advice—for insight into the killer’s mind.

Hugh Dancy is excellent as the quiet and thoughtful profiler who falls under Lecter’s spell, nearly fatally so.  Mads Mikkelsen’s Lecter is a charmer of a snake, slithering around in the background and through the foreground kicking up messes, murdering folks all the while throwing elegant dinner parties for his law enforcement guests.  One always wondered while watching: how much of that victim did the cops just eat alongside Lecter?

Laurence Fishburne made a great Jack Crawford, head of the FBI’s Behavioral Sciences division, just a little full of himself to fall for Lecter’s charm—hook, line and sinker.  Caroline Dhavernas was a complicated Dr. Alana Bloom, a psychology professor consultant to the FBI who is a former lover of Will’s who falls for Lecter during the story.

Gillian Anderson plays it cold and calculating as Lecter’s psychotherapist. She is so close to Lecter it’s nearly impossible to tell if she is his hostage or his lover (or both?).

Regardless, the look of the show is eye-poping.  The feel of the show is textured and rich—a spectacle for the senses. All played for distraction while Lecter feasts upon his victims and plays with his “friends” as if they were figures in a doll house.

But Graham eventually figures Hannibal out, uncovering the true depths of the horrors Hannibal was responsible for—seeing him for the predatory demon he is.  Unfortunately, the series ended in a literal cliffhanger as the two adversaries plunge over a cliff in the season finale that became the series finale.

A true shame,
for the show was shooting for high art.
And it was getting there.
But then, so was Lecter.

Hannibal’s most beautiful murders…


Friday, October 27, 2017

TERROR TEE-VEE: A Countdown to Halloween (Day 26)


Telling the dark origin of one of the most infamous killers in the history of film, it's the quality of the performances that makes Bates Motel truly noteworthy.

Vera Farmiga is Norma Bates, a woman of both great strength and weakness, full of flaws and virtue.  Freddie Highmore’s Norman is her beloved son, so  disturbingly devoted and so mentally flawed.  As the show begins, the cracks in the Bates family have already began forming and it’s just a matter of time before those cracks split the foundation completley.

Farmiga’s Norma takes her son, Norman, to a costal Oregon town from Arizona, where her husband has died in a freak accident, in order to build a new life at the hotel she has just purchased.  It is hinted at that her husband was abusive and Norma has a history of abuse in her family, so the pattern has been established.  She is definitely damaged, though she struggles to come across as normal.

Norman is a quiet, smart and quirky young man.  Where most teenage boys pull away from their mothers at that age, Norman seems too into his mom.  His devotion starts out a little odd, but considering the death of his father, it may be excusable. As the series goes on, however, it becomes more and more evident that Norman is having splits with reality. He has blackouts and blanks in his memory and it is from these fugue states that another personality finally emerges. All the while, Highmore pulls off the entire performance seamlessly.  His Norman is as disturbing over five seasons as the electric performance of Anthony Perkins in Hitchcock’s original.

Bates Motel lasted 50 episodes over five seasons, garnering critical praise for both Farmiga and Highmore and earning the former an Emmy and Saturn award, while earning the series three People’s Choice Awards.

But really, what do we expect from a family so full of love. These two not only love each other enough to kill for one another, they love each other enough to kill the other. Mother knows best, after all.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

TERROR TEE-VEE: A Countdown to Halloween (Day 25)


Following the stories of convict on the run Ben Hawkins (Nick Stahl), who joins a traveling carnival not long after discovering he has strange powers of healing; and, Brother Justin Crowe (Clancy Brown) a minister who lives with his sister and has prophetic dreams and can bend people to his will, CARNIVALE is about the struggle for the soul of mankind in America in its darkest heartland in one of its darkest periods—the Great Depression.

Originally planned as a six season story, Carnivale only made two seasons, which came to a mere 24 episodes before the cancellation axe fell. This, of course, left a bitter taste in the mouths of the fans of the show, leaving them frustratingly stranded at the end of the first third of the tale.

Nonetheless, the gritty, guignol journey of the carnival across the sparse vastness of the American West made for compelling viewing.  The Biblical hints of supernatural good versus evil were glimpses enough for viewers to see how epic and consequential the story was going to be.  This was building to epic proportions.

It’s just a shame to have such an ambitious story be cut short—especially when, via interview, we can know where the story was to go:

TERROR TEE-VEE: A Countdown to Halloween (Day 24)

Somehow, appropriately, George A. Romero recieved his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame posthumously on Wednesday.  Romero died earlier this year after a brief battle with lung cancer.  His wife, Suzanne Desrocher-Romero, accepted the honor for him and actor Malcolm McDowell, filmmaker Edgar Wright and effects artist and director Greg Nicotero all spoke at the ceremony in his honor.

His hit horror movies were famously filmed in Pittsburgh where he got his start on commercials, short films and even segments for “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” and attending Carnegie-Mellon University.

He was 27 when he came up with the $114,000 to make “Night of the Flesh Eaters”, which evolved into “Night of the Living Dead” by the time it was released.  And so the modern zombie genre was invented.  Or, as they were called in the film, the “ghoul” genre.

Much more than horror and gore, his films had social commentary, humor and a humanity that is combative, abrasive and, end the end, fragile.  Something people living in the modern United States need to realize for the sake of the future.

This here is an excellent lost interview with Romero from 1972…

Romero's original masterpiece can be found virtually free all across the internet--in fact, here it is again, just in case you want to hear those magic words again... those ominous, taunting words that are at once both sardonic and apt:

"They're coming to get you, Barbara."