Story of Your Arrival

Ted Chiang's 1998 novella Story of Your Life is an unlikely candidate for a movie adaptation. I wouldn't go so far as to call it "unfilmable", but its concentration on an unromanticized depiction of a mother's relationship with her daughter, intercut with the mother's pragmatic attempts to translate language from an alien species visiting earth, doesn't seem particularly cinematic. So when I heard that director Denis Villeneuve was making an adaptation, I was curious to see what would come of it. Villeneuve has done well for himself in his past few outings, which gave a glimmer of hope that someone would get it right. Eric Heisserer wrote the screenplay, but his filmography did little to instill confidence. As it turns out, I'm quite pleased with the result. It's a different story, to be sure, but that it captures even a little of what makes Chiang's story so interesting is enough to make it one of the better films of the year (and one of the few movies to capture the experience of reading science fiction). It won't really be possible to comment further without Spoilers, so here be your warning.

Arrival was marketed in a way that made it look like another alien invasion movie. Even the film's title seems to indicate a shift in intent; Chiang's story leans heavier on the mother/daughter relationship, and the title reinforces that. Arrival focuses more on the aliens and adds in a geopolitical subplot that isn't present in the original story at all. The mother/daughter stuff is still there, and indeed, the opening of the movie leans heavily in that direction. But there are changes, changes that seem subtle at first, but which yield a very different outcome. Abigail Nussbaum noticed this too:

To someone familiar with the story, there is a hint early on in Arrival of its shift in priorities and premise. The film opens with a series of flashes to the relationship between linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and her daughter Hannah, culminating in Hannah's death, in her early adulthood, from a disease. In the story, Hannah dies in a climbing accident. The change initially seems pointless--or perhaps yet another indication that Hollywood thinks cancer is inherently more dramatic than any other form of tragedy--and then troubling. In the story, the point of Hannah's death being accidental is that it is easily preventable. Someone with knowledge of the future--as Louise will eventually become--could keep it from happening by saying a few words. The point of "Story of Your Life" is to explain why Louise doesn't do this. Making Hannah's death something that Louise can't prevent seems, in the film's early minutes, like an odd bit of point-missing.
I don't find the shift nearly as "troubling" as Nussbaum, nor is her interpretation and extrapolation of the story's themes the only one (for instance, I don't think we really know that her daughter's death is easily preventable, but I think that ambiguity is the point and we are meant to consider that), but it does seem clear that Villeneuve and Heisserer deliberately made these changes to the story in order to emphasize some different themes.

This is always the trap of the adaptation. It's possible to be too faithful to the original and generally doom yourself to an inferior experience. But if you stray too far, you end up with something completely disconnected from the original. The movie makes changes and is less ambiguous, but it does still inspire the same questions in my head. Chiang's story is a subtle examination of free will and determinism, the movie is more forthright and lays things out clearer, but still raises those questions. And frankly, I don't have the answers. I think that's the point.

The film certainly isn't perfect. Some of the exposition is awkwardly presented, in particular by our heroine's scientist counterpart, Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), who at one point delivers a voice-over that feels wholly out of place, even as it lays out some important ideas. Later he simply blurts out the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis that learning the structure of a language affects the way you think and perceive the world, which is the key to the entire story. This is par for the SF adaptation course though, and this movie actually comports itself well on that scale. Villeneuve does well visually too. Towards the beginning of the film, we spend a fair amount of time entering the ship, where physics works differently. It's a nice visual representation of the linguistic shift of perspective the character is about to go through. Is it as good as Chiang's use of past, present, and future tense in the story? Probably not, but it does represent some thought put into adapting those ideas.

The added geopoltical subplot feels like it was probably necessary in order to get this film made, and it proceeds along more conventional lines. That said, it is well executed and dovetails nicely with the final twist. Its message of unity and harmony is well timed with world events, which doesn't hurt, and it never takes away from the core of the story. It also doesn't turn this into an action movie, however much the marketing wants you to believe it would be so. This is much to its strength.

This is a good adaptation of a subtle and difficult story, and one of the best movies of the year. Filmic SF so rarely captures the sense of wonder present in so much of its written counterpart that even if the adaptation isn't absolutely perfect, it still puts this movie in the top tier of SF films of all time (at least, in my book). You will probably see this near the top of my top 10 list this year, and I'm hoping it garners enough attention in Hollywood to yield more attempts at this sort of thing.

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Redesigning Kaedrin, 2016 Edition

So I did something dumb this week. I've been thinking about how poorly my sites display on mobile (not dumb) and was playing around with Movable Type (marginally dumb) and accidentally clicked on a new theme (extra special dumb). This had the effect of blowing out all of the design templates and modules I had ever created (and replacing them with the default MT setup). Because I installed MT back in aught-two, all of that crap was custom. Sure, it was backed up, but restoring it would be a pain and hey, maybe I should take this opportunity to refresh the technology behind the blog. Lots of things have changed in the decade-plus since I cobbled this place together and I haven't been keeping up. It's the sort of thing I've been meaning to do for a while, but who has time to redesign a site from scratch? It turns out that accidentally resetting the design was just the kick in the arse I needed. So welcome to the 2016 edition of Kaedrin (He says, as if he's done anything in the past decade or so. For reference, here's a writeup of the first few designs and here's what the site looked like until this afternoon.)

The biggest benefit you'll see is that the site looks a lot better on Mobile devices. The layout now uses some rudimentary responsive design techniques - if you shrink your browser window, you'll see some things rearrange themselves (notably the right navigation). It's far from perfect, but still a large improvement over the table based layout that had been in place for so long. Lots of changes to typography and spacing, mostly to accommodate mobile, but also because of the prevalence of higher resolution screens. I tried to keep the visual design fairly consistent, but lots of things have unavoidably changed. There are also tons of behind-the-scenes improvements that you won't notice, but Google will.

Of course, a few hours of tweaking the default templates does not a complete redesign make. There's still a lot of stuff I'd like to tackle, and plenty of other considerations:

  • Mobile still requires a lot of tweaking. The navigation at the top of the page does some funky things when the screen gets small, and frankly not all of that stuff is probably needed. Most of it is legacy content from the pre-blogging, turn-of-the-century timeframe and should mostly be jettisoned.
  • Speaking of navigation, most blogs seem to have abandoned the stuff that's currently in my right navigation. This might be worth considering, so long as I can still provide a way to navigate (I do hate it when you can't find someone's archives or they rely exclusively on lazy-loading or something).
  • Categories need a major overhaul. There's not much rhyme or reason to them, and many aren't complete (i.e. when I created a new one, I rarely went back and added legacy entries into the category). Because this is a generalist blog, a rigid categorization scheme is perhaps not ideal (unlike my beer blog, which has a well-thought-out and consistent categorization scheme). I should probably look into tags as well.
  • Monthly and Category Archives are kinda minimalist now. I'm planning on updating them to include full entries.
  • Breadcrumbs might not be necessary at this point, but I had them on the old site so they stay for now. Unfortunately, the default layout in MT puts them in a location that is mildly inconvenient. This might be the first thing to go.
  • Archives are all using the same filename conventions as previously, so this redesign shouldn't break any links. That said, I'd like to figure out a way to at least update the individual entries to use a more descriptive filename. This would break old links though, so I'd have to figure out the Canonical linking strategy, and that's no fun.
  • Visual design could certainly use some more work. I'm no artist, but I liked what was there before and I'd like to make some incremental improvements to this design as time goes on. The masthead needs some work, the footer is a mess, and the right nav could use some rethinking. Typography and spacing could use some tightening as well.
  • CSS needs considerable cleanup. Everything appears functional right now, but it's a mess. That's partly because CSS is an inherent nightmare, but also because I'm out of practice and MT's default templates are bonkers.
  • I tested the site in most modern browsers, but there will undoubtedly be a ton of tweaks needed in the near future. If you see anything dramatically wrong, please email or leave a comment.
  • Expect tons of tiny, incremental changes over the next few months. This is the big bang change, everything else should barely be noticable.

There's probably lots of other stuff as well and this whole fiasco did get me thinking generally about the state of personal, generalist blogs (i.e. they're basically an anachronism at this point), but I'll leave that for later posts. For now, just enjoy the new design and mobile experience...

Update: I've been making some tweaks throughout the day. I'm going to put a running list in the Extended Entry, partly just so that I can make sure that works too.


Link Dump: Election

I don't think anyone wants to hear more about the election, but no one reads this blog anyway, so you're safe. Or, er, no that doesn't make sense, but nothing about this election made sense, so that's fitting. Or something. I don't write a lot about politics anymore, and I'm not generally interested in knee-jerk analysis, but that's all we've got right now. My instinct is try and understand what happened in a broad sense, and everyone is so shell-shocked right now (even the "winners", mostly) that they're just reverting to their previously held biases. From what I can see, almost every explanation for the election played a role. I won't go so far as to say that there were 118 million reasons why people voted the way they did, but to pin it all on one thin explanation is also pretty foolish. Statistics failed us pretty well in this election, so I want to know more about that, and about why things are the way they are. This is easy to say for me, and others are in much worse shape, but I'm trying not to let all the anger and fear or joy and elation influence me too much.
  • Election 2016: Exit Polls - Various demographics can be interesting, but the real goofy part is that literally all of the polling up until the election was dramatically wrong, yet we're treating these exit polls like gospel. The polling was wrong, let's base our diagnosis of the election on more polls! Intuitively, most of these aren't that surprising, but that's kinda the point. Intuitively, Donalt Trump had no real chance of winning either.
  • Voter Turnout Fell, Especially In States That Clinton Won - Turnout numbers, at least, are probably more reliable. It was a douche and turd election, few seemed to actually like who they were voting for, and that generally leads to lower turnout. Yes, I know that you think the choice was clear, but the majority of Americans seemed pretty apathetic about their choices. But here I am speculating based on polling again. Oof.
  • A Running List Of Reported Racist Incidents After Donald Trump's Victory - This shit is unacceptable. I don't think bigotry was the main driving force behind Trump's victory (partly because I don't think there is a single, main driving force, but rather dozens of smaller ones), but it's impossible to ignore this wave of xenophobic bullshit. I have not personally seen anything like this and I'm hoping that it will quickly subside, but I've read too many stories like this since the election. If you can do something about it, please do.
  • Louisiana student 'fabricated' story of hijab attack, police say - Well, shit. I'm consistently baffled by stuff like this. There's enough genuine bullshit going around, why do you have to support those that would dismiss it by fabricating an attack?
  • Bystanders yell anti-Trump taunts as man beaten after car crash - And hey, this ain't great either. What the hell is going on.
  • Stumped by Trump’s success? Take a drive outside US cities - A lot of stuff from before the election suddenly seems more relevant these days:
    While Trump supporters here are overwhelmingly white, their support has little to do with race (yes, you’ll always find one or two who make race the issue), but has a lot to do with a perceived loss of power.

    Not power in the way that Washington or Wall Street boardrooms view power, but power in the sense that these people see a diminishing respect for them and their ways of life, their work ethic, their tendency to not be mobile. (Many live in the same eight square miles that their father’s father’s father lived in.)

    Thirty years ago, such people determined the country’s standards in entertainment, music, food, clothing, politics, personal values. Today, they are the people who are accused of creating every social injustice imaginable; when anything in society fails, they get blamed.

    The places where they live lack economic opportunities for the next generation; they know their children and grandchildren will never experience the comfortable situations they had growing up - surrounded by family who lived next door, able to find a great job without going to college, both common traits among many successful small-business owners in the state.
    This has been a pretty common thread that I've seen. Many have been dismissing this view or blaming it on something other than what it is. Of course, I'm doubting that Trump can actually provide what these voters think, but its hard to dismiss their complaints. It also illustrates the divide between city and rural, which is not really new. But where there used to be at least some semblance of balance in our culture between this geographic divide, it no longer feels that way. The divide is growing. I realize it might be silly to look at horror movies for insight here, but hey, I just spent a month and a half watching them, and one thing that often pops up is the city/country divide. Carol Clover wrote about this in a chapter concerning rape-revenge films like I Spit on Your Grave and Deliverance and delved in to a more general "Urbanoia":
    The city/country split is by no means confined to the rape-revenge film - or even revenge films in general. An enormous proportion of horror takes as its starting point the visit or move of (sub)urban people to the country. ... Going from city to country in horror film is in any case very much like going from village to deep, dark forest in tradional fairy tales. ... One of the obvious things at stake in the city/country split of horror films, in short, is social class - the confrontation between the haves and have-nots, or even more directly, between exploiters and their victims.
    There is, of course, lots to unpack there, and as mentioned above, this can't explain everything, but it does seem to be a base disagreement that is driving divisions in this country. People in the city/country divide are dismissing each other with ever more vigor, and that probably plays a small part in what's going on here.
  • To the supporters of Donald Trump - Jason Kottke wrote a bit about this in July and tied it to Tyler Cowan's description of Brexit:
    Many Americans share a frustration of the current political system and how it is wielded against us in our name by skilled political practitioners, but I do not believe the US is a country filled with small-minded, intolerant racists, despite the perplexing level of national support for a proudly dishonest and bigoted TV personality, whatever his keen political instincts. Trump is the one lever being given to those frustrated voters for sending a message to their politicians and many are choosing to use it despite many of the reasons listed in that letter. Sending that message is more important than its potential consequences.
    This goes to the "outsider" view of the election, another common theme. Again, I doubt Trump will actually be able to deliver on what these voters actually want, but their complaints are valid. Part of the Trump win? Sure, but not all of it, which also seems to be a common theme.
  • Trump Won Because Leftist Political Correctness Inspired a Terrifying Backlash - This is another example of someone using the election to harp on one of their hobby horses, but it's not entirely wrong either.
    If you're a leftist reading this, you probably think that's stupid. You probably can't understand why someone would get so bent out of shape about being told their words are hurtful. You probably think it's not a big deal and these people need to get over themselves. Who's the delicate snowflake now, huh? you're probably thinking. I'm telling you: your failure to acknowledge this miscalculation and adjust your approach has delivered the country to Trump.

    There's a related problem: the boy-who-cried-wolf situation. I was happy to see a few liberals, like Bill Maher, owning up to it. Maher admitted during a recent show that he was wrong to treat George Bush, Mitt Romney, and John McCain like they were apocalyptic threats to the nation: it robbed him of the ability to treat Trump more seriously. The left said McCain was a racist supported by racists, it said Romney was a racist supported by racists, but when an actually racist Republican came along—and racists cheered him - it had lost its ability to credibly make that accusation.

    This is akin to the political-correctness-run-amok problem: both are examples of the left's horrible over-reach during the Obama years. The leftist drive to enforce a progressive social vision was relentless, and it happened too fast. I don't say this because I'm opposed to that vision - like most members of the under-30 crowd, I have no problem with gender neutral pronouns - I say this because it inspired a backlash that gave us Trump.
    Once again, I don't think this is the only reason the country went for Trump... but it played a role.
  • A friend posted this on Facebook, and it's well said:
    I understand that there is anger and fear right now. But, I just got through 8 years of hearing from extremely conservative friends and family about how Obama is not their president. It did not make me want to lend credibility to anything they said regarding him after that. Like it or not, Trump will be your president. Claiming otherwise is the most divisive thing you could do right now. He does not have a mandate and by all means, let there be fierce opposition to every unconstitutional and harmful policy he proposes. The important thing is to keep this country a place where you can openly criticize your president, assemble to protest your president, read about your president in the free press and where a president can be impeached if necessary and most of all, where power continues to peacefully be transferred from one president to the next one.
    Again, well said.
  • I could keep going on here, but if there's one thing I'm trying to keep in mind, it's that there's no easy explanation for an election result, especially this election. Everyone who is writing about it seems to think they've identified that one, key component... and it just happens to conform perfectly to their worldview. Voter turnout, bigotry, third party voters, politically correct wolf-crying, city/country divide, immigration, bathrooms?, single-issue voters, capitalism/socialism, Russian influence (fucking Russia?), the list goes on and on and on. No one of these things put us where we are, but we can't really dismiss any of them out of hand either.
  • One other thing I've noticed in the past few years, on both sides of the divide, is a lack of respect for free speech. I feel like it's been constantly dismissed in the past few years in favor of [insert preferred ideology here]. Again, this goes both ways. Trump has repeatedly threatened free speech because he's such a crybaby. Many on the left decry speech they disagree with too (you could argue that the politically correct stuff feeds into that). But now we're really going to need free speech. This country has safeguards to protect against wannabe authoritarians, and free speech is one of them. We need to be vigilant about stuff like that. One of the reasons I'm always cautious about executive power and the expansion of federal power is that you never know who's going to wield it next. You may have been comfortable with Bush or Obama wielding certain powers, but now Trump has them. Are you still comfortable?
  • Some bite sized nuggets from twitter:
Alright, that's enough of that. I'm still trying to understand and none of the above is meant to dismiss or harangue anyone with unwanted advice. The only advice I have comes from Bill and Ted: Be excellent to each other. We now return you to your regularly scheduled SF/Movies programming.

Link Dump

This week sucked pretty bad for me, but these links do not, so you should enjoy them.
  • The United Federation of "hold my beer, I got this" - This thread is great, starting here:
    That Federation vessels in Star Trek seem to experience bizarre malfunctions with such overwhelming frequency isn't just an artefact of the television serial format. Rather, it's because the Federation as a culture are a bunch of deranged hyper-neophiles, tooling around in ships packed full of beyond-cutting-edge tech they don’t really understand. Endlessly frustrating if you have to fight them, because they can pull an effectively unlimited number of bullshit space-magic countermeasures out of their arses - but they're as likely as not to give themselves a lethal five-dimensional wedgie in the process. All those rampant holograms and warp core malfunctions and accidentally-traveling-back-in-time incidents? That doesn't actually happen to anyone else; it's literally just Federation vessels that go off the rails like that. And they do so on a fairly regular basis.
    And it goes on (and on) from there. Would be kinda interesting if this became more than subtext in the upcoming show, but that'll never happen.
  • Our 74 Most Pressing Questions About 'Inferno' - An interesting way to skewer yet another "They made a sequel to what?" movie, the theme of the year so far.
    9. All right, I believe you - Tom Hanks loves these movies. But, ugh, I'm sorry: It's still weird. They're just ... not good. Why does he love them?

    Try to think of love less as the answer to a question, and more as the question to another question, itself unanswerable.

    10. For sure. Enough about Tom Hanks, though. Let’s talk about Tom Hanks's hair. Is it still messed up?

    Yeah, it’s still messed up.
    Also: His hair is a question to another question, itself unanswerable.
  • How To Play 'New Girl's' True American Drinking Game - Look, it's not Chardee MacDennis: The Game of Games, but with the election coming up, playing this will be your solemn duty. "It's 75% drinking, 20% Candy Land, and the floor is molten lava."
  • Speaking of the election:
That's all for now. Hopefully back to more productive posting soon...
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6WH: Speed Round

Time flies when you're terrified beyond the capacity for rational thought. We've gone six weeks and then some, and as per usual, there are plenty of movies that I've watched that I didn't write about. This might have been because it didn't fit in a given week's theme, or maybe I just didn't have that much to say about it. This year's 6WH was somewhat more successful than the past couple of years. If I'm counting right, I will have watched 47 movies during the six weeks this year, a significant step up from the past two years (where I've only managed 36). And that's not counting TV viewing either. Go me. So now we cover all those movies.
  • The Toolbox Murders - The first twenty or so minutes of this movie is unbelievably sleazy and brutal. It then settles into a more traditional exploitation mold before picking up a bit in the third act. It's a hard movie to "like", but it's also hard to stop watching. As mentioned during Tobe Hooper week, it was a good candidate for a remake. **1/2
  • Alligator - A follow on viewing from the When Animals Attack week, this one takes that old urban legend about a baby alligator being flushed down the toilet and growing up in the sewers and amps it up by having the alligator survive by eating discarded lab rats injected with growth hormones. Thus we end up with an alligator the size of a car terrorizing Chicago. Pretty trashy stuff, but John Sayles's script is a cut above your typical giant animal movie, and you've also got Robert Forster hamming it up. Worthy! **1/2
  • Young Frankenstein - So I like this movie, but I always feel like it's the sort of thing I should like more. I laugh during the movie, but I always feel like I should be laughing more. Great production design and cinematography, but the thing that really makes this work is Gene Wilder. He single-handedly makes the movie, and without him I don't think it would have worked. Then again, the whole cast is great, including the comedic trio of Madeline Kahn, Cloris Leachman (*horse whinny*), and Teri Garr, and good supporting roles for Marty Feldman as Igor (it's pronounced eye-gore) and Peter Boyle as the monster. So not all Gene Wilder, but close enough. RIP Gene... ***
  • Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film - It's become something of an annual viewing for me and was instrumental in plucking out which slashers I should watch for this year's Slasher week... It's a good overview of the sub-genre and worth watching if that's your thing. ***
  • Dark Night of the Scarecrow - At some point, I was going to do a killer scarecrow week, but my Netflix queue never quite aligned right and I only got to this one, about a mailman's vendetta against the town simpleton. It's like The Ox-Bow Incident, but if the wronged party came back as a scarecrow and took revenge upon the mob that killed him. I liked it, but its TV movie origins are a little too obvious. **1/2
  • Goosebumps - It's easy to get bogged down in despair when watching lots of horror movies, so a good, old-fashioned, fun romp into monster-mash territory is always welcome. I never saw this when it came out because it seemed like soulless CGI horror and, alright, so it has some of that, but I really had a lot of fun with this and it's certainly worth checking out. ***
  • Phantasmagoria - A feature-length documentary about the Phantasm films. Interviews with all the relevant cast and crew, lots of archival footage, and so on. Maybe a step above your typical retrospective, but probably only of interest to true Phans. Interestingly, this was directed by Jake West, who really needs to get off his keister and make another horror movie (Evil Aliens and Doghouse are both great fun)...
  • Haunter - What's this? Vincenzo Natali made a movie in 2013 that I didn't know about? Huh. He's gone on to become more of a prized TV director of late (particularly on Hannibal, though also pitching in on Westworld, Luke Cage, and the forthcoming Star Trek: Discovery and American Gods), but his movies tend to be a little more difficult to pin down. This one is yet another take on the whole if-Groundhog-Day-was-horror thing and comports itself reasonably well. It's not quite as weird as you'd expect from Natali, but it's also not a straight arrow that's easy to parse either. **1/2
  • Holidays - Horror anthology centered around each of the major holidays. A ripe unifying structure, but it falls down a bit on execution. The biggest director name here is probably Kevin Smith, but his horror chops are, er, lacking. Ultimately, I'm having trouble remembering most of the segments, which probably isn't the greatest sign, but it wasn't unwatchable either. **
  • Dracula's Dog - AKA Zoltan: Hound of Dracula! I mean, yeah, I really wanted to like this but it is a bad movie. It could maybe veer into so-bad-it's-good territory, but it feel short of even that for me. It's just flabby nonsense, played straight. *
  • The Silence of the Lambs - We've all seen it and it's awesome. I finally sat down to watch it with the Criterion commentary track, which is one of those cobbled-together mish-moshes of different people commenting. Still good, and yeah, it's a classic that I've learned is a very rewatchable movie for me. ****
  • Psycho - It's been a while since I've watched this and yes, it remains a classic. You could argue about some of the pacing or odd choices, but those are exactly what makes this movie so fantastic. ****
  • The Guest - Still a lot of fun, if not quite as great as You're Next. But it's on Netflix instant and it's a solid 6WH watch. ***
  • The Addams Family - Not as taken with this as I was back when it came out, but it's still got some really cool stuff, particularly the performances from Raul Julia, Anjelica Huston, and a young Christina Ricci. **1/2
  • Possession - Dear lord, what the hell did I just watch? The batshit insanity quotient just went way up in this year's 6WH. Ostensibly about a bad divorce, it turns out that the woman's new beau is, um, some sort of tentacled monster (apparently Andrzej Zulawski's elevator pitch for the movie was "A film about a woman who fucks an octopus."). Dial performances up to 11; Sam Niell is always great at playing unhinged and Isabelle Adjani is absolutely fearless (dat "miscarriage" scene). Frankly, I have no idea what to make of this movie. Watch it if you dare. Let's bring back the batshit rating system: ???
  • The Slashening - You know what you're in for once that Troma logo comes up, and yes, this is a farcical take on the slasher, with some funny bits actually landing (though many do not). My favorite is when one girl is trying to get help and smears a message on the glass (the guy inside is playing video games with his headphones on and can't hear her). After the killer dispatches her, we see him spray the window and wipe it clean. Brilliant. It gets better as it goes on, but this ain't a classic. **1/2
  • Ghostbusters - Yes, I still love this movie. One thing about the whole reboot situation that was annoying was all the people who claimed that we should like the new one because the old one wasn't that good, which is kinda silly. I still laugh a lot when I watch this movie, and it's got a sneaking backbone of genuine horror love. ****
  • Scream: The TV Series - Season 1 - So I did finish the first season and it was pretty good! Perhaps a few too many "Don't tell the cops" moments where our heroine goes off on her own to confront the killer's latest scheme, but it all comports itself well enough. The ending reveals are a bit of a cheat, but they kinda work too. Not sure if I like the blatant cliffhanger setup for season 2 bit, but then, I will probably watch season 2 at some point, so there is that. ***
  • Slasher - And I finished this season too... It helps that this was only 8 episodes, especially since this does kinda go off the rails a few times as it moves on. It's played straight the whole time, but the whole skeletons-in-every-closet theme gets old fast, and those skeletons get more and more ridiculous as time goes on. Compelling enough that I watched the whole season, but it flattens out a bit as it moves on... **1/2
  • Penny Dreadful - So I watched the first couple of episodes and I should totally love this, but I haven't quite gotten there yet. Will definitely be giving it another chance, but I wasn't immediately convinced. Still, it's great to see Eva Green get something to do. She should be a bigger star these days. **1/2
  • Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI - My favorite of the Fridays, I don't watch it every year, but I probably could. ***
  • Trick 'r Treat - Haven't watched it yet, but is on the docket for Halloween night, as has become tradition.
  • Halloween - Duh.
I may sneak in another movie or two, depending on timing, but all in all, it's been a very successful six weeks. I hope you've enjoyed!
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6WH: Season's Readings

Movies tend to be the focus of the Six Weeks of Halloween, but I like to mix things up with some seasonal-appropriate written tales of terror as well (with the occasional work of non-fiction thrown in for fun). It makes for a nice change of pace from my normal dorky reading diet, while still maintaining high levels of dorkocity, which is important. Some of these are arguably not horror, but they're at least seasonal, which is the whole point. I've already written about one epic-length book I read this season, and here's a few others:
  • NOS4A2 by Joe Hill - Vic McQueen discovers at an early age that she's able to use her fancy Raleigh Tuff Burner bike to find whatever she desires by driving across a seemingly impossible covered bridge. It doesn't matter how far away the object she seeks is located, she gets there in moments. Charlie Manx has a similar talent, though his magic vehicle is a 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith, which he uses it to pick up young children and spirit them away to a horror-filled inscape he calls Christmasland, where he feeds on their life essence as a sort of vampire (the license plate on his car reads NOS4A2, a play on Nosferatu.) One day, in a fit of pique brought on by her feuding parents, Vic hops on her bike with the intention of seeking out trouble... and finds Manx. Due to sheer luck, she survives the encounter, but decades later, Vic's son has disappeared and Vic has to confront Manx again. So Joe Hill is Stephen King's son, and indeed, this book features a certain kinship with King's brand of horror. There's an archetypal quality to the supernatural elements of the story and the talismans that allow our characters to do the impossible. The book perhaps meanders a bit and lingers too long on certain aspects, making it feel a little loose and flabby, but it's generally compelling, page turning stuff. It leans a little too heavily on dysfunctional relationships and pessimistic attitudes for my taste, but on the other hand, it never veers into full misery porn and what's there does serve the story. Christmasland is a fascinating creation, clearly a worthy subversion of that holiday's good cheer. I enjoyed this quite a bit. It's a little too long, but it comports itself well.
  • The Long Halloween by Joeseph Loeb (writer) and Tim Sale (Illustrator) - Not at all horror, but certainly seasonal. It's a 13 issue arc of Batman where the caped crusader works with Harvey Dent and Commissioner Gordon to try and catch a mysterious murder who kills on each major holiday. Along the way, we're treated to various episodic encounters with Batman's infamous rogues gallery of villains... I picked this book up back when I got all fired up about Batman comics earlier in the year, but saved it for Halloween... mostly because of the title. It's an interesting story, even moreso since it appears to be the basis for Christopher Nolan's films. Those movies and particularly Batman Begins are clearly not an adaptation as there are tons of major differences, by many elements of Nolan's Batman seem to originate here. Notably the focus on various crime families, which was apparently new at the time these comics were being published in the late 90s. The murder mystery itself does feel a bit on the sloppy side, but it's all executed well enough, and it's neat that we get to touch base with tons of iconic Batman villains throughout. The artwork was effective enough and the pacing was pretty good for such a long arc. This clearly isn't perfect, but I really enjoyed it, and the added dimension of its influence on the movies does give it some extra zip.
  • In the Flesh by Clive Barker - I believe that, with this volume, I've exhausted all of Barker's "Books of Blood", those long running series of short stories that lit the horror world on fire in the mid 80s. This is technically the fifth collection of stories (ironically, the first collection I read was Cabal, the sixth collection, not that it matters, since these are all disconnected short stories). This one only features four stories of moderate length (I believe they'd qualify for novellette or novella status), and they're all decent. There is one standout, but the others tend to fall behind the stories in other volumes. The titular "In the Flesh" proceeds from the fascinating premise of a prisoner who committed murder with the objective of being incarcerated in a specific prison. You see, his grandfather was buried on the grounds after being executed decades earlier, but his spirit calls out to the new prisoner. The story is told from the prisoner's cellmate, who gets wrapped up in the supernatural mumbo jumbo and eventually gets trapped in the afterlife. Or something. An interesting and creepy premise that sort of peters out in the end. This is an unfortunate theme in this particular collection, it seems. "The Forbidden" is arguably Barker's best-known story from the Books of Blood, having been adapted into the movie Candyman. It features a university student visiting the slums in order to study the graffiti there. Most of the graffiti turns out to be boring and unenlightening, but then she stumbles on a particularly striking area depicting an urban legend known as the Candyman. This is probably the best overall story in the collection, though it does feel a bit overlong. Still, interesting stuff. "The Madonna" is about an abandonned pool complex. Some shady real estate developers are trying to figure out how to purchase it and make money off of it, but the otherworldly residents of the pools have other ideas. This one is also pretty effective, though again the ending is a little iffy. There's some interesting themes here though, power and gender dysphoria among them. "Babel's Children" is about a woman who stumbles upon a mysterious compound where, decades ago, a group of scientists and scholars were brought together to secretly rule the world. They are now elderly, sick of their task, and desire escape. This is mostly treated as mystery, but again, the ending leaves a bit to be desired and the whole idea is a little more on the silly side. Overall, this is a worthy read, but not quite up to par with the other Books of Blood collections.
  • And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie - Technically a murder mystery, but Agatha Christie's classic is also an originator for many horror tropes. A group of seemingly unrelated people are lured to an island under different pretext. It turns out that all of them are responsible for the death of another person, but escaped justice through legal technicalities. One by one, they die in mysterious circumstances, seemingly to match the details of an old nursery rhyme. Extremely complex, but simple to follow, this story is very detailed and exquisitely designed from start to finish. It is, maybe, a bit difficult to come up to speed on the 10 strangers right away, but as the book proceeds to kill off each one, we learn more and more, and begin to suspect more and more. I believe the term of art for this is "locked room mystery", as there's no apparent explanation for how or why the 10 murders were accomplished. And the solution actually works (it may be slightly underwhelming to jaded modern eyes, but I was pretty happy with it). Its influence on the horror genre is clearly apparent, with many stories relying on a similar structure. I think you could even say that this influenced the modern body-count story (like slashers!) Regardless, it was quite an enjoyable book, all the moreso because it's short and concise.
  • Horror Movie A Day: The Book by Brian W. Collins - I won't say too much about this one since I have not gotten too far into it, but if you don't know about Horror Movie A Day, this guy Brian Collins vowed to watch a horror movie every day (and write a review of said movie) and proceeded to do so for over 6 years. In this book, he's chosen 365 of the more than 2500 movies he saw during that run, one for each day of the year, and written a quick overview of the movie (including a brief plot summary, an exerpt from his original review, and an updated commentary). Initial reading and scanning through the book indicates that Collins went for deep cuts here (rather than obvious horror classics), no doubt a welcome approach for horror hounds. I will almost certainly lean on this book when it comes to planning out next year's Six Weeks of Halloween...
And that just about covers it. We're in the final homestretch now, and all that remains is the customary Speed Round of movies I saw that didn't conform to a weekly theme and, of course, the big day...
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6WH: Week 6 - Blumhouse

It's always something of a curiosity when you see a trailer and it sez something like "From the producers of Paranormal Activity" or "From the production company that brought you Sinister" as if these things matter. But in some cases they do, and horror certainly has a history of that sort of thing. We just covered some of Universal's Monsters, and Hammer Horror made a name for itself by doing something similar. William Castle was a reliable draw in his day and if you ever saw that Dimension Films produced a movie, you knew it would be disappointing (zing!) Enter Blumhouse, an independent production company founded by Jason Blum. His model is based on an idea we've all had (especially when you hear about how some $400 million movie bombs at the box office), which is that instead of betting it all on a handful of huge budget potential blockbusters, take that same amount of money and make dozens of smaller, more ideosyncratic films. As a genre, Horror is able to do well under those constraints, so most of what Blumhouse puts out fits in that mold. Most make their money back too, but it's the handful of breakout successes that really buoyed the company. Notably, the Paranormal Activity movies have been a reliable source of success, and they use it to put out some weird, micro-budget stuff. I don't know that there's any sort of specific aesthetic theme here, but there's definitely a group of horror filmmakers that are feeding off of each other, and Jason Blum is giving them a chance to shine. So I watched three Blumhouse movies this weekend, ranging from the wide-release suprise success, to smaller, more obscure films. I ended up enjoying these movies more than I ever thought I would, so maybe "From the producers of Paranormal Activity" does mean something...
  • You're Next (trailer)
  • Rick & Morty's Purge (clip)
  • The Day After the Purge (short)
  • The Purge - The Purge is an annual, government sanctioned 12-hour period in which any and all criminal activity (including murder!) becomes legal. James Sandin makes a healthy living selling security systems that lock down the house during the period, but when his dumbass son lets in a stranger being hunted by bloodthirsty purgers, we find out that his security systems are basically useless. Also classism.
    I am a villain!
    So yeah, this is one of the dumbest, yet catchiest ideas with which to base a horror franchise on. I mean, yeah, sure horror movies often rely on obvious symbolism and thematic parallels, but this is ridiculous. The concept feels like its making fun of itself and is incredibly ripe for parody. This first film plays it small scale though and essentially becomes a home invasion thriller. It takes a while to get going and the kids are really annoying, but the third act is actually a lot of fun. Well executed, small-scale action set pieces and plenty of gore.
    My, what a big ax you have
    There are some rather predictable twists and turns, but it's all reasonably well executed. I'm told that the sequels take the series in a more bonkers direction, as befits the ludicrous premise, so I'll probably make time for them in future 6 weeks marathons... For now, this was a decent enough watch, but nothing particularly special. **
  • Paranormal Activity (trailer)
  • Paranormal Pactivity (Robot Chicken)
  • Shining (fake trailer)
  • The Bay - A found footage film about an ecological disaster in a small Maryland town where normally small parasites are mutating and growing at abnormal speeds. So remember back when I said that most found footage loses the opportunity to really take advantage of the mock documentary format? This one kinda, sorta does it. But they're only interviewing one person throughout the film, and she's basically just providing a running commentary on what's on screen. We do, however, get some talking heads, as that is part of the footage that has been "found". So we get to see CDC video calls and doctors and oceanographers and whatnot, and it all works surprisingly well.
    I am an oceanographer
    Thematically, it's a bit heavy handed, but after having just watched The Purge, it felt like an ambitious and subtle exploration of ecological concerns (ok, not really, but it's not as egregious as some other efforts are). It's found footage, but most of it is plausible and well shot. Minimal shaky cam here, and most of the movie looks pretty good. Its biggest flaw is that, well, there's not really anywhere for the story to go, and thus it just sort of ends. Not badly, really. It just feels like one of those SNL skits where they have a neat idea and execute it well, get their laughs in, but have no idea how to finish it off. This movie gets its jump scares in, throws some light body horror your way, and then peters out... Still, it's the journey, not the destination that matters here, and it's a suitably creepy one. ***
  • The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror V: The Shinning
  • Mute Witness (trailer)
  • The Strangers (trailer)
  • Hush - Maddie is a deaf author who leads a reclusive life in the woods until a masked killer arrives at her doorstep for some good, old-fashioned home invasion horror. So this isn't the most original premise, even for the sub-sub-genre of home invasion horror featuring a protagonist with a disability of some kind. We've been seeing stuff like this since at least Wait Until Dark (1967) and we've seen lots of variants (an obscure Kaedrin favorite is 1995's Mute Witness). And yet, this proves to be a worthy entry in the canon and an exceptionally well executed spin on the typical tropes. Maddie (played by co-writer Kate Siegel) walks the horror protagonist line perfectly, not doing anything tremendously stupid while being plausibly resourceful. The killer (played by John Gallagher Jr., who seems like an unconventional choice but actually does well here) also works that line, being menacing and competent, but not omniscient or indestructible. You could argue that he's a bit too reluctant to just start breaking windows, but I was able to go along with his clear desire to play cat and mouse games with his prey.
    Can you hear me? Oh, you cant, Im so sorry
    The movie wisely avoids giving him backstory (and it's implied that he's surprised by Maddie's deafness, making it clear that he has no specific vendetta against her) and while he does play cat and mouse games, he does reveal himself in relatively short order (a bold choice that keeps things moving rather than devolving into indulgence). The film takes ample advantage of sound (and, importantly, the lack of sound), and that just ratchets up the tension considerably. Director Mike Flanagan (perhaps best known for that movie Oculus a few years back) clearly knows how to push the audience's buttons. The film is mercifully short, but it doesn't feel rushed or underbaked. It's just well paced and tight. Look, I'm not going to call it a classic and it doesn't feel like the sort of movie that I'd want to rewatch over and over again, but it's a rock solid take on the sub-genre that was exactly what I needed at this point in the marathon. ***
Phew, it's hard to believe that we're in week six already! Time flies when you're terrified out of your gourd. Still a couple of posts in the pipeline, so stay tuned for some more season's readings and the usual Speed Round to close out the marathon...
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Of all the Universal Monsters, Frankenstein's creature is my favorite. This is due chiefly to the first two movies in the series, Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein (Both of which were covered in the Six Weeks of Halloween marathon a few years back). Alas, while I've seen many of the Universal Monster movies, I haven't seen a ton of the sequels. They don't all have the greatest reputation, but it still seems worth checking out. Turner Classic Movies went on a Frankenstein kick a couple weeks back and thus I took the opportunity to catch up.
  • Frankenstein's Fiance (Robot Chicken)
  • Frankenhooker (trailer)
  • Young Frankenstein (trailer)
  • The Ghost of Frankenstein - Ygor survives the previous installment and seems committed to finding Frankenstein's monster and reviving him. Town villagers believe they're still cursed by Frankenstein's unnatural experiments, so they round up their pitchforks, light some torches, and organize a good old-fashioned mob to go up and destroy Castle Frankenstein. As per usual, this is the action that actually frees the monster from the foundations of the building. Ygor quickly discovers him and ushers him away to meet with another Frankenstein scientist, who has the idea to replace the monster's former criminal brain with a normal one. It all works out and everyone lives happily ever after. Or, uh, not at all. This is a mildly successful entry in the series, but ultimately nothing special. Great atmosphere, good performances from Bela Legosi (returning as Ygor) and though they couldn't get Boris Karloff for the monster, they did get Lon Chaney Jr, who does an admirable job. Some nice moments here, but it never really coalesced for me. **
  • Futurama: The Honking (episode)
  • An American Werewolf in London (trailer)
  • Silver Bullet (Robot Chicken)
  • Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man - This film opens with two graverobbers breaking into Larry Talbot's crypt and inadvertently reviving the Wolf Man from his tomb. Thus freed to live his cursed life again, Talbot seeks out the notebooks of Dr. Frankenstein so that he can find a scientific way to kill himself and end the curse. Along the way, he stumbles upon Frankenstein's monster and enlists the help of a scientist to kill both monsters once and for all. The promise of seeing the monster at full strength proves too tempting for the scientist though, so he simply revives the monster. Local townspeople assemble their mob again, and save the day.
    The Wolfman and Frankenstein
    So this is the first actual Universal Monster crossover movie, even if most of the time is spent on the Wolfman's troubles and Frankenstein's monster doesn't really do much until the end. Still, we do get to see some hot Frankenstein on Wolfman action towards the end, which delivers on the promise of the title, I guess. It's not a spectacular movie, but the Wolfman's plight is genuinely involving and we're treated the the usual great atmosphere that all these films engender. Since Lon Chaney is busy reprising his role of the Wolfman, Frankenstein's monster is switched again, this time to Bela Legosi, who does a pretty good job. At this point, though, the continuity of the Universal monsters series seems to be breaking down a bit. But who cares, Frankenstein's monster fights the Wolfman, what else do you want? Again, mildly successful, but nothing particularly special. **
  • Vampire 8:00-9:00 PM (Robot Chicken)
  • The Monster Squad (trailer)
  • Is that a whip? (Robot Chicken)
  • House of Frankenstein - Ah, now here is a real monster mash movie, though again, the various monster storylines barely overlap. Mad scientist Dr. Gustav Niemann (played by Boris Karloff, who is returning to the series, but not as the monster) escapes from prison along with his hunchbacked assistant Daniel. Niemann seeks to, yes, discover the old notebooks of Dr. Frankenstein so the he can learn the secrets of life and death. Daniel assists because he wants Niemann to replace his hunchbacked body with a handsome, strong body. Dracula, the Wolfman, and Frankenstein all show up in this movie, but each basically gets their own separate segment, glued together by mad scientist Niemann. It doesn't make a ton of sense and the continuity of the three series is way out of whack, but it nevertheless remains a lot of fun, and despite the lack of interaction between the fiends, I think this might be the best of the three sequels I watched this week. Dracula (played by John Carradine, who many argue rivals Bela Legosi's original Dracula, and is indeed quite effective) gets the most screen time, but is basically finished off about a third into the movie.
    The Wolfman sez hi
    Lon Chaney's Talbot gets a lot of screentime and has some good interactions with Niemann and Daniel (and the gypsy girl that travels along with them), but doesn't get to do much as the Wolfman. Frankenstein's monster sadly spends most of the movie strapped to a slab, but has a nice triumphant return at the end. Again, none of this is particularly well justified, but it's a lot of fun, and using Niemann as the linking device essentially makes this a sorta road trip through Universal Monsterland, which is neat. While not really the equal of the original movies in any of the three series this continues, I managed to have fun with this. **1/2
I think I must've calculated the six weeks incorrectly, as it looks like we're in for more like 7 weeks. Oh well! Stay tuned for Blumhouse movies this weekend...
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Slasher movies are formulaic and trashy, but longtime readers know that I love them (because I won't shut up about them). They're good, old-fashioned horror comfort food, like a warm blanket on a cold autumn night. Want a good overview of what makes a slasher a slasher? Check out Final Girl's Slashers 101 comic book. Funny and informative (and it's free!)
Final Girl is definitely qualified
Me too! On both counts! And yet, it's been a while since I really dug into classic Golden Age Slashers (i.e. that 1980-1983 corridor where seemingly hundreds of slashers were made). Sure, I've caught up with one or two here or there, and I've hit up some neo-slashers and proto-slashers, but there have been a few seminal slashers that I've never managed to catch up with. It's about time I rectified that oversight:
  • Thanksgiving (fake trailer)
  • Driving Lessons - Halloween Deleted Scene (short)
  • Jason's Deceiving Speed (Robot Chicken)
  • The Slumber Party Massacre - An escaped mental patient terrorizes a high-school slumber party. I've definitely seen this before, back in the days of late night cable viewing, but I'm not sure I saw it all the way through. So this is a movie I want to like a lot more than I actually do, and I'm not entirely sure why. The movie is written and directed by two women (Rita Mae Brown and Amy Holden Jones, respectively) who claim to be feminists, and yet this is one of the more lurid slashers out there. Boobs everywhere. Then again, their influence certainly comes through in our maniac's choice of weaponry, a giant corkscrew drill whose phallic symbolism couldn't be more obvious and yet, it doesn't come off as clumsy as it's a neat, almost iconic visual.
    Behold my terrifying denim jacket
    Behold my terrifying denim jacket
    It's clearly got some stuff on its mind, but then it also came out of Roger Corman's stable, so the trashy elements are out in full force. It's also a more comedic take on the sub-genre than you normally see. Some of the slasher conventions are skimped on a bit, particularly the historical component and the lack of any mystery as to who the killer is (he doesn't even wear a mask and his jean jacket is the most terrifying thing about his getup; he's not very intimidating), but other slashers have done well with similar oversights. I honestly don't know why I didn't connect with this as much as I really wanted to. I still think it's really good, but not quite top tier. (There are, however, many who do put this in that top tier, and I can see why...) **1/2
  • It's the Gifts That I Hate (Robot Chicken)
  • The Prowler (trailer)
  • The Simpsons: Treehouse of Horror V: The Shinning
  • The Boogey Man - A little boy murders his mother's boyfriend, and his little sister watches the whole thing in a mirror. 20 years later, still trying to confront what happened back then, she hallucinates the boyfriend in the mirror and smashes it with a chair. In doing so, she releases the boyfriend's spirit, and he's looking for revenge! So this one goes right for the supernatural jugular. It takes a while to get there, but it eventually hits its mark. The whole "spirit trapped in a mirror" bit is effective and they wring a lot of juice out of the little bits of mirror finding themselves scattered and thus providing our Boogey Man with a wide range of victims. Of course, you don't actually see him, it's all just levitating knives and pitchforks and whatnot, but that works well enough. He can also kinda, sorta possess people, and like, shine green light that makes people's eyes bleed.
    Giving you the ol green eye.
    Or something. His powers aren't exactly defined so well. The first half of the movie is far too clunky for it to be a classic, and while it picks up, it never really overcomes its limitations. A worthy watch for slasher fans, but again, not top tier. **
  • Hardly Working: Slasher (Short)
  • Horror Friends Forever (Robot Chicken)
  • April Fools Day (trailer)
  • He Knows You're Alone - A serial killer specializing in brides-to-be stalks a woman as she prepares for her wedding. The woman's ex is a persistent douche who won't leave her alone, so he gets to help out. Meanwhile, a police detective (and fiance to the first victim) is hot on his trail. Now this is the stuff. It hits the conventions but never gets too lurid or too trashy, and the tactical execution is pretty solid too. It's most famous for being the onscreen debut of Tom Hanks (who isn't around for long, but he does get to extemporize on why people like to watch trashy horror movies), but you'll actually recognize a bunch of the actors.
    Behold my terrifying denim jacket
    A lot of "that guys" show up here. Once again, the killer isn't masked and the historical element is a bit lacking, but he's a little better than the Slumber Party Massacre guy and the film does a great job with his many stalkery reveals. Overall, it's a really fun slasher, and it feels less trashy than your typical entry while still working in the same arena. Not exactly fine cinema, but I really enjoyed it. ***
Whoa, week 5 is already down? Yikes, this is going fast! Not sure what's up next, but I've got lots of stuff in the queue... In the meantime, check out Zack over at Film Thoughts, who is updating nearly every day...
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One of the dorky things I've been doing lately to ring in the season around my favorite holidays is to check out holiday-themed episodes of various TV shows. Because I'm a glutton for punishment, I decided to check out the Halloween episodes for a bunch of 80s shows. It turns out that I'm not the first dope to have this idea, but since I've already watched the shows, I figured I'd give my readers the skinny on a few of these shows (and there's not total overlap, so there is that). It being the 80s, there are lots of recurring motifs and tropes that seem to have disappeared. Notably, many of these shows seem to feature a rational protagonist refusing to believe the seemingly supernatural happenings of the day and being vindicated right before having their legs cut out from under them by a piece of unexplained evidence. Most of the episodes follow this formula, and the ones that don't tend to fall a bit flat. Anywho, enough preamble, let's hop to it:
  • Quantum Leap - S3E5 - "The Boogieman - October 31, 1964" - First and foremost, the opening of quantum leap, where a disembodied female voice explains Dr. Sam Beckett's predicament, is surprisingly effective and really generates empathy. I probably haven't seen an episode of Quantum Leap in 25 years, but I was immediately back in the swing of things. It helps that this is probably the best of the Halloween episodes (though another one stuck out in my mind for reasons that will be discussed below). So Sam leaps into Joshua Rey, a horror novelist referred to as a second-rate H.P. Lovecraft (so... Brian Lumly? Zing!). He is, of course, dressed in a ridiculous getup and his house seems abnormally... Gothic.
    Sam Beckett as a second-rate HP Lovecraft
    It turns out that it's Halloween and he's working on Church's haunted house and of course this is going to be the best one ever, right neighborhood boy? Right! Naturally, really bizarre things start happening and bodies are dropping like flies and a suspicious goat starts showing up and there's a Black Mamba snake for some reason and Al and Ziggy are acting all funny and is the devil really the culprit here and oh look, all work and no play make Joshua a dull boy. This one has great Halloween atmosphere and thus makes for a good episode, and there's enough tricksy stuff going on that you're not quite sure what's going to happen. Plus, we're treated to two stingers, one about an unexplainable supernatural event, and the other a sorta cameo, both pretty good. I'm pleasantly surprised by how well Quantum Leap is holding up here. Not exactly "Golden Age of TV" stuff, but really fun and still emminently watchable. I'm told this fans consider this episode ccccurrrsed, as countless VCRs were destroyed in attempting to record or playback this episode. The author of that article mentions she had trouble with Hulu as well, but come on, it's Hulu. Anyway, I had no troubles, and it's worth watching.
  • Quantum Leap - S5E15 - "Blood Moon - March 10, 1975" - So this episode is one of the reasons I actually wanted to go through this whole rigamarole and watch these 80s shows. I have a very distinct memory of the stinger in this episode where the rational protagonist is suddenly confronted with something unexplainable. For some reason, I had attributed this in my head to MacGyver (more on him below), but it turns out that this Quantum Leap episode was what I was thinking of... Sam leaps into Nigel Corrington, who lives in an English castle and sleeps in a coffin and is thus, obviously, a vampire (Al is convinced, Sam is of course not). Indeed, it appears to be the night of The Blood Moon, a night that commemorates one of the earliest vampires, and Nigel is entertaining two visitors intent on observing the vampiric tradition of murdering Nigel's freshly minted, commoner wife. Nice gothic atmosphere and an entertaining tale, also worth checking out. And that stinger is great fun!
  • Quantum Leap - S4E16 - "Ghost Ship - August 13, 1956" - Alright, so this one apparently isn't an actual Halloween episode, but come on, Sam flies into the Bermuda Triangle in this one, and is there anything more 80s spooky than that? Of course the instruments go all haywire and Al has trouble maintaining contact with Ziggy (and, for that matter, Sam) and of course one of the passengers on the plan has her appendix burst, so it's vitally urgent that they find their way to nearby Bermuda (and it's hospital) rather than turning around and making the long trip back to the mainland. Again, nothing particularly Haloweeny about the episode, but it's got the main formula in place, with plenty of spooky things happening and, of course, a neat little stinger that seemingly confirms the Burmuda Triangle's bona fides. Another fun episode that is totally worth checking out.
  • MacGyver - S4E1 - The Secret of Parker House - This doesn't explicitly take place on Halloween or anything, but it concerns a haunted house (and was aired on Halloween), so that seems like enough. So Mac is inexplicably friends with the rather daffy Penny Parker (played by Teri Hatcher), who has just inherited her aunt's old mansion. It is, of course, rumored to be haunted. Some mysterious happenings, a convenient lightning strike, and a strange facial reconstruction later, and we find that it's not quite haunted. It turns out that the house was built in prohibition days and had a hidden distillery, and a simpleton groundskeeper was hiding in there (and thus causing some mischief). It's a decent little episode, and of course it turns out to be completely rational. Or does it! This doesn't hold up as well as the Quantum Leap episodes, but it was a decent enough watch.
  • Cheers - S3E4 - "Fairy Tales Can Come True" - It's Halloween at Cheers, and the no-name regulars are giving Cliff a hard time because they never see him making the moves on women. But when he's in costume as Ponce De Leon, he doesn't seem to be as tongue tied or nervous as when he's himself, and thus meets the woman of his dreams. Or something, as I don't think she shows up again, but this is a nice enough episode, worth it for the costumes (but then, not really spooky either).
  • Cheers - S4E5 - "Diane's Nightmare" - Diane dreams that "Andy Andy" has escaped from a mental institution and is coming to kill her (is he a guy from a previous episode? I don't remember that, but it's easy enough to follow.) Then she wakes up, and has to face "Andy Andy" again. It's a neat little episode, not quite spooky but certainly on the spectrum and enough to make it a nice Halloween experience. These sitcom episodes don't really follow the formula, but this one has a funny stinger at the end (albeit, not a supernatural one).
  • Cheers - S5E5 - "House of Horrors with Formal Dining and Used " - Carla finds a great house in her price range. The only catch is that it's built on top of a 17th century prison graveyard and the dead prisoners have vowed on their revenge. Being ever superstitious, Carla decides that if she can spend the night there without incident, all will be well, and Cliff helps out. A funny take on the tired premise, it works well enough for sure. No real reference to Halloween, but enough hints of murderous ghosts that it seems worthwhile.
  • Cheers - S10E7 - "Bar Wars V: The Final Judgement" - Another in a long line of prank episodes between the folks at Cheers and rival, Gary's Olde Towne Tavern. This one involve's Gary's death and Sam's refusal to believe it isn't a prank, which it isn't. Or is it? All the prank episodes are fun, and while this one takes place on Halloween, it only involves a couple of seasonal-related gags (albeit, pretty good ones). Good times, as usual with Cheers...
So there you have it. If you're looking for some 80s Halloween chills, check out those Quantum Leap episodes (and there are a couple of others that I didn't get to as well), as they hold up pretty well. MacGyver was less successful (though I didn't watch the "Mac Wrastles Fucking Bigfoot" episode, so keep that in mind). Cheers is fun, but not particularly Halloweeny... I'm told there are lots of other 80s shows with great Halloween episodes, but I wasn't able to get to them (maybe next year... if Netflix still has them)... Anywho, stay tuned for, well, I'm not sure what's up for this weekend. Either old-school slashers or new school Blumhouse stuff... come back on Sunday to find out!
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