Time to eat some crow... I don't like this episode anymore. Part of that clearly comes with the same "my brain lied to me" high-expectations that bothered me with "Korman's Kalamity" after seeing most of it as a kid. But, even more holes have been poked into this after at least 5 re-watches. Now, as I said before, I don't even like it. And there's no real reason that should be. As, this is one of the few episodes where there isn't really a twist. Just a very natural progression for what they've set up. So, with that in mind... why didn't they go all the way? Logic is thrown right out the window when the booth see Trip's dead body... and don't pull the plug immediately. "Whatever you're doing, keep doing it- it really looks real!
" Uh... yeah, that's right: Horton and Trip planned to kill Trip, bloody his head, and hang him from the ceiling then set this all up within the minute they were having camera problems... Meanwhile, the air is holding the camera. Someone who went in with them even though you know the entire crew is standing outside the house (for...some
reason) and watched Horton and Trip go in alone- okay, the booth are a bunch of idiots. Furthermore, we meet Horton and, we get it: he's a douchebag. They tightly wrap up the character in the one scene of him and producer Sam talking about who has edge and who doesn't. She goes back to the booth and says the things she can't say to his face. Fine, she's entitled. That's enough, guys. Good job. Then, the director has to get in his digs: "you fuckin' dickhead!
" Did these guys have a relationship that I don't know about? I don't know this guy, why am I listening to him criticizing Horton? Isn't his "if you dare
" line a good way to bait viewers? This is kinda hurting his ability to play shocked audience at the end.
Then, Trip's got an attitude too. I... don't... know
this guy! Now I think I know how the Scream
haters feel, because this is exactly the kind of thing they were complaining about with that film. Only, this doesn't make any sense. "Wow- I feel like I'm in fuckin' Lost in Space
What are you talking about? What does that mean? It's dusty? It's dark? It feels like a barren wasteland? Uh... that's because nobody's lived there in years, genius! This guy is clearly a type. And we're supposed to accept that and move on. Well, it's not 1989 anymore. This guy isn't a type anymore. He's a person. And this is a 20-minute episode. There is time to build up your characters, guys. So I don't have to ask all these questions about these people who have no relationship with Horton, yet have a bunch of things to say to him. There's time to explain or at least show us why there are at least a dozen extra crew members at the beginning, yet absolutely none at the end who aren't in the booth. Or why Dr. Wirkshafter is suddenly completely missing. Wouldn't it help the atmosphere if they heard noises or just got a cold feeling and left then? Or ran away when they heard screaming? How would this be a waste of time? See, this is an episode about sensationalism- is it not? Wouldn't it help the theme if there were a lot more going on outside the house? They sure is in the beginning. Then, at the end... nothing. Just 3 people reacting like "look what we've done...", well, frankly- you didn't do it alone. Yet, there you sit alone. Taking all the guff I've got to give for treating Trip's death the same way you treat Horton's. Again...would help immensely if there were an explanation for this. Something I could point to in hindsight that doesn't leave me feeling irritated.
Or, better yet, something that doesn't leave me to cannibalize the rest of the episode. Which is where I'm about to go: why is the floor a mat of some sort? Underneath the carpet, Horton's footsteps are sinking in like he's standing on a couch. Or: did he really just crash through a table, collapsing it to the floor, like it was a dollhouse? (Note: the director was previously a stuntman and stunt coordinator.) Is that old lady with the chainsaw supposed to be scary? This time, I'm not going to say we should have seen more of her beforehand. We saw plenty. I applaud their idea to hide her face until this reveal. But... the reveal has nothing to it. It's just An Old Lady with a Chainsaw. Making stupid faces. At this rate, they could have just continued hiding her face and probably have done a better job. I've never seen a chainsaw murder played so blandly. Is all the cursing and angered, impatient dialogue being used to drive up tension? Because in that case, my mind re-imagined this episode for a reason. Anything would have been scarier and more tense than these final few minutes are. Old man ghosts in white face makeup? Wasn't sitting through The Sentinel
once enough? Anyway... enough bitching. Does it deserve Top 20 placement? I think with most people, they know this is all we're ever going to get with this formula which is fascinating and does need some form of representation. So, I will go with the majority on this one. After all: there is still some good mood, the core idea of do-anything-to-get-ratings is relevant, the moment with the house shaking around and doors bleeding is excellent, and Morton Downey Jr. was fantastic.
Lance is supposed to be John Wayne or Clint Eastwood or some kind of rogue cowboy here. His match, the guy from the 1989 tacky action romp Road House
, Kevin Tighe, is not quite the actor Henriksen is but he does pathetic rather well (his only choice since he's up against one of the most imposing men in cinema history). By the time there are 2 bullets left and he lucks out, it makes sense that he is so full of excitement that he can't pretend to be cool anymore (coupled with the leftover fear of possibly getting the bullet that turn). Nearly every sentence of his, he just can't wait to get the words out of his mouth. Henriksen is perfect at waiting for his moment. He takes every last one of his turns like it's the one that really counts. Then, Tighe blows his- I'd say every one out of 3 (perfectly molding his finger-losing "O"-face well in advance). Which is a lot considering how dialogue-centered this episode is and how much it derives intensity from the performances. If the name of this game is stubborn competition, this episode earns big points for finding a way to make it compelling in spite of its' childishness. It sure as hell isn't scary. But, with this bizarre relationship, there is bound to be some entertaining friction. So let's just say, whether it's the greatest showdown or not- the time flies. A bit of gore is welcome here. But, the most intriguing thing about the entire episode is an interruption to their gun fight that actually suggests they more than respect each other, despite their bickering. Though I just can't help but say I'd more enjoy watching Lance as a stripping cowboy or romantic leading man than as a rough-edged cardplayer. He'd already done the "this town ain't big enough
" toughguy routine more effectively in the vampire-western Near Dark
, playing a more world-weary character with a greater air of authority and command.
"The Reluctant Vampire
I don't know if you know this, but I'm a real romantic at heart (one of my favorite horror films, and this is entirely relevant here, is John Landis's Innocent Blood
- which came out the following year). Now, I think there are a lot of reasons to love this episode. But the best thing about it is the romance between Sally and Longtooth's characters. And getting to see that in an episode with as much drunken-montage (another Crypt
-trend-I-love callback, to "Spoiled") body pile-up as this one, coupled with Sally's reaction at the end (the exact opposite of Wynona Ryder's "take me away from all this...death!
" in Bram Stoker's Dracula
, also the following year- "Reluctant" sure saw a Hollywood trend about to blow up) is extremely refreshing. And is something that hasn't waned since I first saw the episode. The two already make a great couple. Then the writing decides the only thing to do with her character is to have it so nothing would shock her. This is all the smarter since I felt having his fangs emerge as a side-effect of amore-tinged horniness was not the greatest touch. But, they decided that she would have a similar quirk- watching him kill turns her on. She acts like a shy little city-belle type but, as fate would have it, she's much more than appearances suggest (which is something the show tried with far lesser returns in "Lover Come Hack to Me"). So, it kinda has something for the old-fashioned at heart and people who want to see something hipper (especially for a woman who would today instantly be typecast as a Betty White clone).
Then there's Malcolm McDowell (before he lost all his genre cred in Rob Zombie's Holloween
shitfests). His range here is magnificent. I even got a little chill when he discovered Mr. Crosswhite had taken the record books home with him. He's definitely not playing a wimpy type, as ravenous blood-fiend or (would-be) suave suitor of the night. In fact... watching him playing in the blood vaults almost borders on gluttonous apathy since he does this right after Crosswhite delivers his "your jobs are all in jeopardy
" speech to the bank workers. But he is seriously into this part. And it's fun to watch that. This thing is cast perfectly, with almost every actor given an against-type role. Landis made a pretty big deal about "sweet Norm from Cheers
" finally playing a horrible guy in his 2nd season Masters of Horror
episode, but... here he is, 15 years before that, and in my (anything but) humble opinion doing a much better job (or being a lot more enjoyable). Then Paul Gleason gets a tiny role as the detective but, you have to love that the episode doesn't just steamroll him over when Michael Berryman's hunter-inspector shows up with his expert insights that seem like they're sending him on a wild goose chase. The scene where they examine the first victim's body is so wonderfully against cliche. I'm glad this isn't a movie. And of course Berryman is horribly underrated (I say this again with a talent-wasting Rob Zombie reference in mind- The Devil's Rejects
; that guy should be run out of town for what he's done to our beloved icons). This episode reminds me why he's so great- he really is more versatile than the parts he usually gets.
"The New Arrival
Okay, so I think we've so far seen with this countdown that the show tried several times to replicate their successes with copy plots and copy twists: "The Secret" - "Werewolf Concerto," "The Ventriloquist's Dummy" - "Strung Along," "Abra Cadaver" - "This'll Kill Ya," "Mournin' Mess" - "House of Horror." With that, they don't get much more shameless than "Television Terror" - "The New Arrival." Except that this episode has a much better supporting cast and now, for all the nasty, unlikable people throwing stuff at each other, the episode's focus is at least half on the characters. And there's a tagline we get very early on that guides us right through- "good psychology beats bad behavior." The Dr. here is all about bad behavior, so his psychology is clearly full of shit but his work methods and personal relationships branch out into some extremely interesting scenes. Not only is his crew actually right in the house with him but they all have their own separate theories about what's going on and how he should deal with it. None more insightful and closer to the actual truth than the cutthroat Rona (Joan Severance), the bain of Dr. David Warner and producer Twiggy's existences, who proves her smarts by noticing and questioning the edge-of-frame details the Dr. completely ignores. Not bad for someone initially more concerned with her shoes than her employees. Another great surprise is the at first naive and dopey Zelda Rubinstein, who turns out to have a more enlightened view on his training and the value of his mentor's work. She basically nails the guy and isn't even trying to, which would certainly bring satisfaction to any disappointed buyers of the book hoping to actually help their children. So, no, it's not nearly the same scareshow as "Television Terror" but it does give the brain a lot to chew on, is shot far more eerily (though again, it intends to be more freaky than creepy), and does have that friggin' awesome ceiling fan moment (just one shot of blood splattering on the wall and there'd be no competition with TT). In its' quest for random bizarreness, they succeed beyond TT- Nora's place is the kind of madhouse that would impress the freaks of Nothing but Trouble
, with a new and elaborate gag for every room they happen upon. In the end, it doesn't have all that much to do with the condition "little Felicity"s condition is in. But it is a reminder of how much this show can really achieve with its' non-existent budget.
I'm going to be short with this one. Because this time, the key to recognizing its' genius is in seeing the one thing that elevates the rest of the episode to masterwork level. Frankly, there's almost nothing to the episode's disease camp death-show by itself. You go in, get it, and die. Horribly. Then there's a back-stabbing between two photographer characters, one who wants what the other's got, that almost feels as tragic and through-the-heart as anything Shakespeare ever wrote. But that has absolutely nothing to do with their would-be brotherly bond. It's all about the one person with the ability to make the has-been photographer Roger Daltry - portrayed as very tired and cynical - stand on his toes... and this time, I'm happy to report that this powerful person is Lysette Anthony. Who, thanks to Hollywood typecasting (as the definitive Euro-trash Bitch Who Thinks She's Better Than She Really Is), I didn't realize was this damn good an actress. She's the voice of reasoning (it's single-handedly because of her that Daltry doesn't have to say "a pretty girl like you and a troll like Steve Buscemi" even though he more than suggests it) and the passionate inspiration for Buscemi's lust for life in spite of the ghastly things he photographs and yet she's the dark cloud of doom hanging over everything. Because she's also the eye of truth here. Before Daltrey even has his plan to send Buscemi into Valmalera to get the disease for both of them, she's peering right into his soul and giving him the only advice he needs while the music (Jay Ferguson again- I love this guy!) is laying on the biggest warning-of-mortal-dread vibe of probably the entire series. What of course is so brilliant about this is that, as the eye of truth, she isn't just telling him that he will die if he doesn't need her words- she's saying: everybody's gonna die! For once, a character's morality (call it whatever you want) transcends into premonition.
(That was short, wasn't it?)
(Well, if it wasn't, this one'll surely be.) Fun. Fun. Fun. And... fun. Nothing here is serious, and so even if the twist seems to hinge on supernatural stupidity - Fingerprints? Blood Test? Photo Comparison? Lots of ways to make the jury realize how stupid they are and put Mr. Psycho Cop in his place - that doesn't really matter. This one just gives you exactly what you want to see. Great over-the-top performances. Carroll Baker is beyond hilarious. I've seen this at least 6 times now and I still laugh at her scenes. Excellent cast. Good music. Everything looks good- especially the cheesy Brazilian club set. And I think the twist has a certain oppressive quality, though MJFox and co. are still just goofing around, there's just a bit of tension to suit its' almost game-show-like "This is Your Trial
"My Brother's Keeper
Okay, flaw first: Frank's a dick. He's not the most sympathetic guy in the world, given the outline of the facts of the case, and seems to take any excuse he thinks he can get away with for getting out of the surgery. They become increasingly hard to believe. This kinda makes the twist more disturbing and chilly, certainly, but harder to enjoy. And much easier to see coming. But, most importantly... shut up, you asshole. You had your chance- Mr. Germandoctorbratwurstbeerstein said he could re-route your bloodstream. Now the guy's a genius? You said you didn't trust him before. Not even a lifetime of happiness with Marie was enough to get you to sign the release. Ugh
. Now, I know Eddie's not sympathetic either, but you have to admit you understand better just why that is watching Frank fuck everything up. Yet, the "if they kill me, they kill you- now that's cruel and unusual punishment
" element of the twist makes it pretty darn brilliant. It's just sad to see something like sour an otherwise perfect episode. Now, you have to sympathize with Eddie, no matter what. Though he does have his moments: "more stimulating than a tank of nitrus oxide and a 12-inch vibrator? That's the kind of party I throw, babe
." Casting is nothing short of perfect. Since we have to like him now, it's worth noting that Johnathan Stark's hair has improved immeasurably since Fright Night
and his comedic range makes him a real cutup. Meanwhile, Timothy Stack as good-brother hits his peak when he gets mad. That's something you probably never saw on Son of the Beach
. He's legitimately creepy in the ending (have I given a man the creepy compliment yet?), bordering on charming serial killer creepy (what I suppose Wayne Newton would have had to be to alert viewers of "The Pit" that he was the biggest villain). Actually, he's always pretty repelling when he smiles. What are you hiding, dude?
And, then, Jessica Harper in something horror-related again (that's enough to forgive what they did to her hair). There are inspired touches of cleverness from beginning to end and the feeling that I get watching the twist never fails to unsettle me a lot.
"Maniac at Large
Probably the most cinematic episode of the series, this one looks a bit drab but right from the start- I was hooked. The music, the camerawork, the cast, the little bits of tension they throw here, there, and everywhere. Jabbering Adam Ant shows Corey Feldman how it's done. Salome Jens is not going to fool anyone as a potential red herring, so she does a combination of high-nosed tyrant and no-bullshit realist; she's not given enough time to really delve into it but her character has a theory on why the papers don't fathom the possibility that the killer could be a woman. Furthermore, her "everyone gets what he or she deserves
" speech kinda sums it all it up right there (although, I guess this was the last time anyone would even try to make a horror story about imagining a threat where there was none). Blythe Danner looks a million years old (the curse of the Crypt
makeup department, no doubt- sorry, Jessica Harper) but she is so good that even if you guessed the twist (by the way, not just who
the killer is but also why they did it), you'll be surprised by how she pulls this off. The final shot is... just, unbelievable. I usually define creepy by how it feels like the other person is inside my head. This time, you get inside their head and it's jaw-dropping. It is a short "confession" bit but her laugh, her change of vocal pitch, the fact that you know Clarence Williams III isn't really listening... easily one of the best moments in the entire series. Pure insanity caught on film.
In terms of having an episode where a character keeps getting poked and prodded, whether you like them or not, this one is the most effective. It mixes humor and social commentary with its' dark story of a guy who'll do anything to have things his way but starts to lift them away slowly as things get more dire and death creeps up on the horizon. Then, you get a much better idea of just how heartless this antagonist is. But on the Crypt
, that isn't quite enough. So, they make it morbid by adding a workmanlike scene of him mutilating the dead body of his nephew... just to save a few bucks on a coffin. It's a classic cold, methodical episode that aims to make you feel human apathy and selfishness in as palpable a way as possible. It succeeds. The twist would be silly but, the incredibly macabre imagery and soundtrack-of-your-life
feel to the music firmly keeps the tone in-check. Also, having a black cast, the show almost groundbreakingly pulls no punches in its use of a black man to depict a dead-hearted opportunist and self-righteous, hypocritical penny-pincher. The religious stuff had the potential to rub people the wrong way. Yet, I think anyone can see this guy just isn't a true believer anyway.
So... I hear people don't like this one? Well, I'll match that shocker with one you've probably heard from me before- I don't like Re-Animator
. Chief among the reasons why is because it very literally feels like a trip to the morgue. This doesn't shock me. It sure as hell doesn't make me feel any proper sense of repulsion or dread. And, against expectation given the film's insane amount of praise, it has zero sense of energy to go along with its' buckets of gore. It's a complete flatliner. What does any of this have to do with this episode? Well, I won't call "Cadaver" a thrill-ride or an untamable gorefest. But: it gets me involved. The story may be oldhat (I think that's what Rhett called it) but with these actors, it's easy to get through whatever rugged terrain is underneath the lead-in to what I consider to be one of the show's most terrifying series of sequences. I'm a big fan of what the camera is able to make me feel as a viewer and, looking at what the character perceives to be the handling of his body after death - coupled with what the twist reveals - is pretty close to being what I buy as being a waking nightmare. Things just keep getting worse and you sort of have to wonder- is this really what death could be like? Have we really learned what the brain will truly experience after clinical death? Because I'll admit, I'm far behind on my medical knowhow. Furthermore, Tony Goldwin is really selling this performance. His terror-filled internal shrieks made me feel on-edge throughout. The meat locker sequence especially just milks this tension for all its' worth. And, Beau Bridges in your face repeatedly. Excellent use of camera. Excellent cast. And there's a little light humor too (the rasta MA playing with Goldwin's dead body like it were an action figure). I don't really know what else the episode could have done to please people.