World’s Worst Trekkie: Elaan of Troyius, Whom Gods Destroy, and Let That Be Your Last Battlefield

Listen, I meant what I said however many months ago: I will finish TOS this year. It might not happen until the very last week of 2022—October, undoubtedly, will be swallowed whole by horror movies—but it WILL happen.

So. Let’s dive back in, shall we?

“Elaan of Troyius”

Oh, boy. Okay. The Enterprise is on an escort mission. They’re transporting Elaan, the Dohlman of Elas, to the planet Troyius, where she is to marry their ruler and create peace between their two worlds. Only one problem: Elaan doesn’t want to get married and live on Troyius. She certainly doesn’t want the Troyian ambassador, Petri, to teach her their customs; in fact, when he enters her quarters without permission, she stabs him. (She’s hilariously nonchalant about it, too.) Since Elaan responds (somewhat) better to Kirk, he ends up trying to teach her courtesy and table manners. The lessons go, uh. Well, we’ll come back to that. What’s important here is that Elaan cries on him, which isn’t great because her tears are a biochemical love potion. Meanwhile, Klingons are trying to blow up the Enterprise. Again, not great, as the ship has been sabotaged and needs dilithium crystals to escape. Thankfully, Elaan is wearing dilithium crystals: her necklace is made out of them. Turns out, these crystals are common stones around here, which is why the Klingons are so invested in gaining control of this territory. The Enterprise neutralizes the Klingon threat, Elaan ultimately goes to Troyius, and Kirk conquers his love for Elaan with his love for the Enterprise, or some shit.

“Elaan of Troyius” is basically The Taming of the Shrew in space, and since I hate the ending of that play almost as much as I hate the ending of The Merchant of Venice . . . yeah, this wasn’t my favorite episode. There are some good things, like, the costumes are hysterical. Elaan has kind of a Cleopatra meets Leeloo thing going on, and her guards, well. Just look at these silly ass costumes. And I actually do like Elaan (France Nuyen from The Joy Luck Club). Yes, she’s literally a royal pain in the ass, but she’s also doing her best to get out of an extremely shitty situation where she has to leave not only her home but her entire home world behind to marry her enemy and live in a culture that’s completely antithetical to her own. If this story had a happier ending, Elaan would take off with the Klingons, where she’d obviously thrive; instead, she abruptly makes peace with her situation for no clear reason that I can see and goes off to live a presumably miserable existence with her new husband. I don’t necessarily mind that she does this, like, it’s her duty, it’s for the good of her people, etc. But the story doesn’t bother to present any real turning point in her arc. Elaan just changes her mind because, well. Cause the episode is about to end.

And Jesus, the casual misogyny and ethnocentric bullshit in this one. Like, Kirk supposedly explaining Troian customs to Elaan by yelling at her about (white, Western) human table manners: using silverware, eating food off the plate, not drinking straight from the bottle, etc. He calls her both an “uncivilized savage” and a “vicious child in a woman’s body.” He threatens to spank her and actually does slap her—which, sure, she slapped him first, but you kind of hope that a Starfleet captain could manage to display authority without resorting to physical violence. Kirk also has these wise words to offer Spock: “The women on your planet are logical. That’s the only planet in this galaxy that can make that claim.”

For real. Fuck this guy.

Chief Asshat: Kirk, no doubt.

MVP: France Nuyen, without question. I really do enjoy her performance here.

Grade: Rocky Road

Line of the Episode: “So, Ambassador Petri is going to recover. That is too bad.”

“Whom Gods Destroy”

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Kirk and Spock beam down to an asylum for the criminally and incurably insane on Elba II, a planet with an atmosphere that’s poisonous to humans. They’re bringing medicines that might be able to cure insanity once and for all; unfortunately, one patient, Captain Garth (AKA, Lord Garth), a former Starfleet captain and one of Kirk’s many heroes, has taken over the place, imprisoning the warden (Keye Luke) and quickly capturing Kirk and Spock. Garth almost escapes a few times because he has, er, learned how to shapeshift? Thankfully, though, Scotty isn’t allowed to beam anyone up unless they give the proper chess-themed countersign. (It’s a decent idea, honestly, but it’d make a lot more sense if one, Kirk had actual reason to suspect shapeshifters here, and two, if anyone on this ship had ever thought to use a secret password before—or, presumably, ever again.) Roughly 45 minutes of shenanigans later, Kirk and Garth-Kirk battle it out, Spock finally realizes which is which, and Garth gets the new medicine and seems to regain some lucidity. Uh. Folks? Did Trek just . . . cure all mental illness wholesale?

Honestly, I did have a pretty fun time watching this one. If you enjoy William Shatner’s particular brand of overacting, Garth-Kirk’s temper tantrum alone is well worth the price of admission. But a lot of the dialogue is genuinely funny, too. I enjoy Steve Ihnat as Garth, and I like his girlfriend Marta (Yvonne Craig, AKA, Batgirl), an Orion patient who boldly and hilariously takes credit for Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 18.” Marta also attempts to seduce Kirk before quickly trying to stab him, which is frankly something I wish more of Kirk’s ladies would do on this show. (I wonder if Marta and Elaan might get along.) And yes, there’s a sexy dance because of course there’s a sexy dance, but I’m mildly amused that Spock, predictably unmoved, is reminded of a Vulcan children’s dance while watching it. (He does specify the children themselves are not usually so “coordinated.”) There are, I’m sure, a lot of creepy, terrible jokes that can be made here, but I’m genuinely interested in exploring things that are considered obviously sexy by (many) humans, but aren’t considered even remotely sexy by non-humans.

Still, this episode is something of a hot mess. Lots of silly or lazy writing, like the aforementioned password, Garth’s very random shapeshifting abilities, and especially Spock’s inability to tell which Kirk is the real Kirk. Cause one, bullshit, sir. Spock could obviously come up with questions that only Kirk would be able to answer. And two, Spock doesn’t even need to ask questions. He could just stun both dudes, and the problem would immediately be solved. There’s also the subject matter itself, which, admittedly, isn’t nearly as offensive as I’d feared. Garth’s delusional megalomania is played for laughs, but it somehow doesn’t feel as gross as I’d expected, and Kirk does tell Garth that his mental illness isn’t his fault, which is surprisingly progressive. That being said, uh, we’re keeping these people in tiny cells on a planet thats atmosphere is poison; clearly, we’re not that progressive. And while it isn’t Garth’s fault that he’s sick, Kirk also says Garth’s not truly responsible for the terrible things he’s done, and . . . no, that’s not quite how responsibility works. Like, Garth murders Marta here;  he is, ultimately, responsible for that. I also feel like Garth’s mental illness would be more compelling if we got a deeper glimpse of past trauma or something that made his disease feel more character-oriented, rather than simply a plot obstacle. (Also? Garth can’t watch He-Man anymore because he says “Master of the Universe” way too often.) And seriously, DID TREK CURE INSANITY? Like, I have so many follow-up questions.

Chief Asshat: I mean. Garth did blow Marta up. (And not just with any bomb, mind you, but the most powerful explosive in the universe. Seriously, some silly ass writing in this episode.)

MVP: Marta, poor Marta. I will miss your stolen poetry and attempts at homicide.

Grade: Chocolate

Line of the Episode: Oh, this is difficult. There really are several good quotes here. Kirk has a few nicely delivered lines, like when Garth proposes that Kirk serve as a human sacrifice, and he’s like, “No, I wouldn’t enjoy that at all.” Also, Spock being questioned about whether he and Kirk are brothers or not: “Kirk speaks somewhat figuratively and with undue emotion. However, what he says is logical, and I do, in fact, agree with it.” And of course, Garth telling Kirk, “You continue to resist. That was stupid of you.”

Still, I think I’m going to have to give this one to Marta, notorious poet thief:

“You wrote that?!”
“Yesterday, as a matter of fact.”
“It was written by an Earth man named Shakespeare a long time ago!”
“Which does not alter the fact that I wrote it again yesterday!”

“Let That Be Your Last Battlefield”

Oh, no. We’ve hit this episode: TOS takes on racism.

The Enterprise rescues Lokai, a shuttle thief whose skin is black on the left side and white on the right. Then Bele (Frank Gorshin, AKA The Riddler), an alien cop whose skin is white on the left side and black on the right, pops up and demands that Kirk hand over Lokai and fly them back to their home planet. Lokai, himself, demands political asylum, and we quickly discover that Bele’s people once enslaved Lokai’s people, and even now Lokai’s people are still widely oppressed. Bele has apparently been hunting Lokai down for 50,000 years, so he’s pretty obsessed about it; when Kirk won’t do what he wants, Bele psychically takes over the ship and—eventually—gets them back to his world, only to discover that everyone there is dead, having annihilated one another. Despite this, Lokai and Bele are unable to let go of their hatred, so when Lokai escapes to the planet, Bele gives (hilariously pathetic) chase, and the Enterprise leaves them there, presumably to kill each other and/or die of exhaustion.

So. This is not a subtle episode. Subtlety wants absolutely nothing to do with this clunky ass episode. That being said, I like some of it. I enjoy the bridge crew’s quiet reactions when Kirk orders the self-destruct sequence. Frank Gorshin’s performance, for the most part, is really solid throughout—except that chase scene, which I think is supposed to indicate a man on the verge of emotional and physical collapse, but which is really just the silliest and saddest running I’ve ever seen in my life. I like how Spock and Kirk are completely baffled when they discover the cause of this entire racial divide, and Bele is just as baffled (not to mention indignant) to realize that they don’t see any meaningful difference between him and Lokai. And—with serious caveats—the downbeat ending works for me, as I assumed this would be the episode where Star Trek handily solves racism in 50 minutes. I think this works better.

That being said. Some of my problems are plot related, like, why is Bele able to psychically steer the ship but can’t disrupt the self-destruct sequence? That seems silly. Also, 50,000 years? No. That’s ridiculous. That is too much. How long do these guys even live? How often did they think, ‘Hey, it’s been 40,000 years. Maybe I should check in and make sure everyone back home is still alive.’ Also bizarre: our heroes are weirdly startled by Lokai’s two-toned skin, to the point that they decide he must be a genetic mutant; Bones even refers to Lokai as “anyone or anything,” like this guy is the most unfathomable being they’ve ever come across, like this isn’t the crew who met Mother Fucking Horta. Acting like Lokai is some inexplicable creature feels like an off-putting way to begin an episode where all our heroes have long since defeated racism. (Which is hard to swallow, too, like, I genuinely enjoy that Star Trek is an aspirational show. Still, exchanges like this one—There was persecution on Earth once. I remember reading about it in my history class/Yes, but it happened way back in the twentieth century. There’s no such primitive thinking today—are always going to be hard to take seriously, partially because that’s not even true in canon—we’ve definitely had racist crew members—and partially because racism is a thing of the past is how many white people talk right now.)

But maybe my biggest problem with this episode is that it’s framed as a “both sides” racism story. Like I said, the metaphor isn’t exactly subtle here: Bele’s people are white people and Lokai’s people are Black. Bele’s people are in the wrong—because when it comes to slavery and brutal systematic oppression—white people are in the wrong. Like, pretty unequivocally. But TOS doesn’t explore that; what it does, instead, is present Lokai and Bele as equally irrational people consumed by hatred. Consider the scene where Lokai is explaining his behavior and the current living situation of his people. You’d think this would be a moving speech, emotional; instead, the scene has a weirdly sinister edge. We barely see Lokai as he speaks; mostly, he’s depicted as a shadowy presence. The scene is primarily from Spock’s POV, actually, as he eavesdrops outside. We even get, like, danger, Will Robinson, danger music, as if Lokai is a serious threat who might brainwash the crew and/or incite them into mutiny and rebellion. (Also, and this is neither here nor there, but why does Lokai know that racist persecution apparently ended on Earth in the 20th century. Honest to God.) It’s also insinuated that Lokai lets people die for him, rather than face danger himself—a theory of which we’ve seen literally zero evidence for. And the whole ending where Kirk urges Lokai and Bele to give up their hate, as if their hate is equal, as if they both have genuine cause to despise one other and will only be free once they let go of their rage . . . like, this is a totally solid ending for some other episode about prejudice, but for one that’s so clearly about white and Black people in 1960’s America? Yeah, I’m not so convinced on that.

Chief Asshat: Bele, obviously

MVP: Frank Gorshin, continuing the winning streak of Batman alums.

Grade: Vanilla

Line of the Episode:

“All that matters to them is their hate.”
“Do you suppose that’s all they ever had, sir?”
“No . . . but that’s all they have left.”

World’s Worst Trekkie: And The Children Shall Lead, Is There In Truth No Beauty, and Spectre of the Gun

“And The Children Shall Lead”

Ah, I see it’s time for another episode of Kirk vs. Creepy Children!

In this particular episode, the Enterprise responds to a distress call from some science colony and finds A) a bunch of dead scientists who’ve died by suicide, and B) the scientists’ very alive and disturbingly cheerful children. Bones is concerned that the children won’t cry or otherwise acknowledge their dead parents and thinks they’re in traumatic shock. He insists that Kirk shouldn’t interrogate them until they’re seen by a child specialist, and like, I am genuinely happy that Bones is a strong advocate for kids here, but as we don’t have a child specialist on board the ship, FFS, yes, we should still probably question them about what the hell happened to their very dead parents.

Well, it turns out that the kids are secretly in contact with  an “angel,” AKA, this malevolent alien entity who’s been giving them psychic powers so they can take over the Enterprise. The five children are able to do this absurdly easily, mostly by making our crew hallucinate shit they fear. Like, Uhura sees herself as a super old and wrinkly woman (sigh), and Sulu sees, er. Giant floating space swords? (They’re hysterical.) Kirk, meanwhile, is infected by an overwhelming anxiety that he’s losing command, so obviously Spock comes to the rescue by dragging him from the Bridge and meaningfully murmuring Jim into his ear. It’s fantastic. I mean, it’s also hilarious because Shatner is overacting, per usual, but come on. The ship. The SHIP.

Kirk then saves the day by emotionally torturing the children with happy home movies juxtaposed with recordings of their parents’ corpses and graves. This makes the kids cry and turn their back on the entity, who gets all melty/gross and quickly fades away. Bones insists that—with the children finally experiencing their grief—they can be helped now and everything will be okay! Personally, I think he might be calling victory a mite early, because these kids are absolutely gonna be traumatized for life.

“And The Children Shall Lead” is often considered one of the worst episodes of TOS and, like. Yeah, it’s not good. Characters make wild leaps in logic, the kids take over the ship far too easily, and also they do this whole “shake their fist in the air” routine whenever they use their magic powers, which gets old real fast. Also, uh. The Enterprise tries to beam two officers down to the planet, only due to magic fuckery, they don’t realize they’ve long left orbit, so I think . . . I think they just beamed two dudes into space? And no one ever mentions it again? Holy shit. Still, I’m pretty sure this wouldn’t even crack my Top 5 Worst TOS Episodes. Remember, I just watched “The Paradise Syndrome.” This show’s gonna have to work pretty hard to top that bullshit.

Chief Asshat: I mean. Psychologically terrorizing small children isn’t great, but Kirk kinda had to do it to save everyone on board and all. Still, he could probably stand to feel a little worse about it afterwards, instead of standing around like a smug asshole.

MVP: George Takei has to pretend to be afraid of giant floating space swords. I’m giving this one to him.

Grade: Rocky Road

Line of the Episode: “Humans do have an amazing capacity for believing what they choose and excluding that which is painful.”

“Is There In Truth No Beauty?”

First, it needs to be said that these red visors are nothing short of glorious. Move over, “Spock’s Brain” because I’ve got a whole new dream cosplay.

Fashionable visors aside, I actually think this is one of the more interesting TOS episodes I’ve watched in a while. The Enterprise has been tasked with escorting Ambassador Kollos to his home planet. Kollos is a super highly evolved alien, basically a bunch of weird psychedelic light in a box, and this physical appearance is apparently so ugly that if any human were to look upon him, they’d instantly go mad. Only Vulcans can manage it, and even then, only if they’re wearing the proper “warding off insanity” visors. BTW, guess what these aliens are called? Medusans. SERIOUSLY.

Assigned to the ambassador is Dr. Miranda Jones, AKA, Diana Muldaur, and I like her an awful lot here. (Way more than I liked Pulaski in TNG and more than I remember liking Mulhall in “Return to Tomorrow,” too.) Miranda is human, but she’s also a born telepath and has studied on Vulcan for several years for the chance to achieve a true mind link with Kollos. It’s her passion and life’s work, and she has absolutely zero time for romance, which will not stop literally every dude listening to this bullshit toast—

“How can one so beautiful condemn herself to look upon ugliness the rest of her life? Will we allow it, gentlemen?”

—from nodding along in agreement. Creeps. It also doesn’t stop Bones from kissing Miranda’s hand or Kirk’s usual icky flirting or this other dude, Larry, from declaring his extremely unrequited love. Ugh, this guy is so gross. This is apparently like his sixth unwanted confession, and he kisses her without asking, and whines shit like, “Why did I ever meet you?” This petulant fucker even manages to whine when Miranda, psychically intuiting his murderous impulses, still kindly offers to listen to him and get him psychological help. (I would’ve run screaming in the other direction, myself.) Larry’s response: “Great psychologist. Why don’t you try being a woman for a change?” THROW THIS WHOLE MAN INTO A FIRE.

Thankfully for everyone, Larry soon dies. He tries to murder Kollos, gets an eyeful of THE HORROR, loses his mind, and drops dead. (We get an honest to God, “He’s dead, Jim!” and I was so happy!) Unfortunately, Larry also briefly gained control over the Enterprise before dropping dead, speeding the ship up super fast and stranding them in some completely uncharted space—because weird shit happens on Trek when you go faster than warp 9. The Enterprise’s only hope is to achieve a mind link with Kollos, who has the superior knowledge to navigate them back home. However, Kirk and Spock decide that Miranda can’t make the link herself because she doesn’t know how to operate the ship—which kinda seems like bullshit to me, personally. I mean, there are plenty of people onboard who could help with that. This feels like it could’ve been a group effort. Furthermore, they don’t even bother discussing the situation with her because Miranda’s had (an admittedly pretty obvious) chip on her shoulder about Spock and Kollos interacting so far. (She wouldn’t have received the position if Spock hadn’t previously turned it down, see.) Thus Kirk decides to distract her with his Sexy Seduction Skills, while Spock secretly mind melds with the ambassador.

To my absolute delight, Miranda is wholly uninterested in Kirk’s creepy flirting and psychically senses what Spock’s up to. She insists that she can do the job. However, Bones tells her that while she can do almost anything a sighted woman can do, she can’t pilot a starship if she can’t see the controls. It turns out that Miranda is blind and that the elaborate beading on all her dresses actually provide this super sophisticated sensor web, which is just awesome. It’s extremely exciting to see far-future vision impairment and mobility aids, and combining them with fashion? YES. Also, Miranda’s quietly angry monologue here about pity is pretty fantastic. Unfortunately, it’s decided that Miranda’s blindness disqualifies her, which . . . IDK, maybe it’s cause I grew up on TNG and I’m used to Geordi doing all sorts of neat shit, but I just feel like they could’ve made this work. I’m seriously bummed for Miranda.

So, Spock does the mind meld with Kollos, allowing Leonard Nimoy the chance to smile, which is, admittedly, always delightful. They successfully navigate the Enterprise back home, but oh noes! Spock forgets to put his red visor on before he and Kollos break the mental link, so naturally, Spock goes mad. There’s only one chance to save him: Miranda must psychically connect to Spock and restore his sanity.

. . . And sadly, here is where the episode kinda goes to shit because when Miranda—not currently wearing her sensor web, BTW—says that she can’t save Spock, Kirk insists that she secretly wants Spock to die. He accuses her of psychically causing Spock to forget the visor in the first place and then full on manhandles her, like, throws her up against a wall and everything. Yup, that’s Kirk, our hero, just blatantly assaulting a disabled woman. He seems to regret it pretty quickly, but less because it was a terrible thing to do and more because it’s a pretty stupid way to treat the only person who can save your first officer/boyfriend/BFF.

Of course, Miranda does save Spock, and vexingly, thanks Kirk for his violent assault, telling him that he was right about her motivations, which just—doesn’t feel even remotely true. I mean, sure, she was jealous of Spock. I get that and, TBH, actually like it—people are flawed, after all—but nothing in this episode has convinced me that Miranda is so goddamn petty that she would’ve either attempted to MURDER Spock or happily allowed him to die. It’s frustrating because Miranda is otherwise such a fantastic character: intelligent, disabled, reserved, compassionate, envious, confident, and potentially aromantic. (Fuck it, that’s my headcanon, anyway.) So, I’ve chosen to raise my hand and wave this bit of blatant fuckery away because, without it, “Is There In Truth No Beauty” easily makes my TOS Top 10.

Chief Asshat: I think both Larry and Kirk are taking the crown here. Assholes.

MVP: Diana Muldaur, obviously. She’s absolutely fantastic in this.

Grade: Chocolate, if you subtract the last five minutes.

Line of the Episode:
“Bones, why hadn’t you told me?”
“She’d have told you herself if she wanted you to know.”

“Spectre of the Gun”

Well. It’s the Wyatt Earp episode, I guess.

The Enterprise has orders to enter Melkotian space and make contact, but the Melkotians are all, “GTFO, invaders, we don’t want you here.” (In fact, they’re like “GTFO” in every language, which is honestly pretty cool.) You’d think the Federation would respect that, but . . . nah. They’re more like, “Look, if a non-space faring species needs our help, we can’t do shit, but if an advanced species says, ‘Fuck off, we don’t want you here” . . . well, obviously, we have no choice but to ignore them.” So, Kirk’s all, “Well, I’ve got orders, so I guess we’re gonna go ahead, anyway,” which, IDK, like . . .

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Kirk, sadly not nearly as cool Samuel L. Jackson, ends up beaming down to the planet with Spock, McCoy, Scotty, and Chekov, where they are quickly confronted by a Melkotian, who looks kinda like a giant rock head with glowy eyes, and is also (pretty rightfully) pissed off. Our heroes, sentenced to death, are seemingly transported to Tombstone, Arizona in 18-whatever. Everybody there is convinced that they’re members of the Clanton gang, which is obviously unfortunate, since the Clantons are destined to die at the hands of the Earps later that night. And if you’re thinking, gosh, this seems like a really random and unlikely execution method, well, you’re not wrong. I mean, it’s kinda neat that our telepathic aliens devise punishments based on the memories they uncover, but come on. The year is 2268. Wyatt Earp, really? Besides, think how neat it would’ve been to see our heroes act out some old Vulcan tragedy or something. That would’ve been WAY more interesting than watching Kirk run around, trying to convince everyone he’s an interstellar traveler from the future.

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Our heroes try to escape, but can’t. Chekov isn’t quite as bummed as the others because he’s got a girlfriend here; unfortunately, he dies while defending her honor. (Kirk displays regret for half a second, all, hey, maybe I shouldn’t have ignored the Melkotians’ warning. Like, yeah, MAYBE NOT.) Happily, since Chekov died hours before he should’ve, the gang realizes their futures can be changed. They try making a sedative to use against the Earps, but their test run fails for seemingly no reason, causing Spock to realize that this is all an illusion. Chekov didn’t die because he was shot by real bullets; he died because he believed the bullets were real. Since our heroes will also die if they have even a smidgeon of doubt, Spock mind melds with each one of them, instilling the belief that nothing here can kill them. It is kind of interesting to see Spock do, like, conveyor belt mind melds, though—per usual—I wish this led to some kind of cool side effects or consequences. It’s also at least mildly interesting that the Earps are portrayed as full on villains here. I mean, it’s been an admittedly long time since I watched Tombstone OR Wyatt Earp, but I feel like the whole town isn’t usually quite so supportive of the Clantons?

Anyway, the away team obviously survives the climactic gunfight. They have the chance to kill the Earps, but Kirk refuses to take it, which of course impresses the Melkotians enough that they decide to allow for some friendly chitchat, after all. And everyone’s magically returned to their ship, including Chekov, who is—not surprisingly—still alive.

Chief Asshat: Kirk, for obvious reasons, but also Bones and Scotty, too, who are absolute dicks to Spock about his typically reserved reaction to Chekov’s death. (Thankfully, they at least look mildly chastised when Spock reminds everyone that he is, in fact, half-human. But man, sometimes, I really wanna slap Bones.)

MVP: Leonard Nimoy, mostly, because Spock’s the only character here who doesn’t piss me off. But also, whoever designed the Melkotians, cause sure, they’re kinda hilarious, but also, it’s pretty fun seeing aliens who actually look very alien.

Grade: Hm. Vanilla?

Line of the Episode: “Captain, since we have seen that death is the one reality in this situation, I seriously suggest you reseat yourself immediately.”

Triple Scoop Review: Seo Bok, Scream, and Along With the Gods: The Two Worlds

So, I’ve basically been ignoring movies in favor of marathoning television for the past three months, but hey! Here are a few films I’ve watched recently!

Seo Bok

Year: 2021
Director: Lee Yong Joo
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Viki
Spoilers: Not directly, I don’t think, but inferences can probably be made
Grade: Rocky Road

Whew. That was . . . yeah, a bit darker than I was expecting from a “jaded ex-agent has to protect the first human clone” movie. Although sometimes, that can be kind of a fun thing about watching foreign films: genre expectations are not necessarily universal, so sometimes, damn, you get a surprise.

Truthfully, I haven’t quite made up my mind about Seo Bok just yet. There are parts that I genuinely like. The acting, in particular: Gong Yoo and Park Bo Gum are  strong leads—I mean, obviously, they’re like 95% of the reason I watched this movie in the first place. I especially enjoyed Park Bo Gum, who was giving me some serious Hello, Monster nostalgia, but I was also happy to also see Jo Woo Jin (who I really enjoyed in Happiness) and Jang Young Nam (who I quite liked in It’s Okay to Not Be Okay). The action is fun. Some of the shots were rather lovely. Some of the thematic material works well for me.

However, not all of it does, and I’m still trying to pinpoint why that is, exactly. Admittedly, the basic thesis of this movie—we’re not meant to be immortal—has never been one of my favorite morals in the world. Still, I think my bigger problem isn’t so much the message but its execution. Seo Bok feels murky, convoluted. Too much going on and not nearly enough time to explore it. I often felt that characters—particularly the antagonists—were making decisions that felt nonsensical and inauthentic. Our heroes are essentially caught between dueling villains here, and I quite like the idea of that; however, that structure can go somewhat awry when you have villains with nebulous motivations making pretty dubious choices.

 Seo Bok is certainly not meant to be an upper; in fact, to me, it sorta feels like the nihilist answer to Space Sweepers. Still by the end, I feel like I was perhaps left with an even stronger sense of futility than the film actually intended. I don’t regret watching it at all, but I also feel like there’s a stronger story here, waiting to be whittled free.

Scream

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Year: 2022
Director: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin & Tyler Gillett
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Paramount Plus
Spoilers: ABSOLUTELY
Grade: Chocolate

I admit, I was pretty excited when news of the latest Scream movie was announced, considering it’s probably my favorite horror franchise of all time, and I figured the guys who did Ready or Not might be a good fit for it. But I was also a bit nervous because, you know. It’s probably my favorite horror franchise of all time, and there comes a point when you just really don’t want to see certain characters die. For me, that specifically meant Sidney. I am emotionally invested in Sidney Prescott’s survival. Fortunately, I have good news: she makes it!

Overall, I enjoyed Scream. TBH, I enjoy all the movies in this franchise. Even Scream 3, which is probably the worst of the bunch, surprisingly has more to recommend than I’d initially remembered. Which isn’t to say I don’t have criticisms because, well. Me. My biggest problem here is that Melissa Barrera does very little for me as Sam. I wish I liked her more, I really do. I adored Jenna Ortega as Tara and spent the majority of the film wishing she was the primary Final Girl. Actually, I really like most of the cast. Jack Quaid being a villain isn’t exactly, er. Surprising? But I don’t even care because he’s hilarious, and I’ve really liked this actor in everything I’ve seen him in thus far. Also shoutouts to David Arquette, Jasmin Savoy Brown, Mason Gooding, Dylan Minnette, Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox, and Skeet Ulrich—but NOT to Skeet Ulrich’s CGI because good Christ, stop. Just stop.

And I really do love the idea of our Final Girl being cheered on by hallucinations of Evil Daddy Billy Loomis. The scene where Sam stabs the shit out of Richie is easily her best in the whole film. Still, I would’ve loved it so much more if I ever bought Sam or had any investment in her character. I also think Scream might have some second act problems, but I’m not quite sure yet where I think it missteps. I do feel like Tara’s friends get dropped too long, which makes the Amber reveal a little underwhelming. Wes and Judy’s death scenes are good, but feel a bit disconnected from the rest of the film. (I still can’t bring myself to give a shit about Judy, but I do feel sorry for Wes.)  And I’m still trying to decide how I feel about Dewey’s death. I don’t mind that it happened, exactly, just . . . it’s so obvious that he’s gonna die when he goes back that it ends up feeling like a stupid move to me. IDK. I’m still thinking on it.

(Also, FFS. Is the hospital a 9-5 gig? Where are ANY of the employees here? Or for that matter, other patients? Hollywood continues to drive me crazy with this nonsense.)

Overall, though, I was pretty entertained. I had fun guessing suspects and motives and how many killers there would be this time around. Toxic Fandom is the Real Killer here feels pretty apropos for this franchise, and almost all of the dialogue and in-jokes worked well for me. (Poor Courtney Cox is never gonna live those terrible bangs down.) I also enjoyed the step up in gore, and while I may find Sam very dull, I’m always happy to see sisters survive. (See also, Sidney and Gale—I know, not actually sisters—who I really liked in this movie.) I do wish Kirby had come back, but it’s nice that we got confirmation she’s alive! (Though I admit, I absolutely missed said confirmation when it happened.) This movie isn’t perfect, no, but compared to some other horror franchises and their dismal ass sequels? Yeah. The Scream movies still got it.

Along With the Gods: The Two Worlds

Year: 2017
Director: Kim Yong Hwa
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Viki
Spoilers: Nah
Grade: Vanilla

So, this is a Korean fantasy-action film about a firefighter who dies and is escorted through the afterlife, facing seven trials in seven hells to see if he can be reborn. It’s a fun premise and an overall great cast with several actors I’ve enjoyed in other shows. Joo Ji Hoon from Kingdom. Kim Hyang Gi, who was (briefly) in Space Sweepers. I’m currently watching Kim Dong Wook in The Guest, and—like presumably many Americans—first saw Lee Jung Jae in Squid Game. Also D.O. (Hello Monster—yes, I know he’s also in EXO, but I know him from Hello Monster), Kim Soo An (Train to Busan), Ye Soo Jung (also Train to Busan), and a half a dozen other people I’ve seen pop up here and there. This is actually the first thing I’ve seen Ha Jung Woo in, but I enjoy him here, too.

My main problem with this film is easily Kim Ja Hong (Cha Tae Hyun), our firefighter, who is just . . . boring. He’s so boring, just zero personality whatsoever, and it feels like half his dialogue is incessantly calling after his mom. Literally everyone around him is much more interesting. My personal favorites are Joo Ji Hoon, who gives a very funny performance that’s wildly different from his work in Kingdom, Kim Soo Ann, because the God of Deceit is just the Best, and Kim Dong Wook, whose performance here alongside Ye Soo Jung provides the movie its heart. I’m probably supposed to feel moved by Ja Hong, too, but unfortunately . . . yeah, no. That’s partially because the character is so boring, but also because we learn some things about this guy that, well. I don’t want to get too deeply into spoilers, but let’s just say that the movie really wants me get into this heartwarming redemption, and I just couldn’t quite get there.

I do think the script could be tighter, and I wish the visual effects did justice to the premise (cause the CGI here is, uh, hilarious), but I also probably enjoyed the film enough to check out the sequel, especially since my least favorite character isn’t in it. Man. I wish that happened in more films. Like, give me Scream 6 without Sam. Or Guardians of the Galaxy 3 without Peter Quill, or Jurassic Whatever without Owen Grady, or . . . yeah, feel free to just pass up Chris Pratt at any opportunity in favor of Chris Pine, Chris Evans, or Chris Hemsworth, please and thank you.

Triple Scoop Review: Fear Street Part One: 1994, Fear Street Part Two: 1978, and Fear Street Part Three: 1666

So, it’s July 3rd–or at least it is for me, right now, as I write this intro–and we’ll be doing our usual Triple Scoop Review a little differently today. Since Fear Street is a trilogy of interconnected horror films (each released a week apart on Netflix), I’m gonna first try discussing each story one by one, and then after the trilogy is concluded, look at the project as a whole. We’ll see how it goes!

Fear Street Part One: 1994

Year: 2021
Director: Leigh Janiak
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix
Spoilers: Some, yes, but mostly just romantic relationship stuff in the 2nd paragraph
Grade: Vanilla

This is a silly, almost cute throwback to 90’s slashers, high on energy and relatively light on gore (with one very memorable exception). The PG-13 vibes make sense, considering the whole  trilogy is based on R.L. Stine’s Fear Street books. (I’ve never read them. I kinda skipped R.L. Stine as a kid.) I had fun watching the film, though how I feel about this entry  is probably gonna depend on what happens in the next two. Right now, lots of things feel unbalanced–the sheriff, the janitor, the mayor, Shadyside vs. Sunnyside (LOL), the ominous nose bleeds, etc.–but I expect that will change as I learn more in the upcoming installments.

What isn’t quite working for me right now is Deena. Not the actress–Kiana Madeira does fine work–but the character herself, or at least her relationship with her ex, Sam (Olivia Scott Welch). Man, I want to root for these two. Are you kidding me? Two queer romantic leads in a slasher film? And a queer Final Girl who’s also a person of color? I desperately wanna be onboard, but frankly, Deena’s kind of an asshole to Sam. And like, emotions are messy, I get it. No one’s gonna act 100% perfect all the time, and that’s fine. But without getting into too much detail (NGL: there’s a bit of detail), Deena blames Sam for shit that’s mostly outside her control, acts all possessive and jealous despite being the one who called it quits, and then endangers Sam’s life, actually getting her hospitalized–and never really apologizes for any of it. Mind you, Sam (emotionally) hurt Deena in the past, too, but A) any pain you cause by not being ready to come out isn’t nearly as cut and dry as this movie wants it to be (especially in 1994, FFS), and B) if Sam did act like an asshole before, okay, but we never actually see that on screen. All we get is Sam apologizing to Deena, like it’s Sam’s fault that Deena’s being a dick. That’s all a BIG problem for me if I’m supposed to ship these two.

Beyond that . . . well, 1994 is, indeed, set in the 90’s, which the soundtrack is definitely not gonna let you forget. It’s a little too in your face for me, TBH, but I also knew and liked literally every single song except one, so. I got over it. (Though for those of you who care: a couple of songs did come out after 1994.) Being a 90’s child, I also enjoyed the homages to 90’s slashers, particularly Scream. I’m not so sure how I feel about Nurse Beddy, though, and upon reflection, there are two deaths that don’t make much sense, so either I’m missing something, or they’re kinda lousy, needless deaths.

Special shoutout to Julia Rehwald, who plays Kate and tends to steal every scene she’s in (despite an unnecessary romantic storyline that I definitely didn’t care about). But the whole cast is pretty enjoyable, and I’m curious to see how the next installment compares. We’ll see next week!

Fear Street Part Two: 1978

Year: 2021
Director: Leigh Janiak
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix
Spoilers: Nah
Grade: Chocolate

1978 is, more or less, one very long flashback, as told by C. Berman (Gillian Jacobs), the sole survivor of the Camp Nightwing massacre–although we are seriously stretching the term “soul survivor” here, like, lots of other people escape this camp alive. It’s an exciting narrative structure, actually, a horror film that functions as both a prequel and a sequel in this ongoing storyline, and I enjoyed watching it–although it does get off to a slow start, and there are a few logic hiccups that may or may not trip you, depending how nerdy you get about narrative. (I am, of course, absolutely That Nerd.) Like how our Final Girl isn’t in every scene, for example, which means she’s relating a lot of stuff that she has little way of knowing. Also, one character kinda gets dropped entirely, which seems like a misstep. And this trilogy’s mythology is interesting, but IDK, messy? We do get answers to some questions (like what’s up with the mysterious nosebleeds), and that’s cool, but some stuff feels all over the place, and there’s a moment where a character comes to a conclusion that makes little sense unless she, too, has watched Fear Street 1994.

OTOH, 1978 is definitely more violent than 1994, which is obviously a plus for me, and I felt more invested in the overall story, probably because I care more about Cindy and Ziggy’s strained sibling relationship (as well as Cindy and Alice’s strained.once-friendship) than I ever did about Deena/Sam. There are similar thematic elements and parallels between the two films (betrayals and confessions, trying to remake your identity and carve yourself a future, etc.), but they work better for me in 1978, probably cause we don’t see Alice respond to Cindy’s snitching and stupid polo shirts by nearly committing involuntary manslaughter. (I’m sorry. Clearly, I’m still bitter about Deena.) I enjoy a lot of the cast, too: it’s especially nice to see Sadie Sink again, who I love in Stranger Things, although I think Emily Rudd also does a good job here.

The end comes with a bit of a twist that, while conceptually interesting, is pretty predictable from the get-go. But I do like getting to see all the little tie-ins from 1994 and 1978, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the trilogy concludes. (Personally, I’m hoping for a secret epilogue that takes place in 2021.)

Fear Street Part Three: 1666

Y

Year: 2021
Director: Leigh Janiak
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix
Spoilers: Yes, avoid the third and fourth paragraphs
Grade: Strawberry

Without a doubt, 1666 is the hardest to evaluate as its own thing. It’s certainly the film I’d be the least likely to rewatch on its own, but it also does a pretty good job of tying all the loose threads together and concluding the overall 1994/1978/1666 story.

Hm, what can I say about this one? Well, it’s fun to watch the cast from the first two movies play entirely different roles, although I wish we could spend a little more time with the supporting players. (Though the story doesn’t necessarily require it. I just think it’d be neat.) Also, the accents . . . oh, those accents wander badly. It’s not damning, but it is distracting, which is mostly unfortunate because 1666 seems to be going for a darker, slightly more adult tone than, say, 1994’s PG-13 pop slasher fun or 1978’s violent summer camp horror. It’s a bit hard to sink into the grim witch hunt when half the line reads make me snicker. OTOH, when it comes to actual horror, big thumbs up for the church scene, which I thought was perfectly creepy.

Still, the best thing about 1666, for me, is the twist that Sarah Fier was framed for being a witch, and that Solomon Goode and his descendants were the real villains all along. It works on a lot of levels, like, obviously we all knew that there was more to the story, that Sarah had probably been betrayed by the town, that Sunnyside was fucking over Shadyside in some supernatural way, etc. etc. But I must admit, I did assume Sarah was at least somewhat responsible for the curse. And while the Sheriff absolutely seems, heh, shady for most of 19941978 successfully misdirected me into thinking he was On the Side of Good, which is neat. Also, this twist explains a lot of the seemingly sloppy and convoluted mythology, which is great. (Maybe not everything, though. I’m still not 100% on a few things, like those minor character deaths from 1994. Also, seriously. What is the deal with Adult Ziggy’s clocks?)

1666 wraps up more quickly than I expected, giving way to Fear Street – 1994: Part 2, and our happy ending. I like that everybody survives here, even if (sadly) I didn’t get my 2021 epilogue. (Although a mid-credits scene does technically leave the door open for a sequel.) I also like that we get to see Adult Ziggy’s reaction to the sad truth about her one and only friend, and also the Carrie blood bucket callback. Otherwise, though, not much stands out, like the last showdown is . . . okay, I guess? It’s aiming for light and fun, but doesn’t totally hit the mark, at least not for me. Still, the answers we get here wrap up the trilogy much more successfully than I’d been anticipating, which is fantastic.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Like I said, it’s really hard to grade these on an individual basis because while Fear Street is kind of billed as three separate movies, it plays more like a horror miniseries, with episodes that are dependent upon one another to work, especially 1666. Mind you, that’s not a complaint! I do feel like each individual story could be stronger, and there are clearly some significant changes I’d make if I was in charge of, you know, anything.

But I also feel like the trilogy itself is creative and playful and interesting, like, it’s this whole YA horror experience. As a 35-year-old, I enjoyed watching these movies over the course of three weeks. As a 13-year-old just getting into horror, I suspect I would’ve gone feral over them. And I’d love to see more projects like this in the future: horror featuring queer leads and happy endings, horror that deliberately plays with sub-genre and tone, interconnected slashers that play out over the course of several days or weeks. It really gives me just All The Ideas, and you know I love anything that brings The Ideas.

Overall Grade For Whole Trilogy: B (Vanilla)

TV Superlatives: September, October, November – 2020

It’s TV Superlative Time! Except . . . there’s a problem: over the past few months, I’ve dropped nearly every television show I’ve started watching. I am officially in a TV Rut.

This is rare for me. It happens with books more often than I’d like and also with movies, but not so much with television. Which means that instead of our usual overly long list of nonsense superlatives, we’re gonna have to do things a little differently today. Thus I present to you my list of What I’ve Been Watching (And Abandoning) In Fall of 2020.

(Spoilers: it’s mostly K-Dramas again.) Continue reading

Triple Spooky Scoop Review: Becky, The Burning, and Deep Red

Becky

Year: 2020
Director: Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Oh, barely
Grade: Chocolate

I enjoyed Becky; it’s fun and it’s gory, very gory. Lulu Wilson is excellent as our angry 13-year-old MC, who, ah, zealously defends her home against Neo-Nazi escaped convicts. Wilson, all of 15, already has an impressive horror resume (The Haunting of Hill House, Annabelle: Creation, Ouija: Origin of Evil, etc.); Kevin James, meanwhile, is not so well-known for horror, so seeing him here as the Big Bad is, uh, startling at first. That being said, I actually think James does a pretty decent job; his performance is more understated than I would’ve expected, and overall, it worked fine for me.

The whole cast is pretty solid, actually: I like Joel McHale  as Jeff (Becky’s Dad), and I had fun playing spot-the-actor with Ryan McDonald (from Fringe) and Robert Maillet (Sherlock Holmes). I also really enjoyed Amanda Brugel as Kayla, Jeff’s fiancée; in fact, my biggest problem with the movie is that it doesn’t give Brugel enough to do. Like, I get it: in a movie called Becky, I expect our titular heroine to do the lion’s share of the homicide. Still, this is also a movie with Nazi villains spouting gross bullshit about mixed races; it’d be nice to see the film’s only Black female character get in on the violent action. There were several opportunities in Becky, all of which were missed.

Still, I had a good time watching this. As plenty of other people have noted, Becky’s not here to fuck around; this is a horror movie for people who like creative violence, with weapons ranging from rulers to boat propellers; if that doesn’t sound like your bag, this probably isn’t the film for you. Personally, I found it delightful; it’s clear that between Becky and You’re Next, I have a serious weakness for the “Home Alone but VIOLENT” sub-genre of horror. I also like the moment when Becky switches from Surviving Mode to Killer Mode; I thought it worked well. She has a pretty great costume, too, like, a striped shirt? A fox hat? Blood? I could cosplay the shit out of this.

Also, apropos of nothing, but this Child of Divorced Parents absolutely felt the whole ‘Wow, did YOU pick the wrong way to break the news about your GF.’ Like, dude, come on. I recognize that Becky is kind of a pill, but also, get your shit together.

The Burning

Year: 1981
Director: Tony Maylam
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Youtube
Spoilers: Yup
Grade: Strawberry

This one’s got something of a rough start, and not just because I highly doubt the plausibility of anybody this severely burnt turning into such a spry serial killer. (Don’t @ me with Freddy Krueger. Dude is dead; normal rules don’t apply.) I also kinda can’t stand some of the people you’re apparently supposed to be rooting for, like, am I supposed to feel sorry for Nerdy Alfred instead of chanting for his death? Whoops. And the ‘let’s murder this random prostitute’ is bullshit, too, like, this whole story is based on some East Coast urban legend about a dude who kills kids; leave the poor sex workers alone, please. (Also, fuck you, whoever wrote the Wikipedia summary: the sex worker didn’t “lure” Cropsy anywhere; she’s the actual victim, not some kind of evil sexy trap brainwashing the helpless serial killer. Goddamnit.)

Still, there’s a lot I enjoy about The Burning. The whole raft massacre is pretty great, actually, like, sure, it’s silly that Cropsy was apparently just chilling in that canoe all day, waiting to attack, but also, this is a genuinely awesome scene. There’s a ton of tension as we slowly approach the canoe. I absolutely assumed we were getting a creepy body reveal, when BAM! Cropsy attacks instead! It’s a delightful surprise, but also, dude takes out like five kids at once, which is exceedingly rare in a slasher.

Which is worth talking about, I think, because I saw several reviews for The Burning complaining about how formulaic it is, which, like, nah? Cause A) in 1981, the slasher formula was still being written, sorry, and B) while there are formulaic elements (all the unnecessary tit and ass shots, for example, and/or Wow, Teens Like Sex in the Woods), there are interesting subversions, too. For one, there’s no Final Girl. Girls do survive, but The Burning is all about the Final Boy–though I suppose there are two nominees for the position. (Personally, I’m Team Todd, rather than Team Alfred, because his origin story is inextricably linked with the villain’s; also, he’s ultimately the one who kills Cropsy.) Also, while the score is undeniably 80’s, it really doesn’t sound anything like most 80’s slashers. The climax takes place in this abandoned mine, which is just visually interesting. There are actually kids at this damn camp, for once. There’s even a plus size girl who A) is never made fun of, B) pushes this one asshole into a lake, and C) LIVES. I mean, she also barely has lines, but fuck it, I will take the small victories I can get.

Other random notes: A) The Burning was the film debut of Holly Hunter, Fisher Stevens, and Jason Alexander; unfortunately, it was also the film that helped start Harvey Weinstein’s career, which great, now I feel all dirty, B) Tom Savini did the makeup here, which was very apparent from the first death, C) That being said, the burn makeup is kind of laughable; see also: “Cropsy Vision,” D) Some of the supporting players are surprising likable kids, instead of being horrible little assholes, and E)  while Eddy and Glazer are clearly the worst horrible little assholes, I maintain that both Alfred and Todd also suck. Alfred is just a creeper; Todd, meanwhile, is the Nice Guy who has big “okay, calm down, let’s not be irrational here” energy whenever his girl Michelle is angry at someone. (Todd, naturally, gets to yell at whoever he wants.) Todd also has so little remorse for his childhood prank-gone-wrong that he just turns the whole thing into a campfire story. Dude’s all, “Remember how I almost killed a guy once and ruined his life forever? How can I turn that into some spooky summer fun?” Clearly, Todd is kind of a sociopath, which I respect. Still, I wish the movie owned it a little more.

Deep Red

Year: 1975
Director: Dario Argento
First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Shudder
Spoilers: Yeah. Like, all of them.
Grade: Vanilla

There are many different flavors of WTF Horror; unlike Mandy, Deep Red is definitely more my speed. I have a lot of ideas for a remake, actually; for instance, it’d be great if I didn’t spend half the film chanting death death death at our detective pianist hero. Marcus, you see, believes that women are inherently “weaker” and “gentler” than men, and boy is he a whiny little shit about it when Journalist Giana quickly proves him wrong. Giana drops out of the story for far too long, IMO; I really wish we saw them both conducting their own investigations into Psychic Helga’s death. Probably could also use a few better leads; how Marcus gets to the author, for instance, is pretty weak sauce. And more suspects would be great, too, because while I always love getting the killer right, I can’t exactly pretend I had to work for it, here.

Still, I had a lot of fun watching this. The whole premise is so my jam, and the score is just so delightfully weird; it shouldn’t work at all, and yet I love it, spent the whole film bopping around to the jaunty music. (And am listening to it now, as a matter of fact.) And course I enjoyed most of the death scenes: Prof. Giordani’s is probably my favorite, partially because that teeth shit is brutal, and partially because of that weird fucking doll, like, holy shit, it’s so creepy and hilarious simultaneously; I love it. (Though I will say Carlo’s death did little for me; that was a little too Final Destination for my tastes.)

Other things I really enjoyed: pretty much ALL the weird doll shit, the ultimately pragmatic motive behind the murders, Marta’s hat, gloves, and leather jacket combo (Marta’s also on the Dream Horror Cosplay list), the fact that Marta’s actually visible after killing Psychic Helga, the giant abandoned house, the hilariously creepy mural–oh my God, I LOVE it, I NEED it, I want that shit on my walls immediately–and YES, there are stickers at Redbubble; excuse me, I have to go buy one RIGHT NOW.

Random notes: A) If you weren’t sure this was a Dario Argento movie, look no further than Helga’s death scene (hint: there’s glass), B) I was 100% sure we were gonna get a transphobic twist that Carlo had once been Carla, so I’m extremely happy to be wrong here; also, Marcus is shockingly not an asshole to either Carlo or Carlo’s transgender lover, which was a huge relief, C) that being said, Carlo’s not exactly a winner himself (there’s a whole rape joke; it’s gross), and he’s kind of a pathetic character with a miserable death, so I can’t say the queer rep is, y’know, fantastic, D) I wish Marta’s crazy was dialed back from an 11, especially considering her motive is ultimately practical, E) Colin Firth will absolutely play Marcus in my remake, and while the music will probably need to be toned down at least somewhat for modern audiences, I adore the idea of specific themes for our main characters; his will be something on the piano because, you know, detective pianist (while Giana will get the more jaunty 70’s shit as an homage), and finally, F) here’s the moral of the story: if you find an inexplicable baby doll hanging from a noose inside your presumably empty house, DON’T STAY INSIDE THE HOUSE. Hitchhike your ass to town, if you must; you are about to die BADLY.

Year of Monsters: The Mummy

I adore The Mummy (1999). I adore The Mummy Returns. I do not adore The Mummy (2017) with Tom Cruise and Sofia Boutella, but to be fair, I only watched about ten minutes of it. Maybe it gets better. (It doesn’t get better. We all know it.)

Now it’s time to see where all these movies began.

May I present The Mummy (1932) with Boris Karloff and Zita Johann.

Continue reading

Triple Spooky Scoop Review: Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Hostel, and The Legend of Hell House

Invasion of the Body Snatchers

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Hulu
Spoilers: Absolutely, and not just for this film. I will also heartlessly spoil Alien, Aliens, Scream, AND Halloween
Grade: Chocolate

I enjoyed this. I wish I could judge it against the 1956 film, but unfortunately, I haven’t watched that movie since I was 16 (studying McCarthyism and the Second Red Scare in US History, natch), and while I liked it at the time, I remember very little about the film now. Still, this 1978 remake is a lot of fun, and hey, look at all these people in it! Jeff Goldblum as a spiteful and atypically charmless writer! Leonard Nimoy as the evil psychiatrist version of Spock! (I’m specifically thinking of “This Side of Paradise.”) Robert Duvall as some rando priest on the swings! (It’s an uncredited cameo.) And, of course, Donald Sutherland as our fluffy-haired love interest turned doomed protagonist. I can’t believe I’ve finally seen the movie for this GIF! (You might think said GIF would’ve been a spoiler, but since I almost always see it in a “no, God, not YOU” context, I didn’t realize what was going to happen until right before it did.)

Also? Veronica Cartwright is the actual final girl here! Sure, things aren’t looking great for her right now, but nevertheless, Nancy is a side character–the second female lead, even–who makes it further than anyone else in the film, and I am fascinated by that. Try to think of other horror movies where that even happens. It’d be like Halloween where Annie makes it instead of Laurie. Or Tatum outliving Sidney in Scream, or Vasquez surviving Aliens when Ripley does not. (Or hell, Veronica Cartwright herself in Alien.) It’s pretty much just not a thing, is my point. Besides, Nancy’s really clever: she’s the one who figures out how to evade detection, successfully continues doing so when Elizabeth cannot, and hey, she likes to read! I’m extremely excited to add Nancy to my list of Interesting Final Girls.

There are, admittedly, a few moments that are pretty hard to take seriously, like the mutant dog or how it initially looks like Earth is being invaded by space sperm. On the other hand, the scene where Donald Sutherland takes an axe to his own half-formed pod face is pretty great, and the moment when Elizabeth crumples apart is surprisingly sad. It’s always great when a horror movie can hit you with surprise Feels, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers successfully does this for me.

Hostel

First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Personal Collection DVD
Spoilers: Definitely
Grade: Strawberry

I first watched Hostel (and reviewed it*) way back in 2010, and at the time, I really enjoyed the movie. But I also hadn’t seen it in several years, and had a sneaking suspicion that I’d feel differently about it now. My suspicions proved accurate.

Even now, I still don’t hate Hostel. But things have changed in the past decade, and one of those things is my tolerance for watching assholes be assholes for any elongated period of time. We’re with these dudes for about 40 minutes before we really get what we came for, and while it does make sense to have a lengthy first act when the bulk of your horror is  gory, torture-based violence . . . like, who wants to sit through 40 minutes of these little shitheads running around, being jerks, and seeing a truly improbable number of tits? (Jesus God, the ludicrous amount of tits in this movie.) It seems like there are two ways to fix this: either make these characters a lot more likable, or have Oli and Josh go missing much earlier in the film, putting the focus on Paxton as Amateur Detective rather than Paxton, Infuriating Dick.

Other problems I have with Hostel: a) Paxton’s backstory, not because of the backstory itself but because of just how lazily it’s dumped into the script, like, this is a teachable moment on How Not To Handle Exposition, b) how Josh, our only gay** and non-villainous character, dies, and c) Kana’s suicide, because come on, what the actual fuck. If she’d decided to kill herself months or even days after the fact, okay, that’s one thing, but to have her jump in front of a train here, just five minutes after escaping, because half her face is fucked up? Thanks, I hate it. Honestly, I hated this ten years ago, too, but when I read that the actress thought it was plausible, I tried giving it the benefit of the doubt. No more. This is total bullshit. Absolutely cannot deal.

All that being said, there are still things I like about this movie. For instance, that Achilles tendon shot remains fucking iconic. I think it’s interesting that Paxton is the only person you actually see murder anyone on screen. (Well, except for the Bubblegum Sociopath Street Gang, of course. I still kinda adore these random violent little children.) I actually like a lot about Paxton, if not Paxton himself: his ability to speak German, his revenge scene, his general ingenuity when it comes to survival. (Not to mention, Jay Hernandez’s performance; he’s pretty great in this.) Again, this is fascinating trope subversion because Paxton seems like the kind of asshole who gets killed off halfway through, when instead that’s Josh, our shy, asthmatic Nice Guy. Josh is such an obvious Final Boy that I really enjoy his surprise death–or would, anyway, if it weren’t for the Bury Your Gays thing.

*As always, the older the post, the more horrified I am by it. I do stand by some of my opinions in this review (I’m not linking to it; you can find it if you really want to), but I’ve also grown as both a writer and a feminist, and some of this review is just hideously painful to reread. It’s particularly jarring, too, because I mention some things about myself that just blatantly aren’t true . . . only I hadn’t realized that yet. Ah, the slow, frustrating process of self-discovery.

**Josh’s sexuality is not directly stated, but it is heavily implied.

The Legend of Hell House

First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Amazon
Spoilers: Yup
Grade: Vanilla

I enjoyed The Legend of Hell House when I watched it on a whim last year, but I think I might’ve enjoyed it even more on the second go-round. The things that bothered me then still bother me now, unfortunately: like, the (apparently toned down) erotic hauntings are total bullshit. The only reason Ann is even here is so that someone can get possessed by a horny ghost. (You’ll notice it’s always the women who are getting “sex-possessed” in these movies.) The character literally does nothing plot relevant, not once, and considering this story really only has four characters? Come on. Florence, at least, is extremely plot-relevant, but she also decides to have sex with Daniel the Friendly Ghost in order to free his spirit, or something–only to find out that Daniel never actually existed; instead, Florence gets raped and possessed by Evil Belasco’s Ghost.

So, yeah. That’s . . . that’s a lot. But there is genuinely a lot to enjoy, too: the premise is basically my dream story, like, a scientist, a psychic, and a traumatized sole survivor–who’s also psychic–are hired to uncover the mysteries of the spooky haunted house? People, I’m in love. I also really like how this movie deals with physical mediums versus mental mediums and how our skeptical scientist does believe in psychic energy and scientific exorcisms; he just doesn’t believe in actual ghosts. I enjoy all of the trances and hauntings that aren’t based in shitty erotica, like, there’s some decent atmosphere in this movie. Young Michael Gough as Evil Preserved Corpse is perfectly creepy. And the mystery of “Who Is Actually Haunting Us?” is pretty fun throughout, although I will say that I’d like the “multiple ghosts” theory better if the mediums came across a fake ghost besides Daniel. (Say, Evil Belasco was impersonating someone Ben knew from the last expedition.) Also, while I quite like that it was Belasco All Along, the big reveal about his homicidal Napoleon Complex is, I think, pretty underwhelming. Although credit where credit’s due: the clues leading up to this in Ben’s backstory are pretty expertly handled.

The Legend of Hell House doesn’t always get a ton of love (at least, not when compared to other classic haunted house movies) and clearly there are things I’d like to change. But I honestly do think it’s a pretty neat take on the sub-genre and well worth a watch if you haven’t seen it before.

Triple Spooky Scoop Review: Leprechaun, The Witch, and The Cell

Leprechaun

First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other – Personal Collection DVD
Spoilers: Yeah, but come on
Grade: Strawberry

Horror Bingo was briefly put on hold last week during the great Sonoma County Evacuation, but that doesn’t mean horror wasn’t achieved! Mekaela, Lindsey, and I ended up nostalgia-watching Leprechaun, and boy, is it just as bad as I remember.

I mean, okay, some of the comedy is obviously intentional. Unfortunately, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the intentional comedy is actually funny. Honestly, it’s hard to know where to begin with this one. The terrible prologue. The ridiculous storyline. The overall poor acting. The “slow friend” as comedic device. The Leprechaun’s makeup. The fact that our painting crew is apparently painting the house fire engine red and bright blue, like, what the fuck even is that? Tori’s weird shorts, which even in the 90’s were a choice. Also: the truly tragic fact that Warwick Davis does not succeed in murdering our heroes because they’re all pretty awful; the only one I even halfway like is Alex, the precocious child, and honestly, that might just be because I remember the actor from Don’t Tell Mom The Babysitter’s Dead. I would happily have pushed Jennifer Aniston’s character down a well, and her love interest, too. Oh, that whole “feminism” exchange is so, so painful.

Although credit where credit’s due: death by pogo stick is always genuinely hilarious. More pogo stick deaths, please!

The Witch

First Watch or Rewatch: First Watch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Netflix
Spoilers: Definitely
Grade: Vanilla

Well, My Geek Blasphemy is about to earn its name today: The Witch is one of the biggest horror movies of the decade, and unfortunately, I didn’t much like it.

I do like parts of it. It’s very well-shot, of course. The scene with the ravens is, ah, effectively memorable. (Poor Kate Dickie. Between this and Game of Thrones, I can’t imagine how many breastfeeding jokes she must get every day.) The performances by Anna Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, Harvey Scrimshaw, and Kate Dickie are all very strong, and I kind of enjoy this movie’s whole “if Shakespeare wrote Puritan-horror” vibe–although I did have to concede defeat about twenty minutes in and put on subtitles because between the accents and the colonial American vernacular, I realized I was only catching maybe one word out of ten. I also genuinely enjoy this story’s pace. There aren’t a lot of negative reviews for The Witch, but the few complaints I did find were mostly about the film being slow and dull. Those were definitely not problems I had with the movie.

So, what didn’t I like? Honestly, I’m having trouble articulating that. Certain scenes are easy enough to point to: Caleb’s whole religious ecstasy–heavy emphasis on the ecstasy–sorta icks me out, and, like, not the good kind of ick? You know, maybe, let’s not with kids? But I have larger thematic problems, too. Like, I have never said this before, ever, but I’m pretty sure I would’ve enjoyed The Witch more if it was just a psychological horror film. If, say, Caleb came back from the woods all weird and dying, and we never knew exactly what happened to him out there, only that it sent the family into paranoid self-destruction . . . those were the moments I genuinely liked. That’s where I think the horror is most successful. And to be fair, I don’t hate all of the supernatural elements: Black Phillip was cool, also those ravens, and I did like the shot of the levitating witches–although they’re naked because of course they are. (See also: the witch who seduces Caleb with her extremely prominent and wicked breasts.) Which, I get it: the witches here are presented like they would’ve been in the 1600’s. Research, historical accuracy, blah blah, woof woof.

The problem is you’re telling this historical New England folktale in 2019, when I’m well-aware of what happened to the actual women accused of witchcraft in this era, and while I think you can tell a story about evil Satanic witches from the 1600’s, I’m not totally convinced you should. (I didn’t love how The Conjuring handled this, either, BTW.) At the very least, I don’t think this is the way to do it: surely, there must be a way to discuss/delve into/update these Puritanical fears without also embracing such awful misogynistic stereotypes. And I do think this movie embraces those stereotypes; since watching this film, I’ve come across at least three different articles praising the subversive feminism of The Witch, and if that was your takeaway, okay, I’m not trying to rip that from you. But personally, I came away with the exact opposite reaction, and ultimately, I think that’s because this is a “driven to evil” story that I just don’t buy.

There are ways Thomasin’s turn to Satan could’ve worked for me. For instance, I might’ve bought it if her motivation had been wholly pragmatic, the desperation to survive in this awful, barren landscape on her own. I might’ve bought it if she’d gone mad with vengeance and grief, if she’d needed the Devil to find and punish the twins who she’d come to blame for all of this. And sure, you can argue those are subtextual motivating factors, but they’re also pointedly not what Satan actually offers; instead, he pitches pretty dresses and the chance to live deliciously. (To be fair, wouldst thou like to live deliciously is a damn good line.) Because, you know. Thomasin mentioned missing stained glass windows that one time, and that’s how you get women: through materialism.

Likewise, I’ve seen it argued that Thomasin is making a baller power move here, that she and all those other floating, orgiastic witches in the woods are finally embracing their sexuality. But to me, all they’re really doing is validating the belief that without God, without men, women are both easily manipulated and spiritually vulnerable. They can be won over by shiny things, and they will grind up babies for beauty and power, and if they’re not vigorously protected from their baser instincts, they will lose themselves to their instinctual sexual mania, becoming wanton creatures capable of luring innocent boys to their deaths. Seriously. There are lots of ways to symbolically depict “embracing your sexuality,” but I can’t help but feel that a girl stripping down for a goat and joining a bunch of other writhing naked women ritualistically chanting their devotion to some eternal dude is, well, a very dude fantasy to have.

Ultimately, The Witch condemns religious paranoia while also making the argument for its justification, and that just doesn’t really sit right with me, thematically or morally.

The Cell

First Watch or Rewatch: Rewatch
Amazon, Netflix, Hulu, or Other: Other: Personal Collection DVD
Spoilers: Yup
Grade: Chocolate

The Cell has a lot of problems; I know this. Some actors were spectacularly miscast, like, Marianne Jean-Baptiste is a great scene stealer and Vincent D’Onofrio with his proto-Anton Chigurh haircut is dead-on, but Vince Vaughn as our FBI profiler dude? Honey, no. Jennifer Lopez wouldn’t have been my top choice for our psychologist heroine, either, but honestly, she’s not bad in the role; it’s how they use her that’s ridiculous, like, that scene where she’s in a shirt and panties and so ludicrously, so obviously posed next to the refrigerator? Ugh. Come on, dudes. Also, I can’t imagine this film’s depiction of schizophrenia is any more accurate or less offensive than most horror movies. And I just can’t get over this ending where Jennifer Lopez locks everyone out of the system, brings permanently comatose serial killer D’Onofrio into her mind, ends up mercy killing him–and then? Not only doesn’t she get arrested, not only does she keep her job, she somehow gets permission to bring the comatose child into her brain after she just murdered someone during that procedure!

Regardless, I have a lot of nostalgia for this movie; it kind of blew my mind when I was 15, and while the special effects have aged predictably poorly after 20 years, I still love a lot of the cinematography, fashion, and design. This shot for instance–maybe begin at the 2.17 mark–is still absolutely gorgeous. (Watch this whole clip if you’d like a lesson/reminder on the aesthetics of early 2000’s horror because this NSFW scene is strongly reminiscent of 2002’s Thir13en Ghosts.) All the art history inspiration is really cool, too: the creepy women in the sand, the fucked up horse, all the H.R. Giger shit. I like that Anne Marie, our current victim, figures out how to survive long enough to be saved by the FBI. And I’m just a sucker for this basic premise, like, it’s basically Inception meets Silence of the Lambs, and I am all about that. I’d have watched more standalone sequels in a heartbeat. Shit, I’d probably still watch those sequels, or maybe an updated remake, or, ooh, what about a whole TV show? (Okay, I think that’s basically what Reverie was, but despite the awesome presence of Sarah Shahi, that show didn’t even make it a full season. We can do better.) So, yeah, this one has serious flaws, but I still kinda treasure its surreal what-the-fuckery.