Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Halloween 2018: October 8

Trilogy of Terror (1975)

Dan Curtis was on quite the roll in the seventies. Following the success of “Dark Shadows” in the sixties, Curtis would produce or direct a series of highly regarded television horror movies throughout the seventies. He would co-create Carl Kolchak as we know him and direct a quartet of literary horror adaptations, two of which starred Jack Palance. Among his lesser known films are “Dead of Night,” “The Norliss Tapes,” and “Scream of the Wolf.” Perhaps Curtis' most beloved TV movie of the week is 1975's “Trilogy of Terror.” As much as I love Kolchak, I never heard the kids on the playground talking about “The Night Stalker.” Yet I definitely heard some conversations about the Zuni Fetish Doll.

“Trilogy of Terror” is an anthology film. The linking fibers are that each segment is based on Richard Matheson's writing and revolves around a female protagonist, all played by Karen Black. “Julie” follows a dowdy college literature professor. She is drugged by a student, who takes lewd photos and then blackmails her into becoming his sex slave. He doesn't expect her to turn the tables on him. “Millicent and Therese” follows two twin sisters, the chaste Millicent and the promiscuous Therese. The sisters hate each other so much, voodoo gets involved. “Amelia” follows a young woman who brings home a genuine Zuni fetish doll for her archaeologist boyfriend. After foolishly removing the doll's gold chain, Amelia has to fight for her life against the wooden killer.

Here's the sad truth about “Trilogy of Terror:” Nobody remembers anything about the first two segments. Both are forgettable, at best. “Julie” is a direct and disturbing story of sexual assault that treats its subject a little too crassly. The story's twist ending is in very questionable taste, turning a victim into a victimzer. Robert Burton is fittingly sleazy as the rapist. “Millicent and Therese” has a bit more dramatic tension, as the voice-over narration allows us into the head of the feuding sisters. We don't spend nearly enough time with Therese though, who exists more as a rival for her sister than a full-fledged character in her own right. The middle chapter's twist ending can be seen coming a mile away and is super obvious.

Even if the first two chapters weren't so weak, it's likely the third part of “Trilogy of Terror” would still overshadow it. The only story based on pre-existing Matheson material, the short story “Prey,” it's a fierce little flick. Amelia is the only human character in the segment, which is confined entirely to her apartment. This ramps up the tension, as she battles the increasingly ravenous doll. He Who Kills chatters incoherently, grabs whatever bladed instrument he can, and simply refuses to die. Curtis' direction, which frequently assumes the doll's point-of-view, is also designed to keep the suspense mounting. The film's final image, which is slowly revealed in a brilliant fashion, is chilling. It's all so well done that you don't even notice how ridiculous the situation is, how comical the fetish actually looks and acts.

Doing an anthology film but having the same actress star in each story is another interest touch. Karen Black actually does a fine job playing the different roles. She's fittingly vulnerable as Julie, at least until the unconvincing shift the character undergoes at the last minute. As Amelia, she does a good job of panicking and screaming. The character's conflict with her unseen mother is played up well by Black, humanizing the part before the chaos starts. I think my favorite of Black's performance is actually as Millicent. Among the four women, she's the one we learn the most about. Black plays up Millie's isolation and resentment of her sister well. Overall, the actress certainly has no problem supporting the entire movie.

Black would go on to resent this film, saying it type-cast her as a horror actress, which is a shame. Who could ask for a better display of one's talent than a movie like this? It's hard to rate “Trilogy of Terror.” Those first two segments aren't much to write about at all, though the second isn't exactly bad. The third, however, is an all-timer, a fantastically executed little bit of horror television. Dan Curtis would recognize the film's cult status, making a sequel in 1992. Naturally, He Who Kills would come back for a follow-up sequence. I have to definitely recommend people watch this original, or at least watch the last part. [7/10]

Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh (1995)

The original “Candyman” was always sold to me as a tawdry slasher movie. However, the original is far more thoughtful than that, while still managing to be scary as hell. That didn't stop the film from getting sequels as if it was a cheapie horror flick though. After the first film's commercial and critical success, a sequel immediately went into development. Original director Bernard Rose wrote a treatment but his ideas were rejected. Instead, Bill Condon – many years before becoming the man behind glossy productions like “Dreamgirls” or “Beauty and the Beast” – would come aboard as director. The resulting film, “Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh,” would gain some fans but is generally regarded as not being as good as the original.

Three years after the Candyman murders occurred around Cabrini-Green, author Philip Purcell has written a book about the Candyman legend. He's confronted by Ethan Tarrant, the son of a man whose obsession with the legend led to his death. Purcell is murdered that night and Ethan is arrested for the crime. Ethan's sister, Annie, is a school teacher in New Orleans. In the days leading up to Mardi Gras, she tries to clear her brother's name. She investigates deeper into the story of Candyman and attracts the ghost's attention. Soon, she's digging into her own family history to unravel the origins of the vengeful spirit.

The original “Candyman” presented an interesting mythology behind the titular spirit. We knew he was a slave, brutally tortured and murdered for loving a white woman, loosing a hand and gaining innards made of bees. Yet how this origin tied into the ritual involving the mirrors or his odd name was left unexplained. “Farewell to the Flesh” goes to great effort to connect these seemingly unrelated elements. The significance of the mirror and the name are actually explained in a fairly satisfying way. Tying Candyman into the color and history of New Orleans is also a nice touch. However, “Farewell to the Flesh” focuses on the character's backstory so much that it demystifies him a bit. It also makes the ghost's motivations for his actions a little harder to justify. It's cool to learn Candyman's Secret Origins but maybe he was scarier when we didn't know that much about him.

“Farewell to the Flesh” is, in general, nowhere near as scary as the first film. While Condon's visual palette is atmospheric in its own way, especially when utilizing the Mardi Gras setting, it lacks the dream-like creepiness of Rose's original. The sequel relies too much on jump scares for quick jolts of adrenaline. Birds fly at the camera, people leap up into frame suddenly, and ominous figures appear suddenly in the foreground. The villain's appearances are foreshadowed far in advance, taking away from his shock value. Tony Todd's ghost is far chattier than last time too, also taking away from his creep factor. Even as a gore-fest, “Candyman 2” is not as inventive as the first. There's exactly one clever hook evisceration, a gag which the movie repeated several times. 

The original “Candyman” also had a protagonist we could root for, as Virgina Madsen's Helen was believable as a woman in over her head. The sequel is also lacking this attribute. Kelly Rowan plays Annie. As an actress, Rowan does just fine. She's got a likable sense of humor and a decent chemistry with Timothy Carhart, as her husband, and Veronica Cartwright, as her alcoholic mother. The truth is the character simply isn't compelling. Annie's interest in the mystery never seems genuine. Other characters, like her brother and Candyman, push her through the plot. An attempt for the police to chase after her, fearful she might be committing the murders, comes off as a lame retread of the first movie. The viewer doesn't care much about Annie, meaning it's hard to care too much about the story itself.

“Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh” has a few moments. Those flashbacks to Candyman's origins are well done. A chase through a Mardi Gras parade is good. The scenes devoted to Annie's students are believable and probably should've gotten more attention. The villain's death is a memorable image. However, the sequel still comes off as a pale imitation of the original. Tony Todd's whispery menace only goes so far, especially when paired with a weak protagonist, an undercooked script, and a director less adapt at crafting scares. [6/10]

Tales from the Cryptkeeper: The Works, in Wax

Despite its use as a standard horror trope, I don't think a single episode of “Tales from the Crypt” concerned itself with a wax museum. The animated series made up for that oversight. “The Works, in Wax” revolves around Craig. The kid's favorite place to hang out is Rottmucker's Wax Museum. In particular, he loves the chamber of horror section, with its sculptures of Dracula, the Wolfman, and Frankenstein. However, Mr. Rottmucker has passed away recently. Craig insists that William, the museum's most loyal employee, is the rightful heir. Mean old businessman Mr. Boswick has other ideas. With the help of the wax sculptures, Craig and William look to undo this justice.

“The Works, in Wax” is likable because its lead character is a true blue monster kid. As in “Waxworks,” the boy is sucked into the scenarios the wax sculptures depict. In each one, he quickly befriends the monsters and helps them escape their pursuers. Moreover, Craig is determined to protect the integrity of the wax museum, going on a little adventure to accomplish just that. These monster scenes are a lot of fun to watch, brought to life with colorful animation. The pay-off, in which a mean asshole gets his comeuppance, is classic “Crypt.” This episode is a good encapsulation of what you'd expect from a kid-friendly version of “tales from the Crypt” and it proves to be a satisfying formula. [7/10]

Forever Knight: Feeding the Beast

Vampire fiction frequently compares the undead's bloodlust to addiction. “Forever Knight” has made this connection before, with Nick's bottles of blood being mistaken for red wine and his failed attempts to quit drinking it. “Feeding the Beast” takes this one step further and has Nick enroll into a Twelve Step program. Granted, he does so because he's undercover. Two members of the local Twelve Step chapter have been murdered. Due to the anonymity of the group, no one will talk to the cops. So Nick is sent in, telling everyone he's an addict without specifying his addiction. Soon, he's bonding with his sponsor, Monica, who has some serious problems of her own.

A vampire attempting to come clean using the Twelve Step system is actually a pretty interesting idea. Nick's struggles to quit blood and do simple things like eat French fries are portrayed well. Geraint Wyn Davies really gets to act his heart at here, especially during fantasy sequences where he's admitting what his addiction actually is. However, “Feeding the Beast” gets more melodramatic as it goes on. Monica, played by a pre-fame Carrie Anne Moss, is addicted to sex and makes little attempt to control her impulses. Once she betrays Nick, he freaks out and nearly starts feeding on people again. That moment is so out-of-character that it practically derails the entire episode, to the point that you don't really care about the uninvolving resolution to the murder mystery. The episode was really good up to that point. [7/10]

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