Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Spook Chasers (Allied Artists Pictures, 1957)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2018 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

I turned on TCM for the first time in quite a while (I used to watch this channel religiously until Cox Cable’s damnable “all-digital” conversion deprived me of the ability to use my DVD recorder — if I want to time-shift shows for later viewing I’d have to pay even more money on a cable bill that’s already way too high!) even though the movies they were showing weren’t very good: they decided to devote the night before Hallowe’en to a bunch of haunted-house movies featuring the Bowery Boys, and the one I happened to squeeze into my schedule was Spook Chasers (1957), the 45th and fourth-from-last of the Bowery Boys movies. There were 48 in all, and this does not count the ones they made before 1946 (when they officially adopted the “Bowery Boys” moniker) as the Dead End Kids, the Little Tough Guys and the East Side Kids. The whole thing began when Sidney Kingsley’s play Dead End premiered on Broadway in 1935. The play’s theme was the persistence of crime in the slum neighborhoods of New York City and how the limited opportunities available for slum kids turned them into criminals just as their elders had been. According to the Wikipedia page on Dead End, “The play featured fourteen children who were hired to play various roles among the cast, including Gabriel Dell as T.B, Huntz Hall as Dippy, Billy Halop as Tommy, Bobby Jordan as Angel, Bernard Punsly as Milty, with David Gorcey and Leo Gorcey as the Second Avenue Boys.” Samuel Goldwyn bought the movie rights and hired most of the kids who’d played in the Broadway production to repeat their roles in the movie, and after that Warner Bros. hired them for a similarly themed gangster vehicle for James Cagney called Angels with Dirty Faces. Meanwhile Universal decided to produce their own Dead End knockoff called Little Tough Guy, and the kids in that movie combined with some of the original Dead End kids to start a series called the “East Side Kids” at Monogram in the early 1940’s. 

The East Side Kids movies were reliable moneymakers for Monogram — though one wonders why; occasionally there were flashes of genuine wit and humor in them, but mostly they were pretty dreary and about the only thing you could say in their favor was that at least the cheap sets that were the only kind Monogram could afford more accurately reflected New York’s East Side than the elaborate constructions on which Samuel Goldwyn had filmed Dead End in 1937. In deference to the advancing age of the actors, Monogram changed the name of the series from “East Side Kids” to “Bowery Boys” in 1946, and a year later Monogram formed a subsidiary called “Allied Artists” (obviously an attempt to rip off the name “United Artists,” though Charles inevitably joked, “As opposed to ‘Axis Artists’”) to attract more important filmmakers and offer them bigger budgets without putting them through the disgrace of an association with a strictly “B” outfit like Monogram. As time passed and most of the major studios closed their “B” units altogether, the company abandoned the Monogram name and released everything through Allied Artists — including quality films like Don Siegel’s Riot in Cell Block 11 and Invasion of the Body Snatchers — including the Bowery Boys movies, which had been pretty dubious propositions even in the early 1940’s and were totally preposterous now that the “boys” were in their 30’s. Spook Chasers was one of a number of East Side Kids/Bowery Boys films that attempted to combine comedy and horror, usually set in a supposedly haunted house out in the country, and this one, directed by Gordon Blair from a script by Elwood Ullman (Blair I hadn’t heard of before, but Ullman I had; he was an associate of soundman turned director Edward Bernds, they’d met working on Three Stooges shorts at Columbia and Ullman followed Bernds as the director transitioned from lowbrow comedy to lowbrow science fiction), is a pretty close ripoff of Abbott and Costello’s 1941 film Hold That Ghost

By 1957 the Bowery Boys were also dealing with the loss of the services of their lead boy, Leo Gorcey (the one with the most potential as an actor — he would have been a quite good “James Cagney type” if the original Cagney hadn’t hung on so long and gobbled up the roles that might otherwise have gone to his imitators), who had quit the series in 1955 following the death of his father, Bernard Gorcey, who had regularly appeared in the Bowery Boys’ movies as the proprietor of the candy store where the boys hung out and from which they got into various scrapes. Oddly, Leo’s brother David wasn’t as broken-hearted over the death of their dad as Leo was; he stayed in the series and, along with original Dead End Kid Huntz Hall, was the only actor in all 48 Bowery Boys movies. Spook Chasers begins in the diner owned by Mike Clancy (Percy Helton, not exactly one of the great character actors of all time — if anything, his performance is even more annoyingly immature than that of the boys!), where the boys are either working or just making trouble, it’s hard to tell which. Mike tells them to push the customers to buy Irish stew, and they just end up either driving everyone away or making them settle just for coffee. Mike ends up on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and his doctor (who examines him at the diner, no doubt to save Allied Artists née Monogram the cost of another set) prescribes a long rest at an isolated country home. An unscrupulous real-estate agent, Harry Shelby (Bill Henry), sees his chance to unload an old, decrepit house called “Cedar Crest” on Mike and the boys — today a realtor would advertise this as a “fixer-upper” and make a ton of money — but what Shelby and his assistant/secretary/girlfriend Dolly Owens (Darlene Fields, the only woman in the movie except for two girls who turn up at the end, and by far the most interesting performer and best actor of either gender in it) don’t realize is that the house’s previous owner, a now-deceased gangster, hid the “take” from a bank robbery he’d been involved in and which he’d stolen from the other three people involved in the crime: “Snap” Sizzolo (Peter Mamakos), whose habit of punctuating every line of dialogue by snapping his fingers at the end of it at least gives him a certain appeal; and his henchmen. 

Once Shelby and Dolly learn this, they converge on the house to find the money — which Dolly helps locate by vamping the secret out of “Sach” (Huntz Hall), the lead Bowery Boy since Leo Gorcey’s departure and always the dumb one of the crew, who by this time had started to look and act like a young Bert Lahr. They also dress up in singularly unconvincing “ghost” costumes that look like they decided to wear fright masks over Ku Klux Klan uniforms in an effort to scare Mike and the Boys out of the house by making them think it’s haunted, and at least one scene features the disappearing wall-mounted beds the Marx Brothers had used in The Big Store (not one of their better movies but of course a whole lot funnier than this one!). Eventually the police, who seem not to have existed until the end of the movie but we’re told had been following “Snap” and his gang in hopes they’d lead them to the stolen money, show up just as the crooks are about to off the Boys, the police arrest them and “Sach” somehow gets an unearned reputation as a hero. The film’s origins in the 1941 Abbott and Costello haunted-house film Hold That Ghost are obvious not only in the basic situation (a gang of crooks tries to scare our comedy heroes out of a supposedly haunted house in order to find a stash of loot hidden there) but even gags like the one A&C ran into the ground in their horror-comedies, in which the lead comedian sees something supernatural (or at least fantastic) happen and calls the others, only the scene has gone back to normal by the time the people he was calling arrive. Spook Chasers is 62 minutes of totally lame cinema, neither funny nor scary; one just yields to it and lets it pass over you, like a disease, and the biggest mystery is why anyone still thought there was a market for homely guys in their 30’s acting like teenagers being tempted to lives of crime and getting into situations clearly a lot less funny than their writers thought they were!

Monday, October 29, 2018

Til Ex Do Us Part (Cover Productions, Reel One Entertainment, Lifetime, 2018)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2018 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Last night’s Lifetime “premiere” movie was at least a bit better than usual: Til Ex Do Us Part, a pretty typical (for them) story of a female interloper trying to break up a married couple and establish herself in the wife’s place. It had a few nice wrinkles that raised it at least a bit above the Lifetime norm. The central couple are Sophia (Kelly Sullivan) and Kyle (Dan Payne, unusually attractive for a Lifetime husband) Wrigley, who are both architects and work for the same firm — only she’s a senior partner and he’s just a junior associate. Though they’ve been together long enough to have a teenage daughter, Emma (Alisha Newton), the stresses on their relationship led them to separate. They’re just about to reconcile and start living together again — helped by the recent sale of the home dad has been living in while mom lives in another one they own. Only their reunion gets short-circuited by the sudden appearance of Claire Johnson (Anna Van Hooft), who claims that during the separation she had an affair with Kyle and ended up pregnant. Kyle insists to his wife that he and Claire only had sex once (oh, no, I moaned, not one of those “infallible pregnancies at single contacts” David O. Selznick ridiculed in his production memos on Gone With the Wind), but the news that this other woman is about to give their daughter Emma a half-sister or half-brother leads Sophia to call off the reconciliation and send Kyle packing again. The film was prefaced by a sequence in which Claire is driving a car on a mountain road (the film is set in Washington state so, like so many other Lifetime movies, it could be filmed across the border in British Columbia, Canada) when her brakes suddenly go out, and then the prologue cuts to a scene in which Sophia is arrested for attempted murder and cyber-stalking, which is supposed to leave us in doubt as to which woman is the perpetrator and which is the victim. Claire reports that she’s not only receiving a spate of insulting texts, at one point she’s even insulted on Sophie’s property by someone who sneaks up behind her and clubs her with a rock. But Claire also has discovered the flower pot under which Sophie hides her keys, she uses them to let herself into Sophie’s house any time she pleases and, among other things, hack into Sophie’s computer to upload a photo of herself (Claire) taking a shower at the gym where both she and Sophie have yoga classes, then post the photo to a Web site that supposedly offers people the chance to come over and have sex with you then and there. A would-be fuck buddy duly shows up at Claire’s place while Kyle is there, Kyle punches him out and the guy reports him, leading Kyle to get himself arrested for assault and miss an important meeting at the architectural firm (remember the architectural firm?), so Sophie has to present the project Kyle designed and gets the assignment to spearhead the project and work with the clients.

A friend of Sophie’s, Rachel (Sharon Taylor) — who is white, a departure from the usual Lifetime pattern of casting African-American actresses as the heroine’s best friend who finds out the truth about the villainess, only to get knocked off for her pains — traces Claire and finds out that, while “Johnson” is her legal last name, her first name is actually Jessica and she started going by “Claire” after she wormed her way into another family that had a teenage daughter and as a result both dad and daughter were killed in a car crash. Rachel calls Jessica/Claire’s mother Doreen (Leanna Brodie) and learns that Claire can’t possibly be pregnant with Kyle’s child because she’s incapable of conceiving — she faked a positive pregnancy test and used some other woman’s ultrasound to fool Kyle into thinking she was having his baby. But before Rachel can report all this to Sophie, Claire corners her in the pool of the gym and kills her by holding her under the water and drowning her. Then Claire puts the crown jewel on her plot by putting on a blonde wig to disguise herself as Sophie (since Anna Van Hooft and Alisia Newton both have long dark hair while Sophie’s hair is curly blonde, Emma looks more like Claire’s daughter than Sophie’s, but that’s a common enough movie failing we can let that one pass) and getting herself photographed by a neighborhood surveillance camera as she drains the brake fluid from a car Kyle was going to give Emma for her 16th birthday (the fact that these people are complaining about money while they have a Mercedes-Benz convertible in storage that Kyle wasn’t doing anything with until Claire talked him into giving it to her as Emma’s birthday present is a bit hard to believe in itself), then drives off in it and bails out just in time before it crashes — leading Sophie to get arrested for attempted murder and cyber-stalking (the text messages against Claire were sent from Sophie’s phone, and the video of Claire showering from Sophie’s computer, but Claire was a skilled enough hacker she sent them herself from Sophie’s devices — before her faked accident she spiked Sophie’s tea with a knockout drug and, while Sophie was unconscious, applied Sophie’s finger to her phone so she could access it — though even with her computer skills she physically clipped a photo of herself and pasted it over Sophie’s instead of using Photoshop to add herself to the picture digitally, a plot-hole glitch I’ve seen in Lifetime movies before).

Eventually a nice, milquetoast attorney who seems to have a crush on Sophie (leading me to think writers Andrea Canning and Lynn Keller were going to have Sophie break up with Kyle permanently and end up with the lawyer) gets Sophie bailed out, and the truth comes out. The finale takes place at Sophie’s home, where Claire shows up with a gun and the two reach for it (Maurine Watkins, your plagiarism attorney thanks you for making him so much money he now has a 300-person law firm of his own), and Claire ends up shot in the struggle — though she survives and ends up in a prison mental ward while the Wrigleys get back together and become a family again. Til Ex Do Us Part (the neologism of the title’s first word still bothers me — it should either be “Till” or “’Til,” with an apostrophe to indicate it’s a contraction of “until”) is a bit better than average — the writers give Claire a penchant for injuring herself that verges on the masochistic, and Anna Van Hooft plays Claire with a cool precision far more credible than the snarling overacting some other people playing Lifetime’s bitches have brought to such parts — but it’s still pretty much to the formula, with Danny J. Boyle (who uses his middle initial to distinguish himself from the feature-film director of Trainspotting and the Academy Award-winning Slumdog Millionaire) providing competent but not particularly imaginative direction. The most interesting performance comes not from any of the principals but from Sean Kuling, a handsome, moody blond hunk who plays Nick, a former boyfriend of Claire’s who’s hounding her for money throughout the movie and who eventually gets dispatched when she shoots him about an act or two before the end — he’s someone I’d like to see more of, though Dan Payne as Kyle is also hunkier than the typical “good” Lifetime leading man and acts with more authority than most actors bring to these roles.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Zombie at 17 (Thrill Films, Reel One Entertainment, Lifetime, 2018)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2018 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

I watched last night’s Lifetime “premiere,” Zombie at 17, perhaps the most risible title anyone at Lifetime has ever come up with (even sillier than Tiny House of Terror), produced by Pierre David and Tom Berry, directed by someone named Alexandre Carrière and written — oh, the shame! — by Christine Conradt. Partially narrated in voice-over by the titular heroine, Tia Scott (Celeste Desjardins), ostensibly from her journals of her experiences during the senior year of high school, the film begins with Tia telling us that at age 10 she witnessed the death of her sister (we’re never told the sister’s name and it’s not clear whether she was younger or older than Tia) when she was run over by a car. Tia’s dad left her mom Kate (Laurie Fortier, top-billed) around the same time — though Conradt doesn’t specify whether he left before or after the death of Tia’s sister — and Kate has raised Tia and her younger brother Emory (Jack Britton) as a single parent ever since. The main intrigue is that Tia is going through an odd physical transformation — her eyes are ringed with red, they’re surrounded by so much eye shadow she looks either like someone has regularly been punching her out or she thought Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ look was really cool and decided to emulate it, she’s becoming acutely sensitive to sound (at one point she goes into her brother’s room and pulls the headphone cord out of his iPod because she can hear the music even though it’s supposed to be inaudible without the headphones, and it’s distracting her in her attempt to study) and she’s losing bits and pieces of her memory, though she’s also becoming super-strong. In one scene, Emory is nearly crushed by a bookcase when, in an attempt to retrieve his game console on top of it, he knocks it over; mom can’t budge it but Tia lifts it easily, though being a Lifetime mom Kate isn’t proud of her daughter for saving her son’s life, but pissed at her for not telling her that she’s developed a super-power.

There’s a subplot involving Tia’s boyfriend Conner Foster (Carson MacCormac) — the film’s page gives the spelling of his first name as the more common “Connor” but “Conner” is the name we see on the screen of Tia’s phone when Conner texts her — and an older couple he’s friends with, Jason Ellzey (Connor McMahon, easily the hottest guy in the film — and, of course, its principal villain!) and Jason’s partner Samantha “Sammy” Feldon (Alanna Bale). Jason and Samantha arrange for Conner and Tia to get into a hot dance club even though they’re underage, but while there Jason runs into a young man of indeterminate race, Riley Denton (Gabriel Darku). Jason insists that Riley owes him $3,000 — it’s not clear why but we get the impression Jason is a drug dealer — and he’ll take Riley’s blue Mustang (which we never see — I guess the production company’s budget didn’t extend to the rental of such a cool car) in payment even though it’s worth $8,000 — and when Jason confronts Riley outside the bar and Riley refuses, Jason literally beats him to death. Then he tries to weasel his way out of it by claiming a fictitious assailant confronted Riley in the bar, took him outside and beat him to death, and he wants Conner and Tia to go along with his story. Conner does but Tia doesn’t — she tells the police that while she didn’t see what happened, she did overhear Jason threaten Riley over a debt before the two left — and this leads to an estrangement between them.

It also doesn’t help that Tia is also seeing a young man named Flynn Murson (Seamus Patterson) and tapping into his fount of zombie lore, which he’s accumulated in hopes of helping his friend Steven Baker (Stephane Garneau), who’s suffering the same “zombification” symptoms as Tia, only worse — so much worse that he literally chains himself to his own wall in order to keep from escaping and killing humans to eat their brains. It helps that Flynn’s father, Dr. Will Murson (Michael Gordon Shore), is a medical researcher who used to work at a private lab in Philadelphia (where the film takes place) that was looking for an improved anesthetic — only the lab was raided by a PETA-style animal rights group which set all the animals free, destroyed years of research work and drove the lab out of business: it was purchased by a local university who swore to God and every other authority they could think of that they were not doing any experiments involving animals. Dr. Murson recalls that the lab was run by Dr. Davrow (Floyd Moore), who in addition to the official experiments was doing one on his own attempting to isolate a virus that causes humans to turn zombie, and to find a cure for it. He brought back a rat from Haiti that contained the zombie virus — one thing Conradt did right in her script was creatively mash up the traditional Haitian zombie superstition with the modern one created by writer-director George Romero in the film Night of the Living Dead (1968), in which zombies were mindless creatures created by nuclear radiation, otherwise dead people who ambled around and attacked humans to eat their brains.

Alas, Conradt couldn’t resist an incredibly gross scene early in the film in which she opens a jar of frogs’ brains in the Riverton High School biology lab and snacks on them — when I realized what was happening I yelled at the TV, “Christine! Don’t do that to us!” — and the ending is really preposterous: Tea and her mom Kate trace Dr. Davrow and learn that he developed an antidote to zombiedom but then got Alzheimer’s and forgot it. But if Tia eats his brain, she’ll briefly absorb his memory and will be able to dictate the formula for the antidote so Dr. Murson can prepare it and interrupt the progress of her disease. Tia is too moral to shoot a human to eat his brain, even though Davrow says he not only has Alzheimer’s but stage four cancer and he’s not going to live much longer anyway, but in true Christine Conradt fashion her dilemma is solved when in come Jason and Samantha (ya remember Jason and Samantha?) to eliminate Tia and Kate because they could be witnesses against them in the case of Riley’s murder. Jason tries to shoot Tia, Davrow comes between them and takes the bullet instead, and there’s a truly gross finale in which Tia eats Davrow’s brain, recalls the formula and dictates it to Dr. Murson so she can be treated and her zombieism successfully interrupted. I was hoping Zombie at 17 would be a more subtle work and its theme would be someone who fell prey to the delusion that she was a zombie out of a morbid obsession with the death of her sister, but no such luck; this time around Christine Conradt indulged her greatest weakness as a writer — ramping up the melodrama to the point where it just becomes silly — and ignored her greatest strength, a penchant for moral complexity and dramatic ambiguity far beyond that of most Lifetime writers. I’ll still look forward to future Conradt credits, but this time around she really disappointed me!

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Doctor Who on Mars (3 episodes) (BBC Wales, 2009, 2013, 2017)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2018 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Last night’s Mars movie night in Golden Hill ( consisted of three episodes of Doctor Who — the 21st century incarnation, which has considerably better special effects than the originals and are in color but are also nowhere near as much fun — that had some sort of Mars theme. It’s obvious that the Doctor Who writers are looking around to other science-fiction movies for plot inspirations, since the first episode on the program, “The Waters of Mars” from 2009, is a pretty close ripoff of the original Alien. Adelaide Brooke (Lindsay Duncan) is leading the first attempt by Earthlings to colonize Mars when the Doctor (David Tennant) arrives just one day before the history books recall that she and the entire Earth colony on Mars were killed in a nuclear accident. It turns out that as a result of Martian water contaminating the hydroponic dome in which the Earthlings were trying to grow normal human food, the food has become toxic and anyone who eats it, or drinks the Martian water directly (writers Russell Davies and Phil Ford came up with this script well before the recent discovery that there is frozen water under the surface of Mars, which makes their script seem prescient!), becomes infected with a Martian disease that causes their body to spurt water uncontrollably. Eventually Adelaide makes the tough decision to set off the nuclear self-destruct mechanism and destroy the colony, which means killing herself and everyone else, in order to protect the population back on Earth from being infected by the Martian whatsit — which is how I read the ending of Alien (Sigourney Weaver’s character consigned herself to certain death to keep Earth from being infested with the killer aliens) and why I was so disappointed when they not only made Alien sequels but resorted to an increasingly outrageous series of plot conceits to allow her to appear in them. Only the Doctor arrogantly insists that he’s going to rescue Adelaide and one other crew member and take them back to Earth, thereby changing the timeline and preventing Adelaide’s granddaughter from being inspired by her late grandmom’s example to become an astronaut herself and pilot the first spacecraft capable of faster-than-light travel. Adelaide frustrates the Doctor by vaporizing herself with a ray pistol or whatever the weapon she had on Mars, and so the only thing that changes in the timeline is the last paragraph of her obituary, from stating that she died on Mars to she died on Earth. 

The other two episodes, “Cold War” from 2013 and “Empress of Mars” from 2017, introduced one of the sillier menaces ever on Doctor Who episodes: the Martian Ice Warriors, a sort of Viking-like caste (they’re even compared in the script to the dramatis personae of the 1958 film The Vikings, the action potboiler Kirk Douglas had to sign on to in order to get to make Paths of Glory) who have a way of turning up on Earth. “Cold War” is sort of The Hunt for Red October meets The Thing, as it’s the 1980’s and a Soviet submarine is working under the Arctic to drill for oil and the Martian ice warrior decides to commandeer it and use its nuclear missiles to obliterate all life on Earth in revenge for one of the sub’s crew members tasing it. “Empress of Mars” was even sillier — though the actor playing the Doctor, Peter Capaldi, was quite the best of the three (the others were David Tennant and Matt Smith) represented here, mainly because he was older than the others and thereby brought the proper gravitas to the role. Its conceit is that in 1883 Martians came to earth and kidnapped a garrison of British soldiers who have become obsessed with the idea of turning the tables on their captors, conquering Mars and adding it to the British Empire. I was unimpressed by these shows, especially the last two, and I’m afraid that I respect but really don’t admire and will never be part of the cult that has formed around them — and as tacky as the original Doctor Who shows were, they also have an endearing charm that the later, more elaborately produced and effects-ridden incarnation doesn’t.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Wrath of the Titans (Warner Bros., Legendary Entertainment, Cott Productions, 2012)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2012 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Charles and I spent much of last night watching Wrath of the Titans, the 2012 sequel to the 2010 remake of the 1981 Clash of the Titans, which didn’t do as well at the box office (in fact it was so poorly received the producers abandoned plans for a third film in the cycle, Revenge of the Titans) but turned out to be a better movie, largely because there was less pachydermous exposition between the action highlights and also because the script seemed better constructed this time around. Also, unlike the 2010 Clash of the Titans, Wrath of the Titans actually contains some Titans in the dramatis personae. You’ll recall that in ancient Greek mythology the Titans were the ancestors of the gods, and there was another round of supernatural beings who were the Titans’ ancestors, led by Uranus, whose son Cronos led a revolt of the Titans in which they killed Uranus and the other members of the generation before him, only Cronos was himself killed (and, in some versions of the tale, actually eaten) by his son Zeus (Liam Neeson) as leader of a rebellion of the gods against the Titans. In Wrath of the Titans Zeus’s scapegrace brother Hades (Ralph Fiennes) makes common cause with Zeus’s son Ares, god of war (Edgar Ramirez), to kidnap Zeus and hook him up to some sort of device made of rocks that will drain Zeus of his godly powers and transform then back into Cronos (who isn’t played by an actor but is a digital creation of fire and molten rock), who once he regains control of the universe will destroy all Earth once and for all. To keep this from happening the remaining gods are depending on Perseus (Sam Worthington, this time with tousled, curly hair more resembling the traditional image of an ancient Greek hero — or a modern Greek male, for that matter — than the severe U.S. Marine-style cut he wore in the earlier film), who’s retired from the hero business and returned to the trade of his foster-father, fishing. 

Perseus and his wife Io had a son, Helius (John Bell), before Io died (the actress who’d played her in Clash of the Titans, Gemma Arterton, was busy with another film, so writers Greg Berlanti, David Leslie Johnson and Dan Mazeau just killed her off and showed her grave; remember that in the original Greek myths Io was eight generations older than Perseus!), and he’s depicted as the usual useless hanger-on, though at least he’s less oppressively cute than most of the generations of movie kids we’ve had to endure since Shirley Temple became a superstar in the 1930’s). Perseus sets off along with Andromeda (Rosamund Pike, replacing Alexa Davalos in the first film — which meant Andromeda’s hair color changes from black then to blonde here), the princess of Argos he abandoned in a Lone Ranger-ish moment at the end of the first film (even though the director of that one, Louis Leterrier, wanted them to get together as per the original myths and the 1981 movie), and Agenor (Toby Kebbell), son of the sea god Poseidon and therefore Perseus’ cousin (Perseus, you’ll recall, is the son of Zeus by one of his innumerable dalliances with mortal women). They have to descend into the underworld and find their way through a labyrinth designed by Hephaestus (Bill Nighy, oddly made up and costumed to look like a rabbi) — it’s not clear whether he’s a Titan or a god but he made the gods’ super-weapons: Poseidon’s trident, Hades’ pitchfork and Zeus’s thunderbolt. Hephaestus gets locked out of his own labyrinth when the trick door on the side of the mountain that’s its entrance closes on him too soon, but Perseus and Agenor end up making their way through the labyrinth — though Perseus has to stop and slay a Minotaur (well, what else do you expect to find in the middle of an ancient Greek labyrinth?) along the way — to reach the underworld city of Tantalus, where Hades is holding Zeus captive and he and Ares are draining his power to revivify Cronos. There’s a sudden cutaway between the antics of Perseus and his commando squad underground and the army of Andromeda — some of whom are wearing all-over armored helmets that make them look like the Teutonic Knights in Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky — going forth to fight what look like half-alive, half-dead minions summoned up by Hades, and the action between the two fronts is so badly integrated by director Jonathan Liebesman that at first I wondered, when I saw the army massed for an outdoor battle just after we’d been watching Perseus and his squad underground, “Who the hell are they?” 

It ends with Perseus and Andromeda winning their battles and finally getting together as they should have at the end of the first film, but Zeus, Poseidon and Cronos all turn into stone statues and crumble (why? When the Kraken turned into a statue and crumbled at the end of the first film, at least there was an explanation — Perseus had shown him Medusa’s severed head, which he kept in a bag and trotted out as needed to stop his enemies, since Medusa’s head had the same effect after she died that it had had when she was alive: it turned to stone anyone who looked at it — but in this movie it just happens), and the last shot is of Perseus and Andromeda in a lip-lock as she talks about the next military campaign she’s going to embark on (no doubt that was going to figure in the plot of the third film if it had been made) while all he has on his mind is sex and he couldn’t be less interested in future battles at the moment. Like the 2010 Clash of the Titans, Wrath of the Titans might have been an even deeper and richer films if the deleted scenes included as bonus items on the DVD had been in the film; they include a sequence of Perseus recruiting his commandos from Andromeda’s army (and scaring some off by saying it’s likely to be a suicide mission) that would have better integrated the two plot lines that converge in the climax, and also the gods would have been more genuine figures of pathos had some of these outtakes been included. Overall, though, Wrath of the Titans — which carried over some of the actors from the 2010 Clash of the Titans but surprisingly few of the behind-the-camera personnel (the director was different and so were all the writers) — is a quite entertaining action-adventure movie in the modern manner and well worth seeing.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Clash of the Titans (Warner Bros., Legendary Entertainment, Thunder Road Pictures, 2010)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2018 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Charles and I stayed in and once we had dinner I ran us a movie I had just got on, part of a four-DVD set of action films featuring Liam Neeson — who joked on 60 Minutes that in his 50’s he suddenly became an action star with the success of his film Taken, in which he plays an avenging father tracing the human traffickers who have kidnapped his daughter. The film was Clash of the Titans, a 2010 remake of the 1981 movie that was stop-motion animation genius Ray Harryhausen’s last project. I’d seen the original 1981 Clash of the Titans fairly recently and regarded it as silly but with a certain charm — and, of course, dazzling when Harryhausen’s stop-motion creations were front and center on screen. The new one was directed by Louis Leterrier two years after he’d achieved big action-movie bankability with the 2008 version of The Incredible Hulk, and was clearly an attempt to duplicate the success of James Cameron’s Avatar a year earlier: not only was it released in 3-D (though only in a post-production conversion which Leterrier hated so much he turned down the job of directing the sequel, Wrath of the Titans, in 2012), it had the same male star as Avatar, Sam Worthington. The 2010 Clash of the Titans was, like its predecessor, a mash-up of (mostly) Greco-Roman myths dealing with Perseus (Sam Worthington), who’s raised as a foundling by a family of fishermen even though he’s really the son of Zeus (Liam Neeson), king of the gods. The original screenwriter, Beverley Cross, put a camp spin on the material, but the writing committee on this version, Travis Beacham, Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, took it way too seriously and ended up with a movie that was mostly just dull. 

According to an “Trivia” poster, the original plan was for Perseus to have his hair long at the start of his quest to save the people of Argos from the wrath of the gods in general and Hades (Ralph Fiennes, reunited with Neeson from the cast of Schindler’s List), ruler of the underworld, in particular, but he would cut it later. Then they decided to keep Worthington’s hair the same length throughout the movie and to cut it really short, which makes him look like a modern-day U.S. Marine who’s beamed in to the world of Greek mythology. The film basically follows the outline of the original — and of the Greek myths in which the story originated: Perseus reluctantly goes on a quest to kill Medusa (Natalia Vodianova, though in this version instead of a woman with snakes growing out of her head instead of hair, she’s a creature with a snake-haired human head grafted onto a snake’s body), even though one look at her will turn a man to stone (a fate that befalls the four very interesting characters Perseus goes on the quest with — and whom it’s a pity to lose so early and so arbitrarily). In the original myth and the 1981 film, Perseus lines the back of his shield with mirrors so he can kill Medusa by watching her reflection, which is safe, instead of facing her directly; in this one he only accidentally discovers that he can kill her by looking at her reflection. Then a vengeful Zeus decides to punish the people of Argos for bringing down his statue by sending them the Kraken, an unimaginably huge monster from the sea (a Nordic rather than a Greek myth, actually, though Greek mythology had a similar being called “Cetus”) — only Perseus defeats the Kraken by using Medusa’s head to turn it to stone and causing it to shatter and collapse into the sea. 

Clash of the Titans, the 2010 version, has neither the cheesy camp appeal of the original (there’s only a cameo appearance by “Bebo,” the flying mechanical owl who figured prominently in the 1981 original — obviously the filmmakers were trying to come up with a “cute” sidekick character à la R2-D2 in the original Star Wars) nor the depth it could have had as the gods, like their counterparts in Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung, worry about losing their immortality and their hold on the world. The writers of the 2010 Clash of the Titans invented the conceit that the gods can live forever only if ordinary humans believe in them and supply them eternal life through the power of their prayers — which the writers obviously hoped would be intense and moving but sounded to me too much like the ending of the film Elf, in which Santa Claus’s sleigh has trouble getting off the ground because too few people believe in Santa Claus anymore to supply the necessary “Christmas spirit.” Zeus’s brother Hades is seething with bitterness at Zeus’s banishment of him to the underworld following the gods’ successful revolt against their ancestors, the Titans (oddly, despite the title, no Titans appear as dramatis personae in the film!), and he said instilling fear in the people will work just as well at keeping the gods alive forever as instilling love. (At times they sound like Barack Obama arguing with Donald Trump.) Oddly, I watched some of the “deleted scenes” on the DVD and for once thought the film would have been deeper and richer if they had been left in: the outtakes included much longer versions of the conflicts on Olympus and elevated the other god characters to more importance — Charles said that with the outtakes included this would be as much a film about Apollo (Luke Evans) as about Perseus; as it is, just about all Apollo gets to do in the final cut is stand around while Zeus and Hades argue and look hot (in both senses) in his gold lamé costume that’s supposed to represent “solaricity.” The film scores with stunning computer-generated special effects, but somehow they don’t have the rustic charm of Harryhausen’s animated models in the original, and likewise, though Sam Worthington is better as a “type” than Harry Hamlin as Perseus, the sheer dorkiness with which Hamlin handled being so wretchedly miscast as an ancient Greek hero had its own appeal which Worthington’s grim, almost Eastwood-esque performance misses. 

Clash of the Titans is one of those movies which Hollywood would probably have been much better advised to leave alone — and it also suffers from an inexplicable change, forced on Louis Leterrier by the studio, in which instead of pairing up with Andromeda (Alexa Davalos), princess of Argos, at the end — as he did in the original legends and the 1981 film — Perseus takes a Lone Ranger-ish farewell to Andromeda and Argos at the end and instead ends up with Io (Gemma Artherton), his mentor from the gods, even though, as an “Trivia” contributor pointed out, in the original myths “Io is Perseus’ great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmother, and an old flame of his father Zeus.” (This became even sillier when the filmmakers were preparing the sequel and Gemma Artherton was unavailable to repeat the role because she was making another movie, so they killed off Io and brought in a different actress, Rosamund Pike, as Andromeda.) One odd aspect of the 2010 Clash of the Titans is that the writers “tweaked” the story in the direction of Judeo-Christian as well as Greek myths: Zeus is depicted along the lines of the nastier aspects of the Old Testament God, angrily sending out various menaces to attack humanity because he doesn’t think people love him enough; the baby Perseus floats into the action inside a coffin with his dead mother (like Moses being discovered in the bulrushes); and the human couple who end up raising him come off as quite Joseph-and-Mary-like, while his (step)father’s profession as a fisherman can’t help but recall Saint Peter. The 2010 Clash of the Titans was also one of those modern-day movies that followed the maddening habit of having no opening credits — not even the title of the film — but relegating everything to the end. I miss opening credits even more than I miss the “The End” title that regularly used to adorn movies at their finish — when Alfred Hitchcock omitted an end title at the end of The Birds it was considered quite shocking, as if he were saying that the bird attacks would continue and the story would never really end; now it’s just become routine.

Monday, October 22, 2018

The Lover in the Attic (ThinkFactory Media, Swirl Films, Lifetime, 2018)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2018 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

I settled in to watch Lifetime’s latest “premiere,” a new TV movie from the same people (ThinkFactory Media and Swirl Films) who just gave us Terror in the Woods — actually a pretty good Lifetime movie despite the dorky title. Lifetime is going through a phase of doing movies more or less based on true stories, and this one, called The Lover in the Attic, is one — though they made some annoying changes in the real tale. One thing I hadn’t realized going into The Lover in the Attic is that it’s a period piece, set in the 1920’s and 1930’s (the real story began in 1913 and ended in 1930, but writers Richard Kletter and Michelle Sanit moved it up about a decade so they could have it take place against the backdrop of Prohibition and the Depression), which immediately got my dander up because I’ve seen enough movies actually made in  the 1920’s and 1930’s to notice the inevitable anachronisms creeping into how the period is represented. The story is basically Double Indemnity meets Sunset Boulevard with a bit of a more modern tale, V. C. Andrews’ Flowers in the Attic, thrown in for seasoning: Dolly Korschel (Molly Burnett) is a hot-looking young blonde who’s stuck in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She dreams of Hollywood stardom but also wants to secure her personal security by marrying a rich man, and the one she lands is Fred Oesterreich (David Fierro) — by coincidence “Oesterreich” is also the German name for Austria (the country) — a textile magnate with a rapidly expanding waistline (courtesy of his increasing consumption of Prohibition-era booze) and a rapidly shrinking imagination. When Dolly tries to persuade him to modernize his line by ripping off the latest styles from Paris, he unsurprisingly rejects the whole idea. One day the personal sewing machine she uses at home to make prototypes of the hot new designs her husband keeps turning down breaks, and Fred dispatches the one male seamster in his shop, Otto Sanhuber (Kevin Fonteyne), to fix it. (The plethora of German names in the dramatis personae reflects the reality that Milwaukee has long had the largest community of German-Americans anywhere in the U.S.)

Otto turns out to be a scared, shy virgin whose only avocation is reading and attempting to write crime stories for the pulps, and Dolly falls in lust at first sight with him but also becomes his dominatrix, specifying in detail precisely what he can do with her when. After he makes a few clandestine visits to her house, on one of which he gets noticed by her nosy neighbor and Dolly is worried the neighbor will tell her husband what’s going on, she conceives the idea that she’ll hide Otto in her attic — permanently. She’ll provide him with food, a restroom and a typewriter with which he can write his pulp stories (naturally she wants him to model all his female characters on her!), and she’ll come up regularly and they can make love whenever the coast is clear. This bizarre relationship lasts for years until Fred’s fortunes nosedive during the Depression and he responds by becoming physically abusive to Dolly and also by drinking more. The climax occurs when Otto finally gets tired of helplessly hearing the sounds of Fred attacking Dolly; he comes out of the attic, tells Fred who he is, pulls a gun on him and the two wrestle and both reach for the gun (Maurine Watkins, you’d have your plagiarism attorney on speed dial if speed dial had been invented yet), with the result that Fred ends up fatally wounded. Otto concocts a plot to have Dolly say Fred was shot by a would-be burglar who escaped; the Milwaukee cops assigned to investigate the case are suspicious of this but can’t prove it didn’t happen. Dolly was aware that Fred had taken out life insurance on her but doesn’t know the amount — $20,000, which even in 1930 wasn’t going to last long the way Dolly burns through money — until her late husband’s insurance agent, Roy Klumb (Alex Ball, who interestingly looks more convincing as a 1930 character than anyone else in the film), tells her, whereupon she seduces him and hints that she’ll run away with him if he gets her the claim paid pronto. Instead she puts up the Milwaukee house for sale and escapes to Hollywood with Otto without telling Roy — and she buys a big house (adorned, among other things, with a poster for Puccini’s last opera, Turandot, about a murderous Chinese princess who has all her would-be suitors killed if they can’t answer her three riddles) and installs Otto in it.

She throws a big party and tells Otto she’s giving it to invite all the Hollywood bigwigs so she can get him work as a screenwriter, but she’s really after another sugar daddy, and she finds him in high-powered attorney Herman Shapiro (David Alexander). Only Herman has a vastly inflated idea of Dolly’s level of virtues and makes the mistake of proposing marriage to her — which brings Otto out of the woodwork. He threatens to ruin Dolly by turning her in to the Milwaukee police for Fred’s murder, and ultimately the two of them are tried for manslaughter: thanks to Shapiro’s brilliant representation of her, Dolly is acquitted but Otto is convicted, though the conviction is later overturned because the statute of limitations for manslaughter had already expired when he was tried. A postscript mentions that Dolly lived until 1961 and had a long succession of subsequent lovers — she didn’t marry again until two years before she died — though it doesn’t mention what became of Otto, which might have been a more interesting story. Like a lot of other Lifetime movies, The Lover in the Attic is a potentially fascinating story that could have made into a much better film than the one we have. Though the basic plot is the classic stuff of film noir — and Otto’s aspiration to write crime stories for pulp magazines links him directly to the birth of the noir tradition — director Melora Walters doesn’t direct it as one. The film is in color, and while that’s probably obligatory for modern-day TV Walters and her cinematographer, John Ferguson, totally ignore the lesson director Allan Dwan and cinematographer John Alton taught in the 1956 film Slightly Scarlet of how to do the classic noir look in color. Instead the whole movie is shot in the dirty greens and browns that seem to be the default setting for every modern director of photography, no matter what the film is about or when and where it is set, and their only concession to “Twentiesicity” is to overexpose the film so the dirty greens and browns look pastel instead of dark. It’s as if they saw a few badly faded color photographs from the period and decided from them that that’s what the 1920’s and 1930’s really looked like.

The period-piece aspects of the show also perch it on the thin film of risibility — I suspect that had they gone farther than a one-decade time jump and had this story take place in modern times the film would have been stronger and more powerful — and though they get the physical “look” of the period mostly right, there are lapses (the first pulp magazine Otto is shown reading has a cover typical of the 1960’s, not the 1920’s). One thing that particularly irritated me about the film was that instead of using the dark, sultry vocal tones of Barbara Stanwyck, Mary Astor, Claire Trevor, Veronica Lake and the other actresses who played femmes fatales in the classic noirs, director Walters had Molly Burnett deliver Dolly’s lines in the breathless whisper of Marilyn Monroe. This really doesn’t work for the villainess of the piece (and it’s a vocal style Monroe herself abandoned on the rare occasions she got to play a serious character) and it got more annoying as the film progressed. The acting in general is O.K. but nothing special; David Fierro plays Fred as a total boor (as a “type” he’s sort of a modern-day Eugene Pallette, but even Pallette managed a bit more pathos in this sort of role); Kevin Fonteyne is a bit too twink-ish for my taste (though we do get a lot of delectable shots of his hairless chest and his nice nipples), though someone more butch would probably have not been believable as the ridiculously naïve character he’s playing; and aside from Alex Ball, none of the actors really convince me they’re living in a past era. Certainly The Lover in the Attic had ambitions beyond the usual run of Lifetime fare — but sometimes a movie that aims high (or at least the middle-ground this one was aiming for) and misses can be more frustrating than one that aims low and gives the audience the kind of sleazy fare it wants, and that’s what happened here.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Killer Under the Bed (Johnson Production Group, Lifetime, 2018)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2018 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Last night’s Lifetime “premiere” was one of the silliest things I’ve ever seen on this problematic network: Killer Under the Bed, a product of the Johnson Entertainment Company (or is it the Johnson Production Group? The film’s page doesn’t list a producing company) that’s given us the “Whittendale Universe” movies (though this one at least isn’t set there — the school isn’t Whittendale but an equally pretentious, status-conscious high school). The personnel behind the camera are ones that have been associated with many of the Whittendale films — the producer and co-writer is Ken Sanders, the other writer is J. Bryan Dick (though his initial initial isn’t listed on the page) and the director is Jeff Hare — and the personnel in front of the camera are three nubile young women (they’re supposed to be a mother and two daughter, but the actress playing the mother looks young enough she seems more like an older sister). Mom is Dr. Sarah Yeager (Kristy Swanson), a dentist who’s just unloaded her big-city practice following the death of her husband a year earlier in a car accident. The daughters are older sister Chrissy (Madison Lawler), a star lacrosse player who blames herself for her dad’s death because his car crashed while he was racing to get to one of her games; and younger sister Kilee (Brec Bassinger) — why “Kilee”? Isn’t “Kylie” already a pretentious enough name without changing the spelling to make it even more so? The opening sequence shows a fight to the finish between a young girl, unrelated to any of the principals, and an unseen assailant in a shed. We’re not going to be allowed to know how this relates to the rest of the movie until nearly its end, and to our surprise after this opening “hook” sequence ending, instead of flashing us back several days, weeks, months or even years earlier, the chyron indicating the time shift contains the message “One Year Later.

One year later the three Yeager women have moved back to the town where Sarah grew up and she’s joined the practice of her former mentor, Dr. Abbott (Frederick Lawson), the sort of avuncular African-American presence almost obligatory in these productions. Unfortunately Dr. Abbott’s other assistant, Dr. Linda Ryder (Kristin Carey), takes an instant dislike to Sarah and thinks she’s only returned to grab the practice when Dr. Abbott is ready to retire and do her out of it. Meanwhile, as the new kid in school Kilee is having her own problems: the school’s reigning student queen, Tina (Ashlee Füss), approaches Kilee on her first day and tells her she’ll take a selfie of the two together and spread it around the school — for a fee of $100. An aghast Kilee refuses, and the next day Tina demands not money, but Kilee’s jacket — a blue denim item with a patch reading “D. Yeager” that Kilee wears everywhere because it’s the only item of her father’s she still has to remember him by. Kilee thinks she’s solved her problems when she finds a voodoo baby doll in the shed in the house’s backyard and, when she goes online to find what it is, she gets not a search-engine page but a page written in blood-red letters on a black background telling her how to use the doll to get back at her. Bitter with her sister Chrissy for having made fun of her and not being supportive in her conflict with Tina, Kilee first applies a mild spell, taking a piece of a red second-place ribbon Chrissy won and sticking it to the doll’s leg with one of the six pins (ordinary pins with black knobs at the blunt end) that came with it. Chrissy gets a cramp in her leg that immediately goes away when Kilee removes the ribbon and pin. Kilee is immediately convinced she can use the doll to get revenge on anyone who’s wronged or crossed her or someone important to her, so her next step is to stick a bit of lipstick from a towel Tina blotted with and stick it in the doll’s lips, with the result that in the middle of a class Tina’s own lips start swelling in a hideous red pattern that looks nothing like something that could actually happen to a human being.

Meanwhile, Kilee has been called out by her history teacher, Chris McCabe (Chris Prascus, an absolutely gorgeous hunk of man-meat whom director Hare shows to great advantage, first by putting him in white slacks that show off an enormous basket, then by putting him in tight blue jeans that make him look even hotter — to this old Gay guy the great glimpses of Prascus’ anatomy provided entertainment value that the story, writing and direction otherwise lacked!). Kilee uses the doll to cast a spell on McCabe to get him to like her, but the spell works too well and within an act or two he’s propositioning her and ultimately attempting to rape her. (Coincidentally, or perhaps not so coincidentally, I was watching this soon after I’d seen the 1996 movie The Craft, which also features a high-school girl who puts a spell on a guy hoping to get him to like her, but the spell works too well and she has to fend him off to avoid him raping her.) Realizing that the doll’s power is getting out of hand, she consults a book called “Occult” which she finds on the shelves of the school library, but it doesn’t have a library tag and therefore is clearly not a library book, and discovers that the voodoo baby doll can be killed if it’s buried. Kilee does this, but the doll comes back to life instead — we see its hand working free from the earth it’s buried in, a sequence that might have been frightening if we hadn’t seen scenes like this in innumerable horror films before — and it not only can move around on its own, it can attack people at will. It stages an attack on Tina in her red sports car, with a personalized license plate reading “DDYSGIRL” (i.e., Tina can get away with extorting other students and pulling a lot of other nasty shit because her father is a major donor to the school), and wounds her a lot with a knife (what sort of knife we’re not sure because director Hare, stuck with a special-effects budget typical of a Lifetime movie, can’t get us close enough to the attack for us to see what’s really going on). The doll also drives Dr. Linda Ryder (ya remember Dr. Linda Ryder?), Sarah Yeager’s professional rival, totally off the deep end: she zaps Sarah with a taser, threatens to put her eyes out with a dentist’s drill, and ultimately gets arrested and placed in a holding cell for people suspected of mental illness.

Eventually Kilee catches on to what’s going on from a clue inadvertently dropped by Tina, of all people, mentioning that the Yeagers are living in “the old Mandy Dinkins house,” and she traces Mandy Dinkins, the woman we saw being attacked in the opening scene (ya remember the opening scene?), who was fighting the doll in the shed until she managed to overpower it long enough to put it to sleep by putting a noose around the head, hanging the doll and sticking the six magic pins in it. Kilee traces Mandy to the asylum where she’s now incarcerated, and Mandy tells her that the doll came to earth when she made a deal with Satan to sell him one of his most vicious minions for the Biblically appropriate price of 30 pieces of silver. Only the thing can’t be permanently killed — just immobilized by the ritual of hanging it and sticking all six pins into it — and this film’s climax takes place at the Yeager home, where they have to deal with not only the doll itself but its ability to occupy and possess the body of any living person — at one point it becomes Chrissy and suddenly this shallow Valley Girl goes very, very bad. They also have to deal with Chris McCabe, who came over to the Yeager home to rape Kilee and grabbed her just as she had the doll-sized noose and pins in her hand — so they have to deal with him to recover the noose and pins so they can immobilize the doll, which they leave in the living room of the home as they walk out the door, swearing never to live or even set foot in the house again. Only, in the sort of open-ended evil-triumphs-after-all ending Lifetime has become addicted to in recent years, a young woman with long dirty-blond hair, whom we presume is Mandy Dinkins somehow having got out of the asylum, goes into the house (did she still have the keys from when she lived there?), pulls the doll from the ceiling where the Yeagers hung it and apparently is going to set it free so it can go after her enemies.

Killer Under the Bed is one of those silly movies in which the writers posit the existence of a supernatural being and expect to get us all to believe it — only the contrivances they loose upon us to get us to do that are themselves so blatant and obvious they’re more risible than frightening. There are a couple of sequences of explicit violence that would make good horror scenes except that we’re expected to believe the lethal assailant is an 18-inch doll that somehow has the capability to overpower and murder a normal human. The acting doesn’t help much; Brec Bassenger as Kilee way overpushes the “perky” stop (“perky” seems to be the default setting for teenage Lifetime heroines — or villainesses, for that matter — the way “winsome” was the default setting for ingénues during the silent-movie era), and though Chris Prascus has one of the hottest-looking male bods I’ve seen on TV in quite a long time (at least since Christopher Meloni quit Law and Order: Special Victims Unit), he’s not anywhere near a good enough actor to handle the transition from kind, gentle, “sensitive” teacher to devil-possessed would-be rapist. It also doesn’t help that the effects budget, such as it was, didn’t allow Madison Lawler to do more than twitch her head when she was supposedly possessed — one really wanted her head to do the 360° turns on her neck the way Linda Blair’s did in The Exorcist, a film that obviously influenced this one — or that the fundamental concept was silly and the movie would have been a lot better if Dick, Sanders and Hare had gone the Val Lewton route and made the whole “voodoo baby doll” schtick a dark fantasy cooked up by a young girl in the shadow of just about everyone in her life: her mom, her (dead) dad, her sister and her schoolmates.

Abbott and Costello Meet the Creature from the Black Lagoon (Colgate Comedy Theatre: Colgate-Palmolive Company, NBC-TV, aired February 21, 1954)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2018 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

After Killer Under the Bed I figured Charles deserved something more pleasant to watch, and I found it for him in a DVD I had recently ordered from called Abbott and Costello Meet the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Never heard of that film before? Neither had I — and I thought I had collected all Abbott and Costello’s 36 feature films, including the boxed set of the 28 they made for Universal as well as either home recordings or DVD’s of the eight they made elsewhere. As it turned out, though Abbott and Costello at one time or another “met” just about every monster in the Universal horror stable — Frankenstein, the Wolf Man, Dracula, the Invisible Man, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and the Mummy — they never officially made a film in which they met the Creature from the Black Lagoon. The DVD turned out to contain the complete (including the original commercials!) Colgate Comedy Hour broadcast by NBC-TV on February 21, 1954, which despite the title was mainly a feature for skating star Sonja Henie. She was a Norwegian figure skater who won the gold medal at the Winter Olympics three times — 1928, 1932 and 1936 — and she managed to parlay these triumphs into a film career. Her first feature, One in a Million, depicted her final triumph in the Winter Olympics at Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Germany (both the 1936 Winter and Summer Olympics took place in Nazi Germany!) along with a fictional plot in which she’s nearly barred from competing in them by false allegations that she’s turned professional. Henie gets three big skating numbers in this one, all of them showing what “figure skating” was in the days before it began to be about bigger, higher, twistier and more spectacular jumps. In Henie’s day the skaters were obliged to skate so precisely they traced figures in the ice — that’s where the name for the sport comes from — and after each skater performed the judges would come onto the ice with calipers to measure how exactly they had traced the required figures.

The big attractions in this show are Henie’s big skates, the not terribly funny “comedy” routines by Keefe Brasselle (just having come off playing Eddie Cantor in a 1953 biopic — somehow Ida Lupino as director got a sensitive and believable performance out of him in the 1949 film Not Wanted, her directorial debut, but in all his other appearances, including this one, he comes off as such a boor you want to strangle him) and host Gene Wesson, who duel each other to see who can come up with worse “impressions” of famous stars of the day like James Stewart and Humphrey Bogart. There was one genuinely funny scene which spoofed both gangster movies set during Prohibition and the rising price of coffee, in which an illegal speakeasy sells coffee and Brasselle plays a gangland kingpin — an uncredited Carolyn Jones (later Morticia Addams on the 1960’s TV series The Addams Family) gives a nice performance as Brasselle’s moll and the obligatory “bad girl” in these productions. Abbott and Costello appear in just one scene — though at least the producers hired their best writer, John Grant, to write it for them — in which they are supposedly touring the Universal prop department and come into contact with a living Frankenstein’s monster (played by Glenn Strange, who’d previously played him in Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein and the two immediately preceding “serious” Frankenstein movies from Universal, House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula — incidentally Strange doesn’t get a screen credit but he is announced as part of the cast at the end by a speaking voice that mangles his name as “Glenn Strangle”!) and a living Creature from the Black Lagoon (Ben Chapman, who played the terrestrial scenes in the original Creature from the Black Lagoon while Ricou Browning played the underwater scenes — Chapman was replaced by other actors in the two subsequent Creature films but Browning, a champion swimmer, did the aquatic parts of the role in all three). Their scene is funny, though the main gag is the old chestnut from all the Abbott and Costello horror comedies — when Costello tries to write the list of props he wants from the Universal prop department both the inkwell and the pen move about on the desk under their own power, while when Abbott comes in the scene reverts to normal and the inkwell and jar with the pen in it both stay put — and its relative unimportance actually gets played as a gag at the beginning, in which Costello says, “Welcome to the Sonja Henie Show. “You mean the Colgate Comedy Theatre,” Abbott replies. “Same difference,” a dispirited Costello groans.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Craft (Columbia Pictures, Red Wagon Entertainment, 1996)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2018 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

I was in Hillcrest last night to see a movie being screened by FilmOut San Diego, which is ostensibly the Queer film festival organizing group in San Diego (though they announced they’re not having another full-dress festival until 2020) but also do monthly screenings of movies that aren’t necessarily Queer-themed but do have camp value. (I remember one year they announced they were doing a Hallowe’en-themed horror festival but it was all schlock from the 1970’s — I remember the lead-off movie was Suspiria — and it occurred to me that if I were the head of a Queer film group doing a horror festival the films I would lead off with would be The Bride of Frankenstein and Dracula’s Daughter.) The film they showed last night was a 1996 movie called The Craft, directed by Andrew Fleming from a script he co-wrote with Peter Filardi and starring Robin Tunney as Sarah Bailey, a high-school girl whose father, who’s raised her first as a single parent and then with a stepmother because her real mom died giving birth to her, has just moved her from San Francisco to Los Angeles and bought them a house that looks like it was built in the 19th century and whose roof leaks so relentlessly in the torrential rains that drench southern California (remember when it actually rained in southern California?) it seems like it hasn’t been fixed since. Naturally, when she shows up for her first day of school, she’s snubbed by virtually everybody — as Dorothy Parker wrote of Sinclair Lewis’s Dodsworth, if Messrs. Fleming and Filardi had outlined this plot to a friend and said, “Stop me if you’ve heard this before,” a good chunk of this screenplay would never have been written — only she’s embraced by three fellow students, all women and all self-proclaimed witches, who need a fourth member for their coven because they need one person to represent each of the four directions in their spells. 

The would-be witches are Nancy Downs (Fairuza Balk, 11 years after her quite remarkable performance as Dorothy Gale in the 1985 film Return to Oz, a quite good movie that didn’t deserve critical scorn and commercial oblivion even though I haven’t seen it since it was new), Bonnie (Neve Campbell) and the token Black witch, Rochelle (Rachel True). Sarah falls in with this group and goes shopping with them to an occult bookstore and supply shop owned by Lirio (Assumpta Serna), who’s sort of the Edward Van Sloan of this tale: dispensing not only supplies but also wisdom, warning the girls that whatever energy they put out, good or bad, will be returned to them three-fold. Sarah also finds herself attracted to good-natured but typically dumb jock Chris Hooker (Skeet Ulrich, whose baby face is hauntingly beautiful in his close-ups but the rest of his body seems like an afterthought) and puts a love spell on him — only she overdoes it, with the result that he hangs around her like the proverbial puppy dog, calls her at 3 a.m., shows up outside her home and ultimately takes her for a drive in the Hollywood Hills, whereupon he parks and tries to rape her. If Charles had been there during the screening I would have turned to him and joked, “36 years from now he’ll make it onto the Supreme Court,” but instead Nancy (who quickly emerges as the leader of the witch pack and the most thoroughly evil of the three) exacts revenge on Sarah’s behalf by going to a party Chris is throwing, assuming Sarah’s appearance, seducing Chris, then revealing her real self and pushing him out a second-floor window to his death. 

The Not-So-Fantastic-Four also take their revenge on Laura Lizzie (Christine Taylor), who’s sabotaged Rochelle’s attempts to make it onto the diving team because “I don’t like negroids,” by casting a spell on her to make her hair fall out. Then the four assemble on a beach with a book called Invocation of the Spirit, which is supposed to enable them to conjure up a being of incredible power who’s represented by giant lightning flashes sweeping across the sky; the being incarnates inside Nancy and makes her even more powerful and malevolent. Eventually Sarah gets the proverbial cold feet about the nasty, lethal shenanigans Nancy and the others are pulling. She wants out of the coven but is told that “in the old days” witches who wanted out of their covens were killed. In the film’s climax, Sarah’s home is beset by an invasion of snakes (earlier a homeless guy with a pet snake had tormented her and the other three girls had cast a spell on him so he’d be run over by a car; Nancy had also shown off her power to turn the red traffic lights green so they’d never have to stop when they were out in her car), worms, frogs and whatever annoying beasties the special-effects departments of Columbia Pictures and their co-producers, Red Wagon Entertainment, could come up with, and she also sees a TV news report that a plane containing her dad, stepmother and a whole bunch of other people flying from Los Angeles to San Francisco has crashed with no survivors. Sarah escapes by conjuring up the spirit of her dead mother, who was a “natural witch” and, unbeknownst to Sarah until this point, passed on her powers to Sarah — with the result that Sarah has full witch mojo while the other three girls lose their powers, and Bonnie and Rochelle have to continue their high-school careers as normal girls while Nancy is shown, in the film’s final scene, in an isolation cell in a mental institution, tied down to her bed and injected with tranquilizers while babbling about how she has the ability to fly. 

It was ironic to watch this movie the day after seeing Drop Dead Fred because for the second night in a row I was seeing a 1990’s film which had a great central concept and did disappointingly little with it — out of all the directions they could have taken their story, Fleming and Filardi went for the most obvious ones and I couldn’t help but think of the Twilight movies and Stephenie Meyers’ relative skill in doing a similar theme (a student newly arrived at a new school encounters supernatural powers and connects with them) and doing it far better, with much more emotional resonance. One surprise from the page on The Craft is that Fairuza Balk is a practicing Wiccan and appointed herself a consultant to the filmmakers — she even briefly owned the real-life occult store on which Lirio’s business is based — and put them in touch with Wiccans who could answer questions about “the craft” that she couldn’t. But this film takes such a stereotypically negative view of witches and “the craft” that the revelation that one of its stars is a real-life Wiccan is like Paul Robeson starring as Little Black Sambo. The Craft is yet another bad (or at best mediocre) movie that could have been great, and it occurred to me that not only did its basic situation seem like the sort of thing that makes it onto Lifetime, but a modern-day Lifetime version (especially if Christine Conradt wrote it) might even be better!

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Montserrat Caballé: Queen’s Fund Recital, Madrid, 1981 (Spanish TV/VAI)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2018 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

I had a couple of videos I had in mind for last night’s program, and the first was a VAI release of a 1981 concert in Madrid by the great Spanish-born soprano Montserrat Caballé with pianist Miguel Zanetti. Caballé was in great form in a program that didn’t make any major demands on her, one of those this-and-that song recitals that worked up chronologically through the history of music — it began with Baroque selections like an aria from the oratorio Juditha Triumphans by Vivaldi, the familiar “Caro mio ben” by Giovanni and/or Tommaso Giordani (misspelled “Giordano” on the chyron) and an aria from the opera Adriano in Siria by Galuppi; then it moved into the Classical era with a lovely aria from the French version of Gluck’s Armide and a surprisingly good piece by Antonio Salieri, the composer Peter Shaffer (and Alexander Pushkin before him!) cast as Mozart’s murderer, literally and figuratively, from an opera called Les Danaïdes. It’s time to rehabilitate Salieri from all the Amadeus calumnies: though hardly at Mozart’s level he was a major composer, and this aria, “Où suis-je?,” was excellent even though during the long instrumental introduction I missed hearing the orchestra that would have originally accompanied it. Zanetti was a perfectly fine pianist (though on the first few Baroque selections I found myself wishing he were playing harpsichord!) but he’s just one person and Salieri’s music pretty clearly demanded the weight and power of a full orchestra. The concert then moved into slightly more familiar territory, though even so it was clear Caballé and Zanetti were programming towards the obscure: an aria from Bellini’s little-known opera Bianca è Fernando and another from the Temistocle opera by the relatively unknown composer Pacini. (A while back I heard an Opera Depot release of a Temistocle opera by Johann Christian Bach, one of Johann Sebastian’s sons — J. S. Bach had 20 children and 12 of them grew up to become professional musicians — and was mightily impressed; Mozart named J. C. Bach as one of his key influences, and it showed. But Pacini was hardly in the same league as a composer as Bach Söhn.)

Then Caballé ended up in the late 19th/early 20th centuries with five songs by Ravel, by far the most major “name” among the composers represented: Three Hebrew Songs and one-offs (including a parody song in German) and two by Bizet, before she headed into three Spanish songs as her encores. The concert was given in 1981 at the Teatro Real in Madrid, and not only was the venue called the “Royal Theater” but King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia (dressed in normal clothes — monarchs, even relatively powerless constitutional ones, don’t go about in fur-trimmed robes anymore) were in attendance and it was a benefit for her charitable fund. Charles and I were watching this as an envoi to the recently departed Caballé, and it worked as such even though there was a sameness to the material — almost all of it in slow or medium tempi, evoking a mood of reverie and not offering Caballé much chance for coloratura fireworks or the kind of haunting, floating high-register pianissimi that were one of her vocal trademarks. I had had this disc in the backlog for some time mainly because when Charles and I watched the companion Caballé disc in VAI’s catalog — two Spanish telecasts, a 1971 concert performance of the first act of Bellini’s Norma and another televised recital with Zanetti in 1979 — the Norma performance had been subtitled but the songs hadn’t been. They weren’t this time around, either, which left Charles and I pretty much at sea over what the songs were about — and Caballé’s diction, though considerably better than Joan Sutherland’s (I remember on the previous VAI disc Caballé sang a song in English, “Oh, had I Jubal’s lyre,” and she sang it more clearly than Sutherland had even though Caballé, unlike Sutherland, did not come from an English-speaking country), wasn’t that great shakes and Charles confessed he sometimes had trouble telling whether she was singing in Italian or Spanish.

Drop Dead Fred (PolyGram Films, Working Title, New Line Cinema, Artisan Entertainment, 1991)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2018 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

After the Caballé recital we moved, as Charles joked, from the sublime to the ridiculous: a 1991 comedy called Drop Dead Fred which received legendarily bad reviews (Gene Siskel called it the worst movie of its year) even though it didn’t do all that badly at the box office (it made $43,878,334 on an estimated production cost of $6,788,000), and according to Charles — who’d seen it at the time — it pretty much killed the potentially hot careers of two of its male leads, Rik Mayall and Ron Eldard. The gimmick is that Drop Dead Fred (Rik Mayall) was the imaginary friend created by eight-year-old Elizabeth “Lizzie” Cronin (Ashley Peldon) to provide an outlet for the traumas she went through being raised by her dragon-lady mother Polly (Marsha Mason in a performance that steals the movie). The opening shows Polly reading the story of Cinderella to her daughter, who asks how mom knows Cinderella and the Prince lives happily ever after. “Because, she was a good little girl,” mom replies. “If she would have been naughty, the Prince would have run away.” “What a pile of shit,” Lizzie fires back — an expletive which pretty much sets the tone for the entire movie. We then get a title that reads, “21 Years Later,” and 21 years later Lizzie is played by the film’s star, Phoebe Cates. She’s having the Mother of All Bad Days: first her husband Charles (a marvelously slimy performance by the unexpectedly handsome, especially given what he looked like in his other roles, Tim Matheson) announces he’s leaving her for another woman named Annabelle; then, as she parks her car to make a call at a pay phone (which itself dates this movie!) a guy reaches through the open window of her car and steals her purse. Then another guy gets into her car and drives off with it. Lizzie makes it to her job as a court reporter but she’s so discombobulated by the events of her day so far she can’t concentrate on her work and the judge calls her to his bench and fires her on the spot. On her way out the door the one good thing that happens to her all day arrives in the form of Mickey Bunce (Ron Eldard), who was a playmate of hers when they were both kids before he moved away. When Lizzie returns to the apartment she was sharing with Charles, mother shows up and insists that she move in with her — which she does.

Once she’s back at mom’s home Drop Dead Fred, her childhood imaginary friend, returns — only he’s not totally imaginary. He’s much like the ghosts in a lot of filmed ghost stories: though Lizzie is the only one that can see him, he can manipulate physical objects and destroy things — for which Lizzie is, of course, blamed. Drop Dead Fred’s first act when he invades the Cronin home is to cover his feet with dog poop and get it all over Polly’s pristine, newly shampooed white carpet as well as her white furniture. That pretty much sets the tone for the whole movie, which could have been great fun if only Drop Dead Fred weren’t so relentlessly obnoxious and destructive. At one point, Lizzie gets away from mom by becoming the house guest of her friend Janie (Carrie Fisher in a nice small role) on her paddle-wheeled houseboat, only Fred takes over the controls and, pretending to be a pirate, ends up sinking the houseboat. Then Mickey actually gets Lizzie to go on a lunch date with him at an Italian restaurant — only Fred screws that up for her by throwing food off her table at the other customers, and Mickey gets into the groove by throwing food himself and gets them both thrown out. In the end Fred arranges for Lizzie to crash Charles’ wine-tasting party, where she directly confronts Annabelle (Bridget Fonda, who apparently took the role as a favor to her friend Phoebe Cates) and manages at least briefly to seduce Charles back — only she catches him making a secret phone call to Annabelle; obviously Charles wants his wife and his mistress too. Finally there’s an odd fantasy sequence in which Drop Dead Fred departs Lizzie’s life and she hooks up with Mickey, who had just gone through a divorce and has custody of his own eight-year-old daughter — although Drop Dead Fred reappears in Lizzie’s life by becoming the imaginary friend of Mickey’s daughter and covering her in chocolate, which Mickey finds repulsive even though he should be relieved that it is chocolate, not mud or dog shit.

Drop Dead Fred could have been a deeper, richer movie if one of the two actors who was obviously “right” for the role of Fred, Robin Williams and Jim Carrey, had played him (according to an “Trivia” poster, Williams was actually offered the role but turned it down to play the grown-up and boring Peter Pan in Steven Spielberg’s Hook); instead Rik Mayall portrays the character as so relentlessly obnoxious one feels sorry for Lizzie that her imagination couldn’t conjure up a nicer and more genuinely helpful make-believe friend instead. Oh, and did I mention that at one point Polly takes her daughter Lizzie to a psychiatrist who specializes in relieving kids of their make-believe friends — or that the coming-together of Drop Dead Fred with the other kids’ imaginary friends is actually one of the funniest and most charming parts of the film? I can see why Drop Dead Fred got the derisive reviews it did and why a number of distributors passed on it before Roger Corman’s New Line Cinema took it on, but as it stands it’s an uneven movie with moments of genuine wit and humor mixed in with appalling bits of gross-out “comedy” (one of Fred’s nastier habits is picking his nose and depositing the residue on other people), and one feels sorry for the director, Ate de Jong (which sounds like something on a Chinese menu!), trying to get a coherent film out of a committee-written script (Elizabeth Livingston, story; Carlos Davis and Anthony Fingleton, screenplay) that veers off in too many directions and also involves Fred in way too many awful, destructive deeds to make him the tragicomic figure he could have been in better surer hands both in front of and behind the camera.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Terror in the Woods (Swirl Films, ThinkFactory Media, Lifetime, 2018)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2018 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

Last night’s Lifetime “premiere” was the rather generically titled Terror in the Woods, which turned out to be a good deal better than it had seemed from the previews. The central characters are two girls who’ve just entered middle school, Caitlin (Sophie Grace) and Rachel (Ella West Jerrier), who form a fast friendship based on their mutual interest in fantasy stories in general — Caitlin walks around in an odd costume with a skeleton design in front and wings and a tail in back that are supposed to make her look like a dragon — and in particular an Internet meme called “The Suzerain,” a mysterious hominoid creature who lives in the woods near their home in Atlanta, Georgia and who seems to be a mashup of the Pied Piper of Hamelin and the witch in “Hansel and Gretel.” He’s tall, he has normal arms but also tentacle-like growths coming out of his head, and he promises kids he’ll take them to live with him in his spectacular palace but he’s really going to eat them. He also threatens to kill the kids’ parents unless they offer him blood sacrifices. Caitlin and Rachel spend an awful lot of time watching homemade Internet videos by other kids their age or slightly older who claim actually to have seen “The Suzerain” — one such video is even prefaced by one of its makers warning the viewer that if you value your sanity, you won’t keep watching (which of course just piques the curiosity of the intended audience!). Since this was Lifetime, I had thought the titular terror in the woods would come from a reclusive child molester who had created “The Suzerain” and put the character on line to lure kids to join him in the woods, where he would molest and kill them — a more prosaic but still loathsome form of evil — but Charles recognized the film’s basis in a true story. In 2014 two 12-year-old girls in Waukesha, Wisconsin were arrested for stabbing and nearly killing a classmate on the basis that they needed to make a blood sacrifice to “Slender Man,” a spirit in the local woods whom they believed (like Caitlin and Rachel in the film) would kill their parents if they did not kill someone else for him.

“Slender Man” was an online character created by a man named Eric Knudsen in 2012 and posted to a Web form called “Something Awful.” The character went viral and eventually even found its way into several films. Like more organically derived folk-tale characters, Slender Man went through various incarnations and descriptions as people logged on to the Web site and wrote their own variations, which they reposted on their own sites — though the Wikipedia page on Slender Man describes Knudsen’s attempt to control the character by copyrighting it and licensing the media rights to a third party he has not named publicly, who arranged for Sony Pictures to make a movie, released in August 2018, that from the online descriptions I’ve seen attempts to make him another Mike Myers/Freddie Kruger instrument of wanton destruction and murder. Charles got a lot more interested in this movie once he recognized its real-life derivation, and the film turned out to be an odd combination of vividly imaginative moviemaking and demented silliness. Director D. J. Viola (working from a script by a writer whose name I vaguely recall as “Amber Brown” but isn’t listed yet on the film’s page) showed he’s seen the Val Lewton masterworks and copied from them — there are a lot of the famous “bus” sound effects, in which both characters and audience are startled by sounds that seem scary at first but turn out to be innocuous — and s/he has an excellent command of Gothic atmosphere that makes their plain suburban neighborhood seem like it houses a steaming cauldron of terror underneath. At the same time I think Viola and his writer really overdid the brokenness of the families of both Rachel and Caitlin — Rachel is living with a Black stepfather even though he and her mom have already separated, while Caitlin’s parents are still together but her dad, Nathan (Drew Powell) is mentally ill, unable to work and takes enough psychotropic medications he needs one of those weekly dose trays to sort them all. At one point the principal of the middle school — who, like so many of Lifetime’s avuncular authority figures, is African-American — suggests that the two girls visit the school’s psychotherapist, but Caitlin’s and Rachel’s moms both decline and the implication is that Caitlin has inherited her father’s insanity (not that old chestnut again!).

The girl they target for their blood sacrifice to the Suzerain is Emily (Skylar Morgan Jones), who’s intelligent enough to realize the Suzerain doesn’t really exist but is clueless enough to walk into the woods with her two murderous classmates — the gimmick is that back in grade school Emily was Caitlin’s best friend until she dumped her for Rachel — and the attempted murder is shown surprisingly explicitly for basic cable. Eventually Emily is rescued by a passer-by in the woods and the cops bust both Caitlin and Rachel, though their fates are kept ambiguous — in the real-life case the girls were found mentally incompetent to stand trial, and there’s a hint of that in the final scene of the film, in which Caitlin, incarcerated in a mental hospital, has festooned her walls with extravagant Gothic drawings of the Suzerain and his lair in the forest. Terror in the Woods — an awfully generic title for such a wild story — is that frustrating sort of mediocre movie in which we sense a potentially great movie lurking under the surface and occasionally trying to break through, though the kids who play Caitlin and Rachel deliver superb and absolutely believable performances, and the whole story (and its real-life counterpart) raises issues the film doesn’t really address of how much responsibility the creators of a story, in print, on film or online, bear for the crimes committed by people who buy into the fictional universe and actually do real-life dirty deeds based on it. Certainly the way the “Suzerain” videos are constructed seem like they’re begging their young, impressionable viewers to commit antisocial acts to appease this nonexistent deity. Of course, Charles, being Charles, couldn’t help but joke after the movie that we were going to be visited by a mysterious “Quesadilla Man” who would make us do bad things!