Swamp Thing S01 Ep05 Deep Breakdown: Drive All Night

Before we go any further, I want to apologize for being late.  I take punctuality terrible seriously – gravely so – and like any self-respecting Hannibal fan, I abhor rudeness.  So while there is every reasonable assumption that no one actually gives too particularly much of a shit about the timing of this little piece, I’m still going to throw myself at the mercy of whatever court.  Old business out of the way, let’s move on swiftly to the new, because damn, there’s a lot to cover.

I could spend and waste so many words telling you, ad nauseam, that Swamp Thing is great, but at a certain point it is an insult to your intelligence, I’ve said it, you get it, and I respect you way too much to do you like that.  What I would like to focus on this week is just how deftly the show is managing to service multiple character arcs, while still having them feel a part of the greater plot.  This may seem foregone and obvious, but I didn’t actively realize – until I witnessed the skillful way the stories are woven through Swamp Thing – how often a show counts on the audience just caring about the individual characters enough that there is no greater call to fuse their arcs to the serialized elements.  And listen, that can be okay.  But there is something very satisfying about the way Swamp Thing makes everyone a moving piece – a necessary component – of what’s happening in the swamp.

DC Universe

Swampy himself remains the greatest surprise for me.  I truly expected him to just become some sort of ecological avenger.  Instead, this week we see him struggling to come to terms with what he is.  Call it the beauty and advantage of being a series instead of a movie, but body horror so rarely dedicates the time and energy it should to discussing the implications of having your basic physiognomy distorted.  Swampy is grappling;  the swamp keeps trying to show him shit, but he can’t process it, because he still doesn’t understand how or why he went from being stone cold science fox, Alec Holland, to being the sentient mass of vines and twigs we know and love.  Help comes via a surprisingly chill fisherman, who is either a zen guru or a manifestation of the swamp, intended to Virgil-style lead Swampy through the changes he’s experiencing.  The show, wisely, refuses to commit.   Whatever he is, he provides Swampy with some guidance and our troubled, mossy friend begins to understand that he is seeing what the swamp has seen; he shares its memories now.  Clever trick, this.  It’s a difficult and frankly overwhelming thing to attempt – turning a setting into a character – but the swamp at the center of this show feels as living and breathing and most importantly, essential, as any of the human characters.
And speaking of the human characters…

DC Universe

This episode of Swamp Thing goes full possession story, to glorious effect.  Shauna is inhabiting the body of little Susie, saying creepy things, and periodically appearing to Abby in her bloated, postmortem form.  Maria embraces it; she is thrilled to have Shauna back and since we know – because the show took the time to do the heavy lifting and establish our characters – that Maria is open to the supernatural and the belief that Shauna would return to her at some point, it actually scans as authentic that she would believe and accept that her lost daughter would return to her in the form of an abandoned child.  Of course we know that ghost Shauna is a creature more malice than comfort, so when she tells Maria that she is lonely and needs to return to the swamp, it’s pretty clear nothing good is going to come of it.  Abby follows them, aware that Susie as Shauna is absolutely bad news, and determined to stop anymore tragedies from happening on her watch (do it on your own time, death!).  Shauna releases Susie at the bog (I apologize for the awkward use of “bog”.  I hate to lampshade, but I’m acutely aware of how often I have to use the word “swamp” and it’s starting to feel clunky.  I’m sure I’ll return to it in a sentence or two) and Susie tells Abby to hurry.  Abby finds Maria and tries to call her away from the water, but a scuffle ensues, and Maria tries to drown Abby.  Abby breaks away and Maria goes under, but is ultimately saved by Swampy, who carries her to land, and then shows Abby that he shares the memories of the ecosystem around him, by mind-melding with her, to watch Shauna’s death.  Young Shauna, impulsive, urged young Abby to jump off a bridge with her.  They swam safely in the water below for a time, but something pulled Shauna under – a  memory Abby had repressed until that moment.  The something bad in town is, it seems, not new.

DC Universe

I want to hit everything, but there’s always so much on this show; so please bear with me while I do the “things that happened” lightning round!  Our friend, Daniel, a stealth favorite character for me, tried to leave town but discovered he can’t.  He has a frustrated talk with a blue devil mask he carries in his trunk and I am intrigued as hell.  Liz is still a total boss, refusing to be intimidated by Avery, even after he sends some heavies to pop her tires and menace her.  She kicks their asses, but unfortunately one of them is able to deliver a bonk to the head of Daniel.  And perhaps most importantly of all the developments this week, we discover that it’s possible that Matt was involved in Alec’s boat blowing up.  Ophelia is investigating Alec’s disappearance and speaks to a man who witnessed the boat going out and he alludes to having seen Matt that night.  He attempts to blackmail Ophelia, but she ain’t to be flexed with where her little boy is concerned and shoots him.  Perhaps Swampy’s long glowers at Matt are NOT a manifestation of jealousy, so much as a recognition of danger, a development I would be here for.

We are officially halfway through the season, and I genuinely can’t say enough positive things about Swamp Thing.  If you have the means, it’s worth every penny.  Or if you know someone who’s already paying for the service, it’s definitely worth borrowing their log-in.  See you next week!

Film Data Deep Dive: Graduation Day (1981)

With high school graduations coming to a close to herald the summer, we take a look back at the ’80s slasher Graduation Day to see if this milestone event for teens was worthy of releasing a horror movie based on it.


IFI / Scope III, Inc.

Movie: Graduation Day (1981)

Plot: Two months before her high school graduation, track star Laura Ramstead runs herself to death during a meet. She literally starts dying during a race, wins it, and keels over dead. Now the rest of the team is turning up dead one by one the day before graduation. Whodunnit? Do we care?

Killer: That’s a question I don’t want to answer, since it spoils the mystery that keeps this film afloat, even if that mystery is kept afloat by obvious red herrings. Is the killer Laura’s older sister Anne, on leave from the U.S. Navy to receive Laura’s track and field trophy in memoriam? Is it Laura’s step-father, who Anne believes is concerned with the insurance money attached to Laura’s death? Is it the grieving, harmonica-playing boyfriend? The whip-cracking high school coach? The apple-loving high school principal? Sorry, you’ll have find out on your own. Or ask me reaaaaalllly nicely with an email or social media message. All I can tell you is that the killer wears black gloves and uses a stopwatch to time his kills to the 30 seconds it took Laura to run the race that killed her.

IFI / Scope III, Inc.

Critique: Sometimes it’s easy to forget what slasher films really are: murder mysteries with a healthy dose of on-screen bloody killing. It’s how these slasher films are shot, the acting, and the background noise and music that turn some of these bloody murder mystery films into real horror films. This is the problem that Graduation Day runs into: it barely even tries to make that jump into horror.

Graduation Day begins with the accidental death of Laura as her team and the crown look on in horror. Fast forward two months, and it’s the eve of graduation for the school, and the members of the track team are being murdered one by one as the film tosses blatantly obvious red herrings at the audience to keep them guessing about who the killer is. But no one knows these students have been killed until the last quarter of the film. Parents and teacher just think the kids are out raising hell like teens will do when they are about to be released from high school, so there’s no dread for the cast that comes with the knowledge that there’s a killer on the loose. Usually a slasher film can deal with unawareness by the characters by injecting, at the very least, an eerie soundtrack into the film so at least the audience feels some tension in the stalking scenes, but Graduation Day doesn’t even give us that. It gives us disco music, the least eerie music in history.

I’m not saying Graduation Day isn’t worth a watch. It may be bad, it may not be so bad that it’s good, but it is at least entertainingly bad. Who knows what it could have been if the producers were clued in that they were supposed to be creating a horror film.

IFI / Scope III, Inc.

Scene of Awesomeness: The best moment of Graduation Day is the opening scene. You’ve got ’70s era disco pumping, the crowd cheering, and shots of track and field action, everything that a horror film usually doesn’t have. And we end the scene with an Oscar-worthy performance by Ruth Ann Llorens playing Laura as she runs herself to death. I’ve never seen anyone die of a blood clot in their heart as they’re running, and winning a race, but Llorens’s facial expressions are what I would expect. Unfortunately, Graduation Day is all downhill from there.

Scene of Ridiculousness: During the Graduation Eve dace at the high school, the killer, dressed in a fencing suit and wielding a real sword, chases down Linnea Quigley’s character to the music of ’70s new-wave disco band Felony after beheading Tony’s stunt dummy. Usually chase scenes in slashers are tense, but this one is cartoonish due to the music.

IFI / Scope III, Inc.

Body Count: 9

1 death by running (Awesomely Overkill Award, if only because of the facial expressions)

1 stabbing while running

1 “way too sharp for” fencing sword through the throat

1 spiked football to the stomach

1 beheading

1 off-screen sword chopping

1 pole vault onto a bed of spikes

1 by gunshot

1 push into the dead pole vaulter’s spiked body

2 pairs of breasts

IFI / Scope III, Inc.

Actors/Actresses of Note: It seems that most of the members of this cast did something before or after Graduation Day. I’m not saying that something was very memorable, but it’s more than some do. Principal Guglione (Michael Pataki) went on to play the role of Dr. Hoffman, the man who let Michael Meyers get away in Halloween 4. Coach Michaels (Christopher George) had some roles in John Wayne movies and the WWII television series Rat Patrol. The bumbling police officer (Virgil Frye) did such a good job that he was promoted to Lieutenant in for Revenge of the Ninja. Linnea Quigley has a small role as she had begun her rise up the rankings to scream queen. And then there is the star of the movie, even if she is only in two scenes pre-hair bleaching and straightening: Wheel of Fortune‘s Vanna White!

Quote: Come back here! Don’t think I don’t know who you are, because I do. Come on and show your face, you miserable scum!” – Roberts

Grade: D+

Swamp Thing S01 Ep04 Deep Breakdown: Darkness on the Edge of Town

I promise, with about 60 percent hope of adherence and 100 percent guarantee of trying my damnedest, that I will not dedicate a portion of every remaining Swamp Thing review to lamenting its cancellation, shaking my fist and pounding my breast in the general direction of DC and the powers that be.  Starting next review.  Because today I have to say again, what a hideous shame it is that we won’t be getting more of this weird, wonderful show.  As the season progresses, I am increasingly impressed at the evolving ways they manage to progress the serialized elements, while also implementing a slightly procedural, week-to-week component that also enriches and furthers the narrative.  Let me show you how.

DC Universe

This week, what I can only describe as renegade timber poachers (and god bless this show for allowing me the opportunity to use that turn of phrase!) sneak into the swamp.  When they try to cut down some good ol’ fashioned swamp wood, a mummified corpse falls from a tree, and one of the loggers gets scratched by it.  When he returns to the one bar we’ve seen in town, he gets to work alongside Liz, Abby’s reporter friend.  He begins to hallucinate an enormous snake on his arm, and takes a knife to himself.  Despite Liz and Del (Liz’s father and the bar owner) telling him there is no snake on him, he manages to chop off his arm – and scratch Del in the process.  Liz calls Abby in and away from the sample of Swampy she took to study, and Abby discovers the mummified corpse in the swamp.

Swampy himself has become a bit of a harbinger of both doom and exposition, a situation that I might find problematic were it not for how well it actually manages to correspond to his own, gradual self discovery.  Yes, he is a convenient way to provide Abby with answers, like “it’s not a virus, exactly, it’s a darkness” (“whatever the hell that  means” – attribute that quote to Kelly not Swampy, he’s unconcerned) “and it needs a host to survive”, but also, and fair enough, he is a frightened new version of himself, talking to a colleague.  There’s something that actually, strangely, feels very intellectually honest about the moments where Swampy and Abby are talking about the virus or this new menace; I’ve previously lamented the fact that Abby is the weakest component of the show, and I haven’t completely reversed my opinion on that.  And I want to be abundantly, loudly clear on this, in a way I think perhaps I’ve failed to in the past.  It is no fault of the actress.  She’s charismatic enough, and she has dynamite chemistry with Derek Mears, even with all the swamp latex.   It’s just that she is so often sort of damsel-in-distress-ed.  But an episode like this, where she is allowed to talk about in quotation marks science – because make no mistake, a lot of this science is actually magic – and to ask the right questions and bounce off of Swampy as an intellectual equal, Abby is compelling.  And you root (yes, yes, run me out on a rail, come to my house with torches, I know, it’s an unforgivable pun, and even so, I refuse to recant) for her.  But I’ve lost the plot, let’s see if we can find it.

DC Universe

Swampy gives Abby the news about the host business, and Abby rushes back to town, having seen Ophelia – previously referred to, I believe as “Sheriff Lady” – was scratched by Del.  At the shrimp boil that Avery (more on that shit stain later) threw, Ophelia begins to hallucinate someone attacking Matt and draws her gun on the crowd.  Daniel – who remains a fascinating mystery – is able to disarm her, but when Abby goes to try to restrain her, she scratches Abby and gives her the parasite.  Abby runs to the swamp to make sure she doesn’t infect anyone else.  When she reaches the swamp, our guy holds onto her and takes the infection from her, then gives it back to the mummified remains, which are then promptly eaten by the swamp.

DC Universe

The clever conceit here is that some balance has been shifted and a darkness is taking over the swamp.  Last week we saw Bugman, and this week we see the parasite.  It’s tempting to call the resolution of these things within an episode too tidy by half but they are plagues – symptoms, not the disease.  Indicative of a bigger problem, we aren’t entirely certain of yet. 
But let’s speak very quickly on Daniel and Avery, both of whom we would be terribly remiss not to acknowledge on this day.  I don’t totally understand Daniel’s deal, but he is quickly becoming one of my most anticipated characters.  This week, Xanadu, the medium lady, mentions something about a deal he made and a heroes journey, and I have no idea what the hell that means, but guys, I am into it.  I want to see where things are going with him.  Also, this week, Avery continues to be the sleaziest of grease balls.  He has in essence bought young Susie from her shit-heel uncle, because of the good optics of an adorable child.  He believes that having Susie as a face of the virus will make people more likely to give him money.  He is a vile, disgusting piece of garbage, but he’s clever, and frankly a damn good villain.

DC Universe

I could easily write more about Swamp Thing and how it is rapidly becoming a favorite show, but I am reaching the precipice between charmingly verbose and offensively garrulous.  So.  We’ll talk more next week.  With great anticipation.  It’s not too late to check it out – this show is worth your time.

Swamp Thing S01 Ep03 Deep Breakdown: He Speaks

I am about to say, in a fashion one might – were they feeling generous – describe as succinct and concise, the exact sentiment that I will then expel many, many more words proving throughout this review.  I’ll try to phrase it in fun and different ways, and it certainly will involve far more plot details than the five words that I promise are coming, right around the corner, any second now, but I will leave it up to you, letting you know that no opinion I profess will be any more controversial than what I’m about to say, right… now: I fucking love Swamp Thing.  It’s a really good show, and yes, I worried that perhaps it was the momentum of newness often present in a freshman show.  But by three episodes, we have a sense of quality and ambition.  Swamp Thing could settle for just being that weird body horror show about the monster-guy, but instead it is something more complicated and nuanced.  There’s a carefully unravelling mystery and – quelle surprise – there’s some pretty damn impressive character development.

DC Universe

And honestly, who could have foreseen it?  Usually once you introduce the concept of a bio-engineered swamp monster, you kind of abandon hope for character.  But we start this episode seeing Alec talking to one of the men that Swampy has torn asunder; he is reconciling his guilt with what was ultimately an elemental reaction to what he has become.  But we know that Alec – with the pretty face and the good hair – is not so much entirely human anymore, so we also know that this is a vision, a hallucination, and so that all of this is happening inside Swampy’s head.  Which is a telling detail in and of itself.  He is not mindless or devoid.  Some pretty industrious and very gnarly bugs go into the pieces of the man torn asunder and hold him together.  As my notes for this episode point out, nothing good has ever come from a bug-puppet.

Meanwhile, Dr. Woodrue – he who made the accelerant – has taken over the CDC operation to cure the virus.  To return to my point about this show taking the time to be more nuanced than it necessarily needs to be, we see that his wife, the Lady Dr. Woodrue, is suffering some sort of gradual degenerative disease.  Look, Woodrue didn’t need to have a reason.  He could have been a patsy, an overly ambitious scientist, too hungry for discovery, any of these things.  But the grace with which it is revealed that his own reasons for wanting to find biological answers are sad and delicate is admirable, and frankly very uncommon for any comic based show.  Of course, the methods he’s using to treat the virus are wrong and stupid because, as we learn, there is something in the swamp itself that the accelerant specifically reacted to – he may have created the accelerant, but he’s not taking that variable into account.

DC Universe

Abby’s assistant, Harlan, contracts the disease, which spurs Abby to break into Alec’s lab in the hopes of finding literally anything that might help her figure out the cure. I’ve said before, and I fear that I will have cause to say it again, that in the swirling haze of this wonderfully weird show, Abby is the weakest link.  Frankly, she and Alec did not have enough time together for the dewy, sad-eyed nostalgia she seems to be feeling in his lab.  Look, he was hot.  I get that.  No one is arguing that!  But still, she knew him for five minutes.  I love you, Swamp Thing, but please no more flashbacks to the 20 seconds they had together.

Anyway.  Bug-man sneaks on in and is approaching Abby like a real creepo, when Swampy explodes through the floorboards to defend his woman.  He beats Bugman into submission, but recognizes the raw materials that were the man he dismembered, and in a moment of empathy and kindness, simply tells the bugs to leave him.  Which they do.  And friends, I tell you no lies, Derek Mears is really, truly great as Swampy.  He gives him a pained physicality and a steady, almost weirdly calming voice.  If I expected him to be less human after the transformation into swamp monster… I was wrong.  Swampy is actually a very compelling pile of moss.  He tells Abby that the virus isn’t fighting, it’s fighting back, which is enough information for her to realize that the harder they hit it with antibiotics, the more it mutates and evolves.  She returns to the hospital and administers what I will simply call stuff that manages to at least stay the virus.            

DC Universe

And now, we’re gonna run a little long because a hell of a lot happened and I assure you, I am still cutting shit out.  But before we can say adieu, we need to look in on Avery, who became full villain this episode.  We learn that he was taking unsanctioned loans from a banker named Gordon – loans he has absolutely no ability to pay off.   He tries to convince Maria to give him some of that sweet, sweet family scratch but she saw him trying to seduce a lady cop earlier and is pretty much done up with his bullshit. Avery goes to Gordon’s house and executes the only reasonable alternative to paying the loans in a timely fashion; he bashes the living hell out of Gordon with a golf club.  Our southern gent is a stone cold murderer.

I am so psyched to see where this is all heading.  From a horror perspective, would I call it scary?  Not necessarily, though it is gnarly as hell, and I am here for that.  But.  It is worth the time.   Every great episode reminds me how sad I am that there will only be one season, but as some clichés like to remind us, it is better to have loved and lost…

Film Data Deep Dive: Night of the Demons 2

Horror sequels can be extremely polarizing. A good sequels continue the plot of the original in a way that makes sense. A bad sequel tries to cash in with a sub-par plot, smaller budget, and worse acting while still presenting itself as a serious sequel. Bad but entertaining sequels take the basics of the original’s plot, add a ton of gore and better actors, and give as many head nods to better films to the point that it feels like stealing. Presenting Night of the Demons 2.


Blue Rider Pictures

Movie: Night of the Demons 2 (1994)

Plot: A group of kids from a boarding school return to Hull House six years after the events of the first Night of the Demons to mess around with demonic energies on Halloween. Their practical jokes unleash Angela to wreck havoc at their school Halloween dance and kidnap her sister in order to sacrifice her to Satan. Sibling rivalry at a whole other level.

Killer: Demonic possession is the physical killer in Night of the Demons 2, but the real killer seems to be teenage hormones, for everyone except Terri (maybe because Christine Taylor had a clause in her contract that says she won’t die in the end.)

Critique: There are some horror films that beg for a sequel. For me, Night of the Demons was not one of those films. It had its original moments, or more a blend of other directors’ original moments (think spawn of Sam Raimi and David Cronenberg with Savage Steve Holland playing mid-wife), but had the feeling of a one-and-done film. We had our “horny teenagers party in a haunted house” fix for the decade. There was nothing more to tell.

But I guess writer Joe Augustyn got Blue Rider Pictures to believe that every decade needs a “horny teenagers party in a haunted house” movie written by him, so we have Night of the Demons 2. And I had a change of heart about this sequel when I finally saw it.

Blue Rider Pictures

There’s no denying that Night of the Demons 2 “borrows” from many past horror movies. We have the continual theme of demons making us giggle from Evil Dead, the kung fu of “the cloth” from Peter Jackson’s Braindead / Dead Alive, holy water water pistols from The Lost Boys (but the first time a Super Soaker was used, which was borrowed by Tales from the Crypt Presents Bordello of Blood), and I can swear I’ve seen a Lamia like that in a film (more similar than Freddy’s in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors).

Blue Rider Pictures

But the film doesn’t ask its audience to ever take it seriously, so these borrowings seem to act as homages to those films rather than rip-offs. Add to that a capable cast that really gets into their characters, a ton of gore and great make-up, and a dance sequence by Angela that is just as long as the original but broken up a bit more by reaction shots, and we have an entertaining sequel in Night of the Demons 2. It’s not going to scare you, but it will engage you in the same way that Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn did: with awkward horror humor.

Scene of Awesomeness: Demonic Kurt playing basketball with his own head when Johnny finds him at Hull House is the first time I remember sports and horror coming together so perfectly, complete with horribly entertaining jokes.

Blue Rider Pictures

Scene of Ridiculousness: Night of the Demons 2 is full of ridiculousness, but Sister Gloria’s impersonation of the zombie ass-kicking Father McGruder from Peter Jackson’s Braindead / Dead Alive rises to the top, both ridiculous and awesome at the same time. She even replaces his catch-phrase, “I kick ass for the Lord!” with an equally apt, “Leave a little room for the Holy Ghost!” A close second is Rick calling Terri (Christine Taylor) Marsha, considering she probably just got cast as Marsha Brady in The Brady Bunch Movie from 1995 and told everyone on-set about it.

Blue Rider Pictures

Body Count: 8 (Less than the original, but if you re-count everyone that turned into demons, the number goes up to 14.)

2 bloody slashings

1 French kiss and humping of demonic possession

1 lipstick penetration and kiss of demonic possession

1 hand melting from demon breast-hands followed by a neck-snapping… and the now prerequisite French kiss of demonic possession

1 decapitation

1 stabbing

1 spiked bat to the head

Multiple demon meltings and explosions (Awesomely Overkill Award, even though demons usually don’t count towards the body count. The effects are so insane that it surpasses all other deaths in the movie.)

5 pairs of breasts ( +1 pair of Lamia breasts)

Blue Rider Pictures

Actors/Actresses of Note: The biggest name in this film is Christine Taylor, who launched her acting career as Melody Hanson in Nickelodeon’s Hey Dude before going on to play Marsha in the Brady Bunch revival and countless comedies, mostly connected to her old consort Ben Stiller. Next we have Bobby Jacoby, aka Robert Jayne, known for his role in Tremors and lesser known for his role in Wizards of the Lost Kingdom 2. We also have Jennifer Rhodes, known in cult films as the mother of Veronica (Winona Ryder) in Heathers. Finally, there’s Amelia Kinkade, reprising her role as Angela in every Night of the Demons sequel except the remake.

Quote: Leave a little room for the Holy Ghost!” – Sister Gloria

Grade: B+

Swamp Thing S01 Ep02 Deep Breakdown: Worlds Apart

Before we can discuss – as hideous circumstance dictates we must – tragedy in a smaller still-life form, I want to provide a quick mea culpa.  I said that two episodes were released last week, and discovered pretty quickly that I was wrong.  One a week, Kell, you dummy, so we are only now, discussing episode 2 of my new friend, the Swamp Thing.  A show that I really like.  And to bring it on home and back to that tragic tip, a show that was cancelled right after its debut episode.  Kelly, you might say, why ever would that be?  You probably aren’t, as I have proven myself within the extreme confines of this very review – hell, this fucking paragraph – to be not fantastically reliable as a source.  That said, I’m petty as shit, and wanted to know a bit about why I was allowed to learn to love this beautiful swampy bastard, only to have him promptly returned to the algae and muck from whence he came.

DC Universe

Here’s what I can tell you:  it’s vague and muddied.  There’s some talk about confusion regarding a tax credit promised, but over the weekend, that’s been purported as bullshit.  So I don’t know and frankly, it doesn’t matter.  Because Swamp Thing, it turns out, is a good show.  A really good show, that’s taking the time to build a full world, inhabited by interesting characters who feel authentic and interesting.  It’s a shame; I suspect the tanking of Swamp Thing will also be the tanking of the DC streaming service; a number of people – myself included – have already declared their intent to cancel the service once we’ve run the course of the series.  But in the meantime, we have episode two to talk about, so let us lick our collective wounds, every man to their own tongue, and get down to brass tacks.

DC Universe

Here’s what we’ve got:  the little girl we saw in the pilot, patient zero for the virus, clearly has some sort of telepathic bond with Swampy.  It’s hard to say who’s controlling who, but when she pulls the IV tubes out of her arms in the hospital, we get some truly grizzly horror, as Swampy pulls some of the vines that make up his current corporeal form out of himself.   But because we know that Swampy is part Alec, part accelerant created plant form, his planty-parts regrow rapidly.  He ain’t to be flexed with.  Abby, meanwhile, is staying with her reporter friend Liz, and trying to figure out what the hell is going on.  She thinks that maybe there are answers in Alec’s lab, and that maybe Avery will allow her access.  We are a bit more savvy to the way of the small town fat cat, however, so when Avery very smoothly refuses Abby access, there is nothing of surprise to it.  Sure, he butters her up by telling her it was never her fault that Shawna died, and that he thinks of Abby as a daughter, but he still, ultimately refuses to allow her access.  Perhaps because his own motivations were so singularly mercenary.  The scientists who developed the accelerant meet with Avery, and he tells them that the accelerant’s purpose was always to make resources grow quickly so he could make stuff, sell it, and make money hella fast.  And that if they can’t reverse engineer a cure for the virus and his role in the illness is uncovered, he is sure as shit taking them down with him.  It will be nice to see him get eaten by Swampy.

Meanwhile, the wee tot makes her way to the swamp; she isn’t frightened of Swampy.  She feels his fear and is compelled to help him.  Abby hunts her down, and catches her first real glimpse of Swampy, in all his hideous, Derek Mears glory.  The girl tells her that he’s not dangerous; he is frightened and confused.  And his name is Alec. Dun-dun-DUN!

DC Universe

And credit where it’s due.  The story is taking its time.  It’s developing at a natural pace.   Even the incidental, one off characters are charming, including the small town celebrity who rented Alec’s room to him.  We get to see a carefully deployed hint of Avery’s casual misogyny this episode, when he assumes that the woman who comes to his house is simply the wife of the scientist, and not a doctor herself.  Abby, in a lot of ways, is the least interesting aspect of the show.  Yes, I want to know what happened to Shawna.  Of course I want to know.  Abby is just such an obvious hero character.  And there is nothing inherently wrong with that!  I like her, she’s fine… I’m just more interested in seeing a gross Swamp monster wreak some sort of slimy vengeance.  That might be more my hang-up than the show’s.

Either way… I’m hopeful for this season.  If it’s all we’re getting, and all indicators suggest it is, I’m determined to enjoy it to the maximum of my abilities.  Let’s go.

Swamp Thing S01 Ep01 Deep Breakdown: Pilot

Stepping up to the plate, I made a conscious decision to remain as green as I possibly could about Swamp Thing.  It’s not my usual modus; I have driven myself a little mad trying to find spoilers before.  I like to know what I’m getting into, when the heel turn comes, the twist ending. But I made a choice this time; try it fresh.  No preconceived ideas.  Somehow, despite being a horror nerd and a body-horror specific nerd at that, I’ve made it to this point in my life without knowing virtually anything about “Swamp Thing”.  And then this new, DC Universe series came along, and I suddenly had a pros and cons columns.  You didn’t ask, but I assume you’re secretly curious (this is the assumption I am obligated to labor under.  Otherwise we’ll never get anything done) so let’s very quickly review.

DC Universe

Pros: body horror.  Derek Mears! Practical effects.  The bayou?  Ok!  I’m in.

Cons: It’s called “Swamp Thing”.  That is, objectively, a terrible name.  I feel pretty comfortable assuming that precious little energy, sleep or imagination was lost to the development of that name.  “Swamp Thing”.   Give it credit for being on the nose, I guess. But lots of good things have terrible names.  Just think about Cookie Puss.  So I did the unimaginable and shelled out $7.99 a month for a DC Universe subscription.  And friends, I’m happy to report that early indicators suggest it a very nearly 8 dollars well spent.  The first episode’s got moxie.

DC Universe

I’m going to give you a very nutshell version of the plot; certain aspects are being kept intentionally cryptic right now, so I will, by necessity, have to err towards generalities.  So.  Our immediate way into the story is through Abby Arcane, improbably alliteratively named CDC scientist.  She’s returned to her Louisiana home to try and suss out the cause of a pretty gnarly virus infecting the residents near the swamp.  At the risk of getting very rom-com, “Manhattan is a character itself!”, the swamp truly does feel like a vital presence to the show.  It is, by virtue of being, ya know, a swamp, disgusting, but it is also made very clear that it’s valuable to the town in some ineffable way.  Avery Sunderland, business man about town, has hired Alec Holland to investigate and research some sort of biological accelerant (ill defined) and Alec believes that the accelerant and the virus are connected to each other, so he teams up with Abby to try and figure shit out.  During the course of their research, Patient Zero starts sprouting branches and tendrils and is literally ripped apart as a strange, bioform takes control of the remaining organic material.  Alec torches the thing, and he and Abby share war wounds and do some more research.  Alec heads out to try and locate other deposits of the accelerant, but is shot and falls into the swamp, where a bioform that I am referring to in my head as the Symbiote goes into his body, and seemingly turns him into the titular Swamp Thing.  Which is honestly a little bit of a shame, because I was sporting a pretty huge fictional character crush on Alec – cute, smart-ass scientist type?  Yes, please. And that’s where episode one ends.  And guys, that’s good!  It’s smart to make us wait through the entire pilot episode to get our first glimpse of ol’ Swampy.  He’s who we’re here for, after all.

DC Universe

It’s important to note that with a show called Swamp Thing, you’re probably not in it for exceptional writing.  We are mostly watching for a well paced plot that binds things together between scenes of hopefully truly vile body horror.  It’s too early for me to say if the show will deliver the bare minimum.  The pilot is more than capable.  It gave me some chuckles, I liked the characters introduced, I’m curious where the story is going.  And I feel some reasonable degree of confidence that it can maintain that quality.  But there is the slightest glimmer in the corner, one that I refuse to lean into, lest I be disappointed, that maybe it will surpass that.  Let’s not get our hopes up, but remain cautiously optimistic.  Because the aforementioned body horror is great!  It’s gnarly as shit!  And fearlessly so.

DC Universe

When we think of DC and Marvel, we really focus on the superhero properties.  So I truly didn’t know what to expect from a horror series from one of those juggernauts.  Brightburn helped remind us that super humans are by their very nature dangerous, thus really great conduits for horror.  But would a company like DC bet the success of their streaming service (Swamp Thing and Doom Patrol are, I believe, the only two original series carried so far) on such a fundamentally weird concept? Or would they soften it? I’m happy to report, it’s not soft.  The gore is there; the bodies rent asunder.  They are not for the faint of heart.

It seems like perhaps two episodes were released as the roll out, so I’ll be back tomorrow with a review of the second episode.  After that, we’ll be once a week.  Let’s see where this goes, my dear crawdads! 

Good Omens: When the Start of Armageddon Goes Hilariously Wrong

Amazon Prime

Would that I – with any modicum of decency or honesty (granted, two qualities I seldom concern myself with) – could claim the 6 hours I spent drinking boxed wine, eating pizza and watching Good Omens this weekend, in the name of professional obligation; the higher calling of the critic to their quarry or something equally noble.  Wouldn’t that just be the tits?  But as it stands, that I am reviewing this delightful season of television is just a happy coincidence; I was never going to not watch it.  That simply wasn’t an option. Being able to write about it for you lovely people is simply an added privilege (don’t doubt for a second that I know how fortunate I am permitted your ears – or I guess, more anatomically accurately, your eyes, but you get it.  Let’s not quibble, this is a festive occasion.)

Like American Gods, I read Good Omens in college.  Unlike American Gods, I only read it the once, and so had ample time to forget a lot of the finer plot points by the time of this viewing.  The fundamentals remained both in my consciousness and preserved to the show; an angel, Aziraphale and a demon, Crowley, have been balancing each others’ good and evil for centuries and must band together to stop the apocalypse once they realize that they both prefer the little luxuries of earth to the seeming tedium of eternity.  The basic thrust of the series is set into motion when Crowley is tasked with delivering the antichrist to a satanic nunnery, where a politician’s wife is given rather impromptu birth.  The idea being that the nuns will switch out the natural born, human baby with the antichrist, who will then be raised with careful demonic and angelic intervention, until he is ready to trigger the end times on his 11th birthday.

Amazon Prime

Because this is a Terry Pratchett property, things go farcically off course when a young, very, aggressively average couple show up and also give birth at the nunnery, giving us three babies in motion.  The normal couple’s baby goes to the politician’s wife, the politician’s wife’s baby goes who knows where, and the antichrist gets sent to a nice, normal, happy childhood.  Crowley and Aziraphale spend the next 11 years influencing the wrong child, and only discover their mistake when no hellhound shows up to be named on the aforementioned 11th birthday.  Of course, in a small house in the countryside, a hellhound DOES show up to be named.  A name that will shape and influence the course of his evil and power.  That name is… Dog.

That joke is a perfect encapsulation of the charms of Good Omens – the show, as the book was, is a study in de-escalation.  Sure, it’s the end of the world, but let’s not be dramatic.  It’s extremely, aggressively British. Crowley and Aziraphale discover their mistake and have to scramble to find the actual antichrist, while covering their asses from increasingly concerned and suspicious respective managements.  Simultaneously, a witch from a long, dynastic line of witches that began with Agnes Nutter – who wrote the only accurate book of prophecy ever – is also seeking out the antichrist, believing it is her destiny to prevent Armageddon.  Anathema (her name is Anathema; let us never accuse the show of leaning too heavily on subtlety) finds the right place but is unable to identify Adam as the antichrist, because he presents as too sweet and normal an 11 year old boy.  But he is, indeed the antichrist and he is coming into his powers.  To say too much more would be to strip the series of the pleasure of it unfolding for you; so now we’ll talk about elementals less plot based and more technically sparked.

Amazon Prime

First and foremost, the show recognizes – rightly – that a huge amount of its success hinges on the chemistry and watchability of the actors playing Aziraphale and Crowley.  So mark it inspired, the casting of David The-Tenth-Fucking-Doctor Tennant as Crowley and Michael Sheen as Aziraphale.  They are, to the breath, perfect.  Tennant exudes a slimy charisma – in another life, he would have made an excellent rock star, with his heroin chic frame and his ready smirk.  And Sheen is legitimately just adorable; in a lot of properties, it’s easier to root for evil; it’s more attractive, often, and sly and seductive.   And for certain, Tennant is all of those things, but the sweet sincerity of Sheen makes Aziraphale an unlikely underdog you can’t help but want to protect.  And most importantly, they bounce beautifully off of each other.  I’m not saying Crowley and Aziraphale are gay icons.  But I am saying they should be, as they are pretty damn clearly in love with each other.  Though the show never goes explicit with that subtext, it also doesn’t shy away from it.  And refreshingly, it doesn’t play it as a joke.  When someone tauntingly refers to Crowley as his boyfriend, Aziraphale makes no effort to deny it.  These supernatural beings are in love.  It’s canon.

Amazon Prime

If I were to register one complaint against a series that is, overall, really fun and bright and witty, it is simply that the CGI is almost distractingly bad.  All that Amazon money behind them, for such shitty CGI.  But this is ultimately a minor complaint against a fun and convoluted narrative.  And also, the absolute most pleasurable opening credits sequence I’ve seen in awhile, if not ever.  For six episodes, I did not skip it.

I could ramble on at length about the quality and charm of the series; but the most impactful thing I can say is this:  my 19 year old self, having just finished and loved the book, would be thrilled with this adaptation.  And far more importantly, so would Terry Pratchett.

Bizarre Tortures in the Amazon Prime Dungeon: Up from the Depths

I decided to take a break from Bigfoot and Wolfmen movies to check out a different kind of a terror, one of the dozens of horribly cheap Killer Fish movies that came out in the late 1970s looking for that filthy, sweet Jaws lucre.  What is the undersea menace in this one?  We have to check it out.


New World Pictures

Up From The Depths (1979)

Well for the first hour the undersea menace is endless, incredibly boring scuba diving footage.  Holy damn is this movie dull.  Every once in a while, a character will get attacked by a POV cam, a close up of a fish mouth and a squirt of ketchup and some bubbles.  Ooh, scary.  This is typical of these kinds of movies.  Outside of the water, I believe the filmmakers were attempting to make a comedy as all of the “actors” in the cast are swinging for the fences and striking out often.  This movie is broad, loud and painful.  On top of general filmmaking incompetence, did I mention it’s also really, really cheap?

After about 30 seconds of research, the bare amount I’m willing to give to this turkey, I discover it’s directed by Charles B. Griffith, a Roger Corman productions alum who wrote and directed the original Little Shop of Horrors and writer of Death Race 2000.  So he’s intimately familiar with exploitation films.  He must’ve known this was dreck while it was happening. 

So we have a by the numbers rip-off of Jaws, but without the drama, tension, thrills, great acting, scary monster, several classic sequences and, you know, just about everything that made that movie a classic and this movie a forgotten turd staining the floor of the Amazon Prime Dungeon.  The movie predicts the plot of The Meg, as a rising ocean temperature brings in a new breed of fish to attack Hawaii.  The characters make it a point to explain the man-eating fish is not a shark.  After we get a good look at it, hilariously sitting immobile on the ocean/swimming pool floor, it sort of resembles a tuna.  So this movie is a Prehistoric Killer Tuna movie. 

New World Pictures

How do I count the ways this movie is terrible?  First off, they try to pawn off The Philippines as Hawaii.  Then they have a bunch of middle-aged non-actors hanging around a rather squalid luxury hotel.  Occasionally characters get eaten by a rubber fish maw and the other characters act as if nothing is wrong.  There’s a drunken, over-acting boat captain, a big-boobed model, a bickering retired couple and the scuzzy hotel manager who has a bald mullet and insists on wearing a sombrero without a top to it for half the movie.  That guy is the biggest offender of over-acting.  He gives a speech and. every. single. word. takes. for. ever. to. get. out.  He’s milking the crap out of this underwritten role and he’s hateable.  He’s candidate one for a Killer Tuna chomping and we have to appease our blood lust with him only accidentally shooting his own toe off.

New World Pictures

I will say that as soon as the terrible-looking rubber fish shows up, eats a balsa wood boat and goes on a killing spree, the movie becomes unintentionally hilarious.  There is the standard scene of panicked swimmers rushing out of the ocean.  Then they run in terror for what seems like an hour, before the retired couple suddenly remembers that fish can’t walk on land.  Then in order to keep the movie going, the bald jack-ass hotel owner offers everybody the paltry sum of $1,000 and a case of cheap rum to anybody who kills the Killer Tuna.  So then there’s a very long, supposed to be funny sequence where the entire village grabs fake tourist decorative spears and rushes to their boats to try and kill the fish.  Some rednecks with a flamethrower blow up their own boat.  A pot-bellied shirtless guy wearing a loincloth grabs a katana and then finds his boat is stuck on the rocks.  And in the funniest sequence, the scumbag, alleged hero of the movie has his friend chomped by the Killer Tuna, then they use his friend’s body for bait.  Nice.  Pre-dating Weekend at Bernie’s, they strap the corpse to a tow-line and drag him through the water.  It’s the only fun idea in the whole movie.

THE BOTTOM LINE

This movie is very long and tedious with lots of nothing happening, and what does occur happens very slowly.  The movie picks up just a smidge in the second half, but there are still several interminable scuba diving sequences, just the Killer Tuna picks up his noshing pace.  Although, none of the really annoying people are eaten and about 90% of the cast survives.  Needless to say, the Killer Tuna really sucks as a monster.

SPOILER ALERT

If you’ve seen Jaws, you know how this goes.  The alleged hero feeds his explosive strapped friend to the shark and kaboom.  A bloodless underwater explosion.  Then the hero’s girl jumps in the water to swim to him, and they cavort as a blood-drenched surf threatens to engulf them.  Gross, but not in a good way.  About a 2 out of 10 on the Kill-O-Meter. 

Strange Sightings in the Netflix Basement: The Monster (2016)

I’ve been finding some good-good and bad-good gems on Amazon, so I decided to dig back into Netflix to see if I can get lucky and unearth some monster movie treasures.  The general impression I get is that Netflix acquires a whole bunch of cheap movies from around the world and they are of a consistent, drab quality.  Amazon has a bunch of gonzo ’70s and ’80s horror and action movies, which are more fun to watch, and feel like tiny packages of movie joy in every viewing.  Netflix movies are a slog and miserable.  But when I see a title like The Monster I have to check it out to see what type of Monster we’re dealing with.  I’m a sucker like that. 


Atlas Independent

The Monster (2016) 

Yep, this is of the drab and miserable school of filmmaking.  Not to be confused with any of a dozen movies with “Monster” in the title, or the Roberto Benigni Il Mostro or the Charlize Theron Female Serial Killer movie, this is directed by Bryan Bertino, who also made the Liv Tyler home invasion movie The Strangers.  So you know he’s into cruelty and suffering.  I can see how that’s a legitimate point of view for a horror film, but it’s usually the audience that is cruelly mistreated and suffers.  The Monster plays like a self-serious, pretentious indie family drama that also happens to have a giant,  slimy dog monster in it.  Come on, it’s got an icky, black, fanged man-eating Dog Monster, why can’t we have some fun here?  Maybe the Dog Monster is a metaphor.  More like a metaphor for the pain and suffering I feel watching this turkey.

So we start with a typical indie drama with a single mom played by Zoe Kazan and her teenage daughter, played by Ella Ballentine.  They have a terrible relationship.  Mom drinks too much, dad briefly appears in flashbacks and was an abusive jerkface, and daughter says horrible things to her mother and threatens to murder her in her sleep.  Wonderful people.  The movie takes forever to get going as we wallow in their misery and their dismal motel room.  Then they go on the road and insult each other in the car for a long while.  At this point, the movie is agonizingly slow and I’m beginning to wonder if the titular Monster is this horrible Mom. 

Atlas Independent

Thankfully, they swerve to miss a dog/wolf on the road on a rainy patch of highway and they spin out and their car is wrecked.  Do they hit the dog/wolf?  I can’t tell because it’s all shaky camera work and skidding tires on the soundtrack.  They argue some more about getting out to check on the dog/wolf.  Then a tow truck arrives, so we have cannon fodder codger.  The pile of fur they keep calling a wolf disappears.  Then they keep getting out of the car in the pouring rain to investigate and Ballentine finds it again with the line, “I found the wolf.” 

Then while mom and daughter sit in the car feeling sorry for themselves, the tow truck driver is threatened by growling noises and eaten off-camera while the women scream their heads off, but do nothing to help.  Then the mangled tow truck driver sloooooowly drags himself across the street and gets attacked off-camera AGAIN. More screaming, and Kazan and Ballentine keep making horrible decisions to get out of the car and look for the Wolf-Monster and get harassed by it.

Atlas Independent

Damn if this isn’t all pedestrian and by the numbers filmmaking.  It’s all in the Low-Budget Filmmaking Chapter 1, how to drag out your wafer thin premise to feature length so that you don’t have to spend any money on sets, costumes or actors.  And it’s all infuriating.  The Monster finally makes an appearance, looking like if the ghost dogs from Ghostbusters got some Venom goop on them.  Is it a werewolf?  Man-Wolf?  Mutant wolf?  Rabid dog?  I don’t know.  But the movie plays out nearly the same as a far superior and much more entertaining movie called Howl, which I watched recently.  That one features a cast of characters on a train being harassed by a Wolfman.  That one had comedy and excitement.  This one has misery and absolutely zero forward momentum.

So then to skip to the point, mom and daughter are repeatedly harassed and assaulted by the Mutant Wolf.  An ambulance driver shows up and gets eaten.  Mom and daughter forget their injuries from the previous car crash and go racing off in the ambulance, only for it to be attacked by the teleporting Mutant Wolf and mom gets bitten.  Do we have the glorious scene where the homicidal mom-hating daughter must confront her mother who has become a literal She-Wolf?  Spoiler alert, no.  Because that would be good writing and an interesting bit of drama.  Instead we get TWO SCENES where she cries and tries to revive her dead mom.  That only works the first time, however. 

Atlas Independent

How miserable is this movie?  It made my skin crawl with tediousness and tooth-pulling pain for how little was happening.  Just to draw out the running time on this crappy movie, there are endless flashbacks to mom and daughter fighting back in the scuzzy motel.

On the single positive note, I’ve seen Zoe Kazan in about four movies recently and I still can’t recognize her face or that I had seen her before.  She disappears into her roles, I’ll give her credit for that.  And maybe she can’t do much with this thoroughly unpleasant, loathsome character.  But it’s never a good sign when you spend the entire movie rooting for the fanged Wolf-Beast to eat your cast.  Okay, that’s not true.  That’s usually the case with these movies.  That’s kind of the point. 

THE BOTTOM LINE

If you like your slimy Mutant Wolf movies served up with Indie angst, nihilism and misery, than this is the film for you.  I, however, like my horror movies with more zing to the dialogue and more pep in their step.  The monster is fine but not particularly scary, so there’s that going for it.  Also, there’s no consistency.  Sometimes the monster attacks, and sometimes it disappears into the woods again for no reason, only because two helpless miserable people would get eaten in 20 seconds flat if the Wolf-Monster had a go-for-broke attitude.  There’s literally no reason the Monster doesn’t eat them at any point after the car crash.  It’s capable of ripping into ambulances, but a Honda Civic holds it at bay?  Please.  I’d definitely avoid the movie unless you enjoy artsy, excruciatingly slow Wolf-Monster movies.  I know I don’t.

SPOILER ALERT

Ballentine goes head to head with the Wolf-Monster in the middle of the same stretch of road we’ve been looking at for two hours.  There’s no chasing through the woods or sense of drama or tension.  And she defeats it with the old hairspray and a lighter trick.  Holy crap is that a lame way to go down if you’re the Wolf-Monster.  It just stands there waiting to get hairsprayed.  I give it a 3 out of 10 on the Kill-O-Meter, only because the Monster on fire effect is pretty well done.  Does the charred hull of the Wolf-Monster get back up for one last paltry jump scare?  Please, do I even have to answer that?