Halloween Round-Up 2

My goal October 2015 was to watch as many horror movies (including horror TV, horror-comedies etc) as possible. It always seems like I haven’t watched enough, but this year I managed a good list. First half is here

15. A Field In England (2013) from Ben Wheatley, the director of the terrifying Kill List and the tragi-comic serial killer movie Sightseers comes a trippy, weird, dangerous exploration of faith and superstition during the English Civil War. Smart, bloody, spooky- but also very funny, and visually striking. I liked this a lot, currently streaming as part of Amazon Prime.

Michael Smiley is a badass alchemist

Michael Smiley is a badass alchemist

16. Scream (1996) Wes Craven reportedly passed on Kevin Williamson’s script multiple times, wanting to distance himself from the Slasher genre, which he felt overly misogynistic and sadistic. (aww, I miss you Wes). He agreed to do it when his planned remake of The Haunting fell through, and because Drew Barrymore had attached herself to star and he wanted to work with her. How different would the movie be if Drew, not Neve Campbell has played Sidney Prescott? And how much better would the world be if Wes Craven had remade The Haunting, instead of that fuck-nugget Jan de Bont (who really remade The Legend of Hell House and got the names mixed up because seriously, fuck Jan de Bont). Still, more fun than I expected. Very charismatic cast, well directed slasher movie with a meta-bend.

17. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994) Talk about meta. Great potential, great premise, the execution was not his best. It is wonderful to see Heather Langenkamp and Robert Englund sort of playing with their post-Nightmare fame, but a lot of the “real world” schtick doesn’t quite stick. Production design- especially in the Dreamworld/Hell section is fantastic. My biggest issue with this was a Netflix/audio issue- the music was LOOOUD and the dialogue track often drowned. I mean, not the worst sin imaginable, but. Fun, worth a revisit, not great.

18. Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy (2010) a TWO HUNDRED AND FORTY MINUTE documentary chronicling the rise of the Elm Street franchise- it didn’t feel like almost four hours. In depth (to an extent, Mike DeLuca’s famous involvement in the post-Freddy’s Revenge era was barely touched on- bad blood?) but a lot of great interviews with Craven, the various casts, Bob Shaye, Rachel Talalay (who worked on most of the movies in a number of capacities on parts 2-4 before stepping behind the camera to direct part 5), and others. Informative, entertaining watch.

19. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge You know, that Elm Street movie. The one where the homoerotic subtext was made text by a truly inept director, and giddily hilarious production design. Fun. Not good, except maybe for Marshall Bell continuing to chew gum even while being beaten to submission by balls. (um). (I said it was the subtext-text Elm Street movie).

20. Abbot & Costello meet The Mummy (1955) cute, fun. Sam loves the A&C meet Universal Monster movies, GL does too. Goofy, silly, great physical comedy, great 3rd-wall breaking gags, and just enough “horror” to keep things spicy for the kids.

21. Abbot & Costello meet The Invisible Man (1951) like most of the later Invisible Man films, this is more of a caper movie than a horror film- but science fiction effects were often lumped in with horror in the 30s-50s, as “Unnatural”. Fun. Not as fun as Meets Frankenstein, but whatcha gonna do? Deeply frustrated that Abbot & Costello meet The Killer: Boris Karloff and Abbot & Costello meet Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde aren’t on the Universal Monsters Legacy box set! C’mon, Uni! Sam and GL enjoyed this one.

22. Scooby Doo! Mystery Incorporated (2010) We’ve actually been watching this since mid-September. This series is SO MUCH better than any of the Scooby shows from my childhood! Smart, inventive writing, great voice acting, and a thru-line meta-plot that is better than several seasons of Buffy (your mileage may vary). A great introduction to “horror tv” for the kids- and fun for Annika and I as well.

the further adventures of Hot Dog Water and Velma would be nice

the further adventures of Hot Dog Water and Velma would be nice

23. Twixt (2011) Francis Ford Coppola’s eerie, evocative, atmospheric movie is equal parts dark comedy and horror/thriller. I expected to tolerate it, I ended up kind of loving it. Great perf from Val Kilmer, wonderful supporting turns from Bruce Dern, Elle Fanning, Joanne Whaley, and Ben Chaplin (among others). Beautifully shot in an other-worldly fashion. Probably a deeply-personal film for Coppola, as elements closely mirror the tragic 1986 death of his son Gian-Carlo.

24. Waxwork (1988) Anthony Hickox’ cheeky horror-comedy was a rental favorite in my distant youth. It holds up pretty well, with fun performances, and some wonderful set-pieces threaded together by a somewhat gonzo story. David Warner is great in this. There are some weird choices- I don’t know if stylistically common in the era, or intentionally done- where the characters that in most movies would be the leads are killed off early, and like many 80s horror there are some questionable sexual politics.

25. The Phantom of the Opera (1925) When entire scenes go by without dialogue cards, watching actors gesticulate and move their lips gets pretty old pretty fast. There is great production design in this movie, and some truly amazing makeup/acting from Lon Chaney.

26. See No Evil 2(2014) a not very good sequel to a slasher movie starring a giant WWE wrestler guy. I watched this out of loyalty to The Soska Sisters, who directed the truly excellent indie American Mary. See No Evil 2 is very well directed, but shot on a shoestring budget. Katherine Isabelle and Danielle Harris acquit themselves well, otherwise it is pretty formulaic. No shame on the Soska’s, work is work.

27. Burnt Offerings (1976) Dan Curtis creator of the character of Kolchak for Darren McGavin in the tv movie The Night Stalker also created a little series called Dark Shadows, so, he knew his way around a haunted house. And what a haunted house there is in Burnt Offerings! Oliver Reed and Karen Black take their young son and an old but hale Auntie (Bette Davis) to a bucolic mansion in the woods somewhere, only things ain’t so bucolic. Shot at Dunsmuir House in Oakland- a truly gorgeous location- the film is a lot of atmosphere and slow burn tension. Reed is terrific, Black is great- and wonderful turns from Dub Taylor, Eileen Heckart and the great Burgess Meredith help. Fun and spooky, good for Shirley Jackson fans. And Oliver Reed shirtless fans.

28. The Nightmare (2015) Rodney Ascher’s documentary about sleep paralysis is quite good, and very unsettling. I have suffered from sporadic sleep paralysis throughout my life, and you can be sure I watched this with the lights on. Brrrr. spooky.

29. Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) honestly more science-fiction-horror than anything else, a game Tom Atkins makes for a great sympathetic hero, and Dan O’Herlihy is having a blast as the heavy. Ignoring the lack of Michael Meyers/the whole franchise aspect, this film is more in-tune with a lot of John Carpenter’s heavier thematic works (They Live, Prince of Darkness, The Thing)) than the slasher genre.

30. Let Us Prey (2014), ah Scotland. Liam Cunningham, always welcome, has one of the best entrances in recent memory in this supernatural thriller. A bit heavy-handed, but Cunningham is always good, and Pollyanna McIntosh is rapidly becoming one of my favorite on-screen presences- she is very good here. The performances are better than the script. Hanna Stanbridge, who was in the equally uneven Outcast is also good in this. Movie falls apart quickly, due to every single character having a grimdark secret- it becomes almost farcical very quickly. Add to that a weirdly puritan moral compass, and the movie doesn’t quite work for me- maybe this is a US/UK divide? Has David Cameron warped horror films in the UK?

Ms. McIntosh is better than yer movie

Ms. McIntosh is better than yer movie

31. The Blood Lands (2014) Pollyanna McIntosh, what are you doing here? A young couple from the big city move into an isolated Scottish farmhouse. The land, we are told, has been fought over for centuries. Very well directed slow-burn thriller, felt like a haunted house movie for the first half, then sadly turned into a home invasion/escape and evasion thriller in the last. McIntosh is legit terrific in this, and the direction/camera-work is fantastic. Terrific sound design. The ending is a (pleasant, actually) surprise. Subtext is very textual- oi, you city folk stay the fook out of the countryside!

32. Stake Land (2010) from Jim Mickle and Nick Damici, this was a revisit for me. Still enjoy this evocative, sensitive road movie about a horrible vampire apocalypse, and the grimy shitty world the survivors inherit. Nick Damici is great in this, as is Connor Paolo. Terrific supporting turns from Kelly McGillis, Danielle Harris, and Sean Nelson round out this melancholic, gory movie. Mickle’s direction is standout.

33. The Monster Squad (1987) Shane Black and Fred Dekker cowrote this horror-comedy. Dekker directed. While the monsters are terrific, and their scenes with the kids are a lot of fun, every time the kids are alone on screen the movie screeches to a complete halt. We’ve changed, as a culture (for the good), and the gay panic/casual homophobia doesn’t play. I guess it did once, but oof. Special mention must go to Tom Noonan as Frankenstein’s monster, and Jon Gries as the reluctant werewolf. Creature design is great across the board. Several of the moments with adults are very good (David Proval is great as a pilot in a quick scene, Stephen Macht has fun as the detective father of the main kid) but Jesus Wept the kids are pretty awful.

34. House of Dracula (1945), monster rally! Dracula (John Carradine, looking far more like Stoker’s count than Bela Lugosi ever did, even despite his rakish top hat), Larry “The Wolfman” Talbot (my wife’s heartthrob, Lon Chaney Jr. sporting a dapper ‘stache in this one), and Frankenstein’s buddy (Glenn Strange and his giant head, for the 2nd of 3 portrayals of the creature) are all gathered up by an utterly unflappable Doctor (Onslow Stevens, pitch perfect) who tries to treat each of the monsters, as well as his hunchbacked assistant (Poni Adams)- more fun than House of Frankenstein despite the earlier film sporting Karloff and J. Carrol Naish as a (different, both) mad scientist and hunchback. Great character actor Skelton Knaggs (what a face!) plays a featured villager.

35. Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) Frank Capra directed The Epstein’s adaptation of Joseph Kesselring’s great stage play. I’ll be honest, I prefer the stage play- less characters, everything is kept in the house. That said, Grant is madcap macabre fun, and Josephine Hull and Jean Adair are lovely as the Brewster sisters. Raymond Massey steps in for Boris Karloff as brother Jonathan (Karloff couldn’t leave the still-running broadway production, as he was it’s main draw as well as a financial investor) and Peter Lorre is just fantastic as the ghoulish Doctor Einstein. I was lucky as a kid, to see the Jean Stapleton and Marion Ross production in D.C. Apparently either Jonathan Frid or Abe Vigoda played Jonathan? Hell can I remember, I was just a kid.

36. The Haunting (1963) Robert Wise’s sensitive adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s masterpiece, The Haunting Of Hill House. Russ Tamblyn has never been so good- a subdued supporting role from the normally big performer. Claire Bloom is wonderful. Richard Johnson’s many lines about “The Supernatural” should be turned into a series of aphorisms for the enthusiastic ghost-hunter. But it is really Julie Harris’ movie, her Eleanor is such a tragic lead. Well, hers and the production design. Nelson Gidding’s script balanced the supernatural with his own fan-theory that Eleanor was insane and Hill House her asylum. Wise came up under Val Lewton’s mentorship, and said that The Haunting was his tribute to Lewton’s theory that people were more afraid of what they couldn’t see…

Happy Halloween is sadly done, and the horror will soon be put away in it’s moldering tomb to rot for another year… not quite yet though. We celebrate through the first week of November. Just in case their are any errant ghouls still wandering…

October 31 – Halloween!

A month of horror trailers have come and gone. Some good, some bad, some indifferent.

We’ve seen She-Wolfs (or have we?) and murderous house guests, housebound delinquents, and drunk Aussie zombie killers…
We’ve visited with creepy (ish) clowns, sexy foreigners, spooky barns, and girls with stars in their eyes…
I took on Ryan Murphy, and emerged a stronger man (no I didn’t), just for you!
Millicent Patrick, Kevin Durand, Martin Landau, and others have crossed our screens…

All leading to This. The high holy day of October, the culmination of creep, the touchdown of terror!

In the past on this date, I’ve run trailers from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre films in 2010- because they are my favorites, for reasons I cannot articulate…

In 2011 we watched the trailer for Romero’s Dawn of the Dead because it is a classic for a reason…

2012 marked Mike Doughtery’s Trick ‘R Treat because it is a tonal masterpiece on the spirit of Halloween…

In 2013 I ran the theatrical teaser for The Conjuring because, regardless of the quality of the movie itself, the teaser is a masterpiece in mounting sustained dread and anticipation.

Last year it was The Houses October Built, an unwieldy title for a not-very-good found footage movie that had a terrific premise, and little else (but a fine trailer).

And now, in this year of 2015, I give you something else entirely:

Pre-Vikings Katheryn Winnick, the hard-working Amanda Plummer, and a guy in a cheap-o “devil” mask.

Havoc is set loose on Halloween by a little kid’s misassumption, and he becomes… Satan’s Little Helper!

I might not have saved the best for last, but c’mon. Tell me that doesn’t look like a hoot ‘n a holler. Even if it is shot on video.

Remember, that crappy costume might hide… a terrifying slapstick serial killer! And his diminutive sidekick! Boogie-boogie!

Had I known this movie existed in 2004, I assure you I would have seen it.

Because isn’t Halloween really for the Children? And their deadly friends?


See you next year, fiendish friends.

October 30 – Halloween Countdown

It is almost time…

Anthology horror is hit & miss (see the VHS series- or rather, don’t bother except with the Gareth Evans contribution), but the line-up of directors here has me pleasantly optimistic:

Neil Marshall, director of The Descent and Dog Soldiers

Lucky McKee director of May (great), The Woods (almost great) and The Woman (not for everyone)

Mike Mendez director of The Convent (which I love) and Gravedancers (which I like)

Dave Parker director of Dead Hate the Living (Annika is still mad at me for giving away our dvd of this fun one)

Adam Gierasch & Jace Anderson- great people, and also the filmmakers behind Fractured (creepy as hell, very effective) and The Night of the Demons remake (gory campy fun) as well as the writers on a toolbox’s worth of solid horror.

Axelle Carolyn, director/writer of the very atmospheric haunter Soulmate

Darren Lynn Bousman director of II thru IV in the Saw franchise, but apparently more interested in making whacked out goth-opera comic-book horror movies like Repo! The Genetic Opera and The Devil’s Carnival

Andrew Kasch who directed the terrific documentary Never Sleep Again about the Elm Street films

Paul Solet, writer/director of the indie Grace, which examines the concept of a “mother’s sacrifice” through a literally vampiric infant…

That is a fun line-up! A lot of horror pedigree, and even if some of the segments are more miss than hit, a couple are guaranteed to be a hoot- law of averages!

Having the entire movie set (interwoven) in the same town, with the same radio DJ’s show threading the episodes together (shades of Jim Jarmusch’s Mystery Train, only here the DJ is Adrienne Barbeau, not Tom Waits) and a terrific cast of horror ringers, including Lynn Shaye, Barbara Crampton, Cerina Vincent, Sam Witwer and two of my absolute favorites of the current crop of actresses that can be called scream queens: Alex Essoe (from the excellent Starry Eyes) and Pollyanna McIntosh.

I can’t wait for this to hit Netflix or Amazon Prime!
Hell, we could buy the HD stream from Amazon for 8 bucks and watch it after the kids go to sleep!
(someone loan me 8 bucks?)

October 29 – Halloween Countdown

The early 00’s were a good time for werewolf movies.

Oh, sure there was studio messes like Cursed, but Neil Marshall launched his career as a director with Dog Soldiers in 2002. And in Canada, John Fawcett (who would go on to create Orphan Black) had his own lycanthropic twist to play in 2000…

Hey! They have Halloween in Canada!

Such a terrific, dark, funny, sweet movie, is Ginger Snaps, with an Angela Carter lens of feminine power (warped, of course, by the full moon’s curse)…

Katherine Isabelle is great in this, as is Emily Perkins. Mimi Rogers is no slouch as their mother either.

And of course, the climax takes place on Halloween. As it should!

October 28 – Halloween Countdown

When invited to a Halloween Party, always make sure to…

Not go to a douchey one.

Night of the Demons was originally a semi-memorable 1988 supernatural horror movie (set on Halloween), directed by Kevin S. Witchboard Tenney. The movie stars Linnea Quigley, Mimi Kinkade (who quit acting and became a pet psychic- no joke) and Cathy Podewell (Cally from various incarnations of Dallas). The plot had a seance gone wrong, demonic possession,

The 2010 remake is directed by Adam Gierasch, a very cool dude, and co-written by Jace Anderson, a truly amazing lady. It stars Shannon Elizabeth, Monica Keena and Edward Furlong. It shares a basic plot, loses the seance and adds a weird book (or something), is relocated from South Central LA to New Orleans, and has a much larger cast of extras for the party sequence.

Both movies have Demons that need to be kept at bay until sunrise, otherwise blah blah portents, doom blah.

But quote of the trailer, “Its not a closet its a fuckin’ pantry!” wins serious points for Edward Furlong.

Sorry about the quality of the trailer. But hey, it is a Halloween party that the demons are crashin’, so…

“No costume, no candy motherfuckers!” Great soundtrack- 45 Grave, Ghastly Ones, Concrete Blonde, The Swingin’ Neckbreakers, Type O Negative, Haunted Garage, Wednesday 13. Fun stuff.

October 27 – Halloween Countdown

What is up, Hellions?

Smokin’ a little weed, a little teen-sex. It is Halloween! Uh-oh. Unwanted complications.

When “legit” press savage a horror movie and fringe genre publications love it, it is usually a sign of one of two things:

1. The movie is pretty good, but is for genre fans

2. The genre publications like the filmmakers and give them good press even if the movie is shit.

Can’t tell with Hellions– not even from a not-great trailer. I want to give the benefit of the doubt, always.

Anyway, it gets points for being set on Halloween (even if it loses some for having a burlap sack kid monster, ala Trick ‘r Treat. Some of the imagery is fantastic, even if some of the effects look a little chinzy. I would totally Netflix and Chill with this movie.

I’m 40- what the hell does that mean anyway? :p

October 26 – Halloween Countdown

Someday there will be a moratorium on killer clowns. Pennywise scoffs at you inferior imitators, Twisty and company. But also- guys, aren’t we vilifying men and women who just want to entertain? Innocent Clowns could be harmed by the violent backlash to movies like this! Then they cry a single greasepaint tear on the side of the road…

Is there anything less scary than watching someone frantically try to use a remote control?

I guess clowns can be creepy, or so pop-culture keeps telling me. The time does come when we sigh and say: “Another killer clown?”. Also if someone put a giant fucking VHS tape in one of my kid’s candy bags, they’d be like: “What the hell is this? Dad, this creep just gave us a movie!” and there’d be no mystery.

And then she lets the kids WATCH IT? Geez, lady.

Not my cuppa tea, though the trailer is pretty well put-together, the inter-cutting of the horror imagery with the mom watching the tape is smart- and hey, points for being set on Halloween night!

October 25 – Halloween Countdown

As we come into the final stretch, I’m focusing on trailers for movies set in October, on and around Halloween.

Beware of the Stranger is pretty much ingrained into us. But sometimes it is hard, because sometimes the Stranger is so perfectly friendly, so sympathetic, so damn pretty…

Shades of The Stepfather (a rare horror movie where the Father-figure is the genesis for violence and violent behavior, rather than the mother) brings us The Guest from director/editor Adam Wingard and screenwriter Simon Barrett- the devilish duo responsible for the excellent You’re Next.

The Guest stars Maika (It Follows) Monroe, cementing her place as a potential scream queen for the 20-teens, and a fantastic turn from Dan (Downton Abbey in the title role. Lance Reddick (always dependable), Sheila Kelley and Leland Orser all add gravitas, and a terrific performance from young Brendan Meyer holds the movie together.

The Trailer perfectly sets up the movie- a family going through troubled times after the death of the eldest child, serving overseas, is visited by his former squad-mate. He is quickly welcomed, trust is established, he serves a purpose for each member of the family to aid them through their grieving, and help them in their daily lives. You know, carrying the groceries, giving a sympathetic ear, beating the shit out of some bullies, normal stuff…

But, like Terry O’Quinn in The Stepfather there is something a little off about this seemingly kind man, an undercurrent of malevolence. And only the teen daughter can see it- but who will believe her before it is too late?

The Carpenter style, retro sounding soundtrack certainly helps- and the pumpkins and fog machines just add to the atmosphere- and then suddenly machine-guns. Because why not?

Oslowe Vs. Ryan Myurphy

Season One of American Horror Story was retroactively named (Murder House) and a huge, huge hit for FX. It is hilariously not-good, and also not very scary. It was like a mean-spirited R-rated remake of Beetlejuice, but with the horrible yuppies being the lead characters, and also the nice dead couple aren’t nice and are serial killers. Plus Ryan Murphy obviously loved Lars Van Trier’s The Kingdom (Riget) a lot, because he borrows shamelessly. Some good acting though.

Kate Mara almost single-handed saved the season every-time she appears. She is possibly the first performer to realize the whole thing is a campy farce. Denis O’Hare is great. Jessica Lange is great. Taissa Farmiga is great. Jamie Brewer is great. I hear that Connie Britton was great on Friday Night Lights. She is also in this. Dylan McDermott is also here. Zachary Quinto shows up, and I wish he was in more of it.

Lily Rabe and Matt Ross have a fantastically overwrought plot line that seems like it is important, but I can barely remember anything of it other than that Wojciech Kilar’s great theme “The Hunters” from Bram Stoker’s Dracula plays whenever they show up and feels so hilariously out of place that I kept giggling. I’m pretty sure these two actors were in on the joke, because the scenery was in danger and I enjoyed it- I just don’t remember it.

Funny, it doesn't look like a murder house

Funny, it doesn’t look like a murder house

Mena Suvari turns up and isn’t sure why. Morris Chestnut comes round and is charismatic as hell, but to no purpose. Sarah Paulson appears, doesn’t do anything, but decides to stick around for the next four seasons. (these are probably the 3 leading candidates for “Most Misused/under-utilized cast member on AHS” in S1)

Murder House is worth checking out if you are a horror movie fan- even a little. It is weird, and mean-spirited, but it is beautifully shot and the actors all try hard to milk something out of the scripts. There are twelve episodes, and it feels like the story maybe could have been told in five or six. There are some actual “horror” moments- a lot of them. In fact there are so many horror moments that it becomes comedic early- at least to me. I’ve been told by a number of people that they found it legitimately involving, scary, etc. I laugh. Ha-ha-ha!

Fear the dreadful domesticity!

Fear the dreadful domesticity! And the guy on fire, I guess.

The first season is a haunted house, and it is haunted by literally every ghost the writers could come up with- no matter how badly the different stories intersect. This is both risible and kind of admirable from a storytelling perspective. S1 could have also been called Ghost House because that is what really sets it apart from what would come later, whereas all the seasons are pretty much dripping with murder- murder and sexual creepiness are the fall-backs of AHS. If you don’t handle sexual assault and shock-deviancy, do not apply.

Season one ends on such an insanely misguided, weird note, that I kind of fell in love with the whole season retroactively. The final episode being tonally jarring and kind of insane from a story-telling perspective will become a AHS tradition.

After season 1, I was ready to embrace AHS. I had it figured- I wouldn’t really care, I could notice all the references to horror movies good and bad, laugh at the ham-handed plot stretching (Connie Britton says the line: “I think maybe I should leave this house” utterly blankly, multiple times, because the story needs her to not leave the fucking house), and generally enjoy the future of American Horror Story.

Sarah Paulson is Unimpressed

Sarah Paulson is Unimpressed

Season Two American Horror Story: Asylum is both more horrific, and less slapdash than it’s predecessor. I like to believe that Ryan Murphy was too busy with The New Normal and Glee so that Tim Minear did most of the heavy lifting on this season. I might be wrong, but it makes it possible for me to explain why this season worked so well. Your mileage may vary.

The season starts out strong, because asylums for the criminally insane are terrifying and terrible, and in the 1960s homosexuality was still viewed as a psychological abnormality. ASH is not a show with sensitivity. Yet many of the actors, especially Sarah Paulson (wasted in the first season, cut loose here), manage to treat their lurid, potboiler plots with sensitivity and grace- it is kind of amazing.

Evan Peters- who was also very good in season 1- is very good here. Lizzy Brochere is great. Sarah Paulson is super great. Jessica Lange is magnificent- and this season is vital to the plot, instead of just being Ryan Murphy’s muse. Also Jessica Lange SINGS and it is glorious. Lily Rabe is great until she isn’t, and then she is still having fun. James Cromwell is great (duh). Zachary Quinto is great. Joseph Fiennes is… well, he’s there, at least some of the time.

Chloe Sevigny hangs around for a while and does what she can with what she is given- she managed to make a pretty one-sketch character feel fully fleshed out and interesting. Ian McShane and Franka Potente both show up for 2 episodes and OMG THEY ARE BOTH SO GOOD. I don’t think their plot-lines even intersect but goddamn they are good.

Murder Santa is shocked I didn't use a picture of Franka Potente

Murder Santa is shocked I didn’t use a picture of Franka Potente

Clea Duvall shows up and is fine, but, I’m pretty sure she is the only possible nominee for the AHS: Most Misused/Underutilized Cast Member award in Season 2, which shows how strong this season is.

There is a serial killer or two, systematic abuses, demonic possession and exorcisms, wrongful imprisonment, a fucking concentration camp doctor, the horrors of electroshock therapy (the show tries to milk some horror from hydrotherapy, fails miserably), a murderous Santa, an angel of death (like, literally- a death angel that only the dying can see and holy shit it is kind of magnificently nuts, especially since it is Frances Conroy), cannibal mutants, a murder legacy, a satanic nun and alien abduction. Oh, and a totes random “Murderous Moppet” evil kid who shows up, does some murder and leaves because jesus fucking christ the show is overstuffed enough already.

There is also a musical sequence that might be the single best musical sequence I have ever seen on television, because not only does it work within the story and thematically, but also the actors sell it in the best possible way.

sock hoppin' at the asylum

Seriously, the joy of this sequence is amazing

Season 2 also has one of the greatest “OH HOLY SHIT NO WAY SERIOUSLY? OMG HAHAHAHA I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU WENT THERE!” moments EVER. Just… Anne Frank. I’m serious you guys. When the show went to Anne Frank, I was over the moon in love with the audacity.

And the last episode are too… I just. I don’t have the words. It seemed to jump the rails entirely, ending all the main plots in episode 11 but KEEPS GOING for two more episodes, with a very out-of-place Big Love plotline that ends abruptly and then ties together thematically the whole season, also dealing with the modern-day wraparound that has been plaguing the season since the beginning of episode one, and somehow ending on a grace note that actually works kind of brilliantly.

Asylum is like a Cirque de Soleil high-wire act- so brazen and impossible that it Can’t Work, and then sticks the ending. I loved it. Season 2 of AHS made me SO EXCITED for Season 3, I could barely stand it.

Sarah Paulson is unimpressed with your silly dancing

Sarah Paulson is unimpressed with your silly dancing

Season Three

Then came American Horror Story: Coven and our love soured.

How do you solve a problem like Ryan Murphy? How do you get the creative hyper kid to stop shouting for attention and focus on his work? Maybe I gave him too much attention with Asylum He had somehow made a great season of television that was primarily about two women, one guilty, one innocent, and told their interweaving stories as both lived and made mistakes- all in a topsy-turvy, hyper-violent horror show- until they had kind of changed places. Then he decided to make subtext text, instead of telling the stories of Two awesome women, he’d do a whole passel of ’em! Witches! Girl Power! Women are strong! Magic is power- power corrupts. That is the nutshell, basic concept of S3. That and “Do NOT let Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk anywhere near racial politics”.

When s2 had a character announce they were Anne Frank, I was blown away with the audacity. But the pain of the holocaust was never ignored- with an Evil Nazi Surgeon reminding viewers of real life horrors, it still never felt glossed over or cheap and exploitative- which is a STRANGE THING to say about a Ryan Murphy show.

But the handling of Race on AHS: Coven is HUGELY problematic.

A very promising cast. Jessica Lange is… less great than previously? Sarah Paulson is back again, also with diminishing returns. Evans Peters should have sat this season out. Taissa Farmiga is back- which is great, except they keep forgetting to do anything with her. Emma Roberts is great. Lilly Rabe is mostly great. Gabourey Sidibe is great. Angela Basset is ALWAYS great, even here, where she is given virtually nothing to do other than one truly amazing moment ending in one of the greatest on-screen laughs ever.

Angela Bassett laughs at you

Angela Bassett laughs at you

Kathy Bates is… an actress who I admire and respect very much and would rather not discuss in the context of Coven. Jamie Brewer is back and is good. Denis O’Hare is Riff-Raff. Frances Conroy IS HERE AND DOING SOMETHING WONDERFUL that belongs somewhere else entirely. Stevie Nicks shows up and it is kind of embarrassing once, and then she shows up again and it is trying to reach the fever-pitch brilliance of Jessica Lange singing the Name Game, fails miserably, and should probably be forgotten.

Danny Huston, an actor I enjoy greatly, shows up and does some great work that has zero impact. He might be the Most Misused/Underutilized Cast Member in S3, but so might Angela Basset, Gabourey Sidibe, Taissa Farmiga, Evan Peters (Seriously, dude, you couldn’t go do something else for a few weeks?) Jamie Brewer- OH WAIT, I forgot that Patti LuPone was cast in order to do ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. Patti LuPone, the very great, is in this. It is embarrassing how little impact she has on anything. Patti LuPone: Wins without question despite all the many, many runners-up. Sorry, Patti, you might be the winner. But then Kathy Bates might even be the winner of the MMMUCM award, because if you deleted her character from the series NOTHING would change. If you cut all of her scenes? Nothing would really be different. Delphine LaLurie, a society woman and a serial killer, is diluted into set dressing.

resigned Danny Huston is resigned

resigned Danny Huston is resigned

The season starts off with a direct remake of the Rogue storyline from Bryan Singer’s X-Men but with Taissa Farmiga as Rogue and she has a murder pussy. Do you have any idea how uncomfortable it makes me to type that? Murder Pussy. (great band name, please only for a women-led band, please?) I guarantee you the writers on Coven were excited about this. Then they promptly forget about the MP after three episodes. At it’s core, Coven isn’t a horror show, despite the witches and tortured slaves and witch-hunters and bloody deaths- it isn’t horrific, it is an R-rated fantasy series, with more of a super-hero movie in it’s DNA than horror movies.

You see, in Coven the writers couldn’t figure out how Magic worked. All of the Witches who go to Witch School (no I’m not joking) each have a single, inherent, unique power. Only as the series continues none of their powers are unique and they all learn new powers and sometimes learning new powers means they are becoming more powerful and sometimes it is just because the writers got stuck and sometimes oh shut up I hate you Coven. Shades of Harry Potter, shades of X-Men, Jessica Lange wants to stay young forever, girls just wanna have fun. It isn’t BAD. But it isn’t good. What is bad is the use of Voodoo based magic as the magic black women practice, and “white witch” magic as what, um, white women practice.

Hey, Ryan Murphy? STOP IT. JUST STOP IT. The race stuff. It is. You know what? I’m a white guy. I cannot speak for people of color, but I can tell Ryan Murphy to knock it the fuck off. Because the writing is terrible whenever a character speaks about race- Murphy treats it with the same flip nastiness he treats everything, and that ain’t ok. Also, the fat jokes.

is that the best we can do for this actress, Ryan Murphy?

is that the best we can do for this actress, Ryan Murphy?

When I first heard Coven would deal with Delphine LaLurie, slavery, Voodoo, the Axeman of New Orleans, and rural folk magic, I was super stoked. That is my kind of stuff! Except those are all real things that actually happened. And the show deals with each of those ideas with the sensitivity and care of a seven year old hopped up on sugar attacking a Spongebob Pinata with a morning star.

By the end of Coven, I literally didn’t care anymore. It took me like a week to watch the last episode, in segments, because I didn’t care. Every time the story took one step forward, it took two steps back. Literally. Lily Rabe has the power to raise the dead! Now she is dead! Now she is alive! Now everyone else can raise the dead! Now Lily Rabe is dead! No seriously, for real this time! Just because! Then Sarah Paulson gets blinded, then she gains a magical Sight, then she gets new eyes, then she stabs out her new eyes to get the magic Sight back, then she has new eyes again. Frances Conroy is burned at the stake, then resurrected, then burned at the stake again. ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?

I’m not lying about this. The less said about ghosts and their “rules” in Coven the better. I quit drinking before I started the AHS project (unrelated), and thinking about the storytelling of Coven makes me want to start again.

The potential for Coven was so great, the talent assembled enormous. Moments and ideas were fantastic. But ultimately it was a weak-sauce power struggle (where most of the characters weren’t struggling for power few of them wanted), with a “Women Be Bitches, amiright?” sort of high-grade misogyny woven through stories that SHOULD have been and COULD have been empowering. Also the bastardization of Voodoo (Baron Samedi shows up but is called Papa Legba and is apparently The Devil, or at least takes people to hell, because fuck you Ryan Murphy why use Google when writing about a real religion?)

Sarah Paulson is not amused

Sarah Paulson is Not Amused

I almost didn’t continue. But I preserved. Much like that time I read all 4 Twilight books. I did it for you.

Season 4 American Horror Story: Freak Show could have salvaged the AHS name. It didn’t. It WAS an improvement on Coven, but not enough of one. Not nearly enough.

It has a cast of fine actors Jessica Lange is back again and wearing out her welcome. Michael Chiklis joins the cast and is very good. Denis O’Hare is back, great. Emma Roberts is back, and as good as she can be in an underwritten, flip-flopping part. Evan Peters is back, mostly good. Kathy Bates is back, doing a credible old Baltimore accent. Angela Bassett is back and great. Finn Witrock (what a name!) almost single-handedly saves the show as the stealth villain. Grace Gummer is here, very good (but strangely forgotten for several episodes). John Carrol Lynch is great. Patti LaBelle is WONDERFUL. Frances Conroy is very good, but very underused. Sarah Paulson is wonderful as conjoined twins. Funny and sweet and sad.

Sarah Paulson is Unimpressed with your FREAKS homage

Sarah Paulson is Unimpressed with your FREAKS homage

AHS: Freakshow isn’t a horror show. It is a lurid melodrama about a Freak Show, with some very bloody murder and in-your-face sexual “perversions”. There are some wonderful performers in the actual “freaks” of the freak show. Matt Fraser as Paul the Illustrated Seal is fantastic. Amazon Eve and Ma Petite and Legless Suzy are all memorable, fascinating characters. I really wish they had been fully developed and given more to do. Instead we watch Jessica Lange sing anachronistic David Bowie songs (the series is set in the 1950s) because FUCK YOU RYAN MURPHY. Also Glee. Fuck Glee.

Most Misused/Underutilized Cast Member could be Gabourey Sidibe, Frances Conroy, ALL of the actors with disabilities, or possibly Grace Gummer whose character of a candy-striper who joins the Freak Show against her wishes and ends up loving it there felt like the seasons lead, but was relegated to a bunch of tagged on scenes

The hardest part, amidst the wasted potential, (Neil Patrick Harris as a shell-shocked former GI who lives vicariously through his ventriloquist dummy, played by Jamie Brewer? Hell yes! But why so tagged on?) is watching able-bodied Evan Peters, all heart-throb handsome, with his FX lobster-claw hands, bemoaning “We aren’t freaks! we’re regular people!” while actors with actual disabilities stand behind him.

Wow. Stay classy, AHS.

Gimme a spinoff with Amazon Eve and Ma Petite, please.

Gimme a spinoff with Amazon Eve and Ma Petite, please.

There is a murder clown, a freak show, a wonderful mythology about a Halloween curse on freak shows (using historical figure Edward Modrake and casting a game Wes Bentley- this part, the gothic horror part, is great), and… a lot of melodrama. Eventually Ryan Murphy remembers that he saw Tod Browning’s Freaks once and that it is why he did this whole fucking thing, so most of an episode becomes a retread of the finale of Freaks.

For the most part, it is a Douglas Sirk melodrama. “A three-breasted Hermaphrodite Visits the Doctor! Who is NOT Judgmental and Terrible!” is an interesting piece of character business. It is also the only part of the entire season I was wishing there was more of. This is melodrama stuff- “Someone who doesn’t fit in, finds a place where they do!” isn’t horror, it’s melodrama. Nothing against melodrama, but I didn’t decide to binge-watch American Melodrama Show.

One of the hardest things to get around in Freak Show – other than the anachronistic songs- is the use of Jessica Lange. Her character feels like a bad combination of her season 2 and 3 characters, without any of the interesting aspects. She’s a manipulative, evil woman (s3), delusional and power mad (s2) and doesn’t get her comeuppance. In fact, the series seems to think that we view her as the heroine- or at least the tragic protagonist. Except by the time Freak Show creaked to an end, I was so tired of her. So. Tired. Also of the anachronistic songs. So tired.

Sarah Paulsons were born to sing sad songs

Sarah Paulsons were born to sing sad songs

I understand Jessica Lange is taking off Season 5, Hotel, which is probably retreading a lot of ground since we’ve had ghosts in 3 of 4 seasons, and lots of murder and sexual assault because the writer’s room is convinced that = edgy. I don’t blame Lange for taking a season off. I’m sure Sarah Paulson will be one of the good things on it, unless she has no character (like in s1 or s3). I bet the number of actors eligible for the Most Misused/Underutilized Cast Member will be even bigger.

I might watch Hotel down the line, in a year. But I might not. The pain of missed opportunity, of squandered chances, is too great.

Fuck you, Ryan Murphy. You win.

Sarah Paulsons are Unimpressed

Sarah Paulsons are Unimpressed

October 24 – Halloween Countdown

2 months to Christmas.

Which is a little scary.

Not Christmas itself, but that Halloween is almost come and gone!

Weeelllll, maybe Xmas can be a little scary itself.

It is easy to forget sometimes that Adam Scott cut his teeth not in brilliant TV comedy like Party Down and Parks & Recreation, but in Hellraiser: Bloodline (aka Pinhead in space- it is actually much better than it sounds). Anyway, he is great. Toni Collette is a goddamn national treasure (to whatever nation she is in at the time), and David Koechner – well, he’s like Rob Riggle for me. They excel at playing variations on a character that is a magnified over-the-top version of themselves (maybe), it depends on the execution.

And Krampus looks to be all about the execution. Moo-hoo ha ha!

Written and Directed by Michael Dougherty, of perennial favorite Trick ‘r Treat, with a sensibility possibly borrowed from Joe Dante- Krampus looks great.

“It’s Christmas. Nothing bad is gonna happen on Christmas!”