The first horror movie I ever remember seeing, and what a trip it took me on.
Netflix’s Stranger Things
Season 1: “Chapter Eight – The Upside Down”
Directed and Teleplay Written by The Duffer Brothers
Story by Paul Ditcher
* For a recap & review of the Chapter Seven, “The Bathtub” – click here
* For a recap & review of (S02) Chapter One, “MADMAX” – click here
Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) and Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) are both detained at the U.S. Department of Energy. Joyce finds herself confronted with Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine), asking about contact with her son Will (Noah Schnapp). He knows there’s information she has about Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), which is what he wants most. But Joyce has no time for any of his bullshit, not after the faked death of her boy and all their nonsense. In another room, Jim is treated to a more Abu Ghraib-style interrogation with a cattle prod. They plan to shoot him full of drugs, make him look like a junkie.
Back at the school, Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), and Eleven are left by themselves. At the same time Eleven knows “The Demogorgon” is out there, along with the fact Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) are gone after it; alone. Those two are over at the Byers house setting up traps, loading guns, making a baseball bat full of nails. That sort of thing. Ready for a real monster hunt.
Under Brenner’s questioning Jim only resolves to tell the doctor where Eleven is if the boys and their families are left out of it. He’s giving over the girl. Essentially, it’s all a hush hush type of affair. Do what need, don’t tell about anything afterwards. So Jim and Joyce, they’re suited up to go down into the gate, which they do hesitantly. Meanwhile, Brenner is launching an almost full-scale assault to recapture Eleven.
In The Upside Down, Jim and Joyce head forward, as she struggles with a bit of slight panic. All the while he flashes back to being with his wife and his daughter. Something makes his daughter nearly hyperventilate. He comes back to Joyce and they keep moving.
At the Byers house, Nancy and Jonathan both cut their hands open to offer some blood to lure the Monster. In the school gymnasium, the boys try to figure out what they’ll do next. Everyone’s divided, separated a little too far for my liking. Jonathan and Nancy don’t see the Monster, though they stay on their guard, and in the process get closer. When Steve shows up in the middle of everything it only serves to put him in harm’s way, as the lights flicker, and the creature is poised to make an appearance. It crawls from out the ceiling towards them. They manage to get away, hoping to trick it and walk the Monster right into one of their traps. However, the thing is gone when they open the bedroom where they briefly hide.
We see more of Hopper, flashing back to him and his sick daughter, his wife. Nights crying by himself in the stairwell of the hospital. The whole thing obviously still wears on him, as it would. But he continues to push himself through The Upside Down with Joyce, searching dutifully for Will.
When the Monster turns up in the Byers house, it attacks Jonathan and nearly eats him alive. Until Nancy fires shots into it. Then Steve gives it a whack with the spiked bat. Once the creature gets caught in the bear trap, everything goes right. Jonathan lights the hallway on fire, as the thing screams in pain; a sound Joyce and Jim hear on the other side. Although it isn’t completely dead.
Once they get through more of The Upside Down, Jim and Joyce come to the other side’s version of the Byers place. As Jim and Joyce walk through, the lights turn on one by one for Jonathan. He calls out “mom” and Joyce hears him, all that way. The two worlds are connected, ever so lightly.
Eleven and Mike connect a bit further, as he hopes they’ll live together after it’s all over. He then semi confesses his feelings for her. Even asking her to a school dance with him. Probably one of their sweetest scenes together. Then when he can’t explain his feelings properly, Mike lays a kiss on the unsuspecting Eleven, who’s reaction isn’t particularly bad. But it’s all interrupted by Dr. Brenner’s men. Now the gang is on the move. Again.
When the kids are cornered, Eleven crushes the brains of everyone threatening them; their eyes bleed uncontrollably until POP. She wakes up to find her friends captured, Brenner promising better things.
In The Upside Down, Joyce and Jim move through the streets of Hawkins, looking like an apocalyptic wasteland. They track their way to where the Monster likely nests: the school.
Yet all that blood in the school hall isn’t helping anything. The Monster breaks through the wall to face the guns. And Brenner? Well, he just might not last.
Jim and Joyce find Will stuck to a wall, a strange alien tube stuck in his mouth and throat. They haul it out and try to save him. Simultaneously, the boys try carrying Eleven to safety, as the Monster – the Demogorgon – battles the men and their guns. “The bad man‘s gone,” Mike assures his possible new girlfriend. He adds a promise, too. Just not so sure if they’re all going to make it past this in one piece. The Monster bursts in on them, as they try using their basic weapons to stop it. Nothing works. Nothing save for Eleven and her powers. The weakened little girl goes against the monster she created, crushing it to death with her abilities. Watching on, the boys see her tell Mike “goodbye” before using her last ounce of strength to make the Monster vanish; they both do in a pile of black ash. Leaving Mike, Dustin, and Lucas in their wake.
In The Upside Down, Jim and Joyce try to revive Will, as best they can. They perform CPR, hoping for any sign of life. Hopper continually flashes back to the death of his daughter. This entire sequence is beyond emotionally charged. There’s not enough tears for any of it. And when the last moment comes Will breathes again. He’s alive. They’ve conquered the darkness of that other plane of existence finally.
Young Will wakes up safe and sound in the hospital next to his mom and brother. They’re all happy to be together once again. Jonathan even brought him a new mix tape for the stay. Everybody’s there in the waiting room. Everyone with their own leftover emotions and thoughts. Of course Mike misses Eleven. But the boys are all glad to see their buddy Will. They tell him a quick bit of recap on what’s been happening, they also tell him all about Eleven and what she did to find him. The successors to the Losers’ Club are reunited!
Not long after, Hopper gets picked up by a government car, a couple guys dressed in black. Technically I guess his deal didn’t exactly go down the way it was meant to, right?
We skip to a month later.
It’s around Christmas. Mike, Dustin, Lucas, and Will are back to playing Dungeons and Dragons like before. They play differently, now that they’ve experienced an actual Demogorgon. This time, Will is able to defeat the monster. All things are right. Everything is well in Hawkins, Indiana. Except that Mike misses Eleven, longing to see her. In other news, Jonathan gets a camera for Christmas from Nancy, which is “pretty cool” even if she’s still snuggling up to Steve.
Hopper is still around, so he didn’t meet any bad end a month prior. The station is alive, a party going. He heads out with an armful of food. Out in the woods, he places some in a plastic container, along with Eggo waffles, in a small wooden box. Is this part of his life now, searching for her? Is he under the thumb of the U.S. Dept. of Energy?
The Byers house is a happy home after so long in a messy state. Joyce tries to do a nice dinner, getting her boys back to normal life. Though in the bathroom Will is still coughing up creepy slugs, flashing back to The Upside Down, as if the line between the two planes is forever open slightly.
But for the time being, Hawkins goes on like always. When will that change? We’ll have to wait for another season to find out.
What a spectacular way to finish the season. Each chapter was an improvement on the last, every one with a new bit to add, with more intrigue and mystery thrown on top. I’m sure Netflix will do a Season 2. There’s no way they won’t after the surging popularity Stranger Things has experienced. So let’s watch the episodes over and over and over until they give us more. Sound good? All right.
Netflix’s Stranger Things
Season 1: “Chapter Seven – The Bathtub”
Directed by Matt & Ross Duffer
Written by Justin Doble
* For a review of the previous episode, “Chapter Six – The Monster” – click here
* For a review of the Season 1 finale, “Chapter Eight – The Upside Down” – click here
Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard) helps clean Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) up. They have an almost romantic moment before Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) busts in to tell them Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) is on the Walkie Talkie screaming “The bad men are coming!” The boys wise up to the van outside the house. Or the load of them. Mike, Dustin, and Eleven take off out the back door to get a head start, as Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine) and his men descend. A steely moment between Eleven and Brenner sends everyone on a big chase. The whole gang gets back together before the vans fly after their bikes. Eleven keeps them safe with an awesome stunt that puts one van into the air, soaring, then it crashes hard to the ground. In the meantime, Lucas bonds with Eleven: “Friends don‘t lie. I‘m sorry, too,” she says. Prompting Mike and Lucas to shake hands and secure their group dynamic once more for the hard road ahead.
Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) and Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) get to the station, where Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer) waits with Jonathan (Charlie Heaton). The ole Chief is ready to give anything a try, so why not listen to what Jonathan’s got to say, no matter how crazy?
The Wheeler house has the government swarming all over it, Dr. Brenner and a team of scientists combing through the place. Karen and Ted Wheeler (Cara Buono/Joe Chrest) talk with the doctor, who plays head game like you’d expect. “Will you trust me?” he asks gently before prying further information out.
U.S. Department of Energy is the next stop for Mike, Dustin, Lucas, and Eleven. Although they know it’s going to be a rocky road. Already there are helicopters flying overhead: “Mental,” Dustin mutters after the group hides in a derelict bus.
At the station Hopper hears about the girl with the shaved head from Troy whose arm got broken because of the fact she can “do things.” Now there’s more strangeness leaking in to make Chief Jim believe there is definitely something to uncover. So with Jonathan and Nancy in tow the Jim-Joyce duo go back to the Byers place for a Walkie Talkie. Nancy calls for Mike. He doesn’t answer at first, but later responds to let them know where they’ve been hiding. For his part, Dustin thinks they’re going to end up like “Lando” in Star Wars.
Then the worst happens. Men in suits brandishing guns come for the boys and Eleven. The kids hide, though their bikes stashed below the bus gives them away. Until Hopper shows up with his knockout hands and hauls them all out of there. They head back to the Byers place where Nancy, Joyce, and Jonathan wait. Inside, Mike and the kids explain, as well as they can, what’s happening; to Will, Barb, about The Upside Down.
Eleven sits with the Walkie and tries to do some communicating. “I‘m sorry,” she whimpers after a moment: “I can‘t find them.” Poor girl has far too much stress on her shoulders. In the bathroom, she spies the bathtub. The title of the episode comes out now, as Eleven is going to use that for a homemade sensory deprivation tank. Dustin calls Mr. Clarke (Randall P. Havens) to get a bit of help with that particular “curiosity door.” They all set about gathering the materials to make the tank. In a brief moment when Jonathan wonders what they’ll do about the Monster, he gets more fatherly time from Hopper than he ever got from his actual dad. At the same time, the rest of the gang find ingenious ways to pick up what they need.
Alone together Joyce shows Eleven tenderness she’s never once known locked up in the Dept. of Energy. It’s a really beautiful scene, only short but plenty to show how caring Joyce can be. Winona Ryder is just knocking this role out of the park. What a tender, emotional performance from her every step of the way.
When the deprivation tank is all setup, Eleven puts on a duct tape visor and then wades in to try finding The Upside Down again. Power starts to fluctuate and shut down. She floats in the pool while zoning out into that dark space for the time in a long while. There in the quiet Eleven discovers Barb, stuck in some type of webbing, a slick creature slithering out of her likely dead mouth. Eleven shouts “gone” into the distance, as on the other side Joyce calms her. Then she sees Castle Byers, the hideout of Will (Noah Schnapp), though slightly covered in the creature’s webbing, its slimy substance. In the fort Will lies cold, weak: “Hurry,” he speaks and his voice radiates from the Walkie to Joyce and the others. Out of nowhere everything crumbles in black smoke leaving Eleven alone before she wakes up in the pool to Joyce holding her tight.
While Jonathan and Nancy are headed to finish their quest, to kill the Monster, Joyce and Hopper get caught trespassing at the Dept. of Energy. Simultaneously, young Will is still in that shack in The Upside Down, and the Monster is hungry.
An impressive penultimate episode that got my blood pumping! Dig it, so hard. The finale is up next and titled “Chapter Eight – The Upside Down” so don’t miss it.
Netflix’s Stranger Things
Season 1: “Chapter Six – The Monster”
Directed by Matt & Ross Duffer
Written by Jessie Nickson-Lopez
* For a review of the previous episode, “Chapter Five – The Flea and the Acrobat” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Chapter Seven – The Bathtub” – click here
Now that Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer) seems to be lost in The Upside Down, Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton) is left to frantically search for her, their voices echoing across time and space. Soon, her hand emerges from the tree trunk where she gained access to The Upside Down, and he’s able to haul her back to their plane of existence.
Meanwhile, the gate to the other side closes in the tree. Does this happen each time a person goes there? Does it pack up and leave to find another hiding place?
Steve (Joe Keery) is out trying to see what Nancy’s up to. He discovers his supposed girlfriend sitting on her bed at home next to Jonathan, being comforted. Afterwards they have a sleepover, though Jonathan is a gentleman and rolls out a sleeping bag at the end of her bed. At the same time, Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) and Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) are talking about what they know so far re: the U.S. Department of Energy. She knows her son wasn’t in the room Hopper found, as Will (Noah Schnapp) draws well. Now, they’re getting closer to discovering Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown). “What if this whole time I‘ve been looking for Will I‘ve been chasing after some other kid?” Jim wonders out loud.
Everyone is left reeling at the moment. Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard) is home, Eleven gone, and he trashes her little hideout. How’s a young boy meant to grieve for a friend at that age? Especially when he’s discovered some science fiction budding underneath the mystery of it all.
And Nancy, she likewise has trouble with what she’s seen with her own two eyes. She knows the Monster in The Upside Down is terrorising both Will and Barb somewhere out there.
The same woman that went to see Benny in his diner, apparently from Social Services, goes to see Mr. Clarke (Randall P. Havens). She’s looking for children interested in AV-type stuff. Oh yeah? More to be paranoid about.
Mike feels bad for yelling at Eleven. He knows she was trying to protect them. Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) wants Mike to apologise to Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), and find Eleven. Then we get another flashback from Eleven, back when she was with her Papa, Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine): “Today, we make contact,” he tells her. After her quick memory Eleven comes to in the woods, by herself. In a nearby lake she displays more of those psychic powers, screaming at the water and sending it in a wave.
Well, the successors to the Losers’ Club are trying to get back together. If only due to Dustin insisting on Mike and Lucas making amends. Mike compares them going up against The Demogorgon without Eleven to “R2D2 going against Darth Vader.” For the time being, Lucas says he’s finding Will on his own and heading to the gate.
More flashback. Eleven is taken to the sensory deprivation tank where she’ll head into The Upside Down, that deep, dark space. “I want you to find it,” Papa Brenner explains before she’s lowered inside. She keeps going from past to present, as currently she wanders through a grocery store looking for Eggo waffles. She uses her powers to walk out sans paying, but you can be sure there’ll be a police report filed.
And speaking of police, Chief Hopper goes to see Terry Ives (Aimee Mullins), whose relationship with Dr. Brenner is a mystery. Not for long, I suspect. She was part of the MK-Ultra program and its crazy drugs. “The Man with a big capital M” did a number on her, as Terry’s sister Becky (Amy Seimetz) explains. Sensory deprivation. Expanding the mind’s boundaries. All that “hippy stuff.” Becky actually even references Stephen King. So what I wonder: is Eleven really Becky’s child? There’s no paper trail, but that means nothing. The Man would see to that.
Going “monster hunting” we see Jonathan and Nancy gather up a bunch of equipment, such as a gas can, .38 shells, a bear trap, other supplies. Not long later, Nancy finds someone spray painted graffiti about her being a slut on the local movie theatre. She actually catches Steve out back with his buddies, surveying the whole operation. Nancy doesn’t owe him anything, but they’re all more of a loser than Jonathan could ever be. It all ends up with Jonathan finally kicking the shit out of Steve, however, he also accidentally nails one of the deputies while taking a swing. Not. Good. Particularly for their monster hunt.
At least Joyce is with the Chief, so there’s no need look too far. Jonathan’s at the station for assaulting an officer, as Nancy struggles with wondering whether he’s in love with her. She doesn’t necessarily reject the idea.
Eleven eats Eggo waffles, uncooked, in the forest. Lucas continues no his search for Will coming up against the Dept. of Energy fence in the process. Simultaneously, Mike and Dustin look for her, and run into their bullies. Only the bullies have a knife this time. They catch Dustin, threatening him. They want an answer as to why Troy wet his pants. Without one, Mike has to jump into the lake in the quarry. Or else Dustin gets the rest of his baby teeth removed via blade. After Mike takes the plunge, he’s brought up by an unseen force. Nearby stands Eleven coming for her buddies.
Then Eleven flashes back to the darkness of The Upside Down, stuck in the sensory deprivation chamber. She sees the Monster from far off. It huddles, feeding on something. Eleven reaches out and touches the thing before it turns and screams at her, sending the girl into a frenzy and nearly destroying the place. Is this the moment which triggered this whole series of events? “The gate… I opened it,” Eleven confesses: “I‘m the Monster.” Yet Dustin and Mike are more happy to have there, as a friend. She is not the monster, just filled with guilt. And now their bond is even better. At that same moment, Dr. Brenner receives word from one of his minions. They’ve got the kids in their sights.
A wonderful episode bringing us closer to the end of Stranger Things Season 1. I cannot get enough of this one. I dig many shows, review/recap lots of episodes. But this is genuinely one of my favourite shows in the last few years, absolutely. Netflix has hit it big with this one, hopefully to continue with a Season 2, as well as more quality program overall for the network. The penultimate episode “Chapter Seven – The Bathtub” is up next, promising more and more mystery alongside slices of horror, science fiction, and small town drama.
Netflix’s Stranger Things
Season 1: “Chapter Four – The Body”
Directed by Shawn Levy
Written by Justin Doble
* For a review of the previous episode, “Chapter Three – Holly, Jolly” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Chapter Five – The Flea and the Acrobat” – click here
Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) is with Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) explaining they’ve found the body. Although she is not convinced, whatsoever. “One blink for yes, two for no,” she tells him about their little Christmas light Ouija wall. Only Hopper and her own son Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) think she’s losing grip on reality. He has experience with his own daughter and grief. “This is different,” Joyce makes clear.
Upstairs, Jonathan retreats into the music of his headphones. But Joyce is determined to stand guard with an axe on the couch. Meanwhile the town of Hawkins is reeling, from Karen and Ted Wheeler (Cara Buono/Joe Chrest) to their poor son Mike (Finn Wolfhard) who feels betrayed by Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown). Then she tunes into a frequency on a Walkie Talkie where they hear Will (Noah Schnapp) sing some Clash lyrics.
Somewhere out there, beyond this plane of existence, Will lives. Not in body, but in spirit, in energy.
Mike makes a call to arms for his buddies. First he calls over the Walkie to Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) who’s mourning in his own way. They need to talk about Will, and Mike says “Screw his funeral.”
There’s some fishy business going on, as Hopper finds out the autopsy on Will was done by someone from the state, as opposed to their own people. As in that’s peculiar. Jonathan and Hopper talk about Joyce’s mental state, though neither of them yet realise the magnitude of what they’re dealing with here. The devastation of a dead child is one thing. The presence of something otherworldly, or supernatural, is another thing altogether. For her part, Joyce doesn’t believe the dead body in the morgue is her son. She refuses to believe he’s gone.
In other news, Nancy (Natalia Dyer) feels strange about her visit to Steve’s (Joe Keery) place the other day looking for Barb. She saw a creep. With no face? Yikes. But Steve is worried about getting busted for a party, showing his true colours to Nancy after all.
Jonathan: “While you‘re talking to the lights, the rest of us are having a funeral for Will.”
Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas, and Mike are together in the Wheeler basement, Eleven, too. The charge for Will still being alive is led by young Mike, whose experience with the Walkie earlier makes him a believer. Will the boys and Eleven soon come to put their heads together with Joyce? I hope the writing leads us there. For the time being, Mike and the guys plan to get Eleven to their ham radio at school, so that she might use a stronger frequency to (hopefully) contact Will. Wherever he may be.
Up at the U.S. Department of Energy, someone named Shepard heads in to where the odd creature is attached to the wall. He reaches into it and grabs something. All the while, Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine) watches carefully. And then Shepard disappears inside the creature.
The local officers are interviewing Nancy, alongside her mother Karen, about Barb and her whereabouts, the party, her supposedly seeing something – or a man, with no face. The strange thing is that her car is suddenly missing, even though Nancy saw it the other day. Above all else Mrs. Wheeler isn’t happy to hear about her daughter and Steve falling into bed together. And on the opposite side Nancy is deadly worried for her friend Barb. A missing girl is getting wrapped up in typical family-teenager drama.
Hopper’s still worried about the autopsy situation, the strangeness up around the Dept. of Energy. He’s nearing closer and closer to finding out big things, I can feel it.
At the school, Mr. Clarke (Randall P. Havens) runs into Eleven – a.k.a Eleanor – and the boys. They explain her away as a Swedish second-cousin. Luckily, they also get the keys for the Audio Visual Room. Score.
When Nancy pieces together Jonathan’s torn photograph of Barb, she sees something else other than her friend. She sees a strange entity of some kind behind her.
At the Dept. of Energy, Dr. Brenner and the team finally reach Shepard inside the creature. He talks about being near a “rift” and that he can’t see much. “There‘s something else in here,” the voice over the speaker screams to Brenner, begging to be pulled out. When they do, only the bloody harness that once held Shepard remains.
In school, one of the bullies – Troy (Peyton Wich) – gets what’s coming to him after laughing during the assembly in Will’s honour. Eleven stops him from punching Mike, and then makes Troy wet himself. True justice.
Nancy talks to Jonathan, asking if he saw anything over at Steve’s place that night. She mentions a “weird man” there after going back. The little, strange pieces start adding together, as Jonathan combines Nancy’s story with that of his mother Joyce. Now there’s a bit of a connection, gradually.
Across a bar Hopper cosies up to a patron, buying drinks and reeling off fake stories about his daughter. It’s the State Trooper who found Will’s corpse. Hopper begins to crack at the guy, hoping to figure out what happened with the handover of the body to the government. He gets a bit of information. The Trooper reveals he wasn’t supposed to let anyone near the body. Why? Infectious? Definitely dangerous.
At home, Joyce blasts The Clash and hopes her son will talk to her again via the lights. At school, the boys get Eleven in to the AV room, though she starts having more flashes back to Brenner, the little room, electrodes on her head. We see more of the MK-Ultra element, a bit of astral projection of sorts, as Eleven is tasked with finding a man, listening to him. In the AV room, the boys hear strange noises over the ham radio, as Joyce hears similar ones in her house, through the wall. They each hear the same sounds, but there’s no telling where Will is trapped. He calls for his mother. When she tears through the wallpaper, it’s as if Will is stuck in a creepy space that’s “like home but it‘s dark” and looks similar to the belly of some great beast. “I will find you, but you have to run now,” Joyce assures her boy. Yet when she breaks through the wall, there is nothing.
When Jonathan helps Nancy with the picture of Barb, they also bond a little. He’s a people watcher because he would much rather look than interact, as people can be so cruel. Then they see a clearer image of the unsettling entity hovering above Barb, the monster. They become further convinced Will, and Barb, just might be living after all.
In the morgue, Hopper takes things to the next level. He punches his way in to where Will’s corpse lies in a freezer. He cuts into the boy only to discover the body cavity is filled with stuffing. OH. SHIT! WILL IS ALIVE. I REPEAT, WILL IS ACTUALLY ALIVE. FOR REAL.
In the middle of the night, Lonnie (Ross Partridge) shows up to find his wife distraught, not knowing where to turn. And Hopper, well, he’s got his eyes set on the U.S. Dept. of Energy, wire cutter in hand and ready to break in.
Wow. What a whopping episode. Intense, emotional at times, always full of intrigue. The next episode is “Chapter Five – The Flea and the Acrobat” and I’m sure you’re all as excited as I am. Personally, I want to binge. But I’m savouring the episodes, hard as that is to do.
Netflix’s Stranger Things
Season 1: “Chapter Three – Holly, Jolly”
Directed by Shawn Levy
Written by Jessica Mecklenburg
* For a review of the previous episode, “Chapter Two – The Weirdo on Maple Street” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “Chapter Four – The Body” – click here
Poor Barb is off in some strange place, as an alien-monster stalks her. It’s the pool outside, but as if on another planet. All the while, Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer) hooks up with Steve (Joe Keery) inside. And the nerdy friend is not long for this world, it seems.
When Nancy wakes up in the early morning, everything has changed. She’s passed through that unwritten hurdle of high school, losing her virginity to somebody. At home, Nancy catches shit from her mom, though it isn’t as bad as it could have been.
The Byers house is still a war zone. Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) finds his mother Joyce (Winona Ryder) in Will’s (Noah Schnapp) room. She believes her son is connecting with her via the lights, after what she experienced in the previous episode. Of course that looks fucking insane. But there’s truth on the edge of coming out. It’s going to take something big for that to be palatable for others.
Meanwhile, Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) is still in the care of Mike Wheeler (Finn Woflhard), Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo), and Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin) are trying to figure out how to go about tackling whatever monster lies ahead of them. They’re at odds over what’s most important: weapons, food, or the powers harboured within Eleven. At least they’re doing a good job hiding her. For the time being.
Chief Jim Hopper (David Harbour) is digging into the mystery surrounding everything going on re: Will’s disappearance. He’s getting closer to the military and whatever madness lies behind the gates of the U.S. Department of Energy.
We briefly see Eleven on her own in the Wheeler home. She flicks through the television’s channels, half amazed and, after a Coke commercial, half flashing back to being in a lab, as Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine) monitors her on the opposite side of a window, waiting for her to use those telekinetic powers to crush a Coke can. A really great, brief scene that exemplifies the quality writing of the series.
At home, Joyce is stringing up Christmas lights, tons of them. She’s planning to try communicating further with Will. Or whoever/whatever is on the other side of the electricity.
Hopper tracks the tunnel they came across last episode to the other side of the gates at the Dept. of Energy. When he’s let inside briefly, Chief Jim quickly sees the operation that’s underway, cleaning up after… whatever happened there. He gets a brief look at some video, but there’s a clear idea that something is being hidden; Jim knows they’re lying.
The normal life of a teenager is seen through Eleven’s eyes. She looks over the Wheeler home, seeing Nancy’s pictures on the wall, the cute bed, the regular everyday girl stuff placed around the room. This is totally foreign to her; a little girl, but an extraordinary, tortured little one at that.
Nancy’s worried constantly about Barb. Although nobody else is too concerned, she knows there is something not right. A casual glance suggests she may see if Jonathan Byers has anything to say. At the same time he almost gets caught with the pictures he took outside of Steve’s place.
Our group of boys are wondering about where Eleven got her powers. They’ve also got to contend with the bullies at school. They do a good enough job, even if they’re picked on a nice deal, and badly. I can’t help wonder if maybe Eleven may help them get a bit of revenge eventually.
Hopper’s all over town trying to do more investigating, as well as contending with the one night stands left in his wake. Hilarious couple moments between him and a librarian he recently bedded. On microfiche, Hopper pours through anything he can find, for anything at all relevant.
Joyce gets a visit from Karen Wheeler (Cara Buono). While the two talk, Karen’s littlest daughter follows the lights that are turning on and off by themselves. Right into Will’s room where the lamps alternate on and off in a beautiful show for the tiny girl. Until they all go out. And she stands in front of the wall where Joyce had previously watched some eerie entity push its face through. A hand reaches out before Joyce interrupts.
There’s a lot of strange things happening, of course. Nancy still can’t locate Barb, even her mom doesn’t know. The vanishings are picking up.
Then we’ve got Jonathan, whose pictures from Steve’s place are found out by Steve and his gang. Naturally there’s a creep factor. Yet breaking the camera, treating the guy like a sex offender; not so sure he deserves that. Most of all Nancy finds a scrap of a picture with Barb in it and that peaks her curiosity.
Just after 3 PM, Eleven waits to meet Mike after school. She sees a cat near a fence that brings her to another flashback. In that room again, as Dr. Brenner watches on, she’s faced with a cat in a cage that we can assume she is meant to kill. When she refuses, Brenner – or “Papa” as Eleven screams to him – has her thrown in isolation. They’re trying to create a monster. And they do, to some extent. She kills the two men taking her to the locked room before Brenner confronts her gently. Almost as a father might: “Incredible,” he says to her in the quiet and carries her away in his arms. What a scene, what a moment! God. Damn. One of my favourite scenes yet. Because we’re getting a look into Brenner, but more importantly Eleven becomes more than some experiment, or whatever, she has a deeply painful backstory.
Mike and the boys show up for Eleven, then they’re off – to find adventure, to hopefully find Will. She asks why Mike has the cut on his chin, so he explains that some “mouth breathers” at school did it. They have a short moment of friendship that’s truly awesome. Their bond will be strong.
The lights are finally flickering for Joyce. When she slips into a crawl space in the living room with more of them in her hands, it appears as if Will is speaking to her through them, lighting them up. He tells her he’s alive. That he isn’t safe. Only their communication is stuck to one word answers, either yes or no. That prompts Joyce to paint the alphabet on her wall and use the lights as a massive Ouija board.
Nancy tells her mother about her worries re: Barb. Now there’s more hysteria about to strike Hawkins.
In the library, Hopper discovers a piece on Dr. Brenner, the MK-Ultra program. He starts to wonder if maybe Will was “in the wrong place at the wrong time” and witnessed a cover-up-worthy accident, or who knows.
Eleven leads the boys to Will’s place. She says “hiding” but none of them believe it. Then the rush of police lights, an ambulance rushes by, and they head off to follow.
After Joyce has Will spell out where he is, he lights up RIGHT HERE. This distresses her, as he further spells out RUN, and the monster within the wall starts crawling out, literally, to face Joyce.
Hopper and the sirens head out to a body of water in the canyon. Everyone assumes it’s the body of Will. And it is. Mike and his buddies watch on, completely devastated. When Eleven can’t give him any answers Mike runs from them, home to his mother’s arms. Simultaneously, Joyce runs from her own home to find Jonathan in the road. Everyone is in need. Everybody’s hurting.
What a beautiful, amazing episode. A great chapter in an already perfect series that I’m loving. Next up is “Chapter Four – The Body” and I love that the Stephen Spielberg/Stephen King element is kicking in full force; sort of great that the next episode’s title links up to King slightly.
Monster. 2003. Directed & Written by Patty Jenkins.
Starring Charlize Theron, Christina Ricci, Bruce Dern, Lee Tergesen, Annie Corley, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Marco St. John, Marc Macaulay, Scott Wilson, Rus Blackwell, Tim Ware, Stephan Jones, Brett Rice, Kaitlin Riley, & Cree Ivey. Media 8 Entertainment/Newmarket Films/DEJ Productions.
Rated 18A. 109 minutes.
For those that don’t know the entire story, Aileen Wuornos was indeed a serial killer. She murdered men. She was a prostitute, one that had been abused, supposedly raped, tortured, and one who took emancipation from a life of sex as business into her own hands when there was nowhere else to turn. And that was the ultimate problem concerning Aileen’s long, tumultuous life. Starting from an early age she was frequently beaten, while naked, by her adoptive father. At the age of fourteen she got pregnant, later putting the boy up for adoption in 1971. She was actually married to a multimillionaire by age twenty, which later ended in a restraining order against her and an annulment. This was also around the time Lee started getting arrested, charged with assault and battery, among other things. When she finally wound up in Daytona, drinking in a gay bar, she met Tyria Moore who’d become the one big love of her life. It was in Daytona the trail of bodies behind Aileen – affectionately known as Lee to those close to her – started piling up.
And this is where director-writer Patty Jenkins’ Monster comes in.
Wuornos, by all accounts, had trouble with the truth. Most of all after her arrest in 1991. What Jenkins does is examine Wuornos in those days after meeting Moore – here named Selby – and the steady decline of her mental state from the time of her first murder onward. In a realistic style alongside a great script, Jenkins uses the fascinatingly honest, brutally true-to-life performance of Charlize Theron as the centerpiece of a discussion about everything from murder to prostitution, to how we judge prostitutes when they say they’ve been sexually assaulted, love, as well as so many other themes in between. This movie is a great film from the early 2000s containing one of the single best performances ever seen in the history of cinema.
There’s some great editing in this film. When Selby and Aileen first stay together in the hotel, after she’s murdered her first victim, things are so light and lovely, which then switches quickly into the stone cold realities of this woman’s life: we cut fast to Aileen in her stolen car, spraying down the windshield and wiping off any of the last bloody remnants inside to make sure it’s not a rolling DNA lab. This is one of the most evident points where we see the division in Aileen’s life, between the woman she wants to be and the woman she is/has become. An instance of when good editing and writing come together to create a sorrowful look into the inner life of a character, especially heart wrenching due to the fact Aileen is a serial killer, as well as partly a very tragic case.
What is part serial killer picture is also part indictment of our general society, which chews people like Aileen Wuornos up and spits them out. Aside from her alleged rape (I only say alleged because Aileen was the only person left on Earth who knew the truth for sure about that particular event), one of the first truly sad scenes is the montage sequence where Aileen heads out looking for a job. First just seeing her dressed in a nice little outfit while looking terrifyingly rough is semi-comical, which might explain Jenkins once telling an interviewer the film was meant to be played as a lighthearted comedy with bits of the murders tossed in amongst everything else. Secondly, when Aileen then goes on to a law office where she hopes to get a secretarial job, the treatment she receives is downright appalling. Then when she freaks out, it’s as if she is being the unreasonable one, but the man provoked her into that behaviour, and furthermore we continue to see how the system is not designed for people like Aileen. One poignantly tragic moment is when Selby is being chastised about Aileen by her aunt, who basically says
Basically, a long and ruined life led Aileen to where she ended up. Having been used and abused most of her lifetime she wound up doing all she was ever conditioned to do: prostitute herself and sell her body. The saddest part to me is that one way or another, Aileen was likely to become a killer. Because if she didn’t willingly start killing men that she felt were assaulting or raping her then there’s still a high probability she would’ve likely, at some point in life, contracted HIV and spread it. Aileen wasn’t some high class escort, she lived on the street going from one situation to the next in desperation, so there’s a huge chance HIV would’ve come along. But the biggest, saddest irony lies in the fact that if Aileen was telling the truth about the original john she killed in the beginning, it’s likely this rape and assault which pushed her into killing the others, even if they never assaulted her themselves. Not to excuse her crimes, they are horrific and inexcusable. It just begs attention paid to the systemic abuse of low class prostitutes that are living dangerous lives on the fringe of society, no protection, barely any mind paid to their situations and their struggles. Eventually the levee has to break, somehow, somewhere down the line. Aileen represents one of the most perfect cases of a woman pushed too far. People want to act like a prostitute gets what she deserves, whatever that means, as if selling her body to survive and get through life effectively relegates her to a life of rape, torture, and all around terror. As if she asked for that. But Aileen asked for none of the life she was given. The title of this film accurately describes Wuornos, yet it has more than just the surface meaning that she is a monstrous person. This title refers further to the monster which society made her, the serial killing creature into which society molded her.
Obviously the most impressive piece of Monster is Theron. Not just the physical transformation, though that is perfect. She not only takes on the physical appearance of Wuornos, she also gets the mannerisms and the phrasing, everything, so dead on correct. If you’ve ever watched any of the documentary material on Aileen, specifically the films made by Nick Broomfield, you’ll find it undeniable how accurate Theron portrays this woman, from top the bottom. Emotionally, this role is heavy, and all the various traumas of Aileen are not easy to illustrate onscreen. Theron proves that empathy reigns supreme, as she crawls inside the skin of this woman, whose story is sad but still altogether scary to relate to. We do, though. We relate in the most unnerving of ways, and that isn’t solely on the writing by Jenkins, fleshing out many important moments in the later stages of Aileen’s days. Theron opens the door to that empathetic viewing, which ultimately makes Monster one of the more compelling films to look at a true story about a serial killer. Yes, there are graphic moments. Even those are tactfully written and handled with solid directorial choices on Jenkins’ part.
With Theron’s powerhouse acting talent this movie doesn’t have to linger totally on the murder, the blood, the rape, none of that. Instead those lie on the peripherals of the film, adding their touches lightly, as Jenkins chooses to focus on the emotional, sentimental aspects of Aileen’s life. In doing so, Theron is able to show off her skills, and the movie reaches a height many other biographical films concerning the hideous legacy of serial murderers often can’t manage to attain. This is a 5-star masterpiece of a crime film. Even better, it’s based in real life, the melodrama is almost non-existent. Not only is Monster one of the best films in the past 16 years, it is an excellent movie period. And Theron’s performance as Wuornos will forever go down in history as one of the greatest. She deserved and still deserves all the accolades heaped upon her for this role because it is tremendous. To make people care about someone who has killed, a bunch of people, is truly remarkable, and to bring forward some of the issues in this film is brave on both the part of Theron and writer-director Jenkins. Truly a phenomenal work of cinema.
Eraserhead. 1977. Directed & Written by David Lynch.
Starring Jack Nance, Charlotte Stewart, Allen Joseph, Jeanne Bates, Judith Roberts, Laurel Near, V. Phipps-Wilson, Jack Fisk, Jean Lange, Thomas Coulson, John Monez, Darwin Joston, T. Max Graham, Hal Landon Jr., & Jennifer Chambers Lynch. American Film Institute/Libra Films.
Rated R. 89 minutes.
One of my consistently favourite filmmakers is David Lynch. The first of his films I’d ever seen was Lost Highway. Then I moved to Blue Velvet, Wild At Heart, and finally went for Eraserhead, his groundbreaking and eternally confusing feature-length debut. This started out as one of those old late ’70s midnight movies, not expected to draw out a huge crowd. Until it did. Today, it’s one of the most talked about debuts of any film director in the history of film, right up there with Citizen Kane. More than that, and especially due to the coy attitude of Lynch, it has remained one of the most inexplicable, hard to pinpoint films ever made. While part of its mystery can sometimes piss me off, mostly it is impressive. Because many artists, film or otherwise, are so eager to let the world know what their art means. In opposition, directors like Lynch, Michael Haneke, Bruno Dumont, they challenge what we see as regular art by often defying any sort of ready made explanation. Not that there aren’t explanations. Likely, someone has guessed the meaning of Eraserhead, only Lynch prefers never to confirm, nor deny, and likes to let his audience determine meaning on their own. But to sit down and try extracting some type of definitive meanings from this movie is futile. Sure, like any great artistic experience there can be parallels, allusions, metaphors, many instances of symbolism. Here, though, Lynch keeps things just weird enough as to elude the easy grasp of definition. And in the process, properly disgusts, disturbs, as well as horrifies us on a physical and existential level all at once.
Obviously there are major portions of the film influenced by Lynch, his own personal fear of becoming a father, which also has to do with his daughter having trouble with clubbed feet after she was born. It’s easy to read this angle of Eraserhead. But there’s more than simply the fear of fatherhood. In our main character Henry Spencer (Jack Nance) is the overarching existential fear of life, the different phases, the various expectations which come along with it. Particularly when it comes to lower class living. Henry and his wife live in a veritable ghetto of industrialized America where the smokestacks rise up and spew their filth into the air, infecting both the atmosphere and the people surrounding it. So in a way, Lynch’s time in Philadelphia certainly plays a part in the story, and the bits of discernible plotline. The fear of giving birth to a mutant child is both a normal fear of fatherhood, as well as a fear of our external environments bleeding into the internal components of our life. As if all the fear and anxiety and horrible pollution of the outer world is expressed directly in Henry’s monster baby.
Above all, the fear of fatherhood is the fear of creating life. The fear of casting a new life you’ve made into the dark abyss of the modern world. All the terrors of becoming a parent by bringing life into a miserable world are on display; a dreary, filthy, industrially driven world that Lynch pushes forward both with the industrial city visuals, as well as the constant sound design of background sounds rattling and banging, the whistling of the radiator, a non-stop hum of white noise, the sounds of a partner’s teeth grinding in the night, an eye being rubbed as the socket bubbles around at the skin.
But the imagery concerning parenthood is downright frightening. First we see pups suckling at their mothers teets, the sound of them whining and sucking and trying hard to get at the milk is unnerving, as it’s right out in the open. Then there’s the baby itself, which is like an animal fetus and some sort of alien mixed together. Altogether a foreign object, as many children feel to parents after their birth; they feel unnatural, almost like a screeching little animal. Lynch personifies that sentiment here with a hideous, deformed creature.
And then later, one of the most significant fear of fatherhood images comes to us in the form of Henry’s head falling off, then erasers being mined from his brain. Whereas the pencil is the creator – a.k.a the penis, the organ which creates life – the brain is the eraser, in the sense that the brain is meant to be able to outwit the dick re: any big decisions, such as getting a woman pregnant, for instance. So, in effect, Henry’s eraserhead should have scrubbed clean the decision to have sex with Mary, clearly with reckless disregard, as it eventually led to the birth of a monster.
There are so many striking images in the film, it’s hard to pick one that is the most intriguing. The Man in the Planet by the window, pulling levers; a hideous, ugly god behind the scenes? Pulling levers in his sickly condition, running things below and putting people through the motions of their horrible lives in an industrial, almost toxic environment.
The man-made chickens – everything man made, including children, are bound to be fucked up in this Lynchian version of industrial Hell on Earth. So it’s no surprise there are some genetically modified, bloody chickens in here. As if to symbolize everything born is, at its core, a disgusting thing, from babies to chickens.
Finally, the image of the Lady in the Radiator onstage, singing, dancing, then stepping on the strange sperm-like creatures, maybe fetuses. This one is as striking as it is unsettling. My take is that this represents his inner mind, the voice speaking to him deep down. While she stomps on the strange fetuses, then sings “In Heaven everything is fine” this can be seen as the inner urge in Henry to kill his child; those dark, unmentionable feelings of wanting to shake a screaming child that’s disrupting life, making everything worse. As if in Heaven, the child will be fine. So stomp on it like those fetus things. And of course after dreaming of his head falling off and being mined for erasers, the Lady in the Radiator egging him on, Henry goes and kills the baby after removing its bandages. After Henry tries erasing his failed love life, but is effectively rejected, all his miserable failures are compounded by the laughing baby. He even sees himself as the hideous alien-like monster baby several times, once involving the woman across the hall with whom he imagined escaping the dreariness of his old life. So if he can’t figuratively erase that old life with Mary, the rest of his unhappy existence, he decides to be rid of the monster for good. That way, he also rids himself of the hideous part in him. But in doing so, Henry may just have killed the last remaining light in him, too, which is ultimately signified by the breakdown while he tries to kill it.
Yet after all is said and done, everything is fine for Henry, in Heaven, with the Radiator Lady. Because everything is fine, when you’re dead.
If there were maybe a few more concrete moments, Eraserhead would be flawless. While I love mystery and elusiveness, sometimes this movie gets frustrating, even as I love it to death, simply because there’s so much defying explanation. It is well filmed, acted with unsettling subtlety. The sound design and the mysterious of the imagery is all beyond compelling. A 4&1/2-star masterpiece of weirdness, that spans both a fantastical aspect, as well as a straight up examination of personal psychological horror. Do not think my explanation nor that of anyone else will get to the bottom of David Lynch’s debut masterpiece. Explanation, at least definitive and sure explanation, is basically futile. This experience is about taking away from it what you will, answering your own questions. Because Lynch only asks them, giving us the contents of his horrified mind in relation to the world around him through cryptic and usually eerie imagery. I’ve sat through this movie many a time and still can’t get a full grasp on it. Part of it makes me frustrated, yes. Most of it makes me happy to have a director and writer out there like Lynch, probing the dark heart of our cinematic minds one picture at a time.
Halloween II. 2009. Directed & Written by Rob Zombie.
Starring Scout Taylor-Compton, Brad Dourif, Malcolm McDowell, Tyler Mane, Dayton Callie, Richard Brake, Octavia Spencer, Danielle Harris, Margot Kidder, Sheri Moon Zombie, Chase Wright Vanek, & Caroline Williams. Dimension Films/Spectacle Entertainment Group/Trancas International Films.
Rated R. 105 minutes.
Rob Zombie is a take-him-or-leave-him-type director. You either love him, or can’t stand him. Much the same as with his music career. But for me, and I’m sure others, Zombie is one director whose entire film career feels like the last bastion of a time before too much CGI, too many remakes (yes; even though he’s done two Halloween flicks). He works like how many directors did during the late 1960s and the 1970s, focusing on performance, practical effects, instead of loading down his horror films with computer generated blood and watering it all down for public consumption. Even if you don’t like his movies, you have to admire the fact he lays it all out there. Particularly, The Devil’s Rejects and The Lords of Salem are my favourites, and are a great representation of how he goes for it, no matter the subject, themes, or style of the movie. He always leaves everything on the table and gives us to us in his typically Zombie-like fashion.
So then there’s Halloween II. Many people I know didn’t even enjoy the first one, the remake to Carpenter’s classic slasher from 1978. Me, I find this sequel to the remake endearing in its own ways. There are some pieces I don’t enjoy. But overall, there’s enough in this Zombie sequel to enjoy apart from the first Halloween II. It doesn’t come as a faithful remake. It’s a furthering of aspects in the Zombie version of Michael Myers. We dive deeper into the mind of the notorious slasher, and the almost supernatural element of Michael, one which came out later in the original series, is on display full force.
After the events of Halloween, Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) is left wounded. Both physically, and especially mentally. She’s living with Sheriff Lee Brackett (Brad Dourif) and his daughter Annie (Danielle Harris). They do their best to try and understand her, to try and help. But Laurie is damaged beyond belief.
Meanwhile, Dr. Samuel Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) is shopping his book around and making lots of money, getting famous. Although, people are wary of him, as they believe he’s profiting off the death of many.
And then there’s Michael Myers (Tyler Mane). He’s not dead, and the men transporting his dead body discover that. Michael, driven by visions of his dead mother Deborah (Sheri Moon Zombie), keeps looking for Laurie.
And he will find her. No matter who gets in the way.
One thing I do truly love about this sequel to the remake is that, like the original series as it went on, it really pushes the boundaries on Michael’s brutality. Later on in the original series, either in the fourth or fifth installment, Myers pushes his thumb through a person’s head. Even in John Carpenter’s original classic, his power is displayed pretty clearly with him picking up a teenager and pinning him to the wall with his knife. But here in the new Halloween II, Zombie almost goes further. In the opening 20 minute sequence there is some savagery. A nasty decapitation. Lots of raw, brutal force from Myers, as he starts to murder his way back into Haddonfield, one corpse at a time.
Many people, it seems, had a problem with the backstory to Michael with Zombie’s remake to start. I understand that. Some fans of the franchise just like Michael as this faceless entity. My argument is that, had Zombie not changed anything and done the same thing, people would likely have ragged on him for copying Carpenter. Instead, Zombie brings a fresh face, literally, to Myers. He gives him humanity, but takes it away. He makes Michael human to make him a monster, an even more vicious killer than the original (even though I love Carpenter’s film most). We even get him wandering around sans-mask, which some of course cried sacrilege over. I dig it because that sets him apart as Zombie’s own character, as opposed to a simply copy of Carpenter.
There is a further brutal nature to Michael when he’s this person that became a unrelenting killer instead of just The Shape. So an extension of this version is that psychology plays a big part in what Michael becomes, who he is as the unstoppable serial killer. The whole white horse deal I found a bit of fun. And I like how Laurie, in her trauma, starts having the same vision of her mother. Very eerie, and supernatural without quite being supernatural. It’s like a fever dream.
Now, I don’t dig that the same kid didn’t play young Michael. It was really off-putting. Not only because they’re definitely different looking (and yes I understand the real actor likely changed a good deal in between the films), but the original actor Daeg Faerch has a very perfect charisma and style for the character. So that’s one of the aspects of this movie that truly disappointed me. The actor here didn’t fit the role and his intensity is starkly different, so the flow of this film with the remake is a bit shaky.
I’m back and forth on Laurie as a character in this movie. Her trauma is very real, I don’t doubt she would be a woman torn apart after the events she’d experienced. However, the writing on Zombie’s part makes her so whiny and just too unlikeable. The way she treats her best friend, Annie, who went through lots of trauma herself, is difficult to reconcile. Maybe that was the intention. But still, it actually annoys me, Scout Taylor-Compton makes me hate her and I didn’t during the first one. I can appreciate characters who are despicable, et cetera, this only serves as a way to make me feel like fast forwarding. And I’m already in the minority of people who actually dig this flick.
In the acting department, what saves Halloween II is the fact Brad Dourif, Daniel Harris, and Malcolm McDowell give us pretty good performances in their respective roles.
Dourif is always a treat, especially when given the proper material. His Sheriff Brackett is even better than Charles Cyphers in the first two original Halloween films. I love the way Zombie writes characters, and it shines with Brackett. Performed by Dourif it is a dream. The whole Lee Marvin bit is some of my favourite banter from any recent horror. So funny, even funnier that the girls have no idea about Lee Marvin, nor do they get the barn part of the joke. Just a great sequence. Dourif and Harris are great as a father-daughter combo. Harris herself is a Halloween veteran. Here, as a grown woman, she does a nice job in the tragic role she plays. Her energy is what’s enjoyable, even in films that aren’t so great. But the Annie Brackett she plays is equally as fun as Nancy Kyes (billed as Nancy Loomis). Harris doesn’t get a huge part before the fate she runs into, but what we get is solid.
Finally, it’s McDowell as Dr. Loomis that I enjoy most. I will always love Donald Pleasence and his portrayal above anything in any of the films, truly. He was amazing. What I enjoy here is how Zombie writes Loomis as a fame-whore, a guy who just wants another shot at being well-known, at money and glamour. As opposed to the original, Loomis here is an opportunist, who only after it’s too late realizes the error in his ways. So with McDowell acting his ass off and bringing this new vision of the doctor to life, it’s a ton of fun. Some of the dialogue with his assistant is downright hilarious. But it’s the tragedy of this character, the blind ignorance, which really sells it. McDowell was made for this role, too. He has all the right range to play a man who’s got this saccharine sweetness about him in public and, when pushed, a bitter rage that comes out.
With warts and all, I give Zombie’s second Halloween a 3&1/2-star rating. There is a great dose of horror and terror within. Not all of Zombie’s writing is on par here with the first, or some of his other work. Nevertheless, he gives us a version of the Michael Myers tale that doesn’t try and straight-up adapt the original sequel (apart from a nice dreamy sequence in the beginning). The brutality of Myers is always evident, as is the trauma that his serial killing rampaging has caused. Although the script could’ve been better, I still thought Zombie did some interesting things, as well as brought the savagery required to make this worthy of a watch.
Żuławski's 1981 shocker POSSESSION is a definite, grim bit of horror. It also serves a metaphor for several things; least of which is not the power of male jealousy.
Victor Frankenstein. 2015. Directed by Paul McGuigan. Screenplay by Max Landis.
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, James McAvoy, Jessica Brown Findlay, Bronson Webb, Daniel Mays, Spencer Wilding, Robin Pearce, Andrew Scott, & Callum Turner. Davis Entertainment/TSG Entertainment/MPC/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.
Rated PG. 110 minutes.
As a fan of Mary Shelley’s groundbreaking novel Frankenstein, the various adaptations throughout the years, as well as stories giving homage to the original while taking liberties with its thematic elements, are always of interest to me. Then there’s Paul McGuigan who was announced to direct this film, which grabbed my attention. I love several of his movies, most of all Gangster No. 1 and the underrated Willem Dafoe-starred The Reckoning, so to imagine him doing some sort of retelling of this science fiction/horror classic seemed exciting. However, in comes Max Landis. He’s a guy many enjoy hating, but I don’t, I never enjoy disliking anybody. It isn’t because of his attitude so much as it’s a disdain for his narcissism in light of his abilities as a writer. He constantly blames studios and anyone else other than himself for the failure of the films he writes to make big box office numbers. His screenplays are often cliche-ridden, though, somehow he insists on being this original thinker of some sort. To be honest, Chronicle and Deer Woman (a short for Masters of Horror directed by his father John Landis) are the only things of his I’ve felt were actually top notch – the former an awesome subversion of the superhero genre, the latter a hilarious take on horror and folklore mixed into one. Unfortunately, the writing in Victor Frankenstein is no better, and it is one of the biggest problems of the film. With a creepy monster that is certainly unique in its own right, a couple good performances (most of all Daniel Radcliffe), this could’ve been a retelling that worked. Only the writing drags this down to a barely mediocre romp through beat down territory, masquerading as if it’s something better.
The look of the film is certainly dark and full of wonder. McGuigan and D.P. Fabian Wagner certainly capture a gritty aesthetic, which helps a great deal. If this looked like any other period piece I wouldn’t have much to enjoy. Particularly, I love some of the gruesome imagery when Victor and Igor are first trying to bring things back to life. The monkey thing they manage to resurrect, then have trouble with, is downright terrifying! Dig it, so hard. Even the body parts Igor works on, as Victor brings them to him “piecemeal”, are nasty and hideous to look at. These elements really take us to the time, like sitting in on the early days of modern technique in medicine. Overall, though, it’s the dreary and bleak aesthetic, the creepy atmosphere and dreadful tone which makes the look and feel of Victor Frankenstein the best part of this whole experience. Lots of nice looking visuals, on the opposite end of the spectrum there are all the shadowy and also disturbing scenes/shots. These two opposing elements make the film great to look at. The sound design and the score are also well worth their work, I really liked the music – favourite part is the piece playing when Igor finds Victor in the massive lab working on resurrecting his Prometheus; lots of good horns, of which I’m a fan.
Max Landis can harp on all he wants about this movie not succeeding as well as planned. Ultimately, his supposed knack for writing eludes me. I was a huge fan of Chronicle, still am. Other than that I’m not exactly sure why anybody thinks he’s anything special. Not trying to rag on the guy. I’m a published author in the short story realm, I know it isn’t easy. But he simply can’t take any criticism, or else you’re labeled someone who “doesn’t get it”, or whatever. Case and point re: his poor writing, some of the quips Victor makes throughout the film are impressively lame. Such as the whole “It‘s alive” scene when the success arrives. I get it, Landis tries to be oh-so-clever and subvert a well-known scene concerning Frankenstein. It simply doesn’t fly, it is lame and he can do better than that. Another thing I don’t like is the tone. At times there’s a playfulness which detracts from all the darkness; the dark I love, Landis pulls out the grittiness of the period, especially all the horrors of burgeoning medical practices (think: draining of abscess). I’m not opposed to comedy. There’s a time and a place for it, and Landis forgets each of those things.
In many parts, Victor Frankenstein is a fun amalgamation of Mary Shelley’s original novel, as well as both the 1931 film Frankenstein and its 1935 sequel The Bride of Frankenstein. The reason it falls short is because there are too many reaching qualities that never get where they intend to go. First, there’s the heavy handed in vitro fertilization remark Landis tosses in, as if Victor is some champion of women. Only that’s just a one-off bit of dialogue for Victor to spout instead of it playing further into his advances in modern medicine (maybe Landis is trying to boost his credibility with women; who knows). The screenplay could’ve done something with this bit, instead it comes out to make Victor look crude instead of it being a testament to his visionary qualities. Second reason for this movie’s failure to be what it ought to – another movie that has an artificial, manufactured love story tossed into the middle of it. While the Kenneth Branagh directed Frankenstein did have a love interest that part of the story helped to further the torment of Frankenstein’s creature, the relationship in this screenplay only serves to fill in spots where nothing else is happening. Really, I don’t understand why so many movies have to include a love angle, as if it’s written into the rulebook somewhere. If it’s organic, sure, but why does there have to be one in here? Why does Igor have to fall for a woman in order for us to watch him develop? Yes, he’s living life now outside of the circus and everything is different. There are enough things going on, though, and adding the love interest in only muddies things, taking away from the main relationship between Igor and Victor. The bit of time spent on this other relationship could’ve been spent strengthening everything else happening.
The finale is exciting, if you like loud bangs and sparks flying, yells, those types of things. Other than that I wasn’t too impressed. This is a 3-star film at best. Shelley’s original story is one I love, and there are absolutely some excellent revisions here, making parts of the film fun. But in the end, Victor Frankenstein has tonal issues and drags on due to a lack of focus. The efforts of McAvoy and Radcliffe are not enough to save this picture, which is too bad because they are talented actors with plenty to offer. Everyone here tries, I can’t even fault Landis for not trying. Simply put, a swing and a miss. Entertaining enough to watch some night with the lights down low, but don’t expect any sort of classic in the making. Because this is only a relatively decent popcorn flick.