Archive for the ‘Television’ Category

Another

Posted: October 23, 2012 by crowbait in Reviews, Television

An anime released in January of 2012, Another tells the mystery horror story of a cursed town, ghostly murders, broken dolls and ponderously slow speech.

Koichi is a boy who has moved from Tokyo to spend the school year in Yomiyama. Unfortunately, there is a terrible secret related to his class. 26 years ago a popular student passed away and to cope with the loss the class made a game of pretending he was still there. The ghost of the student accepted the invitation and appeared in the photographs of the graduating class. Ever since then a door to the lands of the dead has been open to the 9th grade class 3.

After the start of every school year, an extra student arrives; Another. This student is the incarnate ghost of a local who died violently or under mysterious circumstances. The trouble is that having a dead person in the class room brings death closer to all of the other students while the ghost is among them. The students and their families and close friends are all in danger of death by horrible accidents or unpredictable madness. The curse also causes memories to become confused so that no one is able to identify the ghost and even the ghost doesn’t realize that she is already dead.

Over the years several attempts have been made to thwart the curse (such as renaming the classes) but the only effective means of evading the calamities has been to “make room” for the ghost by choosing a student whom everyone will ignore, a student who will not exist for the year. This satisfies the ghost and prevents the death and destruction that would otherwise occur.

Koichi joins the class late owing to illness and misses the briefing about curses, ghosts, and the nonexistent student. His classmates hem and haw, and before they can warn him, Koichi decides that he wants to be friends with Mei, the silent creepy girl with an eyepatch who always sits by herself. Obviously, he has chosen this year’s nonexistent to be his pal and his actions will ruin the countermeasures that prevent the curse. Or has he?

The story twists its way through many horror concepts including human dolls, parental neglect, doppelgangers, and the secret connections that Koichi has to the history of the town. As Koichi explores these mysteries, the calamity proceeds and the body count grows. Slowly the tale changes into a weird whodunnit as the students try to find who is really the ghost among them.

With the emphasis on slowly. That is the downfall of the series.

Boy, Koichi. You sure know how to pick ’em.

The story of Another is that of a novel stretched to cover an entire 13 episode series. Sub-plots are introduced but as they are dropped or fade into obscurity it becomes obvious that they were just to provide padding. Even at the story’s climax, with a hotel burning to the ground around them and the panicked students turning on one another in desperation, our protagonists amble slowly through the carnage and ask one another halting questions that are answered One. Syl. La. Ble. At. A. Time. so that there is opportunity for an interruption that will prolong the events of the story into yet another episode.

The cast is sizable, with a core group of 6 students and another dozen incidental characters drifting in and then meeting a grisly end. Even with this large group of teenagers and high school “classifications” to explore, huge amounts of time are devoted to Koichi and Mei who are the most bland of the cast. Mei is pale, dresses in black, her eyepatch covers an artificial eye of a mismatched color with her natural eye and she never speaks in anything more than a whisper. Even if there were no curse, I expect that the rest of the class would ignore her to death anyway. Koichi is sufficiently clueless to prolong the plot; never picking up on a hint from the girls who might actually be interested in him and trailing after the most damaged girl in town, fascinated by how absolutely f-ed up she is.

In their limited time the other characters do manage to grow beyond being “the nerd, the jock, and the tough girl,” though some remain one-dimensional. The characters are all well treated and the story and animation actively avoid any sexualization of the teenage cast, going to far as to defy the laws of physics to keep a skirt in place during one student’s death plunge. One male character has some feminine mannerisms but he is never stereotyped and his orientation remains a non-issue.

The art is well done though some characters become ambiguous in appearance, so that you can only tell them apart by hairstyles and eye color. As the story comes to involve elements of mistaken identity, the ambiguity may even be intended as a feature. Animation remains consistently good throughout the series, showing the budget was well planned to prevent any drop in quality near the end of production. There are some flashes of animated brilliance reserved for the death scenes and even a brief dance number. Early in the series scene transitions are punctuated by insert shots to dolls in elaborate dresses and inhuman poses but this device drops out partway through the series and is never really explained.

Watching subtitled, I found the Japanese voice actors good, though the typical “tough guy” teenager always sounds like he’s been held back about 5 years and Mei’s only direction is to be gloomy so there’s little to expect from her. Music features the suitably creepy soundscapes of weirdly altered and electronic instrument sounds and long sustained tones pad out the cavernous gaps between the character’s lines of dialog.

You’re all going to die down here. Of boredom!

If the show were not so glacial in story progression I would be able to recommend it for its consistently good art, creepy atmosphere and brutal kills. As it is though, you’re probably better off looking for the live-action movie; short-form media will force the writers to abandon the constant cliff-hanger and shocker endings of the episodes.

Love Bites – Day4 – Ultraviolet

Posted: February 6, 2012 by crowbait in Reviews, Television

Buffy the Vampire Slayer wasn’t just a hit on American TV but became an important property for British television where it sparked a small renaissance of horror-themed entertainment. Writer/director Joe Ahearne brought Ultraviolet, his take on the vampire television series to Channel 4, the other, other British television station.¬†His series was to be a sharp contrast to the teen drama and humor of Buffy, deadly serious with the vampires as cultured monsters on the verge of a scientific breakthrough that would allow them to take over the world. Opposing them was a secret force made up of veterans and survivors. Supported by the Vatican and lead by a defrocked priest, they hunt “code 5’s” with carbon tipped bullets.

The series primarily followed Michael Colefield, a police detective. His friend Jack goes missing on the eve of his wedding and his fiance, formerly Michael’s girlfriend, begs him to find Jack. When Michael tracks down Jack, he is in the company of strange criminals who soon reveal themselves to be vampires and come for Michael’s blood. He is saved by Father Harman’s team of hunters and drafted into the secretive human/code 5 war.

The stories of the episodes were often grim and challenging: Revenge and murder, medical experimentation, child molestation. Post traumatic stress and loss had warped or ruined the lives of each of the vampire hunters. In the end, betrayal dashes any hope of a peaceful reconciliation and the war between the living and the undead is unavoidable.

Ahearne had big plans for the continuation of the series, considering the first season as a set up to the conflict with the vampire forces and opportunities to explore and expand the backstory of the minor characters. Yet, even after the success Channel 4 was slow to renew. It was less risky to just import and rerun more episodes of Buffy. When they finally decided that they would purchase a second series, it was too late. The cast had moved on to other shows and contracts and all continuity with the previous story would have been lost. What might have been for Ultraviolet never was.

Our fearless Code V(ampire) hunters. No one’s really excited about the prom.

Though the style of the show is extremely dated to modern viewers and in some places the low budget and unrefined CGI mar a scene, it is well worth a watching in the same way one would enjoy some of the early episodes of The X-Files. With only 6 episodes, it’s a series that could be polished off in a long afternoon. Though the character of Jack’s fiance is tooth-grindingly obnoxious, Idris Elba as Vaughn, the ex-soldier who has survived both war and vampires, is a very affecting character with some excellent scenes.

31/31 Day 28 – Higurashi; When They Cry

Posted: October 28, 2011 by crowbait in Reviews, Television

Higurashi; When They Cry is a unique property. A series of interconnected horror stories of murder and mayhem in a small Japanese town but set over the same time span so that, like the film Groundhog Day, the story is told and retold as variations on a theme. A group of middle school friends uncover evil spirits in their town and then turn on one another to murder and mutilate. Over and over.cover from Higurashi sound novel

This series began as “sound novels,” a name coined to describe illustrated novels that were distributed on media for a game console. The series consisted of eight stories with a structure of retelling the first four from a different character’s perspective in the second set. The property was a success in this format and spun off into manga (comic books) and an animated tv series of 26 episodes which I review here.

The story begins with Keiichi, a city boy who has recently arrived in the tiny rural town of Hinamizawa. He is quickly befriended by four of the local girls and is press-ganged into their card and board game club. The characters and overall tone are extremely cutesy, with much humor revolving around the girls embarrassing each other in front of the only boy in their group and the style of art shifting as well to a more wacky cartoon style to emphasize these scenes. Though this setup is similar to the “harem” style of anime shows in which a single male is surrounded by a group of attractive girls competing for his affections, When They Cry’s cast are young and innocent so that the romantic tensions are more about infatuations or crushes rather than the sexual tensions of other shows in the sub-genre.

The friendly fun and games only last so long and soon Keiichi stumbles onto a mystery. Years ago a murder and disappearance occurred during a local festival honoring Oyashiro, the patron spirit of the town. A government plan to redirect a river would have required that the entire town relocate but the town was spared as support for the project dropped when the strongest proponents went missing and one was found murdered. Keiichi becomes fascinated by the killing and starts asking questions until even a local police detective is interested in what he has uncovered.

Things start out fine . . .

As he digs deeper we find that each of the girls has lost family to strange disappearances or even murder in the past and always around the time of the annual festival. This “cotton drifting festival” pays tribute to ancient times when those who had offended the demonic entities were tortured and sacrificed and the more Keiichi probes into the past the more violence and vanishings are found to surround the festival. At the same time the girls become more angry and aggressive. They constantly remind him about Satoshi, the boy who used to be their friend who was “transferred” a year ago after he startled asking questions about the disappearances. Their comments become more and more threatening and after Keiichi finds a needle in a rice ball given to him by Rena, he fears for his life.

A strange van almost runs him off the road, Rena faces off against him with the beaked hatchet that became the signature implement of the first season, the girl’s eyes twist into cat-like pupils, the police detective has gone missing, and finally two of the girls corner him when his parents are out, stab him with a syringe and he awakes to find he has beaten all his friends to death with a baseball bat. Despondent, he flees from the scene and calls the police. He is immediately connected with the detective who now has no recollection of him. Feeling himself hounded by the demon, Keiichi tears his own throat open and bleeds out in the phone booth. The cotton drifting festival has again exacted its terrible toll on the village.

but soon they go from bad . . .

And then . . . The story “resets” itself. The murdered characters are alive and well. It’s a few days before the festival and a new story plays out over the same span. This is the most bizarre feature of When They Cry; each 4 episodes is a complete story arc featuring the same characters but leading toward another violent end. In a few scenes a character will seem somehow aware of the deja vu of the situation or recognize a character from another timeline but each story diverges into a new series of strange disappearances and brutal killings.

Iterations may shed some light on the background of the town and history of events, such as the nature of the town’s patron spirit or the relationships of major characters to the victims lost in the previous year’s slayings. At the same time some “facts” are obscured or altered, such as the appearance of an unknown twin sister, a missing brother, or the involvement of a shady criminal or government organization. Each new story however leads to a more gruesome end than the last. Characters will be brutalized with baseball bats, stabbed with ceremonial tools, have nails driven through all the joints of their fingers and commit suicide with a butcher knife in an unexpected and novel way. The demon of Oyashiro demands sacrifice and one way or another, he will have it.

to worse.

When They Cry is currently out of print and the DVD rights have passed to a new distributor so it may be some time until the series is easily available again. (There is some hope now as the original sound novels have been rereleased for the iPad this past year.) The cartoony appearance, simpering voices and embarrassing situations of the character’s pre-disaster lives will probably not be to the taste of gore hounds but the levels of depraved violence and horrific suicide perpetrated by pre-teen cartoon characters demands a viewer who can enjoy such madness. Like most anime, the imbalance of budget shows through and the first episodes are more well crafted than the last few of the season as time and budget wore thin. The translated voice acting is good with a few dud lines, mostly in the inner narration of Keiichi as he rehashes the obvious. It’s a hard sell for many who are not already fans of the genre but I would recommend giving When They Crya view if you have the option. Just be aware that this is a series that will challenge you intellectually with its winding plot threads just as it forces you to make a gut check again and again as the dearest, sweetest, most angelic little girls in the world eviscerate one another in an unending loop.

31/31 – Day 12 Doctor Who: Horror of Fang Rock

Posted: October 12, 2011 by crowbait in Reviews, Television

The best part of time travel is that you can really do just about anything. It’s a boon to writers because they can freely shift from genre to genre and mood to mood so long as they have the anchor of a steady, or even just semi-steady character to base it all around. Seeing the new crop of horror and sci-fi TV series sent me into a nostalgic mood and I began to think about what was horror television for me growing up. Of course, it was Doctor Who.

Doctor Who Horror of Fang Rock

Don't be scared; it's only a model.

The now “classic” series that ran from the late 60’s into the 90’s and in particular the 4th incarnation of the lead role, played by Tom Baker. For a few seasons the series went in a very dark direction with stories focused on whodunits and lurking murderous monsters. This became know as the “gothic horror” period in the show’s history and was the target of much outcry from so-called watchdog groups that wanted to force censorship on the creators for their frightening and violent content. By today’s standards this is Saturday morning viewing but it was enough to terrify little me.

A fine example of these horror themed episodes is the aptly named “Horror of Fang Rock” written by favorite script editor and writer, Terrance Dicks. A shape shifting monster falls from the sky in a crashing spaceship onto the shores of a desolate island with a lighthouse as its sole feature. The keepers of the lighthouse are electrocuted and their bodies hauled away, at first so that the creature can dissect them to learn about human appearance and weakness but later so that it can assume their forms and stalk other prey from within the lighthouse.

A group of gentlemen and their traveling companions run aground on the rocks while the creature draws the power of the lighthouse generators. They carry their own enmities and secrets and soon turn on one another, blaming each other for the disappearances and deaths. A fresh group of victims for the monster.

Fog shrouded island, the gloomy sound of the foghorn, the old salt’s ghost stories of a beast on the rocks, lantern lit excursions into the darkness, and a beast that hunts them down. Perfect premise for any gothic horror story from the earliest days of cinema to modern television. It’s easy to see parallels from the days of 50’s monster flicks all the way to the forthcoming prequel to The Thing.

But then the Doctor is there with his kindly meddling and unflappable attitude. He recognizes the alien menace and sets about finding a way to destroy it. The Doctor’s character is often the only thing that lifts a story out of the horror genre and brings in the science fantasy of other more adventurous stories.

Despite the memories of many fans that the Doctor is a pacifist and ever optimistic in this particular story he cracks nary a smile and instead quotes from the poem Flannen Isle¬†by Wilfred Wilson Gibson about the eerie disappearance of a lighthouse crew, the original inspiration for Dicks’s script. By the end he has constructed a makeshift blunderbuss and used it to blast the gelatinous alien and then converted the lighthouse lamp into a laser cannon that destroys the alien’s backup forces as they attempt to land. Grim to the end, the Doctor and traveling companion Leela are the only survivors. The seven other characters in the story have been electrocuted or thrown into the sea, one by one.

Horror themed television is still something of a rarity and it seems that only one or two shows can be sustained by an audience at once and we’ll see if The Walking Dead or American Horror Story can gain the traction of The X-Files or Fringe. Science fiction or science fantasy will broaden their appeal but any TV about monsters, ghosts and inhuman conspiracies is, deep in its heart, a horror show.

31/31 – Day 7: American Horror Story 1.1

Posted: October 7, 2011 by StayFrosty in Reviews, Television

We just finished the first episode of the new show on FX, “American Horror Story”.¬† It’s been a long time since there’s been any kind of horror series on TV, and we were excited to see if it lived up to its creepy, weird previews.¬† Here are our thoughts after the first episode:

Crowbait: The long form horror story is a challenge on television. Horror is a niche audience and few TV series have successfully gained and kept the momentum to carry a true horror story through. In this time when “The Walking Dead” has drawn a good crowd and a second season, now is the chance for a new property to strike. The creators of the show are pulling no punches. Free swearing children, male nudity(from behind,) fetishistic sex and bloody violence are already common in the show. The tropes of traditional gothic stories are also prominent. Deformities by injury or birth defect, corruption of innocence or faith, sexual deviancy and the constant intrusion of the supernatural on the mundane world. These have been the hallmarks of gothic horror since Horace Wallpole’s or John Polidori’s novels.

Jenny Dreadful:¬†Going at least a decade without cable TV now, I love it and use the television for films and video games happily. ¬†With DVD sets, streaming and downloads of the very few shows I do adore (Doctor Who, Being Human, Dexter), I don’t miss television programming one bit. ¬†Oh dear. ¬†Maybe that will change?

Horror shows are not common these days. ¬†Attempts to recreate the horror anthology series have come and gone. ¬†Shows with horror themes like monsters and murder are usually sexy dramas or procedurals rather than straight up scares. ¬†It’s no sure thing so early, but American Horror Story may be the show I’m waiting for.

We enjoyed the first episode quite a bit. ¬†I could do without the magical psychic girl with Downs and occasional B-movie jump-cuts, but I was sad to see the credits roll. ¬†I want more. ¬†The imagery is beautiful and the mood is creepy. (Look at the design of that poster. ¬†Wow!) ¬†The Lynch-style plot threads they’re setting up are intriguing, eerie and sexy in equal measure and seeing Jessica Lange in the cast is a pleasant surprise. (She still has the teeth I remember. ¬†Damn, lady.) ¬†What else? ¬†Oh. ¬†And a latex gimp suit is haunted. ¬†You heard me.

I’m in. At least until next week.

StayFrosty: ¬† My partners in FGSG have covered much of what I would say, so I’ll keep it short here.¬† A weekly horror show is a tough sell, and even tougher to maintain.¬† How do you keep the story, mood and atmosphere moving throughout a whole season?¬† How do you keep it from being just a jump scare-fest?¬† So far, American Horror Story seems to have to right idea, leaning more toward David Lynch’s vibe of heavy mood and twisting (and twisted) storylines.¬† Not everything makes sense right away, but that’s part of the fun, and part of what makes you want to come back from week to week.¬† I enjoy that many of the story threads aren’t pushed or overstated (a few lines hint at much¬† more history between characters but aren’t overplayed).¬† The cast seems like a good mix, and everyone so far is pulling their weight.¬† It’s not surprising that¬† Jessica Lange steals every scene she’s in.¬† I’m enjoying the mix of styles and looking forward to next week.¬† You have my attention, AHS.¬† Let’s see where you go next week.

DVD Releases, May 3, 2011

Posted: May 3, 2011 by Jenny Dreadful in Film, News, Television

What’s new in horror this week? Monsters, angst and silly versus matches mostly. (You’ll see) Fortunately, it’s not difficult to pick my recommendation. A copy is already on its way to me from Amazon. That’s how hard I recommend it. Here’s a clue:

The principal cast of Being Human. I don't know where this photo came from, but it is posted here because it is totally hot. The ladies of Final Girl Support Group approve this message.

My Recommendation this week:
Being Human: Season 3

If you’re not caught up with the series up to this point and are worried about spoilers, there are some in the synopsis and a minor one in the trailer.

While Annie the ghost waits in purgatory to learn her fate, her supernatural friends- Mitchell the vampire and werewolves George and Nina-settle into their new home in Wales, hoping for a fresh start at living normal lives. Brace yourself for out-of-this-world adventure when Mitchell decides to rescue Annie. All eight new episodes in the hit BBC series, starring Aidan Turner, Russell Tovey and Lenora Crichlow. Many extras.

If you haven’t seen Being Human, we highly recommend picking up the first season and giving it a try. No, turn off the SyFy channel! Not that American travesty. The British version.

So it sounds like the beginning of a joke. Three monsters share a flat. A werewolf, a ghost and a vampire. Understanding the basic premise ahead of time, we expected a goofy comedy series when we first pressed play. We were surprised by the incredibly likable trio of housemates with their angst, their levity… a supernatural face on familiar human issues like addiction, depression, mania, friendship, love… emotional ups and downs that get under your skin. ¬†And… well… there are monsters battling of course. Before I knew it, I was a a devoted fan and I’m desperate to see more after Season 2’s finale. Today is a good day.

(Plus, one of the episodes in Season 2 scared the crap out of me. Well done, Being Human. Well done.)

More DVD titles released today:
Bonnie & Clyde vs Dracula

In the City of Angels there exists an entire world beneath Hollywood -the Gangs. When the Bloods and Salvadorians start encroaching into theirneighborhood, the local gang fights back. But as the violence escalatesinnocent by-standers start to become the victims. One unlucky night ayuppie couple wanders into the wrong neighborhood at the wrong time andpay the ultimate price. Now the victim becomes the hunter as one manjourneys into the violent and unforgiving underbelly of Los Angeles andrips open the wounds where loyalty is decided by the color of your skin,where pain is part of growing up and violence and mayhem rule. Can hesurvive or become another statistic?

Bound by Blood: Wendigo

For Hundreds of years, Native American culture has believed in the evil cannibalistic spirit know as ‚Äúthe Wendigo‚ÄĚ. For those who had taken part in cannibalism, no matter the reason, it was said ‚Äúthe Wendigo‚ÄĚ would then take possession of the person‚Äôs body and soul. Once the Wendigo would take possession of the human host, the host would develop and insatiable desire to eat human flesh.

In the deep woods of Northern Pennsylvania, A small town sheriff is investigating a bloody crime scene. On the scene, he meets beautiful Angeni Stonechild , a traveling physician doing work in the area. During the investigation, the two stumble upon FBI Agents, two individuals under their witness protection program, dead bodies, and a whole slew of hired hitmen out to ensure the witnesses never make it to trial. With a trail of mutilated bodies piling up, the sheriff and Angeni must not only confront the dangerous assassins but also find away to destroy….the Wendigo!

Forget Me Not

It’s graduation weekend, and Sandy Channing, the popular class president of her small-town high school, should be enjoying the time of her life. But when her friends start disappearing, Sandy discovers they have unwittingly awakened the vengeful spirit of a girl they wronged long ago. Fighting for her sanity and her life, Sandy must unlock a dark secret from her own past before it’s too late.

Midnight Movie: The Killer Cut

A midnight screening of a 1970s cult horror film becomes a bloodbath after the members of the audience see one of their friends butchered on the big screen, and quickly surmise that there’s a madman in the theater who seeks to slaughter them all.

Ninjas vs Vampires

Moments after down-on-his-luck Aaron is rejected by the girl of his dreams, they both are attacked by blood sucking VAMPIRES. Driven to save her, Aaron tracks down the mysterious NINJAS, who wage a nightly war against the forces of darkness. Now, as the Vampire overlord Seth plots to destroy Mankind, Aaron has only one choice – join the ninjas, save the world, and get the girl… or die trying.

Elvira is you.

Posted: October 21, 2010 by Jenny Dreadful in News, Television

Not having cable TV, I wasn’t familiar with this “I’m you” ad campaign from Christine O’Donnell. I bet a bunch of you have seen it, though, and here’s a parody video from famous horror hostess, Elvira.

PS: Werewolf of Washington is a pretty fun watch if you want to see a younger Dean Stockwell terrorize D.C.

September Horror Line-up

Posted: September 1, 2010 by Jenny Dreadful in Film, News, Television

Jenny Dreadful here. It’s September 1st. What can we expect from this month in horror? (Dates reflect USA release schedule)

Resident Evil: Afterlife

Opens in theaters September 10th. Say what you will about the quality of this series, we love to see beautiful and powerful ladies punching monsters. How many action/horror titles feature such strong female characters? Not many. I should also disclose that I’m totally a geek for the original games. ¬†I’m pretty excited about the references I see in these trailers. I’ll be there! http://www.residentevil-movie.com/

Devil:

Opens in theaters September 17th. If I have to see this trailer in the theater one more time, I think I’m gonna scream. They’re pushing this one really hard… resulting in a chorus of disappointed groans nationwide when the M. Night name appears on-screen. With that said, the premise does look interesting. I’m not expecting much, but will be sure to read reviews when the release is closer. http://www.thenightchronicles.com/devil/

Being Human – Series 2:

Coming to DVD September 21st. If you haven’t seen this British show yet, it’s worth checking out. We’re working our way through the first season still, but it’s been lots of fun. A vampire, a werewolf and a ghost share an apartment. No really. One part room-mate comedy, one part horror and one part angst. It’s better than it sounds and very hard to turn off. ¬†http://www.bbc.co.uk/beinghuman/

Buried:

Opens in theaters September 24th. We’ve been excited about this one all year. It’s been a festival hit and reviews within the horror community have been stellar. If rumors are true, this could be one of best horror films of the year. Looking forward to it. http://experienceburied.com/

Frozen:

Coming to DVD September 28th. We saw this film on Valentine’s Day. It was very romantic. As silly as “three people abandoned on a ski-lift” may sound, the result is terrifying. I know I’ll be grabbing this dvd for my collection. Highly recommended. http://www.frozen-film.com/

The Killer Inside Me:

Coming to DVD September 28th. An adaptation of a crime novel by Jim Thompson. We can’t tell you much more about this one. Supposed to be fairly brutal. Reviews are mixed. Will certainly view it at some point and report back. http://killerinsideme.com/

Nightmares in Red, White & Blue:

Coming to DVD September 28th. A documentary about American horror films narrated by Lance Henriksen? Sign us up! Can’t wait. http://www.nightmaresinredwhiteandblue.com/

There are certainly many straight-to-video options due to be released, but I have to stop somewhere. Any thoughts about these upcoming films? If I had to pick one, my money’s on Buried. What are you the most excited about?