Sunday, January 30, 2022

Wings, S02E3, "A Little Nightmare Music"

As disembarking passengers enter the terminal at Tom Nevers Field, Helen recognizes one as Edward Tinsdale, the famous conductor of the Minneapolis Philharmonic. At the behest of Joe and Brian, Helen returns Tinsdale’s “lost” luggage to him and asks for an impromptu audition in order to gauge her development as a cellist. Alas, the great man’s cutting feedback is hard for Helen to hear. Distraught, Helen reevaluates her life, wondering if all the years of practice she’s put into her music were worth it.

Meanwhile, Faye is practicing for her turn as “Madame Zorco - Fortune Teller” at the annual V.F.W. carnival. One of Faye’s…er…Madame Zorco’s predictions comes true for Lowell, so naturally Roy wants his fortune read, as well. Alas (there’s a lot of alasing in this episode), the cards determine that Roy’s future isn’t as rosy as Lowell’s.

Will Helen give up the cello? Will Roy’s luck ever turn around? What noise does Poppo the Clown’s stomach make when he gets socked in it?

So many questions!

Edward Tinsdale is played by the one and only David Ogden Stiers. Television fans will recognize him as Major Charles Emerson Winchester III from M*A*S*H. His fussy and stodgey manner was always a nice foil to Hawkeye’s and Hunnicutt’s buffoonery. Fans of 1980s teen comedies may recognize Stiers from his role as John Cusack’s put-upon father in the classic Savage Steve Holland film Better Off Dead (1985). However and wherever you remember seeing him before, Stiers always carried himself and his characters with dignity and aplomb. Stiers was a veteran of the improv group The Committee, whose alumni also includes Howard Hesseman, Rob Reiner, and Peter Bonerz. He also attended Juilliard and was mentored by John Houseman (an actor who could pull off fussy and stodgey with the best of them!). He also was the associate conductor of the Newport (Oregon) Symphony Orchestra and the Ernest Bloch Music Festival, as well as guest conductor of over seventy orchestras from around the world. All that from a guy without any formal musical training!

Stier’s aforementioned fussiness is used well here. Tinsdale is just a guy who wants to enjoy his honeymoon (and seems to be doing just that, if you know what I mean, nudge-nudge, wink-wink). As Helen, Joe, and Brian continually barge in on the happy couple’s connubial bliss, Stiers’s weary, stiff-upper-lipped reactions make for great comedy, as do Mrs. Tinsdale’s (Kelly Miracco) off-camera reactions to the trio’s (coitus) interruptions

Tinsdale: Won’t you play for me again, please? 
Helen: Really? Are you sure? Because I think I could play much better than I did yesterday. I was very flustered…well, I wasn’t very flustered, but I was pretty flustered, that’s why I think I’m sure…well, I’m really sure that I think I could play much better because I’m not as flustered— 
Mrs. Tinsdale (yells from the bedroom off camera): Play the damn thing!

But Edward Tinsdale isn’t the only celebrity visiting the island. Though the viewer never sees him, it seems that Channel 8-TV’s own Poppo the Clown is in town. Lifelong fans Joe, Brian, and Lowell light up like the cathode ray clown’s pants at the mere mention of his name. Sadly, the scales fall from Lowell’s eyes when he realizes that “Poppo doesn’t really make that funny noise when you sock him in the stomach.” It’s hard meeting your heroes, folks.

While Helen and Lowell have their existential crises, Fay and Roy have a supernatural one. While getting ready for the V.F.W. carnival, Fay, aka Madame Zorco, gives Lowell a card reading that tells him that “a stranger is going to bring him unexpected good fortune.” Sure enough, later in the day, after Lowell returns a lost wallet to its owner, the man gives the mechanic a $20 reward. Naturally, Roy wants a piece of that action and asks Madame Zorco to do a reading for him. Things don’t go quite the way Roy wants. After twice revealing a run of cards, and twice quickly gathering them up, Fay promises to read Roy’s fortune later:

Fay: Roy, I’m not feeling very well. Why don’t we do this tomorrow? 
Roy: You saw something, Fay. Now what was it? 
Fay: No, no, no, nothing. Absolutely nothing. It wasn’t the death card— 
Roy (shocked): It was, too. It was the death card. 
Fay: No, it was the, uh, cheese card. 
Roy (incredulous): The cheese card? 
Fay: The cheese card. It means you’re going to buy more airplanes and become an even bigger cheese around here.

I wouldn’t mind getting the cheese card if it just meant I was gonna eat some yummy cheese. Sometimes a Camembert is just a Camembert, after all.

Later, after being critiqued by Tinsdale the second time, the gang is worried about how Helen is taking it:

Brian: Then, she finished playing, and he just stared at her, kinda like the way you stare at a bug after it splattered on your windshield. And then he told her: she played better the first time. 
Fay: Poor Helen. 
Joe: I’m worried about her. She must be totally devastated. 
Helen (cheerfully enters the terminal and walks behind the counter): Good morning! Isn’t it a beautiful day? 
Lowell: God, it kills me to see her like this.

What follows is an interesting scene, one whose premise I’ve thought often about. Helen goes on to tell everyone that Tinsdale’s brutally honest criticism of her playing has made her reevaluate her life. Instead of waking up and practicing for two hours, this morning she watched the sunrise, went for a walk, and took a bubble bath. After all that she still had time to enjoy the morning paper over breakfast.

Helen: I figured it out. Practicing two hours a day, I have put over 10,000 hours of my life into that cello. Do you realize how many hours that is? 
Lowell: Unless this is a trick question, I’d say…10,000?

Through Tinsdale’s assessment, Helen makes peace with the fact that she will never be part of an orchestra, never be a professional musician, and so, need never center her life around the cello. She can finally just enjoy life. Later, as he and his wife are preparing to board their plane, Tinsdale apologizes for his critique:

Tinsdale: I may have left you the other evening with the impression that your musical ability is non-existent. That is not quite true. I believe that you possess a glimmer of talent. 
Helen: A glimmer? 
Tinsdale: Yes. The tiniest of glimmers, but it is there. 
Helen: No. You cannot be saying this because, see, I just got my life back— 
Tinsdale: Of course, it means that you’ll have to practice four, maybe five, hours a day religiously, but I believe that there’s a chance over the next few years— 
Helen: You told me I stink. 
Tinsdale: Oh, but you don’t. 
Helen: Oh, yes, I do. Completely and totally. Pee-yew! You said no self-respecting orchestra would have me. 
Tinsdale: I exaggerated. I apologize. 
Helen: No, you can’t be saying this. You said that I didn’t have a chance. 
Tinsdale: But you do. 
Helen (grabs Tinsdale by the lapels): Take it back! You can’t give me hope! What kind of monster are you?

As someone who grew up being told I had loads of “potential” that I wasn’t living up to, I feel for Helen, I really do. I’m not sure which is worse: losing out on the fulfillment of a dream due to a lack of talent or having just enough talent to keep you chasing after that dream, but never reaching it. I love writing. I think, like Helen, I’ve the tiniest glimmer of talent at it. Will I ever have any success with it? Probably not. Are there days when I wonder what the use of it is? You betcha. Do I still do it? Yep. Why? I don’t know. I like the doing, I guess. I like sitting at a desk and pushing words around a page. I hope Helen likes the doing, although the end of the episode paints a rather shockingly downbeat and pessimistic picture:

Helen: What am I going to do? I’m cursed with a glimmer of talent. I’m going to be chained to that instrument for the rest of my life. Good-bye, walks on the beach. Good-bye, fingernails. Good-bye, life. 
(Helen exits.) 
Joe (to Brian): Think she’s going to be alright? 
Brian: She’ll be fine. 
Joe: I don’t know. I’ve never seen her like this before. 
Brian: You don’t think she’s going to do anything desperate? 
(Off-screen sound of scales being played on a cello.)

On that note, folks, if you look out the cabin windows, you’ll see that we are beginning our final descent. Please help our crew tidy up and make sure your seat backs and tray tables are in their full upright positions. Place your carry-on luggage beneath the seat in front of you or in the overhead bins, then securely fasten your seat belts. And please don’t sock Poppo in the belly. We’ve run out of airsickness bags.

Our next flight is Episode Four of Season Two, “Sports and Leisure.” See you then…

Sunday, October 31, 2021

31 October: A Trio of Old Time Radio Thrills


Well, we done did it, good people. We made it through another October, and now it’s Halloween. We’ve spent the last month together sharing movie, book, and audio suggestions thanks to Cinematic Void’s 31 Days of Voidoween. It’s been a blast talking up my spooky selections, and I loved seeing what other people were up to, too. Thanks to folks using #cinematicvoid and #voidoween on Twitter, I’ve got a list the length of my arm filled with movies I can’t wait to check out.

Cinematic Void is ending Voidoween with a wild card. It’s up to each of us to choose a personal Halloween favorite. I’ve decided to end things with a bang - three of ‘em to be exact! Follow the links below, turn your lights down low, and enjoy some good ol’ fashioned radio drama.

First up is a trip in the wayback machine to 1948 where we’ll listen to a classic episode of Wyllis Cooper’s Quiet Please: “The Thing on the Fourble Board.” I don’t want to give too much away on this one. All I will say is that a “fourble board” is the working platform on an oil derrick. Everything about this episode - the writing, the acting, the sound design - is sheer horrific perfection. And the story’s ending is absolutely unforgettable.

Let’s go back a couple of years to 1946 and listen to an episode of one of the premier radio programs of radio’s Golden Age, Suspense. “The House in Cypress Canyon” is considered by many people to be the scariest radio program of all time. Written by Robert L. Richards, directed by William Spier, and starring Robert Taylor and Cathy Lewis, it’s the story of a young couple – James and Ellen Woods – who move into a small house in the titular canyon. From their first night in their new home, the Woodses are haunted by inhuman cries in the night. There is no explanation for what happens next. What befalls James and Ellen could happen to anyone at any time. Why, it could happen to you...

Last up is an episode of Beyond Midnight, a radio program from South Africa that ran from 1968 to 1970. The episode is an adaptation of a classic Christmas ghost story by A.M. Burrage. It is called “Smee,” and it is my very favorite ghost story. It’s has a simple story-within-a-story construction. The outer story concerns a group of friends who are preparing to play a post-dinner game of hide-and-seek on Christmas Eve. One of the party refuses to play. Jackson had a bad experience some years before at another friend’s house playing a similar game:

‘I wonder if any of you have played a game called “Smee”. It’s a great improvement on the ordinary game of hide-and-seek. The name derives from the ungrammatical colloquialism, “It’s me.” You might care to play if you’re going to play a game of that sort. Let me tell you the rules.

‘Every player is presented with a sheet of paper. All the sheets are blank except one, on which is written “Smee”. Nobody knows who is “Smee” except “Smee” himself—or herself, as the case may be. The lights are then turned out and “Smee” slips from the room and goes off to hide, and after an interval the other players go off in search, without knowing whom they are actually in search of. One player meeting another challenges with the word “Smee” and the other player, if not the one concerned, answers “Smee”.

‘The real “Smee” makes no answer when challenged, and the second player remains quietly by him. Presently they will be discovered by a third player, who, having challenged and received no answer, will link up with the first two. This goes on until all the players have formed a chain, and the last to join is marked down for a forfeit.’

The group encourages Jackson to tell the whole story, and we move into the inner tale, which is where Beyond Midnight begins its episode. The radio program uses the rules of the game – the large house, the silence, the solitude – to chilling effect. “Smee” has a wonderful ending that, although you may see it coming, is still powerful enough to elicit a shudder. Along the way, there are many moments where Jackson and his fellow players rub up against the uncanny and outré. One moment, in fact, on a staircase, involving the accidental (?) miscount of the number of players in the game made the bottom fall out of my stomach.

I hope you’ve had a good time this month following along with me. I’ve had a blast talking up my favorite Halloween tricks and treats. Stay tuned to this blog for more talk about the TV shows Wings and Tucker’s Witch. Come tomorrow, I’ll be taking part in National Novel Writing Month, and I’ll keep you up to date with how that is going. I am continuing my work on a giallo-esque thriller. I'm about 10 chapters into it, and it's been a blast so far.

So...until next time...enjoy the Horrorthon and...Happy Halloween... 

Saturday, October 30, 2021

30 October: Chopping Mall


It’s 30 October. We are 24 hours away from the big day - Halloween!

Then, it’s all downhill from there. The rest of the year will circle the drain in an orgy of consumerism and gluttony. Shopping malls and big box stores will fill with mindless zombies wandering from aisle to aisle in search of needless things. If only there was some way we could cure ourselves of our need to buy stupid stuff. If only there were, say, some machines that would patrol the malls and protect us from ourselves.

Look no further! For today’s Cinematic Void 31 Days of Voidoween movie challenge topic, “Robots,” we’re going shopping, but not just at any ol’ mall. We’ll shop ‘til we drop...dead! Jim Wynorski’s classic Chopping Mall!

The Park Plaza Mall has a new security system. Roaming the floors after hours, three Protector-series robots safeguard the likes of Chess King, Gadzooks, and Deb. Unfortunately, a lightning storm gives the robots a little too much juice, and soon they aren’t differentiating between shoppers and robbers (as if there’s really a difference). This wouldn’t be a problem (I mean what’s a few dead technicians and janitors?), if four teen (teen?) couples weren’t using the furniture store as their personal overnight party palace. Soon, the robots track the kids (kids?) down and begin neutralizing them. Will Ferdy and Allison get together? Will Mike ever chew gum with his mouth closed? Will that cute top still be on sale at No Name in the morning?

Chopping Mall (originally released as Killbots) hits that sweet spot that, in my personal opinion, all horror movies should shoot for. There’s a campiness to the proceedings that make the movie seem like a party you actually want to be at. The characters are likeable - even the aforementioned Mike whose constant gum chewing will give those suffering from misophonia the heebie-jeebies. The action is well-lit so you can see what is actually happening and moves quickly so you’re not constantly checking your watch, wondering when it’s all gonna end. (The lighting and pacing of modern horror movies are pet peeves of mine - sorry!) Best of all, when it’s time to get down and dirty, the film doesn’t hold back. Leslie getting chased down by a killbot and losing her head - literally - is especially fine.

The cast of Chopping Mall is filled with 80s horror vets. Kelli Maroney (Night of the Comet), Barbara Crampton (Re-Animator), and Russell Todd (Friday the 13th, Part 2) will have you going “Oh, it’s that actor!” throughout the movie. Also be on the lookout for cameos from Mary Woronov, Paul Bartel, and Dick Miller. Director Jim Wynorski, like 90% of Hollywood it seems, got his start thanks to Roger Corman. He wrote and/or directed numerous 80s exploitation fare like Sorceress (1982), Screwballs (1983), Deathstalker II (1987), and Not of This Earth (1988).

Watch Chopping Mall and remember to have a nice day!

Friday, October 29, 2021

29 October: Santo contra los Zombies


Today is all about “Zombies” for Cinematic Void’s 31 Days of Voidoween. Nowadays when you bring up zombies, you’re looking to start a fight between those who prefer slow-moving zombies and those who like fast-moving zombies. Well, I’m here to tell you that there’s a third choice. I think the truly discriminating fan wants a zombie that can perform a belly-to-belly suplex, an atomic leg drop, and then follow that up with a classic submission move like the figure-four leg lock. Where can you find such wonders? There’s only one place: in 1961’s classic Mexican horror picture Santo contra los Zombies, starring the one and only Santo el enmascarado de plata.

Three detectives are called to the house of Professor Rutherford by his daughter, Gloria (played by the voluptuous Lorena Velázquez). Seems the doc just got back from Haiti and was writing a book on voodoo when he disappeared. Soon, a trio of beefy thieves knock over a jewelry store. During the robbery they are shot multiple times, but none of the bullets have any effect. The police are at a loss, so they do what any responsible civic institution would do: they call in a favor from part-time crime-fighter and full-time masked wrestling champion, Santo.

This movie’s got it all: zombies, moody black-and-white photography, and cheap shots. There’s an especially great scene that combines all three! Santo is the Mexican Superman. He’s only interested in truth, justice, and perfectly executed fireman’s carry backbreakers. There are tons of other Santo movies, too. If you tire of the Silver-Masked Saint’s exploits against zombies, Martians, and vampires, then you can catch his adventures with another masked wrestler, Blue Demon, as they do their best James Bond impersonations. The world of Mexican cinema beckons!

Thursday, October 28, 2021

28 October: Deadly Messages


When you’re a kid, and you are too young to go see spooky movies on the big screen (or your parents are too square to take you!), it’s great when the scary movies come to you on the small one. Nowadays, with streaming services being what they are, it’s easier than ever to see anything you want, whenever you want. Back in the day, however, it usually took at least a year before a movie was played on TV or released on video. Luckily, TV networks created their own movies to fill all those programming hours and to quench the thirst of genre film fans. Made-for-TV movies, while not as graphic as films in the theaters, were often quite inventive with their scares. What they lacked in bloodshed, they made up for in suspense and all-around strangeness. For today’s Cinematic Void 31 Days of Voidoween, I want to talk Jack Bender’s 1985 made-for-TV movie Deadly Messages.

While Laura Daniels (Kathleen Beller) and her boyfriend Michael go out on the town, a young woman who is staying with the couple, Cindy (Sherri Stoner), finds a ouija board. Using it alone, Cindy contacts the spirit of a young man who claims that he was murdered. When Laura returns home, she’s forgotten her keys. She climbs the fire escape to her apartment’s window and witnesses a man in dark glasses strangling Cindy. Laura calls the police, but when they arrive and enter the apartment all signs of the crime have vanished -- including Cindy!

Laura uses the ouija board and contacts the spirit of Mark, the same spirit Cindy spoke to. Mark tells Laura that he killed Cindy and that he is going to kill her, too. Soon, Laura is being stalked on the streets of the city and the food court of the mall by a killer. Unfortunately, Laura is unable to convince anyone else, including Michael, that what she is experiencing is real. Will the killer get her? Will Michael believe her before it’s too late?

On the face of it, Deadly Messages is your typical made-for-TV fare. You got your woman-in-peril storyline and your nobody-believes-her storyline stitched together by a is-she-really-crazy storyline. Where Deadly Messages pushes the envelope is in the development of Laura Daniels’s past. I don’t want to give it away, but the truth about Laura is discovered and revealed in a really novel and charming way. It was such a pleasant surprise, and it opened the story up to new and weird possibilities.

Kathleen Beller was a staple of the made-for-TV landscape. She’d starred in such films as Are You in the House Alone?, No Place to Hide, and The Blue & the Grey. She was also a part of the cast of Dynasty for many years. Jack Bender had a heck of a year in 1985. In addition to Deadly Messages, he made Letting Go (with John Ritter) and The Midnight Hour.

Deadly Messages isn’t as over-the-top crazy as Dark Night of the Scarecrow, Trilogy of Terror, or Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, but I think it’s got a great energy that drives it to a satisfying denouement.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

27 October: The Black Tapes


Today’s movie challenge topic for Cinematic Void’s 31 Days of Blogoween is “Shot on Video.” I’ll be honest, I don’t know many shot-on-video movies. So, I thought I’d switch things up again and talk about one of my favorite shot-on-audio stories: The Black Tapes.

The Black Tapes is a fictionalized nonfiction podcast best described as “Serial meets The X-Files.” Created by Paul Bae and Terry Miles, The Black Tapes ran for three seasons from May, 2015 to November, 2017. The podcast follows the exploits of radio host Alex Reagan (Lori Henry), who sets out to explore the world of paranormal investigation for the National Radio Alliance show Pacific Northwest Stories (not a real thing). While interviewing people for her story, Alex meets the enigmatic (and stuffy as all get out) Dr. Richard Strand (Christian Sloan), a man dedicated to debunking all things paranormal. Strand keeps records of all his cases on VHS in white boxes. There are, however, a series of tapes in black cases. These are cases that Strand was unable to prove or disprove. Alex becomes intrigued, and she and Strand begin to go through these black tapes.

I can’t help but think of driving to work when I think about this podcast. In 2015, I was living in Wilkinsburg, PA, and had to make the trek to Cranberry Township five days a week. Podcasts made that drive a lot better. The Black Tapes, in particular, made that drive spooky as heck. The soundscape that the show’s producers created is absolutely pitch perfect. The in-the-field recordings have the feel of actual on-the-spot interviews. The podcast sounds exactly like an NPR show. Bae and Miles also do a really fine job of creating verisimilitude by creating realistic backstories and folding in real people and real events into the overall story. The line between fiction and nonfiction is always blurred in The Black Tapes.

Alex’s and Dr. Strand’s reactions to what they see and hear also seem very realistic. Alex, like Mulder on The X-Files, wants to believe, while Strand, the Scully of the two, is always undercutting what we know to be true. It does begin to get tiring to hear Strand continually debunk the reality of what they are witnessing, but like The X-Files, this incredulity on Strand’s part does evolve.

The first season in particular makes for really great spooky listening. “The Unsound,” about a mysterious piece of audio that was supposedly created by the Devil himself, and “Turn that Frown Upside Down,” about a Maine town with a local legend - the Woman with the Upside Down Face - that can kill you if you see it, are two of the best episodes of audio drama that I’ve heard. Listen at your peril here!

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

26 October: Harrow County


"Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and caldron bubble.
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the caldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork and blind-worm's sting,
Lizard's leg and howlet's wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

"Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and caldron bubble.
Cool it with a baboon's blood,
Then the charm is firm and good."

---William Shakespeare, Macbeth

Pull up a stool to the caldron, because we’ve got “Witchcraft” happenin’ today for Cinematic Void’s 31 Days of Voidoween. There are plenty of great witchie movies out there, but I want to focus your attention on a comic book series that ran from 2015 to 2018: Harrow County.

Published by Dark Horse Comics, written by Cullen Bunn, and drawn by Tyler Crook, Harrow County is set in rural America in the 1930s. It follows the exploits of Emmy Crawford, a young girl who may or may not be the reincarnation of the witch Hester Beck, who was hung from a tree on Emmy’s pa’s property. As Emmy (and the reader) uncovers the truth about herself, her friends and family, and all of Harrow County, she discovers that nothing is as it seems. There are “countless haints” living in the fields and forests, and they all seem to fear and hate Emmy. Who is Emmy? What is her story? Is she really a witch? Why does she keep the skin of a boy in her dresser drawer?

So many questions!

Harrow County is gorgeous in both its storytelling and art. It’s been described as a southern gothic fairy tale, and I can’t think of a better way to sum it up. As good as Emmy’s story is, it’s the artwork that will pull you in. Eschewing working on a computer, artist Tyler Crook chose to use watercolors to bring Harrow County to life. It was the perfect choice. Every page is filled with lovely, rich, sepia-esque color. It gives the reader the sense that he/she/they are seeing pictures from the distant past. The shadows that surround Emmy seem to come alive on the page. It’s staggeringly beautiful work.

If you have a library card, you can use the Hoopla app to read Harrow County. I can’t think of a better - or scarier - way to pass the time this Halloween.

Monday, October 25, 2021

25 October: Kill River Trilogy


We’ve come to the movie challenge for Cinematic Void’s 31 Days of Voidoween that I’ve been looking forward to all month. Today’s topic, “Slasher Film,” is one that is near and dear to my freshly-ripped-from-my-rib-cage heart. As a kid growing up in the 1980s, I became a horror addict thanks to movies like Halloween II, Friday the 13th, Part 3, and My Bloody Valentine. Fangoria magazine was a holy text as far as I was concerned, and a trip to the Horror section of my local video store was like going to church.

Today, we’re gonna talk a brand new slasher trilogy that I think thirteen-year-old me would have absolutely loved - I know the fifty-year-old me does! This isn’t a trio of films, however. It is a series of novels by Cameron Roubique. They are set in the 1980s at a theme park the locals call...Kill River!

The first in the trilogy follows the exploits of four teens who have better things to do than hang around camp all summer. Stealing a raft one night, they make their escape, but accidentally stumble upon an uninhabited water theme park called Thrill River. The park, unfortunately, is not as empty as Cyndi, Stacy, Zack, and Brad think it is. Slowly, but surely, one by one, the teens’ numbers are whittled down until the Final Girl must go up against the masked killer by herself. As we move from book to book, we follow that Final Girl as she tries to put that summer behind her. Unfortunately, the Thrill River Killer has other plans.

These three books are a must for slasher fans. Roubique does a really fine job pacing his trilogy. In the first book, for instance, we spend a lot of time getting to know Cyndi and her friends at the summer camp before we head off into the wilds. By the time these characters begin to be picked off by the killer, we feel connected to them, and their deaths come as a shock.

The kills of the Kill River trilogy are also intense. They hit hard not only because of the viciousness of the killer, but for the fact that Cyndi and her friends are so young. Slasher fans are used to seeing 20-somethings passing themselves off as teenagers in movies. The ages of the characters in a slasher usually hover around seventeen. Cyndi in Kill River is thirteen. Those four years make a HUGE difference to the violence perpetrated on these characters! We also get to hear the thoughts of the victims as the killer preys on them, which also makes the violence in these novels even more horrific.

Cameron Roubique’s Kill River trilogy is a great addition to the slasher genre. Pick ‘em up here...if you dare!

Sunday, October 24, 2021

24 October: The Cat and the Canary


“On a lonely, pine-clad hill overlooking the Hudson, stood the grotesque mansion of an eccentric millionaire----”

Only seven more days until that most wonderfullest time of the year. That’s right: we are a week out from Halloween, people! Time to get right with the Great Pumpkin and make sure you’ve got full-size candy bars to give out on the big night. I’d hate to hear that anything bad happened to any of you because you skimped where it counted.

Until then, let us continue our daily celebration of All Hallow’s Eve via Cinematic Void’s 31 Days of Voidoween movie challenge. Today’s topic is “Silent Horror,” and I’ve chosen Paul Leni’s 1927 comedy-horror classic for Universal Studios, The Cat and the Canary.

The Cat and the Canary is the prototypical “old dark house” mystery. Based on John Willard’s 1922 play, Leni’s film contains all the tropes and trappings that fans of the genre relish: on a dark and stormy night, a group of would-be heirs meet in the aforementioned ODH to hear the reading of a will. The interior of the house is dusty, covered with cobwebs, and filled with hidden passages. The lone heir named in the will, Annabelle (Laura La Plante), becomes the focus of ire of the other, spurned family members. Everyone seems to be after Annabelle. In another turn of the screw, however, a lunatic known as “The Cat” has escaped a local asylum. A guard from the asylum has tracked The Cat to the ODH. He may be hiding somewhere on the grounds...or in the house itself!

The Cat and the Canary is a hoot. It’s a silent film that holds up really well. This is due partly to its feeling so familiar to genre film buffs and partly to it being so well made. Paul Leni imbued The Cat and the Canary with a lot of energy. The performers, while exuding the histrionics typical of silent era acting, also wouldn’t seem out of place in a more modern film like Clue (1985). The camerawork and editing, too, feel more modern. There are certainly scenes that have the stagey, long takes of the silent era, but for the most part, the camera and the actors move freely around the sets. The editor mixes wide shots and close-ups nicely giving the whole a nice rhythm that never bores the viewer.

All in all, The Cat and the Canary is a wonderfully funny and spooky film that’s perfect for the whole family during the Halloween season.