Summer Slashin’

Based on the season premiere, American Horror Story: 1984 is a case of “Jump” rather than “I’ll Wait.”

I will admit, I first approached the new slasher-themed season with some trepidation. I questioned whether we really needed another bloody redux, a further rehearsal of a long-familiar formula. At this late date, aren’t we well past pastiche and postmodern self-consciousness alike? (Unbelievably, it’s almost a quarter-century now since the launch of the Scream franchise–a later installment of which AHS alum Emma Roberts also starred in.) So far, though, my concerns have been quelled.

The episode (“Camp Redwood”) cold-opens with a chilling scene: a summer camp massacre perpetrated by an ear-slicing psychopath. I thought the keychain-jangling “Mr. Jingles” angle was a tad lame (I hope it turns out to be more than a sonic calling card), but it was great to see John Carroll Lynch (ol’ Twisty himself) back playing another serial killer on the show.

From there, the episode jumps forward fourteen years but steps back and takes the time to establish its cast of characters and situation and setting (the seemingly idyllic summer camp makes for an iconic horror locale). It was nice to see Roberts playing against vixen-ish type this time around, and Billie Lourd (rocking the Lita Ford look) appears to revel in the role of an aerobics-obsessed bimbo. I liked how the episode invoked the ’84 summer Olympics in Los Angeles (something I was not expecting); there’s a terrific scene where the cast watches Olympians running to light the torch while Roberts runs for her life from a raincoated slasher outside the cabin.

A typical problem for American Horror Story in seasons past has been sustainability. Character motivations have tended to be rendered chaotically, and the narrative drive has taken some dizzying turns. The slasher theme, though, seems well-suited for a season-long arc. Thus far the identity of Mr. Jingles has been clearly revealed, but I don’t doubt that further twists are in store, and the mystery of a masked killer (or killers) could bring great focus to the show’s perennial mayhem.

As evident from the premiere episode, this season will feature plenty of references to classic slasher films (e.g. Halloween, Friday the 13th, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre). Of course, too much of this could prove distracting, just as campy callbacks to 80’s styles and popular trends could grow tiresome after a time. But one episode in, Camp Redwood looks to be the perfect place for viewers to kick the post-summertime blues.

 

 

 

Family Spree

Opting for exorcism rather than exploitation, Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood, never presents the graphic reenactment of the Manson Family’s murder of Sharon Tate (and company) that audience members are expecting/dreading. This proves in direct contrast to how American Horror Story: Cult approached the same event two years earlier in the episode “Charles (Manson) in Charge.” Now, AHS isn’t exactly known for restraint, but its decision to go there in showing the savagery is questionable at best, and downright disgraceful at worst. I recently joined back up with Cult, rewatching the aforementioned episode and considering the ostensible merit of the reenactment scene.

For sheer shock value, the scene succeeds. Much like the previous dramatization of the Jonestown massacre, it undoubtedly disturbs with its unflinching depiction of violent death. But did viewers really need to watch a pregnant Tate (Lily Rabe), standing with a noose around her neck and weepily begging for her unborn baby’s life to be spared, end up being stabbed multiple times? One can easily argue that this is a gross disrespect of the memory of the slain celebrity; the show’s producers demonstrate a striking insensitivity to the feelings of the relatives of Tate and the other real-life victims of the Manson Family’s bloody machinations. The scene, with cult leader Kai (Evan Peters) providing voice-over as he tells the notorious story to his Project-Mayhem-type acolytes, is marked by a certain flippancy of tone that adds another level of inappropriateness. Granted, Kai is Cult‘s grand antagonist, and we are supposed to be repulsed by his behavior. And AHS, as the show’s own title unabashedly establishes, is in the horror business, not that of giving viewers the warm fuzzies. Still, a line seems to have been crossed here, and the nadir of distastefulness neared.

That said, is there anything to appreciate about the scene? I did like how the actors from the season’s main storyline were utilized in the reenactment. Billie Lourd’s turn as the reticent Linda Kasabian cleverly reflects the outlying position of the actress’s Willow character in relation to brother Kai’s cult/political movement. Similarly, Sarah Paulson playing the (t)witchy Susan Atkins forms a nice piece of foreshadowing of her main character Ally’s dark deviation at season’s end. Indeed, the real impact of the scene is not its recreation of the murderous incident on Cielo Drive in 1969, but its set-up of the horrors to come on Cult. A raving Kai (whose psychotic break is evident when he subsequently holds conversations with a hallucinated Manson) calls for a “Night of a Thousand Tates,” a frightfully exponential copy-catting of Manson Family madness. Kai’s preparation of his hit squad in the season finale (complete with a knifing tutorial using a plastic anatomical model, and a practice stabbing of watermelons) ranks amongst the most chilling moments in the show’s history.

Of course, not even AHS would dare go that far, and the Night of a Thousand–or even a Hundred–Tates never comes to pass. Significant suspense, though, was created by the use of the Tate-murder reenactment scene. I don’t know if this ultimately justifies the show’s artistic choices, and for me the decision to depict such a scene remains controversial. “Charles (Manson) in Charge”–that mocking, unsuitably unserious note can be discerned in the very title of the episode–leaves me questioning what those in charge of the show’s content were honestly thinking.

 

Summer Lovin’ (A Review of Stranger Things 3)

While the previous season of Stranger Things was decidedly autumnal (blighted pumpkin patches; Will’s Halloween-night glimpse of the Mind Flayer), Season 3 shifts the seasonal scene to the heart of summer. The time of year proves integral to the plot, from the strategic use of a sauna at the community pool to a stunning fireworks shoot-off that serves as much more than a holiday ritual. Apropos of the season it is set in, Stranger Things 3 also has all the feel of a summer blockbuster movie. There’s more action and suspense (seemingly nonstop after the build-up of the first few episodes), more romance, more gore than ever before. The creature effects are nothing short of amazing, as the show demonstrates that scenes of giant monsters running amok (we get to see the Mind Flayer in all its grotesque glory) are not the sole province of Godzilla this summer.

More characters are also incorporated into the story this time around. Lucas’s younger sister Erica (Priah Ferguson) deservedly gets a much bigger role, and seizes the opportunity to flash sass and sarcasm. I was delighted that Murray Bauman (Brett Gelman) figures more prominently this season; the character consistently delivers the show’s best, and laugh-out-loud-funny, lines. The real scene-stealer here, though, is a new character, the adorable Robin (Maya Hawke, lookalike daughter of Uma Thurman), whose relationship with co-worker Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) takes several surprising turns.

The bad guys this season prove comparatively flatter. We get stereotypes like the sleazy politician (Cary Elwes as Mayor Kline) and the chauvinistic jerk in the workplace (Jake Busey as Bruce). The assassin Grigori (Andrey Ivchenko) is limited by the deliberate molding of his character as a walking, stalking, Schwarzeneggerian Terminator. Perhaps all of these shortcomings, though, are made up for by the development of Max’s stepbrother Billy (Dacre Montgomery), a pivotal player whose character arc constitutes one of the strongest elements of Season 3.

Several paragraphs in, and I haven’t even mentioned most of the series’ young heroes. They are all back doing what they do best; we not only get to watch many of the same aspects of their characters, but also new facets as the kids have gotten more mature (and hormone-driven) since last seen. As always, the standouts are Gaten Matarazzo as the endearingly nerdy and dentally challenged Dustin, and Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven, who charms with her forays into typical teen activity and thrills with her bouts of monster-battling badassery.

Stranger Things 3 is amazingly entertaining, yet not a flawless effort. I felt the writers overutilized scenes of a blindfolded Eleven engaging in remote viewing. The season-long bickering between Sheriff Hopper (David Harbour) and Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) quickly got tedious. A viewer’s suspension of disbelief is also sorely tested. I am almost willing to grant the notion of a foreign government setting up secret shop in a small, mid-American town, but the fact that nobody (other than our heroes) seems to notice that there is a supersized beast stomping through Hawkins is hard to fathom. Finally, that bound-to-be-infamous rendition (by Dustin and his long-distance girlfriend Suzy) of “Never Ending Story” forms an ill-timed, and ill-conceived, piece of comic relief.

Overall, the inclusion of Eighties music is spot on (there’s also terrific use of Jim Croce’s “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim”). Tears for Fears would have made for an appropriate choice, considering that Season 3 seems determined to wring both from the audience. The horror elements are ratcheted up (this is by far the most frightening installment of the series), and the story builds to a heartbreaking climax and absolute tearjerker of a conclusion. So keep those tissues handy; it’s not just Eleven’s trademark bloody nose that’ll need wiping.

Stranger Things 3 is the quintessence of a binge watch, filled with sublime sights and captivating action. The show goes so big this summer that it is hard to imagine it ever being topped (there seems nowhere else to take things now except outside the confines of Hawkins, and perhaps deeper into the Upside Down). But wherever the road in Season 4 might lead, the Duffer Brothers no doubt will draw a richly-detailed map, and I can’t wait to take that next trip.

Chill Ride

The track record for recent adaptations of epic horror novels (e.g. The PassageThe Terror) has been spotty, which led me to approach the AMC TV-series version of Joe Hill’s NOS4A2 with some caution. After three episodes, though, the show has alleviated my concerns.

What I had feared most going in was that Zachary Quinto had been miscast as Yuletide ghoul Charlie Manx. I envisioned a variation on his role (as a snarky ghost) in the inaugural season of American Horror Story. Thankfully, I was dead wrong; thus far Quinto has been magnificent. His performance is at once understated and menacing. His old-age make-up is extraordinary (it reminds me of the aging of Barnabas Collins in Dark Shadows), transforming him into one creepy geezer. Most importantly, Quinto does not play the character as a mustache-twirling villain. The audience might see through the predatorial Manx’s delusions of being a rescuer of neglected children and deliverer of perennial holiday joy, but Quinto at least makes us believe that Manx actually believes his cause is an honorable one.

Some critics have complained that the series gets off to a slow start, but I appreciate the fact that NOS4A2 is taking its time to unspool its story thread. A sincere effort here is made to establish the main cast of characters as identifiable people. As a viewer, I can easily invest in protagonist Vic McQueen and the conflicts she is facing on levels both mundane (the family drama of her parents’ separation) and supernatural (her newfound powers as a Strong Creative, which set the uncannily talented Manx sniffing after her). In its deliberate pacing, NOS4A2 seems to parallel another AMC horror series, The Walking Dead; hopefully, the eventual payoff will prove just as emotionally powerful as that of a typical TWD story arc.

If there is one aspect of the series I am not enjoying, it is Vic’s interaction with her teenage peers. These characters–most of whom don’t originate from Hill’s novel–just aren’t that interesting, and come across as annoying (Willa) or bland (Drew). Such drastic deviations from the source text are precisely where adaptations start to lose me. I bristle at the hubris of screenwriters determined to alter the blueprint for a proven product.

NOS4A2 isn’t flawless, but has captivated me thus far. I’m eager to ride along with the Wraith, and look forward to when the scene finally shifts to Manx’s vampiric theme park, Christmasland (this sinister inscape will probably go a long way toward determining the success of this series as a horror vehicle).

One last note: perhaps the most delightful gift of all shipped from Christmasland is Joe Hill’s weekly email recaps of NOS4A2‘s episodes. Hill provides commentary on what just aired the night before, interviews those involved in the series, and offers deeper insight into his own novel (e.g. this past week, he discusses the three inspirations for his creation of Christmasland). Terrific stuff, adding another element of fun to watching the series. Be sure to sign up for the recap newsletter here.

 

 

Test of Time: The Stand Miniseries, 25 Years Later

It has been a quarter-century now since Captain Trips first spread across the small screen and infected viewers throughout America. I can remember what an exciting television event The Stand miniseries was, a large-scale adaptation of Stephen King’s epic novel that aired in four two-hour segments over the course of a week. I can also remember, though, having a mixed reaction to this adaptation at the time. After listening to King and director Mick Garris reminisce about the miniseries on the Post Mortem podcast last month (which I posted about here), I was inspired to go watch the miniseries again. This would be my first time returning to the material in 25 years; I was curious how The Stand stood up over time, and if my initial impressions would be changed.

The first thing I can recall about the 1994 miniseries is that the acting was a mixed bag, and a second viewing only confirms this. To be sure, there are some strong performances, led by the never-less-than excellent Gary Sinise, who is perfectly cast as King’s Texan everyman Stu Redman. Ray Walston shines as Glen Bateman, as does Bill Fagerbakke as the mentally-challenged (it’s surprising here in 2019 to see how often the miniseries resorts to the term “retarded”) Tom Cullen. Yet there are also some starkly subpar efforts here, which might be the product of lazy writing (the stereotypically nerdy mannerisms of Corin Nemec’s Harold Lauder) or just bad acting (the single-note conveyed by Shawnee Smith as shrill shrew Julie Lawry). The loudest raspberry, though, has to be directed at Laura San Giacomo, who is painfully unconvincing in the pivotal role of Nadine Cross (or perhaps I am too distracted by those caterpillar eyebrows of hers).

My recent re-watch also reestablished my ambivalence towards the settings in the miniseries. Some of these are particularly striking: such as the scenes set in New York, both amidst riotous upheaval and in post-apocalyptic sprawl (the book’s legendary Lincoln Tunnel walk-through is translated nicely here by Garris). At other, more jarring, times, however, I can’t help but feel like I am watching a film set. The scenes (and not just those rooted in character’s dreams) of Mother Abigail’s Nebraska home and surrounding cornfield are colorful and atmospheric but lack realism.

A quarterly-century later, I am still impressed by how skillfully the plot of King’s novel was adapted for the small screen (the fact that King himself scripted the miniseries no doubt is a major factor). I like how certain elements, such as Frannie Goldsmith’s pregnancy, unfold in a more understated manner and are only gradually revealed. The miniseries also makes crafted use of time jumps (aided by title cards updating the day and place), condensing the events of the novel and moving the action along sensibly. There is one sizable plot hole that I failed to spot back in 1994, but which stood out upon re-watch. It involves the scene when Randall Flagg and Nadine first arrive in Las Vegas. Nadine is practically catatonic (following her desert rape and impregnation by Flagg) as she is ushered upstairs to the would-be honeymoon suite. Later that very same afternoon, she taunts Flagg with alleged knowledge of discontent brewing among his minions; how, though, could Nadine know that “They’re saying that a simple retarded boy outwitted Randall Flagg. They’re saying Judge Farris got away from your man in Idaho. They’re asking questions about Dayna, too.”?

For a miniseries airing on 90’s broadcast TV, The Stand surely features some strong horror. Glimpses of moldering crucifixion victims are hard to forget, much like the scene of corpse clean-up inside a church. On the other hand, the archfiend Flagg (Jamey Sheridan, looking like Mel Gibson’s Lethal Weapon stunt double) proves grossly disappointing on screen, with his pointy demon teeth and lightning shooting from his fingertips. Garris’s direction also demonstrates an unfortunate over-reliance on “morphing” technology; the repeated emergence of Flagg’s monster face plays like a twisted version of Michael Jackson’s “Black or White” video. More hokey than horrifying, Flagg formed the glaring weakness of the miniseries for me back in 1994, and the representation definitely has not aged well.

Despite its various strong points, The Stand miniseries in the end is marred by a distinct cheesiness (the “Hand of God,” King’s blatant deus ex machina plot-resolver, does not translate well to the screen, and that closing montage of the heroic characters who died along the way seems like a ridiculous rip-off of the “In Memoriam” segment of the Oscars). In this post-Game-of-Thrones age, viewers are ready for a darker, grimmer adaptation of King’s novel, one infused with special fx that don’t prove oxymoronic. I can only hope that the miniseries remake forthcoming on CBS All Access evinces the same maturation that 2017’s theatrical release of It showed over its own television predecessor.

 

More King on Post Mortem

Eli Roth’s sit-down with Stephen King (which I posted on yesterday) isn’t the only interview with the author to be released in the past week. In the latest episode of his podcast Post Mortem, Mick Garris talks with his old friend and frequent collaborator. The occasion for this interview is the 25th anniversary of The Stand, the grand-scale (“100 days of shooting, 95 scripted locations, 460 script pages, 6 states, 125 speaking roles, 1 year away from home,” Garris details in the intro) ABC miniseries adaptation of King’s epic novel.

I don’t want to spoil the fun for anyone who hasn’t listened to the podcast yet, so in lieu of a review, I’ll just tease some of the highlights:

*King discusses the two disparate (real-world) events that sparked the idea for his novel, and also discusses what almost caused him to give up on the book mid-draft

*King explains why he finds screenwriting easier than fiction writing

*Garris and King reminisce about the famous actor and actress (a pair of veteran King players, at that) who have uncredited cameos in the miniseries

*King (who admits to writing a trial screenplay for Something Wicked This Way Comes when first practicing the craft) elaborates on why filmmaking is like an amusement park

*King speaks at length about his experience working on Maximum Overdrive, and reveals whether he has any desire to direct again

*The director and writer of the original miniseries consider the new 10-hour adaptation forthcoming on CBS All-Access, and King points out “why it’s a good time for The Stand to come back”

*Garris prompts King to identify his biggest literary influence

 

How to Go Wendigo

One of the most disappointing aspects of the remake of Pet Sematary (reviewed here) was the film’s failure to bring the Wendigo onscreen as a woods-haunting monstrosity. The movie barely even references the creature from Native American myth (which is so central to Stephen King’s novel). It also abandons the cannibalism element from the original (1989) film adaptation, with the transgressions of Louis Creed’s undead offspring (emphasis on “off”) here being confined to savage slashing with a scalpel. Going into the theater, I’d hoped that the new Pet Sematary would form the preeminent example of the horror genre’s use of the Wendigo myth. That distinction, though, still belongs to “Skin and Bones,” the signature episode from NBC’s 2008 anthology series Fear Itself.

Directed by Larry Fessenden (who drew on similar mythology in his films Wendigo and The Last Winter), “Skin and Bones” stars Doug Jones as Grady Edlund, a rancher who takes a turn for the perverse. Stranded in the mountains while on a hunting trip, Grady resorts to cannibalism, is possessed by a Wendigo as a result, and then returns home to terrorize his wife, children, and cuckolding brother. Jones is an absolute nightmare figure in his portrayal of the voracious Grady; sinisterly sinewy, he embodies the episode’s title. His frostbitten, black fingertips and ears are horrifying, and his inhuman yowls are chilling as a blast of a nor’easter. Jones’s character unnerves even when prostrate in bed with the covers pulled up to his neck, and epitomizes the jump scare when suddenly springing at his prey with supernatural speed. Grady does descend into Freddy Krueger-ish campiness when forcing his wife to serve up some human stew, but remains seriously scary with his strange combination of ungainliness and unnatural strength.

Jones has made a career out of portraying fantastic and horrific creatures in film (The Amphibian Man in The Shape of Water; The Pale Man in Pan’s Labyrinth) and on TV (The Lead Gentleman on Buffy the Vampire Slayer; one of the Ancients in The Strain), but, for me, Grady Edlund is his meatiest and most memorable role. And while the Wendigo has figured into the plots of countless shows (from Haven and Sleepy Hollow to Hannibal and Supernatural) and films (such as the black-humor masterpiece Ravenous), “Skin and Bones” still provides the most terrifying vision of the entity’s supernatural invasion of the human frame.

 

 

Whisperers Shout Out

The wasteland is a red state, as The Walking Dead has donned its M.A.G.A. (Macabre and Gripping Again) hat.

The unevenness of the AMC series in recent years has been bemoaned and belabored by fans and critics (I’ve contributed my own pair of pennies to the discussion when posting here–and here). But with Angela Kang’s succession of Scott Gimple as showrunner, and the recent six-years’ time jump in the action following the send-off of protagonist Rick Grimes, the show seems to be making a conscious effort to reset itself, to refocus its creative energies. Apparently this involves a renewed emphasis on the horrific, as evidenced by the shocking murder of Jesus by a Whisperer in a fog-shrouded cemetery at the end of the season-splittling episode 9.8, “Evolution.”

Last night’s mid-season premiere, “Adaptation,” picks right up where the show left off, and instantly demonstrates the significance of the Whisperers to TWD‘s rebound. The introduction of this group revitalizes the human-zombie conflict that had grown understandably mundane. When it comes to fearmongering, familiarity breeds diminished returns; after so many seasons, the countless walker attacks lost a lot of their bite. The zombie horde ostensibly served as decayed clay pigeons, heroically obliterated by gun and sword and hatchet. With the advent of the Whisperers, however, the rules of close-up enemy engagement have been altered dramatically, since now a more calculating and dexterous nemesis can be lurking in the midst of the staggering cannibals. My anxiety was appreciably high last night as I watched Negan take swing at some walkers outside the Sanctuary, as I wondered if one of the gruesome opponents would suddenly show its true, living color (my concern for Negan’s safety also says a lot about the redemptive character arc this former Big Bad has been given).

For certain, the Whisperers’ subterfuge makes for a sinister modus operandi, but these figures also prove quite frightful in and of themselves. Their very appearance arrests the viewer, who can’t help but question the mindset of anyone willing to dress up in someone else’s flayed skin. As they stood looming in the tall grass in last night’s episode, the Whisperers also reminded me of another classic horror bogey–the killer scarecrow (in her first appearance, the Whisperer leader Alpha suggests less a latter-day Leatherface than a glorious product of the Grim Stitch Factory). Just as the raggedy straw-man staked as a cornfield sentinel unnervingly blurs the line between the animate and inanimate, the scarecrow-evoking Whisperers muddle the distinction between the living and the undead. From its inception, TWD has presented a clear duality, as the survivors of the zombie apocalypse faced threats from human and posthumous antagonists alike. Now, those two groups of foes can no longer be easily distinguished.

These people in ghouls’ clothing not only model a clever (if outre) survival strategy; their blending in with the grave masses also allows them to turn zombies to tactical advantage. Accordingly, the Whisperers can help redress one of the show’s shortcomings from a past season. I felt the Wolves’ run (in season 6) was cut way short; I wanted to see more of their morbid mousetraps, created by the recruiting of the resurrected dead as shock troops. The herd-infiltrating/-influencing Whisperers, though, promise to take the weaponizing of walkers to a whole other level.

I’ve never read the Kirkman comics, so I don’t know much about the story arc concerning this faux-putrified faction (and have been trying hard to avoid all plot spoilers when reading up on the AMC series of late). But needless to say, I will be attending closely to the Whisperers as TWD moves through the back half of season 9.

 

A Series of Wrong Turns: Fox’s The Passage

I hate to sound like the neighborhood crank, offering up yet another not-as-good-as-the-source-novel rant, but my shaking fist has been forced. Fox’s new series The Passage utterly disappoints with its egregious deviations from Justin Cronin’s trilogy-opening literary chiller.

The “Pilot” episode proves jarring from its opening moment: the use of young Amy Bellafonte’s voiceover (like the lazy, info-dumping dialogue the writers subsequently give to the characters) not only leads to some clunky conveyance of exposition, but also seems nonsensical (if Amy–whose extraordinary lifetime spans generations–is speaking in retrospect, why is she doing so in prepubescent voice?). Worse, such loquaciousness is completely out of character with the quiet, withdrawn figure we are introduced to in Cronin’s novel. The TV series transforms Amy into a sassy 10-year-old, and even more strikingly, changes her race from white to black. My immediate reaction to this latter switch is to question why it was made. Is it just change for change’s sake, an attempt (similar to the tricks played by The Walking Dead) to render the adaptation distinct from the original narrative? Is it a compensation for the deletion of Sister Lacey (a significant character in the book) from the series? What bothers me most here is that the change results in racial stereotyping: Amy’s story is set in motion when her “stupid crackhead” (Amy’s term of besmirchment) mother dies on the street of a drug overdose.

Not just Amy, but almost all of Cronin’s characters appear to have been dramatically altered. The novel’s vampiric villain, Giles Babcock, becomes fetching blonde “Shauna” Babcock. Cold-blooded government agent Clark Richards is given a romantic side (anyone who’s read the book was likely shocked to watch him fall into bed with [the now-female] Sykes), and is presented as a longtime friend of protagonist Brad Wolgast. Wolgast’s novelistic backstory, meanwhile, is flipped: here he’s revealed as the one who left home following the tragic death of his daughter Eva; his ex-wife Lila (played by Emmanuelle Chriqui, an actress whose painful attempts to emote consistently strike me as the expression of a constipation-sufferer) openly seeks to resume relations.

I also feel compelled to grouse about the the not-so-special makeup effects. The test subjects in Cronin’s novel undergo a radical transformation into monstrosity that fails to manifest (at least not yet) in the series. For all the experimenting doctors’ don’t-call-them-vampires rhetoric, the show appears content to employ standard bloodsucker imagery. Pointy fangs, gleaming eyes: these nemeses look like castoffs from 1979’s Salem’s Lot adaptation.

Ironically, Cronin’s Passage does trace straight back to the work of Stephen King (The Stand in particular). But such intertextual connection (though perhaps to no surprise at this point) is stupefyingly simplified by the TV series. Exhibit A (as in Aargh!): the superpowers of Carrie-like telekinesis that Amy now apparently possesses.

Judging from the pilot and previews of upcoming episodes, The Passage reduces the marvelous (and elaborate) storytelling of Cronin’s post-apocalyptic epic to televisual shorthand. The unabashed bastardization on display thus far portends a series ultimately more absurd than absorbing.

 

Forgotten by History

One last post on Eli Roth’s History of Horror

Over the course of seven episodes, the documentary series covered an impressive array of films and television shows. Inevitably, though, there were omissions, either due to time constraints or oversights. Here is my list of the seven most glaring examples:

The Simpsons: Treehouse of HorrorAn annual Halloween institution for nearly three decades (one that has invoked/reworked countless horror classics) surely could have been given at least a passing nod.

Tim Burton’s oeuvreThe auteur of the Gothic and the macabre was basically MIA. Burton’s grimmer and gorier efforts (Sleepy HollowSweeney Todd) would have been perfect fare to savor.

Dark ShadowsA whole episode devoted to vampires, and not one mention of Barnabas Collins, who brought bloodsucking to the afternoon soap opera and captivated a slew of viewers on a daily basis?

It FollowsThe show’s talking heads would have had plenty to expound upon with this haunting and subtext-heavy sexual horror film.

The WitchPowerful, if polarizing, Robert Eggers’s frightening foray into the bedeviled New England wilderness would have been right at home in the “Demons Inside” episode (and could have culminated an episode devoted to the witch figure).

The Twilight ZoneThis eerie (and enduringly popular) series hosted by Rod Serling featured some of the scariest scenes ever to play on the small screen (“Nightmare at 20,000 Feet”: enough said), but you wouldn’t know it from watching Eli Roth’s History of Horror.

Alien. The titular predator is an iconic monster, and certain (chest-bursting) images from the film series have been seared into the viewing audience’s psyches. If sci-fi horror such as John Carpenter’s The Thing could be covered, then Alien should not have been foreign to the AMC program.

 

The preceding list is presented less as a critique than as a simple expression of surprise. A positive spin could be given in this sense: however inclusive Eli Roth’s History of Horror might have been, it wasn’t exhaustive (i.e. there’s room for future episodes!). Overall, I found the series finely edited and highly enjoyable to watch. The analysts added terrific insights and displayed an obvious love for the horror genre (which, time and again, was shown to have deeper significance and not merely form the pop cultural equivalent of junk food, filling the bovine masses with empty calories). Most importantly, the series got me excited to go and re-watch the classic films and TV shows covered. This illuminating history has pointed me toward a future of dark delights.