Flanagan and Garris Chat

In case you missed it…

Mike Flanagan was the guest on last week’s (#68) episode of Mick Garris’s podcast Post Mortem. The two directors renowned for their respective adaptations of Stephen King works discussed the recently-released Doctor Sleep, the 1997 TV miniseries version of The Shining, the Kubrick film, as well as the source novels. This hour-long interview is a terrific listen, brimming with interesting details. Some of the highlights:

  • Flanagan discusses his plan for navigating the Room 237 vs. Room 237 conundrum, and the reason he made his final choice as to what to put on the hotel room door in the film.
  • Flanagan reveals the aspects of King’s novel that so “desperately” made him want to direct a film version of Doctor Sleep.
  • Garris explains why King nearly pulled the plug on the miniseries just before shooting was set to begin.
  • Flanagan cites his favorite scene from the finished film version of Doctor Sleep–a scene, he says, that convinced King that returning to the Overlook (still standing at the end of the Kubrick film) was a good idea.
  • The directors discuss the salient differences between the novels The Shining and Doctor Sleep, and consider both books in the context of King’s biography.
  • Flangan identifies the specific scene from King’s The Shining that he has been “honoring” throughout his filmmaking career.

 

Three Critiques

In my last post, I waxed ecstatic about Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow. Admittedly, it is one of my all-time favorite films, and I consider it a modern classic of the horror genre. Still, I am capable of viewing this beloved movie without wearing Burton-tinted glasses. Not every note that the film struck was a perfect one. Here are three moments I wish had been done differently–or edited out completely:

1.The jump scare where the Witch of the Western Woods pops her eyes right out of her head was jarringly cartoonish, and would have worked just fine without this CGI-type special effect. Every time I see it, I think Beetlejuice has somehow smuggled his way into Sleepy Hollow.

 

2.In the climactic scene, Ichabod tosses the Horseman’s skull back to him, but the latter’s palming catch of it is totally unrealistic (it appears to pop right into his hand). There’s also a somewhat laughable gaff, because it’s clear that the teeth in the skull aren’t filed, yet get decidedly pointier once the Horseman grows his head back.

 

3.The snowy closing of the film–which has Ichabod return to fin de siècle New York City with Katrina and young Masbeth–felt tacked on to the plot, in a strained attempt at an optimistic ending. This unnecessarily Dickensian conclusion formed a complete contrast with the autumnal atmosphere prevalent throughout the film.

 

Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow: A Twentieth Anniversary Retrospective

On this date back in 1999, Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, a feature-length adaptation of Washington Irving’s legendary story, premiered in theaters. The film has aged finely in the two decades since its release, and has become (not just in my household, I’m sure) an autumnal classic that calls for annual viewing. Here on the twentieth anniversary of its first beaming onto movie screens, I would like to offer my thoughts on the dark brilliance and lasting greatness of Sleepy Hollow.

Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is a multi-genre piece (combining elements of mock-heroic comedy, local-color sketching, romantic-triangle drama, and ghost-story telling), and Burton’s film clearly follows the tale’s venerable lead. The key distinction, though, is that the genres woven into the 1999 movie are not an exact match of those in the source text. In the film, the Headless Horseman is a tangible threat and not just a bit of frisson-seeking fireside lore, and thus pushes the action squarely into the realm of horror. There’s also an element of the police procedural here, as Ichabod Crane is recast as a a New York City constable rather than a Connecticut pedagogue. Even a whiff of steampunk can be detected, in the strange gadgets the investigating Ichabod carries in his supped-up satchel. Finally, while Irving’s story employs some ambiguity concerning the climactic events (supernatural chase or native prank?), Burton’s effort offers a full-blown murder mystery.

Perhaps one of the most appreciable aspects of Sleepy Hollow is its ability to pay homage to a beloved narrative while simultaneously taking it in a new direction; Burton does not just rehash, but reshapes “The Legend” into something strikingly original. For example, the iconic climax of Irving’s tale (Brom/The Horseman’s pursuit of, and pumpkin-tossing at, Ichabod) is transferred to a much earlier scene (in which Brom is explicitly identified as the antagonist). Burton returns, though, to Sleepy Hollow’s famous covered bridge in a subsequent scene that has both Brom and Ichabod teaming up to battle the actual Horseman. In the source text, crossing the bridge is supposed to deliver Ichabod to a safe remove that proves anything but once the Horseman launches his gourd. This dynamic is reflected in the terrific scene in the film where the frightened villagers seek sanctuary within the hallowed grounds of the church, yet the fiendishly clever Horseman manages to draw out and decapitate Baltus.

The plot of Sleepy Hollow is no doubt complex, and grows increasingly intricate as the film unfolds. It’s gruesomely obvious that the Horseman is doing the killings, but a greater question–at whose bidding is this undead mercenary strategically picking people off?–persists. Ichabod’s investigation uncovers a conspiracy involving a cadre of town fathers, as well as the occult machinations of a scorned woman hellbent on revenge against those who dispossessed her family. By the very nature of its mystery trappings, the film invites repeated screenings: what at first appeared to be passing, insignificant details in retrospect form key pieces of the puzzle picture. The viewer caught up in the whodunit aspect the first time around can later revel in the “howdunit,” the filmmaker’s masterful techniques for seeding clues into the narrative. Furthermore, Sleepy Hollow forms a rewarding rewatch because of the subtlety of Burton’s visual artistry. I must have seen this movie umpteen times before I caught glimpse of the ghost faces that briefly, almost subliminally, manifest in the flaring fireplace flames just prior to the Horseman’s invasion of the ill-fated Killians’ home.

Beyond its rich plot, Sleepy Hollow succeeds because it is firmly grounded in an immersive setting. When making the film, an entire town–along with the leaf-carpeted woods on its outskirts–was constructed on set. This commitment to physical, structural detail creates a strong sense of place, giving viewers the impression that they are witnessing a slice of life in an actual late-18th Century village. Anyone who has ever walked the sloping landscape of the real-life Sleepy Hollow Cemetery (where Irving himself is buried), will further appreciate the verisimilitude of the film’s scene of Masbeth’s funeral, which takes place out on a hillside graveyard.

Sleepy Hollow also prospers from uniformly superlative performances, starting with Johnny Depp in the starring role. Depp is doubtless a more dashing and endearing figure than Irving’s Ichabod, yet retains the schoolteacher’s laughable skittishness. The actor manages to combine and convey multiple facets of the character–a squeamish detective, a childish coward (in the director’s commentary on the DVD, Burton repeatedly likens Ichabod to an adolescent girl), yet ultimately an adventurous and heroic leading man. Depp’s counterpart, the doe-eyed Christina Ricci, is positively spellbinding as Katrina, a beauty with wiccan proclivities. A performance by a young American actress affecting a pseudo-British accent could easily have come off as jarring and grating, but Ricci’s Katrina is both a convincing and sympathetic character. Miranda Richardson’s portrayal of the tigerish Lady Van Tassel is blackly comedic yet never devolves into campy quips and theatrics. As the slain Hessian turned Headless Horseman, the shock-haired, sharp-fanged Christopher Walken (who kills here in an unbilled cameo) effuses menace with nary a word of dialogue.

The Headless Horseman here makes for an unforgettable movie monster. His portentous arrivals are staged in appropriately dramatic fashion, presaged by rolling fog, strobing lightning, and fleeing, panic-stricken animals. Armed and mounted, the Horseman cuts a figure of macabre majesty. He’s a headless badass, a German Terminator impervious to wounding by ordinary weapons. Arguably the greatest legacy of Sleepy Hollow is its utter transformation of the Headless Horseman mythos. Not just some restless churchyard spook, he’s envisioned by Burton as a netherworld resident who emerges topside from a twisted, eldritch monument dubbed the Tree of the Dead. In countless books, films, and TV episodes thereafter, the character is more than a former soldier engaged in nightly search for his cannon-blasted noggin; necromantically controlled by his recovered skull, the Horseman’s sent to hunt others’ heads.

As it transforms Irving’s genteel ghost story into a latter-day Hammer horror film, Sleepy Hollow certainly earns a hard-R rating. It features a slew of graphic beheadings of humans (and a witch-abused bat), not to mention one nasty bisection of Brom by the doubly-armed Horseman. Still, the film balances savagery with sublimity–beautiful atmospheric shots, such as of the looming Van Tassel manse and the no-less-Gothic locale comprised by the Western Woods. This period film rooted in a specific time and place nonetheless conveys the timeless feeling of a fairy tale. For all these reasons, Sleepy Hollow stands heads above all other adaptations of “The Legend” before and since, and in my estimation represents the crowning achievement of director Tim Burton’s distinguished career.

 

Pleasant Nightmares: A Review of Doctor Sleep

For his latest directorial effort, Mike Flanagan no doubt faced a task as daunting as the prospect of spending a winter snowbound inside the Overlook Hotel. He would be helming a sequel to one of the most revered horror films of all time, and his own endeavor inevitably would be measured against a Shining touchstone. Not only is an adaptation of Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep no easy task (considering the book’s size and scope) in and of itself, but Flanagan also had to deal with the fact that the author famously hates the Kubrick interpretation of the precursor novel The Shining. That Flanagan manages to overcome these obstacles and create a film both faithful to its source text and aligned with the Kubrick classic is testament to the director’s considerable cinematic skill.

The novel version of Doctor Sleep presents a sprawling narrative, featuring three parallel plotlines that span decades in time and cover countless miles of national ground. Flanagan’s adaptation streamlines matters without sacrificing breadth or complexity; it hearkens to all the major beats from the book. The film takes the time to establish its various characters, and takes off thanks to the brilliant performances turned in by its three leads. Ewan McGregor is terrific as the flawed yet endearing Dan Torrance (a relatable American Everyman in the vein of Christopher Walken’s John Smith in The Dead Zone). Dan’s struggles with alcoholism and anger management throughout his adult life are successfully established without ever becoming cliché or tedious. Just as her character steals gifted kids’ “steam,” Rebecca Ferguson steals scenes here as the simultaneously sexy and sinister leader of the True Knot, Rose the Hat. In lesser hands, her character might have been reduced to a (figurative) mustache-twirling, (literal) black-hatted villain, but Ferguson renders Rose a multi-faceted and fascinating figure. Lastly, newcomer Kyliegh Curran sparkles as Abra Stone, the paranormally-talented young teen stalked by the True Knot. This superpowered adolescent (whose shining ability far exceeds Dan’s) could easily have become annoying or cartoonish, but Curran’s impressive work makes Abra a finely nuanced rather than one-note character.

At so many points this adaptation might have skidded off the road, but time and again Flanagan navigates deftly. King’s narrative is rife with telepathic gymnastics that could have proved quite hokey-looking when projected onto the big screen, yet such scenes are not only convincing here; they are marked by sublime cinematography. Likewise, the “cycling” of True Knot members when they get a taste of mortality could have been cause for some cheesy visuals, but the film’s dramatization of these death throes shows off some eye-popping special effects.

I imagine that the ultimate question that a review of Doctor Sleep has to address is: Is it scary? The answer is yes, but with the addendum that moviegoers should expect a different viewing experience than they had with The Shining. That earlier film established much of its atmosphere from a sense of terrifying confinement (as the Torrances are trapped within a quintessential Bad Place), whereas the sequel is more expansive in its horror, typically foraying into the great American outdoors. The ghosts of the Overlook are overwhelmingly haunting in their posthumous habitat, but the supernatural nemeses in Doctor Sleep have a knack for messing with character’s heads form afar. The vampy campers comprising the cult of the True Knot are undeniably creepy, in the flesh and even in broad daylight. Their nocturnal torture (with the headlights of their vehicles beaming eerily on them) of an abducted Iowan child is as chilling as anything Kubrick depicted in the 1980 film.

One significant difference between the book and film versions of The Shining is that the Overlook is not destroyed at the end of the latter, and I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler to note that the still-standing (now abandoned) hotel figures into the proceedings in the film version of Doctor Sleep. Flanagan invokes the iconic scenes, settings, weapons, and revenants of the Overlook, not just as facile callbacks, but as a strategic key to Dan and Abra’s battle with Rose. This climax thus diverts radically from King’s novel, yet satisfies in terms of plot logic and proves wildly entertaining (even in its quieter moments–there’s a conservation between Dan and a ghostly bartender that’s worth the price of admission alone). Fans of Flanagan’s adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix will revel in the work the director does with the Overlook here.

Personally, I was captivated by Doctor Sleep, and marveled at the delicate balancing act it pulled off. I also understand, though, that there will be plenty of viewers resistant to this movie. Some will criticize it for being nothing like The Shining, while others will treat its borrowings from the earlier film as almost sacrilegious. But like the True Knot in a feeding frenzy, Doctor Sleep is bound to gather steam: I believe appreciation of the achievement will grow steadily over time, and in retrospect the film will be regarded as Flanagan’s magnum opus.

 

Fright Card: 6 Killer Movie-Monster Matchups

Frankenstein Meets the Wolf ManFreddy vs. Jason, Alien vs. Predator: horror film history repeatedly features face-offs between iconic monsters. If I were booking the fright card, though, here’s the cinematic talent I’d try to line up in the proverbial squared circle and set to mashing:

1.King Kong vs. Cthulhu

The regal gorilla is scheduled to renew his rivalry with Godzilla this spring, but in the meantime could clash with another colossus from down under the sea. Imagine the entourages this pair of native-favored figures would bring to their showdown!

 

2.Hannibal Lecter vs. Leatherface

A Texas Death Match of two competitors hungry for a vicious victory. Biting needs to be legalized here, otherwise this one would end in a quick disqualification.

 

3.The Cat from Hell vs. Ben

Stephen King’s infernal feline makes for a natural antagonist with the big black rat. Let’s hold this one in a steel cage, lest Ben’s colony of followers create outside interference.

 

4.The Creeper vs. The Faceless Trucker

A head-on collision of these scourges of the open road promises to spark some spectacular violence. Stipulation: the winner takes the title to his opponent’s wicked set of wheels.

 

5.Pinhead vs. Candyman

A sacerdotal demon devoted to inflicting legendary pain gets called out by an urban legend with a devastating right hook. The only thing that could make this bout between Clive Barker bogies any better would be to turn it into a Triple Threat Match with the undead Decker from Nightbreed.

 

6.Michael Myers vs. Sam

 

A battle of lunatic luchadores, as Haddonfield’s notorious Halloween-ruiner draws the wrath of the holiday’s most determined rule-keeper. Michael has a decided size advantage, but could end up a sucker for a jagged-edged foreign object that Sam is apt to carry into this street fight.

 

Freddy vs. Pennywise

In a two-hour-plus episode of Eli Roth’s History of Horror: Uncut that was released back in February, Quentin Tarantino displays an amazing breadth of cinematic erudition. But just before the closing of the interview (available as a podcast on iTunes), he opens up a can of verbal worms. While admitting to never having actually read IT, Tarantino asserts that “Stephen King saw A Nightmare on Elm Street and did his rip-off of it. […] He just replaces Freddy Krueger with Pennywise.” A bold claim, to say the least, and one that prompts a comparative look back at the Wes Craven film and the King novel.

No doubt there are some tempting parallels between the hit 1984 film and IT (published in 1986). Both works feature a quintessential American small town (Springwood and Derry, respectively) haunted by a shapeshifting, child-killing menace that adults don’t seem to notice. Freddy Krueger’s infernal boiler room hangout pairs with the subterranean industrial space that Pennywise calls home: the sewer system forming an abject labyrinth beneath Derry. The persistent lasciviousness of Freddy (whom critic Mark Edmundson describes in Nightmare on Main Street as “a dingy bum dressed in a broken fedora and a football hooligan’s cast-off sweater”) also anticipates the fellatio-proposing hobo/leper that stalks Eddie in King’s book. Just as bad boy Rod is collared for the bizarre slaughter of Tina in the film, mad bully Henry Bowers takes the rap for Pennywise’s widespread crimes in IT. The plots of both the movie and the novel unfold in a strikingly similar fashion: a group of youngsters realize they have been sharing the same nightmarish experiences, and band together to battle their monstrous adversary. Balinese dream skills aid the teens on Elm Street, while King’s kids range beyond their own culture when drawing on the Himalayan Ritual of Chüd. Less sophisticatedly, the array of booby traps that Nancy sets for Freddy in Nightmare links with Richie’s fending off of Pennywise-as-Teenage-Werewolf with sneezing powder (“Jesus,” Richie sardonically ponders, “if I had some itching powder and maybe a joy buzzer I might be able to kill it.“).

All that having been said, there are some salient differences between Craven’s and King’s works. The film presents high-school-age heroes, while the members of the Losers Club in the novel are all pre-teens. The conservative morality evinced by 80’s slasher films consistently punishes teenagers like Tina and Rod who engage in sex, whereas a group sex act in IT actually helps save the Losers when they foray into the sewers. Also, the Freddy-Pennywise equation grows more complicated when one attends carefully to chronology. In the first Nightmare film, Freddy is not the pun-slinger and groan-inducing jokester he would devolve into in later entries in the series, so he can hardly be cited here as a model for Pennywise’s macabre clowning. Likewise, Freddy really is not much of a shapeshifter in the 1984 film (impersonating a hall monitor and later poking his tongue from a telephone mouthpiece form about the extent of it); his wilder transformations would come in films released after the publication of King’s novel. Furthermore, the notion of a terribly metamorphic monster did not originate with Craven and is not unique to A Nightmare on Elm Street. Such creatures are featured in two other works that clearly influence IT: John Carpenter’s The Thing (in which a deadly alien trickster crash-lands on Earth) and Peter Straub’s Ghost Story (in which a manitou-like femme fatale torments a group of friends over several generations).

Throughout his career, King has not been averse to engaging in pop cultural appropriation (e.g. the basic scenario of his novel Cell–a father traverses a post-apocalyptic, zombie-stocked wasteland in a quest to reach and rescue his son–sounds suspiciously similar to Brian Keene’s The Rising). I have little doubt that King was familiar with the original Nightmare on Elm Street and folded elements of the film into his monster opus, albeit in a less overt fashion than his references to various other horror genre properties throughout IT.  When King writes that Richie (who is accosted by the animate statue of Paul Bunyan) “understood that this wasn’t a dream at all…and if it was, it was a dream that could kill,” he suggests a firm grasp of Craven’s basic conceit. Still, to posit Pennywise as a darkly carnivalesque stand-in for Freddy Krueger, and to call IT a blatant rip-off A Nightmare on Elm Street, is a gross oversimplification and misrepresentation by Tarantino.

 

 

Ichabod Inane

I try not to post strictly negative reviews here on the Dispatches from the Macabre Republic blog, because there’s not a lot of joy in writing them. Sometimes, though, it is a necessity. Consider this my public service announcement.

Ichabod! The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is an hour-long film (dated as 2019, but according to IMDB, first released in 2004) available on Amazon Prime Video. It bills itself as a musical, which I must admit caught my interest. But after a song at the outset, the film runs for another thirty minutes before offering another tune (I think I counted four total). We might have been better off not getting any songs at all, because the lyrics approach the height of ridiculousness (they lost me at “What an Ichabod-a-bing!”).

This film has all the production value of a high school musical. I swear I saw the “stone” well shake as characters ran by it. The limited set design also seems to lend a nonsensical quality to the proceedings: a masked ball is actually held outdoors in the village courtyard.

The putative plot centers on the Ichabod-Katrina-Brom love triangle, but grossly distorts the Washington Irving source text. Here Katrina’s parents are hellbent on marrying their daughter off to the dubiously debonair Crane, and Katrina is torn between her sense of familial duty and her true love for Brom. Nothing terribly compelling about any of this romantic drama. I also find it laughable that the actor portraying Ichabod (Peter O’Meara) is a bit portly, and bigger in stature than the actor playing the supposedly-physically-superior Brom (Nathan Anderson).

Perhaps worst of all, the Headless Horseman hardly figures into the film. Quick glimpses of the legendary specter early on don’t make a lot of narrative sense. And while there is a climactic confrontation with Ichabod, there is neither a thrilling chase on horseback nor an iconic pumpkin-chucking scene. Instead the film settles for moribund ambiguity and a lame, heavily-moralizing conclusion.

When first selecting the film on Amazon, I debated between renting and purchasing. Thankfully I chose the former, because one viewing is one too many. Decapitation would be a preferable option to having to sit through this bastardizing dreck ever again.

 

Luminary Lanterns

Two days ago, William Bibbiani posted an interesting article over at Bloody Disgusting: “11 Unforgettable Jack O’Lanterns in Movies!”. This annotated compilation highlights some “classic carved pumpkins in your favorite movies and theatrical releases.” Most of the examples that immediately came to my mind were represented here, but the piece also got me to thinking about other eminent pumpkins that would be worthy additions to Bibbiani’s listing. So let’s make it a baker’s dozen: here’s a winning pair of jacks from two more Halloween-related features.

 

Sleepy Hollow (1999)

Tim Burton establishes a gloomy October atmosphere right from the opening scene of this Irving-reworking film, with the shot of a looming scarecrow. The wickedly grinning face carved onto the cornfield sentinel (which ends up blood-spatted by Peter Van Garrett’s beheading) also presages the dark humor and lurid horror in store for audiences.

This scarecrow alone leads me to nominate the film, but Sleepy Hollow also includes another excellent jack-o’lantern: the flaming pumpkin hurled at Ichabod during Brom’s prank. The airborne gourd speeding toward the screen here forms the most realistic depiction of the iconic climax of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” that I have ever seen.

 

Monsters vs. Aliens: Mutant Pumpkins from Outer Space (2009)

Technically, this is a bit of a fudge: it features the cast from the animated film Monsters vs. Aliens, but was actually a segment from the Dreamworks Spooky Stories Halloween special that was broadcast on NBC in 2009. Nevertheless, the titular alien critters (created by the contamination of a pumpkin patch by a flying saucer’s sewage) are wonderful to behold. With their jibber-jabbering and commitment to hijinks, they’re like a horde of autumnal Minions.

The true visual treat, though, is served up when the mutant pumpkins amalgamate into a lumbering Halloween colossus. Like a kaiju composed of radioactive jack-o’-lanterns, this creature makes for one awesome October bogey. I know I have never forgotten it after first catching glimpse of its incredible look a decade ago.

 

Camino Royale

Can I get a “Yeah, bitch!”?

El Camino, the feature-length sequel (now streaming on Netflix) to the Breaking Bad series, had a lofty standard to live up to, but thankfully manages to do just that. The film steers viewers right back into the seedy world of Albuquerque, whose sun-drenched streets have been the setting for some extremely dark doings over the years.

In a strict sense, the film picks up where the series finale left off–with Jesse’s escape (courtesy of Walter White) from enslavement by Uncle Jack’s outlaw gang. The title El Camino actually refers to the getaway car, formerly owned by Todd, that Jesse (the sensational-as-always Aaron Paul) drives as he speeds away from the carnage at the compound. He isn’t able simply to ride off into the sunset, though (otherwise there would be no need for this follow-up); much of the narrative thrust here comes from Jesse’s labors to avoid a prompt re-capturing by the local authorities now hunting him.

Yet mimicking the workings of Breaking Bad, the film does not unspool its story in a merely linear fashion. There are a series of flashbacks employed, which also gives director Vince Gilligan the opportunity to bring back a host of characters from the TV series (some of whom were killed off along the way) in new, never-before-glimpsed scenes. These revisits with old friends and enemies are skillfully done, filled with poignant moments and smoothly sequeing into earlier points on the BB timeline. The one exception I would note involves psycho Todd (played by Jesse Plemons), who appears inexplicably and conspicuously chunky in his flashback scenes (seriously, dude, you couldn’t have dieted for this role?).

Perhaps the greatest gain from the back-and-forth cutting of the film’s narrative is the light shed on Jesse’s character. Even though he is no longer locked in a cage like a filthy animal, Jesse isn’t necessarily free. El Camino does a fine job of demonstrating the psychological trauma that lingers after the physical ordeal has ended. The presentation of additional scenes from the former captivity narrative chillingly evokes the torture and torment Jesse was forced to suffer, and his present-day recall of such Gothic experiences clearly reveal a haunted figure.

There is undeniable darkness here, but again in keeping with the precursor series, also terrific instances of humor. The hysterical banter between Badger and Skinny Pete alone makes this film a must-see for fans. At the same time, El Camino features a fine shading of crime noir, especially as Jesse crosses paths with some dangerous con men after the late Todd’s stash of illicitly-gained cash.

With a two-hour drive time, El Camino can’t adopt the same deliberate storytelling approach of Breaking Bad, but the pacing of the film nonetheless feels pitch-perfect. Scenes of frantic action and sweat-wringing suspense are balanced with quieter, more tender moments. While the film doesn’t quite achieve the same gravitas as the series, it does make for a quite satisfying sequel. Jesse Pinkman (basically a good kid who found himself partnered with a bad man) has always been the show’s closest thing to a moral compass, and it is undoubtedly rewarding as a viewer to watch Jesse finally get the ending he deserves.

One final thought: the stories for two of the major characters from Breaking Bad (Walt and Jesse) are now complete, but there is still another loose thread remaining. Even as El Camino furnishes a strong sense of closure, it also spurs anticipation, and curiosity about the ultimate fate of everyone’s favorite shady lawyer (turned Cinnabon manager). The new season of Better Call Saul cannot come soon enough.

 

Remembrance of Trick-or-Treatings Past: Halloween in a Box

Writer/director Rob Caprilozzi’s documentary Halloween in a Box is filled with wonders for viewers of a certain age and a lasting fondness for autumnal merriment. Anyone who can recall once picking out one of the titular costume kits (complete with rubber-banded plastic masks and colorful vinyl smocks) at the local five-and-dime store and decking out on October 31st will slip quite easily into this film.

The documentary traces the rise (and falling fortunes of) the three giants in the boxed-costume industry: Ben Cooper, Inc, Collegeville, and Halco. Extensive interviews with the owners of, and employees within, these companies provide copious insight into the business end of the trick-or-treating enterprise. Looking back over several decades of ventures (mainly, the quest to secure licenses for character likenesses), the film forms a veritable tour of 20th Century pop culture. Halloween in a Box is perhaps most enlightening when it notes how the annual effort of fantasy role-playing was affected by various historical realities (e.g., the post-World War II lifting of the sugar ration, the rise of the automobile in the 1950’s, the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963). Covering the paranoia spawned by the Tylenol scare of the early 80’s, the documentary shows how the costuming competitors came together and endeavored to save the holiday by publishing an important booklet entitled 13 Great Ways to Celebrate Halloween.

To no surprise, Caprilozzi includes countless stills and home-video clips of children in the holiday gear of yesteryear (my one complaint is that these segments of the documentary are all scored by the same wearying piece of instrumental music; not since Creature form the Black Lagoon has a riff been so overused). I was delighted to catch glimpse of the Mork outfit that marked my own foray into boxed-costume territory as a pre-teen (the subject of one of the offerings in my collection Autumn Lauds: Poems for the Halloween Season). Brimmingly nostalgic and equally informative, Halloween in a Box is a real treat of the nonfictional kind this holiday-viewing season.