A priest, a cop, and a heroin addict walk into The Mist...
Last night we watched the sixth episode of Spike Television's horror serial The Mist, and though we weren't going to weigh in on the show, we got frustrated enough to bang out this write-up labeling it what it is—a disappointment. Which is too bad, because the Stephen King novella sourced for the series might be the best thing he ever wrote. It's hard to know where to begin discussing the show, so we'll start not with that, but with its medium. Television has changed. Where the real talent once gravitated toward cinema, today some of the best conceptualizing and writing is on television, as top creatives are driven to the small screen because movie studios are almost wholly focused on puerile superhero movies and juvenile comedies. Television is where The Wire, Game of Thrones, and Fargo made indelible marks on American culture. Hell, we can even go back to The Sopranos for an early example. The point is you have to bring your A-game.
But the creator of The Mist, Danish writer-director Christian Torpe, took one of Stephen King's best works, adapted it to a medium that is incredibly receptive to serialized horror, and blew it. King is credited as a writer on all ten episodes, but that's only a nod to him as the originator of the source material. He wasn't involved in the new teleplays, and they're spectacularly botched, put together by the worst kind of horror writers—those who force the characters to serve the convolutions of the plot rather than their own need for self preservation.
We'll give you an example. When a priest and a ’60s flower child disagree on whether the mist is sent by God or is a manifestation of Nature-with-a-capital-N, they decide to both walk into it to see which of them is spared. This is a mist filled with creatures that have caused the most painful deaths imaginable, but ho hum, they have a spiritual pissing match they need to settle, so into it they go, and a group of bystanders allows this lunacy to occur without raising an objection. Maybe next time they're at the zoo they can leap into the lion enclosure to see whether razor sharp claws and fangs are God or Nature.
In another example of the same terrible writing, a group stuck in a mall comes up with a set of rules to ration food and keep order. That's fine. The punishment for breaking any of the rules is expulsion from the mall. That's not fine. That's a sentence of death for even minor infractions, and this has been agreed upon by characters isolated for only a day or two, far too little time to go full Lord of the Flies. Under those circumstances virtually any normal person would say, “No, we don't agree that expulsion from the mall is a fair punishment, and if you get anywhere near us we're going to use a three wood from Dick's Sporting Goods on your cranium.” Those disinclined toward violence would perhaps say, “You know what—this mall is massive, so you have your crazy old testament punishment zone here, and we'll just hang out in the Cinnabon at the far end.”
Another issue with The Mist is that the characters are diverse in unrealistic and manipulative ways. See if this sounds like the beginning of a joke to you: there's a priest, a cop, a heroin addict, a jock, a hippie, and a bully. In the best television shows the characters are very much the same when you meet them, but their differences manifest over time because of who they are inside—not due to the uniforms they wear. In The Mist the cop wears a uniform and the priest wears a different uniform and the solider wears a still different uniform, but no less obvious are the uniforms worn by the flower child (sun dress and pants), the gay kid (eyeliner), the heroin addict (sweat), and the good girl (virginal white skin). Even many of the minor characters are written as clichés. Compare that to a show like The Walking Dead. In season one what is the difference between the two major characters Rick Grimes and Shane Walsh? There is none, except one is duplicitous and one is honorable. What is the main difference between Rick and Carol? It's not their sex. It's that she's more easily capable of cruelty for what she feels is right. What is the difference between Carol and Morgan? It isn't their skin. It's that he abhors lethal violence and has to come to grips with its necessity. Their differences are internal, and watching them revealed is one of the joys of the show. But in The Mist the uniforms—literal and figurative—are there to do the work the writers were too lazy to manage.
Basically, there are no genuine surprises in the way The Mist's characters develop. The cop becomes an authoritarian but later seems to climb down from total assholery. The priest at first seems reasonable but eventually decides he must impose his faith on others. The heroin addict clings to worldly pursuits like money and being high, but later decides she needs to kick. She does this, by the way, in a sequence bracketed by a standoff and fight elsewhere in the building. She'd said the process of medically assisted detox would take five or six hours. As two characters elsewhere in the building argue, she's tied to a bed, where she sweats and screams, and is later untied, presumably five or six hours later. Then we cut back to the argument, which shortly turns into a fight. Did those two argue for five hours? It's the type of egregious timelime weirdness you see only in badly made shows, and it's symptomatic of the lack of deep thought behind The Mist. We stuck with it for more than half its ten episode run, but now we're giving up. It's clear the writers aren't going to overcome any of the show's problems in the next four episodes.
Every time I turn my back you bite another little hussy from the village
This unusual Japanese poster was made to promote the horror flick The Brides of Dracula, which premiered in the U.K. today in 1960. We don't have a Japanese premiere date, but we're guessing it was several years later. In the film, a French schoolteacher is hired to staff a position in Transylvania and, having lodging difficulties upon arrival, ends up accepting an offer by Baroness Meinster to spend the night in her creepy old castle. The teacher discovers the Baroness's son chained up in one of the rooms. She helps the seemingly beleaguered wretch escape, not realizing she's just released a vampire. She still doesn't realize it when she later agrees to marry him, but that's about when Dr. Abraham Van Helsing shows up with plans to ram a sharp piece of wood through his heart. Will it happen in time to save the teacher from a really bad marriage to a vampire who has neglected to mention not only that he's undead, but that he already has several undead wives? You'll have to watch to find that out. If you like dungeon horror, it's worth the effort, as this is from Hammer Studios, and is probably one of the best efforts from one of the most storied horror production companies.
Low visibility and even lower survivability.
Yes, we're tripling up on films this lovely Thursday because all three premiered today in some year or other. This third poster is the Spanish promo painted by Macario Gomez for John Carpenter's horror flick The Fog, about a town beset by a ghost ship filled with murderous lepers. It's an oldie but a goodie, we'd say, with Jamie Lee Curtis, her real life mom Janet Leigh, Adrienne Barbeau, and Hal Holbrook. Couple of takeaways from this one—Jamie Lee will hook up with any old schlub, and haunted fog really scoots. Think you can outrun it? Forget it. If you hated the 2005 remake (and who didn't) give this one a try. There are some legit chills here. The Fog premiered as La niebla in Spain today in 1980.
It isn't the wind making that howling noise.
Above you see two colorful Japanese posters for The Howling, Joe Dante's 1981 werewolf thriller starring Dee Stone, Patrick Macnee, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers hero Kevin McCarthy. As werewolf movies go, The Howling was a bit of a gamechanger simply because the principle werewolf was more terrifying than any that had been put on screen to that point. It looks more than anything like a ten-foot tall Wile E. Coyote, with a long crooked snout, and devilish ears that stick out from its head like horns. Covered with wiry hair and perched upon long canine legs like a walking dog, the brute physicality of this beast is cringe inducing. On the other hand, the ancillary werewolves might make you laugh. The filmmakers obviously wanted to genderize the creatures, which led to the idea of making the female wolves somehow cute. Instead they end up looking like Ewoks. The giallo-styled soundtrack might also be jarring for modern audiences. We love it, though it's right in your face like doggie breath.
But the film is definitely worth watching these thirty-six years later. The plot involves a television reporter whose investigation into serial killings in New York City result in her—seemingly in random fashion—spending time in a rural retreat to recover from emotional trauma. There she realizes a coven of werewolves rule the woods. Dante went for a slow build-up to the big reveal, and when that first encounter came it forever recalibrated the werewolf genre. Today some of the balloon effects may look quaint, but objectively they're more visceral than anything computer graphics have managed thus far. Other effects, including a brief animation, aren't as convincing, but no movie is perfect. The Howling is a landmark, and our only regret is we were never able to see it in a cinema (though that may change if ever our local horror festival screens it). The film premiered in the U.S. in March 1981, and first howled across Japan today the same year.
In retrospect, maybe this solo hiking trip wasn't the best idea. Oh well, I'll be fine. But next year: Burning Man.
Hmm. So she disappeared down there in that bizarre nimbus of light? I think it's about time for my donut break.
Okay, okay! Let me just find the leash and we'll go. Geez—sometimes I can't tell who's the owner and who's the pet.
Arooooooo! Bacon! Bacon! Bacon! Baaaaacooooon!
So, you loaded this with the silver bullets, right? Right? Baby, did you hear me?
Well, the thing is, werewolfing helps me relax. Fronting my speedmetal band is really stressful.
I think the night went bad after the third Jäger shot. Could be worse, though. Garth got a tribal tattoo on his calf. Man, these beasts are seriously horr— Whoa. Single white werewolf at twelve o'clock. Bitch got some fucked up teeth but I can work with that.
Just one look was all it took.
British actress Barbara Steele became known for starring in Italian gothic horror films, a genre in which she could put her penetrating eyes to good use. Some of her films include The Pit and the Pendulum, Nightmare Castle, and The Horrible Dr. Hitchcock, as well as mainstream efforts like 8½, Pretty Baby, and 2016's Minutes Past Midnight. She also moved into producing shows for television, earning credits on The Winds of War, Queer Eye, and other shows. No date on the above shot but we're thinking it's from around 1965.
“The Thing” that wasn't there.
We've shared several covers from Grandi Edizioni Internazionali's horror collection I Capolavori della Serie KKK but this one is kind of special. Translated into Italian by Fernanda Adami, this is a collection of horror master Robert Bloch's early short stories. In case he isn't familiar to you, he wrote Psycho. This book is called La Cosa, or The Thing because Bloch's first story, a piece called “The Thing” appeared in his school magazine in 1932 when Bloch was only fourteen. But guess what? “The Thing” isn't one of the stories in The Thing. Instead the book consists of four tales—“Colui che apre la via,” “Ritorno a Sabbath,” “Il segreto di Sebek,” and “Enoch.” In English these are “The Opener of the Way,” “Return of the Sabbath,” “The Secret of Sebek,” and “Otis.” Just kidding—it's “Enoch.” Lovecraft fans probably already know of the first three stories because they appeared in Bloch's Lovecraft inspired collection The Opener of the Way in 1945 and remain widely read pieces of Lovecraftian lore. So that makes this paperback a bit of a collector's item. As if the great art by Benedetto Caroselli didn't already do that. Yes, he painted a misleading illustration for a horror anthology but Caroselli and Grandi Edizioni Internazionali specialized in that. Want to see a particularly brazen example? Check here.
Sightings of bizarrely garbed figures have South Carolina residents baffled and worried.
A rash of scary clown sightings have occurred in the U.S. in the last week in the state of South Carolina, mainly in Greenville and Spartanburg counties. The encounters have varied from clowns attempting to lure children into the woods, to a pair of citizens chasing two clowns into a waiting car driven by a third clown. The photo above is an actual shot made by a man in Greenville, which he posted to Twitter with the caption, “Just spotted a major freak behind Fleetwood Apts.” The building happens to be ground zero for some of the clown sightings.
The favored explanation online for all this weirdness is that it's a publicity stunt for the new Rob Zombie horror movie 31. If that's the case, we've done our part for Rob by sharing the promotional poster just below. But assuming these sightings are publicity stunts, doesn't that seem like a very serious risk to take? American cops are trigger happy, and it isn't glitter and confetti that comes out of their guns. Let's say instead of a clown getting ventilated, though, he was arrested. For what, we aren't sure, since it isn't illegal to offer kids candy, which is what reports say one of the clowns did—but whatever, clown gets arrested. All the suspect would have to say is, “I'm a clown, it's true, but not that clown.”
Absent fingerprints (“No prints, sir, he must have worn gloves.”), shoe prints (“The casts are finished, sir—he wore size 37.”) or DNA (best not to think about that), only an admission of guilt could connect the arrested clown to the previous clowns. Or maybe police could stage a line-up. Of clowns. Bring in a tearful witness. “Yes, officer it was the one on the far left. I'm sure of it. I'll never forget *sob* his big red nose.”
Our guess is that these sightings are one of those instances of bizarro cultural programming, like the one that causes UFO or Bigfoot sightings. Rogue clowns have been reported lately not just in South Carolina, but in Ohio, Wisconsin, California, and even jolly old England. For our part, we hope the sightings simply stop. We don't need to get to the bottom of them. If they're real, we don't want to know who (doubtless one or more smug white guys, though) figured it was a perfectly fine idea to dress in a weird costume and terrify bystanders—this in a country where people wearing nothing more than dark skin end up shot for jaywalking. Which raises the question: if a clown were to be shot, would it be tragic, tragicomic, or just plain comical? Guess it depends on how you feel about them.
Whatever happens don't lose your head.
This weird Japanese poster was made to promote the weird Hong Kong movie Xin Mo, aka The Bedeviled, aka Sam moh, a horror flick starring Taiwanese actor Chun Hsiung Ko and Japanese actress Reiko Ike in a tale of corrupt elites in a rural village who frame a peasant and force his wife into sexual servitude. This is not a pinku film—the story unfolds with restraint and the plot is linear. And the moral is clear: don't use your power to subjugate others. But alas, the one-percenters of this village let their greed run rampant and as a result are haunted by severed heads and eventually wind up dead. Too bad greed isn't punished like that in the real world, right? So many severed heads would be flying around they'd turn the noon sky to midnight. We prefer Ike with her head attached, but this is still a good movie. It premiered in Japan today in 1975.
Live like a snake, die like a snake.
Kaidan hebi-onna is known in English as Snake Woman's Curse, or sometimes Ghost Story of the Snake Woman, and it stars Sachiko Kuwabara, who is also known as Yukiko Kuwabara, and whose last name is read informally as Kuwahara. These various designations have caused some confusion online, but whether Sachiko or Yukiko, or Kuwabara or Kuwahara, they're all the same woman. She doesn't star on the poster, though—that honor has been reserved for Yukie Kagawa, who's there because, well, we'll get to that.
The plot here involves a cruel landlord in feudal Japan who overworks a sharecropper couple, bringing about their untimely deaths by illness, causing them to linger as vengeful spirits who regularly pop up and scare the shit out of everyone. The couple's bereft daughter also soon dies, but by her own hand. The landlord and his son begin seeing spirits and snakes everywhere, and even begin to think those close to them are becoming snakes. Kagawa undergoes such a transformation, though only imagined by the villains, and that's why she's on the poster despite her secondary role in the film.
Kaidan hebi-onna is well shot and acted, but the blood efx are amateur hour and the snake sequences mainly consist of the poor creatures being thrown into shots from off-camera. Based on the highly polished look of the film, we'd have thought there was enough budget to get this stuff right, but what do we know? Maybe all the money went into the sets and costumes. Not frightening, but still an atmospheric evocation of classic revenant themes, Kaidan hebi-onna opened in Japan today in 1968. You can see an alternate poster for the film here, and as a double bonus, below are two promo photos of Kuwahara, or Kuwabara. Talk about cold blooded—she must be freezing inside and out.
Mexico serves as a fresh backdrop for a macabre classic.
From Estudios America, S.A. came this poster promoting their low budget adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's short story "The Fall of the House of Usher," which the studio called Satanás de todos los horrores. You've read the Poe story, right? Cursed house, woman buried alive, house cracks in two, falls over, and sinks into swamp. Satanás premiered in Mexico today in 1974, and starred Enrique Lizalde, Enrique Rocha and Illya Shanell. Though it's been poorly reviewed over time, we've seen far worse. The promo poster, you may notice, is signed “E.M.” We don't know who that is yet. Anyone out there with insight feel free to drop us a line. In the meantime we will dig, as always. See more Mexican movie poster art here and here.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1954—Communist Party Outlawed
In the U.S., during the height of the Red Scare, President Dwight Eisenhower signs the Communist Control Act into law. The new legislation bans the American Communist Party, and prohibits people deemed to be communists from serving as officials in labor organizations.
1968—France Explodes Nuke
a two-stage nuclear weapon, codenamed Canopus, on Fangataufa, French Polynesia.
1942—Battle of Stalingrad Begins
The Battle of Stalingrad, perhaps the most pivotal event of World War II, begins. It lasts for more than six months, spread across the brutal Russian winter, and ends with two million casualties. The Russian sacrifice reduces the powerful German army to a shell of its former self, and as a result Nazi defeat in the war becomes a simple matter of time.
1979—Alexander Gudonov Defects
Russian ballet dancer and actor Alexander Borisovich Godunov defects to the U.S. The event causes an international diplomatic crisis, but Gudonov manages to win asylum. He joins the famous American Ballet Theater, where he becomes a colleague of fellow-defector Mikhail Baryshnikov, and later earns roles in such Hollywood films as Witness and Die Hard.
1950—Althea Gibson Breaks the Color Barrier
Althea Gibson becomes the first African-American woman to compete on the World Tennis Tour, and the first to earn a Grand Slam title when she wins the French Open in 1956. Later she becomes the first African-American woman to compete in the Ladies Professional Golf Association.
1952—Devil's Island Closed
Devil's Island, the penal colony located off the coast of French Guiana, is permanently closed. The prison is later made world famous by Henri Charrière's bestselling novel Papillon, and the subsequent film starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman.
1962—De Gaulle Survives Assassination Attempt
Jean Bastien-Thiry, a French air weaponry engineer, attempts to assassinate French President Charles de Gaulle to prevent Algerian independence. Bastien-Thiry and others attack de Gaulle's armored limousine with machine guns, but after expending hundreds of rounds, they succeed only in puncturing two tires.
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