Sabrina returns in a new season with a few changes to the formula that worked well.
Following the events of the Midwinter Special, Sabrina (Kiernan Shipka) takes a break from her mortal side and enrolls more seriously in the Academy of the Unseen Arts, mostly to avoid her awkward break-up with Harvey Kinkle (Ross Lynch). However, it quickly becomes obvious that a lot of the policies of the Academy will be completely against her relatively progressive moral code, bringing her into conflict with the more archaic policies of the Dean, Father Faustus Blackwood (Richard Coyle). A lot of stuff happens after that, but spoilers and such.
While the first season of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina clearly demonstrated that Sabrina and her mortal friends were very presenting a progressive agenda, it was usually secondary to the plot of the episodes. In this season, it usually isn’t. Several of the episodes are Sabrina finding out about some absurd rule that the Academy has and fighting to change it, while Roz (Jaz Sinclair), Harvey (Ross Lynch), and Susie/Theo (Lachlan Watson) do the same thing to a rule or policy in the Greendale School in the B-Plot.
While most of the time the show did a solid job of trying to make some points about the nature of feminism and equality, I admit that the show did sometimes feel like they were presenting straw-men to represent their regressive opponents. I mean, it isn’t exactly subtle when your main regressive figure is Father Blackwood, whose daughter was literally kept from him on the basis that everyone believed he’d kill her to make sure his first legitimate child was a boy. Any time he’s the adversary, he’s taking a position that is openly “women are lesser.” While it does make for some interesting plotlines, it kind of hurts the narrative that it’s hard to believe that he’s supported in saying this in Witch society, where we’ve seen many witches who flat-out dwarf warlocks in power. Or maybe that’s the point and I would get that if I were a woman.
Similarly, in a plotline involving Susie/Theo (he identifies as a boy as of this season, although the show originally said he was non-binary) trying out for the basketball team, the coach is an exceptional dick, as are most of the other players, to the point of being unbelievable. It even kind of undercuts the message when the coach himself points out that Theo wouldn’t be able to get on the team if he just gave him a regular tryout, due to Theo not being tall, athletic, coordinated, or particularly good at basketball, eventually getting on only due to Sabrina magically enhancing him. I will say, however, that there is a scene in the locker room where Theo is being ogled by the other players that came off as simultaneously horrifying and also realistic in how it portrayed the mistreatment of transgender people.
In the first season review I said that the version of Satanism presented in the show is more akin to a perverted version of Southern Baptism than actual Satanism, and that has carried through to this season, only with the added element of being set more in a church school. They even address some of the issues with revisionist doctrines contained in religious education systems by having Father Blackwood propose his own “revised” version of Satanism… something he hilariously doesn’t get approved by Satan. It turns out that even the Great Adversary of God doesn’t want to support some misogynist prick.
The acting and writing in the show has always been pretty good in my opinion, but I think there were three major improvements over the last season. First, the chemistry and interplay between Hilda (Lucy Davis) and Zelda (Miranda Otto) got much better. I thought they really started to seem like sisters. Second, they added Adam (Alexis Denisof) as the fiance of the woman who is now possessed by Lilith (Michelle Gomez), and that opens the character up a bit, rather than making her just an antagonist. Third, the humor got a lot sharper, particularly coming up with good lines. Heck, Satan has a line to Sabrina that made me laugh for like a solid five minutes.
Overall, I thought this was a marked improvement over the last season.
Throw your Yule log on the fire and get ready for tales of child abduction and murder from two separate sources, it’s Sabrina’s Christmas Special!
It’s the holidays: a time for family, for decorations, for love, and for warding off evil spirits through the use of magic rituals. In this case, the Spellman household is gearing up for the winter holiday that they celebrate: Solstice (which takes place on December 21st instead of the 25th… and occasionally on the 22nd, I guess… and in June if you’re on the Southern Hemisphere… stopping now). Sabrina (Kiernan Shipka) is still having a little bit of a difficult time adjusting to the recent events of her breaking-up with Harvey (Ross Lynch) and signing her soul away via a signature in the Dark Book of the Beast in order to gain the power to save Greendale. However, she is at least a little relieved that she doesn’t have to hide her witch nature from Harvey or her friends Roz (Jaz Sinclair) and Susie (Lachlan Watson).
Susie is excited that, for the first time, she was allowed to play the Christmas elf for the local Santa, Mr. Bartel (Brian Markinson). However, she is soon shocked to discover that his famous wax elves that accompany him in his workshop are actually the trapped souls of children that he killed by dipping in wax. Also, he’s a demon, but the first part is more important. He kidnaps Susie and prepares to dip her in wax.
Meanwhile, Sabrina enlists the weird sisters (Tati Gabrielle, Adeline Rudolph, and Abigail Cowen) to help her in a seance to speak with her mother who is trapped in Limbo. They succeed, but are sabotaged by the efforts of Madam Satan (Michelle Gomez) who undoes the Yule Log that wards off evil spirits during Yule. As such, several mischievous ghosts called “Yule Lads” enter and start to play tricks on the occupants of the house, including Zelda (Miranda Otto), Ambrose (Chance Perdomo), and a visiting Hilda (Lucy Davis).
The elder Spellmans reveal that the Yule Lads are all the ghosts of orphaned children that were abducted (but apparently not killed, only cared for until they died) by a powerful witch named Gryla (Heather Doerksen) to make into her family. They invite Gryla over to ask her to take the ghosts back. She does, but she also discovers that Zelda’s recently adopted/stolen baby Leticia is in the house. Sabrina and her mother’s ghost trick Gryla into leaving without the baby, right as Roz arrives and announces Suzie is missing. Hilda and Zelda deduce Mr. Bartel’s demonic identity and realize they can kill two birds with one stone: Gryla will forgive their deception if she is told of the identity of a demon that preys on children, because she apparently hates things that kill kids that have parents. Gryla kills Bartel and saves Susie.
Zelda makes a decision to give Leticia over to someone else to raise so that she won’t be found by her father, Father Blackwood (Richard Coyle), who would kill her. Sabrina cures Harvey’s dad’s alcoholism, which upsets Harvey who doesn’t trust magic now. They stay broken up. At the end of the episode, Sabrina and the Spellmans read A Christmas Carol before the fire as three mysterious demonic figures emerge into Greendale and the episode ends.
So, as far as specials go, this one doesn’t really feel like a “special” as much as another episode of the show that happens to take place at Christmas, which is what it probably was supposed to be. This is backed-up by the fact that it’s just listed as Season 1, Episode 11 on Netflix. Nothing major happens in the episode aside from Zelda giving up Leticia. None of the character relationships are particularly changed and, aside from the three demons walking out at the end of the episode, nothing happens to set-up season 2. Given their resemblance to three Demonic Magi, the demons might even just be a Christmas joke that I missed during the episode, rather than a lead-in to the next season.
But, aside from that, this wasn’t a bad episode. It’s interesting to see how the Satanic Witches, who I again maintain are just Southern Baptists with a few name changes, celebrate the holidays. It’s honestly not that much different than how most people celebrate Christmas: They have parties, they drink, they make cookies, they decorate, and they read holiday stories. The main difference is that everything is focused around the solstice and the height of demonic power associated with it.
Gryla is an interesting character and I’m glad she was brought in. Her backstory is that, during a famine, several witches agreed to eat their children to survive. Her kid was eaten first and the others all changed their minds afterwards. Since then, she’s collected orphaned children to raise and add to her family. Given the voices of the children, it appears that she might specifically collect the ghosts of orphaned children, but we also see her try to adopt a live one. Given her hatred of people hurting children, it doesn’t sound like she kills them, so… I guess the ones that grow up just live their own lives? I dunno, but I hope they bring her back for answers.
I’m going to have nightmares over the thought of someone being encased, alive, in wax. Even in most versions of House of Wax, the people aren’t still alive when they’re made into sculptures and in none of them are their immortal souls being tormented inside of the statue. That’s super cruel, guys. At least in most horror films, death is the end of the pain.
Overall, it’s a solid addition to the series, but now I really just want the next season not to be 4 months away.
As many of you who read this blog regularly will already know, or anyone who sits near me for even a brief period will find out, I hate the show Riverdale. It strikes me as a generic CW show that only distinguishes itself by being based on Archie Comics, which also pisses me off because the comic book Riverdale was supposed to be like Mayberry: It’s a place where people are who they should be. They’re not perfect, but the good try to be better and the bad are taught to be good. Instead, this Riverdale is full of darkness and teen angst. This is the only kind of reboot or reimagining that I usually will protest: It’s profaning that which its source held sacred, but not doing anything imaginative with that profanity. And yes, I watched the entire first season to give it a fair shot. So, when they said they were going to do a spin-off of the show featuring Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, most people thought I would oppose it.
THOSE PEOPLE WERE WRONG.
While Riverdale stands against everything that Archie Comics originally stood for, Sabrina the Teenage Witch has always been a little creepy and macabre. Even the 90s series with Melissa Joan Hart had a lot of stuff that, in retrospect, was dark as hell. I mean, she regularly manipulates memories, changes people’s personalities, causes giant weather phenomenon, and punishes people with curses for arbitrary reasons. Those are all things that, in a less comic setting, would be objectively horrifying. Chilling Adventures of Sabrina is just taking that to its logical conclusion.
Sabrina Spellman (Kiernan Shipka) is about to turn 16 years old on Halloween under a Blood Moon… at which point she shall have to undergo her “Dark Baptism” and sign her soul into the Book of the Beast and pledge herself to the Dark Lord Satan. However, Sabrina is a rare existence, a half-witch half-human, which gives her a choice: She can embrace her magic side and gain longevity and power, or she can stay in her human life with her human friends, including her boyfriend Harvey Kinkle (Ross Lynch). Her aunts, Hilda and Zelda (Lucy Davis and Miranda Otto) and her cousin, Ambrose (Chance Perdomo), are all practitioners of the Dark Arts who give her guidance… and sometimes commands that she disobeys.
Ultimately, this choice and how she tries to avoid it, negotiate it, or pick a third option is most of her character arc for this season. At the same time, her magical presence is revealed to be impacting Harvey and her friends Susie (Lachlan Watson) and Roz (Jaz Sinclair). Additionally, she has to deal with the dark path offered by Father Blackwood (Richard Coyle), the head warlock of her coven, the temptations of Ms. Wardwell (Michelle Gomez), a demon inhabiting the body of her teacher, and the semi-racist ire of the Weird Sisters, three witches that act like the Plastics from Mean Girls (Adeline Rudolph, Tati Gabrielle, Abigail Cowen).
Like most of Netflix’s shows, this is a serial that builds towards the season finale… which itself mostly just sets everything up for the next season. Since Chilling Adventures of Sabrina has already been given an order for a second season, this isn’t much of an issue. I think the pace of it is pretty solid, moreso than most of the Netflix Marvel series. There are a lot of subplots that start off fairly slow and do a great job building over the course of the season, while the main plot involving Sabrina keeps shifting enough that it doesn’t feel overly repetitive. Some of the episode gimmicks seem a little cliche or lame but, honestly, the show’s acting and atmosphere consistently overwhelm any of those issues.
The performances are pretty great. My favorite character has to be Chance Perdomo’s Ambrose, who is under house arrest throughout the series. In one of his first appearances, if not his first appearance, he’s shown having a laptop outside of the Spellman home, signalling that he is much more modern than any of the other witches and warlocks depicted. He is pansexual, and also genre-savvy and sassy as hell, which would normally make him the only sane man in the show, but his constant love of mischief, rebellion, and boning instead make him appear as a roguish mage, which… well, works.
Hilda and Zelda are both great characters as well, each one encouraging Sabrina in different ways and directions. Susie, Roz, and Harvey are all really great at selling the idea that they’re close to Sabrina and would be worth forsaking magic for. Then there’s Sabrina.
I think what surprises me most about Kiernan Shipka’s portrayal is that it both seems similar to Melissa Joan Hart’s Sabrina and yet is completely distinct. She’s very loyal, supportive, and upbeat, but has an enormous dark side (the kind where she accepts that she’s going to be bathed in human blood and pledged to wed Satan). The best thing is that she represents a lot of kids out there, just in a twisted way: She’s in a family that is firmly rooted in tradition and devotion to god (just… not the Christian God), but she wants to be independent and question why things are still done this way. It’s an old trope, but it’s one that’s been beautifully turned on its head by the show.
Another thing that I love in the show is the atmosphere. The town it’s set in, Greendale, is described as being a place where every day feels like Halloween, and the show really took that to heart. The trees, the stores, the characters, everything feels like it’s got a layer of cobwebs over it. But it’s still got the feeling of a small town underneath, where people still walk to school and work in coal mines and watch black-and-white horror films. It’s Real American Nostalgia, but with pumpkins.
And I can’t go without mentioning the Satanism. I think the way they handle Satanism in the show is literally the best part. Look, the show doesn’t beat around the bush: Everything that the witches do is suuuuuuper messed up. They eat people on holidays. They steal organs and blood from corpses. They alter memories and commune with demons. However, aside from when they’re actively doing those things… they’re Southern Baptists (or any equivalent small-town religion). I grew up in a Southern Baptist community, and all of the times that the show has a witch saying “hail Satan” is the exact moment when a Baptist woman would say “praise Jesus.” Sabrina is constantly told that things are just done a certain way and not to question it, she’s told to not fool around with her boyfriend (and she doesn’t), and everyone views the church as the social, political, and moral center of the community. Every time she tries to be “progressive,” her family loves her but they wish she’d just quit ruining their perception in the church, even if she’s right. That’s why it’s so easy to buy the way that the witches worship in the show; they’re literally just a dark reflection of an existing culture.
Overall, I loved this series. It’s dark, but in a good way. It’s got actual morals and themes to discuss, even if it’s disguised them beneath a layer of blood and goblins. It’s progressive, but it’s not exactly preachy about it. The sets, music, and acting are all wonderful, and the end of the season shows that things are really just heating up. WATCH IT NOW!
So, it’s happening. I’m doing all of Edgar Wright’s movies, though I guess not in any particular order. There aren’t that many, since Fistful of Fingers never got distributed and he got kicked off of Ant-Man, and I probably won’t review Spaced unless it’s requested. I do like the show, though not as much as the subsequent films, I just am already regretting the shows I’m currently set to review… especially since I plan on doing an actual live review of the next season of Doctor Who. But, for now, I’ve got some more amazing movies by a visionary director to review.
This was the first of the Cornetto Trilogy and also the least-earning one at $30 Million, though on a $6 Million budget, it still was profitable… though it earned less money that year than Christmas with the Kranks, Fat Albert, or Catwoman, a fact that should kill your soul.
Slight format change: I’m putting a synopsis here, and a full summary after the “read more” page, so you can just read the analysis and not have to wade through the movie. If you want the summary, just go to the bottom and read it first. Let me know if you think this is better.
Shaun Riley (Simon Pegg) gets dumped by his girlfriend, Liz (Kate Ashfield), because he’s so dispassionate about life that he only wants to drink at the same pub, the Winchester, with his slovenly roommate, Ed (Nick Frost). Shaun decides he’s going to get his life together, but unfortunately he’s been missing the fact that the zombie apocalypse has come. Shaun and Ed form a plan to get his mom, Barbara (Penelope Wilton), kill his step-dad Philip (Bill Nighy) who has been bitten, rescue Liz, and head to the Winchester.
However, things don’t go as planned. Shaun can’t bring himself to kill Philip, Liz brings along her flatmates David and Dianne (Dylan Moran and Lucy Davis), Ed screws up most of the plans by being reckless and irresponsible, Barbara is bitten, and Philip becomes a zombie. They finally make it to the pub, but are surrounded by hordes of zombies. Eventually, David, Dianne, and Barbara are killed, Ed is bitten, and Shaun and Liz prepare to go out fighting, but are rescued by the military. Six months later, Shaun and Liz are engaged and Shaun keeps zombie Ed in the shed to hang out with, their relationship mostly unchanged.
Something painfully occurred to me during this re-watch: In terms of re-watchability, this is the worst of the Cornetto Trilogy. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still fun to watch again, but Edgar Wright’s films are notoriously good to watch a second, third, or tenth time. Hell, the other two movies in the trilogy, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End, are arguably BETTER when you see them a second time. This one is about the same. Still good, but about the same.
Part of that is that this movie has less of the foreshadowing and repetition that are in the other two films, because this was the first one. Sure, they’re in the film and they’re done great, but they just aren’t as polished as they are in the others. But, none of that makes this film any less amazing, because when you consider that this is an underfunded first outing of a director who had previously only done television, this is basically watching Babe Ruth’s first home run.
Like the best zombie movies, the point of the movie is to use zombies as a metaphor. In Night of the Living Dead it’s Vietnam-era America (and a dash of racism from the living), in Dawn of the Dead it’s consumerism, in Day of the Dead it’s a lack of communication, in Land of the Dead it’s the nature of power to eventually be countered, and in Dead Alive it’s so that someone can kick ass for the Lord (if you don’t get this reference, ask me to review the movie). Shaun of the Dead actually takes it a step further and just points out that so many people are effectively already zombies that the actual zombification is really secondary. Hell, at the end, Noel (Rafe “I was the bad guy in Jurassic World 2” Spall), the jerk that worked with Shaun, is basically doing the same job now that he’s a zombie.
Shaun feels the way that many people feel. He’s given up doing anything he’s passionate about (like his deejaying) because he has bills to pay. He instead chooses to just do the same thing over and over again, drinking with Ed and Liz at the same bar, never trying to be stimulated, because when you know your dreams are dead, what the hell’s the point in doing anything else? And, like many of us, he’s just existing, he’s not really living. He’s not depressed or suicidal, he’s just dispassionate and doesn’t know what to do since he can’t do the thing that he actually wanted. It’s like most people whose passions are art or theater but aren’t lucky enough to do them for a living, you end up just working a job to keep a roof over your head, and you don’t want to dedicate all the energy for a hobby. You know that you could, but you also know it’d be super hard for little reward, so you don’t, and then you’re even more miserable by choice.
To summarize: You’re not living, but you’re not dead.
I’m going to add a clip from the show Steven Universe here, because there is a song that perfectly encapsulates what I’m saying.
The key to the movie is stated by Liz at the end: ” You did something. That’s what counts.” When Shaun actually starts to do something instead of just going through the motions, everything goes wrong, which is exactly the thing that most people fear so much that it stops them from doing anything. But, that’s also exactly what allows Shaun to start being a more complete person at the end of the movie. He hasn’t stopped hanging out with Ed, hasn’t stopped going to the Winchester, but he’s also doing other things that have some risk and discomfort. And that’s how you really feel alive.
As for the technical qualities of the movie itself, the foreshadowing and repeated dialogue is amazing, partially because it almost all functions as clever wordplay and partially because recontextualizing things is an easy way to convey meaning by inherently drawing comparisons. The big one is Ed’s speech about what they’ll do the next day:
“… Have a Bloody Mary first thing. Get a bite at The King’s Head. Grab a couple at The Little Princess, stagger back here and bang! We’re up at the bar for shots. How’s that for a slice of fried gold?”
Aside from Ed’s speech telling the plot of the movie (Bloody Mary is the first zombie they kill, a bite at the King’s head is Philip getting bitten, grab a couple at the little princess is picking up David, Dianne, and Liz, back to the Winchester for shots is… self-explanatory), there’s also Ed telling his other roommate Pete (Peter “I’m the Tick” Serafun… Seramichelle… Serafinowicz) that the next time he sees him he’s dead and Pete telling Ed to live in the shed.
The repetition is pretty great, too. Shaun’s dialogue to Ed when he’s playing the game is mirrored with Ed saying the same to Shaun when he’s shooting zombies. There’s a shot in the beginning of the film when Shaun closes his bathroom mirror and Pete is there as a jump-scare parody, which later is duplicated with the zombie Pete. “You’ve got red on you” naturally takes on two meanings. Shaun’s walk to the bodega near his house is similar both times, except the second time the apocalypse has happened. When Shaun tells David to turn the jukebox off, he says “kill the Queen,” (because the song is by Queen) which becomes a conflict when David tries to kill Barbara, who, as the King’s wife, would be the Queen. Additionally, almost every character seen in the first half becomes a zombie in the second.
Another hallmark of the film is that there are sharp, dramatic cuts with powerful sound effects for the most mundane things, like adjusting a tie or washing hands. Like with the repeated dialogue, this actually helps to convey the metaphor by saying that the scenes that normally would feature the zombies feature the mundane aspects of Shaun’s life.
There are tons of references to other zombie and horror movies, with businesses being named for George Romero, Lucio Fulci, John Landis, and their films. Much like in the original Night of the Living Dead, the zombies are never actually explained, although the proposed causes are borrowed from other zombie movies.
Other than that, the movie’s just funny as hell. Every performance is pretty much spot on, although I have a special love for Penelope Wilton as Barbara. She was always so gentle and loving that it was honestly heartbreaking to watch Shaun kill her.
Also, last thing, I finally looked up what Noel’s dialogue means when he says he only has an “Henry.” That’s Cockney rhyming slang for pot, because it’s Henry the Eighth -> An Eighth of Pot. Cockney rhyming slang is always fun.