James Roday of Psych fame brings us an unbelievably dark and gory horror-comedy and it mostly works.
It’s Halloween and the workers at Chuy’s Mexican Bar and Cantina are getting ready to close. They consist of the bartender Kerry (Sutton Foster), a waitress nicknamed Cricket (Molly Ephraim), Yannick (Lothaire Bluteau) the French cook, Chuy (Paul Rodriguez) the manager, Hector (Gabriel Luna) the busboy and aspiring MMA fighter, and security guard Winketta (Gabourey Sidibe). The only customers are the recently dumped Bert (Ethan Sandler), the exceedingly affectionate couple Stef (Jimmi Simpson) and Mimi (Lily Cole), and Stef’s clown-costumed brother Anson (Michael Weston). However, it’s soon revealed that all the doors have been welded shut, all the phones are down, and that Stef, Mimi, and Anson are taking over the restaurant and making a few changes to the menu… namely, who’s on it.
James Roday, best known as Shawn Spencer on Psych, wrote and directed this film and, I’ll be honest, it’s a pretty impressive effort for a first-time feature film. This is a dark comedy, which is something that’s usually pretty hard to pull off to begin with, that decides to go to some insanely dark places, but it still mostly works.
A lot of it comes from the talent in the cast. Michael Weston, an actor who is one of the ultimate “that guy in that thing” answers, manages to balance playing a complete sociopath with a genuinely somewhat sympathetic character. Jimmi Simpson, a talented actor who hadn’t yet broken out for his Westworld performance, plays his even more insane but also somewhat likable brother. Everyone else is similarly amazing, all managing to get laughs out of how horrifying the situation their stuck in really is.
As this is a B-Grade Horror Movie, I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that some people die, and holy heck do they have some fun kills. They’re so absurd that you almost find yourself laughing at it even though they are VERY graphically depicted. Part of it is that all of the characters don’t really show a ton of emotional damage at the other deaths, which makes it easy for the audience to detach from what the reality of the situation would be. One of the best recurring bits is the interactions between Stef and Yannick, who reveals that he is a world-class chef capable of cooking anything, including people, to perfection. Their banter is pretty much always funny, even though it’s literally about cannibalism. Comedy is frequently just horror from a distance, as I have now gotten in the habit of repeating, and this movie needs a lot of distance.
That’s actually part of the downside to the movie: It’s definitely going to be too dark and too gory for most audiences. Hell, even I felt uneasy at some parts of the movie, though usually someone would quickly say something funny enough to bring me back. Also, without spoiling it, the movie does subvert a lot of tropes, including never really making you feel like any of the victims deserve anything that happen to them. Even in regular horror movies, we usually like our characters to earn their fates, even if only slightly, whereas these characters often die during moments of nobility. Still, it mostly works.
If you have a dark sense of humor, this is a great film to watch. It’s on Amazon Prime right now if you’ve got it. Really, I have to give James Roday credit for putting this together. I hope he tries to make another movie in the future.
I get my first reader request to try and interpret a movie, the British film Await Further Instructions. I regret accepting this request.
It’s Christmas time. A time for family. Even the family that you don’t really get along with. The last one is the circumstances that our protagonist Nick (Sam Gittins) finds himself in, when he returns home after a long time away, bringing his girlfriend Annji (Neerja Naik) to meet the Milgram Family. They immediately find themselves in conflict with Nick’s racist grandfather (David Bradley), his pregnant and proudly-ignorant sister Kate (Holly Weston), her meathead husband Scott (Kris Sadler), and his authoritarian father Tony (Grant Masters). His mother Beth (Abigail Cruttenden) is just sort of weak and obliging, but everyone seems to manage to get along, though it’s strained. The next morning, Nick and Annji decide to leave early to avoid more conflict, but find that the house is now surrounded by a mysterious black substance.
All cell phones are down, the internet is down, and the only contact with the outside world is coming through the television, which is displaying emergency messages, telling the family to “Await Further Instructions.” At first they attempt to just continue life as normal as possible, but soon the messages tell them to get rid of their food, to rub their bodies with bleach, then to inject themselves with “vaccines” that come through the chimney and are contained within dirty needles. At every step, the cycle basically goes “Nick and Annji point out that this is a terrible idea, then Tony overrules them.”
Throughout the movie, the people are compelled to do more and more extreme acts by the television, until the truth of the situation is revealed.
This movie is an example of “good idea, bad execution.” The premise of people under stress turning on each other is fairly old, including the classic The Twilight Zone episode “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street,” but tying it in with technology and featuring a family representative of the current societal cultural divides does distinguish it. There are, however, three big problems with this movie. First, the characters are too over the top. Tony, Kate, and Scott are all just too irrational, too quickly. Tony is not just immediately ready to believe whatever the TV says, but to use violence to enforce it. When it’s time to pick someone to be isolated, they don’t even consider that Scott, the guy who literally just shoved his hand into a mystery hole, might be the one who is infected. Meanwhile, Nick and Annji, the supposed voices of reason, just keep going along with stuff after they get shouted down. Nobody does much to figure out what’s going on for the first hour of the film, despite that being most people’s first reaction. It just doesn’t work well. Second, the dialogue is clunky as hell. Almost every line is awkward and uninspiring and could basically be called “cliche roulette.” Last, *Minor Spoiler* the last twenty minutes of the movie is such a violent change that it kind of feels like it was intended to be a different movie. *End Spoiler*
So, the actual request I got was asking if this was an “anti-vaxxer” horror film. It’s pretty obvious why the question comes up, since the people in the movie all inject themselves with vaccines which *Minor Spoiler* doesn’t end well *End Spoiler.* I don’t deny that you can interpret that scene as being against trusting vaccines given to you by authority figures, but I think I can explain it as just being an incidental part of a bigger message.
The film’s about blindly obeying authority, and that’s really any kind of authority. The family that is featured, the Milgrams, are even named after the famous Milgram Experiment, an experiment which confirmed that, if people are told by an authority figure to hurt or even kill someone, about 30% of people (or potentially up to 60%) will eventually do so. Admittedly, the experiment was aimed at being about authority, but subsequent experiments suggest it’s less about obeying and more about disclaiming responsibility. Still, the movie is a clear cautionary tale about the perils of not questioning orders.
“But Joker,” I hear my reader say, “isn’t the basis for rejecting vaccines essentially rejecting the authorities telling you that they’re helpful in favor of asserting your own belief (comment below if you actually said it, because that’d be awesome)?” Well, yes, but the difference is that vaccines are supported by scientific authority, whereas policy or command decisions are derived from, eventually, martial authority. The beauty of scientific authority is that any human being could, through study and time, go through the entire history of scientific discovery and eventually understand why and how vaccines work. Science is not an opinion, it’s a system by which we remove opinions until the truth remains. Yes, sometimes prevailing theories wrong, particularly in soft sciences, but the beauty is that if you prove a theory wrong, then your correct theory becomes the new main theory. Science never encourages you to blindly follow it, because the less blind you are, the more it helps science. Scientific authority is best summarized as “what is proved right becomes right, what is proved wrong becomes wrong.” Citation: Every scientist ever (myself included).
Command decisions on the other hand, such as Tony’s orders to the family or the TV’s orders to Tony, are backed by martial authority. That means that, eventually, you fall in line because if you don’t, someone bigger than you commits violence upon you. That’s pretty much the way that all of civilization works: If you break the agreed-upon commands, someone kicks your ass. Sure, we’ve got courts and lawyers between us and most of the actual violence, but if you keep breaking the rules, eventually, violence will be inflicted upon you. We actually see that exemplified in the movie multiple times, particularly with Tony’s drafting of Scott as a foot soldier who carries out violence when Nick disagrees. However, the issue with unchecked martial authority is that eventually more and more violence is used in response to smaller and smaller violations of decrees. The movie weakly tries to bring in religious or divine authority, but it’s mostly tied in with martial authority. Martial authority is best summarized as “what is right is what I say is right or else I smash your face in.” It encourages blindly following authority, because every time you question it, it has to smash your face in and sometimes that encourages you to smash back. Citation: Pretty much all of history.
The scene in the movie where the characters take vaccines even has a character point out that the risk isn’t just in the vaccine, it’s that the vaccines are improperly packaged, contain dirty needles, were delivered by chimney, and are in response to a health crisis that there is no evidence is even real. That’s not the same as saying don’t trust doctors and scientists. Hell, the two most educated characters, including one nurse, are the ones who are actually shown to be in the right about everything. So, no, I don’t think the movie is actually anti-vaxxer, it just was a little messy in this scene.
Overall, parts of the film, mostly the eerie way the television communicates and the body-horror, are well done. Other parts, particularly the characters and the dialogue, are just uninteresting and terrible. Horror doesn’t always need great dialogue (so many conversations from 80s slashers about sex come to mind), but it has to at least be INTERESTING dialogue, if you’re not having super strong visuals, and there aren’t many visuals until the end. I actually think they would have done better to have the television be communicating seemingly through regular media broadcasts, which might have given them a more cohesive message at the end, which brings me to…
At the end of the movie, it’s revealed that the black mass surrounding the house is actually a tentacle monster which is basically made up of coaxial cables and has been infiltrating their television and controlling them. At the end, it even moves to motivating Tony to worship it, allowing it to completely control him. After everyone in the house is dead, the monster dissolves Kate’s body and says hello to her baby. Meanwhile, the rest of the neighborhood is similarly falling apart and being consumed by the black creatures. So what’s happening here?
Well, I admit that the last 20 minutes of this film is a little bit off-the-walls and gets a little confusing in themes. Most of the movie up until this point has been a fairly straight-forward message about the danger of not questioning authority or about succumbing to martial authority, but while the monster had been using the television to control everyone, it doesn’t do anything through traditional media. In fact, any time anyone tries to guess the source of the broadcast, it’s either Tony asserting that it’s the government or Nick asserting it’s coming from a sinister other source. The only statements about traditional media are a few lines about stories that the characters use as a basis to discriminate, but nothing about them really places any message about the media there. Despite that, the ending seems to be a pretty straightforward metaphor… I mean, it’s a child that is going to be raised by a television telling the baby to “worship [it].”
Like I said, the ending gets a little confusing, and I think the key to it is that Annji sees the heart of the television is actually controlled by the monster. This indicates that the monster hasn’t just been there since Christmas, but possibly for a while, meaning that the monster knew how humans can divide themselves over issues and how prone certain people are to taking commands, allowing it to craft a perfect series of commands to the family to get them to kill themselves. Hell, it even knew Christmas was the time when people are the easiest targets, because they’re all together. When Nick and Annji resist, it just has Tony do the job. Finally, when it’s left alone, it seems to gently greet Ruby, the baby. That’s because this has probably been its goal all along, to raise a generation of children under its control to provide it with unquestioned worship. That’s the only way to explain why it chose to spare the baby, but not Tony, who is already its worshipper. Do I have very much to go on there? No, because the last 20 minutes of this movie are insane and hard to nail down. Is it about all authority or media? Is it about killing people or controlling people? I have no idea, but that’s my best guess. If the movie had chosen the television to communicate through, say, hijacked news broadcasts, that would have made a better metaphor, in my opinion, but I didn’t make the film.
The 1970s decided that everything on Earth could be a threat to humanity: Jaws, Piranha, Grizzly, Frogs, worms in Squirm, an octopus in Tentacles, and even bunnies in Night of the Lepus. So, a team got together and decided to make one of the most absurd spoofs ever by making a movie about people dealing with the least threatening monsters on film.
So, the beauty of this film is mostly in the absurdity, largely presenting the characters and the world through ridiculous scenes that parody other films or genres. Nothing I can do can convey the insanity of the plot, the dialogue, the sight-gags, or the settings of this film. That said, here’s the actual plot:
Tomatoes are killing people. Some eat people, some crush people, some poison people who drink their juice. The President’s Press Secretary Jim Richardson (George Wilson) claims there is no threat, but the President (Ernie Meyers) puts a man named Mason Dixon (David Miller) in charge of a taskforce to deal with the tomatoes. Dixon recruits disguise expert Sam Smith (Gary Smith), deep sea diver Greg Colburn (Steve Cates), and olympic swimmer Gretta Attenbaum (Benita Barton), as well as para-soldier Wilbur Finletter (Senator Stephen Pea… wait, Senator? Holy hell, Stephen Peace became a California State Senator).
It’s discovered that the regular-sized tomatoes seen thus far in the film are, in fact, cherry tomatoes and that regular tomatoes have now become massive. To combat this threat, the President sends Richardson to get ideas from an ad agency headed by Ted Swan (Al Sklar), who pitches a bunch of slogans but no useful plans. A masked assassin attacks Dixon, revealing himself to be with the tomatoes, but Dixon escapes. Meanwhile, a Senate committee tries to address the problem (hilariously ineffectively), but instead leaks the committee guide to the crisis to a newspaper, which sends reporter Lois Fairchild (Sharon Taylor). Finletter mistakes Fairchild first for a prostitute and second for a spy and tries to kill her, but fails. He also tries to catch the masked assassin when he strikes again, but loses him.
Gretta gets killed by the tomatoes and the Army is defeated by the giant fruits. One tomato chases Dixon, but it jumps out the window when Dixon hides in a young boy’s room playing the awful song “Puberty Love.” Dixon spots the assassin and chases him, but is captured. The assassin is revealed to be Richardson, who, though he didn’t create the tomatoes, figured out their weakness and can now control them. He’s about to reveal his secret when Finletter appears and kills him. Dixon realizes that the secret is “Puberty Love” which has driven off the tomatoes throughout the film.
Dixon gets all of the tomatoes into a stadium and tells Finletter to bring all the people left in the town to fight. However, only crazy people are left in town (everyone with sense left), so all the people that show up are in funny costumes. Dixon plays “Puberty Love,” which cripples the tomatoes, allowing the crowd to destroy them, except for one tomato who found earmuffs. The last tomato attacks Fairchild, but Dixon saves her by having the tomato read the sheet music to “Puberty Love.” The two profess their love for each other. Then, the carrots start talking…
This was one of my favorite films when I was a kid. It had jokes that I was positive were “adult,” goofy over-the-top characters, a weird soundtrack, and the kind of oddball humor that I never could quite figure out. Plus, there was a TV Show on Fox Kids in the 90s, which was when television was awesome. Admittedly, it was based on the sequel film Return of the Killer Tomatoes and the best part of it, John Astin’s Dr. Putrid T. Gangreen, wasn’t in this film, but… well, the title was the same.
Attack of the Killer Tomatoes was a huge critical flop when it came out and it’s not hard to see why, in 1978, this film didn’t do well. It’s a surreal farce in the vein of Airplane! or Police Squad!, but the comic timing (and talent of the performers) wasn’t near the level of those two. This isn’t to say that the performances or the writing are bad, in fact, they’re pretty good, but this was essentially trying to make a surreal humor spoof a few years before the ground was really broken and this movie is even more surreal than most. Audiences probably weren’t ready for this yet. We needed a Star Wars to break the ice, but instead we got… I’m gonna say The Last Starfighter.
However, if you watch this film, you realize how influential it was on later media. A lot of gags that you see in this film are repeated in other, later, comedies, most notably the “Slow Car Chase” scene and the “Too-Small Meeting Room.” Hell, the idea of a song killing the evil monsters by being truly terrible would later be ripped off by Mars Attacks (though Howard Stern claimed to have come up with it in 1982… 4 years after this movie came out). Also, fun fact, “Puberty Love” was sung by Matt Cameron, drummer for Soundgarden and later Pearl Jam.
I have to admit that I had forgotten a lot of elements of this film, because some of the scenes are a little forgettable due to their disconnect from the rest of the movie. For example, I had forgotten most of the scenes with the Ad Man, Ted Swan, which include some interesting musical numbers and a parody of the extremely stupid “Whip Inflation Now” campaign… something I didn’t know existed as a kid. That’s definitely one of the reasons why this film is a little weaker, since a lot of the vignettes are connected to the tomatoes, but not directly to the central plot of the film. They’re funny, but they’re not outstanding enough to be remembered independently.
Overall, I really did enjoy re-watching this film. Despite being made in the 1970s, there aren’t a ton of things in it that aged poorly, including the (intentionally) awful effects and camerawork. Sure, some of the contemporary references are hard to catch, but most of the movie is pretty timeless. Is it the best horror spoof? No, but it’s pretty damned fun. If you’ve never seen it, you definitely need to. Much like with Airplane, a lot of what makes this film work are the non-sequiturs and the clever gags.
Sometimes my readers love to torture me. This is one of those times. Honestly, I think I have been putting off doing reader requests specifically to avoid watching this episode again. As you’ll note from my list of the 100 Greatest Episodes, plus another review since then, I think highly of the show Star Trek: The Next Generation, but it’s not perfect. Sometimes, they missed the mark, and this episode is definitely not a bullseye. This is more akin to throwing the dart, missing the board entirely, and having it ricochet into your buddy’s eye. It’s not the worst episode of TNG, but it’s solidly in my bottom five. If you want to know my least-favorite TNG… well, request it. I’m not watching that piece of shit again without reason.
Quick Recap of Star Trek: The Next Generation: Takes place about 100 years after the original Star Trek and features the crew of the next starship Enterprise. The notable crew members are Captain Picard (Patrick “I’m basically made of magic” Stewart), Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes, the episode’s director), chief engineer Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton), Chief of Security Worf (Michael Dorn), Android Lt. Commander Data (Brent Spiner), Lt. Commander Counselor Troi (Marina Sirtis), and this episode’s focus Doctor Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden). They explore the universe dealing with random problems ranging from legal issues to reality-warping aliens.
That’s enough background, on to the creepy ghost sex!
The episode begins at the funeral for Beverly Crusher’s grandmother, Felisa Howard (Ellen Albertini Dow), who was apparently a doctor on a Scotland-esque planet called Caldos IV. During the funeral, Crusher sees a weird guy (Duncan “I was Zorro in the 90s” Regehr) leaving that apparently does something to her ladybits, but from her face might just have been gas. No one else appears to have seen him.
Crusher goes back to her grandmother’s cottage (which, despite it being the future, is still a cottage), and looks through it for mementos, finding her grandmother’s diary and a candle which apparently had great spiritual value to the Howard Family (Crusher’s maiden name). As she heads upstairs, a man named Ned Quint (Shay Duffin) enters and blows out the candle, saying that it was bad luck for her grandmother. Beverly kicks him out, because that’s what you do to creepy strangers who come in and mess with your stuff.
Back on the Enterprise, the engineering team determine that there is a problem with Caldos IV’s weather system, and that an unexpected storm is brewing. Subtle. Meanwhile, Crusher has been reading her grandmother’s diary and discovered that, despite being 100 years old, her grandmother was in a casual sexual relationship with a man in his 30s named Ronin. From the diaries, it appears that Ronin started seeing Crusher’s grandmother, Felisa, shortly after the death of her own mother. Since we already had dialogue in the episode that mentioned that Crusher’s own mother died when she was young and that her grandmother raised her, this is the creepiest foreshadowing ever.
While Crusher sleeps on the ship, a ghostly presence starts to undress her then says her name, waking her up. Crusher goes to talk to Counselor Troi about it, saying it’s a dream, and the dialogue in this scene might be the worst in almost any episode of any version of Star Trek. Not just because Crusher is discussing reading a “particularly erotic chapter of [her] grandmother’s journal,” something that SHOULD NEVER BE IN A TV SHOW, but because it comes off as a weirdly clinical discussion about sexuality. I suspect this is tied in to the fact that women getting sexual gratification, even in the abstract, is essentially guaranteed to get your ratings boosted to MA, but maybe the person writing the dialogue just hadn’t ever heard anyone talk about sexual experience. The credit for the screenplay is a woman (Jeri Taylor), while the teleplay credit is a man (Brannon Braga), so I ultimately have no idea what led to the weird-ass sequence between these two characters.
The next day, Crusher visits her grandmother’s grave and runs into Quint (sadly, not the one from Jaws). Quint warns her that a ghost is causing the weather problems, and that if she lights the candle, the ghost will come for her. He also warns her not to go to her grandmother’s house. However, a thunderstorm comes up, which prompts the Enterprise crew to start working on fixing the weather control system. Crusher is forced to take shelter in her grandmother’s cottage, finding it full of flowers.
She hears things moving around the house and sees the reflection of Ronin (the guy from the funeral) in a mirror. Ronin talks to her as a disembodied voice, telling her that he was the visitor from the night before. She moves to call the Enterprise, but is struck with sudden disorientation and either arousal or pain (maybe both?). The voice says that it loves her, just as it loved her grandmother before her. It claims it was born in 1647 in Glasgow and lived with Crusher’s ancestor Jessel Howard, then stayed with every Howard woman after the last one died (apparently the surname was matrilineal until Beverly?). This includes moving to Caldos IV at some point.
The spirit then tries to “merge” with Crusher, which she resists… only for her to be seen back on the Enterprise acting as if nothing has happened. When Troi questions her, she says that she’s “seeing” Ronin, but only in the physical sense.
On the bridge of the Enterprise, fog is rolling in, as weather control is now malfunctioning onboard the ship. The crew catches Quint trying to alter something on a panel, saying that someone is going to kill them all. An energy discharge kills Quint before he can explain. Beverly determines that he was killed by an anomalous energy pulse, meaning it was no accident (Dun dun duuuuun).
Beverly returns to the cottage to talk with Ronin, who is now corporeal, but only for a few minutes at a time. Ronin begs her to light the candle, which is where he lives. She has to go back to the ship to get it, while Ronin travels to the ship in a beam of energy. She lights the candle in her quarters on the ship, which allows Ronin to appear and merge with her. Crusher then resigns her post with Starfleet and states her intention to become a healer on Caldos IV. Picard is unable to stop her, legally. Searching for the energy source that killed Quint, Geordi and Data find it coming from Crusher’s Grandmother’s grave. Crusher and Ronin “merge” again, this time in a manner which appears pretty much fully sexual. Picard comes to check on Crusher, finding her in a mildly compromising position.
Picard points out that something is wrong with Crusher, forcing Ronin to appear as himself. Picard questions Ronin until he disappears, resulting in Ronin shocking Picard in the same way that he killed Quint earlier. Refusing to let Picard die causes Ronin to separate from Beverly, with Ronin intent on stopping Geordi and Data from exhuming Felisa Howard’s grave. Ronin, in Felisa’s body, rises from the grave and disables the pair. When she arrives, Beverly realizes that Ronin is an Anaphasic lifeform which has to bind with a host in order to keep living, finally destroying the candle. Ronin tries to possess her again, but she kills him with a phaser, before dropping to her knees crying.
At the end of the episode, Crusher and Troi are talking about the fact that Crusher is somewhat sad that she couldn’t be with Ronin, because he made her grandmother very happy.
This was not an easy re-watch, and I was tempted to just do it from memory, but in the end I caved.
Here’s the thing about this episode: It never feels anything but creepy to me. Crusher says at the end that Ronin “seduced” her and her grandmother, but the first time we see her interacting with him, he’s undressing her while she sleeps. The next time, he keeps her from calling out to the Enterprise, makes her physically weak, then apparently “merges” with her without her consent. From then on, we’re shown that she’s now almost physically dependent on Ronin, to the point that she’s shaking like a heroin addict while waiting for him on the ship. He’s literally corrupting her mind to make her want him. Nothing about this is “seduction,” unless you have a very messed-up idea of courtship. And that could very easily have been brought up at the end. Beverly could have expressed some anger at the fact that she was basically mind-raped for the entire episode, but no, instead, she says “oh, who cares if he literally manipulated her mind to make her love him, as he had done countless times before, he made her happy.” And then she’s kind of sad that she couldn’t just stay happy with Ronin. I get that the ghost orgasms were really good, but, seriously, he was clearly altering your mind, woman!
This isn’t a new concept, that maybe it’s worth losing your free will to gain happiness. And if the story was about addressing that idea, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad, but it’s not. That’s not even a particularly great concept to address in Star Trek, since one of the primary conceits of the series is that humanity is basically always in a state of self-actualization, which makes it basically incomparable to the search of happiness in the modern world, where humans rarely achieve that point in their lives. So, the ghost banging continues to seem more akin to sexual assault and brainwashing than seduction or pleasing. This episode kind of reminds me of why I don’t like some modern “semi-erotica” like 50 Shades of Gray, because it’s basically treating an abusive relationship as just being sexually aggressive.
Also, everyone’s behavior in this episode is a little off. First, no one seems to be super weirded out that Crusher would have sex with a guy who had just been sleeping with her grandmother. I dunno all of what happened in the next 350 years in Star Trek, but I really hope we don’t follow the timeline that assimilated “normal to be wiener cousins with your grandmother” into the culture. And, understand, this isn’t like a distant relative Beverly never met, her grandmother is the one who raised her, making her effectively her mom. Second, Crusher really doesn’t seem affected by the fact that Ronin straight up kills a guy for almost no reason. Despite the fact that she’s later extremely concerned when Picard gets mildly injured. Is it that it’s Picard who is her on-again-off-again love interest? Maybe, but it’s still weird that a guy gets killed and nobody really comments on it. Third, what the hell is wrong with Troi? Why does she never realize that Beverly, one of her closest friends, is being controlled by a strange force? Instead, she basically keeps advising her to “go with it.” She’s the worst counselor ever.
The dialogue in this episode is also notably bad, even by Star Trek standards (look, I love the shows, but the dialogue is generally either crap or gold, no in-between). On Memory Alpha, there’s even a quote by writer Rene Echevarria that he can reduce this episode’s writer to a shuddering mass by saying “I can travel on the power transfer beam,” a particularly stupid and useless line that somehow still made it into the episode.
The episode’s inspiration, The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, also doesn’t really help sell any kind of love story. If you haven’t read it, go read it now, it’s not particularly long and it’s online for free . Or, if you’re gonna be lazy, let me just summarize it as “governess looks after two young children while dealing with a haunting by two former lovers.” Ultimately nothing about the story really lends itself to this idea of an “inherited ghost lover,” except for the gothic setting.
So, I don’t like this episode at all, and I regret watching it again to write this review. I had to re-watch “Darmok” just to get the taste out of my mouth. Thanks, readers, for torturing me again.
Alright, so, this episode of a children’s show is fairly infamous and goes around the internet on occasion. Why? Because it’s basically an example of cruel and unusual punishment.
Quick background on the show:
Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends takes place on the Island of Sodor. It’s a fictional island in the Irish Sea that’s heavily industrialized with a massive railway system, and all of the trains, and many of the other vehicles, possess human faces, emotions, and a degree of autonomy. This becomes important in a minute.
The most famous character is Thomas, a tank engine (meaning he carries his water for his steam on-board in a water tank), who is engine number 1, and has a very cheeky but upbeat personality. However, the focus of this episode is Henry, engine number 3. The episode is narrated by none other than Ringo freaking Starr.
When it starts to rain on the island, Henry, worried that the rain is going to ruin his nice new paint job, goes into a tunnel to hide, blocking off one of the two tunnels to get through those hills. Sir Topham Hatt, the fat controller of the rail system, tells the train guard to get a rope, and has all the workers on the rail line try to pull Henry out of the tunnel. Henry refuses to budge, stating that he doesn’t want to ruin his paint. The workers point out that it isn’t raining anymore, but Henry says that it will eventually, and then it’ll ruin his paint. Topham Hatt has the workers try to push Henry through, but Henry refuses to budge.
It’s worth noting that Topham Hatt does not actually try to pull or push with the people, instead citing that he has a note from his doctor not to do any actual work.
Finally, they send Thomas to try and push him through, but Henry still refuses to budge. Frustrated, Topham Hatt decides that they’re going to punish Henry. So, they brick him up inside of the tunnel.
Now, again, this is a train with emotions, who talks, feels, and thinks just like a human. He’s been inconveniencing the rail for about a day, if that. And their solution is to BRICK HIM INSIDE OF THE TUNNEL, rendering the tunnel he’s in useless anyway. They only do the bottom half, however, so that he can see out, and the other trains can mock him as they pass. But, Henry can’t really respond anymore; he has no steam left, because he’s TRAPPED IN A F*CKING TUNNEL. Since, apparently, he can’t die, they leave him in there just to be mocked at and stay there forever, with a sad look on his face.
Edgar Allan Poe once described a similar idea in a short story called “The Cask of Amontillado.” A man, Montressor, bricks up an enemy, Fortunato, leaving him to die behind a wall, over what is stated to be an “insult.” Fortunato doesn’t appear to have realized it was that big of a deal, or that he’d even offended Montressor. To justify his actions, Montressor merely states that it comes from his family motto: “No one attacks me with impunity.” It’s basically a massive, cruel overreaction to a small grievance. This children’s show just did the same thing, and made it even worse by having Ringo end the narration with: “Soot and dirt from the tunnel had spoiled his green paint with red stripes anyway. Henry wondered if he would ever be allowed to pull trains again. But I think he deserved his punishment, don’t you?”
Yes, Ringo, teach the children that minor inconveniences should be handled with horror-story punishments. Other kid steal your toy? Cut their heart out and bury it under the floor. Someone pushes you on the playground? Tie them to the ground and slowly lower a razor-sharp pendulum towards their stomach. This episode is basically made to create sociopaths.
Fortunately, if you watch the very next episode, Henry is actually let out of the tunnel after another of the trains is disabled, and Henry agrees to go back to pulling the train cars again. That episode ends with Henry learning that the best way to keep his paint nice is to ask his driver to “rub him down after a run.”
So, remember, kids: Over the top punishments are fine, but you can stop once you need that person to perform an essential task and you have literally no other options. That way, you’ve tortured them into complacency.
When I opened this up to requests, I was expecting some bad movies, or some weird TV shows that people wanted reviewed. What I was not anticipating was that someone would request a review of a celebrity sex tape. But, I only get a few requests a month, so I can’t really afford to turn them down, yet. Also, this is literally the easiest piece of media to find on the internet. The first copy I found had been watched 134 Million times. That’s more than watched the Super Bowl this year, and that’s just one video on one site.
Up front: I’m not a fan of Kim Kardashian, and I actually thought Ray J was a completely different person (no, not Ray J. Johnson, I know he’s fictional… I thought it was the guy who played Moesha’s OTHER brother). However, I am a professional, so I did my due diligence.
Kim Kardashian is now famous for being famous and hot and married to Kanye West, but back in 2002 she was a hairstylist for Brandy Norwood (after she was Cinderella, sadly), and apparently was dating Brandy’s brother Ray J. Also, didn’t know Brandy was Snoop Dogg’s cousin until now, so that’s neat.
Well, Ray J and Kim went to Cabo to celebrate Kim’s 23rd Birthday, and filmed themselves goofing around, and also in the bedroom. Kardashian apparently was married at the time, something I did not realize. Ray J and Kim later broke up, and Kim became friends with other noted celebrity sex-tape-haver Paris Hilton. Then, in 2007, this tape got bought up by Vivid Entertainment (noted distributor of sex tapes), and apparently the rights were sold to them by Ray J. Kardashian sued to stop the distribution, but settled for $5 Million instead. The popularity from the tape, combined with her appearances on Hilton’s Simple Life, got her a TV show and ensured that we will never be rid of her or her family.
As part of my nauseating background research into this article (by which I mean reading TMZ, you sickos), I found out some other interesting things:
1) Ray J makes a lot of money on this. As of 2014, he makes around $10k/month. When Kim “broke the internet,” with her nude photo shoot, apparently Ray J made $50k that week in royalties. Also, apparently, every time she has a baby, gets married, gets divorced, or makes the news, that doubles or triples that week’s income.
2) Ray J is a douchebag. He constantly tries to remind people, especially Kanye, that he slept with Kim first. He has songs about it that I’m not going to listen to. (update: Some A-hole requested the song of course).
3) TMZ loves this tape and the ensuing drama. There are probably 100 articles about it. Including a series of statements that Kanye West owned a copy of this video before he and Kim started dating, and that he often watched it while with other women. That’s… love, I guess?
Now, there are two versions of this video: The Original and the Extended Cut.
The original video was 41 minutes long, about 20 of which was sex. However, since then, they’ve cobbled together other tapes of Kim from her time with Ray J and added 1 hour of bonus footage, which includes, apparently, more sex. Specifically, about 4 minutes of it. In an hour. Of them doing stupid sh*t around Mexico and L.A. So, I stuck with the original.
I’m going to go ahead and skip the actual summary of the material for this. You can watch it yourself if you want, but I don’t recommend it.
The main takeaway from this is that Ray J should never have been the cameraman. It’s not just that he doesn’t do well with focusing, lighting, or any of that stuff, it’s that HE MAKES HIMSELF THE FOCUS MOST OF THE TIME. Clearly, he believed that he was going to be the real celebrity out of the two of them. So, in a video which is marketed as being about Kim Kardashian, famously attractive woman, she’s actually out of frame a lot of the time, instead having Ray J direct the camera towards himself.
The other thing is that Kim Kardashian apparently has strong porn instincts as far as her mid-coitus dialogue goes. If this is actually what she talks like during sex, then this is clearly the work she was born for. The only problem is that half the time she sounds like she’s starting to fall asleep. And maybe she was. Mexican Donkey Valium is strong, I’m told.
I wish I could praise the artistic camerawork, the strong storycrafting, the masterful performances, but I actually believed Ray J’s character more when he appeared in season 5 of Moesha.
Overall, this is to erotica what Renegade was to television: Profitable, famous, but lacking in quality.
Scooby-Doo doesn’t die. That Great Dane has appeared on television or in film all but 11 years since it was created in 1969. You can mock the laugh track or the premise or the fact that Shaggy is obviously high all the time, but the fact is, people love the characters, that’s why they keep coming back. Sure, they’ve changed over time: Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?, The New Scooby-Doo Movies, The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo, A Pup Named Scooby-Doo, Be Cool, Scooby-Doo!, etc. They’ve added characters, then removed them, then added them back. They’ve changed premises. They’ve had the cast as kids. They’ve done it all.
But, in Scooby-Doo Mystery Incorporated, as opposed to they writers asking “what if we set it in space” or “what if it takes place in the future,” apparently they asked a different question: WHAT IF WE MADE THE SHOW AWESOME? And they did.
This series isn’t corny. It isn’t hackneyed. It isn’t pointlessly goofy. The villains in this one become willing to flat-out kill the main characters (at the beginning it’s with complicated death-traps, but by the end, it’s just pulling out a gun and opening fire). The series even has a fairly high body-count for recurring characters, and none of the deaths are taken lightly. It’s a well-written mystery-horror-comedy that manages to be inventive while still being a perfect tribute to the original show.
Unlike almost all of the other series, it’s not episodic: It’s a serial. It’s all part of one large plot-line that builds slowly until it’s revealed to be so much bigger in scope than anyone could have imagined. The ending literally explains all of the other Scooby-Doo series, including why Scooby can talk and why people in their universe like dressing up in monster costumes to commit crimes. It has the entire original team, too: Fred, Velma, Daphne, Shaggy, and Scooby-Doo (Frank Welker, Mindy Cohn, Grey DeLisle, Matthew Lillard, and Welker again).
What’s even better is that they worked thematic episodes into the overarching plot. There were episodes that paid tribute to the classic Hanna-Barbera Saturday Morning Cartoons, to the film The Wild One, even to Saw (yes, in Scooby-Doo, they had an episode about a serial murder who builds elaborate death traps, and it was awesome). And then, there was this episode.
Some of you have probably heard of this guy called “Batman.” He was kind of a big deal for a while. In fact, he appeared multiple times with Scooby-Doo during the 70s, when Batman was goofy and played by Adam West. What you might also remember is that one of the biggest comics Batman ever appeared in was the famously dark “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.” This episode is that comic. Except with a twist.
In the 1970s, Hanna-Barbera had a cartoon called Dynomutt, Dog Wonder. Dynomutt was a goofy robot dog who was the sidekick to a Batman-esque superhero called “The Blue Falcon.” They frequently interacted with Scooby-Doo, but got cancelled relatively quickly. However, apparently, they made enough of an impact for the writers of this episode to go “Hey, what if we took the same goofy Dynomutt, but paired him with the super-intense and violent Batman from ‘The Dark Knight Returns’?” My only hope is that after that sentence was first uttered, the clouds parted and pure golden light shone down upon the crew.
The episode starts years before, at the laboratory of Dr. Benton Quest of Johnny Quest fame. A robotic dragon attacks the building, injuring Security Guard Radley Crowne’s dog Reggie. Quest vows to save the dog’s life.
Cut to the present. Fred, having recently had to turn on his evil parents, is living in a van down by the river (AND YES, THEY REFERENCE THE FARLEY SNL ROUTINE). Velma summons the rest of the gang to city hall, where they discover an attack on the archives by the dragon robot.
The Blue Falcon and Dynomutt intervene, making multiple references to both their goofy show, and also to the gritty Dark Knight Returns. It’s a work of art to see these two styles juxtaposed and interacting. It’d be like watching the 1989 Batman pull out a can of Bat Shark Repellant. Or, if you have watched the Lego Batman movie, it’s like that: Pure, concentrated, awesome.
Blue Falcon explains that they’ve been tracking the robot for years, but Velma points out that Crystal Cove (the show’s setting) is the turf of Mystery, Inc., so they’re tagging along. Falcon agrees, and delivers one of my favorite lines:
“Very well, but you should know that if I need to sacrifice any of you to get my prey, I’ll gladly do it.”
To which Dynomutt, cheerfully responds, giggling: “Oh, B.F. (to Mystery, Inc., deadly serious) He’s not kidding.”
The teams work together to track down the dragon robot. They break into the headquarters of the evil corporation “Destroido,” where Blue Falcon brutally dispatches the guards… with intermixed cartoon sound effects and music. Again, the juxtaposition just makes it amazing.
They confront the company’s head, recurring Scooby-Doo villain Mr. E (Lewis F*cking Black), who refuses to talk. However, the dragon attacks the facility at that moment. They discover the dragon is downloading files from the corporate mainframe, when a voice comes out of the dragon, belonging to none other than Dr. Zin, the Villain from Johnny Quest, who has been searching for Quest’s amazing power source, which apparently is in Dynomutt. Unfortunately, Zin tells the dragon to take the dog and Blue Falcon, which leads the dragon to take Scooby-Doo by mistake.
The gang, along with Dynomutt, travel to a volcano lair to rescue Blue Falcon and Scooby. Zin tries to shoot them down, but they’re saved by Shaggy accidentally crashing the plane they were in. The gang and Blue Falcon take down Zin’s henchmen (because the Gang have all been learning to fight over this series, it actually seems reasonable). They find Zin crying over his dragon, revealed to contain his daughter, who has been trapped in the suit since the night that it first attacked Quest Industries. The suit won’t release her without an external power source, which Dynomutt provides from his battery.
Zin, getting his daughter back, remarks that his quest for power has blinded him to the beauty of a simple act of selfless kindness… before setting the volcano layer to self-destruct and abandoning them. The group escapes in the nick of time.
One of the best parts of this episode is that it mashes up all of the different styles that have come out since Scooby-Doo first began. Batman, SNL, E.T., Johnny Quest, James Bond, all of them are referenced throughout the episode, and they all work. It’s a postmodernist episode of Scooby-Doo, which is my new favorite sentence.
Zin himself is a perfect enemy in this episode, because he was both a Hanna-Barbera enemy, a Bond-esque Supervillain, and, in this episode, is mildly tweaked to resemble Ra’s Al Ghul from Batman, all at the same time.
It’s just a great half-hour of television within a great TV Show. I’ve always loved Scooby-Doo, so I know I’m biased, but Scooby-Doo: Mystery Incorporated really was the first time that the characters were really used to their full potential. I recommend watching it, whether you loved the cartoon or not. It really just was that good of a show.
I’m also looking forward to the Supernatural/Scooby-Doo crossover coming soon.