A New Home

Want to keep in touch?

Want to keep in touch?

As previously mentioned in my post back in January, A Dim Light Behind The Crack In The Door, I will be moving my website to a new location. Though the look of the new blog won’t be as fancy as the previous one (due to the limited themes and lack of other bells and whistles that come along with having a free site), the content won’t change.

So why not hop over to the new site with the same name (This Old Haunted House) and slightly different address? I can at least promise you’ll get the same stellar writing you’ve always gotten here!

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Review: The Conspiracy (2012)

Conspiracy

Is it possible a sinister secret society exists to create significant historical events resulting in the manipulation of politics, economics, and even the everyday lives of ordinary citizens? The Conspiracy posits that certain global members of the wealthy elite plot to mold the world in their image. To uncover the truth, two documentary filmmakers investigate the claims of a conspiracy theorist with jarring results.

The Conspiracy is a nifty little “docu-thriller” that takes the “found footage” genre to a new level. When Terrance (the conspiracy theorist who shouts out his beliefs on street corners) vanishes without a trace, the filmmakers start to wonder if his theories contain more validity than insanity and take up his crusade. What follows is a tense exercise in examining whether or not there is indeed a link between seemingly random events and, as the filmmakers get closer to the truth, if uncovering the reality is worth it.

I really enjoyed The Conspiracy, not only because the subject matter was rooted in actual historical events, but also because director Christopher MacBride and actors Aaron Poole and James Gilbert committed to making the film look like an actual documentary throughout.

While The Conspiracy isn’t your typical horror film, it does contain elements of the genre, particularly near the finale. However, that shouldn’t dissuade you in any way from seeing this well crafted movie because the horror lies in the fact that there might be forces lurking beneath everyday life seeking to do us harm.

And there isn’t a thing we can do about it.

The Conspiracy is available on Netflix but you can also pick up a copy on DVD and BluRay.

The Conspiracy grade: B+


Conspiracy (DVD)

Director: Christopher MacBride
Starring: Aaron Poole, James Gilbert
Rating: R (Restricted)

List Price: $14.99 USD
New From: $7.37 USD In Stock
Used from: $4.39 USD In Stock

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Review: Black Sabbath (1963)

Black sabbath

I knew little about this film going in, save for the fact that it was an Italian anthology film starring Boris Karloff and directed by Mario Bava. I almost wish I could go back to the time when that’s all I knew about Black Sabbath.

Anyway, here’s the trailer.

Many horror fans are of the opinion that Black Sabbath be held in high regard as a horror classic. I am not one of those fans.

Now, I suppose I should start by offering the disclaimer that I apparently saw the “American” version of the film on Netflix with some scenes and even entire storylines (at least in one segment) pared down so as not to offend audiences in the United States. However, I highly doubt seeing a different version would have significantly altered my opinion of the film.

Black Sabbath is divided into three stories–“The Drop of Water”, “The Telephone” and “The Wurdulak”–which are linked together by introductions courtesy of horror legend Boris Karloff (Frankenstein, The Mummy).

“The Drop of Water” concerns a nurse who is summoned to the house of a psychic to prepare her for burial after a rather eerie death. After the nurse steals a ring from the woman’s finger, she returns home and is plagued by strange sounds, including an ominous dripping coming from several rooms in the house. In the end, that’s the least of her problems as the owner may want the ring back. “The Drop of Water” is easily the creepiest of the three segments thanks to the increasing tension and terrifying makeup on the psychic.

Whereas the first segment is worth watching, the version of “The Telephone” fails miserably and is a total misfire. A woman receives ominous phone calls from a man she once put in prison. Then again, the man may be dead. Who knows because “The Telephone” attempts to add a supernatural element to a tale that really doesn’t need one (and apparently didn’t have one in the Italian version) and thereby makes it an incomprehensible mess.

“The Wurdulak” sees Karloff pulling double duty as he not only intros the segment, but also appears as the father of a family living in the countryside who, after leaving to pursue the mythical wurdulak (a creature who feeds primarily off of the blood of loved ones), returns as one of the creatures. A great performance by Karloff and some really nice cinematography saves “The Wurdulak” from being a complete waste of time, but not by much.

I guess I’m not easily swayed by films that are labeled genius just because they were different than the norm at the time of release. I’ve always found most of the French “new wave” films like Last Year at Marienbad and Jules and Jim excessively dull and a lot of the Italian horror films hailed as “masterpieces” are no different. To be fair, I also hated American movies like The Big Lebowski as well as some Wes Anderson films so my dislikes aren’t relegated simply to foreign films.

If you want to see Karloff in a role similar to the one he played in Black Sabbath, check out the old Thriller series he hosted prior to the film. Even its worst story is far and away better than anything you’ll find in this turkey.

Black Sabbath grade: D

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Review: Deathdream (aka Dead of Night) (1972)

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As Andy Brooks (Richard Backus) is shot dead in Vietnam, his mother, Christine (Lynn Carlin), makes a fateful wish that he’ll eventually return home to his family alive. Andy does indeed return, though he’s vastly different than the man who went to war. He’s become something…well…different.

If you watched the trailer, you’ll notice Deathdream was directed by Bob Clark, responsible (and arguably best known) for the beloved A Christmas Story which is seen annually in a 24 hour loop from Christmas Eve through Christmas night. However, prior to that, Clark directed diverse films such as the first two Porky’s installments, the excellent Sherlock Holmes tale, Murder by Decree, and horror films cult (Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things) and classic (the truly creepy Black Christmas). Deathdream, shot in 1972 but not released in the U.S. until 1974, was probably the weakest of the three he helmed.

Taking obvious inspiration from W.W. Jacobs’ terrifying classic short story, The Monkey’s Paw, Deathdream is an overt commentary on the Vietnam War and the longing of families for their young sons to return home safely. After Andy begins to exhibit strange behavior, his mother refuses to acknowledge the difference in his demeanor. His father Charles (John Marley), however, slowly becomes aware that Andy is, at the very least, disturbed as he pieces together clues that lead to Andy being a deranged killer. He has no idea exactly what Andy is or how his son spends his late nights away from home, but he realizes that it’s nothing anyone would consider normal.

Deathdream is unfortunately more melodrama than horror, at least for the majority of the film. There are flashes of brilliance here and there which would later come to full fruition with Black Christmas, a movie I would easily place in my top 10 horror films of all time. Deathdream is too languid in places, causing the story to plod along even though the run time is a scant 88 minutes. That said, it’s an interesting watch if just to see an early work of Clark, a loose and twisted adaptation of an amazing short story, and one of the first films featuring the astounding makeup work of Pittsburgh native Tom Savini (whose ghoulish makeup on the decaying Andy would later be echoed in Dawn of the Dead when Roger becomes a zombie).

Pair Deathdream with Clark’s Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things for a creepy double feature. Just be warned that the horror won’t come until very late in each film but it’s worth the wait.

Deathdream grade: C-


Deathdream (DVD)

Director: Bob Clark, David Gregory
Starring: John Marley, Lynn Carlin, Richard Backus, Henderson Forsythe, Anya Ormsby
Rating: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)

List Price: $14.98 USD
New From: $6.08 USD In Stock
Used from: $8.49 USD In Stock


Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things - 35th Anniversary Exhumed Edition (DVD)

Director: Bob Clark
Starring: Alan Ormsby, Valerie Mamches, Jeffrey Gillen, Anya Ormsby, Paul Cronin
Rating: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)

List Price: $14.93 USD
New From: $7.68 USD In Stock
Used from: $13.51 USD In Stock


Black Christmas [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)

Director: n/a
Starring: Olivia Hussey, John Saxon, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder, Robert Hawkins
Rating: R (Restricted)

List Price: $19.98 USD
New From: $10.42 USD In Stock
Used from: $9.29 USD In Stock

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Review: The Manitou (1978)

Manitou

The Manitou is a movie I’d been looking forward to seeing for a long time. For one reason or another, it was one of those horror films that always eluded me as the years passed. Thanks to Turner Classic Movie channel’s Underground series (airing Saturday nights, though also sometimes seen late Fridays), I was finally able to catch this 37 year old film.

To be honest, if the premise of an extremely powerful 400 year old Native American shaman reincarnating himself by growing out of an innocent woman’s back isn’t something you’d remotely buy, then The Manitou definitely isn’t for you. However, I really enjoy outlandish premises and The Manitou is about as high concept as you can get.

Karen Tandy (Susan Strasberg) seeks medical attention after she finds a lump on her back. At first thought to be a tumor, it continues to grow in size forcing Dr. Jack Hughes (Jon Cedar) to concede that it’s some sort of fetus. Karen’s friend Harry Erskine (Tony Curtis), a flim flam man whose tarot readings coerce the naive to cough up their cash, is offered signs that her malady is supernatural in origin and decides to investigate on his own. Harry enlists the aid of several friends old and new to both uncover the threat and combat the evil and (at least at the time of filming) the cast portraying these friends reads like a “who’s who of Hollywood”: Michael Ansara, Stella Stevens, Burgess Meredith, Ann Sothern and Jeanette Nolan.

Based on Graham Masterson‘s novel of the same name, The Manitou is relatively entertaining and engrossing for the first 80 minutes or so. Given the ludicrous premise, it’s both suspenseful and populated with believable characters (largely due to the talent involved) who, in turn, elevate the material above that of normal horror fare.

Unfortunately, the film’s running time is an hour and 44 minutes meaning that The Manitou‘s over the top finale mars what preceded it. After the manitou spirit, Misquamacus (played in part by Felix Silla, Twiki of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century fame) bursts forth from Karen’s back, the film takes on decidedly cheesy sci-fi overtones similar to the 1979 turkey, The Visitor. Karen’s hospital room morphs into outer space as the floating Misquamacus sneers while exchanging laser blasts with (for some reason topless) Karen.

Yeah, it’s a pretty big mess and quite laughable.

At any rate, I’d suggest giving The Manitou a look, especially if you’re not searching for something too serious. Put it on a double bill with either the aforementioned The Visitor or even 1977’s The Sentinel. Hell, if you have enough time, have a party and watch all three. You won’t need to bring any cheese. Any of these films supply an ample amount.

The Manitou grade: B-


The Manitou (Kindle Edition)

By (author): Graham Masterton

Kindle Edition: Check Amazon for Pricing Digital Only


The Manitou (DVD)

Director: William Girdler
Starring: Tony Curtis, Michael Ansara, Susan Strasberg, Stella Stevens, Jon Cedar
Rating: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)

List Price: $14.98 USD
New From: $54.95 USD In Stock
Used from: $24.00 USD In Stock


The Sentinel (DVD)

Director: Michael Winner
Starring: Chris Sarandon, Cristina Raines, Martin Balsam, John Carradine, Jose Ferrer
Rating: R (Restricted)

List Price: $12.98 USD
New From: $6.99 USD In Stock
Used from: $6.86 USD In Stock


The Visitor [Blu-ray] + Digital Copy (Blu-ray)

Director: Giulio Paradisi
Starring: Mel Ferrer, Glenn Ford, Lance Henriksen
Rating: R (Restricted)

List Price: $29.95 USD
New From: $15.99 USD In Stock
Used from: $16.99 USD In Stock

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The Dim Light Behind the Crack in the Door

gettyimages

gettyimages

I haven’t written in a while. That much is obvious and true. The bright light in the room where I write has been turned off for several weeks now, the laptop collecting dust behind the closed door.

When I began this site back in March of 2013, I did so with high hopes, energy, eagerness. I wanted to share my vision, my love of all things horror, with the world. At the site’s inception, I set for myself two goals in the first year: 1) get the site up and running and 2) make it a minimal success.

Alas, though the first part took a while, I felt as if I succeeded with that primary goal, especially in the latter half 2014 when, during the month of October, I took a look at 31 horror films I’d never before seen and reviewed them. In addition, I faithfully reviewed The Walking Dead each week as well as other series (The Strain, Penny Dreadful) and a few books.

Any type of even modest success remained elusive throughout the past two years, however, with the site never getting more than 146 views a day (and that was far and away the highest number ever with views somewhere around 30 or 40 on a good day). Most of those views were (and still are) from spam sites which left idiotic comments that have been deleted.

When The Walking Dead went on hiatus, so did I. The lack of anything horror related on TV accompanied by family issues which demanded quite a bit of my time conspired to permit me to take a nice long look at what I hoped to gain from the site going forward.

Admittedly, for a long while, I drew a blank.

It took some time, but I gradually realized that, overall, I don’t really gain much enjoyment writing reviews of ongoing series. Sure, I like The Walking Dead (particularly the past two seasons), but to analyze it and pick it apart on a weekly basis mitigates a huge amount of that enjoyment. On the flip side, shows like The Strain and Penny Dreadful were mediocre to downright awful much of the time and don’t really warrant regular close examination (and, to be honest, I couldn’t see myself watching another full season of either one).

As for the movie reviews? Well, I’ll continue to do them on a semi-regular basis when the mood strikes me. I have a nice backlog of films both on DVR and BluRay to provide me with more than enough material for quite a while so there will be some coming up within the next month or so.

The bottom line, however, is that this site is in no way making any money whatsoever so any time I devote to it is purely voluntary. And I’m kind of tired of volunteering for what might be a lost cause. So, at the end of February, this site, in its current incarnation, won’t exist. This Old Haunted House won’t be a stand alone website anymore as I’ll be exporting all of the material into blog form (same title, just with wordpress address). There’s absolutely no reason to shell out money for hosting a site when the site isn’t generating any revenue (or interest for that matter). However, everything else should remain the same and all those that currently subscribe will continue to receive updates via e-mail.

It’s possible I may even do a little more with the site in terms of original content, maybe tossing in a short story or two or perhaps beginning a longer narrative down the line to get feedback. Who knows?

No matter what, I’ll still be in a room writing in some manner, though (at least on this site) not as prolific as before. On occasion, I’ll provide glimpses of my work. And while the light won’t shine as brightly and the door won’t be completely shut, if you look closely, you’ll still be able to see some semblance of dim light coming from behind that crack in the door.

In the meantime, thank you for your past and, hopefully, continued support.

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Review: The Walking Dead – “Coda” S05,E08

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I really wanted to write this last night. I tried, but the words wouldn’t come, at least not how I wanted them to. And, at this point, you’re probably thinking that it was because The Walking Dead killed off a major character and I was upset.

You’d be wrong, of course.

“Coda”, The Walking Dead‘s mid-season finale, was a pretty solid episode, delivering many of the elements that made season five the strongest thus far in the series. In the end, though, it fell flat for me, failing to elicit much emotion whatsoever.

Oh I know. I can hear people crying out now that I’m callous. How can I not be moved by the death of a character we’ve come to know over the last few years? I just wasn’t, mainly because the whole storyline beginning with my least favorite episode of the season, “Slabtown“, was just flat throughout, save for some terrific moments between Beth (Emily Kinney) and Noah (Tyler James Williams).

“Coda” begins well enough with a tense scene featuring Rick (Andrew Lincoln) running down Bob (Maximiliano Hernandez) as he tries to escape and make his way back to the hospital. It’s a well done scene because it displays how Rick has changed, preferring to use violence when necessary to help him and his group survive.

The scenes with Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) making his way back to the church are also executed well, even though I wanted to scream at him for being a complete idiot, endangering the lives of others in the process. The best thing to come out of that church sequence was that we got to see Michonne (Danai Gurira) slice and dice some walkers again as well as much of the group reconnect.

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But I think everyone knew from the moment the group hatched a plan to rescue Beth that something would go awry. It was only a matter of time before the group experienced another casualty and a mid-season finale is the second best place to bump someone off (a finale being the most ideal). The only question was which character was going to be sacrificed?

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If you’re reading this, you’re fully aware that Beth met her untimely demise at the hands of Dawn (Christine Woods), who reacted instinctively and shot Beth in the head when Beth stabbed her with the pair of scissors she’d tucked away in the cast on her arm. Honestly, when I saw Beth take those scissors, I knew her fate was sealed.

And yes, it is sad that Beth’s dead because Emily Kinney did some really fine work this season. It’s too bad she was saddled with that terrible story filled with stock characters and an overly familiar situation where everyone’s a monstrous human being.

Let’s be honest. The whole hospital storyline was pretty standard and, at the same time, manipulative. It was all designed to show how Beth’s worldview changed because humans that aren’t part of our main group are nothing more than bastards, doing whatever it takes to live. Most, if not all, of the characters in the hospital setting were one note, failing to connect with viewers on any level. That’s not the fault of the actors because I’ve seen Woods in shows like Hello Ladies and she’s talented. Here, it was almost painful to listen to the patented dialogue coming out of her, though she did the best she could with the role.

The writers obviously wanted us to sympathize with Dawn and others in the hospital to some degree but that effort was a resounding failure. There simply wasn’t enough time to establish that setting within the confines of eight episodes (fewer if you consider that “Slabtown” didn’t arrive until the fourth installment this year) and they never seemed more than caricatures, existing only as a plot device to lead to the episode’s final moments.

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Both Beth and Emily Kinney deserved better. In fact, it would have been more interesting to explore the dynamic between Beth and Darryl (Norman Reedus) now that she’s changed from the time they’d spent together on the road. Even better, she could have been a loose cannon, spiraling even farther downward and allowing Kinney to push her acting abilities to the limit. It would have been fun to see her paired with either Darryl or Rick and show the contrast (with Darryl) or similarities (with Rick) of becoming more savage, a complete 180 from the innocent girl she used to be.

Instead, the writers took the easy way out, opting to  create a big moment while sacrificing what could have become a strong element to the series.

Where does The Walking Dead go from here? Who knows? Though I applaud The Walking Dead for the self-contained half season, many of the stories they introduced have come to an end with a whimper more than a bang (no pun intended for Beth’s final scene). The trip to DC ended leaving that group with nothing to do and the boring hospital narrative ended in too obvious a manner.

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I really wanted to like “Coda”. Again, there were elements about it that maintained the overall strengths the series exhibited this season. But the writers have to learn to tell a compelling long narrative without making it lengthy. The Terminus storyline worked well because we were in and out. It gave the characters a purpose to propel the tale forward and had a satisfactory ending before wearing out its welcome. I’m hoping we see more of that in the future.

Anyway, the series will return in February. I’m not certain as to whether I’ll still be reviewing it on a weekly basis as I’m possibly moving on to other projects but time will tell. Have a great mid-season break everyone!

The Walking Dead – “Coda” grade: B-

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Review: The Walking Dead – “Crossed” S05,E07

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“Crossed” isn’t the least effective season five episode of The Walking Dead (that honor still goes to “Slabtown“), but it’s kind of a letdown after last week’s amazing “Consumed“.

The problem with “Crossed” is that it lacks focus, trying too hard to catch us up with our fragmented band of heroes and, as a result, the episode feels too disjointed. There are four different stories going on, but the only one that really gives us any forward momentum features Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and his small group executing their plan to rescue Beth (Emily Kinney) and Carol (Melissa McBride).

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Rick wants to go in guns blazing, but Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman) suggests they take a few officers as hostages so that they can peacefully resolve the situation and trade the lives of the officers for their friends. To Rick’s dismay, everyone agrees with Tyreese. Unfortunately, the best laid plans go awry and a shootout ensues. The group manages to get the upper hand and take three officers hostage, one of which agrees to help them negotiate with Dawn (Christine Woods). But, like most people in the post-apocalyptic world, he’s apparently not as trustworthy as he seems.

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Meanwhile, back at the fire truck, Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) is still kneeling and reeling after clocking Eugene (Josh McDermitt) in the face, trying to decide if he wants to keep on going. When he looks as if he’s about to lose it, Maggie (Lauren Cohan) puts things back in perspective when she introduces him to the barrel of her gun. Glenn (Steven Yeun), Tara (Alanna Masterson), and Rosita (Christian Serratos) forage for supplies and visit the local fishing hole for some food.

At the hospital, Beth tries to save Carol after Dawn agrees to terminate her life support. However, Dawn gives her an opportunity to save her friend by giving her the key to the drug cabinet and Beth injects some drugs into Carol’s IV. Can Dawn be trusted? Probably not but we’ll see next episode.

Finally, Carl (Chandler Riggs) and Michonne (Danai Gurira) barricade themselves in the church along with the baby and Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam), the latter of which uses his new machete to pry up floorboards in the office and sneak away underneath the building.

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It’s not that any of the stories are bad. It’s just that the episode bounces from one to another rather abruptly for any to be truly effective. The whole DC trip has resolved itself so instead of focusing on that specific group chatting, it would have been wise to get them moving again, doing anything instead of hanging out on the road. I’m not really certain as to why that story was shoehorned into this hour, but it really doesn’t work in terms of the scope of the episode.

The events at the hospital were necessary and might have seemed a little more interesting had that not been broken up by taking us away to the other two stories. The Gabriel story might also have worked but maybe that would have been better applied to the beginning of the mid-season finale.

Anyway, I hope that future episodes that try to work on several stories at once are a little more successful because “Crossed” missed the mark. However, I see this episode as doing little more than putting the necessary pieces into place for something larger next week so a minor misstep can be forgiven.

The Walking Dead – “Crossed” grade: B-

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Review: The Walking Dead – “Consumed” S05,E06

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“And at the prison I got to be who I always thought I should be, thought I should have been. And then she got burned away. Everything now just consumes you.”–Carol

“We ain’t ashes.”–Darryl

Who would have thought in its fifth season that The Walking Dead would arguably be the best show on television? At this point in most series’ runs, writers are more or less out of ideas, the fires of their imaginations fueled solely by embers. But with “Consumed”, The Walking Dead seems to be burning brighter than ever.

I use that analogy because “Consumed” was largely about fire and how it consumes and changes whatever it comes into contact with. It doesn’t have to be a literal fire (though flames are a recurring motif throughout); instead, in Carol’s (Melissa McBride) case, fire represents a cleansing of sorts, in ways both good and bad.

As she and Darryl (Norman Reedus) search for Beth, Carol reminisces about her life, first as a battered wife unwilling to change her lot in life in a more permanent manner, then as someone who struggled to adapt to ever changing situations. Every incarnation of her has been “burned away” thus far to the point where she isn’t even certain as to her identity any longer (another important theme in the fifth season which I’ll get back to later).

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“Consumed”, like “Self-Help“, is peppered with brief flashbacks, this time centering on Carol. We see what happened to her after Rick (Andrew Lincoln) cast her out of the group, that she hadn’t gone far and was drawn back by the black smoke billowing up from the prison. That’s followed up with Carol burning the bodies of those she killed at the prison, Carol and Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman) burying the girls, and her approaching Terminus prior to freeing Rick and the rest of the group. All of these serve to illuminate how much Carol has changed since she was the timid wife of an abusive man, that she’s willing to do what needs to be done in order to survive.

The main plot of “Consumed” is a rather simple one: Carol and Darryl search for Beth (Emily Kinney), overcoming walkers, injuries, and assorted hurdles in their journey*. Their discussions revolve around how life in the post-apocalyptic world has irrevocably altered them and will continue to do so with every new threat they face while struggling to survive. Eventually, they are stalked by a mystery man that turns out to be Noah (Tyler James Williams), the man Beth aided in escaping the hospital back in “Slabtown“. He tells them about Beth shortly before Carol is struck by one of the hospital’s cars**.

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*In a particularly well executed scene, Carol and Darryl are trapped inside a hospital van teetering over a bridge and besieged by walkers with only one way out. Though the crash stretched a little credibility (in that it most likely would have landed on its roof), the writers and director wisely chose to insert dark humor featuring walkers plopping down onto the roof one by one in a welcome moment of levity.

**Usually, running into a character who’s only appeared once on a series that ends up providing valuable information at an opportune moment would seem a little forced and hokey but since The Walking Dead has brilliantly crafted the episodes out of sequence yet following a strict timeline, it works beautifully.

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The most intriguing aspect of both “Consumed” and season five in general is the search for identity both as an individual and in regard to how successfully one fits within the dynamic of “society” (or at least whatever version of it exists for these people). It’s very smart of showrunner Scott Gimple to introduce something like this thematically to rejuvenate the series because by allowing us to get to know the characters better (and even tying in to the history of the show), we’re now more invested as viewers. We’re coming to know the characters as people rather than stereotypes and that’s served the overall story well.

In an already strong season, “Consumed” might just have set the bar for the finest hour thus far, not only for the season, but also the series as a whole. Thanks to an Emmy worthy performance by Melissa McBride (and strong work from Reedus as well), a sparse, yet meaningful script by Matthew Negrete & Corey Reed and tight direction from Seith Mann, The Walking Dead has become nothing short of brilliant, engrossing television.

The Walking Dead – “Consumed” grade: A+

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Review: The Babadook (2014)

Babadook

Amelia (Essie Davis) is tired. She’s tired of raising her son Samuel (Noah Wiseman), a precocious six year old with behavioral issues. She’s tired of working to make ends meet after abandoning her writing career. Most of all, Amelia’s tired of Samuel being a constant reminder of her husband who died in a horrific car accident while they were en route to the hospital six years earlier.

She struggles to admit it, but Samuel is a handful. Sure, he has interests like performing magic tricks, but he’s also preoccupied with creating weapons and booby traps to fight monsters. One night, after he insists she read a rather odd children’s book entitled Mister Babadook to him, he increases his efforts to protect both himself and his mother–the latter of whom is displaying signs of descending into madness.

The Babadook is a horror film that’s generated a lot of good word of mouth over the past year and one that I’ve been dying to see.

So why is it that it left me unfulfilled and unimpressed?

The Babadook is an extremely well made horror film. Director Jennifer Kent creates a world in which colors are washed out, rendering the lives of Amelia and Samuel colorless and joyless. There’s almost no hope and things only get worse with the arrival of the titular monster. In the vein of A Nightmare on Elm Street, Kent deftly utilizes Amelia’s inability to sleep to keep the audience off kilter, never knowing whether we’re in a fever dream or a stark, waking nightmare. Is the Babadook a true otherworldly creature or just the invention of an increasingly demented and beleaguered woman’s imagination?

More often than not, The Babadook will send chills up your spine. By using images of the creature on the barrage of ever changing television shows Amelia watches, we never know if she’s just going insane or if the monster is starting to possess her. And does the book really exist? She seems to think so even after attempting to destroy it and it comes back in a much more malevolent form.

The performances by both Davis and Wiseman are phenomenal and you truly believe that they’re at the point of no return, that nothing can possibly save them from the creature invading their already strained lives. Even prior to the introduction of the Babadook, you know that they have a long road ahead of them if they don’t completely break down mentally in the near future.

That said, there was just something that didn’t click with me in regard to The Babadook. I found the Samuel character to be grating (through no fault of Wiseman who expertly morphs from innocence to terror when called upon to do so) and the constant reminder that he has behavioral problems throughout the first half hour was a little too much. We only need to see it once or twice to get the idea. Once you start beating a dead horse by repeating the same information, it disconnects the viewer from the slow burn the film tries hard to create.

For the most part, I don’t need explanations regarding the origins of anything, but it would have been nice to touch upon where the Babadook came from. Why did the Mister Babadook book just appear one day and why to this specific family? And the final fate of the creature makes little sense considering the thin information we’ve been given about it. Sure it remains more or less a supernatural entity, but the inclusion of Amelia’s visit to the basement where the Babadook remains (for a reason I won’t spoil) in the final scenes remove some of the terror surrounding it and instead appear hokey.

I wish I would have enjoyed The Babadook more because it’s a pretty original premise (again, considering some scenes were inspired by elements from A Nightmare on Elm Street and even The Descent in the opening of the film) but, at least for me, the film fell flat with the execution. The pacing and some of the minor plot holes were too much of a distraction from the wonderful performances and aesthetic choices for me to rave about the film as others have.

The Babadook grade: C+

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