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December 1, 2022

Static Age #23: Dead of Night (1972)

Dead of Night (1972) DVD cover

This Static Age’s spotlight goes to BBC’s classic horror series Dead of Night (1972). Unfortunately only three episodes survive out of the seven that were made, but these are now available from BFI on Region 2 [PAL] DVD that comes with an informative 28-page booklet featuring short essays on the series, each available episode, and several key creative personnel. ‘The Exorcism’ is the stronger episode and is about two couples in their mid-30s who upon hanging out in a secluded villa, strange incidents occur. ‘Return Flight’ is about an airplane pilot (Peter Barkworth) that encounters the ghost of a World War II bomber. In ‘A Woman Sobbing’ a housewife (Anna Massey) is hearing a woman crying in the attic, but is it hallucinations caused by paranoia or is the house in desperate need of an exorcism?


And now, let’s switch our focus towards some recent series…


Into the Dark - Season 2

Executive produced by Jason Blum and made available on Hulu, the 2nd (and final) season of Into the Dark (2018 – 2021) consists of another 12 feature-length, most of them second-rate when compared to Blumhouse’s theatrical output, but very entertaining nevertheless. ‘Uncanny Annie’ is set during the Halloween celebrations and is about a group of students playing a board game that is about to turn deadly. When re-enactors are invited at a family dinner table to celebrate Thanksgiving in ‘Pilgrim’, things go south with religious lunacy! ‘A Nasty Piece of Work’ is about to highly paid employees and competitors (Kyle Howard and Dustin Milligan) that get invited to their boss’ (Julian Sands) mansion and are prepared to do anything in order to get a bonus or a raise. ‘Midnight Kiss’ is modern giallo about a black-gloved and masked serial killer that is targeting a group of gay friends; but could the assailant be one of them? ‘My Valentine’ is about the battle of two pop stars, featuring music video aesthetics that pop out of the screen, but come with very little substance in what resembles a musical for the social media generation. ‘Crawlers’ is set during the St. Patrick’s day and night celebration, when an alien invasion takes place featuring green-blooded human-shaped impostor aliens! The titular demonic toy returns in the highly entertaining ‘Pooka Lives!’. The nightmarish ‘Delivered’ is about young pregnant woman Valerie (Natalie Paul) who gets abducted by psycho woman Jenny (Tina Majorino) who is about to claim her baby. In ‘Good Boy’, struggling 39-year-old journalist Maggie (Judy Greer) is desperate to become a mom but her dating life (mostly generated by an app) does not go so well, so she gets a dog that ends up not being man’s best friend exactly. ‘The Current Occupant’ is asking, what is more likely, the president of the U.S.A. to be hospitalized against his will in a psychiatric ward against his will as a part of large conspiracy or that a mental patient believes he’s going to save the world? ‘Tentacles’ is an utterly boring episode concerning the love story between photographer Sam Anselm (Casey Deidrick) and the mysterious Tara (the gorgeous Dana Drori, offering some nudity) that turns dark once secrets of the doll’s past are revealed incrementally. In ‘Blood Moon’ single mother Esme Rawls (Megalyn Echikunwoke) and her son Luna (Yonas Kibreab) move to a small town in order to make a fresh start, but there is something mysterious about them.


The Sandman - Season 1

Based on the same-titled DC Comic’s graphic novel by Neil Gaiman, Netflix’s The Sandman (2022 – present) is about the Goth-styled Dream (Tom Sturridge) who upon escaping the eternal prison of a magus is now ready to reclaim his kingdom. As fairytale-like as it is to be expected from shows based on Gaiman’s works, this dark fantasy delivers and we can’t wait for more.


The 3rd (and final season) of the ill-fated and weak Scream (2015 – 2019) is bringing more ghostface against teenagers action to the table as expected, as well as Tony Todd in a desperate attempt to elevate this to something better than a pop aesthetics-obsessed standard slasher, but doesn’t succeed too much. Most of the slashing action takes place in the ‘hood and the college, and is featuring amateur acting and awful dialogue that delivers sentences that make no grammatical sense aiming to sound ‘hip’; atrocious at most levels, this should be avoided at all costs and should also be removed from Wes Craven’s filmography who supposedly ‘executive produced’ it. It is silly fun, but it is mostly silly and very little fun.


Slasher - Season 4

In the 4th season of Shudder’s Slasher (2016 – present) dying businessman Spencer (legendary director David Cronenberg, giving a much-needed credibility to the proceedings) sets up a series of games for his family, the winner of which will inherit his fortune. Filled with splatter scenes you could only see in theaters a few years ago, this is an enjoyable addition to the long list of recent television horrors.


American Crime Story - Season 3

The 3rd season of the based-on-true-events crime series American Crime Story (2016 – present) tells the story of the Bill Clinton (Clive Owen) and Monica Lewinski (Beanie Feldstein) scandal that shook the political 1990s turmoil. Amazingly well-done and with a clear sense of aesthetic identity (all seasons have the same pace and tone despite telling entirely different stories), this series is a winner; although I couldn’t help but thinking that Americans seem to be very frustrated when it comes to sex.


Based on the 1990s sex tape scandal that shook the American celebrity foundation and changed forever the way superstars would manage their careers as well as the nature of pornography, hulu’s miniseries Pam & Tommy (2022) with Lily James and Sebastian Stan in the titular roles is fun (the comedic moments work perfectly) and interesting.


Westworld - Season 3

The 3rd season of Westworld (2016 – present) is continuing the journey of several humans and robots, the conjunction of the stories of both will interfere with the future of the projected matrix that they co-habit. Technophobic or visionary, whichever way you see it the series has gotten tired and outstayed their welcome. The more complicated the screenplay becomes the more boring the show becomes; it has the occasional interesting hook, but it isn’t enough. It is the sort of thing that would apply only to computer engineers, but that is a very limited audience. The scarce action scenes are occasionally outstanding, but not enough to save the day.


Following the death of the first two seasons’ protagonist, the 3rd (and final) season of Lethal Weapon (2016 – 2019) pairs old cop Roger Murtaugh (Damon Wayans) with ex-C.I.A. and current copper Wesley Cole (Seann William Scott) for another round of police action (albeit this time a little more contained at a run of a mere 15 episodes). Roger struggles with thoughts of retirement while Wesley tries to make up for his past that is filled with guilt, and both will employ a series of unorthodox and spectacular methods of crime fighting. More problematic than usual because this aired in recent years when the glorification of police excesses is wrong to say the least, this is strangely entertaining as long as you don’t take it seriously.


The Irregulars - Season 1

The sole season of limited series The Irregulars (2021) – all eight episodes of which are readily available on Netflix – is set in the deep underground side of Victorian times London, amidst poverty, seedy pubs, and even prostitution, as we witness the story of a gang of juvenile delinquents that perform dirty deeds for Doctor Watson (Royce Pierreson) and Sherlock Holmes (Henry-Lloyd Hughes). Not grounded in reality at all, and with a very heavy-handed fantasy flavor in it, this is visually interesting most of the times, but rarely entertaining enough.


Based on the ‘Lonely Boy’ autobiography by Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones, the miniseries Pistol (2022) are about the birth, rise, and fall of the legendary U.K. band that came like a storm as a result of the unique characters that formed it and surrounded it, as well as the sociopolitical climate. Although punk rock did not begin with Sex Pistols, nor did it end with them, their importance to that subculture’s landscape is immeasurable. Written and created by Craig Pearce, and directed by Danny Boyle, these 6 episodes opt for the full screen format and occasionally employ archival footage in order to project a better picture of the era.


Guillermo del Toro's Cabinet of Curiosities

The 1st season of the anthology series Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities (2022) has the titular creator/director introducing the standalone episodes in Alfred Hitchcock manner, and all 8 of them have a special ‘Eerie’ comics-styled air and moralist angle about them that is both nostalgic and awesome; plus, all of them are directed by some of the genre’s current top directors. ‘Lot 36’ is about the discovery of four rare black magic books in a recently auctioned storage lot. Vincenzo Natali’s ‘Graveyard Rats’ tackles the subject of grave robbing and the deadly consequences that may come with it. David Prior’s visceral masterpiece ‘The Autopsy’ spends so much time in the morgue that you’ll forget you’re watching something made for the small screen and it will be stomached only by members of the audience who are familiar with extreme visuals. ‘The Outside’ is a macabre masterepice about an outcast woman that will do anything to fit in with the popular crowd of her work environment, even if what it’d take would be using a dangerous and possibly deadly lotion. Based on a short story by H.P. Lovecraft, ‘Pickman’s Model’ is about an art student (Ben Barnes) who meets a very skilled colleague (Crispin Glover) whose paintings may be of demonic qualities. ‘Dreams in the Witch House’ is also based on a short story by H.P. Lovecraft and is about a mysterious drug that may be able to bring back the dead, but the real terror is an anthropomorphic rat creature. Directed by Panos Cosmatos, ‘The Viewing’ is a cosmic horror masterpiece about an eccentric rich man that hosts an exclusive party for four peculiar guests. Starring Andrew Lincoln, ‘The Murmuring’ is about a middle-aged couple that mourns the death of their child by reclosing themselves in an old house in which the previous tenants might have died tragically. Like Alfred Hithcock before him, del Toro’s television is better than his films, and frankly I cannot wait for the next season.


Marvel’s television special Werewolf by Night (2022) tells the story of the titular monstrous superhero and does so by employing the aesthetics of the old Hollywood horrors, relying mostly in black and white cinematography (red is the only color you see, and only the epilogue is in full color) along with some fan-service qualities that include superbly choreographed action sequences and stunning gore set-pieces. Possibly the best thing you can now stream on Disney+.


Written and directed by James Gunn, Marvel’s The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special (2022) follow Mantis (the stunning Pom Klementieff) and Drax (Dave Bautista) on a mission to planet Earth in order to claim Kevin Bacon and bring him as a Christmas present to Peter Quill (Chris Pratt). Sweet and touching, and with a rocking soundtrack to bone, this is the perfect holiday special and should be missed by none who has access too Disney+.


And now, please allow me a word on some recent mainstream film releases…


Thor: Love and Thunder (2022) promotional art

Marvel’s Thor: Love and Thunder (2022), directed by Taika Waititi, has the titular hero (Chris Hemsworth, looking like a rock star) build bridges with his ex-girlfriend and lady Thor herself (Natalie Portman, looking as gorgeous as ever) in order to fight the Gorr, the God Butcher (Christian Bale), who as his name reveals is set out to destroy all gods. Made the same way these things are (featuring the standard cinematography, editing, CGI, etc.) but with all actors hamming it up in order to generate comedy, this is a weak entry in the long string of recent superhero movies, but Guns N’ Roses is constantly blasting in the soundtrack appropriately enough and manages somehow to save the day.


Samaritan (2022) poster

Since Sylvester Stallone failed to get the call from either Marvel or DC (and he’s better off without them, in my opinion) he produced (as Balboa Productions, with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer) director Julius Avery’s Samaritan (2022) – now available for streaming on Amazon Prime – in which he plays an aged superhero teaching a young kid (Javon ‘Wanna’ Walton) a life lesson or two, while anticipating the rise of a local villain (Pilou Asbaek). Well-done action-fest in the realm of a Gotham-like setting, this is possibly the first movie I see in which the CGI fires don’t suck.


Directed by Luca Rea (who also wrote it, with Steve Della Casa) Django & Django (2021) is a documentary on legendary Italian director Sergio Corbucci (who as readers of this blog know had great success in genres such as westerns and peplum) is not as informative as the many good books on the spaghetti westerns that were published in recent years (it is running for a mere 77 minutes and plays better as a nostalgic homage) but it is absolutely entertaining, thanks to its talking heads (Quentin Tarantino, Franco Nero, and Reggero Deodato) and archival footage.


Nope (2022) promotional art

Written, produced, and directed by acclaimed filmmaker Jordan Peele, Nope (2022) is about a small group of people that are employed in the trenches of the film industry and that are about to capture Oprah-level footage of alien activity in their secluded ranch. At 130 minutes this is much too long and with a first half that drags a lot, but the finale is rewarding, and the sci-fi/western mash is so good and original that makes the whole thing for a very entertaining experience.


Directed by Kevin McDonagh, Leviathan: The Story of Hellraiser and Hellbound: Hellraiser II (2015) is a documentary on the making and releasing of the two titular 1980s horror classics, and it is good to see all these talking heads intermixed with footage from the films and behind-the-scenes material, but there is not much added here that fans didn’t already know and there’s zero artistry involved as well, resulting in something as plain as a TV news episode, albeit one that lasts for much longer.


Halloween Ends (2022) wraps the Blumhouse-backed and David Gordon Green-directed sequel trilogy on a high note, as it is a crescendo of Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis, who also executive producer) vs. Michael Myers (James Jude Courtney) violent antics, concluding their long history of violence. This time though another killer (Rohan Campbell) is also introduced, and while you may think you know where this’d go, it takes a left turn and surprises everyone. Masterful in all departments, from delivering the thrills and suspense, to actually being scary and intelligent at the same time, this is the best entry this franchise has seen in many years. John Carpenter served as one of the composers and executive producers.


DC’s Black Adam (2022), directed by Jaume Collet-Serra is about the titular superhero (Dwayne Johnson) who is resurrected and is lured to saving his people. Bombastic and featuring enhanced CGI fights every few minutes, this light adventure is raising some questions about good and evil, and even imperialism, but in childish manner. It is not groundbreaking by any means, but a very welcome addition to the long list of recent superhero films.

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