Monster Mondays: Don’t be Afraid of the Dark (2011)

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (2011 film)

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (2011 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Monster Mondays: Doctor Who’s Whisper Men

At the Eyeball we have a soft spot for Doctor Who, even though the increasingly convoluted plots and two Doctors on a perpetual sugar rush have led to more of a ‘dipping in’ strategy when it came to actually watching it.

However, once we heard that a certain horror icon was guest starring, we tuned in this time. We won’t spoil who that was here, as the whole internet can tell you what happened – or watch it on the BBC iPlayer if you can. The episode was stronger than earlier ones with a leisurely start that perfectly laid out what was at stake, with an impressive group of female heroes setting the scene.

But what we’ve come to comment on were the gloriously nasty new monsters known as the Whisper Men.

One of the Whisper Men

The Whisper Men are sinister henchmen for an ongoing Big Bad, played with sneery superiority by Richard E Grant. Incidentally, wasn’t Grant a former Doctor in a parody or web cartoon version? He keeps the Whisper Men around and has a nifty trick of morphing his consciousness into them if one of him gets destroyed. There’s a reveal of this that’s rather like The Invisible Man, revealing only hollow air inside his face before taking over another Whisper Man. Shudder.

Whisper Men corner the Doctor

Whisper Men corner the Doctor

So what else is impressive about them? If they stick around we hope they’ll do more, but they did manage a fair amount of menace in this one appearance:

  • Cadaverous, sharklike grins.
  • Those broad top hats, undertaker chic taken to extremes.
  • Faceless monsters. Can they see you, or are they just gonna sniff you out?
  • Their whispering nature. They seem to stalk you with words as well as appearances.
  • They can also reach into your chest and stop your heart on a whim. Yuk.
  • They can corner the Doctor!
  • The way they morph into Richard E Grant and look vaguely annoyed by the process.
  • The pale faced, towering humanoid is a foolproof horror classic, going right back to Cabinet of Doctor Caligari.

whispermen

The Haunted Eyeball figures that this makes a change from referencing Daleks and Cybermen when it comes to Doctor Who. Also, we’re quite looking forward to when the show returns at the end of November 2013. Please, writers of Who, cut down on the sugar for once, and it might even be watchable, just like this one.

Surviving Twin Peaks

Well, the big plan at the Easter weekend was to get through all 30 episodes of Twin Peaks. It didn’t seem like such a tough challenge at the time. However, I made it as far as episode 13, Demons, then had a call a halt to the experiment.

The first season was actually really good, and seemed to have a larger budget for outdoor shooting, which made the whole show seem more expansive. There’s also absolutely nothing wrong with Agent Dale Cooper and his quirky approach to investigation techniques. He’s actually the only reason we kept watching as long as we did.

For a while, it was a great ride. I loved the OCD stacking of donuts, the strangely chic dancing by adult straight men, the oddness of the town did draw me in at first. But, it was also its worst feature. Because it’s not the early 1990s anymore, and the soap opera elements began to stink. Also the music really started to grate. The cheesy acting went from endearing to relentlessly bad. It seemed that, after the terrifying references and appearances of Bob, and the mystery surrounding Laura Palmer’s murder, things sort of slowed. Right. Down.

It was the third full day of watching Twin Peaks when we cracked. I’m sorry, I will continue trying to complete the show, one at a time, with breathing space inbetween. But this weekend, meant for relaxation, was probably not the ideal time to race through 150 hours of a show created by David Lynch.

I read around it, and it just didn’t sustain the weirdness long enough. I’m pretty sure there’s some good stuff coming, but again, we’d reached our Twin Peaks saturation point by midday Saturday.

Also, we’d run out of Tunnock’s Caramel logs. Disaster!

We ended up watching all of Season 1 of Breaking Bad, and most of Season 2 instead, and actually LEAVING THE HOUSE once or twice. Then it rained over the entirety of Bank Holiday Monday. But that was OK, too, by then, mental balance had been restored.

I definitely think I’ll return to Twin Peaks, and before the year is out as well. This exercise has proved that, watched in a lump, one after the other, the show is just not that interesting. Or maybe I’m missing something. I know the show had some problems in Season 2, and that’s a pity as well.

I still love Agent Cooper, and can’t emphasise that enough. I’m also grateful that this show opened a door to quirky in everything from the X-Files to Buffy. Spotting Scully’s Dad in this was a treat and I still haven’t seen Mulder in Peaks yet, so I will be going back for that!

Instead, I got on with other writing, reading and capturing the last of the weekend. Lesson learned. Normal service will resume this week on the Haunted Eyeball.

Twin Peaks Easter Weekend: Day One

Twin Peaks opening title

Thursday night

Twin Peaks is a show I thought I’d ruined for myself by watching all those ‘top ten’ list shows and too many curious scans of wikipedia. So, now it’s all on Netflix in the UK, it’s time to mak the best use of the Easter weekend by, er watching all of it. Probably for the one and only time, so the plan is to make the most of it.

We are stocked up on Tunnock’s Caramel Logs (they’re called biscuits in England, and seem essentially the same as the ‘logs’). We’ve made some damn fine coffee (French blend, oh yes) and the cherry pie is on standby.

Now I’m trying to entirely forget what details I know about the show, and enjoy this iconic surreal melodrama in its entirety.

The Pilot (hour and a half long)
Nothing much happens at first. Poor Laura Palmer is discovered on a lakeshore, wrapped in plastic. The music already bugs me. Yes, poor Laura Palmer is dead. And the grief in the community is palpable. A cop called Andy cries buckets over the situation. Everything takes a looooooong time to happen, I think there’s always a problem with pilot episodes, but this one was suffering from 1980s TV show pacing. I hate the two teenage boys. There are a lot of people to keep track of.

When Kyle Mclachlan’s preppy Agent Copper finally shows up the show really bursts into life! He is definitely the draw for this show. He’s so enthusiastic about the location. He loves trees. He loves the snow bunnies. I spend the whole episode waiting for him to mention the ‘damn fine coffee’ and it never happens. Disappointment! If this show was made now, there’s a good chance he’s the first character we meet. As it is, he’s definitely worth the wait.

Then the episode ends in terror. Mrs Palmer has a vision. A weird gnarly guy with lanky grey hair is lurking and leering at the foot of Laura Palmer’s bed. Eeeeeeeeeee.

Episode One
The two douchebags are in jail, and so is the other boyfriend with the puppydog eyes. There’s lots of talk about drugs, and Agent Cooper finally says he loves that Damn Fine Coffee, and eats a great deal of cherry pie. Yay! We also meet log lady properly.

Episode Two
Robocop’s creator shows up (Bob Morton!) and Agent Cooper has to stop the rest of the law enforcement officers from decking him. Cooper also uses a unique method, inspired by Tibet, I think, to narrow down the list of murder suspects. It involves a rock, a blackboard, and a glass milk bottle. It’s also accurate. We learn about the existence of a seedy club called ‘One Eyed Jacks’ where gambling and hookers dressed like frilly anime girls (with a deck of cards theme naturally) are available to the Audrey’s dodgy dad and his brother.

Then Agent Cooper has a very weird dream set in a red room with a backwards-talking, dancing midget and a woman who whispers the name of the killer in his ear. He won’t say who it is until breakfast the next day! The titles end with more midget dancing. Awesome.

Episode 3
Agent Cooper only kind-of knows who murdered Laura; he and the cops must decode the finer points of his very strange dream.  We learn there’s a secret society called ‘the Bookhouse Boys’ set up to combat a dark presence in the woods, which sounds a little like Stephen King’s IT, actually, if The Losers Club were organised. It’s also very funny and tragic hen Laura Palmer’s grief stricken father won’t let go of her coffin – there’s no way that scene isn’t meant to be hilarious. The hunt is also on for the one-armed man. Also, I could care less about the power games at the Mill, although I’m sure that’s going to be important later, and Piper Laurie is fantastic.

Episode 4
They actually find the one-armed man, and the conspiracy about the mill and Audrey’s attempts to woo Agent Cooper continue. The episodes seem to be ending quicker and quicker, which is a sign we’re getting into it.

At this point, it was bedtime….

Favourite characters so far:

Agent Cooper – Kyle McLachlan is very funny, who knew? Why is he always cast as a kooky stiff? He’s great here.
Amy – Love her squeaky voice and OCD stacking of department donuts.
Log lady – I gather she’s important? Want to know more! what does that log have to say?
Ed – The big faced, tiny-nosed guy is having a clandestine relationship with RR Diner owner, Norma. His drape-obsessed, eye-patch wearing wife, Nadine, is NUTS.
Josie – that lady can carry off the early 90s androgyny.

Don’t love:

Leo – big ol’ psycho, wife beating nutcase. I have  a hunch he’s out to die soon, but who is the guy all dressed in black, hanging out with him in the woods?
Audrey – Flirts, sulks, sort of great and pushy yet irritating as hell. Really resembles Marilyn Monroe and she will probably grow on me.

So, now we’re over halfway through the first season, a few thoughts. Twin Peaks is slower paced than I was expecting, but it looks beautiful on HD. There are a lot of characters to get used to, but I do want to go back there. It’s a strangely absorbing show and Kyle McLachlan is fantastic as the boyish oddball FBI agent. In fact, he reminds me of Benton Fraser, the Mountie from Due South, which also channelled the surreal in the name of fighting crime.
There’s a lot to take in. More will be viewed over tomorrow. I think we’re gonna run out of Caramel Logs before too long! Also, gotta get some donuts in, and stack them appropriately. Probably on Saturday’s viewing.

Twin Peaking over Easter Weekend: Supplies

Plans are afoot to watch all 20 episodes of David Lynch’s notoriously surreal drama series, Twin Peaks (1990), over the Easter weekend block.

I was born slightly too late to appreciate or even remember it when it was first broadcast, (I’m from the slightly later X-Files era in 1993) but I am looking forward to finally seeing what all the fuss is about. This show is referenced in Witness, for crying out loud, it’s where I first even heard about it. Not sure just how big it was over here in the UK, either.

Twin Peaks, Laura Palmer

I can already hear that creepy music...

Was torn between doing a minute by minute recap of all the episodes as they appear (while realising I’m never a big fan of reading those lengthy scrolling entries, so probably not). Instead I’ll be summarising my response to each block of episodes at the end of the day’s viewing. Gibbering will be kept at a minimum, I hope.

Think the schedule will be something like:

Thursday eve – 6 episodes (recap on Friday morning)

Good Friday – 8 episodes (recap Saturday morning)

Easter Saturday – 8 episodes (recap Sunday)

Easter Sunday – 8 episodes (recap on Monday)

That ought to do it. That should leave most of Monday free for fresh air and blinking in the bright light of the external universe beyond our sofa.

I haven’t tracked down a copy of Fire Walk With Me, the film prequel to Twin Peaks, yet. I did it see many years ago, but think we’ll stick to the original series for now, care of Netflix.

I have already conducted a little research on Twitter to decide what vittles should be around to sustain body, soul and sanity during this marathon. Thanks to @joshuafklocek @barryhutchison and @MatthewDRyan1 for the following necessary nibbles:

Some Tunnock’s Caramel Logs

Donuts

Cherry Pie (may have to settle for Bakewell Tarts…..)

Anything involving creamed corn!

OBVIOUSLY some Damn Fine Coffee

***

Apparently there’s also a drinking game – one Google search later, it turns out there’s a boatload to try out. That’s to be decided later, I reckon. Any recommendations are gratefully received.

So we’ll be putting in the supplies order for Thursday and dodge the panic buying for the Easter Bank Holiday starts. I love supermarkets that deliver!  With this, and nothing too complicated to cook, the Haunted Eyeball will soon be reporting on its adventures in with Agent Dale Cooper in Twin Peaks.

Lovecraft Week: Real Ghostbusters ‘The Collect Call of Cathulhu’

People who love horror often started their fascination early on. For instance, if you grew up in the 1980s, it seemed you could scarcely move for cartoon monsters, demons and Dungeons and Dragons. Even My Little Pony had a particularly nasty beast at one point. But the The Real Ghostbusters in particular stand out from its animated peers. Spawned from the phenomenal success of Ghostbusters (1984), the early seasons of The Real Ghostbusters were created with the full blessing and influence of Dan Akroyd and co. It also had some very decent writers, most notably J Michael Straczynski. Upon revisiting, some twenty-plus years later, The Real Ghosbusters remains streets ahead of many similar shows at the time, especially in terms of unusual storytelling and enjoyably snarky adult characters.

Although the animation isn’t as lush or fluid when compared to modern cartoonage, it’s extremely well produced and the sheer inventiveness of the ghosts, and the cynical banter between the Ghostbusters themselves, are a real joy. The lesson here is that cynicism doesn’t age! No part of pop culture or ancient history, was out of bounds and it drew from anything and everything, ranging from Citizen Kane to Norse Mythology, and of course, good old Howard Phillips Lovecraft.

Which explains the episode ‘The Collect Call of Cathulhu’. Punning on Lovecraft’s famous Call of Cthulhu story, and written by Michael Reaves, we can assume that the misspelling of ‘Cthulhu’ in in this title is so the kids watching won’t be confused about how it’s pronounced. Equally, it could have been done to piss off rabid H P Lovecraft fans. Your call, Eyeballers.

Of course, the episode’s plot is just a little hokey – some mook from the Miskatonic University opts to display the notorious Necronomicon at the New York Public Library (did the Ghostbusters ever dispatch their first ghostly encounter there?) Of course the tome gets stolen, our guys are called in to find it, and the Ghostbusters soon face off against some aggressive and fast-regenerating Cathulhu(sic) Spawn underground. This sewer attack is actually played pretty straight, the guys look absolutely terrified (and they’re hardened ghost fighters after all!) so the Cthulhu/Cathulhu awakening is really a pretty big deal. It could even be considered pretty dark.

Cathulhu, Cthulhu, Ghostbusters, Collect Call of Cthulhu, H P Lovecraft, horror

However, including overt references to the Cthulhu Mythos (mainly from the August Derleth perspective, it seems) in a show ostensibly aimed at kids really isn’t so surprising. Let’s not forget that the first Ghostbusters movie is effectively a Lovecraftian movie all on its own. The live-action Ghostbusters battled Gozer the Gozerian, the Destructor, ender of reality and turner of innocent apartment dwellers into giant monstrous ‘dogs’. Oh, and several makers of the original Ghostbusters film also worked on Heavy Metal, an animated film not without its own blatant Chthulhu references (and a few more nekkid boobs, too)!

Including Cathulhu/Cthulhu in the plot here just seems like a natural step. It’s not taken too lightly, either, even though there are some priceless lines such as “Anything that looks like Godzilla wearing an octopus hat shouldn’t be hard to find.” – Pete Venkman.
To emphasise just how serious the threat of Cathulhu’s return actually is, Egon points out that Gozer is “Little Mary Sunshine” in comparison. Yikes. (Think how big that Twinkie must be!) This neatly provides viewers who’ve never heard of Cathulhu/Cthulhu (for instance, all the under-fives in the audience at the time of broadcast!) with a sense of the scale of a ‘dreaming’ god that could kick Gozer’s ectoplasmic rear back across infinity. Again, yikes.

So, how do the Real Ghostbusters cope with battling the greatest threat to humanity to world has ever known? Check out the video of the episode just below to find out:

For sheer fan service, The Collect Call of Cathulhu is an outstanding episode. From Pete Venkman lusting over Ms Derleth, then battling ‘Cathulhu’ with a proton pack from a moving rollercoaster, to Egon basically saying ‘we’re screwed’, and Ray’s love of Weird Science magazines helping them to win in the final showdown, frankly it’s all over a bit too fast.

Points if you spot the blatant Scooby-Do ending, too. Also, South Park also seem to have been influenced by this episode’s approach to the Mythos in their recent episodes. It can’t be a total coincidence that Cartman meets his own Cthulhu while he’s on a rollercoaster, can it?

Coming up tomorrow – Innsmouth Press presents Future Lovecraft stories

Coming up on Thursday – H P Lovecraft and the Frozen Kingdom by Bruce Brown

Don’t miss:

Lovecraft week, day one – James Pratt’s bite-sized Lovecraftian horror stories reviewed 

Also of interest

You know, for Squids!

Innsmouth Magazine Issue 8 reviewed

Review: The Machine Stops by E. M. Forster

The Machine Stops
The Machine Stops by E.M. Forster
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

FAIRLY SPOILER-FILLED REVIEW

How can a book from 1909 be so accurate about the way we live our lives today? OK, so we aren’t all trapped willingly in little cells isolated from the outside world and relying on a faceless machine of take care of our every need while we spout our opinions to the world from a screen…not ALL of us. Enough of us for this to feel very odd indeed.

Thanks to this uncanny accuracy in predicting the future, this is easily the most chilling dystopian future story I’ve read. It’s not “1984”, which takes ennui, despair and Government control in very different direction. No, this is the self-inflicted hell of regressing to childhood willingly. The humans in “The Machine Stops” are coddled into inhumanity, much like the humans on the spaceship in Pixar’s WALL-E movie. Moving around and doing anything for yourself has become socially distasteful, and the main protagonist, Vashi, exists purely to converse via screen (Web cams, anyone?) and to discuss and produce her ‘ideas’. The overall aim of her culture is to make true experience obsolete, to only allow any understanding of historical events through the many times removed interpretations of the current generation. Eventually, no one will know or feel anything. These guys don’t even pick up books when they drop them.

Vashti’s total disconnect from normal human emotions of awe is best shown during her reluctant journey to visit her son, who lives far away across the world. Here she takes a trip in an airship which passes over the Himalayas. She refuses to be inspired and all the other passengers find the view disgusting.

This is because most humans live beneath the earth in these cell like cubicles, which is something echoed on television recently, by Charlie Brooker in his Black Mirror episode ’15 Million Credits’. Humans rules by television and their interactive screens and disconnected from the real world is an ever more realistic scenario. Most terrifyingly, the story reminds us that this state of things cannot go on. the pinnacle of human civilization will corrupt and fail, as all human civilizations seem to have done before us.

Predicting that one day the machine WILL stop, the story ends on the question – and THEN what will we dependent children all do?

Truly chilling. Very highly recommended.

View all my reviews