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Creepy Christmas Tunes

The Twelve Slays of Christmas 2013

 

For the fourth slay of Christmas, this genre gave to me, four creepy songs, an Amicus anthology, Santa’s Demon Krampus, and a scream queen hanging free!

 

 

There’s that familiar chill in the air. A fresh dusting of snow on the ground. Folks bundled up tightly on their shopping excursions. Children out in their yards building snowmen or forts. In the midst of it all, your axe-wielding author dashes to and fro in hopes of avoiding that one most dreaded yuletide custom. Christmas music! It is a terrifying assault on the senses, and too much of it can turn even the most cheerful and saintly among us into old, curmudgeonly Scrooges.

 

I’ll be honest, I haven’t reached that tipping point yet this holiday season, although I can only hear singing chipmunks a few times before I finally snap. In light of the holiday close approaching, I thought I’d dig up some X-mas tunes a little more weird than the mainstream fare, and decidedly less grating to boot. Although, like any aesthetic opinion, these are all subject to my personal peculiar tastes. (My all-time favorite holiday song is Tim Minchin’s “White Wine in the Sun,” that, although consummately secular, is neither dark nor especially weird.)

So, for my fourth slay of Christmas 2013, I present four songs to add to your Christmas playlists!

 

The first tune on the Pieces of Darkness Holiday Playlist is this haunting rendition of “Carol of the Bells” by Cast in Bronze.

 

 

 

“Carol of the Bells” is one of the least annoying traditional Christmas songs since it lacks lyrics. When played on a carillon — a giant set of bells weighing over four tons — it sounds especially chilling. An antiquated instrument, coupled with the musician — Frank DellaPenna — wearing a strange golden bird mask and dressed head to toe in black,  makes the tune downright eerie. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this character were to pop up in an Argento film, as this entire act is one scarred face away from turning into the Phantom of the Opera.

 

The second tune for tonight is “Sled Zepplin” by Bob Rivers. It is a Christmas parody of Led Zepplin’s “D’yer M’aker,” and although the song itself is not terribly dark, the mellow beat played over clips of crazy Santa Clauses is a thing of beauty.

If you’ve been following my previous Slays of Christmas, you’ll note that two of these Psychotic Santas have already been featured in the list. Crazy Billy from Silent Night, Deadly Night, and the old mental institution escapee from Tales from the Crypt have had their day in the low winter sun, but be on the look out for Harry Stadling in 1980’s Christmas Evil to pop up sometime before Christmas day!

 

Kate Bush’s “Misty” is the next song on our holiday playlist. On its own this song is sad and evocative, but with the claymation video depicting a fatal tryst between a woman and a snowman, it becomes especially creepy.

 

 

If compared to Wham’s “Last Christmas,” about a lover being completely over their ex who left them on December 26th, this song shows the flip-side of the coin: an unhealthily bitter jilted lover. Or maybe it is about the remorse one feels for killing their ex in a crime of passion during the holiday season. It can’t simply be a cautionary tale about what happens when a hot blooded woman has a steamy night of love with a snowman, can it?

 

The last song to add to your X-mas playlist is a perennial childhood favorite of mine — Weird Al Yankovic’s “The Night Santa Went Crazy.” As the title indicates, this song is about Santa Claus going postal at the North Pole, gunning down elves and reindeer aplenty.

 

 

This parody of Soul Asylum’s “Black Gold” has an extra gorier alternative ending. The final verse goes like this:

Yes Virginia, now Santa Claus is dead.

Some guy from the SWAT team, blew a hole through his head.

Yes little friend now, there’s his brains on the floor.

I guess they won’t have the fat guy, to kick around anymore!

But now there’s no more presents, for the children’s enjoyment.

And the elves gotta stand in line to file for unemployment.

And they say Mrs Claus, she’s on the phone every night,

with the lawyers, negotiating the, movie rights!

 

So next time you get sick of incessantly hearing “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” or “Jingle Bells,” just put on this song, pour yourself a great big glass of spiked eggnog, and sit back and enjoy the sounds of Old Saint Nick being crazy violent dick.

See ya tomorrow folks!

Tales from the Crypt (1972)

The Twelve Slays of Christmas 2013

For the third slay of Christmas, this genre gave to me, an Amicus anthology, Santa’s Demon Krampus, and a scream queen hanging free!

tftc_santa

If Santa Claus knocks at your door tonight, don’t answer. — from Roger Ebert’s review

Ho ho ho! Hope you’re in the holiday spirit, I sure know that I am! Today I am getting at the root of the Killer Santa with the original 1972 Amicus anthology Tales from the Crypt, directed by Freddie Francis. As far as I can ascertain (from a perfunctory Google search) this film is the first to feature a murderous madman clad in the red and white-trimmed suit. If that is incorrect, and you know of an earlier film with a killer from the North Pole, please let me know by leaving a comment below.

Tonight’s treat is stocking-stuffed full of revenge tales and evil-doers getting their just desserts — a common thread through all of my X-mas picks this season thus far! Tales from the Crypt sees five strangers united on a tour of some old English catacombs. We, the viewer don’t know why they’re here, and they themselves don’t either. The central five are quickly separated from the rest of the group and joined by a mysterious cloaked figure — The Crypt Keeper. Now, honestly, Ralph Richardson isn’t The Crypt Keeper that I grew up with — he has much more flesh on his bones and much less cheesy jokes than HBO’s early 90s incarnation. But, as a very dry, slightly sardonic purveyor of eternal condemnation, he works in this role. Plus, he was knighted, so you know that means he’s one of the queen’s own actors. Indeed, the acting is very strong through-out this entire picture, but I also get a sense that they are all playing very familiar roles. With the exception of Peter Cushing, who plays a down-on-his-luck trash collector, the main actors are all well-to-do high society types, that just tend to rub middle-class me the wrong sort of way.

. . . And All Through the House

Case in point is Joan Collins as a money grubbing wife who kills her husband on Christmas Eve. The first thing that she does after clubbing the man in the head is not to clean up the murder scene, but to check the safe to see that his insurance papers are all in order. But then two things happen to up the ante. The first is that the couple’s daughter calls down from her upstairs bedroom. The second is that the radio announces that old crazy guy on the loose from the mental institution trope: “a man described as a homicidal maniac has escaped from the hospital for the criminally insane . . . and may be wearing a Santa Claus costume.” (I know this trope seems well-worn, but the only other time I can actually remember it from a film is Night of the Creeps.)

Now the murderous mother has to deal not only with cleaning up her crime scene, but also keeping the madman outside, and her daughter on the inside. The TV version of this episode has much more back and forth between the woman and Santa, but the ending to that plays out much the same here in the original. I won’t ruin either of them for you if you haven’t seen them. Just note that the Santa here is more likely to be seen on a Macy’s float while the latter Crypt Santa is more akin to the drooling on his straight-jacket in a padded cell sort of criminally insane.

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Reflection of Death

The second story in this anthology stars Ian Hendry as a man who leaves his wife and children to run away with his mistress. Only, obviously, things don’t go as they planned. Hendry wakes up from a nightmare during the drive, and moments afterward they are involved in a pretty wicked car crash. The car flips upside down several times, with silly slow motion cuts of each of them banging around the car’s interior. Then, seemingly moments after the crash, the man awakes to find himself in the English countryside, near his burned out car. As the viewers, we follow his POV shot through the woods looking for help, but everyone he stumbles upon runs or drives away. He returns to his wife’s house to have the door slammed on his face and her scream in terror. The reveal of whatever is so hideous and repulsive about this man doesn’t happen until he visits the apartment of his mistress and sees . . . well, I don’t want to spoil it for you. I felt that Reflection of Death was the weakest of the tales in this film. It was one of those easy to see twist endings, as well as one of those weird, too funny to take seriously dream endings. It’s all very well shot and well acted, but just not up to the standard of the rest of the stories.

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Poetic Justice

The third story features the late great Peter Cushing as a down-on-his-luck Mr. Rogers type character named Mr. Grimsdyke. All of the neighborhood children love him, and frequently visit his home to take in puppet shows and recieve gifts. Unfortunately, Mr. Grimsdyke is unfairly hated by his very well-off neighbor played by Robin Phillips. This entitled bastard takes it upon himself to get Grimsdyke to leave the neighborhood in an effort to ease their property taxes. It is laughable to see what the neighbor’s call a veritable pigsty actually be so clean and tidy. Perhaps they were offended by Grimsdyke’s finger-less hobo gloves. So, this young prick makes Grimsdyke’s life hell by first tearing up another neighbor’s rosebushes and getting the police to take Grimsdyke’s dogs away. Next, he gets him fired from his job as a trash-collector and then makes all the families in the neighborhood keep their children away from him. And if that isn’t enough, he sends the poor old man a bunch of NASTY Valentine’s Day cards.

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This kindly old man just can’t take it any more. Distraught after all of the vitriolic hatred, he decides to end his life by hanging himself in the pantry. With smug satisfaction the entitled young man and his father find the body, and for them at least, all is finally right in the neighborhood. Only, poetic justice is served, when one year later Grimsdyke rises from the grave to deliver his own Valentine’s Day card. This story is probably the best of the bunch in part to Cushing who was playing a character pretty similar to himself. Throughout Grimsdyke talked to the photograph of his deceased wife Helen when in reality Cushing’s own wife Helen had passed away about a year before this film. (I can’t comment on the actor’s use of a ouijia board or automatic writing device to contact her though.)

Wish You Were Here

The fourth story is a classic spin on that old story The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs. In fact, they even reference that story in this one! Richard Greene plays a business faced with mounting debts. Either he can go into bankruptcy, or sell off all of his collected artwork to stave off financial ruin. Surprisingly, he decides to be honorable, and sell of his excesses. That is when his wife stumbles across an oriental statue that promises to deliver them the standard three wishes. Immediatedly, despite a caution from the businessman himself, she wishes for their wealth back. Lo and behold, they get a call to meet with their lawyer, but when Greene goes he is chased by a skeletal biker, crashes, and dies. The wife, however, becomes well off because of her husband’s ample life insurance.

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Knowing that she has still has two wishes, and distraught about her husband’s death, she uses another wish — again, despite the warning from the lawyer — and asks for him to be returned to her just as he was before the car crash. Some mysterious undertakers bring in the husband’s coffin and lay it out saying he had a heart attack right before the crash. Second wish wasted. She also wastes the third wish to ironic effect, but I won’t say what happens, except that of all five protagonists, this guy gets the rawest deal in the end, and actually given what happens, he shouldn’t be with the others in the Crypt Keeper’s prescence. It is the foolish wife who brings down all the trouble on this man.

Blind Alleys

The movie’s last story sees Nigel Patrick as Major William Rogers, the newly appointed superintendant for the Elmridge Home for the Blind. He addresses his men in the most military of fashions, and turns the home more into a barracks than a convalescent home. The blind men are not pleased, especially as the major and his German shepherd feast on steak and wine while they must eat meatless slop and sleep in their frigid beds on cold, heatless nights. When one of the blind men dies the others have finally had enough. They decide to take over the hospital and punish the major (and his dog) for how they have treated him.

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The blind men lock up the major and his dog in separate cells in the basement. Then they go to work with wooden boards, saws, hammers, and nails, blindly shambling through their construction zone like zombies. Once they are finished, they open the door to the major’s cell, and he is faced with a Saw-esque torture hall covered with exposed razor blades. There is no going back, and he must proceed . . . to his doom!

This was such a fun film. It much less cornball than the 90s TV show, but I think there is still a healthy amount of sardonic charm and cinematic irony to make this fun for the whole family. It is only rated PG after all! It is well acted with a nicely rounded cast. Also, this is just dripping with Gothic charm as the visuals of a rundown cemetery at the opening and the music, Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor in the opening and closing, contribute to something that is very British, sophisticated yet atmospheric. It also doesn’t betray its comic book roots, as the blood throughout is bright vivid red. There isn’t anything too gory, but there madman Santa, as well as the Peter Cushing zombie have been iconic images in the horror genre.

If you haven’t watched Tales from the Crypt recently, then the holiday season might be just the time for you and yours to enjoy something shocking, yet pleasing for all, young and old.

St. Nicholas’ Helper by D.K. Thompson

The Twelve Slays of Christmas 2013

For the second slay of Christmas, this genre gave to me, Santa’s Demon Krampus, and a scream queen hanging free!

Meet Kramus!

“I’ll feast on the flesh of children tonight until the snow is stained red with their blood.”

— D.K. Thompson

 

Welcome back to the list that keeps on giving, Pieces of Darkness’s Twelve Slays of Christmas! Yesterday I explored a film all about the balancing the gift giving for good children with the punishment of the naughty ones with Silent Night, Deadly Night. Today I’m taking a stab at Santa’s own personal enslaved demon Krampus.

 

If you know nothing about this wooden faced, cloven hoofed, hairy beast, then allow me to enlighten you, with a little help from Wikipedia:

Krampus is a beast-like creature from the folklore of Alpine countries thought to punish children during the Yule season who had misbehaved, in contrast with Saint Nicholas, who rewards well-behaved ones with gifts. Krampus is said to capture particularly naughty children in his sack and carry them away to his lair.

What the opening paragraph fails to mention, is that soon after being hauled away to Krampus’s lair, these children would be dismembered and eaten by the demon. That makes getting coal in your stocking a pretty enticing gift afterall doesn’t it? Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, and a Demon Claus too!

Krampus has his origins in pre-Christian pagan times, but eventually made his way into the Christmas traditions of central Europe. He suffered a bit of anti-propaganda from the Austrian government in the 1950s, but today seems to be rising in popularity and has been embraced by as a darker part of the Christmas tradition. There are even bachannalian Krampus Runs where participants dress up like this horned beast, get drunk, and trounce through the snow. (The consumption of child flesh is presumably kept to a minimum.)

 

Or, you could consume delicious chocolatey Krampus. Turn about is fair play demon!

 

Traditionally, Krampus stalked after children on December 6th, as that is The Feast of St. Nicholas, and the one day each year that Santa Claus releases Kramups from his chains. This is the case in D.K. Thompson’s short story St. Nicholas’ Helper. In it, two young girls have disobeyed their mother, and gone out on the Demon Night after their lost cat. Predictably, they are captured by Krampus, shoved into his great child-holding sack, and taken back to his lair.

“Don’t be scared, you’ve been good right?’

“I tried . . . but how good did I need to be?”

What is unexpected is the gory detail that the author uses to describe their fate, and the superb way it digs into your mind conveyed through the medium of audio fiction. Suffice it to say, the fate of the children is grim, especially when considering that all of the barrels stocked in Krampus’s lair are filled with his previous captures — “curing, so their flesh could be sold off as ham.” Also, we get more than a mere glimpse of Krampus, we get to smell him — “wet putrid fur, like an old forgotten carcass picked at by scavenging rats.” And we can almost hear the wet smack of organs tearing free as “Krampus pulled something long and twisted, like crimson serpents . . . and put them in an open barrel.”

The story comes down to a battle between a older, lither, Saint Nick, and his contemptuous demon, but I won’t spoil the outcome for you here. Listen for yourself, but bundle up, as it’s one to chill the blood.

St. Nicholas’ Helper by D.K. Thompson was ‘published’ in Pseudopod — one of the best horror fiction podcasts out there — in December of 2011. It was read by Marie Brennan. Check it out by clicking here! Also, be sure to check back tomorrow for the third slay of Christmas!

Silent Night, Deadly Night

Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984)

SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT

The Twelve Slays of Christmas 2013

For the first slay of Christmas, this genre gave to me, a scream queen hanging free!

Welcome to the first of twelve slays this holiday season. I’m gearing up for Christmas in bloody good style with a look at several Christmas-themed horror genre (film, literature, etc.) picks. First on the list, is Silent Night, Deadly Night, one of the more infamous of the killer-in-a-Santa-suit films. This movie is notable as being the one to make Paramount put the axe to Jason Voorhees in Friday the 13th part 4: The Final Friday, and it also has one of the most memorable movie posters from the glut of 1980s slasher flicks. Although this one might not feature the best Psycho Santa Claus, when compared to other holiday-themed horror outings, this one is certainly not terrible.

silent night deadly night title

The movie opens up on Christmas Eve 1971 with a family on a roadtrip to see Grandpa. All of the familiar faces are present: father, hot mother, un-carseat-strapped baby, and little boy in the backseat. Little Billy is concerned that he won’t be back home before Santa Claus comes to his house that evening. But, Hot Mom comforts her son by telling him, “Don’t worry, Santa Claus is going to bring you a big surprise tonight. You just wait and see!”

It doesn’t take a genius to realize this bit of foreshadowing, but the family showing up at a mental health facility to visit the institutionalized grandfather does take aback an unacquainted viewer. Grandpa is in a catatonic state and completely unresponsive to his family or the doctor. The family leaves Billy to go and ‘review papers’ in the doctor’s office. It is telling the sort of parents these two are to leave a kid — maybe 5 years old — alone on his own in an insane asylum. As Hot Mom walks away, she drops another winning line with “Don’t worry, Grandpa’s not going to hurt you.”

SNDN_crazygrandpa

Creepiest Grandpa outside of Texas.

Crazy Grandpa snaps out of his previous state and rants to little Billy about the evils of Christmas. “Christmas Eve is the scariest damn night of the year. I’d be scared too, if I was you,” he says. Santa only gives presents to the nice children, but if you’re naughty, then you’ll get punished. “If you see Santa Claus tonight, you’d better run boy. You’d better run for your life!” Despite the foreboding tone, this warning would prove to better parenting advice than Hot Mom ever provided for Little Billy.

Later, on the drive home Billy confesses that he is scared that Santa will come and punish him, but Hot Mom tries to comfort her son by telling him that Grandpa is nothing but ‘a crazy old fool.” Little does she know, however, that elsewhere in the state some Santa suit clad criminal has just gunned down a store owner in a holdup for a measly $31.

SNDN_storeowner

Predictably, the family stops by this Madman Santa who has been having car trouble. Little Billy urges them to keep driving, but his dad stops to help, and gets shot for his troubles. Billy hightails it to the woods, while Santa deblouses (gotta get those tit shots in right?) Hot Mom before slitting her throat. Santa decides not to pick off the helpless crying baby brother, and instead just shouts into the woods after Billy, who winds up at an orphanage 3 years later. (There is absolutely no closure on this Psycho Santa, so presumably he is still out there in the backwoods of Utah killing Hot Moms and store owners for chump change.)

SNDN_deaddad

Saint Mary’s Home for Orphaned Children is not a very pleasant place for the Christmas-weary children of the world. The nuns running the joint seem to buy into the secular importance of Old Saint Nick, so you can imagine the shock that it causes when 8 year-old troubled child draws Bloody Kris Kringle and beheaded reindeer. The Mother Superior punishes the Awkwardly Mulleted Billy by sending him to his room.

SNDN_Billysdrawing

And Hitler just drew landscapes . . .

Sister Margaret thinks that the memory of the violence that Billy saw is just waiting to come out and be reenacted, but Mother Superior doesn’t care what she thinks. Mother Superior is old school, and feels that it is best to beat Billy’s violent urges into suppression. Which is exactly what happens after finding out that Sister Margaret has let Billy outside to play with the other children. He does, but only after stopping to peep on some older kids doing some pretty advanced mistletoe activities behind a locked door. (Mother Superior beats them too!)

That night, when Billy can’t stay in bed, so he gets tied down to the bedposts. Then the next day — Christmas Day — things come to a head, and although Mother Superior thinks her strict punishments have been effective, we know otherwise. Billy is dragged onto Santa’s lap, and punches the jolly fat man right in the nose. He goes off to cry in a corner, and there is an effective freeze frame of Billy looking up in terror at whatever punishment from Mother Superior lies in store.

SNDN_8yearoldBilly

Ten years later, Billy has developed into an 18 year-old dreamboat. This tall drink of water is ripped, and baby-faced, with brown eyes, blonde hair, and just a hint of dimples at the corners of his lips. Sister Margaret has just landed Big Buff Billy a job at Ira’s Toys as the new stockboy.

The filmmakers provide an awesome musical montage of what it was like to work in a toy store in the 1980s. I don’t want to spoil the fun too much, but there is a lot of box hauling, child lifting, time-card punching, and milk drinking, all while Boss Ira nods approvingly, and Billy’s lazy coworker slacks off and drinks J&B whiskey. Unfortunately, things can’t stay all musical montage good for Billy, as Christmas is now fast approaching. Billy has been acting more and more off — staring off into space and suffering wet dreams turning to nightmares — as December 25th approaches.

SNDN_BillyandIra

The tipping point comes when the regular Santa breaks his ankle and Billy must fill in. Billy is creepy and uncomfortable in the blood-red and white suit, and as children wriggle on his lap and he whispers to them to be good, or he’ll punish them. I really wanted this moment to be dragged out a bit, but instead we cut to the store’s after hours Christmas party, and one of the best lines from the movie with Ira’s: “Seven o’clock! It’s over! Time to get shitfaced!”

Sister Margaret is on her way, after being told that Billy was portraying Santa by the lazy J&B swilling coworker. But it is too late! All of the drunken holiday reveling, and overly forward, ripped-clothes lovemaking (read: attempted rape) makes Billy snap. It’s time to punish these naughty folks!

SNDN_hammerhead

He was gonna have headache anyway.

Psycho Santa Billy makes short work of the employees of Ira’s toys in a variety of ways that include X-Mas light hanging, boxcutter mutilation, clawhammer braining, and arrowing through the chest. Then Billy takes his rampage out on the streets. This is when 80s scream queen great Linnea Quigley gets offed in this movie’s most creative kill. As a neglectful babysitter, she leaves her boyfriend on the basement pool table, and goes upstairs, topless, to let in the homeowners’ cat. But when she opens the door, she finds that it isn’t the cat whose collar she heard jingling, but Psycho Santa Billy! He who chases after Quigley, wearing only hotpants, and impales her on a mounted deer head. The boyfriend gets thrown through a window and ends up impaled with a large chunk of glass. Finally, the babysittee comes away with a boxcutter, placed gently in her hand, as she is a good girl and not deserving of Santa’s punishment.

SNDN_throughdoor

With these balsa wood doors, I bet the homeowner’s heating bill is through the roof.

Billy continues on his rampage into the woods where he finally gets the chance to use that double-headed axe he’s been hauling around. The hapless victim is a sled-stealing bully who gets his comeuppance with a blow to the neck on a downhill run. His buddy (doppelganger of former pro-wrestler Edge) is left screaming his head off in the night.

SNDN_edgelookalike

Adam Copeland would survive the deadly, silent night and go on to win 31 WWE championships.

Sister Margaret and the police are worried as the body count is rising. The police are scouring the neighborhoods, but only interrupting tender family Christmas moments instead of finding the murderous Kris Kringle. They deduce that he is heading for the orphanage, so they dispatch officers there, who manage to get there just in time to gun down Santa Claus. Only, it’s not Psycho Billy Santa, but the kindly, old deaf priest who plays Santa for the orphaned children.

As Billy stalks his way to the orphanage, one wonders if Mother Superior will be the next person on the wrong end of an axe swing. Find out if Santa Claus dies by watching Silent Night, Deadly Night yourself. This is an above average slasher film and it certainly deserves to be seen by any fan of horror and/or Christmas movies.

Some Thoughts

It had been years (maybe a decade+) since I’d seen this, so I was thrilled when I rediscovered how good the acting was. Lilyan Chauvin as Mother Superior was obviously the best, as she was classically trained, and ran her own acting school. I thought that Little Billy (Jonathan Best) was far less annoying and more believable than Weird Mullet Billy (Danny Wagner). Also, a superb and creepy performance was put on by Will Hare as Crazy Grandpa. Robert Brian Wilson as Psycho Santa Billy wasn’t terrible, but he’s no Thom Mathews.

The special effects are standard fare, but it really makes me nostalgic for the days of complete physical effects. CGI squibs and gunshots just don’t really cut it in comparison to something as simple as some blood bags detonating.

It was pretty sweet to see all of those old 80s toys in Ira’s toy store. However, it’s probably for the best that toy stores these days don’t stock double-headed axes or bow and arrow sets.

Perry Botkin’s music is creepy throughout, especially the opening with the child singing. Even the funny picks, like the musical montage were spot on in tone and definitively 80s. When you think about it, even outside of a Santa slasher flick, all those X-Mas songs about an old man watching children throughout the year, and breaking into their houses to leave gifts for them, are a bit disconcerting.

Fun fact: this film opened the same weekend as A Nightmare on Elm Street and outgrossed that film before being pulled from theaters after becoming the target of parents’ protest groups.

Silent Night, Deadly Night was written by Michael Hickey and directed by Charles E. Sellier, Jr.

I recommend you watch it, and don’t be naughty this Christmas season!

Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film

postergoingtopieces

I just finished this great documentary film about the humble beginnings, tumultuous but money making middle, slow sequel descent, and eventual rebirth of that most maligned subgenres of the horror genre — the slasher film. This 2006 documentary was written by J. Albert Bell, Rachel Belofsky, and Michael Derek Bohusz based off the 2002 book by Adam Rockoff. This feature is loaded with appearances from all of the usual big names like John Carpenter, Wes Craven, Sean Cunningham, Greg Nicotero, Tom Savini, and Rob Zombie, but also features some lesser seen horror personalities such as Felissa Rose (Sleepaway Camp‘s Angela) and Slumber Party Massacre director Amy Holden Jones.

This film briefly touches on the early proto-slasher type films of Psycho and Peeping Tom, before acknowledging the true harbinger of the American slasher film movement with Halloween. That film, in my opinion, is great in just about every respect — an awesomely creepy score, atmospheric settings, appropriate pacing, and a strong ending — but admittedly, it does lack in gore. Fortunately, there are other (countless others) to fill the void in the blood and guts department. Savini and Nicotero discuss some of the effects seen in such slasher greats as The Prowler, The Burning, and Friday the 13th part 4. Additionally, the giallo film influence is mentioned, as these slasher greats are just as inspired by Italians maestros like Mario Bava and Dario Argento as they are American madmen like Ed Gein.

Halloween

Unfortunately, the slasher’s meteoric early-1980s rise was tempered by a mid-1980s backlash. Many of the early theatrical releases hold much more artistic value, but later churned out for the VHS-market releases simply provide a high body count without any sort of redeeming philosophical or artistic merit. When producers simply start pumping out film after film featuring a killer murdering on a certain day (My Bloody Valentine, April Fools Day, Graduation Day, etc.), something has to give.

Mardi Gras Massacre

Another nail in the coffin was the backlash from critics and concerned parents groups about the effect of slasher films on American audiences, particularly women and children. Roger Ebert is quoted as saying, “these films hate women.” Wes Craven admits “slasher films are considered one notch above pornography,” but many of these producers and directors, Craven included, feel that this idea is too short-sighted. Often times it is a strong feminine character who is able to survive the onslaught and provide representation of the sort of moralistic values the conservative (Reagan-era) leaders desired. Rather than being misogynistic, Amy Holden Jones maintains that a movie like hers plays to a woman’s true life fears, and contains more frequent and more graphically depicted male deaths. Also, Holden Jones adds that one can’t discount those movies that feature a female in the role of the killer. Betsy Russel (Mrs. Voorhees from the original Friday the 13th) puts it best with this quote: “I don’t think it’s demeaning to women! It’s an art form!”

POSTER - THE SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE

But what about the children? Won’t somebody think of the children? There is an anecdote retold about how protests of the movie Silent Night, Deadly Night not only led to its being pulled from theaters, but also convinced Paramount to put the axe to Jason Voorhees in The Final Friday. Children should be parented, rather than their biological producers smearing mud all over the good name of sleazy slasher flicks.  Besides, it is much safer to let teenagers key into these movies, with their fictional portrayals of violence, than to send them off to war as photographers (in Tom Savini’s case). Art, and I believe that is an apt term for a select number of slasher flicks, is a reflection of life and sometimes life is bloody, and filled with sexual deviancy or bodily mutilation. The desire of people to watch these films is to explore and understand part of the human condition and what it means to be a part of an ever growing materialistic society. Amy Holden Jones continues this line of thought: “Horror movies before [the 1980s], the metaphors had gotten old . . . I think in the 80s there was a new perception that the enemy was ourselves. That the worst possible enemy was another human who had gone crazy and whose motive was not rational and who could just come out of the blue and kill you.”

SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT

This emphasis on reality may have been what made the slashers great originally, but it was the more fantastical Nightmare on Elm Street that brought a resurgence for the genre in the mid-1980s. Again, there is the idea of paying for the sins of youth: sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll equals death, but a film like Nightmare, and a killer like Robert Englund’s Freddy Kruger, is much more sophisticated and stylish than the earlier glut of slashers. Unfortunately, Freddy was wearing some double-edged finger blades, as his films and character led to the greater corporatization of the slasher killers. All of a sudden murderous madmen could be marketed to middle America. Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre‘s Leatherface were resurrected and milked for sequel after sequel until these films divulged into self-parody (see Friday the 13th part 6). All of our masked antiheroes sort of just faded away, into a 1990s slasher slump.

Until Wes Craven returned with the ultimate meta-critique on the genre with Scream. This film harkened back to Hitchcock’s Psycho with a big-name actress killed in the beginning of the movie. It also laid bare all of the rules and underlying philosophy that makes a slasher film tick. Scream made horror (and particularly slashers) mainstream again by using popular actresses in a familiar routine, only slightly shook up, and with a nod and a wink to all the genre’s fans from the previous decade. A movie like Silence of the Lambs may have been afraid to admit that it was horror, but Scream laid it all out, and led to later slasher-esque films like Saw and Hostel, which emphasize the familiar old troupes, tweak things a bit, and amp up the special effects gore to torture porn levels.

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It is obvious that since the release Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film. horror has become more mainstream. Today Greg Nicotero’s gut-wrenching special effects in The Walking Dead are some of the most popular sights to be seen on cable television. Additionally there was an entire show focused on a serial killer with Dexter. True, there are still slasher stinkers (and remakes) cheaply being shit out by production companies, but there are some hidden gems out there like Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon or the throwback Hatchet series to enthrall modern viewers. To quote former editor of Fangoria Tony Timpone, “the genre has an amazing resiliency, just like the characters in those films.”

Drunken Tidbits of the Dead: Too Far Gone

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Warning: this blog post has been started on my third bourbon, and it might become four or five by the time I finish.

Holy fucking shit. Well, maybe I shouldn’t start with my reaction to the fall of the prison. Maybe I should start with an apology. I’ve neglected this blog, and only in its second month of existence. The truth is that I’ve been keeping up with my shows — American Horror Story and the Walking Dead — but I’ve been too damn busy to write up an in-depth post. Lately, I’ve been stuck in a pink, candy-coated land of sugary K-pop. My job has been really busy as the school semester is winding down, and one of my good friends just exited my life (potentially forever). I realize that not all of my random readers will understand, but certainly some of my hits from here in Korea (Jen), and those who have lived the life before (Arron, and albeit shortly, Mitch) will understand.

But enough about me. Hot damn The Walking Dead! I had initially though that the show was rushing too quickly to this plot point — probably the most anticipated (in comic and television) of the entire show — the fall of the prison. Some thought that it should have happened last season. I don’t agree, but I also don’t think that Woodbury should have fallen last season. This prison storyline should have been strung out a little longer, without the (hinted at, but ultimately swerved) redemption of the Governor.

Okay, this had flaws, and plenty of them. How the hell does anybody manage to run away from the machine gun fire of several well-armed people in the span of a few seconds? (I realize that Breaking Bad also suffered from this, but I criticized that show to my friends as well.) Both Rick and the Governor should have been dead within seconds of the gunfight starting — seeing as Carl et. al. had ‘Brian Heriot’ in their sights, and at least some of the guns were pointed at Rick. But they both managed to avoid HEADSHOT INSTAKILLS. And then later Rick is able to somehow jump the Gov. without anyone else coming to help him or pull the two men apart. How does that happen in the throes of combat? You’d think that someone would have been watching one of the two and tried to help the one that they didn’t like.

It’s with a sad and heavy heart that we say goodbye to Hershel. I’m actually a little surprised that more of the main characters didn’t die. I was almost certain that either Maggie or Beth would be shot through while clutching Baby Grimes. Instead we were served with the unsatisfying conclusion of a bloody car-seat. (And the shittiest thing is that it didn’t even have any bloody chunks, leading me to believe that one of the other children may have grabbed the baby. I realize this is cable TV and it is not kosher to kill children outside of  HBO or other premium channels, but it was a tad bit disappointing not to get a conclusive ending for little Judith Grimes.) Back to Hershel dying — I’m happy that the show kept the bit with the Governor being unable to lop off his victims head with a single strike like Michonne. Originally, SPOILER FOR THE COMICS STOP READING NOW IF YOU DON’T WANT THAT SPOILED the Governor took several swings to remove the head of Tyreese, but I seeing as he was no-where near as endeared to the at-home viewers, I had thought that Glenn (or extra-special-devilishly Darryl) would fill this role. Although, I must admit that Hershel isn’t a bad choice, but I wonder if that puts the kibosh on a potential wounded-member-of-the-group-wanders-off-to-die-and-gets-eaten-by-cannibals storyline with what I had pegged for Hershel. OK, NOW THE COMICS SPOILER IS FINISHED.

hershel with his throat cut

Just a moment, I’m pouring myself a fourth bourbon.  It’s the Costco Kirkland brand. So cheap, but also not terrible on the tongue. This episode was great for showing the emotional range of David Morrissey. Actually, now that I think about it, I would like to see his story in TV form prior to becoming the Governor. DAMMIT, HERE WE GO WITH ANOTHER COMICS SPOILER: It was great that Lily killed him. Just like in the comic, but here it meant something more. I was also satisfied with the story that rounded out young Megan’s short life (although she was absent from the comic). It featured an homage to Lucio Fulci’s Zombie, and really, any other zombie property that includes the living dead arising from the earth, but it also sealed the deal as to the Governor’s demise. None of the children that grow up in this world will be normal. Lizzie and the prison group confirm that. Megan was sheltered from her life away from the dead, and too young not to be warped or lost to the horrors of the new world. The Governor obviously didn’t want that for her. She was his new daughter (versus Hershel’s who he didn’t give a shit about), and he was fighting for the prison for her sake more than Lily or Tera’s. OKAY, I’LL END THE COMIC SPOILER HERE. But speaking of Lily or Tera, I wonder if we’ll see them again in the second half of this season. I really hope so! It would add an interesting dynamic to see some people who had originally been opposed to the prison group joining up with them later.

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And speaking of joining up with them later: I’m almost dead certain that Carol will come back this season. It is just too convenient that she is on her own now, but that now most of her former survivor friends are too — OK, NOW I’M FEELING THE WHISKEY — I think that Carol will be the conduit between Rick’s group and the new people with Abraham et. al. (fuck, that’s a comics spoiler, and a spoiler in general if you haven’t been following the online news about this show, but actually, not really, since I’m just name dropping a person whom you’ve never met before). Anyway, now I think that Darryl and Rick are the only people who know that Carol was the killer (since Hershel is dead) and the group has more to worry about these days than Tyreese’s potential lover being prematurely killed along with all the other dead redshirts, apart from Previously Seen Before Black Lady on the Bus. They’d best hide it if they do meet up with Carol later — and I think that maybe Tyreese’s concern about Whatever-Her-Name-Was will take a back burner to his concern over the well-being of his sister. But ultimately, it was pretty shitty that we didn’t have a more drawn-out moment between Tyreese-Darryl-Rick. (In which Andrew Lincoln tilts his head to the side and half-scowls, Chad Coleman looks angry and a bit bug-eyed, and Norman Reedus remains my sexy-as-hell-guy-I’d-go-gay-for.) Also, I bet that the whole feeding the rats to the zombies at the gates thing dies too, because that was a stupid side story and it was probably only crazy Lizzie (who I want to stick around!).

Yeah, alright. I’m pouring myself another bourbon, and I’m gonna stop hitting the backspace when I fuck up the spelling of words.

Welcome to the extra-special, extra-drunken edition of TIDBITS OF THE DEAD WITH AXE-WIELDING ALEX. Here are some random thoughts from the rest of the show, as I’ve not taken to plying my inebriated brain to fixing the coherent arguments of whatever the hell I’m thinking about.

    • David Morrisey as the Governor has been a great actor, but I agree with the online sentiment that he has not been redeemed as a despicable character on this show. Also, I’m not absolutely certain that the TV show did a good job of setting him up as beyond redemption. I felt that Rick almost reached him. He said liar, and then cut off Hershel’s head. But he previously admitted to Michonne that he knew his daughter Penny was not alive. (I wonder what would have happened had Lily and dead Megan arrived sooner.) Maybe he would have gone along with Rick’s idea of letting them all live.
    • How the hell is Tera the only one who questions the Governor? What’s-his-nuts-tank-driver’s brother was killed by Brian Heriot, and still her follows him blindly into battle. I’m happy that at least someone questioned the madman, and I hope that this episode isn’t the last that we’ve seen of Tera and Lily. (Yeah, it’s shitty that Tera’s lover got capped in the head by Lizzie, but I’ll hold out on her finding love again — maybe Sasha is a lesbian?)
    • This line: “Don’t look back Carl, just keep walking”  That comes straight from the comics. It was awesome then, and it was awesome tonight. The entire shot — with the prison in flames, and the walkers all in the background was exactly the same just as awesome!
    • How the fuck are there so many walkers, which Rick and Carl gun down, the night before the attack, but only like two (that the Governor easily dispatches) during the late afternoon showdown of Georgia’s last remaining humanity? I think that Martinez’s group should have been shown as having dealt with more.
    • And since we are on the topic of Martinez, how the fuck does he get killed in the last episode when there are actually so many fucking redshirts in the Governor’s group? There’s no way that goes unnoticed. Just as there is no way that such large groups as the previous episode (around 10 [or less] killed by whomever {hopefully cannibals} and Martinez & the Governor’s [what 20 or so?] go unnoticed by Rick and the prison’s group [who, remember, spent months wandering around {an entire winter at least}] before stumbling upon the prison and other people like Woodbury.)
    • Shit, I’ve actually been lying and going back and fixing my mistakes, but this last point was hard to write — what with parentheses, brackets, and whatever the hell the pointy brackets are called.
  • This bourbon is pretty damn good. If you’ve never had it, then I highly recommend that you do. Yes, I feel a bit woozy, but my mental clarity is pretty damn awesome. I’ve not got the inclination to go back and look up whatever delicious amber liquid the Governor and Rick shared last season was, but I’m sure that was just as good as this shit.

    this shit brought me back to chopping up Pieces of Darkness.

    This shit brought me back to chopping up Pieces of Darkness.

    • Will Beth and Carl hook up now that there is one less father (and one less older boyfriend) in the way?
    • Does having a 2 episode buffer help to detract from the fact that this episode featured the miraculous recovery (after a single night) of sick Glenn and all the others?
    • Which is more annoying: Michonne’s ability to roll away from danger in front of all of the Governor’s people, or her completely random disappearance from the show after killing Brian Heriot with her samurai sword, but without her helping of Rick and Carl to safety?
    • Darryl killing badass rough voiced tank driver with a cross-bow bolt to the heart was pretty awesome. I have a feeling that we would have liked (whomever his character’s name was) had we gotten the chance to meet him, but since we didn’t, our more favorite redneck character wins out.
    • Bob the Drunken Combat Medic (like me, only with more combat experience) put away his alcohol and got shot for his trying to help out the group. He is redeemed in my eyes, as I no longer think there was a Governor spy in the midst of the prison. [Though, I’d still be interested in how Shumpert and Martinez managed to make it alone before meeting up with the larger group of expendable redshirts].

Okay. That’s it for my drunken recap of this midseason finale of the Walking Dead. Hopefully more good characters come in YET ANOTHER COMICS SPOILER — I think Abraham & Eugene will be  in the next episode and Jesus (next season) will come in soon, but save that fucking weird tiger dude for a while (maybe season 6?). END COMICS SPOILER.

I’m gonna pour myself one more drink and then pass the fuck out. Happy late Thankskilling to your and yours!

Tidbits of the Dead — Live Bait

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The Walking Dead’s sixth episode of season four proved to be exactly what I wanted it to be — an all Governor episode. “Live Bait” opens on the killing fields of Woodbury from last season. The Governor (David Morrisey) has just finished machine gunning all of his followers, except for his inner circle thugs Martinez and Shumpert the Bowman. In the next scene these three compatriots are camping out — each with a separate tent — while the Governor looks pensively into the campfire. His face is a mix of anger and regret. Wherever he is, he is not in the current moment, as he pays no attention to a female walker that advances towards him. It goes so far as to fall through the campfire without moving. Finally the Governor is pulled away from his thoughts but the gunshot of Martinez putting the walker down. Whoever this man is, he is no longer the maniacal psychopath that unsuccessfully tried to raid the prison at the end of season three. If possible, the Governor is even darker in these moments, as his anger is being bottled up. What is he thinking? Does he still want against Michonne and Rick? Or has he realized that this may be a futile effort?

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“Live Bait” shows us how a broken man, regardless of his state prior to breaking, must pick up the remaining pieces of his life. One could argue that this is what all the people in the world of The Walking Dead face. Everyone has to deal with death now cast in a much more dangerous light. But few people have managed to build something in spite of the hordes of zombies ready to break down the barriers holding the last few pockets of humanity. Rick has achieved something spectacular in clearing out and maintaining the prison. Similarly, the Governor, formerly Philip, and soon to be Brian Heriot, managed to build something in spite of the world of destruction he was living in. As warped as Woodbury under the surface, it was a functioning remnant of society — a piece of light in the darkness of a dead world. Eventually it rotted through as its core foundation — the Governor’s strong leadership — crumbled away. Had Michonne not killed the Governor’s zombified daughter — a mercy killing in the eyes of some, a murder in the eyes of a father — perhaps Woodbury would have stood while the prison fell.

It’s interesting to note that both leaders from last season suffered from mental instabilities. Rick saw the ghost of his dead wife, and that distracted him from being an effective leader. The Governor becomes obsessed with seeking revenge on Michonne and maintaining control over Andrea. In Rick’s case, there were others in his group that were able to pick up the slack that he dropped. Woodbury, however, was like a snake with its head cut off without the Governor in control. Neither of his seconds — Martinez or Shumpert, (or even Merle had he not switched sides) — could pick up the slack and divert the town from imploding. So, the prison group, whose own strained source of power stemmed from the in-fighting between Shane and Rick in season two, survived while the Governor and Woodbury went down in flames.

Where do we go from here? Let’s take a look at the cast from this episode.

Martinez (Jose Pablo Cantillo) & Shumpert (Travis Love) — These two guys did exactly what they needed to do to survive — cut loose and run. Although it wouldn’t have been unjustified for one of them to gun down the Governor before driving away from the Woodbury population killing fields, they took the less messy route of leaving in the night. Perhaps the Governor’s hold on them was still too strong for them to turn their guns on him. As it was, they recognized that he was a failed leader, and they had better chances on their own. We see Martinez again at the end of the episode, but not Shumpert. I hope that Georgia’s second best arrow shooter is still alive!

Megan (Meyrick Murphy) — the Governor’s new daughter figure. Given the monumental task of making the Governor more sympathetic, this is the best way to go about it. If Philip became psychopathic from the deaths of his wife and daughter, then perhaps a new will set him straight again. Maybe this is what he wanted all along, just to reclaim his lost familial unit. If so, then this is exactly what drives Rick — see last week with his first questions asking about the safety of Carl and Judith. Rick and the Governor are just two sides of the same coin.

There were times when the Governor could have cut the dead weight of this family and went out on his own again — after the father died, and when the zombies were after them — but since he didn’t, I’ll take that as a sign that he really does care for this new family in his life. Now, as far as Megan herself goes, I think she has been pretty sheltered from the horrors of life in Zombieland. Her grandfather may have been the only one she saw reanimated, and then she had to witness the ordeal of seeing his head caved in by an oxygen tank. Good thing she’s got a brand new dad in her life, or otherwise she might end up like creepy Lizzie in the prison!

Tara (Alanna Masterson) and Lily (Audrey Marie Anderson) — The cop and the nurse. Who have been hiding away since the entire zombie apocalypse began. If that’s not dereliction of duty, then I don’t know what is. Okay, so Tara was just a cadet in the academy. But Lily should have had a bit more exposure to the dead if she was a nurse. At a hospital. Where sick, injured, dead people end up. However, they seemingly closed themselves off indoors at the first sign of trouble, and have stayed that way for over a year. Heh.

I like the budding relationship that is developing between Lily and ‘Brian Heriot.’ It would have been pretty awkward doing it in the back of a flatbed truck with your daughter and sister sleeping right next to you though. I’ve read criticism that this episode was slow and had too much drama. That’s okay in my opinion though. Had we seen the deaths of the Governor’s new family in the same episode they were introduced, I would not have been pleased. Please AMC, let them stick around for a week or two before pulling the trigger. That will give it a much stronger impact!

David (Danny Vinson) — Lily and Tara’s father and Megan’s grandfather. All in all, I’d say lung cancer ain’t a bad way to go during the end of the world. Still, I wonder why the Governor didn’t tell them that he would turn after his death. Perhaps he had his mind made up to leave, and didn’t have the heart to do so. Or perhaps he already thought they knew.

The Governor aka Philip aka ‘Brian Heriot’ (David Morrisey) — I really liked his transition from consummate bad guy to possibly redeemed by the end of the episode. I think that it won’t work out for him, yet again, and he’ll snap completely when his new family dies. Had it been just the Governor in the pit, do you think Martinez would have shot him? I think had the tables been turned, and the Governor’s family not been right there with him, then Martinez, or anybody else, would have had a new hole in his head. The Governor may be on a path to becoming a changed man, but I think that he will do anything it takes to protect the new family that has adopted him. Only, how will his new family react when they learn of the atrocities he has committed, and the lies he has told them?

Zombie of the Week

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The legless faceless ghoul stuck in the bathtub was incredible. Second place was the zed whose head the Governor ripped off at the jaw. That one looked normal, but that was an awesome effect!

Some Thoughts

    • The the big beard and dirty clothes, the Governor looks like a really frazzled, homeless Snake Plissken.
    • I love how he told the truth about the former leader of his group losing it. Has he really developed a new persona for himself outside of Woodbury, or is he really just manipulating them with his lies?
    • The situation in the apartment with the women and their invalid father is straight from the first Governor novel. Although, since they are on the road now, I doubt anything else similar from the novel will happen with them.
    • The Governor and Megan had some honestly cute interactions, and I think that had we not known the hell Brian went though (caused) to get to that point, he would be a ‘good guy.’
    • With that infection going around the prison, fist bumps might be a great deal safer than handshakes!
    • The burning of the picture could be one of two things. 1. It is a symbolic severing of the man that he used to be — consumed by anger and hatred — and a change into something else. 2. It is a means of the Governor protecting himself from being asked more questions by Lily and Megan about his previous life and family.
    • Is Tara the first lesbian in The Walking Dead?
    • It’s probably not the smartest plan to drop everything and just run willy nilly into the wilderness away from the zombie horde. Especially since the Governor is so adept at killing them with his bare hands!

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Next week, the Governor’s story — who cares about the prisoners? — continues in “Dead Weight.”

The Infestation of the Nutty Joes

Sometimes you don’t have time to sit down for a full length movie. Sometimes you get tired of tearing through episode after episode of your favorite TV show. Sometimes life is just too busy, and then you have to get your horror in shorter bits and pieces. That’s when it’s best to go with a short  film. In my time of scouring the depths of the internet, I’ve found a treasure trove of horrific short films that I’ll be blogging about here. The first of which is a creepy claymation film titled The Infestation of the Nutty Joes.

This is a weird, fun little ride through a city that is plagued by a unique type of zombie. The title is apt in calling them nutty, because rather than eating their victims, they laugh them into — not death, but conversion. Get close enough, and hear a Nutty Joe’s jabbering for long enough, and your own head will explode, only to be replaced by a Nutty Joe. In this way, it is a bit like Pontypool, in that the virus or disease or whatever is spread verbally.

There are plenty of zombie movie tropes in this one, but what I love the most is how it flips around the zombie outbreak source falling from the sky (ala Night of the Comet or Night of the Creeps) and makes that a giant brain. Out of which pops our initial Nutty Joe! Also, it’s not a spoiler to say that this short work has a typical zombie movie non-ending, akin to Demons. (Too be fair though, it seems like a sequel was planned, but never made.)

The Infestation of the Nutty Joes was created by Jan Stephens. He is an animator and illustrator living in England. Check out more of his creepy, weird, and downright nutty works on his website.

American Horror Story: Coven — The Axeman Cometh

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It’s 1919 and the city of New Orleans is gripped in fear from a spate of axe murderers. No, it’s not your humble reviewer, Axe-Wielding Alex, running amuck with a time machine. This killer is a jazz musician with a penchant for chopping up lovely ladies. He holds the city ransom, saying that he will kill again if any house he passes in the night doesn’t have a jazz band playing inside.

Understandably, the women of New Orleans are terrified, but those of Miss Robichaux’s Academy for Exceptional Young Ladies are particularly incensed. They are powerful witches after all, though their speech and ladylike manner of ninety-six years past belies their murderous potential. As Axeman (Danny Huston) passes their mansion on his night walk, he hears not jazz but opera music playing on a phonograph. He stalks up the stairs, axe in hand, and finds a solitary woman dealing out tarot cards. When she reaches the Death Card he goes to strike! Only his senses are betrayed! This is a trap that he didn’t foresee, and like Julius Ceasar centuries before, he is knifed to death by a mob of black-hooded figures.

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Thus begins of “The Axeman Cometh” with the mortal end of the Axeman. After the opening credits American Horror Story: Coven flashes forward to the present day with our second-most virginal witch Zoe (Taissa Farmiga) investigating the missing Madison Montgomery (Emma Roberts). Zoe rifles through a box of Madison’s stuff, where she finds a flask and a derringer, before being led by a rolling mini-bottle of alcohol into a secret closet compartment. She finds photographs populated by past coven women, but more importantly she finds a ouija board, or as Queenie (Gabourey Sidibe) calls it, a spirit board.

Zoe presents her hypothesis of dwindling witch generations and proposes that the three remaining neophytes do something to combat the problem by starting with discovering what happened to Madison. While Nan (Jamie Brewer) is consumed by her crush on neighbor boy Luke (Alexander Dreymon [absent from this episode]), and Queenie, in the pocket of Fiona Goode (Jessica Lange), wants to play things safe by first consulting the Supreme, Zoe’s initiative wins out. The three witches drink absinthe — drink of the divine, which [they] are — are then hold a seance with the spirit board. Queenie cautions the others — be polite! — but instead of summoning Madison, they make contact with another of the house’s deceased spirits — AXEMAN — who accuses the witches of murdering him. Queenie stops before they can find out anything more, again cautioning the others by saying, “If survival is so important to you, you better find out who you’re talking to!”

The girls research the Axeman by checking an online fan site. They quickly learn that the jazz man killed eight people, and connect the dots that the nickname for a saxophone, which he played, was an ‘axe.’ Nan points out a picture of the class of 1919 witches, and Queenie reads out a diary entry that foretells his killing: “This jazz killer has killed long enough. This city is done trembling. Tonight it ends.”

zoe-spiritboard

Zoe presses the Axeman’s ghost for more information about Madison, but Queenie and Nan, afraid of releasing the murderous spirit, wisely opt out of a second seance. The youngest witch goes it alone, and the spirit board gives her the clue ATTIC. Up in the attic Zoe finds walls of creepy babydolls, and then Madison’s overly ripe, one-armed corpse. Spalding (Denis O’Hare) grabs Zoe from behind, but she easily gets out of his grasp and knocks him out with one of his precious porcelain dolls.

The girls tie the “twisted tea-serving necrophiliac” up to a chair and torture a confession out of him. Spalding hides Fiona’s deeds and takes full responsibility for Madison’s death, saying that he killed her just to have sex with her dead body. He also mocks them, saying that if they go to the police it would bring disaster down on the coven. In retaliation Queenie uses her power to burn half of his cheek off with a red-hot spatula. Zoe doubts the veracity of his confession, but as of yet she doesn’t peg Fiona.

Instead, she travels to Misty Day (Lily Rabe)’s swampy sanctuary for help. Misty has been busy with the recently resurrected Myrtle Snow (Frances Conroy), buried under a mound of mud, and the returning FrankenKyle (Evan Peters) Monster. Misty tries giving Kyle a bath, but doing this causes him to have visions of his incestuous mother. He has a fit of rage, smashing a chair and Misty’s 8-track player (along with her Stevie Nicks tape) in the process. Fortunately, Zoe arrives just in time to soothe the savage beast, and takes them both back to the mansion.

Kyle gets chained up while Zoe and Misty perform a ritual to bring Madison back to life. They reattached her arm, and then literally push the death out of her corpse. Out pops a mouthful of blood and a single cockroach, but Madison sits up, coughing, and says, “I need a cigarette.” Afterwards, Zoe decides to keep Madison a secret from Fiona. Misty raids the kitchen, but declines staying with the coven, saying that “she’s got bad vibes, real bad” about something foul in the house.

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Meanwhile, Fiona receives chemotherapy, but she is plagued not just by cancer, but also by the thoughts of the other patients in the hospital room. Suddenly she has acquired the power of mind reading! This new power freaks her out, and she tries to leave, ripping the IV from her arm to squelch the others’ thoughts. She says that her daughter Cordelia (Sarah Paulson) needs her more than ever before, and that she’s only doing the cancer treatment for her. Of course, Fiona shows a bit more selfishness when she says that she just wants one more great love affair in her life. In order to comfort herself, she placates the others in the treatment room, easing the worries on their minds.

Blind Cordelia, using a white cane, arrives home with her husband Hank (Josh Hamilton) to find that Fiona has specially prepared her room for her. Cordelia finally has a bit of an edge to her character. She chides her mother for furnishing her room with the wrong type of flowers — “roses pull in love and romance, but that’s not what [she’s] looking for . . . [she] needs chrysanthemums for strength and protection.” She has another vision of her cheating scumbag of a husband, and says that he “will be accountable for every single betrayal.” After Hank leaves, Cordelia has a vision of Fiona burning Myrtle Snow at the stake. Fiona maintains that Snow committed the acid attack on her, but Cordelia knows that isn’t true.

Hank ends up going straight to Cornrows City, where he has a powwow with Marie Laveau (Angela Bassett). In an interesting turn of a events, it seems that Hank is a ‘professional witchhunter’ hired by Laveau to take out not just the coven, but all of the descendants of the original Salem witches. Which is what he has been doing — in a flashback Hank is seen spying on Cordelia while interviewing Kaylee (Alexandra Breckenridge), the redhead whom he shot in the head two episodes ago. Hank cites her death, as well as eight others, as proof that he hasn’t gone soft. Bassett delivers an excellently acted monologue and with simmering anger rants about the coven witches disrespecting her, Delphine LaLaurie (Kathy Bates) being dug-up, and Fiona’s beheading of her beloved Minotaur. Laveau gives Hank an ultimatum, she’ll have either the heads of all the witches in the coven, or his.

However, it is not Hank who poses a threat to his wife, but the spirit of the Axeman. He had been promised release from Zoe, but she reneged on that, so now the vengeful spirit threatens Cordelia to call the others to release him.

At the same time in another room, Madison is being questioned by Zoe, Nan, and Queenie. The previously deceased witch doesn’t remember the circumstances surrounding her death, just the color red, and then black forever. Cordelia’s screams draw the living witches away. On the other side of a locked door, Cordelia blindly flees from her stalker, who relishes in chopping up the furniture. The lights cut out and jazz music fills the house. The three girls run down to the library, where Zoe is drawn to a book that will release the Axeman from his after-life imprisonment in the house. After the spell is said, all of the candles in the house flare up and they are able to get to Cordelia.

The next shot shows the Axeman, leaving the house, going out the front gate, and then arriving at a jazz bar to buy a gal a drink. And who is that gal? Why, it’s the Witch Supreme Fiona Goode.

Some Thoughts

The next episode is the halfway point of the season. I’m still not exactly sure how things are going to shape up for the second half of Coven’s run. There will be two factions against Fiona. Laveau’s voodoo sect along with Hank and Misty & Myrtle. I honestly don’t see someone like Laveau teaming up with the other two witches, but she may end up trying to use them in her schemes against the coven. There are two wildcards — Cordelia and Zoe. Cordelia did not approve of her mom killing Myrtle, but I honestly can’t see her turning against Fiona. While she is angry at her mom, she has a stronger connection to the coven than to possibly betraying it to Hank and Laveau. Zoe, I think, suspects Fiona. While Queenie is clearly in Fiona’s pocket now, Zoe has had more meaningful interactions with outsider Misty Day. Also, she has one of the witches most traumatized by Myrtle’s execution. However, she does proclaim to have the coven’s best interests in mind and wants the race of witches to be preserved for future generations.

The confrontation between Laveau and Fiona should be epic when it finally arrives, but I think that Fiona will have some other pesky things to deal with before then. She will probably feel the betrayal of a lover in the form of the Axeman. Would this bring her closer to her love-spurned daughter? I think that the Supreme will also have to reckon with Luke’s over-bearing Christian mom again in the future.

I have no doubt that Hank will have his head end up on someone’s platter, but whether that is Fiona’s, Cordelia’s or Laveau’s I’m not sure. Perhaps he may even try to get with Zoe and be fucked to death!

One of the things that I didn’t really like too much about AHS‘s first season was how much power it gave the spirits. They were dead, but essentially could act in any way a living person could. In my opinion their spiritness needed to be tempered with a limitation to their physical interactions with living characters. Coven obviously has taken a different route in dealing with the dead characters until now, but I hope that the Axeman gets some sort of demonic explanation rather than just being a disembodied ghost. On that note, I thought that Danny Huston was excellent in his role as a murderous madman. His facial expressions and mannerisms reminded me a bit of Laura Palmer’s killer in Twin Peaks.

I laughed out loud when Fiona called Hank jughead.

Additionally, this line from Bassett got a laugh too: “You think I did that? I look like the Taliban to you?”

Kathy Bates was conspicuous by her absence. I’m sure she will pop up next week, and it will be interesting where he allegiances lie concerning Fiona and the rest of the coven.

I was never a big Stevie Nicks fan before, but I’ve been digging her tunes in this season.

Next week, Fiona has one more great love affair with the Axeman in “The Dead.”

Tidbits of the Dead — Internment

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If last week’s The Walking Dead was an episode to spotlight the Melissa McBride’s Carol character, then this week’s “Internment” served to illuminate Scott Wilson’s Hershel. This one had a lot of ups and down in my opinion. It was good to see a lot of Hershel, and I was actually on the edge of my seat at a few times during this episode. Unfortunately, I was also yelling at these idiotic characters a few times during my viewing as well. All in all, it was better than the average middle of the season episode and featured a good amount of zombie action, some characterization for some surviving (and dying) players, and the long-awaited return of an ominous character missing since last season.

Let’s take a closer look at who had the biggest impact this week:

  • Hershel (Scott Wilson) — spent the episode playing Florence Nightingale to the patients of the prison. He is first seen intubating another random redshirt — who you guessed it, wouldn’t survive the episode — with a very sick looking Glenn and Sasha. However, given that we know their names, odds are they are safe! Hershel decides that they will try to keep as many people alive for as long as possible until Daryl and the others get back with the magical medicine that’ll put any fear of sickness far in the past. Hershel and Glenn have been braining the dead ones away from the others, in order to keep up their dying spirits — mostly on the advice of some other unnamed redshirt who quoted this Steinbeck line to Hershel: a sad soul can kill quicker than a germ. No need to have this guy actually say the line as a living person, you know, to give the homeviewer a bit more of a feeling for his death. Nope, just stick that cold, sharp metal into skull and try to convey your own sense of loss for the senselessness of violence in this fictional world telegraphed into senseless violence on our TV screens.

I’m diverging a bit here. OK, I love violent films and shows just as much as the next guy. I really like this show too. The thing is, it already has plenty of senseless nameless killing with all of the zombies put down week in and week out. I just want to care for these humans before they are killed too. But I can’t. This show won’t let me. How are we supposed to give a shit about any of them if the producers don’t let us know anything about them? This season has introduced an irritatingly countless number of extras, and yet it is killing them off just as quickly as another unknown is able to mosey out of a prison cell. It’s so goddamned annoying. And I’m not hating on this just because I think The Walking Dead is a stupid show. I think this is a good show, and it has a lot of potential, but it is also really screwing the pooch in a lot of respects — especially in the of handling any newbies or non-comic series established characters. OK, end rant.

  • Hershel does some heroics, later on, wrestling an intubation bag out of the mouth of a walker while on top of a second floor jump guard. He also plays pied piper and finishes off the walker parade with some glorious shotgun blasts.

  • Glenn (Steven Yeun) — He plays Hershel’s second for most of the episode, but the virus is slowly sapping his strength. Glenn does CPR on and stabs a redshirt in the head. Near the end he collapses and begins choking on his own blood. Fortunately, Glenn is one lucky bastard, for three reasons. 1. Lizzie lures away a zombie that rightfully should have gotten its paws onto Glenn. 2. Maggie and Hershel get to him in time to intubate him with a questionably contaminated intubation tube. (I sure as hell wouldn’t want something in my mouth that had just been in a zed’s mouth, no matter how fresh that corpse was.) 3. He only gets really sick right before Daryl and the others show up with their magical medicine that will instantly cure all the sick people.

  • Maggie (Lauren Cohan) — She had a few moments of badassery this episode. I’m happy that we got the shot of her manning the prison fences solo until Rick came back. There was an ungodly amount of zombies piled against the fence, and notice how she was being proactive about it rather than running off like Rick did. Later she has a heart to heart with Hershel who was hiding how sick Glenn really was. Then at the moment when Hershel is struggling with the intubated walker on the jump guard Maggie has to make a tough decision to shoot and risk losing both of her loved ones (Glenn if she shot the bag, and Hershel if she missed the walker.) She ended up saving them both, so Maggie did good this episode.

  • Rick (Andrew Lincoln) — Maggie reinforces that he did the right thing about Carol. I’m still on the fence about that one though, because really had Carol simply communicated what should have been done to the others, it may have saved more lives in the end. But that’s in the past. Now we have a Rick who seems committed to living in this hellish future. He has a philosophical conversation with Hershel that seems like something we’ve heard countless times before. We’re changed, it won’t be the same, blah blah blah. This isn’t the beginning of the end of the world. There are dead people out there who want to eat you! You can’t be a farmer Rick, or as Carol said last week, “You can’t be just a farmer!” Rick seems to be on the decisive path of making up his mind and sticking to it, although he does flipflop once more before the episode would end: when he first returns he sees Carl, but wants him to stay put with the other children.

Carl: Dad, you can’t keep me from it.

Rick: From what?

Carl: From what always happens

Rick: Yeah, maybe, but I think it’s my job to try.

Later on realizes the stupidity of keeping his son locked away and has him help shore up the prison defences.

  • Carl (Chandler Riggs) — Turns out he is a crack shot with a machine gun. Of course, I was always under the impression that automatic weapons were foolish to use against zombies (see World War Z — the book, not the shitty movie). However, they work here just fine, despite the safer and smarter plan of picking off the invading zombie horde from one of the guard towers. If they had the ammunition, then why didn’t they just use it on the horde in the first place?

  • Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) — She assisted Hershel with the sickies. Good for her for helping. It’s not like any of the other no names were going to lift a finger. The writers wouldn’t let them.

  • Lizzie (Brighton Sharbino) — I’m glad at least one new character got some good screen time. Psychologically damaged little Lizzie lured a zombie away from Glenn, saving his life. Although, it is not made entirely clear what she had planned to do to get rid of the zombie after that. She trips and falls, but fortunately Hershel is able to bound up the stairs (on one leg) and save her. As with Daryl, I think she will be most affected by Carol’s absence, although seeing how Hershel and Rick tend to baby the minors, they’ll probably hide the truth from the children about why their edged-weapons instructor is no longer a part of the group.

  • Daryl (Norman Reedus), Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman), Michonne (Danai Gurira), and Bob (Lawrence Gilliard, Jr.) — They return safely! Hooray! Daryl says and does little, but you know there will be hell to pay when Rick tells him what went down with Carol. (Hopefully this dramatic moment happens on screen, though I can see AMC just having a pissed off Daryl heading out after her to start the next episode.) Tyreese comforts his sister. Given how he doesn’t seem close to any of the Woodbury people, and the poor history with the original prison group, Tyreese is much less connected to everyone than in the comics. If (when) he bites the bullet, I think that this will dampen the impact of his death. Michonne is on walker duty, cleaning up the corpses. You gotta do something to stay fit. Bob the Drunken Combat Medic administers an IV. Hope he didn’t accidentally put vodka in that syringe, yukyukyuk!

  • The Governor (David Morrissey) — Hells yes! He’s back! Next week should be interesting. What I hope they do is have an all Governor episode to fill in the blanks of what’s been going on with him since last season. Why not? They have plenty of time to fill. Might as well show us how he’s been managing on the road and whatever happened to his missing lackeys Martinez and Shupert.

  • The Newbies (An Unnamed Legion) — Well, I already ranted a bit about them above, but why not some more? Here is photographic evidence of 15 other people in the prison beyond the mainlisted cast.

HenryThis is our first redshirt. Here he is being intubated because he can no longer breathe on his own. His name is Henry. But he didn’t get this name until he died and tried to attack Glen. Then he chased after Lizzie. Hershel threw him over the second floor railing and onto the jump guard. Maggie shot him in the head. Long live Henry.

 mrjacobsonThis is Mr. Jacobson. He is the only other redshirt to get a name in this episode. He dies and then Hershel and Glenn take him into another room away from the others. They put a sheet over his face. He wakes up as a zombie, and then Glenn stabs him in the head.

DrSThis is Dr. S or Caleb. Besides Bob and Lizzie, he has been the best established newbie character this season. He was the only one with the foresight to close his cell door before he died. He was also smart enough to bring a shotgun into the internment with him. See how he’s bleeding from the eye? Later Hershel would stab him through that eye. That’s foreshadowing folks.

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This guy likes Steinbeck but nothing else is known about his literary tastes. He collapses and dies in front of everybody, but Hershel takes him in another room before stabbing him in the head.

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These redshirts stand up on the second floor and look down on Hershel while he tends to the Steinbeck fan.

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This guy does likewise. At first I thought he was the same as the guy on the left in the picture above, but they do appear to be wearing different clothes. Nothing is none about how he survived Woodbury, or even if he was from Woodbury.

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This kid appears to be about Carl’s age. He is probably only a fraction as badass though. Don’t expect him to wear any sort of awesome sheriff’s hat anytime soon.

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This sickly guy is one person we get the best shot of. Which leads me to think that he’ll probably die violently in the next episode. He seems a little bit like Axel to me. Remember how the prison used to have prisoners inside?

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This gal can be seen behind Hershel as he is loading the Steinbeck guy onto a stretcher. I think that she might be the one who dies and initiates the zombie attack on the first floor, but I could be wrong.

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Here is another random woman. I don’t think she is the one who dies since she looks pretty spry here in this tiny-ass picture. Maybe she is the back-breaker woman, but her hair doesn’t look blonde enough.

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Here is the bloody mouthed zombie that falls on top of Hershel. She gets her back broken with a well placed stomp from the blonde woman, which saves Hershel. Perhaps she is the grieving mother of the child that died a few episodes ago. Perhaps she harbored feelings for Daryl that she kept suppressed for respect of Carol. The world may never know . . . All we know for sure is that she ate a facefull of shotgun buck.

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This guy actually had some lines! No name, but some lines! I had high hopes for him since he was smart enough to close the door to the cell holding him and his son. Only, actually he was pretty dumb. His son was dead, and although he had a gun, one can’t be certain that he was going to use it on his son. Instead he tries to shoot the zombie on Hershel, only to get bit by his zombie son and ends up accidentally shooting the blonde. Despite his obvious ineptitude he made it a year and a half into the zombie apocalypse, so that’s a win!

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This young redshirt dies, reanimates, eats his dad and then gets shotgunned by Hershel.

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The blonde girl actually does something consequential, but ends up getting shot for her troubles. Is she alive or dead? No zombie is shown eating her, but no one is shown tending to her gunshot wound either. The group could use more go-getters like her, so maybe Rick or Daryl should strike up a conversation with her, learn her name, more about her, etc. (Or more likely, just never see her again.)

Zombie of the Week

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There was a bunch in the horde, and the bloody mouth girl and intubated Henry looked good, but I really liked this jawless guy whose forehead Rick shoves a steel rod into.

Come back next week as the Governor kills off all your favorite redshirts, this time played by entirely new actors! Until then, have a cry about killing your nameless comrades, and have a listen to this tune featured in the show: