Monday, February 27, 2017

Memory Bank: Strange Change Super-Detailed Assembly Kits (1974; MPC)

I still carry vivid memories of the mid-1970s, and times seeing MPC's Strange Change model kits on shelves in the Toys R Us at Paramus N.J.

There were three kits in all: "The Strange Changing Vampire," "The Strange Changing Mummy" and the one I wanted more than anything, "The Strange Changing Time Machine." 

Basically, each model kit had a kind of switch or flip function, so that two views of the model could be seen.  

The vampire could change forms (from vampire to skeleton) and so could the mummy (from whole to ripped bandages). 

But the time machine was greatest. It had had one view of an inventor operating the gadgetry or instrumentation of the time machine. And the other view showed him getting attacked by dinosaurs, post-time travel.

I guess these Fundimensions kit might be construed as a little gimmicky, but they are great desk-toppers, and vintage curiosities to look at and enjoy.  

I never owned any of these, but I know the kits were all released by Round 2 in 2011. My Dad is a great modeler, so I might ask him to build me (or Joel) a strange changing time machine one of these days...

Cult-TV Theme Watch: Time Machines

A time machine is a (fictional) device or vehicle that transports a traveler (or travelers) to the past or to the future.

Time machines have long been a key factor in science fiction television. 

Perhaps the most famous of all time travel devices is the TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimension in Space), a vessel -- and life form? -- used by the Gallifreyan time lords in Doctor Who (1963-1989; 2005 - ).   

The TARDIS has been to the dawn of mankind on Earth ("The Unearthly Child") and visited other time periods, past and futuristic. It has been "driven" (if that's the term...) by at least 12 incarnations of the Time Lord known as The Doctor.

Time travel is also a factor in the Star Trek franchise. In the Original Series, Kirk (William Shatner) and his crew must restore Earth's proper time-line using an alien time machine or portal, called the Guardian, in the beloved episode "City on the Edge of Forever."  This portal re-appears in The Animated Series episode "Yesteryear."

Uniquely, the Enterprise herself may be considered a time machine. In episodes such as "The Naked Time," "Tomorrow is Yesterday" and "Assignment: Earth," the starship travels through time, either via a new engine intermix formula, or via a high speed maneuver around a star known as "the slingshot effect."

The same year that Star Trek premiered, 1966, Irwin Allen created a series called The Time Tunnel. The series saw two lost travelers in time moving through various historical eras. In this case, the machine itself was a vast tunnel ensconced in a huge, underground scientific and military complex.

The main time machine of Voyagers! (1982) was far more compact in construction: a hand-held watch device called an "Omni." In this case, the Omni was like a time compass, and had green and red indicator lights to suggest when the time line was accurate, and when it needed repairing by explorers called Voyagers.

In the short-lived Terra Nova (2011), survivors of a doomed future Earth use a gateway/time machine to travel a parallel Earth's "time stream," and the Cretaceous Time Period.

Time machines have also been featured on The Twilight Zone (1959-1964) in episodes such as "Back There."  "The Odyssey of Flight 33" sees a 1960s air-liner serving as an unwitting time machine device, traveling to the prehistoric age.

Time machines have also been featured in the Back to the Future animated series, and such series as Time Trax, and Timecop.

The Cult-TV Faces of: Time Machines


















Sunday, February 26, 2017

Advert Art: Doctor Who Pinnacle Edition

Tribute 2017: Bill Paxton (1955 - 2017)

Today, I find myself writing another tribute that I thought for certain would not come for many years, or even more than decade from now.

The press has reported today the death of one of my favorite actors, Bill Paxton (1955-2017), an actor who has had the distinction of -- in his long and impressive career -- having fought the Terminator, the Alien, and the Predator. 

That note of trivia only tells a piece of the Bill Paxton story, though it is an important piece for sci-fi and horror fans such as myself.  

Paxton had a small role as a violent punk in James Cameron's The Terminator (1984), a major role, as the highly-quotable Hudson in Aliens (1986), and as a cop he faced off against the predator in L.A. in Predator 2 (1990).

Mr. Paxton collaborated many times with Mr. Cameron, also starring in True Lies (1994) and Titanic (1997), bot huge box office hits of the nineties.

More recently, audiences have enjoyed Mr. Paxton's work in series such as Big Love (2006-2011), and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2014).

Mr. Paxton's other genre credits include such films as Mortuary (1983), Weird Science (1985), Near Dark (1987), Mighty Joe Young (1998), and Edge of Tomorrow (2014).  Outside the genre, he also had unforgettable roles in Sam Raimi's A Simple Plan (1998), and U-571 (2000).

It is terrible to lose Mr. Paxton at the youthful age of 61.  He never failed to bring energy, humor and humanity to his roles. Many of his characters, like Hudson, have become touchstones for a generation of movie (and horror) fans.  

Bill Paxton will be terribly missed, even though his work shall be remembered and appreciated for years to come.

I extend my deepest condolences to his family and friends at this difficult time.

From the Archive: The Unforgettable Doomed Space Missions of Cult-TV

In the vast immensities of cosmic space, bold adventurers streak their way to join battle with strange enemies on strange worlds: the alien, the unknown, perhaps even the invisible, armed only with Man's earthbound knowledge...”

-          The Control Voice narration to “The Invisible Enemy” on The Outer Limits (1964).

One of my a favorite sci-fi and horror sub-genres (due to be explored this summer in Alien: Covenant [2017]) is the failed outer space expedition.   

In stories of this type, courageous astronauts brave the dangers of the void in their rockets and spaceships, and discover not wonders of nature…but the very horrors of Hell itself.

Films have visited this trope in such efforts as Alien (1979), and Europa Report (2013), but this list focuses on TV instead, a realm where the failed space expedition trope has seen many iterations.  

Many cult-television series are actually predicated on the concept of a “failed” space expedition, from Lost in Space (1965 – 1968) and The Starlost (1973 – 1974), to Planet of the Apes (1974 – 1975), Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979 – 1981) and Farscape (1999 – 2003). 

Not all those series, however, tread in the terrain of pure terror: the unexpected conjunction of amazing high technology with Gothic “monsters” in an arena that should be reasonable, scientific, and wondrous…but determinedly isn’t.  Highly-trained and resourceful astronauts in these episodes suddenly find themselves confronting things that shouldn't exist at all; things like ghosts, dragons, and vampires.

Other TV series (not featured below) offer variations on the formula, but don’t necessarily focus on spaceships: Doctor Who’s “The Waters of Mars,” for instance, concerns a base on Mars that falls to an implacable alien horror called “The Flood.”  

In terms of categorization, a good “failed space expedition” story not only terrifies, it sets up a high level of danger for those who discover the expedition's aftermath, and must tread (warily…) in its footsteps.

So without further introduction, here are my selections for the five most horrific failed space expeditions in cult-television history. 

To be included on my list, the mission must end in abject failure, and with lots and lots of death and destruction.  

These are my choices, but no doubts others will choose other episodes.

5.The final journey of the U.S.S. Essex (“Power Play,” Star Trek: The Next Generation [1992]):   

Nearly 200 years before the days of NCC-1701-D, a Daedalus class starship called U.S.S. Essex, encounters terror on Mab-Bu IV and is never heard from again. 

When the Enterprise answers its distress call two centuries later, the captain of the Essex and his top crew are reportedly alive, albeit in a strange form.  They “survive” as disembodied “ghosts” inside a planet-wide storm.  

The truth is much more bizarre, however.  The planet is actually a penal colony containing the Ux-Mal’s most monstrous (but non-corporeal) criminals.  The Essex captain and his ship died generations ago, when the prisoners seized the ship, and it failed to escape the planet’s gravity well.

This is one of my all-time favorite Next Generation episodes because it boasts no preachy messages, and the Enterprise crew spends the hour trying to figure out exactly whom it is dealing with when Troi, Data, and O’Brien are apparently possessed by the Essex’s command crew.  

But in terms of the failed space mission premise, I love “Power Play” because it points out the danger of space travel in early Starfleet history.  Here, a starship “boldly went where non had gone” and encountered new life forms of a most malicious variety.  Star Trek isn't a universe where one expects to find "ghosts," but that's a good term for the merciless aliens Picard combats here.  This episode also offers one of the few instances in the series when it is possible to resolve a situation by peaceful diplomacy, and talking to an enemy.

4.The ill-fated mission of the M-1 (“The Invisible Enemy” The Outer Limits [1964]):

In the year 2021, the M-1 rocket lands successfully on Mars.  But this giant step for space exploration ends in terror, when the first astronaut on the Martian surface screams in terror, and then disappears without a trace.  The second astronaut heads out to the surface, and meets the same mysterious fate. 

Six years later, the crew of the M-2 discovers the grisly disposition of those unlucky men.  They encountered dragon-like shark creatures that “swim” the sandy terrain of the red planet.  Now, the four-man crew of the M2 is similarly imperiled by the over-sized, carnivorous beasts. 

This episode of the classic anthology series plays adeptly on the fear that something might exist beneath our very feet, something that could pull us down into the very ground itself, and destroy us.  And the episode’s final revelation -- of a whole school of the sand-sharks laying in wait -- is unforgettable in terms of its imagery.

Here there be dragons...

3. The bizarre fate of the E-89 (“Death Ship,” The Twilight Zone [1961])

This mysterious and unsettling story from the late Richard Matheson occurs in the year 1997, as three astronauts -- Captain Ross (Jack Klugman), Lt. Mason (Ross Martin), and Lt. Carter (Frederic Beir) -- visit a distant planet and are afforded an unwelcome glimpse of their own future.  
On the surface of the planet is a wreckage of a spaceship…their spaceship.  Captain Ross believes that they have somehow "circumnavigated" time and arrived on the planet in their own near future, perhaps as the result of a time warp.  
Now the question remains, how does the ship’s crew avoid a future in which it is fated to die?
Unlike the other stories on this list, “Death Ship” involves no overt “monster.”  There are no sand sharks, ghosts, vampires or other creatures to contend with.  Instead the crew’s nemesis is time itself, and perhaps that is an even scarier enemy.  As I wrote in my review of the episode, "Death Ship" is a great story because it arrives at its shocking ending side-ways.
The episode features all the trappings of futuristic science fiction drama, with discussions of time travel and alien life, but as is so often the case on The Twilight Zone (and in the work of Richard Matheson) the resolution of the enigma involves the very nature of man; the metaphysical not the technological. 
In crafting a tale of a protagonist and captain who sees what he wants to see, and the men who follow him in that (tunnel) vision, Matheson's "Death Ship" takes the mysteries of outer space and links them right back to the essential nature of humanity, right here on Earth. For a time it looks like the story is about "fear -- the "death fear" as one character describes it -- but the tale actually involves the acceptance of the unacceptable in our lives...and in our deaths.
This is one of the darker corners of The Twilight Zone, no doubt.

2. The last voyage of the I.S. Demeter (“Space Vampire” Buck Rogers in the 25th Century [1980])
An unknown presence -- believed to be the “Denebian virus” or “EL7” -- begins to kill the passengers and crew of the I.S. Demeter in “Space Vampire.”   

Although the last survivors hold out hope that they can reach their destination alive, it is not to be.  All hands have perished by the time the vessel passes through Stargate Nine and reaches Theta Station.   Their murderer is a strange vampiric entity called a Vorvon, known in legends for “draining the souls” of the living. 

On Theta Station, Buck (Gil Gerard) watches the Demeter’s captain’s log, and realizes the horror that now lurks on the station. 

The Demeter is named after the ship that transports the un-dead count to England in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and serves much the same purpose in this entry of the 1979-1981 series: setting the stage for the next appearance (and escalation) of a terrifying entity.

Where most episodes of Buck Rogers are light-hearted and breezy (and quite enjoyble so...), an atmosphere of  absolute gloom and dread hangs over "Space Vampire," especially the sections involving the Demeter.  There is an air of ghastly inevitably here as the captain reports death after death, until the Vorvon finally comes for her...

1.The horror of the Ultra Probe (“Dragon’s Domain,” Space:1999 [1975])

It is impossible for me to measure how deeply or profoundly this episode of Space:1999 impacted my psyche when I first saw it as a young lad (at the tender age of five).  I suspect, in fact, that “Dragon’s Domain” is the very production that catalyzed my life-long love of horror and science fiction.

“Dragon’s Domain,” by Christopher Penfold, depicts the tragedy of the ill-fated Ultra Probe, which began its weeks-long voyage to the newly-discovered planet, Ultra, in the year 1996. 

In orbit of the planet, however, the astronaut crew discovers a mysterious “parking lot” of alien spaceships. When docking with one such mystery ship, however, something...alien...gets inside the Ultra Probe (commanded by Tony Cellini), something horrible.

That horrible thing is a tentacled, slimy nightmare that can hypnotize the living, and...then devour them.  But even that isn’t the end of the terror.  After eating the crew, this monster spits out the corpses’ steaming bones from its orange-hot maw.  

The resulting image: a smoldering skeleton on a high-tech spaceship deck, is one that has remained with me my whole life, and captures perfectly the magic of the “failed space expedition story.”

You look at that image (below..) and wonder, how in the cosmos can this happen?  How can mankind achieve his highest aspiration -- the stars themselves – and end up like this? Merely charred food for something unimaginably horrific, unimaginably monstrous?

In the course of “Dragon’s Domain,” Tony Cellini gets a second chance to face his monster, and even when fully seen for a second bout, the creature loses none of his ghastly power.  The creature squirms, wriggles, shoots out fluid (ick…) before consuming its final victim.  In the end, the truth is that the parking lot of spaceships was a spider's web, and that this monster was the spider itself.

The story ends with a final, frightful thought to carry with you into your nightly slumber.  If the astronauts never determined, via their advanced scientific instruments, that the creature was alive... how could anyone be sure that it was really dead?

Alas, fans of failed space expeditions never got the TV sequel to "Dragon's Domain" that this chilling ending so perfectly set-up.

Other contenders for this list include "The Satan Pit," a Doctor Who story in which a team of space miners (again operating from a base, not a ship) excavate a "Beast" that is, in fact, the Devil, and "Planet of Evil," another Doctor Who story set at the edge of the known universe, and featuring an anti-matter universe.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle: Tarzan the Hated"

In “Tarzan, the Hated,” the Mangani accuse Tarzan of destroying their food supplies. 

Tarzan claims innocence. When he investigates, he learns that the Bolgani are actually responsible, and are seeking to re-locate their civilization to the geologically unstable region of Opar, which stands above lava pits.

The Bolmangi capture a human female archaeologist, and now Tarzan must rescue her as well as prevent the relocation to the dangerous land.

The final episode of the first season Filmation series, Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle (1976) is another pleasant enough time waster, with Tarzan battling intelligent apes.  The episode, like “Tarzan’s Trial” incorporates stock footage into it, and the menace of the Emperor Ape is undercut some by the fact he appears to be wearing a pink gown. It's a strange fashion choice for an ape hoping to intimidate.

Although the last few episodes of the season are not as good as some of the earlier installments, and show signs of being produced in a terrible rush, I still feel that Tarzan is a high-quality show of its era. The formula is repetitive and familiar by this episode, and yet some episodes in the canon offer genuine surprise, adding science fiction concepts to the adventure in stories like “Tarzan’s Rival” or “Tarzan and the Strange Visitors.”

The stories are still entertaining at this point, even if no new ground is being broken. We’ve had a season of lost worlds and high adventure, and for Saturday mornings in the 1970s, it must have felt like a dream come true. At a minimum, Tarzan and his world are treated with respect and dignity here.

For that reason, I would rank this show near other Filmation efforts that I like very much, including Star Trek (1973-1975) and Flash Gordon (1979-1981). I certainly appreciate the attempt on the part of Filmation to tell stories that are faithful to Burroughs’ vision, though there have been some missed opportunities too (see: “Tarzan at the Earth’s Core.”)

Next week, I’m going to leave Filmation behind, and visit the weird and wild world of Sid and Marty Krofft’s Liddsville (1970).

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: The Ghost Busters: "The Canterville Ghost" (September 20, 1975)

A woman named Carola de Canterville (Kathy Garver) lives in the mansion in the graveyard, and is haunted, routinely by the clumsy and cowardly ghost of Simon de Canterville (Ted Knight). This spirit is cursed to remain in the castle for all eternity, or until he commits a brave act.

An evil gangster, Mr. C. (Len Lesser) pretends to be Simon, the Ghost of Canterville, to run Carole out of her house and find the priceless Canterville Diamond.

Fortunately, the Ghost Busters are assigned to help Carole uncover the truth of the haunting.  And as a happy but totally unintended side-effect of their involvement, Simon’s curse is broken.

This week on The Ghost Busters (1975), we meet Carola Canterville, and finds that she lives in the castle we’ve seen occupied by various spooks in every other episode of the series thus far. We see her ironing, and going about her (domestic) business, when Mr. C. begins “haunting” her.  We also learn that a spirit  -- Simon -- has dwelt in the castle for centuries, even though he too has not been seen in previous episodes. 

This castle gets a lot of action. And also, each episode of the series apparently occurs in its own parallel universe.  These are the facts we can draw from events this week.

What distinguishes this episode from the others, largely, is the presence of Ted Knight as the cowardly spirit. 

At this point, The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977) was still on the air, and the actor was at the height of his popularity as a scene-stealing second banana. It’s a bit of a surprise to see him on this series, which is so cheaply produced, and a haven, mostly, for those on the way down the ladder to D-celebrity status.

Otherwise, this episode includes another corridor gag, and Tracy shadows by a mobile suit of armor (really Mr. C.).  Again, this sequence could be a gag right out of Scooby Doo, cementing the idea that this series is a cartoon come to live action.   

This episode also features such antique gags as the painting with moving eyes, which goes back as far as the films of Abbott and Costello, and likely further.

Next Week: “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?”

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Films of 2012: Sinister

Sinister (2012) is the kind of horror movie I have a difficult time assessing, and I left a viewing of it deeply conflicted.  The first hour or so of this horror film from Scott Derrickson is beyond reproach: serious, grim, legitimately-disturbing, and very original in terms of visual presentation. 

But the movie’s last act falls apart, and all the carefully-generated suspense just bleeds out of the proceedings.  By the time of the film’s final and lame bump, Sinister has plummeted so far from its apex of terror that you’ll feel deflated and also a little angry.   Greatness was within its grasp.

So, do I champion what’s good about Sinister, or criticize the fact that things fall completely apart in the third act? 

As is my wont, I’ll pay attention to both factors in this review, but I can’t lie about the bottom line: the weak, discordant ending casts a retroactive pall over a film that might have been in contention for the title of genre classic.

“Your father writes about terrible things.”

In Sinister, a once-famous author Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) moves his family into the home where a terrible crime recently occurred.  In the backyard of the Oswalts’ new property, a family was hanged by an unseen assailant.  One child survived the hanging, but has vanished entirely.

While Oswalt’s son, Trevor experiences night terrors on a regular basis and his daughter Ashley begins painting weird murals on the walls, Ellison investigates the hanging in hopes of writing a follow-up best-seller to his literary calling card, Kentucky Blood.

Ellison is unexpectedly assisted in this endeavor by the discovery of a crate in his new home’s attic.  Inside the crate are several old 8 mm film reels, all “home movies.”  These amateur recordings, however, are filled with horrific murders.  Technically, they are snuff films. 

One, “Pool Party ‘66,” reveals a family being drowned in a swimming pool.  Another, “Barbecue ‘79” shows a different family being burned alive in its car.  “Lawn Work ‘86” showcases a family bloodily murdered with a lawnmower, and “Family Hanging Out, ’11,” shows the previous homeowners being hanged.”  Sleepy Time ‘98 may be the most disturbing of all, as it showcases a family murdered while asleep, throats slit on-camera.

In one of the films, Pool Party ’66, Ellison catches sight of a strange, demonic-looking figure in the pool.  Further examination reveals this being’s presence at each of the crime scenes. Also at each crime scene: some sort of demonic iconography.  When Ellison asks a local professor, Jonas (Vincent D’Onofrio) about the occult symbols, the academician reports they are associated with a pagan God named Bughul…a god who steals children and -- over time -- devours their very souls.

As Ellison becomes more and more obsessed with the dark imagery of the home movies and his own quest for fame, his beleaguered wife (Juliet Rylance) begs him to give up writing, give up the house, and get the family to safety before it is too late…

“This is my shot.”

The greatest horror movies involve some kind of metaphor of sub-text that grants the film additional meaning and depth.  Sinister very much concerns what it means to be a writer, and how a writing career -- if not successful -- can actually tear a family apart.  

In the film, Ellison doesn’t want to quit writing, even though family finances are grim, and even though his family is in mortal danger.  Why?  He still remembers the “high” of Kentucky Blood’s release, when he went on TV talk shows, won awards, and was a figure of some national repute.  Ellison feels that this current case is now his “shot” to have all that celebrity again.   He wants to take that shot, no matter the consequences.  

And importantly, he thinks there’s nothing he can’t handle.

As a professional writer since 1996, I very much appreciated this thematic through-line in Sinister.  Every author who has struck with writing for any significant span -- and witnessed economic fortunes rise and fall with each project -- will recognize some of the hard yet truthful conversations shared by the husband and wife here.   Ellison’s wife urges him to teach or edit to supplement their income, but he doesn’t want those careers.  He wants to write, to do things his own way, on his own terms. 

In the end, however -- as his wife tells him -- it is Ellison’s family that must sacrifice so he can attempt to achieve his dreams of fame.  Not coincidentally, Sinister also features a demon stealing away children’s futures, and that’s the key metaphor or sub-text.  That soul-sucking demon who demands almost constant sacrifice is actually the writing career that takes Daddy away, and limits family resources.

These moments of husband/wife frisson in Sinister are powerfully observed and uncomfortable true.   Writing is a solitary profession, and one lacking stability and security.  A writing career can skyrocket and flame-out in a surprisingly short span.  One success can fool you into thinking you’ve made it, but then every successive time up at bat (or in print), you have to make it again, all over again.  You’re only as good as your last success.  

Ellison is an egotistical man, to be certain, but not a bad man.  At night, when not watching the horrific snuff films, he watches old VHS recordings of his TV talk show appearances, and narcissistically revels in his image, his celebrity, and his wit.  Fame is like a drug to Ellison, and we see (though his constant whiskey drinking) that he is an addictive personality.  For some reason, the approbation of the media feels more real and important to him than his family’s love.  He craves it. 

Hawke is intelligent and interesting as Ellison, and the actor carries almost the entire movie on his shoulders.  The movie, however, lets Hawke down in the last act, when it requires for Ellison to learn from his mistakes and -- with his family at stake -- he doesn’t.  Instead, he acts incompetently.

Without revealing too many specifics, Sinister’s last act requires Ellison to ignore important phone calls and voice-mails from a deputy for a long span, and then relapse into behavior that he explicitly has been informed will re-conjure Bughul. 

At this point, Ellison has given up writing his book, so there is no rational reason for him to go down this road.  It’s not like he does it on a whim either.  He sits down and cuts together film footage from every Bughul home movie, a time-consuming activity that would offer any sane person plenty of time to reconsider.

So the Sinister screenplay switches over from clever and closely-observed to cruising on genre auto-pilot…all in time for the catastrophic finale.

And yet by the time of that switch-over auto-pilot, Sinister has also proven itself a profoundly intriguing found-footage-styled horror film.  Much of the movie’s set-pieces involve the home movies, shot over various decades, and featuring the horrible murders of whole families. 

These videos look authentic and real to an alarming degree, and are absolutely disturbing.  The moment in which Elliot first detects Mr. Bughul in one of the films is also a real seat-jumper.  Bughul looks horrible and alien and wrong, and yet, at the same time, real.  The home movies in the film -- literally found footage -- are unblinking in their commitment to scaring audiences, and to transgressing beyond standard movie decorum.

And then it all goes south.  One scene late in the film features a shift-of-perspective that reveals ghostly children all around Ellison, in the murder house.  The revelation of their presence -- made manifest with child actors in ghoulish make-up, trying to make “scary” faces -- diffuses the real-life horror of the Bughul movies, and even his inexplicable presence in them. 

Then, Ellison behaves irrationally and inexplicably, as I noted above, and fails to safeguard his family. 

The coup de grace is the ending.  Sinister culminates with one of the worst sequel hooks I’ve ever witnessed.  The grotesque Mr. Bughul pops his head into the frame, essentially mugging for the camera.  

Until the last act, Sinister is indeed imbued with an air of the, well, sinister.  And that balloon is punctured abruptly by the suddenly comical-appearance of Mr. Bughul as a kind of Freddy Krueger-like ringmaster.

At this point, we’re in no mood to laugh, and not easily amused.  The ending is egregiously off-tone, and it irreparably damages the film.

Horror movies sometimes end darkly, with a failure to kill the monster, or the death of a protagonist. But the catastrophically unhappy ending in Sinister undercuts Ellison’s very journey as a character.  He finally learns that his family is more important to him than his writing, but then still ends up dying.  So everything he learned is, essentially, for nothing.  And on top of it, Ellison isn’t the only one who dies because of his behavior.  His entire family dies, and his daughter gets her eternal soul taken by Mr. Bughul.

Sinister’s ending isn’t only bleak…it’s the bleakest of all conceivable endings.  So, given the seriousness of it, why should Mr. Bughul pop up smiling at the end of the movie -- why-so-serious?-style -- like Sinister is some sort of light-hearted genre lark?  It isn’t.  The movie has showcased extreme violence and horror, aimed right at suburban families. Children drown.  Throats are slit.  The movie is about the corruption of innocence and the destruction of the hearth and home.  This is not light-hearted material in the slightest. 

Again, it’s not that I object on principle to movies with dark or downbeat endings.   Don’t Look Now (1973) is one of my all-time favorite horror films, for example, and it features an incredibly dark denouement.  But Sinister can’t seemingly commit to its overwhelming sense of darkness, and goes for the lame sequel hook and the last minute, jokey appearance of Bughul. 

Honestly, I would almost have preferred it if Sinister had been poorly-done, or lacking in conviction all along, because then, at least, the final act wouldn’t serve as such a grievous, tonally-misshapen disappointment.

So Sinister is a horror movie simultaneously good enough to get your hopes up, and bad enough to dash every last one of them.

This was Sinister’s “shot,” to paraphrase Ellison, and the movie blew it!