Friday, February 27, 2009

The House Between 3.3: "Scared"

The House Between 3.3,"Scared" is terrorizing viewers right now.

The episode is playing at Veoh and at Google. As usual, I recommend a full download at Veoh so that the compressed sound doesn't warble. A download from Veoh preserves the picture and sound in the best fashion, in my opinion.

Again, watch this one in the dark if you can...



Watch The House Between 3.3: "Scared" View More Free Videos Online at Veoh.com

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Director's Notes: Scared

The third episode of The House Between's third season is entitled "Scared." It's our annual horror show (think "Visited" in the first season; "Estranged" in the second), and it's this season's long-awaited Arlo-centric story.

Or more descriptively, "Scared" is a story that delves a bit more deeply into Arlo's mysterious background than we've seen before. This particular tale originated with a line Joe Maddrey wrote for "Caged" in Season Two. In that story, Theresa asked Arlo what visions the house was showing him, and Arlo revealed that 'he'd always had nightmares."

It was almost a throwaway detail (albeit a brilliant one...), a juicy nugget that wasn't developed, explored or elaborated upon at all...and which made it the perfect starting point for "Scared" in season three.

In terms of genre inspirations, I deliberately fashioned "Scared" as an homage to an episode of John Newland's paranormal anthology One Step Beyond (1959-1961) that I've always loved, and which scared the heck out of me as a kid. Actually, it scares the heck out of me now...

I don't want to reveal the name of that particular OSB episode just yet. To do so would immediately give away the exact nature of the villainous threat in "Scared," and it's more fun today to let it play out in the course of the episode. But for intrepid web surfers, I can inform you that this particular OSB episode starred a young (and gorgeous...) Yvette Mimieux. Look it up if you want.

In more general terms, "Scared" is also my ode of love and devotion to the 1980s-style rubber-reality horror sub-genre. You know the kind of movie I mean, right? In which there is a powerful supernatural villain who can bend reality to his demonic will. My favorite film of this cycle is Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), but I could rattle off titles including Shocker (1989), Lair of the White Worm (1988), Hellraiser (1987) and Bad Dreams (1988) to name just a few.

Considering such inspirations, I don't think it was a coincidence that I decided to marry an Arlo/Theresa story with a rubber-reality horror movie, since these are our two youngest characters on The House Between. Most of the time in rubber reality horrors, it's up to struggling adolescents to defeat evil before they get the chance to grow up and live happily "ever after." And indeed, Arlo and Theresa opened an "adult" relationship door together in "Addicted" that leads directly to the events of "Scared."

Honestly, I don't remember many intriguing specifics about shooting "Scared" except that I opened the day by gathering the cast and crew together for a pep talk and stated (with gung-ho enthusiasm...) that this was our one and only opportunity to make a no-budget ($700.00) eighties horror flick.

So that was the attitude we went in with and I remember everybody got into the spirit of the script. Tony Mercer, for example, told me he was picturing Peter Cushing for Bill's "Van Helsing"-style speeches. Poor Lee Hansen had to deliver one of his most reprehensible Travis lines ever -- but he did it with appropriate conviction -- and Craig Eckrich in "Scared" completes Brick's transformation to all-out action hero.

As usual, I have enormous praise for Jim Blanton, who rose to the occasion to imbue Arlo with new and vulnerable colors. Jim also brilliantly recited a spooky "campfire" tale...one that is the bread-and-butter of rubber reality horrors. Here, that monologue is truly one of the episode's most unsettling scenes because of Jim's acting. Jim got his monologue down perfect on the first take and as a consequence drew thunderous applause from the cast. Then he sheepishly asked. "Do I have to do it again?" I don't think we did...

I must also single out Alicia (Theresa) for high praise, because she had the difficult task of maintaining Theresa's trademark detachment and seeming authentically terrified during the scarier moments. She's never been better, and you can see real "horror" in her affecting, expressive eyes.

Kim Breeding was amazing too, especially in one bizarre sequence that we filmed after midnight. As usual, we were running behind, hadn't rehearsed, and were flying through an important sequence. Without a word of description from me, without even a discussion of how it would go down, or what we would do, Kim jumped into her role and performed a difficult song right on cue. I kid you not when I say it was pitch-perfect and absolutely beautiful. Again, Kim had no prep, no direction, no rehearsal...she just nailed it. And so we moved on...

And then there's "Scared's" guest star, our make-up artist and stunt coordinator, Rob Floyd. Here he plays a nasty character named Vinnie Coto, one who terrorizes the other House Between characters.

Let's just say that in his full costume and make-up, Rob was...quite the presence on set. He not only terrorized characters during his actual scenes...but his fellow actors between scenes. One distinct memory I do have of shooting "Scared" is a lot of nervous laughter...from all corners. Rob was a little too good, perhaps, at playing on a key fear that I know many people suffer from. Again, for the intrepid, look up coulrophobia.

If I recall, shooting "Scared" actually made for one of the smoothest days of the week. Which doesn't mean we didn't stay up late. Alicia, Jim, Bobby, Rick and I were still plugging away before green screens well after 2:00 am. I have vague memories of Bobby standing on top of a rickety ladder, dropping balloons in front of a green screen, wobbling dangerously...

It was in the editing stage that "Scared" became a nightmare...for me, anyway. I would term it a budget buster if we had a budget. More like a time buster, because of the number and complexity of the special effects shots. We've got your opticals; we've got your green screens; we've got your cloning; we've got your garbage mattes; and on an on it goes. Conservatively, I'd estimate there are well over a hundred special effects shots in this single 45 minute episode. For a one man, part-time studio like myself, the final cut posed a daunting challenge unlike any other episode of The House Between.

No budget, no time, no assistant editor...*sigh.*

Fortunately, I did have one magician watching my back during post-production. He made certain that all my post-production efforts came together. That person is musician Mateo Latosa, who has composed for "Scared" perhaps his best work for the series (so far, anyway...). Mateo's work here -- which includes titles such as "Darkness Theory," "Carpenter in Juno," (a nod to John Carpenter...) "Hold Your Breath," "Darting By," and "Vinnie Coto" -- is absolutely extraordinary.

I told Mateo on the phone some weeks back that if web programming ever got nominated for best music awards, I would submit "Scared" as an example of his finest work.

Another factoid about "Scared:" Mateo also told me that he decided early on to score "Scared" like John Carpenter's The Thing, which in retrospect was a brilliant strategy, I believe, and which adds what producer Joe Maddrey calls a sense of "dread" to the proceedings. Not only is The Thing another 1980s horror film (fitting into my theme on "Scared...") but it concerns a bunch of diverse people trapped in a less-than-welcoming location with a villain that seems to boast different forms. Very appropriate.

So that's the story of "Scared." It premieres tomorrow, and I hope you'll watch. It is best viewed with the lights down. In the dark...

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Sci-Fi Wisdom of the Week


I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need. We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War's a spiritual war... our Great Depression is our lives. We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off.

-Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt),
Fight Club (1999)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

TV REVIEW: Dollhouse: "The Target"

Last week, I counseled patience in regards to Dollhouse, the new Joss Whedon/Eliza Dushku genre series airing on Fox Fridays. It was clear the series had not realized its great potential...by a long shot.

This week, I'm delighted to report that patience is a virtue...and virtue is its own reward. For Dollhouse's second episode, "The Target" is approximately a million times more engaging and intriguing than last week's diffident, meandering pilot.

"The Target" commences with a full-head of steam, depicting a flashback that delves into the Dollhouse's mysterious history. In particular, we witness (in washed-out, over-exposed tones....) a catastrophic "composite event" that occurred three months ago. This violent incident saw an Active named "Alpha" -- suddenly in possession of his memory after casting off his state of "tabula rosa" -- go postal and murder several armed guards and at least two fellow Actives. "Alpha" was eventually put down, after cutting up Dr. Saunders (Amy Acker)...or so we've been told.

Oddly, the knife-wielding psychopath spared Echo...

Meanwhile, in the present, Echo (Dushku), has been imprinted with the personality of a rough-and-tumble outdoorsy woman, one who can go toe-to-toe with a rugged client, played by Waiting For Guffman's Matt Keeslar. This muscular, thick-necked client wants a mate who can white-water raft, climb mountains, and match him in every way imaginable (including in the bedroom).

Or so it seem
s. After hot sleeping-bag sex with Echo, the macho client quickly demonstrates he's
a psychopath, one who hunts down Echo in the isolated woods to prove if she is "worthy of living."

Not your normal afterglow, to put it mildly...

So yep, it's The Most Dangerous Game, Dollhouse-style...pitting a post-Wrong Turn Dushku against Keeslar, womano-e-mano.

That description makes "The Target" sound utterly ridiculous, yet in true Whedonesque fashion, the episode brims with surprises, unexpected twists and narrative u-turns. I didn't see any of these shocks coming (especially the connection between the flashback and the present scenario...), and the result is an energetic, imaginative and hyper forty-five minutes. With strong action, good pacing and a tantalizing glimpse of the past, "The Target" satisfies in a way that the pilot just...didn't.

Specifically, one can see how the mythology of the series is building here, with Echo beginning to remember bits of her previous life and personalities, and even holding on to a piece of this particular imprint (particularly one gesture demonstrated by Keeslar's character.) We are also introduced -- in very enigmatic, spare terms -- to the season's possible villain. Alpha. No doubt, we'll see more of this shadowy figure. And somehow, his history involves Echo (real name: Caroline!).

Another aspect of the episode I enjoyed involves some cryptic series terminology. The Dollhouse's security chief, Laurence Dominic, warns Echo that if she doesn't behave, she'll be "put in the attic." I'm sure we'll find out what that warning means soon, but it promises to be creepy/macabre. I also liked the flashback involving the "bonding" between handler Lennix and Echo...a scene that adds a newr layer to that particular relationship.

Of all the characters in Dollhouse, the only one I positively can't stomach is Topher, the young tech-genius who does all the imprinting. He's a little too glib for my taste (and heck, I like glib!). He's a snarky wisecracker and really, really irritating...like he emerged from a bad episode of Angel.

Otherwise, we learn in "The Target" that Alpha's mystery "leads back to Echo." Given that tantalizing description, I eagerly await episode three.

Monday, February 23, 2009

New Film and TV Titles from McFarland


Buffy and Angel Conquer the Internet
Buffy the Vampire Slayer transcended its cult-comic roots to achieve television success, spawning the spinoff series Angel and an academic movement along the way.

This scholarly treatment takes a multidisciplinary approach to Buffy’s fandom, which has expressed itself through fiction, videos, music, art, and other media. Ten essays analyze the sociology and anthropology of the fan community and how it uses the Internet to share its passion.





Musical Groups in the Movies, 1929-1970
Hundreds of musical groups have appeared in at least one film from 1929 through 1970. This is a reference book devoted to these groups. Most entries include a brief description of the musical group, a list of the main singers or performers and, when available, a list of the songs performed in each film. One appendix lists popular British groups appearing in at least a single film; another lists groups that, while neither singers nor instrumentalists, made significant contributions to music in film (e.g., dance duos, acrobats, skaters, synchronized swimmers…). Filmographies are included for each entry.




The Cinematic Jane Austen
Jane Austen’s novels are loved because they possess a comedic power that is often conveyed through the singular voice of the narrators. Film adaptations, however, have often been unsatisfactory because they lack or awkwardly render features, particularly the voice of the narrators.This work argues for a fresh approach that begins with a reading of the novels that emphasizes their auditory and visual dimensions. Building on their examination of Austen’s inherently cinematic features, the authors then develop productive new readings of the films.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

MOVIE REVIEW: Righteous Kill (2008)

One of my all-time favorite movies -- and one of the best films of the 1990s -- is Heat (1995) directed by Michael Mann. Hopefully you've seen it many times, but if you haven't, the crime saga pits a dedicated cop (Al Pacino) against a genius thief (Robert De Niro).

That log-line hardly does the epic Heat justice. There's also a thrilling bank-robbery/gun-fight in the film, and an exciting/tragic final confrontation between the De Niro and Pacino characters.

I don't need to remind you that these actors are veritable giants of the crime saga/cop genres. Or that they can hold the audience rapt with their magnetism, grit, charisma and intensity.

Now, almost fifteen years after Heat, these great cinematic lions roar back to the screen in another collaboration, Jon Avnet's cop-thriller Righteous Kill. De Niro and Pacino remain, as always, eminently watchable. But let me summarize the film this way: Righteous Kill is no Heat.


In fact, it's not even lukewarm.

I saw a preview for Righteous Kill in a theater last year and I could discern even from that brief trailer that it was going to be a less-than-superb outing for these respected veterans. But, as I told my wife, Kathryn when she saw that Righteous Kill had arrived via Netflix, I simply could not resist the draw of another De Niro/Pacino match-up. Better yet, this time they would be playing partners, not antagonists...a virtual guarantee, I hoped, of silver screen frisson.

Sadly, Pacino and De Niro don't share much chemistry or again - heat - It's a result, I believe of a mechanical, gimmicky script that requires both men to play their cards close to the vest in the vain hope that a lame "twist" ending will have at least a shot at working.

Unfortunately, the final twist won't surprise anyone, and that fact makes Righteous Kill a total bust. The film is loaded with ridiculous red herrings so that the final "surprise" will (hopefully) shatter your senses, but these red herrings are all recognizable as such....and terribly trite. Since the entire film is structured simply to deceive you in the last act, there's no human interest remaining when the trick ending arrives. Just a feeling of a wasted opportunity and deflation.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Righteous Kill dramatizes the story of two NYPD vets, the hotheaded Turk (Robert De Niro) and cool-as-a-cucumber chess-master "Rooster" (Al Pacino). As the film opens, we watch a videotape of what appears to be a confession. Turk explains to the camera how -- in his thirty years on the force -- he has secretly murdered fourteen law-breaking scum-balls. They deserved it, of course,. but he still broke the law, framing them for crimes and committing homicide.

Inter cut with De Niro's confession tape is the story of the investigation that (we believe...) finally brings Turk to account for his crimes. We learn how, following the murder of a little girl, Turk framed the perpetrator, Charlie Randell, after the thug was acquitted by a jury. And, how, afterwards, Turk "lost his faith." Where the legal system wouldn't work, Turk would intervene, murdering pimps, drug dealers and even pedophile priests. He plants evidence and leaves cryptic poems at the crime scenes. Or so we are led to believe.

Now, by a twist of fate, Turk and Rooster investigate together the very murders Turk ostensibly committed. The trail of murders suggests that a cop is behind them. Is Turk covering his trail, or does he want to get caught?

Joining in this homicide investigation is a sexy medical examiner, Karen (Carla Gugino), Turk's girlfriend. Karen conveniently (for plot's sake...) enjoys very rough sex, and she and Turk play kinky games to keep their affair hot. One night, he breaks into her apartment and assaults her when she's not expecting him. Afterwards, she suggests it wasn't rough enough for her. On another occasion, Karen gets all hot and bothered as Rooster describes how roughly Turk subdued a drug dealer, Spider (50 Cent). Could Karen be the murderer? Why else does she have files about all the victims on her home computer?

Investigating alongside Turk, Rooster and Karen are two up-and-coming young cops, played by Donnie Wahlberg and John Leguizamo. Leguizamo's character seems to carry a grudge against Turk, and he tells the precinct captain (Brian Dennehy) that Turk is the murderer. Is he framing Turk for some hidden agenda?

What all this nonsense comes down to, essentially, is a final revelation scene in which the killer is exposed and then quickly killed so that we don't have to examine the morality of his actions. Speaking in generalities, Righteous Kill is about partners -- one fire, one ice -- and one of them is a murderer.

Watching Righteous Kill, you desperately want the film to play as tragedy -- the story of a good man who has, because of his job, because of his time dealing with criminals -- lost his way and fallen from grace. What you get, however, is something much less...righteous. This is a robot narrative in which motives remain oblique and the final revelation packs no punch...because Turk and Rooster simply don't stand out as "real" people. They are machines serving a larger machine, telling us only what we need to know to preserve the sanctity of the film's denouement.

Because Righteous Kill desires more than anything to surprise you, to trick you, it straitjackets all the actors to an unacceptable degree. It makes them preserve a secret that isn't worth hiding in the first place. The actors thus cloak the very qualities we want from them: some sense of humanity, tragedy or understanding. It's strange how Righteous Kill subverts itself. By tagging the trick ending as the most important aspect of the film, nothing else works. You get two great actors in De Niro and Pacino and handcuff them to a script that won't let them act, except as grinding exposition cogs.

I can see how Righteous Kill might have been a remarkable movie, but the screenplay would require a massive rewrite. You'd have to ditch the surprise ending and get into the hearts and souls of these two wounded men -- into their family lives, into their histories, into their disappointments and victories. You'd have to see how their jobs affected them, and how -- over the years -- the job took away hope, innocence and idealism.

You know the kind of movie I'm talking about, right? It would be like one Michael Mann, Brian De Palma or Martin Scorsese might direct

In that scenario, De Niro and Pacino would be free to do what they do best. They'd be permitted to emote, instead of acting on remote.

Friday, February 20, 2009

MOVIE REVIEW: Religulous (2009)

Comedian Bill Maher will never be President of the United States. Why? Because he smokes weed. Oh, and because he's an atheist.

I guess I'll never be President, either....

If you are a devout person of any religion, this review may offend you, because I plan to be blunt. Just a warning...

Where to begin? Well, ever since I was a child, organized religion didn't pass my personal smell test. I had a difficult time believing-- without question -- in an invisible bearded superman floating around in a heavenly domain somewhere; one who was watching my every move and listening to my every thought.

As I grew older my critical thinking about religious beliefs was reinforced. At university, I studied ancient history and learned how, basically, Christianity was a hodgepodge of every pagan religion circulating around Rome in the time of the Caesars.

Virtually every ingredient we think of today in terms of Christ's "origin" story -- from the immaculate conception to the wandering in the desert wilderness, to the crucifixion itself -- had been assimilated from a dozen older historical sources to formulate Christ's "new" story.

So if Christ's story were a movie, I'd call it a rip-off. Or at least a pastiche.

Maher's documentary Religulous points this out, by cleverly noting the numerous "parallels" between Egypt's Horus and Jesus of Nazareth.


And then there's the Bible. It's supposed to be the Word of Almighty God, but again, my rational mind can't accept it as such. After all, the Bible was written, re-written, and translated into new languages...by fallible mankind. By men with agendas. Passages have been suppressed, erased, written-over in palimpsests and mis-translated both intentionally and unintentionally.

So that means the Bible that most Americans use in 2009 is akin to a Japanese Godzilla movie...dubbed from the original language into English. In other words, some things seem a little...off, even if you get the general idea.

And as much literary value and beauty as I find in many passages of the Bible -- and as truly as I admire the teachings of Jesus the Man (particularly his stance on money, wealth and poverty) -- how can I overlook a thousand years of interference in this supposedly sacred text from monks, popes and other avaricious schemers? Perhaps it is my failing, but I just can't believe that those men left no footprints. Christ's nature may be divine, but human nature is something else entirely.

Perhaps I would harbor more respect for Christianity if every worshipper dedicated themselves to the study of Aramaic, Hebrew and Greek. If they took the "text" of the Bible on its original terms and attempted to discern the meaning in the actual language of the Bible. If Christ should be followed with such unblinking, mindless devotion -- why trust others to translate His Gospels for you? If the Bible is so important, how about bending a little knee yourself to understand what was actually written in the first place? If you are "learning" from the Bible and Christianity hatred for homosexuals, masturbators, Jews or Muslims, then you are duty-bound to know what the Bible really says, it seems to me.

Bill Maher makes this case far better than I can (or would dare to...). His (scathing) approach here is straightforward and simple: he confronts people of various religions (Christians, Muslims and Jews) with the cold, hard facts about their clearly irrational but deeply-held spiritual beliefs. His message ultimately comes down to two things. First, belief in religion is actually a narcissistic mental disorder (so says the neurology expert, whom he trots out...).

And second: we're never going to mature as a species if we don't surrender our irrational religious beliefs...which invariably lead to even more irrational hatreds and bloodshed. Maher narrows this second point down to the explicit warning:

Grow up or die.


I was particularly happy to find Maher and Religulous confront the ridiculous, pervasive and historically inaccurate belief that America was founded as a "Christian" nation. Maher provides a litany of quotations from the Founding Fathers which prove unequivocally that Jefferson, Franklin, Adams and the others had about as much use for religion of any stripe as they did...for the office of the Vice Presidency.

But the test is even more simple than that: Find the name "Christ" anywhere in the U.S. Constitution.


Seriously. Go ahead
. I'm waiting.

Find me even one tiny instance of the name Jesus Christ appearing in our Constitution. Not "God." Not "The Creator" either. Because Jews and Muslims have a "God" and a "Creator" too, don't they? Nope...there's absolutely nothing enshrined in the Constitution that creates a special or prominent slot for Christianity in America. On the contrary, America was founded on the very basis of escaping Christian extremism. When people misunderstand this, they are forgetting history, or worse: willfully rewriting it to serve a pernicious agenda.

Maher's approach in Religulous is fact-based, but undeniably caustic and brutal. As a fellow atheist, I certainly sympathize with his irritation and anger.

He is outraged with an America where the Crucifixion is re-enacted in cheesy amusement parks as overweight patrons sip their super-sized colas and munch popcorn.

He is angry with an America where Presidents arrogantly use the name of Christ to justify nationalistic war, when Christ is supposed to be The Prince of Peace.

He is troubled by an America where prominent presidential candidates (of one party in particular...) don't believe in evolution, despite the scientific consensus.

And he is judgmental of an America where religious icons like Ted Haggard preach hatred and disrespect towards gays while secretly indulging in gay sex.

He is befuddled with a world where innocent cartoons can merit death threats from "true believers." With a world where the "us" vs. "them" mentality kills people each and every day.

The world is sick, and religion is the disease killing it. At least from Maher's perspective. It's a perspective I share.

Bill Maher approaches religious belief from a state of doubt...a state of questioning, rather than a state of certainty. He exposes "faith" as a trick to make gullible people accept that which is blatantly unacceptable on rational grounds. Ever have a "rational" argument with a devout person? When they can't beat you on the facts, they tell you to take it on faith. Two words: cop-out. I outgrew that nonsense on the kindergarten playground.

If Christ, why not Santa Claus? If Jehovah, why not Thetans? If Allah, why not the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

Sometimes, it takes a comedian to speak truth to power; to break taboos, to puncture the protective force field of propriety, and ultimately that's the "miracle" Bill Maher achieves in his entertaining and illuminating documentary. The results are funny, but Religulous is also sad, and truth be told, depressing. It's both amazing and disheartening to watch intelligent, resourceful people attempt mental gymnastics in the defense of beliefs that are wacko.

And If you agree with me, I'm preaching to the choir. If you don't...you're already praying for my immortal soul.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Enemies Within: Chris Carter's Millennium and America's Suburban Apocalypse

In the first season episode of Millennium entitled "Wide Open," violent crime consultant and dedicated family man Frank Black (Lance Henriksen) sits pensively on the front porch of his idyllic yellow house on Ezekial Drive (a symbol first of paradise; then of paradise lost). There, he laments the American culture of the 1990s, one "besieged by our own fear."

His wife, a therapist named Catherine (Megan Gallagher), counters "if you're not afraid...you're in denial."

As Chris Carter and the writers of Millennium might succinctly state the matter: "This is Who We Are."

Or at least, this is who we were during the Age of Millennium (1996-1999), pre-Y2K. The question then becomes, why is this who we were? And do we today remain this way? Have we changed at all, and can we ever change? Why is America perpetually a hotbed of fear and terror...even in times of peace and prosperity?

As always, we found answers in context. In 1996, as Millennium commenced its freshman season on Fox, our nation prepared to send President Bill Clinton back to the White House for four more years. His first term had witnessed a Federal siege gone tragically awry in Waco, Texas, the Oklahoma City Bombing by Timothy McVeigh, societal unrest following the O.J. Simpson murder trial, and the gathering of intolerant forces on The Right, forces that were now unified for the first time in American history by one factor: an irrational, overwhelming hatred for Clinton, whom many considered morally corrupt: a philanderer and perhaps even a murderer.

Culturally, popular films including Silence of The Lambs (1991), Seven (1995) and Copycat (1995) focused squarely on the presence of serial killers -- insane, malevolent bogeymen - prowling America in virtual anonymity and freedom. On television, The X-Files sometimes cast its investigative gaze on society's monsters too, in episodes such as "Beyond the Sea" and "Unruhe," among others. Mainstream television "news" magazines, especially the sensational Dateline and 48 Hours seemed to feed America a never ending diet of serial killer "true" horror stories.

The ascent of the serial killer to a position of prominence in the American Imagination (in the American Reptilian Brain, really...) was the result of several important factors. First, there were high profile serial killers actually making news as the 1990s began. Jeffrey Dahmer (1968-1994) of Milwaukee murdered seventeen people and practiced, among other things, necrophilia and cannibalism. His heinous crimes captured the imagination of a fearful nation. As did those of Ted Bundy (1946-1989), a sociopath and serial killer executed by Florida state officials in 1989.

Almost as important as the crimes themselves, however, was the coverage given these terrible crimes by the expanding, ratings-seeking, mainstream media. The just-born 24-hours new cycle (a courtesy of Cable News Nets), made Dahmer's horror show in Milwaukee a nightmare for all Americans, no matter the region of the country (or even the considerable distance from the real life crimes). From Florida to Rhode Island, from Texas to Seattle, people were afraid of other monsters like Dahmer....ones bred in secret, just waiting to pounce. It wasn't merely cable news that fed this burgeoning fear, either. The Internet -- booming into the mainstream of 1990s life - provided predators a new "in" to the private lives of innocent Americans at the same time that they could remain secretive (and dishonest) about their true identities and perverse agendas.

But there were other factors too, that made the serial killer America's trademark ghoul during the 1990s. In particular, the ability of Americans to travel cheaply and easily cross-country after the 1970s resulted in a nation whose traditional roots became... scrambled. Due to the affordability of air flight and easy access to interstate highways, the communal hearth of old America -- the small town where everyone knew you, your parents and your grandparents -- was shattered, perhaps permanently. In its stead arose the suburbs, new, young communities in which neighbors had no shared history with other neighbors; in which virtual strangers lived across the street.

As it is so in all great horror (and indeed, all great art), Millennium reflected the culture in which it was built. The series selected as its central setting the new hunting fields of the serial killer: suburban America. And though it was (and remains...) tempting for blinkered critics to dismiss Millennium as simply "the serial killer of the week," it became evident on a close viewing of the series that there was something deeper -- something philosophical --happening in Chris Carter's new creation.

In particular, Frank's experiences with serial killers of various stripe served a distinctly didactic purpose: to tell us not so much about the monsters hiding beyond the white picket fences; but to share with audiences something about ourselves, about the world we've built. In the final analysis, Millennium is not about the monsters; it's about our response to the monsters.

This is who we are.

In "Wide Open," for instance, our protagonist Frank Black investigates the case of a serial killer who attacks families that have installed high-tech alarm systems in their fancy suburban homes. The alarm key-pad notes comfortingly (in telling close-ups) that the house is "All Secure," though that's plainly not the truth. While the homeowners are away, the killer enters the house lawfully (at a real estate open house). Then, he waits until the family returns home -- and alarmed-up -- to strike with brute force. The family never sees what's coming...the enemy within.

This killer, Frank informs us, is "teaching us a lesson about our pretensions to safety...about how vulnerable we are." Similarly, it is Millennium teaching the audience that very lesson: an alarm system keypad does not guarantee safety when you drop your guard, when you don't know who has been inside your home, when visitors or strangers enter and leave. Accordingly, by episode climax, an imperiled family is rescued by a more traditional style, old-fashioned "security system:" the family dog. The canine does away with the home invader, pitching him over a second story ledge and onto (and through...) a glass table in the foyer below.

The serial killer in "Wide Open" gives himself the name "John Allworth," a name that provides him a sense of value and importance in a society that does not value him. And, desiring his fifteen minutes of fame (like Dahmer achieved fame), Allworth utilizes other convenient technologies -- not just the alarm -- to get attention and make his point. He leaves messages for the police on their voice mails, and sends a videotape of the murders to the real estate agent showing the house/crime scene. At the same time he is teaching us a lesson, Allworth is becoming "famous." In no other previous decade could the killer utilize this m.o. (outsmarting the alarm systems) or connect with his victims (videotape) in this fashion. He is a creature of the technological nineties; of the suburban lifestyle.

Notably, one victimized family in "Wide Open" is named "Highsmith." Highest of all Smiths, In other words. The typical American family. The name Highsmith simultaneously indicates "importance" (high) and the quality of being "average" (Smith is a common name). This is Millennium's tactic, perhaps of telling us that any one of its viewers (even the Smiths; even us) could be the next victim of this particular criminal. The episode also features some subtle imagery that suggests the suburbs themselves bred this particular monster. There are messages of violence everywhere. One real estate company is advertised with the motto "Killer Views. Killer Prices." The camera lingers on this catchy motto a little too long to be a coincidence.

The serial killer's profession in "Wide Open" is another important factor in understanding the didactic purpose of Millennium. Allworth is a school crossing guard, one who is "helping children to safety" by his own definition. This line of dialogue serves as a direct contrast to the episode's opening quotation ("The children are far from safety. They shall be crushed at the gate without a rescuer.") Easy translation: the children are the future, and if they are killed or corrupted...all our tomorrows die with them. Allworth believes he is teaching the children a lesson when in fact he is perpetuating a cycle of violence (he was an abused child; and his crime spree has left a shattered orphan behind...one who may pick up his tricks in the years to come...). Or, as Frank notes, "tragedy begets itself."

Speaking of "gates," Frank Spotnitz's "Weeds" is another first season episode of Millennium that focuses squarely on a 1990s development and/or trend: the rise of the affluent gated community. Here, a deranged serial killer prowls a rich suburban development despite the presence of 24-hour private security; despite perimeter walls, despite a community watch group. We see images of the entrance gates closing, but what use are gates when the enemy is already within?

In "Weeds," a homegrown madman kidnaps the children of immoral homeowners and makes the children (again!) suffer for the sins of the father. Ghoulishly, the perpetrator makes the youngsters drink his blood because he considers himself a holy "purifier." Though acting far outside the bounds of the law, this killer successfully exposes to Frank (and to the audience...) the sick underside of affluent America. In every home dwells an adulterer, a fraud, a hit-and-run driver, or some other corrupted personality. Expensive homes and a private police force don't make up for or excuse sin.

One scene in "Weeds" is set inside a fancy home. Playing on the TV in the background is a clip from Irwin Allen's Land of the Giants (1968). This particular clips reveals a diverse group of people (of different color and sex) being physically trapped inside an oversized cage by a giant. It isn't hard to discern that the "cage" in "Weeds" is the affluent gated community itself, and the malevolent Giant the secret "sins" that keep residents in a state of perpetual fear, alienation, estrangement and self-loathing.

Another sequence, set at the community's conference center, makes the point about "strange" neighbors explicit. The episode cuts to close-ups of various residents as if to ask: who are you? What secret do you cloak? Just as these people don't know their neighbors, we don't recognize them as either friend or foe. Any one of them could be the killer....

The title "Weeds" explicitly suggests that something undesirable has sprouted up in suburbia, and the killer this time is a man driven by deep feelings of disillusionment. He hates the hypocrisy he sees all around him, and wants to root out sin. The view of the suburbs proffered by "Weeds" is absolutely merciless, then. Accordingly, when we see through the killer's eyes, we view all the residents of the community as old, decaying hags; their souls filthy and contaminated. Not to make too huge a leap, but this is also how many people saw Bill Clinton: as a sinner in the highest office of the land, contaminated by moral corruption. Never mind that those who led the charge against him were also adulterers and hypocrites (Newt Gingrich, Henry Hyde, and Bob Livingston -- Republicans all -- had engaged in extra-marital affairs and held high office too).

In other episodes of Millennium's first season, Frank returned to the suburbs of America agin and again and found only more horror and immorality. He uncovered it in Ogden, Utah in "Covenant" while attempting to determine if a man -- a police officer -- had actually murdered his wife and children in cold blood. The man had lived by the motto (hung on a sign in his workshop) "If a man fails at home, he fails in life." And yet, as Frank learned...the man did fail at home. His wife was actually the murderer...driven to such horrible crimes by her husband's infidelity with another woman. Again, the sins of the father were passed to the children: who were killed for his trespasses.

Child molestation ("The Well Worn Lock") and domestic violence ("The Wild and the Innocent") also came home to the suburbs in various installments of Millennium's first, sterling season. It wasn't just the crime of the week as some asserted; it was the immorality of the week, and Millennium -- in strongly didactic terms -- provided suburban America a look in the mirror. Sometimes our new technologies bedeviled us (in the form of home alarm systems, or the Internet), sometimes new cultural trends (gated communities...) achieved the same end. But always it came down not merely to the predator in our midst; but the failures of our society that gave rise to the predator in the first place.

In Millennium, the enemy within was both the predator and his prey. "Blood Relatives" in sin, perhaps, to choose the title from another Millennium episode.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

TV REVIEW: Dollhouse : "Ghost" (2009)

Ever meet someone who seems too perfect? Too beautiful? Too smart? Too witty? Who says all the right things in every situation? Who is -- in a phrase -- too good to be true?

Well, maybe that person is too good to be true; maybe he or she is actually an "Active" on a mission, a resident of Joss Whedon's Dollhouse...

Despite the plethora of harsh reviews clogging the web, this new genre series - at least judging from the pilot -- is certainly promising. So far, it's neither genius, inspired, nor revelatory...by a long shot. But for right now, promising is good enough. Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither was any great TV series.


So I'll take it.

It's tempting to comment now about the myriad ways, historically-speaking, in which pilots don't necessarily reflect the quality of the series that follow them. That pilots suffer under the weight of having a great deal to accomplish: both introducing a slew of characters and vetting a new, fresh, self-contained story. It's not an easy task crafting a good one. Let alone a great one.

Still, off-the-top of my head I can rattle off the titles of a good half-dozen brilliant pilots: Veronica Mars, X-Files, Millennium, Lost, Friday Night Lights, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Heroes, and so on. I can also recall some terrible pilots that signaled the badness and madness to follow. I still haven't recovered from the mediocrity of the derivative Fringe, the shockingly not-scary Supernatural, or the imbecilic Threshold. And actually, the Battlestar Galactica pilot (a mini-series) was actually pretty dreadful too, now that I remember it. (Anyone recall the Cylon cocktail waitress equipped with the unsightly "scanning" red eye on sinewy spine -- visible during hot sex with Baltar?)

But here's the sticking point for me: Dollhouse should have been a slam dunk. This pilot episode ("Ghost") was crafted after several episodes of the series were already in the can. Creator Joss Whedon famously went back and devised a new pilot; one that would more accurately reflect the narrative and arc of Dollhouse as a whole. Given that rare and valuable opportunity, it's a little baffling why "Ghost" isn't more involving, dynamic, and focused. It's clear here that the larger premise is better than this episode's execution; that the overall "ideas" or more engaging than the particular story.

To the specifics now. Dollhouse is the tale of a secret, highly-illegal facility called, you guessed it, The Dollhouse. There, ice princess Adele De Witt (Olivia Williams) oversees a cadre of agents called "Actives." Under her direction, these "Actives go out on missions called "Engagements." The Actives, however, aren't simply secret operatives: they are "clean slates." Their original personalities have been removed ("wiped") and for each new mission, they are "imprinted" with new personalities (and therefore new skills...) that fit the mission.

In "Ghost," for example, a gorgeous young Active named Echo (series star Eliza Dushku) is outfitted with the memories of an expert negotiator (or several negotiators, actually...) to bring quick closure a high-profile kidnapping.

Managing the programming and mental wiping is a nerdy young scientist, Topher Brink (Fran Kranz). Serving as handler to Echo is a veteran ex-cop, Boyd Langton (Harry Lennix). And acting as physician to the stable of physically-fit Actives is Dr. Claire Saunders (Amy Acker). Meanwhile, a resourceful cop, Paul Ballard (Tahmoh Penikett) is attempting to find and expose the secret Dollhouse, to the dismay of his superiors and cohorts on the force. Paul believes that wiping out a human personality is the same thing is murder, and desires to bring those at the Dollhouse to justice for human trafficking.

Living placid, memory-less lives in the gilded cage of the Dollhouse, the Actives are innocent, naive and truth be told, a little dumb. They seem like...dim bulbs. You may be unpleasantly reminded, alas, of the clone farm in Parts: The Clonus Horror (1979). There, all the physically-fit young clones dwelled in a Garden of Eden of ignorance until one curious clone tasted an apple from the tree of knowledge (or rather, a beer can from Milwaukee...). You get the feeling that on Dollhouse, Echo is destined for the same journey: one of discovery and self discovery.

Because Joss Whedon -- mastermind of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly -- is the personality behind Dollhouse, I suspect Echo's odyssey is going to be an interesting, thought-provoking ride. And that's why I'm sticking around. You can detect the seeds of greatness in the Dollhouse pilot, even if little of the potential is yet realized.

For instance, the Actives -- when taking on the personalities of other people -- also adopt their weaknesses. That's an interesting notion, a sort of hidden brand of "kryptonite" that could pop up and impact an "engagement" unexpectedly.

I also appreciated the distinctive moral overtones: can a wrong ("wiping" and "imprinting") ever make a right (helping people in need)? There's something affecting and deeply sad about watching Echo talk about meeting the "right guy" only to, moments later, undergo a wipe and forget all about him. How can the people around her stand by and let this happen? How can they justify what they do? Inquiring minds want to know...

Ultimately, I suppose I must ask myself two important questions in regards to Dollhouse. First, does the pilot provide an adequate framework for Joss Whedon to present his trademark social commentary on women, society at large, and pop culture?

And second, do I want to watch the fetching, engaging Eliza Dushku make this journey of discovery for a few seasons?

The answer in both cases is a resounding affirmative.

So while I haven't yet warmed to the series regulars, and while I truly dislike the look of the Dollhouse facility (it resembles the Wolfram & Hart offices from Angel's final season...), I have enough patience and built-up good will for Whedon and Dushku to stick around and see what's next.

The epilogue of "Ghost" already points to a compelling story point and direction for the series. There, we see a pre-Dollhouse Echo in a high school video, discussing her life aspirations. Were those aspirations fulfilled by involvement in the Dollhouse? Or cut off?

In answering that question, we may have an answer to our burning question. Is Dollhouse Whedon's next Buffy or Firefly? Or is it his next...Alien Resurrection?

We'll see. And I'll be there.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The House Between 3.2. "Addicted"

The second episode of The House Between's new season is now broadcasting!

You can check out "Addicted" at Google Video here. The link to Veoh is here. Again, if you use Veoh, I suggest you go the distance and download the entire episode instead of watching it on the site. The download preserves the original sound and video quality; otherwise the audio "warbles." Google has lousy video compression, but the sound quality is preserved. The episode is also showing on the series home page.

If you watch, comment here on how you like it!



Watch The House Between 3.2: "Addicted" View More Free Videos Online at Veoh.com

13 Reasons I Love the Friday the 13th Films

Happy Friday the 13th!

Today sees the release of a re-imagined Friday the 13th movie franchise in cinemas across America. Given this milestone, II figured it was a good time to pay my respects to the original films; the ones I grew up with as a teenager in the 1980s.

So, without further introduction, here are 13 reasons I will always love the Friday the 13th movies:


1.) There's a consistent, Old Testament-style, conservative argument to be made in the interpretation of the old school Friday the 13th films (1980 - 1991). I describe this thesis a bit in my book, Horror Films of the 1980s, referring to it as "vice precedes slice and dice." That means, simply, that misbehaving teenagers (screwing, drinking, snorting coke and getting high...) are punished (violently...) for their moral transgressions. Jason, whose trusty machete might as well be the punishing Hand of God Himself, is the punisher. With this motif in place, I never understood the Moral Majority's dedicated opposition to the Friday the 13th films. The not-so-subtle subtext of these Reagan Age horrors is that if you play...you pay. But then, would-be censors aren't know for their penetrating film analysis, I suppose.

2.) There is an alternative interpretation of the Friday the 13th films too. Stated bluntly, it is implicit in the original films that Jason Voorhees - hockey mask, machete and all -- is the natural (or supernatural...) result of a modern world in which there are no more predators for man. Jason is therefore but a mechanism, a response from nature, to man's invasion of a natural terrain (in this case, Camp Crystal Lake).
Screening the Friday the 13th film together, it's clear that the one factor in common is not Jason himself (who, technically, doesn't appear in Part V: A New Beginning), but rather...a storm. Yep, bad weather inevitably brings thunder, lightning...and evil, serial-killer predators (whether Mrs. Voorhees, Jason, or the Jason Impostor). The arrival of bad weather is important in the various Friday the 13th narratives for practical reasons, of course. Storms knock out power (and particularly lights...) plunging frightened teens into darkness, preventing telephone calls for aid, and making the youngsters ripe for the picking off. But it's more than that. It's as if nature is rising up and rebelling against these aimless, decadent humans and Jason is the mechanism to destroy them. If Jason didn't exist, Mother Nature would have to invent him. Consider also that Jason is tied to nature in an interesting fashion: he is believed dead for years when in fact he is alive and "incubating" at the bottom of Camp Crystal Lake.

3.) The Survivors. They were no longer little women...they were final girls. Horror-hating moralists and not a few feminists perpetually and blindly misinterpret the Friday the 13th films as misogynistic when nothing could be further from the truth. Virtually every Friday the 13th film provides the audience a laudable and heroic "final girl" who outsmarts, out-thinks and out-fights the powerful (and male) Jason Voorhees. While her friends are fucking, getting high, or getting drunk, the final girl alone is actually paying attention to what's happening, and able to sense -- and ultimately combat -- looming danger. Tell me that's not a positive message to send to teenage girls. Keep your wits about you, don't submit to peer pressure, and remember where you left the chainsaw...

4.) The sleeping bag kill. This is a murder featured in Friday the 13th: The New Blood (1988), and it's my all-time favorite sequence in the franchise. As you may recall, Jason zips up an unlucky camper in a sleeping bag and then -- like she's a sack of potatoes -- repeatedly slams the bag and camper into a tree trunk It's not the goriest kill; it's not the silliest kill; but in some ways this basic bludgeoning is the most brutal and -- oddly -- the funniest kill in the series. I get a kick out of it every time I see it.

5.) The Cassandra Complex. This character archetype appears in several Friday the 13th films (particularly the first, Part 2, Jason Lives and Jason Takes Manhattan). There's always a drunk stumbling around the perimeter of Crystal Lake warning oblivious teens that they're all "going to die." This Cassandra figure goes right back to Greek myth -- the tragic seer who is never believed by those in danger. Critics and moralists can accuse the Friday the 13th films of being pandering, stupid horror movies as much as they want...but many of the entries are actually constructed with an eye towards some classic literature. Both in Mother Love (the relationship between Jason and Mrs. Voorhees) and in the inclusion of the discredited seer.


6.) Tom McLoughlin's sense of humor. McLoughlin directed Part VI, Jason Lives! and once more found the fun in the aging Friday the 13th saga, injecting the series with fresh blood in a number of clever sequences. The film opens, for instance, with a nod to the James Bond gun barrel sequence, except this time Jason is on-screen armed with a machete. The humor permeates in the film in little ways too. A child camper at Crystal Lake is seen, briefly, reading No Exit. Again, the meme that these are just "stupid" horror movies is proven wrong.

7.) The Stars in Waiting. Kevin Bacon, Crispin Glover, Corey Feldman, and Martin Cummins are just a few of the young actors who showed up at Camp Crystal Lake, got horribly murdered by a Voorhees, and moved on to bigger things. Everybody's got to start somewhere...

8.) Harry Manfredini's trademark "chi-chi-ha-ha" riff. Okay, so it's not the Halloween theme by John Carpenter. But this creepy, classic composition defined the Friday the 13th sound for a generation of teenagers, entered the pop culture lexicon, and was widely imitated and mocked. And, if I'm not mistaken, the cue is resurrected for the remake.

9.) The trailer for Jason Takes Manhattan. I'm not certain how many of you are old enough to recall this TV advertisement...but it was bloody genius. To the chipper tune of "New York, New York," a camera crept up on a figure gazing at the iconic New York City skyline. As we moved in on the figure -- his back to us -- he whirled around and it was...Jason! This trailer was actually more inventive than the farmed out-to-Canada movie it was created for. I appreciated the tag-line too: "Now New York has a new problem." I also can't help but think of The Muppets Take Manhattan...

10.) High Concepts Gone Horribly Wrong. The makers of the Friday the 13th films attempted desperately to keep the long-in-the-tooth series going, infusing new and crazy ideas into the later sequels. For instance, A New Blood was sort of Carrie Versus Jason, an idea that sounds great on paper but doesn't play so well, especially when "Carrie's" psychic powers miss their target and wake up Jason Voorhees from his deathly slumber at the bottom of Crystal Lake. And who can forget Jason X -- which sent Jason into deep space and brought in Star Trek: The Next Generation's holodeck technology? And in the underwhelming Jason Takes Manhattan, Jason is overcome by toxic waste in Manhattan's sewers...because you know, in New York, toxic waste gets flushed through the sewers every night! The toxic sludge doesn't kill Jason though...it just transforms, him into a pre-pubescent kid wearing his bathing suit. Whatever...

11.) Amy Steel. Ginny from Friday the 13th Part II is my personal favorite "final girl" in the series. It's a personal thing, all right? Not every Final girl can adorn a bloody wool sweater, talk sternly to Jason, and get the killer to back down. If I can't have Jamie Lee Curtis...give me Amy Steel any day.

12.) The Motive That Makes No Sense. So let me get this straight. Mrs. Voorhees went on a killing spree in 1980 (in the first film) because her little boy, Jason, drowned at Camp Crystal Lake in 1958 thanks to neglectful counselors. But...as the end of Friday the 13th proves...Jason didn't drown. He's still alive. So if Jason isn't really dead, why is Mrs. Voorhees after Alice (Adrienne King) and her friends? It makes no sense at all. Then, Jason kills new teenagers because Alice killed his mother. But his Mother shows up alive in the lake at the end of Part III. What the hell? It kind of reminds me -- in a really bad way -- of Jaws IV: The Revenge (1987). There, the great white shark wants revenge against all Brodys because Chief Brody...killed it.

13.) The sting-in-the-tail/tale from Friday the 13th. Director Sean Cunningham crafts a perfect, mind-shattering coda for Friday the 13th, even if it makes no sense in terms of the specifics of the narrative. A spent Alice is alone in a row boat, in the middle of Camp Crystal Lake when a deformed Jason Boy leaps out of the water to attack her. This sting-in-the-tale/tail is second only to Brian De Palm's Carrie (1976) in terms of terrifying impact. Everything about this finale is pitch-perfect, from the placid, idyllic look of the lake, to the tranquil, misleading music, to the sudden attack itself. Indeed, the longevity of the Friday series may originate from this unforgettable denouement (which passed the serial killer torch from Mother to Son).

There you have it. Happy Friday the 13th. Here's to you, Jason...with an arrow in the eye!


Thursday, February 12, 2009

Director's Notes 3.2: "Addicted"

In “Mirrored,” the fifth episode of The House Between’s first season, a mysterious mirror exposed the buried and neglected aspects of the denizens’ personalities.

Arlo became violent and abusive. Astrid grew…uh…sexually expressive. Travis became sensitive, kind and empathetic. And Theresa’s facade of emotionless discipline dropped away, revealing a very sweet, lonely, young person.

Bill T. Clark, the scientist and traditional hero-type among these denizens, held himself together (even though the mirror forced him to reckon with his own fear of mortality…). And Bill made the others regain their senses too before episode’s end, starting with a resistant Theresa.

When we shot “Mirrored,” I mentioned to Tony Mercer (who plays Bill), that, one day -- -- if the show lasted -- we’d have to do an episode of The House Between in which Bill gets his turn to go off the reservation, so-to-speak. You know, a version of Star Trek's “The Paradise Syndrome,” in which our own steady hand becomes…unsteady. I could see Tony playing the part in my mind’s eye, and knew he would be great and the episode would be unforgettable.

But it had to happen at the right time and in the right way. It almost happened near the end of season two, with a slightly different focus. When mapping out the seasonal arc, Joe Maddrey and I knew we wanted the episode before "Ruined" to find all the denizens at odds with each other, locked in separate fantasy worlds of their own making. Realizing the house was under attack from outside, Theresa would then have to venture into each personal domain (a reflection of each character's desires and individuality), and sort of forcibly yank them back to reality.

Bill's fantasy world was to have been a family Thanksgiving dinner. Set in a dining room over a holiday meal, Bill would have been carving the roast for Samantha, Sam, Katie, William and a "version" of wife Laura that was mostly Astrid. Theresa would show up, slap him around a little, and bring him back to his senses. Ultimately, we went with a more abstract, introverted approach and Joe devised the brilliant, cinematic "long night of the soul" approach of "Caged."

But I never let a good idea go. Some of that prospective material finds life again with the second episode of The House Between's third season, “Addicted.” It’s a mirror version of “Mirrored” in some important senses too.

However, as you’ll see…even when Bill is off in fantasy land, his scientist’s brain is still ticking away, resisting.

So even when Bill is off the reservation, he isn’t totally off the reservation. His intellect is always at work and the episode, I think, comes down a battle between the voices in Bill’s head…the voice of reality…and the voice of denial.

“The Paradise Syndrome” is an obvious parallel to “Addicted,” but there are others. Picard finding happiness inside the Nexus in Generations, or living a different life all together in “The Inner Light .”

The story archetype doesn’t just appear in Star Trek either, it goes back as far as Homer’s Odyssey. The idea of a man waylaid on his way home by a “reality” that seems appealing and wonderful…but is actually fatal. In The Odyssey, it was the sirens doing the tempting. In The House Between, Bill also encounters a siren of sorts.

In terms of influences, I also appreciated a conceit from the second season episode of Space:1999 called “The Bringers of Wonder.” There, monstrous aliens were able to grant the Alphans a belief in any illusion they desired. The unhappy Alphans could be with family and friends again, they could be on Earth…anything was possible. The price for these illusions, however, was searing death: while the Alphans’ minds wandered happily, the aliens planned to detonate a nuclear power generator.

What cost paradise?

If someone told you that you could live the rest of your life in utter bliss…but that your life would only last twenty-four hours, what would you do? Cling to “reality,” which is often sad, and in which there are no guarantees anyway? Or take the bliss and know that -- at least for one day -- you were truly happy?

My friend and cinematographer Rick Coulter tells me that “Addicted” is actually about levels of reality; about what is “real” and what is -- for lack of a better term -- “The Matrix.” Perhaps so, but for me the trenchant issue here is that one man’s bliss is another man’s prison. Bill’s perfect, idealized world is actually a trap, and perhaps (or perhaps not…) that’s a comment on contemporary suburbia.

There’s so much happening in “Addicted,” and Rick also informs me it is a very Buddhist episode in tone and meaning, one about the cyclical nature of life; and the path to true enlightenment. As smart as Bill is, “Addicted” -- for him -- completes a cycle.


Shooting “Addicted” was a delight in every way. We shot the third season of The House Between in just five and a-half days, leaving only a half-day for “Addicted,” those scenes involving the Dark Place, specifically. There, Brick finds out that the new Lar has a nasty temper; and Astrid uncovers a mystery. Meanwhile, Travis is up to some of his old manipulative tricks…

There was a fun action scene between Craig and Jim that I enjoyed filming, and another great, emotional sequence between Alicia and Jim that balances, in a strange way, the Astrid/Bill material. The capper of the episode is a heartbreaking moment that Kim and Tony played to perfection, and which brings the Astrid/Bill relationship full circle. I'm still amazed they brought all this to the table...on the first bloody day of the shoot.

The remainder of “Addicted” was filmed at a later date by Rick and me (in a different location…), with Tony, Kim and Alicia in tow. It is ultimately for the audience to decide, of course, but I believe with all my heart that these three actors achieve a special magic together in “Addicted.” They’re better than they’ve ever been before, and that’s really saying something. They should all be big stars…I just wish I had a bigger budget to showcase them.

I also had the distinct pleasure of resurrecting Sam Clark for a few key scenes in “Addicted”, though it was difficult at first remembering who the hell the guy was. Tony offered me some key acting advice, after he said he kept seeing "John Muir walk through the front door," and not Sam Clark.

He told me, specifically, to remember Sam’s leather pants.

That brilliant bit of insight was the key to reclaiming the character and his particular state of mind. Almost as soon as Tony offered that wisdom, I was able to find Sam once more.

Although I don’t think Tony actually said “leather” pants. I think he said “sassy” pants. And Sam is, after all, Mr. Sassy Pants.

Mateo’s incomparable music also adds new, impressive colors to “Addicted.” His piece, “Addicted to You” is one of the most beautiful compositions in all three years of the series (and among all two hundred pieces). Mateo has also composed a new main title theme song, and it is a fantastic, compelling, “muscular” re-vamp of the trademark tune. It premieres in “Addicted’ with the new third season credit montage. Additionally, Mateo contributed another great tune too, but I can’t give away the name, because it will spoil a special moment in the show.

Cesar also came back to The House Between for the first time since the first season to offer a great guitar theme for Bill, one that showcases his vulnerability and uncertainty. An action scene in "Addicted" features library stock music.

While I’m on the music front, Kim Breeding also wrote -- and performs -- a haunting melody here which, for me, evokes The Twilight Zone’s “Come Wander with Me:” a perfect homage for an episode concerning a repeating cycle, sirens, new love, old love, doomed love and endless love.

So that’s the story of “Addicted.” Tune in tomorrow and let me know what you think. If all the bloomin' uploads work...

Monday, February 09, 2009

A Total Failure of Imagination

I try hard not to pre-judge movies that I haven't seen. To do so makes no sense...what am I judging if I haven't seen the final work of art?

I've counseled patience on the new J.J. Abrams Star Trek, for instance.

I want to wait and see what that experience will bring...and hope it will be something wonderful. I'm heavily invested in Star Trek as a long-time fan, but if I were to choose between another Next Gen movie or J.J. Abrams vetting a Batman Begins-style re-boot, I'd be for the latter. Nemesis cured me of any delusion that the Next Gen movies were on anything approaching the right track.

I can't honestly tell you that Rob Zombie's Halloween was worse than Halloween: Resurrection, either. Even if I had problems with Zombie's re-interpretation of the classic Carpenter material.


I'm also open-minded about the Friday the 13th remake, and was favorably impressed by the trailer for the remake of Last House on the Left. I even liked the re-imagination of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre as a pure "scare" experience, if not as the stunning work of art that Tobe Hooper so artistically crafted.

See? I try not to pre-judge. But I don't always succeed.

Case in point: Will Ferrell's Land of the Lost movie. I just feel grim, and a bit demoralized that a TV show I grew up has been transformed into that most horrible of mongrels: the Will Ferrell comedy of the week. Could it have been worse? Well, I guess it could have starred Adam Sandler. Or - shudder - Rob Schneider.

Yes, yes I know the Sleestaks look just like they did on the 1970s show. I realize there's a clear attempt in the film's production design to maintain fidelity to the look and feel of the original series. But frankly, that's the wrong kind of "faithful." It's faithful only to be...jokey, to point out how fake and campy everything crafted in the 1970s looks to us today. It's smug superiority masquerading as "faithful."


As my snarky brother-in-law said to me over the Christmas holiday: how does it feel to see your dream turned into a nightmare?

It seems to me that the one reason to undertake a remake of a TV show or movie is to improve and update it. I love the original Land of the Lost, but the special effects are indeed dated and it is clearly designed "for children." There's nothing wrong with that. I'm just saying that a Land of the Lost movie -- a movie faithful to the spirit of original series but made for adults, could be an incredible thing.

Imagine the awe of seeing those dinosaurs for the first time on the big screen. Imagine the terror of first encountering updated Sleestak. Imagine Land of the Lost's environmental message (about various "tribes" getting along to take care of the planet), re-tooled for an age in which that message is really and truly important. I remember how Land of the Lost fed my childhood obsession with all things dinosaurs, and wonder if the new movie will have that same impact.


For all those reasons, a serious, adventurous, exciting and scary Land of the Lost movie -- along the lines of Jurassic Park -- could be a wondrous thing. The series offers a great premise, after all, and there are some great locations, creatures and characters to be mined.


But the best our slick pop-culture age can muster is a jokey Will Ferrell comedy.

A product that makes fun of the original show, and that plays Chaka, the Sleestak, the pocket universe...even the dinosaurs, for easy, cheap laughs. It's easier to mock something people have nostalgia for, I suppose, then go that extra mile and write a good, serious script, and shoot a believable fantasy adventure.


We've all heard that fanboy comment about our collective childhoods being raped by modern Hollywood. That's certainly an over-statement, but this Land of the Lost remake represents a total failure of the imagination on the conceptual level, a cheap shot for easy money. Am I pre-judging the movie? I guess I am: I'm saying that any movie called Land of the Lost shouldn't be a Will Ferrell Anchorman/Blades of Glory-style comedy. The movie may prove to be a very funny comedy, but that won't change the fact that the entire enterprise was conceived in cynicism.

Will Ferrell's Land of the Lost isn't going to rape my childhood this summer, but it certainly is..pillaging it.

Premio Dardo Winner!

Happy Monday, everybody! The fantastic (and award-winning) blogger Amanda By Night at Made for TV Mayhem has bestowed upon me and this blog the prestigious Premio Dardo Award. Wow!

This blogger-to-blogger accolade "acknowledges the values that every blogger shows in his or her effort to transmit cultural, ethical, literary, and personal values every day."

It's a great privilege to be acknowledged for this honor, especially from a blogger I admire so deeply. Made for TV Mayhem is one of the handful of blogs I follow religiously, and which I enjoy tremendously. Anyone who understands an obsession with Tiffany Bolling is a friend for life in my book. Thank you, Amanda!

I must confess, I don't really understand how precisely all this works (I'm a bit of a dunce when it comes to the community of blogging...), so permit me to go by the rules:

1) Accept the award, post it on your blog together with the name of the person who has granted the award and his or her blog link.


2) Pass the award to 5 other blogs that are worthy of this acknowledgment. Remember to contact the bloggers to let them know they have been chosen for this award.

Okay, so now it is incumbent on me to pass along this Premio Dardo decoration to five bloggers whom I feel ably transmit cultural, ethical, literary and personal values every day. Let's do it!

1.) Theofantastique: This meeting place for myth, imagination and mystery in pop culture is a tireless and meticulous effort. The approach is commendably cerebral, and the author, John Morehead is not only curious and thoughtful, but a highly-skilled communicator. John focuses on books, films, television and the history of the horror genre with enthusiasm and a keen intellectual eye.

2.) Zombos Closet of Horror: This dedicated blogger, Iloz Zoc, is the founder and organizer of the League of Tana Tea Drinkers, not to mention a bonafide wit. First, my hat is off to him for wrangling a wide cross-section of authors, and bloggers (herding cats?) with such aplomb, spirit and frankly...love. More to the point, Zombos Closet of Horror is a blog I follow on a daily basis, because I.Z. offers unbridled passion for the horror genre. He also knows how to turn a memorable phrase in an amusing, sharp and appropriately macabre fashion. His writing is perpetually funny and absorbing. Horror conventions and toys, movies old and new -- they're all covered here with a fresh perspective.

3.) Vault of Horror: this is where I go to get my horror news, and pretty much on a daily basis at that. B-Sol is the genius behind all those controversial and inspiring Cyber-Elite lists that have been burning up the Internets lately, but that's only the tip of the machete, so-to-speak. You'll find news stories, reviews, lists, obits, trenchant commentary and much more at Vault of Horror. A must-read horror blog...and if it's been more than a few hours since I checked it out, I feel empty inside.

4.) Maddrey Misc.: This is the blog of Joseph Maddrey, the author of Nightmares in Red, White and Blue: The Evolution of the American Horror Film. He's also produced a documentary of that book, and serves as my series producer on The House Between. I know Joe well -- I consider him one of my best friends, in fact. But I don't check out his blog because we're buddies and colleagues. This isn't about nepotism. I check out Maddrey Misc because Joe is an amazing photographer, and he regularly posts beautiful location photographs from horror movies and Westerns of yesteryear. He also charts horror movie premieres and revivals in the L.A. area, which is an aspect of the genre that interests me. Joe's no slouch in the writing category either, penning book reviews, music reviews and great "nostalgia" posts too. Just check out his current post, "Superstition," putting the Friday the 13th films into the context of his childhood.

5. Plaid Stallions: This is where I head when I need a toy nostalgia fix. Plaid Stallions is an impressive and beautifully-designed daily blog dedicated to a remembrance of all things from the pop-culture of the 1970s, but especially the toys I grew up with. There are great post categories here, from crazy catalog photos of the disco decade, to retro-playgrounds (!), to images of old toy stores and their displays. I don't want to grow up...I'm a Plaid Stallions kid.

Thank you again, Amanda, for thinking of me for this award. It means a lot to me.

UFO: "The Cat with Ten Lives"

In "The Cat with Ten Lives," three UFOs approach the moon, but retreat once interceptors approach. Three more UFOs appear i...