Monday, June 27, 2011

Tales from the Darkside Season Four: Episodes 14 through 20

Season One begins here
Season Two begins here
Season Three begins here
Season Four episodes 1 through 7 appear here
Season Four episodes 8 through 13 appear here

"The Cutty Black Sow." (First aired 8 May 1988) Directed by Richard Glass. Written by Michael McDowell from a story by Thomas F. Monteleone. Starring Huckleberry Fox, Mary Griffin and Paula Trueman. 7/10

Before she dies on All-Hallows-Even, Jamie's Scottish grandmother grumbles about the Cutty Black Sow, that creature that appears on Halloween night to take the soul of a family member in the household that has seen a death. Jamie is the only one who believes her, records her deathbed rantings, and makes preparations to protect the family from the legendary monster. A good, suspenseful episode, but the pacing is just a little uneven and drags at some points. The episode works thanks to good cinematography, the use of darkness, shadows and flickering lights, and thanks to the young actors. The kids are very well cast, Huckleberry Fox as the believing and determined Jamie, and Mary Griffin as his photogenic sister Gloria (who also appeared in the amusing Monsters episode "Parents from Space"). In fact, the kids are so believable as older brother and younger sister that the viewer truly wishes they come to no harm, and this becomes an excellent example of the importance of casting. The episode was also Paula Trueman's final screen appearance; she had a small part in season two episode, "Monsters in My Room." Her performance as the dying grandmother is truly effective. The ending is sort of predictable, but it does not come across predictably, making its final moment quite effective as well.

"Do Not Open This Box." (First aired 15 May 1988) Directed by Jodie Foster. Written by Bob Balaban and Franco Amurri. Starring Eileen Heckart, William LeMassena and Richard B. Shull. 7/10

Unlucky and simple inventor Charles Pennywell accidentally receives a box in the mail containing the inscription "DO NOT OPEN THIS BOX." He wishes to comply, but his wife Rose, a bitter and selfish materialistic woman, assumes there are valuables of some kind within, and promptly disobeys. Well, the box is empty, but the postman soon appears asking for it to be returned, claiming that he would give anything -- ANYTHING -- to have it back. Of course, Mrs. Pennywell takes advantage.

This is a great episode based on a classic scenario, and good writing, direction and acting make for an even-paced, suspenseful story. Directed by multi-talented Jodie Foster, her directorial debut, and co-written by Bob Balaban, director of the series pilot, as well as actor, writer and director of a number of other projects, who was also involved in the production of the excellent Gosford Park. It is clear that special attention went into this episode as it was produced with care, filmed with patience, allowing the actors to act so everything comes across naturally. The set is a nice, cluttered basement, as any inventor's basement should be, and we can even forgive the fact that the postman comes in by the cellar door rather than the front door, where you would think mail is normally delivered. (Of course it is just easier to produce the low budget series by keeping everything as contained as possible.) Eileen Heckart is excellent as Rose, while William LeMassena is super-sympathetic as Charles, and both are well balanced by Richard B. Shull as the unconventional postman.Link
Now, we can find some fault with the character dynamics. Kind Charles puts up with overbearing Rose, but are Rose's complaints so invalid? She is stuck at home while Charles fails at inventing; perhaps Charles should be husband to his wife, take her out once in a while, pay some attention to her rather than just involve himself with his inventions. Any woman--any person--would become bitter after years of neglect. Poor Rose has been suffering punishment all her life, only to be punished once more. Now, we can also speculate that she has always been this way and manipulated or somehow guilted Charles into marrying her, but there just isn't enough textual evidence to support this. Relationship vagueness aside, a truly fine episode.

"Family Reunion." (First aired 22 May 1988) Directed by Tom Savini. Written by Edithe Swensen. Starring Stephen McHattie, Patricia Tallman, Daniel Terence Kelley and Marilyn Rockafellow. 7/10

"What's behind that door, Mr. Perry?"

Robert Perry is in a rented house with his son Bobby. He's taken Bobby here to keep him safe, locking him up and away from the boy's mother. The thing is, Bobby is a werewolf, and Robert is worried he'll harm his own mother. But mother Janice has found them, and with the help of a social worker is determined to get her boy back.

Finally Edithe Swensen gets it right; her final of ten Darkside scripts, which includes some of the series' lower points, this one packs a punch. Though I wouldn't give Ms. Swensen credit for its impact; Tom Savini's make-up and direction are excellent, as is busy Nova Scotian actor Stephen McHattie's performance as protective father Robert Perry. The other performances are strong as well, with Marilyn Rockafellow doing a great job in the small part as family services employee Trudy.

There are so many small things that make this episode so much fun to watch. Savini is not only great at doing make-up, he proves himself to be great at revealing his make-up. We witness Bobby transforming through his shadows against the wall, and we see the creature behind so much darkness, little bits of boy and monster appearing in fragments. We keep getting hints at his wolfish appearance with tricks of light and sharp editing, and yet when we finally see him in full lycanthropic guise, we are not disappointed. The build-up is great without taking away from the final revelation. Savini also adds some nice, self-referential decor to Bobby's room. the boy reads Fangoria #47, the 1985 cover that features Savini's make-up for George A. Romero's Day of the Dead. On the boy's wall is a poster of Romero's 1982 Creepshow, a film not only make-upped by Savini, but that also features him in a cameo role as a garbage collector. There's also a nice transition from the full moon to the boy's face, the moment that confirms our suspicions that he is a werewolf.

Another nice touch is Trudy's ashtray cleaning. When Janice is sitting in her office the first time, Trudy wipes the ashtray her visitor has just crushed a cigarette, though Janice simply lights another. Now despite the nice, nearly unnoticeable moment, there is a continuity error with the same ashtray. When the camera first lights upon the scene, Janice is crushing her cigarette in the tray. The camera then cuts to Trudy, and there is a lit cigarette in the same tray. We then cut back to Janice is holding a fresh, unlit cigarette, which quickly Trudy lights for her. Minor detail, of course. There are more serious problems with the episode though, which are in Swensen's script.

[Spoiler] Janice's interview with Trudy makes the ending too obvious by letting us know she was injured along with Bobby on a trip to Ireland. Though we can also figure it out a little later through Janice's unnatural strength. Now, if Janice is that strong, that desperate to get bobby back and knows where Robert is keeping him hid, why can she not just walk over, do away with hubby and take custody of her little boy? Why does she need Trudy with her? And what is the point of the magistrate? Trudy tells Janice that a magistrate will arrive at the house, and yet it is odd that the magistrate should visit on official business so late at night. Maybe that's a trend in this unnamed town, since Trudy herself in still in her office. When they arrive at the house there is no magistrate, an individual never mentioned again, yet they enter anyway (illegally). So what is the point of that character? It's a way of getting Janice and Trudy to the house during a full moon, and a lazy way at that. Trudy is needed so that we can get some back story from Janice, but the episode would have made more sense if perhaps Janice uses Trudy to find out where they live, since with her strength she can barge into the house at any time. The way the script is pieced together makes for utter silliness, but thanks to Savini's skill, fine acting and great overall production values, it is a great episode.

"Going Native." (First aired 19 June 1988) Directed by Andrew Weiner. Written by Theodore Gershuny from a story by Weiner. Starring mostly Kim Greist, along with John Aprea, Cynthia David, Richard Kuhlman, Pamela Kenny, Alison Sweeney and lots of people in photographs. 8/10

"They have an expression here. Losing... your... mind."

We all feel alienated from time to time, a character says, but she doesn't realise how much this statement relates for Claire. The thing is, Claire is from another world, metaphorically and literally; she cannot relate to others since she comes from another planet. Her mission here is to studying Earth's natives, and at this she is diligent, photographing everything and, to understand us humans better, joining a social group. Members of this group (referred to simply as "Group") gather to express and release emotion, from hurt to rage, in an attempt to better understand themselves and those around them. In an attempt to better function in society. A great way to study human emotion, yet for Claire it also involves a risk.

"Stupid. Stupid. I should not have joined the Group."

A story told through the point of view of an alien living among us for the purpose of studying us has been done before. Immediately I think of that fun Robert Silverberg short story, "The Reality Trip." It is an idea, however, with a lot of promise, and with "Going Native" the idea reaches a pinnacle. Focusing primarily on human emotion, "Going Native" shows us up as primarily emotional creatures, but also portrays the ridiculousness of how we try to rationalize those emotions. Other human elements are touched upon through appalled alien eyes, such as human materialism and the power of media, asking the important question: "Who dictates these images?"

The concept works because the production values are excellent. This is like a short, experimental film by talented, emerging artists, or a successful graduate film project, something willing to take risks and investing fully in its idea. The script by Darkside regular Theodore Gershuny is top-notch, seemingly made up of broken sentences that are nonetheless inter-related. There is dark humour imbedded in these short lines. Group member Lee is pounding on a pillow, yelling at it, hurling insults at it, then stops, short of breath, and Group leader Amy asks, "Are you finished with your wife?" Later Amy says to Claire, "I'd like you to put your mother on the pillow."

There are good visual contrasts. Claire's studio is dark, so dark that details are difficult to make out, while the group meeting area is overly bright, the glare almost painful. (These contrasts made it difficult to capture a decent image for this review, but I so wanted to include one.) Contrast is used also to highlight human inconsistency, as when Claire, having slept with Lee, wonders how someone filled with so much anger can be so tender. Camera angles are great, and the photos Claire takes of everything and everyone are excellent. Sound is well used too, especially as a soundtrack to the studio photography slideshow.

The attractive Kim Greist is great as Claire. Greist is best known as Jill Layton, Jonathan Price's love interest in the excellent Terry Gilliam film Brazil; unfortunately she appears to have abandoned acting somewhere around 2001. Her cold, dry delivery is great, especially when she is trying to pretend emotion as an emotionless being ("YeeeEEESS?"), a difficult thing to pull off. And the way she looks at the people around her, intently and expectantly, like a child and yet looking down on them. Her climactic scene is fantastic, her body language sharp, and her voice work in narrating the episode is also good. John Aprea is good as soap opera actor Lee, delivering his lines well; it helps that his lines are well written as it's evident he is comfortable with them. Even that sleaze Claire picks up at the bar is good in a bit part.

This is the last of the great, unconventional risk-taking Darkside episodes, and from that unique bunch, it is also the best.

"Hush." (First aired 10 July 1988) Directed by Allen Coulter. Written by John Harrison from a story by Zenna Henderson. Starring Nile Lanning, Eric Jason and Bonnie Gallup. 7/10

With her inventor husband out of town, Beth Warren goes out to "a reception down at the high school" (aka to meet her lover), and babysitter Jennifer must take care of lonely, sickly Buddy. Buddy is productive in his loneliness. Learning no doubt from his father, he built a few little machines from household scraps. One of these is a "noise eater," a machine that looks like a run-down vacuum cleaner that is attracted to noise and essentially quiets it. When the machine runs amok, Buddy and Jennifer must be absolutely still, or risk being silenced themselves.

Chase episodes have been attempted for a few shows, and the idea was likely inspired by the Richard Matheson scripted "The Invaders" for The Twilight Zone, an episode almost wholly devoid of dialogue. The chase in "Hush" is inventive, which alone is impressive since chase episodes for any TV series are normally quite dull. It works here because the set up is well established. First off, the two-room space does well in creating a good geographical consistency, and the viewer becomes quickly familiar with the space that we might as well be there with the characters. The characters themselves are sympathetic so we care what happens to them, and the unknown cast is good, especially Bonnie Gallup as mother Beth, whose briefer role in the opening sequence is spot-on, hurried and well delivered. The cast is well directed, with the opening sequence delivered as nearly a single shot, and the choreography is excellent. While Beth getting ready to go out and she and Jennifer are pacing the room, a number of the items are clearly established for the viewer, items that will come into play during the showdown. The episode is well scripted, as we learn a good deal about the family and Beth's husband who never makes an appearance. What the purpose is of having Beth meeting a man while her husband is away (she could be meeting a friend just as easily), but it gives the episode additional colour, realism, and something interesting to notice. Whether any of this was scriptwriter John Harrison's doing or borrowed directly from Zenna Henderson's short story, I can't attest to as I haven't read it, but will hopefully rectify that soon.

Sure the monster doesn't look scary, being little other than a household vacuum cleaner, but the fact that it is household and familiar is the point, the threat within the house become more real. Its snout, of course, is at times too long and, sadly, at times comical. It is also odd that the noise eater doesn't attack Buddy when he first introduces it to Jennifer, but that's a minor detail, though you'd think he'd want to whisper. Shhhhhh...

"Barter." (First aired 17 July 1988) Directed by Christopher T. Welch. Written by Jule Selbo from a story by Lois McMaster Bujold. Starring Jack Carter, Jill Jaress, Michael Santiago and Miguel Alamo. 3/10

(This one could also have been titled "Hush.")

Dedicated housewife Ruthie is being driven around the bend by musician husband Nicky and their son, aspiring drummer Little Nicky. Salesman Klaatzu appears at the door seeking ammonia, for which he offers in trade (hence the title) an instrument that can freeze Little Nicky so that poor Ruthie can work on winning a freezer at an upcoming competition. This episode is a parody of the classic I Love Lucy, where iconic housewife Lucy (Lucille Ball) wishes she were a star, and puts up with bandleader husband Ricky Ricardo (Desi Arnaz) who wants her to be the ideal housewife. The names are nearly identical and they even look (somewhat) alike, and dress (somewhat) alike; Ricky is Cuban and from his (flawed) accent we can assume Nicky is as well; just like Lucy, Ruthie wants fame and attention while Nicky (just like Ricky with his Lucy) wishes she remain a simple housewife. And of course there are the hilarious antics (well, attempted anyway), along with a dash of the Darkside. Unfunny (even that uninspired moment when Ruthie and Nicky sneak in to replace ammonia with bleach wearing... cleaning stuff. Is this a reference to a specific I Love Lucy episode? Even then, was it really necessary?

This was actually a neat idea for television (it was close to the thirty-year anniversary of I Love Lucy), based on a story by Lois McMaster Bujold. It just isn't funny and feels at times too forced, as though everyone involved was trying so hard to be I Love Lucy (Michael Santiago as Desi Arnaz bothered me from the get-go). Sound guy Christopher T. Welch was behind the camera for season two's "The Shrine" (episode 17), a better effort than this, though we can't blame the directing here. The script is lame, the ending is anticlimactic and the acting is overly average, except for Santiago who was likely cast for his physical appearance rather his ability to successfully embody Desi. Moreover, the alien Klaatzu (comedian Jack Carter, who has appeared in the original Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Tales of Tomorrow) fails to be funny as either a 1950s alien or a 1950s salesman.

"Basher Malone." (First aired 24 July 1988) Directed by Anthony Santa Croce. Written by Peter O'Keefe. Starring Vic Tayback, Steve Strong, Marie Denn and Magic Schwarz. 1/10

There exists a darkside, and ample proof is given by the fact that this episode was produced. A "good guy" wrestler is challenged to fight a demon from hell. It turns out that pro wrestling is the devil's tool to lead young, impressionable kids to the road to hell, and our hero Basher Malone is infuriating demon manager Tippy Ryan by being a good role model. This episode was produced at the height of pro wrestling, and good guy wrestler Steve Strong (Steve DiSalvo by birth) is appropriately cast as Basher Malone, except for the fact that he can't act. Strong's lack of acting talent is well accompanied by other terrible performances, with the exception of Vic Tayback as Tippy Ryan in his second Darkside appearance, following "The New Man" (S1E2).

In addition to the poor acting we have an unbelievably, shamelessly bad script by Peter O'Keefe, whose Darkside track record is a poor one, as he was also responsible for the "My Ghostwriter - The Vampire" (S3E14) and the terrible "Let the Games Begin" (S3E21). Worst yet is the new low in horrid 80s TV music. Finally, the episode closes off as a kind of ad for Pepsi Cola, another popular yet horrid item from the 80s. Pepsi paraphernalia appears throughout the series (good advertising for them & no doubt good advertising revenue for the series; while I never liked the stuff I'm pleased it supported Darkside). The only good thing this episode has to offer is that it reveals the true secret of Pepsi Cola: it is the gateway to Hell through its own vending machine.

It is unfortunate that Darkside ended its run - and a strong fourth season - with its all-time weakest episode. The episode even goes so far as to contradict itself: when Tippy hands brass knuckles to his fighter in the middle of a bout, everyone is shocked, yet Malone's mother doesn't hesitate in cheating herself, by dumping cold lemonade on demon fighter Trog's hellishly flaming body, and searching her purse for other cheating tools in helping her son win. So how does one distinguish the "Good Guy" (proudly emblazoned on Malone's shirt) from the demon, since both parties use the same means for their ends. Is it the ends then, and not the means, that determines who we are?

Finally, the episode also generates the most unbelievable idea to ever from Tales from the Darkside: the fighting in pro wrestling is real.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Various Authors: Stories from The Fiction Desk 1 (2011)

Various Authors: Stories from The Fiction Desk 1, edited by Rob Redman, The Fiction Desk, 2011. 188 pp

There seems to have been a number of new journals appearing over the last little while, literary to genre, Prole to Dark Moon Digest, and many others promising to appear soon. The quality of these journals tend to be a little all over the place, especially when first starting out, attempting to recruit talented writers, uncover good slush, and hopefully pick up a few readers along the way. I like to support new publications and urge the reading and (especially) writing public to do so as well, since a healthy subscription allows for better long-term quality, and, if nothing else, at least survival.

And if it weren't for these new journals, we wouldn't have such excellent books as Various Authors. I have read a number of new and established fiction journals over the past two years, and Various Authors is without hesitation the strongest, most compelling of the group.

Various Authors is the first anthology published by the fine blog The Fiction Desk, by Rob Redman. The book is attractive, more book-like than journal-like, with a nice cover and great, easy-to-read layout. The quarterly's great looks are surpassed by its consistently readable contents. There is not one bad story among the dozen collected here, and at least half are above the average. Of course this can range from one person's taste to another person's, but the variety here is immediately noticeable, and I am pleased that the journal is unafraid to print serious fiction, from short stories to sketches, serious and comedic, along with fantasy and the absurd. It is this variety that is missing in many contemporary journals, especially the most established ones. Journals with broader readership might feel that, since they have wide and loyal readers, they need to cater to the tastes of their perennial subscribers. If the people at The Fiction Desk maintain this level of consistency, I will be a perennial subscriber. Indeed, I am already itching to see issue number two.

As for which is the strongest story of the group, The Fiction Desk offered a generous prize for the best story, as voted by its authors. There was a three-way tie, so book blogger John Self (The Aylum) was brought in to select one of the three, and the prize went to the excellent "Crannock House," by Ben Lyle, which would probably have been my personal second choice.

"Two Buses Away" by May Lynsey. 6/10
This is a character sketch of a young, lethargic man that plays itself out in a triptych of scenes: Gerry on the bus on his way to visit his parents; Gerry at his parents'; Gerry waiting for the bus after having visited his parents. It's a simple and generally underwhelming series of events, but a subtle yet powerful change occurs in its course. While at his parents', Gerry learns that things between his folks are not too healthy and that his mother has moved out, possibly permanently, yet nothing concrete is offered. Permanent or not, this little chip in Gerry's universe alters his attitude and world-view; the world is not as stable and predictable as it may have been for a child. The adult world is unreliable, and Gerry's self-contained bubble has burst. While the most interesting portion of the story is its middle, a very well written scene between son and father, with tight dialogue and an immeasurable weight of tension, the two bookend moments are the ones that illustrate the change in Gerry. It is through his interaction with strangers, commuters specifically, that we note the transformation, for the once seemingly harmless figure in the world have now become potentially deadly.

Though a great little sketch and well written, I would not have chosen it to open the volume, but would have the subtlety nestled between two more "active" stories.

"How to Fall in Love With an Air Hostess" by Harvey Marcus. 5/10
In this humourist piece of self-referential fiction, the author/narrator/protagonist places himself on a train seated not too far from an attractive stewardess (air hostess, if you want to be politically up-to-date), and considers how he should approach her. The goal is, of course, not so simple as love, but a consideration of eternal happiness amid the wasted past, a past enveloped with youthful apathy. The piece is inconsistently funny though the humour is there, and though it evokes some interesting ideas, it only touches upon them, so that thematically it becomes as light and evasive as our protagonist's world-view. While it lacks both the subtlety and depth of the first story, it is nonetheless enjoyable, and a good contrast to the darkly serious opener. Somewhat reminiscent of Lorrie Moore's "How to Become a Writer," though not as funny, nor as subtle or memorable.

"Crannock House" by Ben Lyle. 7/10
At Crannock House boarding school, an alternative education school in rural Scotland, a young teen befriends Mervyn, the new, eccentric Mathematics teacher. More accurately, the teen narrator forces friendship onto the other, a quiet recluse seemingly content with his home-brew cider, crossword puzzles and made-up games.

The story title is misleading: it's not about the school itself, though it at first appears to be, but about the two men, their friendship, and about the notion of friendship itself. It's not a fuzzy friendship story, but rather shows the darker implications and the inherent responsibilities of friendship. Ben Lyle has put together a multi-dimensional story, at times comic, always vivid, and finally powerfully tragic. Amid these vast dimensions are smaller, creative details, such as the word games and how "nutant" and "beriberi" get incorporated incorporated into the text. An excellent work, and deserving of the prize for Various Authors's best story.

"Rex" by John Wallace. 7/10
Rex's wife has been grieving now for some time since the loss of her beloved dog, so Rex is surprised when he hears playful voices and laughter coming from the bedroom. He enters the room to see her with a dog, as we expect, but surprisingly (and a great surprise it is) it's not a dog so much as some guy in a dog suit. Rex soon learns the dog, William, is an actor (a method actor, I suppose) who takes his role as beloved household pet very seriously, so seriously he is even willing to eat dog food. Well, feeling that it would be best not to disappoint his wife, Rex decides to play along along her wounds begin to heal.

"Rex" is a truly enjoyable story, not just for its quirky fun and originality, but the idea of how far one must go to keep up appearances becomes pleasantly crazed. The little complication that Rex never cared for dogs is a nice touch, and the story is not so much about Sylvia's coming to terms with losing her companion, but about Rex having to face and deal with glitches in their relationship. While he appears to want what is best for his wife, Rex is actually thinking only of himself. Fairly passive and non-confrontational, Rex takes advantage of the advantages of the situation, learning from William his wife's secrets (since people talk to their dogs more openly than to their spouses) rather than learning to listen and understand his partner's needs. He is disinterested in her interest in dogs, and it's likely she wants a companion because Rex himself is so withdrawn. Indeed, he is happy whenever William informs him that she wants to be alone, taking advantage by having drinks with the guys or simply walking by himself in the park (perhaps the same park where Sylvia takes William to share her secrets with). Of course this is all speculation since little detail is even offered about their past and the evolution of their relationship, but there is a reason why the story is titled "Rex" instead of "William," "Sylvia" or something silly like "Dog Day Afternoon"; the story is about the guy and not the grieving process, and the guy's name, Rex, is a name common to dogs, while as the dog's name, "William," is not only common to human males, but generally evokes the image of a decent man (as opposed to something like, say, "Butch").

"The Puzzle" by Alex Cameron. 5/10
An elderly stroke victim bound to a wheelchair in a retirement home is surprised when a stranger leaves him a small package. His attending nurse, Bertha, opens the package to reveal a jigsaw puzzle, and helps him to assemble it. Once involved in the art world through shady means, secrets from the man's past come back to challenge him.

A quiet narrative, and though well written I did not find it as engaging as the other stories. Much of the back-story is told through exposition, and the ending is just too dramatic and overdone for something so quiet, especially that final paragraph. Yet the prose is good, visually precise and, ending aside, smooth and consistent.

"Dave Tough's Luck" by Matthew Licht. 6/10
A former drummer turned drumming teacher takes on a new student, Andy Shrover. Andy is the member of a large, musically talented family, yet through a birthing accident was left brain damaged. Drumming instructor soon discovers, however, that little Andy has talents of his own, and does not merely ape what he hears. Through his idol, the great Dave Tough, our narrator tells of his attempts to bring Andy's talents to light, but the parents won't listen, especially since we're talking noisy drums rather than classy violins. Andy, like the drum, is society's perceived "retard."

I liked the story well enough, with its interesting ideas and energetic writing, the fragmented sentences that often sound like percussions themselves. The structure, however, could have used some tuning. For such a short story the preamble is too long and I was waiting and waiting for the story to start. To me it started at the line, "The first time I saw Andy, he had a kooky smile stretched over his entire face," and I wondered why the author didn't start it here, fitting in the necessary preamble info later and doing away with padding. The title, however, is quite neat, evoking the expression "Tough luck!"

"Assassination Scene" by Jason Atkinson. 7/10
"A government job means that you are set for life... if you suddenly fade out... They'll find a little corner for you in the complex mechanism and there you will sit until retirement."

Middle-aged Washington DC government employee Daniel is about to encounter change. In fact, he will soon be assassinated. When he calls young rookie employee Sadie to his office to warn her that it has become apparent that she is the first to leave for the day, he learns that she has been busy directing a play: William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. Well, it turns out they need some smaller roles filled, and Daniel might do. In fact, when he proves to be a good reader, Sadie asks him to try out for the part of main man Caesar himself (though of course we all know that Caesar is not the star of Shakespeare's play, but a middling character, along the lines of the ghost of King Hamlet). This is a simple story with a simple lesson, yet well written with a great last line. The tone and language is distant, very formal, like Daniel himself, and like Daniel it wants to be more. The interview with Sadie is well constructed, with Daniel fighting between wanting to be a part of her project, and his official government side creeping in to warn him it is not a good idea. The assassination is, of course, a metaphor, a symbolic death, a removal from the corner Daniel has been shuffled into.

"Celia and Harold" by Patrick Whittaker. 8/10
As a result of re-routing of train lines, a man finds himself waiting for a transfer in the village of Midwick. While biding his time at the local pub, a resident barfly warns him to leave for his own good. What seems like an ordinary story premise soon becomes quite original, so original and engaging that I don't wish to discuss it anymore for fear of removing any of its inherent suspense for other readers. Hopefully this story will re-surface in another anthology over the next couple of years as it needs a wider audience. "Celia and Howard" is my vote for the best Various Authors story.

[Spoiler: Elements of fantasy and literature combine for a tight piece that can be read on many levels, from an unusual yet horrific form of apocalyptic plague, to a story about a man finding his place in the world. Our narrator is unnamed and, in many ways, unformed; he is a professional working in the city and living in its outskirts. A modern English everyman. What he finds in Midwick (perhaps named in homage to John Wyndham's Midwich) is the opportunity to begin anew, to leave his generic work and self behind, and head out, no longer alone, to redefine himself. The story's sense of the absurd is wonderfully rendered in a straightforward, realistic tone, that the fantastic is almost ordinary. Reminiscent of the stories of the neglected John Keefauver.]

"All I Want" by Charles Lambert. 7/10
While teaching English in beautiful Italy, a pair of roommates befriend a local couple, and spend a weekend at their house on Lake Garda. Teddy is interested in the woman, Anna, imagining a wealthy woman who could spoil any man with material wealth, while Simon the narrator is interested in Luigi, a somewhat dark, even mysterious traditional Italian man who carries a gun in his suitcase. Yet another well written story, with some great character portrayals, excellent dialogue, and a story filled with fine contrasts and disturbingly repressed emotions.

"A Covering of Leaves" by Danny Rhodes. 6/10
Train station employee Webster is at work following a tragic train wreck. He is watching the sparse crowds, the ample leaves that he is sweeping from the track points, the incessant rain, and the cars abandoned in the parking lot. These cars, he speculates, belong to victims of the wreck, and watches as one by one they are claimed, except for the little red Nissan parked at the far corner. A sad sight indeed, until one day the Nissan drives away... all by itself, and Webster quickly pursues. An eloquent fantasy dealing with grief and loss, loss of people as well as places. The loss of one's past is also affected, especially when attached to memories of those we have loved. A nice, quiet little story.

"Sometimes the Only Way Out Is in" by Ben Cheetham. 5/10
Ten year-old Finn runs away from from home as his mum lies in a drug-induced stupor and the social worker has come to (re)claim him. He decides to seek out his dad, and from a family trip a few years ago, he believes dad is living in Wales, so he heads off on foot. Meanwhile, Finn has a voice in his head named Zack who is more mature and rational than he, so I suppose they both head off. Frightening things happen in a the darker edge of town as some shady figures appear in Finn's path. This story, the longest in the collection, failed to grip me. I thought it well written and interesting enough, but I read it slowly, a couple of times checking to see how many pages were left, and all in all, it left me unsatisfied. The problem for me was that the story never seemed to have any concrete direction, that it just wandered aimlessly, and the fact that a ten year-old with a voice in his head had more purpose than his narrative is indicative of its weaker points. Why am I reading this? I wondered, and as soon as I was done I stopped wondering about the story altogether. Moreover, I did not care for the title.

"Nativity" by Adrian Stumpp. 6/10
Adrian Stumpp's "Nativity" begins as a kind of rant, the kind of rant on middle-class suburban life and the dark and looming reality of fatherhood a stand-up comic might deliver. Only, the story is not terribly funny, the writing stiff in that attempt to generate comedy through the serious learned language of an academic. Yet the narrator of this rant, thirty-five year-old Dr. Edward Devereaux, is an academic, and the more we learn about him, the more the ungrounded opening begins to make sense. The narrative swerves from ranting to a portrait of Devereaux's upbringing, so that we can understand where his anxieties come from. Despite the almost irritating beginning, stemmed from the fact that the narrator came across as whiny and selfish, "Nativity" is a powerful story about inherent family ties, responsibility, faith in one's self, and so many other little interwoven things that culminate quite nicely.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Tales from the Darkside Season Four: Episodes 8 through 13

Season One begins here
Season Two begins here
Season three begins here

Season four episodes 1 through 7 appear here
Season four episodes 14 through 20 appear here

"Seymourlama." (First aired 15 November 1987) Directed by Bruce Dolin. Written by Harvey Jacobs & Donald Wollner, from a story by Jacobs. Starring Divine, J.D. Roth, Kathleen Doyle, David Gale and Cathy Lipinski. 4/10

(The title reminded me of a popular joke from The Simpsons.)

On a windy, wintry night, the Strands are at home arguing: father Henry, baseball card collector, is ashamed of studious son Seymour, who likes to knit, while mother Ellen tries to keep the peace. Well, there is a knock at the door and in barge Ambassador Chia Fung and his assistant Madame Wu claiming that Seymour is the next Llama of Lo Pu. Within minutes Seymour is no longer the shy and studious son, but, after finally getting, uhhh... rolled in the hay (off camera and implied only, of course), he immediately seizes the newly-offered power and uses the opportunity to get back at dad. From the same pair that brought us season four's sixth episode, "The Grave Robber," this one is also an almost okay comedic script with passable performances. Divine is dragless and David Gale is amusing in that knitted sweater.

"Sorry, Right Number." (First aired 22 November 1987) Directed by John Harrison. Written by Stephen King. Starring Deborah Harmon, Arthur Taxier, and some others. 7/10

This is the second of two Darkside stories involving Stephen King. The first was an adaptation of his short story "Word Processor of the Gods" (Season One, episode eight), while "Sorry, Right Number" is an original teleplay, and by far the superior of the two. Like many King stories, this one deals with a family in the midst of crisis, in which father is a writer and the loving couple have three children. Unlike most of these stories, the protagonist here is the mother. Katie Wiederman is on the phone with her sister Lois when the other line rings and there is a woman sobbing at the other end, yet after a few phrase snippets, the caller hangs up. Katie is certain the call was intended for her, and that it came from a distraught family member. She takes it upon herself, and her husband Bill, to figure out who tried to make that call.

Genuinely suspenseful, the script is tight and fluid, and Deborah Harmon offers a great performance as Katie, while Arthur Taxier looks a little like King (only taller) as über successful horror author Bill Wiederman. (Long-time TV actor Taxier played Skelly on the movie pilot of the 1985 Alfred Hitchcock Presents, in the segment remake of Henry Slesar's "Incident in a Small Jail.") Strong chemistry between the leads makes it easy to believe they have been together a long time, and good interaction with the children adds to the effect. Sure we can figure out the ending before the great reveal, but not as early as in most Darksides; in fact, I didn't catch on until near the end, though many will be quicker than me. (This delay on my part is testament of how absorbed I was while watching.) Despite the somewhat predictability, King did an excellent job with this one, enhanced by the strong direction of John Harrison, the man behind a mixed batch of Darkside episodes, not to mention some terrible music. The music in this one sounds almost as though it were trying to be playful, which is quite effective.

Interestingly, the movie Bill Wiederman is taping for his son, the one based on his first novel, Spider's Kiss, is actually George A. Romero's own excellent Dawn of the Dead. Remember, Romero was the producer of this series. Also, the voice on the phone was performed by Catherine Battistone, who appeared in several Darkside episodes, though doing primarily phone work.

"Payment Overdue." (First aired 14 February 1988) Directed by John Drury. Written by Richard Benner. Starring Maura Swanson and Lewis Arlt. 4/10

Ambitious New York City telephone bill collection agent Jeanette Simpson receives an odd call on her private line, coming from one Rita Vasquez. A quick search in her impressive 1987 PC reveals that this Rita person is deceased. Arriving with a package is Michael Nelson, who bears a cheque from... I'll give you three guesses... no, not the Expository Devil, but from the infamous Rita V. Creeped out and maybe a little lonely, our heroine Jeanette convinces Michael to stay for dinner so that she can feel safe, and so we can have some characterization without poor Jeanette having to talk soliloquize. Character development offers up an obviously bland and overt morality lesson. This piece of nonsense fantasy is saved by a good performance from unknown Maura Swanson as Jeanette, whose character actually travels through a variety of emotions in only about twenty-two minutes. The rest is painfully ridiculous.

"Love Hungry." (First aired 21 February 1988) Directed by John Strysik. Written by Strysik from a story by Roberts Gannaway. Starring Sharon Madden and Larry Gelman. 7/10

"Betsy, you were the prettiest girl in our class."

Overweight and lonely, Betsy Cowland has tried just about everything to lose weight, and just when her old high school flame Elmo Shroud is in town wanting to visit, she receives a call from Your Weight Is Over with a sure-fire weight-loss opportunity. The method is simple: with the help of a specially designed hearing aid and later some nifty eyeglasses, our dear Betsy can hear and see her food as though they were alive. Imagine trying to eat a friendly banana.

Another of Darkside's odder tales, "Love Hungry" is extremely enjoyable, with excellent performances by by Sharon Madden as Betsy and Larry Gelman as Elmo. The episode has some great touches. Betsy Cowland--the name Betsy is common for cows, like Spot for a dog, and Cowland is self-explanatory. Betsy is surrounded by plants that she talks to and clearly cares about, so she is immediately a great candidate for this weight-loss system. Even while watching the Romero-inspired Night of the Eating Dead, she is munching on a turkey drumstick, undeterred by the onscreen gore. Betsy works as a telemarketer for Special Editions Books, an unforgiving job that has non-customers speaking rudely and hanging up on her, surely doing little for Betsy's already beaten down self-esteem. The phone call she received from Weight-Away, distributor of Your Weight Is Over products, is genuinely creepy, mimicking Betsy's own telemarketing script, yet with Weight-Away the transaction is already made: "We'll deliver this afternoon," says the non-descript male voice. And of course there is the screaming enchiladas and tacos in a hilarious orgiastic feast that must be seen. There's a great deal more, and will encourage a view.

"Please don't eat us! Please don't eat us!"

The finest aspect of the episode is that Elmo, the man Betsy is trying to impress, is a short, balding funny-looking guy who is already completely enamoured of her. His crush on Betsy is genuine, a torch he's been carrying a long time, yet Betsy's self-esteem is so beaten down by being overweight that she is unable to realise this, and hence the terribly tragedy. A tragendy greater than that, even, is poor, kind, unprejudiced Elmo's final loss of her, after so many years. Imagine what he must have gone through to finally gain the courage to even pursue Betsy. A tragedy for two, indeed.

"The Deal." (First aired 28 February 1988) Directed by T.J. Castronova. Written by Allen Coulter & Granville Burgess. Starring Allen Garfield. 4/10

"Scripts aren't written, they're re-written." This philosophy should have been applied to "The Deal." Desperate and ambitious screenwriter Tom Dash has been collecting rejection slips for his scripts, until friendly neighbour Donald passes one along to some people he knows, because really, it's not about the work but about who you know. Dash receives not only a contract, but a cheque for $20,000; "I'll be damned!" he cries. "Yes, you will be," says Donald. Turns out the friendly neighbour is the devil, and Dash sells his soul in order to be in charge. The episode is not too original, and not too funny, but Allen Garfield is fun to watch in three different roles. Robert Costanzo is also amusing as producer Vincent Dessari (I though at first it was Jon Polito, likely with the excellent Barton Fink in mind), and Bradley Whitford is fine as Tom Dash.

"The Apprentice." (First aired 21 February 1988) Directed by Eleanor Gaver. Written by Ellen Sandhaus. Starring Haviland Morris and Wayne Tippit. 7/10

"Behold the great city has fallen, and has become the habitation of devils and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage for every unclean and hateful bird of prey." Perhaps exaggerated, but a powerful way to describe the sacrilegious age of 1986.

College Sophomore Sarah McBride accepts a job at a colonial village tourist trap, despite the particular demands of employer Thomas Branford. Well, it turns out that Branford is still living in colonial times, 1692 Salem, to be precise, and takes poor Sarah back in time with him. There Sarah meets meek Jane Branford, daughter of Thomas, and, not aware this she is nearly three years in the past, tries to get Jane to stand up to bully husband to be Peter. It doesn't take long for modern Sarah to stir the crucible and raise the ire of the men, so that Thomas, seeing her strike fire at her fingertips (with the help of drugstore lighter), accuses her of being a witch, and sentencing her to death. What will happen to our Sarah? And how will poor innocent Jane fare amid the tyranny of these colonial men? An entertaining episode indeed, and I love the idea that Salem witches were women from the mid-1980s. I don't really understand why Thomas was so intent on wanting to preserve the puritan past after having caught a glimpse of 1986--it wasn't that bad of a year.

Directed by a woman, written by another woman, the episode contains nice touches of basic feminism, old-time "romance" in a kind of historical Harlequin satire, in which the rugged farmer doesn't get the innocent virgin girl. It's a lot of fun to watch, and yet it's also about changing times and wanting to preserve the innocence of the past. I would have liked a little more detail about Sarah, as much that could have been added to the short episode, and I didn't believe for a second that Haviland Morris could be a college sophomore. Research indicates that she was almost thirty when the episode was filmed. Casting against age is often problematic (just look at Kenneth Branagh as Hamlet, and Derek Jacobi as (grand)stepfather Claudius!) Or perhaps Goody Sarah was a reel slowe lerner. Otherwise she suited the part, while Texan Wayne Tippit was great as crusty Thomas Branford.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Tales from the Darkside Season Four: Episodes 1 through 7

Season One begins here
Season Two begins here
Season three begins here

Season four episodes 8 through 13 appear here
Season four episodes 14 through 20 appear here

"Beetles." (First aired 27 September 1987) Directed by Frank De Palma. Written by Robert Bloch from his short story . Starring Rob McCary, Sirri Murad, Donald MacKechnie and Colm Meaney. 6/10

It's April of 1936, and American Egyptologist Arthur Hartley is in England conducting research on an ancient sarcophagus he has recently unearthed (unsanded, to be specific). Only, rather than conduct research, he is more interested in the valuable jewels the mummy is supposed to be concealing. In walks Egyptian Hammid Bey, warning him not to touch the artifacts; they belong to Khepri, the beetle god of ancient Egypt (though it sounds as though he says "Kefra"). Yet Hartley nonetheless opens the coffin, as well as its mummy, to search for the precious stones he is certain are within. Shortly after committing this sacrilege, he is beginning to see beetles crawling throughout his home, across his pillow at night, in his cup of tea, and so forth. Is there indeed a curse involving beetles, as the images on the mummy imply? Will George, John, Paul and Ringo make an appearance? Will Hartley die a horrible death à la Darkside?

This is the Third Darkside adaptation of a Robert Bloch story (following Season One's "A Case of the Stubborns" and Season Two's "Everybody Needs a Little Love"), and it is easily the weakest of triad. Bloch's early, often generic stories from the 1930s, when he was interested in Egyptology and still under the influence of H.P. Lovecraft's work, deal with ancient spells and curses, whether Egyptian or Lovecraftian, and among those early stories, "Beetles" is probably the best (it was published in the December 1939 issue of Weird Tales). Unfortunately it loses a good deal in the translation to Darkside, mainly due to the humdrum restrictive devices of television (and especially of low budget TV). As with many Darksides, there are few characters and a single location, so information is often relayed through soliloquy, either a character talking/thinking aloud, or on the phone. Sometimes this works, often it doesn't, and here Bloch fails at constructing a convincing monologue, with Hartley unnecessarily resorting at times to state the obvious: "The jewels must have been here all the time!" Add to this some terrible British & cockney accents in the opening scene ("Can I give you a 'and, Govna?"), tedious pacing and predictability.

Yet there are some good touches that make the episode nonetheless watchable. Rod McCary is well cast as Hartley, looking the part of the 1930s archaeologist, and the reliable Colm Meaney delivers a great cameo as a constable. There is some good piano music (though it is more suitable for a saloon across the Atlantic), which is nicely contrasted with the requisite Egyptian music (Hammid Bey appears playing a wind instrument, and I'm not sure what this is supposed to imply; is he calling the beetles forth?). The set is well constructed despite continuity problems with the liquor bottle and glass, and there is a good mummy amid the clutter. There's also a neat visual transition from the mummy's face to Hatley's early on. The greatest achievement, however, are the great looking beetles, and a powerful final image that, though nowhere as powerful as the short story's finally, nonetheless rescues the episode from total average-ness.

"Mary, Mary." (First aired 4 October 1987) Directed by Katarina Wittich. Written by Jule Selbo. Starring Margaret Whitton and her mannequin. 7/10

"We of the popular club have a lot of work to do."

Lonely Mary Jones, surrounded by stuffed animals and other fake models of the living, tries to experience life through a mannequin. Professional photographer, Mary is able to beautify the hunk of plastic and film it so that she can send videos out to some mid-1980s dating agency. Yet when a good-looking neighbour catches a glimpse of her through the window and tries to make contact, lonely Mary is terribly afraid. Is handsome stranger David attracted to her, or is he also taken in by the mannequin? The double-barreled title alludes nicely to this dilemma: which Mary is the one receiving this unexpected attention?

"Mary, Mary," quite contrary to its IMDb rating, works nicely for me. It took me over half the episode to figure out how the play will end, though much of the credit for this goes to the ability the episode has in making me root for its title character. Played superbly by stage director and stage and film actress Margaret Whitton, my desire for Mary to overcome her shyness was truly sincere, and that moment as she tries on the various dresses, trying to put on some make-up, is devastating. Whitton's face is expressive and her voice well controlled so that her entire performance is engaging, especially the second time around (as I was searching for a neat shot to post). It is also ironic that Mary is a professional photographer with the ability to beautify a mannequin, since she is completely aware of the importance of surface appearance, and tragically unable to find a dress that can give her even a modicum of confidence so she can leave that cluttered apartment.

Director Katarina Wittich was assistant director on a some of Romero's projects, including several Darkside episodes. Wittich is only the third woman to have directed for Darkside, and it's possible that this episode works because of a woman's hand. Mary's loneliness and insecurities come out sympathetically; she is a victim of her ordinariness. The ending also works [spoiler] in that we can argue she does not transform into a mannequin, but has pushed herself into a tragic form of stasis due to her inability to act with confidence. Her desperate need to change and her crippling inability do so simply freezes her, and the result is a kind of plasticizing coma.

The Spirit Photographer." (First aired 11 October 1987) Directed by Bill Travis. Written by Mark Patrick Carducci & Brian Thomas Jones. Starring Frank Hamilton, Richard Clarke and "Screaming" Terres Unsoeld. 5/10

Paranormal investigator Algernon Colesbury has bought the most infamous haunted house in New Haven, and sets up a "spirit attractor," a machine that, well, attracts spirits. He is attempting to take the first ever clear photo of a spirit (none of that fuzzy Loch Ness stuff). His old rationalist friend Harry Bainsbridge believes that Algernon's work so far has been a hoax, and has no faith that he will succeed. The viewer knows, of course, that there are indeed spirits in this house, and moreover that Algernon is in danger. The episode is a little slow and we must again watch a character speak aloud to himself, though really he is making an important recording. The opening sequence between the two contrary friends is required to quickly bring us to the meat of the plot, yet despite its clear expository nature, it is well written and makes for a good opening scene. Actors Frank Hamilton as Algernon and Richard Clarke as Harry are enjoyable to watch.

The ending oddly switches the genre from suspense ghost story to light comedy, though strangely it works. Perhaps it works because the ghost Lenore is a joke: the suspense builds up but when she appears, a spirit so evil and frightening that she has destroyed many men, she gives the impression of bad actress playing a witch at a child's Halloween show. This is truly unfortunate, for a slightly better conceived and/or acted ghost could have improved the episode significantly. Her name, Lenore, is likely borrowed from Poe.

"The Moth." (First aired 18 October 1987) Directed by Jeffrey Wolf. Written by Michael McDowell. Starring Deborah Harry and Jane Manning. 5/10

A duel is played out between a woman and her dead daughter. Thing is, daughter Sybil is a witch and has died from wounds incurred through meddling in the lives of others. Before expiring, Sybil convinces her mother to seal her soul in a jar, and that soul manifested in the form of a moth. Well, mother regrets having done as Sybil wished, and tries to confuse the corpse in order to prevent it from getting to her soul. This one could have been excellent, but the items mother sets about the room are not too convincing, and the witch's ease in getting through some of the items is confusing. What the mother is even up to at the beginning is not immediately clear, so we are not given the opportunity to build suspense in relation to the duel itself.

Popular band Blondie's lead singer Deborah Harry received her first notable acting opportunity in David Cronenberg's Videodrome. Here she plays Sybil (perhaps a role that should have been offered to Stevie Nicks), and plays her well, I suppose, though nothing incredibly demanding is required. Harry later appeared in the 1990 Darkside movie version, creatively titled Tales from the Darkside: The Movie. Her mother is played by one Jane Manning, who is a little uneven. The set is quite good but the script hampers this one considerably.

"No Strings." (First aired 25 October 1987) Directed and written by David Odell. Starring T, J. Castronova, Barry Dennen, Cameron Milzer and Bradley Fisher. 7/10

"I'm your puppet, yes it's true! I'll do anything you want me to."

Mob leader Eddie Minelli is celebrating his latest achievement: he is now the sole head of his area's organized crime, since he has recently killed his partner, Don Paulie. To celebrate, Minelli has brought in famous puppeteer Aldo to perform a private show. Unfortunately for Aldo he was brought in without consent, though worse is the fact that Minelli wants him, despite girlfriend Tiffany's hysterics, to use as his puppet the recently belated Don Paulie.

Great horror with an original concept. Among the few Darkside episodes that can be truly categorized as modern horror, it is great that the makers were able to get away with filming the horrific concept, including a sequence during which Minelli's henchman Nicky is preparing Don Paulie's corpse. The cast is fairly unknown, with T.J. Castronova as Minelli and Barry Dennen as Aldo; they all do a fine job for TV, despite some wonky New York accents and Cameron Milzer's annoying whining as girlfriend Tiffany. The horror and tension lessens a tad when a supernatural element is introduced, since the early part is wielded to realism, but it is still a good episode, the best so far from Season Four.

"The Grave Robber." (First aired 1 November 1987) Directed by Jeff Schiro. Written by Howard Waldrop and Donald Wollner from a story by Waldrop. Starring Arnold Stang, Polly Draper, Daren Kelly and Ed Kovens. 5/10

An archaeologist and his assistant are led to a secretly discovered Egyptian tomb whose contents they wish to steal for profit. They discover, of all things, a mummy (bet you didn't expect that twist) who awakens, kills their expendable stereotypical guide and promises the Americans a painful death. Assistant Aileen proves to be clever, and gets the mummy to play strip poker in order to escape. An almost amusing episode with a good, energetic performance by comedian Arnold Stang as the mummy Tapok. Throw in a few amusing lines, and of the mostly forgettable comedic episodes, this one is actually watchable. Too bad, however, that two episodes featuring Egyptology appear so close together.

"The Yattering and Jack." (First aired 8 November 1987) Directed by David Odell. Written by Clive Barker from his own story. Starring Phil Fondacaro, Antony Carbone, Thomas Newman and Danielle Brisebois. 5/10

A diminutive, angry daemon known as a yattering is wreaking havoc at the home of happy pickle salesman Jack Polo on Christmas Eve. His daughter drops by for an unexpected visit, and the craziness intensifies as they try to evade what appears to be a poltergeist. The viewer soon learns, however, through the appearance of that Darkside favourite, the Expository Devil, that the yattering was sent to capture Jack's soul, and MUST NOT FAIL. Moreover, it can do anything short of touching our hero, for if it were to touch Jack, it would forever be his slave.

This episode is yet another near miss. The main problem is that it cannot decide whether it's a comedy or a horror; that opening scene with the yattering appearing in the cracked mirror was a good bit of shock suspense, but the turkey flying up to the Christmas tree made me wonder if Terries Gilliam & Jones were responsible. Another scene that weakened the whole was the appearance of that devilish expository Beelzebub. Too many Darkside episodes relied on the devil to appear in order to explain to the viewer the plot points they need to know in order to progress the story and often to generate an ending. ("Whatever you do, don't touch the salesman!" Of course he will touch him.)

Other items add to the confusion. [spoiler here] Jack seems genuinely confounded by the destruction, claiming there is a poltergeist, or perhaps he is going mad, yet it turns out he is aware of all the finer details of the "haunting." It turns out that Jack is important to Beelzebub, so I wonder, why give such an important task to such a stupid, temperamental imp?

As far the cast is concerned, Phil Fondacaro is great as the yattering, and Antony Carbone is charming as Jack (Carbone appeared on the original The Twilight Zone episode "Mirror, Mirror"). The others are fine, I guess. This is David Odell's second directing stint on Darkside, the first being the excellent "No Strings" which he also wrote (his writing career includes less memorable works such as Supergirl, Masters of the Universe, and also the acclaimed The Dark Crystal, none of which I have seen).

"The Yattering and Jack" is among Clive Barker's Books of Blood stories, which are known for their ingenuity and even their violence and horrific concepts. Likely the originally work has less of Monty Python and more of Hellraiser.

Finally, there is an ancient Pepsi bottle on the side table, just inside the den, circa 1987.

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As of 24 December 2015