Author: Krista Culbertson

Riverdale ep. 3.16 “Chapter Fifty One: Big Fun”

“She’s my best friend. God, I hate her.”

I love Heathers. It’s a truly oddball one-of-a-kind movie that has a black comedy that many movies have tried since to duplicate and failed. Now I have never seen Heathers: The Musical but I would assume it has all the components that put it in the same, twisted vein as its source material.

In last week’s episode, Cheryl demanded that Kevin change the musical to Heathers in order to get out her mean girl frustration. The Farm gets behind it, funding much of the musical. That also means that Evelyn Evernever finds herself chosen as Kevin’s co-director (much to Betty’s dismay).

And speaking of dismay, Cheryl learns that Toni is in charge of choreography. The two former-girlfriends begin to battle it out for territory in a power struggle both on and off the stage.

The Farm hosts a cast part before the show (which is just wrong) in which the actors are all encouraged to wear their costumes for the show. This is easily the most out-there detail of Riverdale yet. Name ONE show in the history of theatre that ever allowed the actors to party in their costumes before they even hit the stage.

At the party, the kids get loose. Veronica gets cozy with Reggie again after she learns the news that her parents are splitting up. And Archie and Josie make their canoodling public.

This, of course, leads to more complex discussions. Reggie isn’t entirely pleased with being Veronica’s go-to. But Archie and Josie begin to make their relationship more official (and I am HERE FOR IT).

Jughead, meanwhile, continues his quest to end his mother’s attempts at making a foothold in the Riverdale drug trade. He soon discovers that Gladys has turned their former trailer into her drug lab.

Together, Jughead and Betty go to the trailer together and burn it down. Betty has proven yet again that the kids in Riverdale have an unhealthy relationship with arson.

Evelyn spends much of her time using her power to force the actors into vulnerable places. She’s a total creep, but in an approachable way. An approachable creep from a cult. That’s actually a thing, I guess.

But Betty knows that the Farm is just using the musical as a way to indoctrinate more people into the cult. And at the very end of the performance, we see the cult in all their white-garbed glory in the audience.

To be honest, Riverdale hasn’t done a very good job at explaining why the Farm is so appealing. I think it’s supposed to be something about salvation and belonging, but it never seemed convincing. Now that we’ve see Chad Michael Murray revealed as cult leader Edgar Evernever IT ALL MAKES SENSE.

Overall, Heathers: The Musical was probably the perfect choice to cement Riverdale’s attempts at returning to normal. It suited the storylines very well. That being said, though, I did have more fun with the Carrie musical episode. But you know, I prefer murder over arson.

PS: Why the HELL is there some kid at the cast party dressed like the Gargoyle King?

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Wicked Wednesday: The Norliss Tapes (1973)

Tension, supernatural beings, and dramatic sound effects. These are the things that make for an excellent made-for-TV movie. Thankfully, The Norliss Tape has plenty of all three.

The Norliss Tapes was directed by Dan Curtis, known for Burnt Offerings, made-for-TV movies like Trilogy of Terror and creating the soap opera Dark Shadows. And while I love Trilogy of Terror, this earlier work has much more of a Barnabas Collins vibe.

David Norliss is a semi-successful writer, supposedly working on his newest book for the last year. He sold to his publishers a book debunking the superstitions and gimmicks of the occult. But when he calls his publisher nearly a year into his work, he admits that he has barely written a word.

His publisher, Sanford Evans, agrees to meet with Norliss, but the writer never shows. Eventually, it becomes apparent that David has vanished. Evans goes to David’s home to investigate. He doesn’t find David, but he does find a selection of tapes in which he decides to listen to the first one.

In chapter one, David begins investigating a supernatural occurrence. He meets with two sisters, one of whom which is newly widowed. Ellen Cort explains that she was awoken one night by her dog’s barking. The dog led her to her deceased husband’s sculpting studio. She eventually comes face-to-face with a man who kills her dog. She shoots him but he doesn’t seem truly harmed.

She then admits that the man who attacked her was none other than James, her dead husband. She also tells David that James was buried wearing a scarab ring that he acquired from a Mademoiselle Jeckiel.

That night, a girl is attacked by a man who was hiding in her car. When her body is found, she’s grey and shriveled. The coroner tells the police that the girl was completely drained of blood.

After the attack, Ellen takes David to the mausoleum where they look at James’s body, which is still in the coffin. Ellen takes that as a sign that she might be going crazy. Though they also see that he’s still wearing the ring that he was buried with.

David then moves on his investigation to an art dealer named Langdon, who had a particular interesting in buying the scarab ring after James’s death. At the gallery, the gentleman explains that he sold most of James’s work. When David asks Langdon about the ring, he becomes indifferent, explaining that his interest in buying the ring was only because it was unique. David lets slip to Langdon that James was buried with the ring.

Langdon then goes to the mausoleum to grab the ring. But James wakes up to claim his next victim.

David eventually goes straight to the mystical source, Mademoiselle Jeckiel. She’s even more evasive than Langdon was. She refuses to answer most of David’s questions. But she does warn him to stay away from Ellen’s house.

When David and Ellen return to James’s studio, the find a new sculpture. David notices that the clay is still wet, as though it had been worked on recently. But how James’s body was able to travel from the crypt to the studio was still a mystery. But David gets his answer when he studies the blueprints of the house and discovers a network of tunnels underneath. He also learns, after studying the new sculpture’s clay, that the clay is made up of blood.

Mademoiselle Jeckiel seeks out Ellen later and warns her about James. She tells Ellen that before his death, he made a pact with a deity to create a sculpture in exchange for immortality. James is only a few more victims away from competing his work.

Jeckiel and Ellen go to James’s grave together to remove the scarab ring – the only way to end him. But James wakes up and kills Jeckiel. Norliss finds Ellen in the tunnels, and the two escape to the studio as the sculpture comes to life. But Norliss sets the studio on fire, sending both the deity and James back to where they came from.

As the tape ends, Norliss’s fate is still unknown. But Evans ejects the tape and prepares to listen to chapter two.

This movie was originally intended to be TV pilot, but the show was never picked up. In some ways, it’s pretty interesting that way. It leaves the ending fairly open ended. I like when a mystery lingers, but still manages to give some answers.

The Norliss Tapes is very atmospheric, if a bit slow at times. It’s certainly no Trilogy of Terror. But it’s worth seeing just for the aesthetic alone.

There were a few things that were slightly confusing about the movie. Like, if David Norliss was such a known skeptic of the occult (an “investigator”), then why go to him first when you have a supernatural experience? I’d skip the skeptic and go straight to the priests and mediums.

This also weirdly reminded me a lot of Scream, Pretty Peggy, which I had first watched last year. What’s with the year 1973 and demonic sculptures?

But this was certainly another solid entry in the realm of made-for-TV movies.

Riverdale recap catch-up: Ep 3.14 & 3.15

After the news of Luke Perry’s passing, I really didn’t want to watch Riverdale. Perry was one of my first celebrity crushes. He was a genuinely good guy according to those who knew him. And frankly, the idea of watching him on screen felt more sadistic than fun.

But I woke up this morning and decided to get back on the saddle. It was nice to see a couple of sweet scenes with Perry’s character Fred interacting with Archie and FP. It seems a shame that his character has taken such a back seat all season. Perry’s Fred will always be the heart and soul of Riverdale that rooted it in a reality that made the show so likable.

Without Perry, this show has lost a large part of its soul. We’ll miss you, dude.

With that said, there wasn’t much to miss in these two episodes of Riverdale. Though watching them back-to-back certainly was a nice change. The storylines actually felt like they complimented each other. So instead of two separate “I’m so late I apologise” post, here’s a recap of “Chapter Forty-Nine: Fire Walk With Me” and “Chapter Fifty: American Dreams”.

After being fully initiated into the Farm, Alice Cooper becomes determined that she’s going to sell the family home. Betty does her best to deter her mother (well, mostly the potential buyers). She even sets the house on fire. But she eventually loses out to none other than Gladys Jones. Jughead tries to keep the peace by offering to let Betty stay with them, but she declines and stays with Veronica.

The Farm so far has seemed rather harmless. Sure they do stupid things, but their ‘danger’ is being shown off by children putting their hands over Bunsen burners and running over coals. Both of which I think some people do for fun anyway.

Veronica continues playing the chess match with Hiram and Gladys. She struggles back and forth to get power, but eventually wins out by deciding to hire the Pretty Poisons to be her new muscle. (Apparently the deal with the Serpents fell through?)

But the decision is a controversial one. Toni and Cheryl continue their passive-aggressive power struggle. Cheryl shows off her feathers as being a horrible person. We like that she’s a horrible person. But it’s clearly not a personality trait that makes for a good girlfriend. Toni’s character has many redeeming qualities, like being able to stand up for herself and stay strong for a cause she believes in (ie sisterhood).

The friction between the two comes to a head, and Cheryl kicks Toni out of her house.

Gangland isn’t going all that smoothly for Jughead either. He tried to exert his power over the newly-joined Gargoyles, but he’s met with animosity. He tries his best to give them all a united purpose. And eventually, he convinced FP to allow the gang to become sheriff’s deputies.

He’s seemingly winning, but poor Jughead can’t have that much go right in his life. He and Veronica overhear that someone is trying to make a go of the drug trade in Riverdale again. Jughead assumes that it is Hiram, but Veronica knows the truth.

She eventually admits Gladys’s plans to Betty, who immediately says she needs to tell Jughead. When she does deliver the news, he begins to struggle with how to handle the truth. He opts not to tell FP about it (in order to keep his dad on the straight-and-narrow) but rather decides to take his mother down by himself….with Betty’s help, of course.

In a shocking twist, Archie has the best storyline of the weeks! While working late at the boxing gym one night, Archie and Josie find a little boy hiding in the gym. He tells them that he had run away from his shelter after he was branded by a gang of men. Archie and Josie quickly realise that it is the “sacrifice” brand that Archie has.

Archie and Fred take the boy, Ricky, under their wings. They care for him and Archie even helps hunt Ricky down when he runs away. But when Archie gets a call from a social worker, who warns him that Ricky is Joaquin’s little brother. Archie begins to look for Ricky, and the little boy cuts him with a kitchen knife in an attempt to finish what his brother had started.

After the attack, Fred finds a “Kill the Red Paladin” quest card on the kitchen floor. Archie asks Hiram about it, and he admits that he made many of the cards to be distributed. To end the quest, Archie, Betty and Jughead band together to alter the quest. Hiram gives them the use of an abandoned boxing gym near the docks where they hold a “King of the Mountain”-style tournament.

The kids invite all of the G&G playing folk to fight the Red Paladin. If the Red Paladin wins the fight against every one of them, the quest to kill him is over. And after fighting each of them, including his old prison guard, Archie becomes victorious, lifting the bounty from his head.

Sounds like next week is musical week. Cheryl demands that Kevin direct Heathers, which should be fun. It would have been more fun if Kevin wasn’t a part of the Farm. But alas.

There’s a nice (perhaps unintentional) Basket Case reference in “Chapter Fifty”. I’d like to think it was intentional. Please introduce the world to the majesty of Belial.

Wicked Wednesday: Body Bags (1993)

Body Bags is a bit of a powerhouse movie. And for a made-for-TV movie, I feel like that’s saying something.

First aired on Showtime in 1993, this is (I think) the first cable made-for-TV movie I’ve watched for Made-for-TV March. It certainly has a noticeably bigger budget than most major network offerings. And you can really tell where that budget went. For one, the cast is incredible and the cameos are really fun (you can spot the likes of Sam Raimi and Wes Craven). But most importantly, it’s directed by the beloved John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper.

Bookending each of the stories is Carpenter doing his best Cryptkeeper with story introductions. And man, he’s clearly enjoying himself.

His first story is “The Gas Station” (directed by Carpenter) and follows a young woman working alone at a gas station one night. On the radio, she hears that a man is murdering people around the town of Haddonfield. Like most young women, Ann feels creeped out by many of her patrons at the station. One in particular is a seemingly homeless man, who uses the men’s toilets and seemingly never leaves.

She’s soon finds herself face-to-face with the killer in town. But it isn’t who she initially suspects.

In the second tale, “Hair” (also directed by Carpenter), a vain man tries his best to get his hair back and stop his balding. He goes to any length, despite the pleas from his girlfriend to stop.

He eventually resorts to going to a specialist, who claims he can grow back Richard’s thinning hair. Richard chooses what style he desires, a Fabio-eque mane of wavy hair. He finds that his girlfriend is now especially attracted to him. He revels in his new confidence, but quickly learns that there’s a price to be paid for his new ‘do.

In Tobe Hooper’s “Eye” a young baseball player on the very of being called to the pros is injured in a car accident. A shard of glass takes out his eye. But a doctor approaches him, suggesting that he tries out a new surgery. The surgery will allow him to use the eye of a recently deceased man.

And all seems well. He can see again, but he begins to start to feel a little…less like himself.

The three stories are all pretty fun. Hooper’s and Carpenter’s style really compliment themselves well. The anthology is certainly more on the silly side. Even “The Gas Station” plays more on the slapstick than a straight-forward Halloween slasher (though it does have plenty of references for fans to watch for). Think more along the lines of Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 instead of the original.

It’s fun and incredibly easy to watch. Certainly worth seeking out.

Anyway, I’m having a bit of a mental breakdown this week. Apparently I can’t write anything anymore. Well. At least the movie was good.

Wicked Wednesday: The Midnight Hour (1985)

I have been waiting to watch The Midnight Hour since I first read about it in April of 2018. I have been patient. I have been waiting. But finally we are here, which means only one thing: it’s Made-for-TV March, kids!

Made-for-TV March is one of my favourite times of the year. These made-for-TV gems are always unusual and many of them stick with me in ways that many theatrically-released films do not.

The Midnight Hour is no exception. This campy, 80’s movie is pretty by-the-books, but it has such a fun, wacky atmosphere that it more than makes up for it.

In the town of Kingston Falls/Hill Valley, a group of teenagers get prepared to celebrate Halloween. Their town has a history of witches and witch hunters alike, many of their descendants still living in the town.

One of those descendants is Phil (Lee Montgomery), a “nerd” who is clearly only ‘not-hot’ because they put him in glasses. He pines after girls who ignore him. And his friends make fun of him behind his back. So when they suggest stealing clothes from the local history museum, Phil reluctantly goes along.

After raiding the museum, the kids head to the cemetery to look at the loot that they stole from the museum’s archives. They find a scroll inside a stolen chest. It has a wax seal, but they kids quickly open it up anyway. When Phil’s friend Melissa reads it aloud, they think it’s all fun. But unbeknownst to them, Melissa manages to raise the dead in the town.

The group all gather at Melissa’s house for a Halloween costume party. But there are a number of extra guests attending including many zombies and Melissa’s ancestor, Lucinda.

Lucinda was the original Bad Witch of the town. She cursed the town years ago, only to have her plans foiled by Phil’s ancestor, a witch hunter. But this Halloween, Lucinda isn’t up for playing any games. But she DOES have the time for a good dance number with Melissa.

Phil ends up leaving the party when it becomes a bit of a drag. He begins to head home, but catches the eye of a young woman in a 50s cheerleading outfit. The two quickly strike up a friendship. They even get attacked by a werewolf during a make-out session! But Sandy isn’t all she appears to be.

Meanwhile, at the party, Lucinda turns Melissa into a vampire. Melissa then proceeds to turn the entire party into ghouls.

Sandy, when she realises what Phil and his idiot friends have done, tells Phil that they need to break the curse before midnight. If they fail, Lucinda’s curse will become permanent – including the “changes” made to Phil’s friends. They work together to get the pieces together before midnight, but can they really save the town from its Halloween nightmare?

I mean, of course they do! There’s really no doubt about it.

The Midnight Hour has many of the hallmarks of an 80s movie: the intense 50s/60s inspiration, the pointless (but enjoyable) musical number, the unrealistic car choices for teens. It evokes many similar feelings to movies like The Monster Squad. You really know what you’re getting into with this one, but just because there are no surprises doesn’t mean that it isn’t fun. Because it is.

Also, it’s got a pretty solid cast. Hello, LeVar Burton!

This is definitely a good one to add to your annual Halloween viewings. It might be March, but it’s never too early to plan, right?

Riverdale ep. 3.13 “Chapter Forty-Eight: Requiem for a Welterweight”

This is a late one, kids. I’ve had a busy week going to glamorous (not really) literacy parties and generally recuperating from some health issues.

But it really feels like Riverdale has been gone for ages. There’s been a lot of breaks this season, and it isn’t for the better. The story keeps losing steam, but if it was watched in one go, I might have a different opinion on things.

Alice is being baptized into the farm. While Alice tries to shut Betty out, Jughead suggests that Betty try accepting (or pretending to) what Alice has decided.

Betty reluctantly agrees to play along, until she learns that Alice has to sign a weaver form. When Betty sees the forms, she notices that there is a possibility of death in the baptism.

She later interviews the people who have defected from the Farm. But only one woman agrees to speak to her. When Betty learns that the woman’s sister died during the baptism, Betty runs to her mother’s help. She manages to save Alice just in time before she drowns.

But when Alice comes to, she claims herself to be “reborn”. And she informs Betty that she wants to sell their house so they can all move to the farm full-time.

Meanwhile, Archie attempts to repair his broken character by trying to take up boxing. Archie overhears Elio one day, looking for someone to fight his boxer. Archie agrees to fight him. But Elio stipulates that Archie must lose the fight. While Good Archie immediately says no, he’s won over by the fact that he will receive $5,000 for his “help”.

He feels like this is a good idea until he tells Josie. She reminds him that this is a bad idea, but he’s unable to back out. Tom Keller offers to help Archie and together they nearly win the fight the fair way.

(Completely irrelevant, but Archie and Josie together is a Very Good Thing. Shame that Josie’s character has been confirmed for the Katy Keene spin-off.)

Gladys and Veronica make an unlikely pair when they form a working relationship. Gladys suggests that Veronica spy on Hiram for her. Since Veronica wants to protect her madre, who sold Hiram’s drug trade to Gladys. Veronica decides that she wants her family out of drugs, so she reluctantly agrees to help Gladys.

Together, they get Hiram to agree to focus on his prison, and forget about the “candy trade”. Hiram eventually becomes suspicious of Hermione, but it’s Veronica who takes the fall – owing her father $75,000.

Veronica tells Gladys that Hiram plans on getting the Ghoulies on his side without Penny Peabody around. So the fight begins to see who gets to the Ghoulies first: Hiram or Gladys.

There’s a lame subplot about the Pretty Poisons and the Serpents. Toni refuses to rejoin the old gang because she wants to be a leader. I will always be of the opinion that the gang storylines have always been the most cringey. This new one is one of the worst. It was probably created to pay homage to the Betty & Veronica Vixens comic and to sell some Hot Topic shirts. Otherwise, this one is pretty bad.

But Gladys suggests to Jughead that in order to get more Serpent turf, he needs to side with the Ghoulies. Jughead agrees, weirdly, and goes to FP for his help. FP agrees to claim that the Serpents get immunity from the law.

When Jughead meets the Gargoyles’ leader, Kurt, he quickly realises that the drug-riddled, G&G-obsessed gang are not the type he wants attached to the Serpents. Gladys steps in an makes her own decision without Jughead’s kindness. She enlists the help of the Ghoulies/Gargoyles, much to Jughead’s disappointment.

While this week’s episode is by no means bad, it sort of feels like the season is floundering a bit. Usually there’s a goal: finding Jason’s murderer, catching the Black Hood. But I’m really not sure what this season is doing right now. But hopefully within the next few weeks we start to feel a direction and purpose again.

And fingers crossed there are more Archie and Josie scenes. What a pair of cuties.

Wicked Wednesday: “Into the Drowning Deep” by Mira Grant (2017)

It’s the final week of Women in Horror Month. That’s a whole decade of celebrating the women who contribute to the horror genre.

For the last couple years, I’ve solely focused on contributions to film. But this week I thought I’d chat about the novel Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant.

Grant, who also published under her real name, Seanan McGuire, is a bit of a legend. She’s won the John W Campbell Award for Best New Writer. But she’s also won a Nebula, Hugo and Locus for her work in fantasy. Her Wayward Children series is impossibly popular on the likes of BookTube. Her names are ones I know, but somehow have never gotten around to reading. Until this month, that is.

Into the Drowning Deep is a horror novel set on a ship. But think more Jaws than Ghost Ship with added killer mermaid-like beasts. It’s about what happens when we discover that we are the prey, not the predators. “Did we really think we were the apex predators of the world?”

In 2015, the entertainment company Imagine sent a ship full of scientists and film crew to the Mariana Trench to discover mermaids. The company, headed by its very own Roger Corman-figure (weird how he keeps coming up this month), sought its next biggest hit. Imagine Entertainment thrived on cheaply-made sci fi and horror movies in the past, but found more recent success with a string of “mockmentary”-style horror films chasing mythical beasts.

But unfortunately the crew of the Atargatis, they found what they were looking for.

The boat is eventually found empty. All that Imagine Entertainment have to go on is the found footage of the incidents on the beach. When some of that footage was leaked to the public, a debate started about whether or not the footage was faked or real.

Years later in 2022, a second team sets sail to find out the entire truth of the doomed Atargatis. On board the Melusine is scientist Tory, the sister of one of the crew lost on the Atargatis. She and several other scientists seek the biggest scientific discovery of their generation.

But like the voyage before theirs, the mermaids quickly find the soft, tasty humans waiting on their tin can. When the mermaids start to attack, it’s up to Tory and both the scientists and its crew to band together and discover how to save themselves.

Much of Into the Drowning Deep focuses on the science much of the passengers are working on. But between those scenes, Grant fills the pages with eerie, slasher-movie-like scenes with the “mermaids”. The suspense is built victim by victim, growing a sense of dread and impending doom.

This is a pretty long book, and it was certainly a struggle to get through the first 200 pages or so (this comes to pretty heft 484 pages). Horror is best when it’s snappy and succinct. I found the moments of action incredibly readable. And the gore was splendidly described. I love a bit of face loss!

Like a slasher movie, you can pick out which characters are going to die first and which one’s you’d like to see have a painful death. Many of the characters do silly things, as horror characters often do. It prompts a similar reaction to when their screen counterparts do idiotic things on screen.

I personally didn’t enjoy much of the science nonsense. And unfortunately for me, it was about 80% of this book. It’s too much detail and long-winded scenes reiterating previous ones. Accord to many reviews, the science is very inaccurate anyway.

But regardless of the accuracy, Grant still manages to drive home her message: “Humans had the potential for good, although they did not always make the effort.” We are shown the what-cold-be’s of global warming and the destruction caused by changing the once-balanced ecosystem of the ocean. In fairness, killer mermaids are probably what we deserve.

In the Drowning Deep is certainly an unsettling book at the best of times. I’m certainly not in any rush to get on a cruise ship. If there’s something waiting in the ocean for us, I’d like for it to keep waiting, please.