Author: Krista Culbertson

Are You Afraid of the Dark S1E2 “The Tale of Laughing in the Dark”

Last week I mentioned the episodes of Are You Afraid of the Dark? that managed to give a young-me endless nightmares.

Ladies and gentlemen: “The Tale of Laughing in the Dark.”

The clown episodes of AYAOTD have always been instrumental in scarring me for life. This episode and the Ghastly Grinner (which is technically more a jester) made sure that I would never be able to watch a clown movie without my hands over my eyes ever again.

This is all Betty Ann’s fault. Fellow midnight-society member Kristen hates clowns. And for some reason, this is hilarious to a lot of the kids around the fire, especially Kiki, who eggs Kristen on.

Eventually Betty Ann gets on with her tale. It centres around Playland, a park that has anything a child could want, including a spook house called Laughing in the Dark. At the end of the spook house is a room filled with doors. “Pick the right door and you’ll go free. Pick the wrong one and there he’ll be.”

“He” being Zeebo the clown. It’s a dummy that slides out of a door if picked.

Friends Weegee, Kathy and Josh are at Playland, and stand outside admiring it. Only all of them are too afraid to go inside, which isn’t exactly helped by the creepy carny waiting outside. Josh, being the cocky son-of-a-gun that he is, plays off his fear.

The next day, the kids read into what happened at Laughing in the Dark. They discover that there was an original spook house in the same place as Laughing in the Dark. Decades before, a clown named Zeebo ran off with money stolen from his circus or whatever. He hid from the police in the spook house, but one of the cigars he disposed of started a fire that burned down the spook house – with Zeebo inside.

After that fun and uplifting tale, Josh says that he doesn’t believe in the stories from other children that something weird is going on. He’s then dared to go into Laughing in the Dark by himself. He agrees, but only if Weegee (pronounced like a ouija board) wears the clown nose to school for a week. Josh will be stealing the dummy Zeebo’s nose himself.

Josh goes in and, while a bit frightened, manages to get to the room with the doors. He finds the exit almost immediately, but gathers the courage to keep looking for the dummy. He finally finds Zeebo and grabs the nose, but not without smelling the scent of cigars first.

Oh and he sees this shit in the hall of mirrors:

The next day, Josh keeps smelling cigar smoke in places. Unbeknownst to him, he’s being followed by a trail of smoke.

He goes home and finds that his parents are out, leaving him alone for the night. He hears a door creak, but believes its only objects moved in a closet. He then gets a call from Weegee, who apologises to his friend for being a bit of a dick to him earlier. When Josh gets a second phone call, it’s from our buddy the clown saying, “Give it back!”

Josh begins to panic. There’s a clown shoe-print in the chocolate pudding he dropped. Cigars in his bowl of pasta. The boy bolts himself in his bedroom before climbing out of the window. He runs back to Playland, offering up a nose and a box of cigars to the clown dummy.

After Josh leaves, the clown accepts the gifts, seemingly to leave Josh alone in the future.

But because the Midnight Society want to solidify that they can also be jerks, Kristen is scared away when one of them dons a clown mask. And that’s after she says she’s been able to handle Betty Ann’s stupid story.

Don’t worry, Kristen. We’re in this together. Ignore the haters. Because clowns are out there to get us.

Highlight quotes of the episode:

“Look at me! I’m Zeebo! Hey, hand over the dough! What do you think I am? Some kind of clown?” – Josh, who is lucky he didn’t die then

Wicked Wednesday: Microwave Massacre (1983)

Boy, what an age to be alive. Move over, Aristotle. Piss off, da Vinci. We’ve got this shit in the modern era, and you better believe we let it stay alive.

I really hated Microwave Massacre. It’s Massacre is meant to be a black comedy, but I’m afraid most of the humour is lost to me.

Donald (Jackie Vernon) is a construction worker who hates the meals his wife, May, makes him. She’s into ‘gourmet’ food. Instead of the simple bologna and cheese sandwich that he’s desperate for, she makes him unusual concoctions like a crab sandwich, made with an entire crab – claws, shells and all.

Part of May’s inspiration is her new microwave oven. It’s fucking huge and she loves cooking with it. But all dumb-ass Donald does is moan about her cooking to his coworkers, Roosevelt and Phillips.

Donny begins dreaming about killing his wife. In addition to her cooking, his frustration comes from his lack of sex. Though whether or not that’s May’s fault is questionable.

After coming home drunk one night, Donald bludgeons May to death with a pepper grinder after she refuses to make him a bologna and cheese sandwich. I just want to point out that she DID make him a meal. He’s too lazy to make his own, and too big of an ass to appreciate the fact that she went through the effort for him.

Donald is the real villain here, kids.

The next morning, he begins complaining that May hasn’t made him his breakfast or packed him his lunch. Then he finds May’s body in the microwave and gleefully remembers that he’s murdered his wife.

He saws the lady up and wraps her in tin foil, storing her body in the freezer. When he accidentally takes a bite of her hand for a midnight snack, he realises that he actually enjoyed eating his wife. He brings in May’s body parts to feed to his friends at work.

Having a taste for flesh (har, har), Donald picks up a prostitute who has been kicked out of the bar he frequents. Although he’s initially hesitant to have sex with her, he eventually finds his ‘appetite’ and goes through with it – then smothers her with a pillow.

He brings several women home to have sex with then kill, including a woman dressed as a chicken. When he admits to his shrink that he needs to ‘eat’ his women he has sex with, the man congratulates Donald on giving the women he’s with pleasure.

But not everything is so easy for our Donald. He’s is having increasing heart problems, due to his weight. And when May’s sister arrives at his door, he has no choice other than to tie her up, put her in his closet, and gag her with a baguette.

One night, Donald’s friends from work arrive to pick him up for a night out. When they enter his house, they find Donald on the floor, dead from an apparent heart attack. They then discover the body parts stored in the microwave oven, and realise what tasty treats they’ve really been eating.

Oh and the eyes on May’s shrivelled corpse-head glow.

Ugh.

Donald deserved a much worse ending than he got, but such is the justice of the world. I was denied seeing the man’s demise on screen. Why would you deprive me of that? 

If anything, Microwave Massacre is a lot more boring than its reputation would make you imagine. If this was 15 minutes long, maybe I’d be sold. But mostly this was dragged out with the same repetitive gags. Plus the misogyny wasn’t very funny. Perhaps if it decided to do something semi-clever, I’d think differently.

But I guess if we can all agree on one thing it’s this: life is a lot easier if you learn to make your own fucking sandwich.

Are You Afraid of the Dark S1E1 “The Tale of the Phantom Cab”

I owe a lot to Are You Afraid of the Dark. This twisted little Canadian show has a starring role in my childhood. For one, I had two older sister who loved to torment me.

Technically, this episode first aired in Canada in 1990, which means I was -months old at that point. When it aired in the US in August of 1992, I was just over a year old. But thank goodness for Nickelodeon’s constant reruns of older episodes. Though once I started having nightmares about the characters, I think my mom put a stop to my watching.

“The Tale of the Phantom Cab” is not on of the stronger episodes, but it is probably one of the more hilariously bad one. The 90’s were fantastic at making things spooky that look incredibly dated and silly decades later.

The Midnight Society are perhaps the coolest group of dorks around. For one, they have the sickest name ever. But they are just a gaggle of children who have nothing in common besides their love for telling weird stories around a campfire.

In the first episode (not the pilot), it’s newbie Frank’s turn to tell the story. The Midnight Society allow him to tell a story as a part of an initiation. If they like his story, he’s in.

Frank’s story is “The Tale of the Phantom Cab,” a rather urban-legend-esque story about two brothers, Denny and Buzz. The brothers are hiking in the woods, and are lost. Frank tells us in his voice-over that Denny is strong and smart while his young brother is a bit of a geek.

Speaking of geek, it’s Buzz’s fault that the brothers get lost as he’s holding his compass too close to his belt buckle. While you’d think that compass-usage 101 is what you have to learn before going hiking alone, I guess it’s not in Canada. But as dark falls, the brothers bump into a man who introduces himself as Flynn.

Flynn tells the boys to follow him, as he says that he knows the woods well. He leads them to a sort of hobbit hole/hermit’s den in a clearing. Once they arrive, Flynn tells the brothers that the doctor who lives there can help them, but he charges a steep price.

As the boys approach the cottage, the bushes begin to shake and laugh. So the boys run to the door and pound at it, begging to be let in. And it’s Doctor Vink, a series re-occurring character, who lets them in.

He agrees to allow the boys to use his phone, but only if they answer his riddle. Buzz becomes over-confident when he answers the warm-up straight away. But it’s the real riddle that stumps him. “What’s weightless, can be seen by the naked eye, and if put in a barrel, will make it lighter?”

For some reason, just because the kids (including the Midnight Society) can’t guess the answer straight away, they all assume that there is no answer. Which, in my opinion, a riddle without an answer is a pretty stupid riddle. It’s pretty tough watching this episode when you’re good at riddles. Or even vaguely familiar with answering them. I mean, this one is pretty easy, kids.

Since neither brother can answer, they are sent away to catch a cab. But before they leave, Doctor Vink does offer them the option of giving a specimen, namely a hand. Both boys opt out.

When the boys hop into the cab, they realise that Flynn is their driver. He begins to tell him his story. Years ago, he dropped Doctor Vink off in his cab. The doctor asked him the same riddle, and Flynn failed to answer it. He later had his hand taken from him after he crashed his cab in the woods.

For years Flynn has been driving those who also failed to answer the riddle to their certain death. The laughing heard earlier is in fact the trapped ghosts of the victims. The boys begin to panic when they realise that they will be the next victims. Just before they are about to crash, Buzz has a sudden revelation, and knows that the answer is “hole”.

The boys suddenly find themselves free from the cab, and know that they’ve freed all the spirits of those who died. A ranger pulls up and tells the boys that their parents are looking for them. Relieved, the boys hop into the ranger’s jeep.

Frank’s story gives him a round of unanimous thumbs up, allowing him into the Midnight Society. But I think the kids are mostly just in awe that that damn riddle could actually be solved.

They are idiots, but they’re so damn cute.

“The Tale of the Phantom Cab” certainly isn’t AYAOTD‘s most original tale, but it is worth remembering that many of these urban legends scared the pants off us as kids (for me it was always “Bloody Mary). There’s something great about recalling childhood scares because it’s a whole lot more innocent than the things we grow up to be frightened of.

Highlight quotes of the episode:

“Don’t worry, I’ll smack you when we get home.” – Denny

“Sounds like one of those riddles that can’t be solved.” – an idiot

“Nice going, but you’re still a loser.” – Denny

Wicked Wednesday: Innsmouth (2015)

I’ve had a real nightmare with short films as of late. I’m swearing them off for a while, kids, because I really can’t handle much more of this crap.

Innsmouth should be a familiar name to fans of HP Lovecraft. It’s a fictional town that appears in his works, but most prominently, The Shadow Over Innsmouth. I’m not into Lovecraft at all, but I can tell you that this short film really doesn’t have anything in common with Lovecraft’s stories other than wink-wink, nudge-nudge references.

Detective Olmstead is a young detective investigating the death of a young woman. According to a fellow investigator, the body wasn’t in the kill scene, but rather was put there. They then find a number of odd spores/beads on the woman’s back. The candies really accent the large bite taken out of her neck.

During her investigation, Olmstead finds a picture of the victim with another woman and the word “Innsmouth” on the back. Her instincts tell her that’s the direction she needs to go, and after her chief’s approval, she drives to the town.

She doesn’t get very far, though, before a goth in a cape starts stalking her. But before Olmstead can get away, she’s surprised and injected in the neck with a sedative.

When the detective wakes up, she finds herself in a lavishly decorated room. One one introduces herself as Alice Marsh, the daughter of the town’s founder. This news shakes Olmstead up, as Innsmouth was established in 1643.  But after the detective is forced to drink of Marsh’s cup, she becomes much more compliant.

The immortal woman leads Olmstead upstairs and they get into a bath together. Olmstead begins to bathe Marsh, but then Marsh decides to unveil her eye-vagina before gouging out Olmstead’s neck.

The detective’s body is later found by a pool.

And, well, this is the point where I throw up my hands and go “ta-da”. This is yet another story where the eternal, beautiful woman ends up in a photograph with each of her victims. Why is this a trope in movies? It really doesn’t make any sense. It’s just a lazy way of illustrating that the bitch is old but has evaded wrinkles.

Just skip Innsmouth. I can’t even be bothered to write about it, so please don’t bother to watch it.

 

An American’s summer in America

Well, it’s that time of the year again. I’m off to Wisconsin for a few weeks to see my family and friends. I have plenty of content scheduled (including a new Are You Afraid of the Dark? rewatch/recap series), but that does mean that I probably won’t be getting to any comments.

I’ll be back before the end of June, though, ready for some more terrible films and cheesy Canadian television!

But in the meantime, I’ll be soaking up that gorgeous sun that’s evading London and the moment and listening to more classic radio than I probably should.



See all ya’ll in June!

Wicked Wednesday: Hell Night (1981)

Hell Night has long been on my to-watch list, but has somehow always been put on the back burner. But after watching this video, everything that I already knew was confirmed: sororities are scary as hell.

Thankfully, this 1981 slasher is much more tolerable than the real deal. Actually, I rather enjoyed the heck out of this movie.

Marti (Linda Blair) is one of the newest pledges to a sorority on campus. She’s joining another girl, Denise, and two boys from Alpha Sigma Rho for an initiation night. Or, as the president Peter calls it, Hell Night.

For their initiation, the four kids have to “guard” Garth Manor. The manor was abandoned after a man killed his family and then hung himself. The four children of Raymond Garth were all deformed and brought him shame. But the body of the youngest child, Andrew, was never found by police. Rumour is, Andrew still is somewhere in the house.

The four initiates are left at the gates and locked in with a padlock. Peter tells them that the only way they can get out is by shooting the lock with the gun he’s supplied or to climb over the tall fence, but given the gate’s height and sure-to-impale spikes on top, it’s not exactly a realist option of escape.

So the four kids settle in for the night, awaiting the dawn so that they can leave. Denise immediately gets her own party started by introducing quaaludes and whiskey into the mix. Surfer boy Seth is immediately into it (or, in his words, “radical”) and the two pair off up to a bedroom to get better acquainted.

Without their counterparts, Marti and Jeff (played by the gorgeous Peter Barton) are left with each other to bond.  Unbeknownst to the group, three of the frat members are preparing to torment them.

Marti and the other three are startled when they hear a girl’s screaming and the moaning of a ghost. The boys quickly suss out that there are speakers wired up throughout the house and they dismantle one of them.

Peter realises that one of his pranks is over and sends out May, a sorority sister, out to start the distraction for their next joke. She’s angry, but eventually relents and beings to walk away. But before she can get very far, she’s grabbed by a pair of hairy arms reaching up from a vent, and is dragged down before being beheaded.

Peter’s friend Scott follows soon after and has his neck snapped while he’s setting up a prank on the rooftop. Peter is oblivious to his friends’ absence and continues to terrorise the four in the house (including a hilarious scene with Denise checking herself out in a mirror).

The fraternity president eventually realises something is amiss and begins to look for Scott and May, he finds Scott first – or what’s left of him. Startled by his friend’s corpse, Peter tries to run away, and runs into a hedge maze. But he’s soon caught up to by the assailant and killed with a scythe.

With the outdoor students gone, the killer turns his attention to the four inside. Denise goes missing while Seth goes to the toilet. When he pulls back the bedsheets, he finds May’s head in his bed. When he screams, Jeff and Marti run to his aid, and after seeing the head as well – all three run to the gates.

But after firing the gun, Seth realises that the gun they’ve been given is filled with blanks. Seth braves the gate and manages to climb over it relatively unscathed. He promises to go to the police and bring back help for his friends. Despite doing the stupid thing and going to the frat house first, he eventually goes to the station but is turned away.

No worries, though. He steals a gun.

Marti and Jeff are left to fend for themselves and look for Denise. They find Scott’s body hanging by the window and realise that they are probably going to die. They are attacked by a figure under a rug, but the person escaped by dropping down through a trap door. Reluctantly, the two kids follow.

In the tunnels, they find Denise’s body at a dinner table full of corpses that are, unfortunately, not really explained. I think it’s meant to be the Garths, but considering the story told about the bodies being found and carried away, I’m not too sure.

Any way. Denise is dead. But Seth is on his way with a stolen vehicle and a stolen gun! He’s attacked by the figure, but he manages to shoot him. Doesn’t matter, because this person (who is definitely the missing child, Andrew) is made of the same magic as Jason Voorhees, he survives and kills Seth in his moment of victory.

Jeff and Marti try to escape as well. Marti climbs up onto the roof top out through a window, but Andrew helps Jeff out by simply throwing him out the window to his certain death. It is slightly sad that Marti + Jeff doesn’t last, but this is a horror film and all tropes must be adhered to.

The final girl makes her way into the hedge maze where Peter was killed. She finds his corpse and manages to get the gate keys out of his hands. She unlocks the gate and gets into Seth’s stolen car. But she panics too much and drives INTO the gate (silly cow). When she does finally manage to start her escape, she’s attacked by Andrew.

She has the bright idea to drive the car straight into the broken gate, and manages to impale Andrew onto the top. She passes out and wakes up at dawn to see Andrew still dead. She walks away dazed, and into the sunset (probably).

To say that Hell Night is particularly unique or fresh is probably selling it a bit too much, but it does feel like it’s different. The setting and costumes (the party is done in fancy dress/Halloween costume style) is very cool and makes the film a touch more atmospheric.

I do love seeing Blair in things. She’s really great, even if she was nominated for a Razzie for worst actress.

In the realm of sorority school slashers, Hell Night stands above most. It’s a bit silly, but it still manages a few good scares. In Seth’s catchphrase, I think this movie is rather radical.

Wicked Wednesday: The Room at the Top of the Stairs (2010)

I have been weirdly underwhelmed by short films at the moment. After a crazy weekend of comic con, I really just wanted to watch something short and satisfying – The Room At the Top of the Stairs only fulfilled one of these requirements.

It’s another one of those “let’s keep it mysterious by explaining zero things” kinds of stories. And I’m reeeeally getting ill on them now.

The Room at the Top of the Stairs is the story of a girl (who isn’t given a name) who moves into a new flat-share with three roommates. They’re all artsy and ‘free spirited’. Three paintings of a girl hang on one of the walls.

When the Girl first sees her room, she notices nails on the wall. She’s told that their former roommate, Carmen, enjoyed nailing everything to a wall. The Girl is later told more about Carmen, and it’s slowly revealed that Carmen was a bit of a problem to the other three roommates.

The roommates have a party that night, and the Girl eventually joins them. They share more stories about the mysterious Carmen – who apparently had one incident involving a pair of scissors. But it’s pretty clear that The Girl doesn’t fit in. Her tries to share her own stories, but they are mostly lame and her roommates have no idea how to react to her.

Feeling slighted, the Girl returns to her room to drink wine and work on her art alone. During the night, her posters begin to fall off the wall. But the wine convinces her to tear them all off herself. She begins to join the lines between the nails together, forming a geometrical pattern on the wall.

The next day a girl, presumably Carmen, tries to make her way into the house and her roommates push her back out. After the incident, the three roommates decide to go out, and the Girl declines the invite to join them. She later hears a noise and discovers a girl in one of the bedrooms.

The girl, Carmen, is standing over a bed with a sheep’s heart on it. It’s clearly her way to freak out the roommates she despises so much. Carmen sees the Girl wearing a maroon dress and demands she takes it off (not sure why the dress thing is such a big deal, but neither will you – there’s no explanation).

But the Girl refuses to take off the dress, takes a bite of the heart and spits it out, then offers to help Carmen clean up the mess she’s made.

While in the bathroom, the Girl tries dragging the fan towards the bathroom and realises the cord doesn’t stretch to the tub. The night before, she was told a story that Carmen had threatened to drop the heater into the bathtub while one of the roommates was in the tub. Not sure if the short cord was supposed to imply that the Girl couldn’t kill Carmen or that the stories about Carmen were actually a lie.

But don’t worry. There will be no answers.

Carmen eventually leaves and the Girl decides to hang up her own paintings in place of Carmen’s. Her roommates see them and compliment the work, saying the pieces were a lot better than what had been there before. The Girl smiles and leaves. Then the roommates look into her room, and their looks change to one of disgust.

But you don’t see what’s in that room. No, my friends.

I didn’t get any of it. Not a thing. And I suppose there could have been something I missed. Maybe I’m not smart enough, but watching movies should be hard.

Nothing was properly explained. The dress, the tub, what the hell was happening to the girls. Were they both just kindred souls of crazy? The stories that are tackled in a short film need to be appropriate. These are bite-sized minutes of our lives that should really be a full arc. Unfortunately, The Room at the Top of the Stairs was probably a little bit too ambitious. It may have served better fleshed out and delivered as a full-length film.