Wicked Wendesday

Wicked Wednesday: The Next Step Beyond S1E19 “The Haunted Inn” (1978)

I’ve said it before, and I’ll remind you again: The Twilight Zone has been a constant in my life. A favourite of both mine and my dad’s. Every holiday when there’s a marathon it’s on. It doesn’t matter how many times we’ve seen each episode. It’s a treasured part of the family culture.

So when I learned there was a 70s show nearly identical in style and format, I knew I had to give it a whirl. The Next Step Beyond was a revival of its 1950s counterpart, One Step Beyond, with many of the episodes remakes of the originals. The revival apparently wasn’t very successful and met its demise within the year.

Unlike The Twilight Zone, many of the stories in the “stepping beyond” cannon claim to be based on real events. “The Haunted Inn” doesn’t attempt to make that claim, but it could easily be a ghost story claimed by any historical inn’s free pamphlet.

Chris Stabler is an artist. On his journey to a town, he soon realises he’s lost. He stops when he sees a young in woman in white, and she directs him to a nearby inn to stay in. But she refuses his help when he offers her a life.

When Chris finds the inn, he discovers it’s charming and historical. The only other guest is Miss Argus, a writer who pens ghost stories. The only employee of the place, Peter Combs, warns Chris not to take anything Miss Argus says seriously because of her imagination.

But Peter soon discovers on his own that the inn is unusual. He hears the noise of people talking and a party, but never seems to be able to find the source of the sounds. then he meets Lucianne, the woman who gave him directions. Only Lucianne can’t remember him at all.

As Peter’s stay continues, the circumstances get stranger. His painting styles keep changing. He keeps hearing the sounds. Finally he decides to leave with Lucianne, who surprisingly agrees. Miss Argus, though, decides to stay behind, happy to have finally found the ghosts she’s sought for so many years.

The night before Peter’s exit, he wakes to find Lucianne in his bed. Only it turns out she isn’t quite what he thought she was.

“The Haunted Inn” is pretty cute with its simple premise. There’s nothing wrong with this episode. It’s pretty entertaining. But it does lack clarity and style, which makes it nothing to write home about. By playing to the rules of a typical haunting, there really aren’t many surprises here.

I’d certainly be willing to give the show another try and watch a few more episodes. Though hunting down quality videos seems to be an issue. Overshadowed by the original and The Twilight Zone, it appears as though The Next Step Beyond has been neglected by time.

Wicked Wednesday: April Fool’s Day (1986)

Some holiday-themed movies are really good at capturing the essence of the day they’re set around. Many of them are not. There’s no bigger proof of this than the slew of Christmas horror movies that have virtually nothing to do with Christmas or even feels like it’s set in December. Many of these movies just slap a holiday in the title just to sell to a larger audience (I’m looking at you, The Day After Halloween).

A few years back I watched Slaughter High and was less-than-pleased with it. Fabulous setting with plenty of fun moments, but really didn’t stick the landing at the end. That alone is enough to leave a bad taste in the memory. Incidentally, Slaughter High was released in 1986, the same year as April Fool’s Day, which is, in my humble opinion, a significantly superior and more fun April Fool’s movie.

Why? Well, many reasons. But the first being it actually captures the fun and devilishness of the holiday. And April Fool’s is a pretty lame holiday, so I think it’s saying something that the film actually made me like pranks.

Straight off the bat, the film introduces us to the cast of playful characters. A group of college students are preparing for a weekend away on an island courtesy of Muffy, a cousin Skip, one of the boys.

On the ferry to the island, the kids create a ruckus. And by (seemingly) total accident, one of the ferry boat workers is injured when the boat’s motor crashes into him as he’s helping the ferry dock.

Unsettled by the mangling of the ferry worker, the kids try to salvage the most of their night. Thankfully Muffy is a wonderful hostess. She plays harmless pranks on them throughout the night and entertains them at dinner, including table settings complete with dolls that look like each of them.

But it’s April Fool’s weekend, and there’s bound to be trouble. The morning after the first night, the friends realise that Skip is missing. Even more, peppy Muffy has become noticeably more skittish and dowdy.

The friends try and settle in for the weekend as best as they can. It’s when couple Kit and Rob go to the boathouse together that they spot their friend’s corpse in the water.

After the discovery, the students soon realise that someone is playing a very serious trick on them. They quickly go down in number one-by-one. And it’s soon up to Rob and Kit to piece together the pieces of Muffy’s history.

Half of the fun of April Fool’s Day is the playfulness of the script and cast. Much of the dialogue actually attempts to round out each of the kids, making them weirdly likable despite being utter idiots for the most part.

There’s plenty of tricks and pranks here to round out the film. The constant sun-shiney-ness of the movie is also unusual but welcome. The night scenes are noticeably dark (both in light and tone), but scenes don’t shy away from the use of spring sunshine in moments of gore.

I know this is a bit of a classic, but this one has passed me by for ages, mostly because I thought I had already seen it. Blame it on getting it confused with both Slaughter High and Happy Birthday To Me. But I really enjoyed it. There were brilliant moments of gore and laugh-out-loud moments. Not really something you have with slashers (that are meant to be intentional, anyway).

April Fool’s Day reminded me of a funnier Harper’s Island but with more yuppies. It’s a unique slasher that I think will stay with me for a long time. No April Fool’s here.

Wicked (Wisconsin) Wednesday Pt. 25: Silent Night (2012)


Yesterday, I finally mustered the courage to watch the 2013 remake of Evil Dead. And while the movies in the original trilogy are some of my favourites, I was pleasantly surprised by it. So why not give another remake from the same time? And there’s nothing like a festive Christmas movie for the Halloween season, right? Hello, Silent Night.

I happened to stumble upon Silent Night and it’s Wisconsin location by pure accident. This weekend, I forced my husband to watch Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange (which, even though he’s much more into film than I ever will be had never seen). He questioned me about Malcolm McDowell and what movies he had been in lately, so I checked out the actor’s IMDB page. When I saw Silent Night, I secretly hoped it would be a Christmas pageant movie staring McDowell as a mall Santa, but alas, this is a loose remake of the of 1984 cult classic Silent Night, Deadly Night.

Now that I’m in week 25 of this (it really does just keep going), I automatically looked at where this movie was set. It’s not a compulsion. Don’t get me wrong, I love campy, gory b-movies, but there was always something about Silent Night, Deadly Night that never quite sat right with me. It took me many years to finally sit through the entire film. And I’ve never watched any of the sequels either. But it’s Malcolm McDowell, so I had to give this a shot.

This 2012 movie begins with (of course) a “unsettling” version of the Christmas tune “Up on the House Top”. There’s a man shaving and a girl bound and gagged on a mattress, clearly in distress, but I already don’t care what happens to her because the camera then cuts to the man cutting his fingernails. This might be just a minor thing in the grand scheme of this 90-minute movie, but HOLY WOW does that fingernail clipping make my skin crawl. The man dresses in his full Santa gear before electrocuting a man to death who is covered in Christmas lights. Bonus points for colourful creativity.

Enter Deputy Aubrey Baltimore (Jaime King) who works with Sheriff McDowell Cooper. The Sheriff is requesting that Aubrey go in to work the Christmas Eve shift, despite this being her first Christmas without “John”. As with the original, there is plenty of Catholic undertones – creepy priests and the lot. Aubrey is sent to do all the crap work of the day. She first deals with a naughty Santa. But the next site she has to check out, offers something that will probably ruin her Christmas. She heads into the basement of an old house to find the fried man from earlier in the film. Oh and he just happens to be her fellow deputy.

Interspersed with the main plot are several gruesome deaths from dear old Santa. Each victim is pretty rotten: a spoiled girl, a cheating couple, a pornographer. He’s a serial killer who kills for the better of the world, right? But with the body count quickly rising, it doesn’t take too long before the police force is pulled in every direction.

Aubrey finds a Santa by the real-name of Karsson sitting alone in a pub. He tells her the legend of a man who dressed as Santa to kill his cheating wife. Karsson is their first lead, who they suspect is their “Mister Snow,” but he gets away. Aubrey and Cooper run about town chasing the wrong Santa time and time again. Neither very good at this whole police work thing. But the ending doesn’t deliver too many surprises. The last 20 or 30 minutes are mostly running around the town getting their Santas wrong or picking up on clues way too late. There are plenty of death scenes to wet your blood-appetite if that’s what you’re into. But it’s those last few minutes included that were entirely unnecessary. Maybe someone forgot to edit them in so they thought it would be a great summary?

Silent Night pretty much delivers what you’d expect. While it doesn’t have too much in common with the original other than a homicidal Santa and a few references to the first film, the movie still stands pretty well on its own. The only thing that really bothered me the entire time watching this film. It just doesn’t look like Christmas. Certainly not a Midwestern one anyway. This was even shot in Canada and they get plenty of snow. So I don’t know why this was filmed in what looked like April. But anyway, Silent Night is pretty grim, but there’s still a few things to like about this movie. For one, McDowell and King both give great performances. McDowell is clearly off his nut and having a blast with his role. And for the first half of the movie, the pacing is pretty good.

I don’t think this will replace the classic Black Christmas or even the original as anyone’s favourite festive horror movie, but it’s a pretty solid entry into that very small category.  I suppose mildly-enjoying two remakes in one week probably makes me a bad person now or something.