I Did Actually Watch Some Stuff…

Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)

As expected, a movie about a relentless killing machine punched right through my can’t-focus-on-anything anxieties. This is another franchise flick that decided to ignore every movie made since the second iteration (the other being 2018’s Halloween, which I should get to one of these days), an approach which pays off nicely. Being directed by Tim Miller, who helmed Deadpool, is also a very definite plus.

It turns out that the events of Terminator 2 did actually prevent the genocidal rise of Skynet, but now a different machine overlord from a different future is still sending back new terminators (in this case, Gabriel Luna) for a new target (Natalia Reyes). The good guys have sent back an enhanced human (Mackenzie Davis) to protect the target, but she’s still somewhat overmatched, so it’s up to Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton, making one hell of an entrance) to lend a hand and lots of bullets.

The new Terminator has an interesting double form that builds on former versions in the franchise. And speaking of former versions, Arnold Schwarzenegger is on hand as a former T-800 abandoned by a future that no longer exists; he’s had to build a life as a human, and even learned to experience an emulation of love. He’s also got some of the best lines.

I was “eh” on the other sequels, but Dark Fate serves as a nice trilogy endpiece with the first two, even if every other line seems to be “He’s coming!” or “We can’t stay here.” I would really like this to be the last Terminator movie, but we know how rarely the Suits of Hollywood listen to my wishes.

Coma (2019)

It seems like a million years ago that I first saw a trailer for the Russian Coma and thought “Wow, that looks really interesting” and then spent the next thousand or so years wondering whatever became of it. Well, Dark Sky Films bought the rights and now I finally get to scratch that particular itch.

Visually the movie is amazing, and the first twenty minutes or so are trippy as hell, as a man (Rinal Mukhametov) wakes up in a strange world that seems to be building itself as he walks through it He is attacked by a large creature that seems to be made of billowing black liquid, and rescued by the usual ragtag bunch of post-apocalyptic soldier types.

What he (and we) will eventually find out is that he is in a coma, and this strange world is a level of reality where everyone in a coma finds themselves. The world is made up of loose memories made concrete (everyone arrives with convenient amnesia), and the black creatures, called “reapers” are manifested by brain-dead patients on life support. It also seems that certain of the people in this “Comaspace” can manifest some super power; our hero was apparently an architect in real life, and can create structures out of nothing simply by concentrating.

So what we have here is a sort of sideways Matrix crossed with Dawn of the Dead, as if you are wounded by a Reaper, you will eventually turn into one. As I mentioned, the visuals are stunning, and though I still have a few questions about the mechanics of Comaspace, I can still heartily recommend this.

Bacurau (2019)

It’s always nice when a universally-praised movie actually deserves that praise. Bacurau is one of those movies that needs to be experienced tabula rasa, so I won’t be going into much detail here.

The title is the name of a remote village in Brazil, the time is the very near future. Teresa (Barbera Colen) is an expatriate returning to the village with much-needed medicine. Her main reason, though, is the death of her aunt, who was the matriarch of the village. Bacurau has other problems, too – some megacorporation has shut off their water supply, and one day their village simply disappears from satellite maps. Then, there’s that flying saucer floating around…

Though Teresa is a continuing presence through the movie, this is a wonderful ensemble piece, as Bacurau tries to figure out what is happening, and each new revelation leads to something dark and violent. By the time Udo Kier shows up and you can say, ah, there’s the problem, several people are dead and there promises to be many, many more.

Good stuff.

Love in the Time of Everything Sucking

Yeah, I woke up this morning thinking of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Who doesn’t?

It’s been pointed out that I’ve been gone a while. That’s happened before, of course. I have great admiration for bloggers who keep on pumping out the posts, week after week or day after day. Once upon a time, I tried blogging every day and the results weren’t so hot. There are just days when you don’t got nothing to say, and it’s better not to say it.

Of course, the problem this time around hasn’t been a lack of things to talk about, it has purely and simply been a lack of motivation. You’ve probably noticed that there’s a bit of a pandemic going on and the country’s gradual slide into fascism has picked up significant speed. This has given rise to a new term for a new neurosis, doomscrolling. Relentlessly scrolling through Facebook and Twitter to find the most recent horrible news, the newest outrage, until you reach the end of your cache, then refreshing and starting all over again from the top.

I’ve been doing this. I’m trying to break myself of this pernicious habit. Maybe coming here and bugging you will help.

I’m in a halfway decent spot – so far, my main job allows me to work from home. My two side hustles dried up, but at least I can still manage to get bills paid. Mostly. Even that’s in a bit of a perilous state now, for reasons a bit too complex to go into here, so add that into the Doom Pile.

Stress has done its expected damage to my mental health. I’m still medicated, which helps, but my ability to focus was thrown into a wood chipper. My reaction to a Stay Home order should have been “Great! More time to watch movies!” but for several weeks I was unable to watch anything longer than 30 minutes. So thank God for Castlevania and the new Harley Quinn cartoon. And, more recently, the return of Doom Patrol.

Oh, Charlize, I have failed you.

This has abated somewhat but still crops up. For instance, I tried to watch The Old Guard a couple of weeks ago, and still had to tap out after a half hour. That movie had Charlize Theron wielding a battleaxe. That is two big red check marks on the Dr. Freex list and it still couldn’t engage me.

Then the next day I watched the new blu-rays for Horror of Dracula and Mystery of the Wax Museum back to back. Go figure.

Then again, Old Guard was showing me a bunch of familiar tropes. I was already familiar with the other two movies, but I went into them mainly for the restoration and gorgeous transfers. There’s no secret that the best way I found to survive the last four years with my fragile sanity intact was re-watching Marvel movies (I needed to see good triumph over bad as violently as possible), so The Old Guard‘s setup was all too familiar, even though it’s not strictly a superhero movie. The familiarity of gothic horror was quite welcoming, in retrospect.

My New Precioussssssss

I have quite the backlog of things to view and pontificate upon, if the world would just stop ending for a few minutes. I went into hock to buy that Al Adamson box set because of course I did. I would expect no less of myself. That’s a lot to get through. You know, if.

I should go get some work done now. I’m hoping to produce some capsule reviews in the next day or so. If certain dumbasses would refrain from saying something stupid.

I should probably just close those two tabs, shouldn’t I?


Those Missing Crapfests Pt. 1

Okay, I have a few of these to get through, so forgive me if I resort to my notes/bullet points form of communication. You know our cast of characters, so let’s just charge into No-Man’s Land.

I like to weaponize my fellow attendants’ penchant for movies featuring nudity, so for our first Crapfest we’re catching up on I brought Ken Russell’s Lizstomania, the Master of Wretched Excess’ film biography of Franz Lizst. I reviewed this one some time ago, so I’ll just plagiarize myself:

Lisztomania is concerned with the composer’s adult life, starting with his affair with the Countess Marie d’Agoult (Fiona Lewis), then into a concert where the audience is populated by screaming young girls (causing me to flash back to the final concert scenes of A Hard Day’s Night), then onward through his years of fruitful creativity under Princess Carolyn zu Sayn-Wittgenstein (Sara Kestelman), finally ending with his exorcism of the Nazi vampire Richard Wagner, using a flame-throwing piano made of steel and glass. Then Liszt returns from the afterlife in a pipe organ spaceship powered by the women he loved in life, to defeat Wagner, resurrected as a Frankenstein Monster/Adolf Hitler with an electric guitar that doubles as a machine gun.

What I’m saying is, some liberties may have been taken with Liszt’s biography.

This is Russell’s follow-up to Tommy, which you are much more likely to have seen, and that might prepare you for the absolute lunacy that is Lizstomania, but don’t count on it. I love it for its madness, but my fellow Crapfesters did not, even though it has more exposed breasts than a Hartz Chicken Buffet. The big loser, here, though, is poor Paul. He had, numerous times, almost rented the movie at Blockbuster, only to bypass it for more user-friendly fare, and he was really looking forward to seeing it that night. Alas, he found out his younger self was looking out for him much better than I did.

I was dismayed that the group did not recognize the opening scene of Das Rheingold, but then the Russell version does involve more Rhinemaidens, nudity and implied rape than Wagner’s, and less of his music. Haven’t even mentioned the cameos by Ringo Starr (as The Pope), Rick Wakeman and Nell “Columbia” Campbell.

Dave’s reply to this was Caged Women. Now, there are approximately one hundred and eighty-eight movies named Caged Women, so to clarify, this particular one is the 1991 Italian/Portuguese co-production also known as Caged Women in Purgatory. Beautiful American Janet (Pilar Orive) is, for some inexplicable reason, vacationing alone in South America – not someplace touristy like Rio, but what a certain chief exec would refer to as a “shithole country”. When a local corrupt cop hits on her in a cantina, she is recused by another “American”, Frank (Christian Lorenz). R-rated sex between the two Anglos ensues.

But! Said corrupt cop arrests her on fake drug charges and she gets sent to a remote women’s prison. You can apply your standard women’s prison template after this, with some minor alterations. The warden makes no secret of the prison being a bordello, forsaking the usual Philippine-lensed sugar plantations. The prison is an old ruined castle with some sort of huge cage on the roof, where prisoners are thrown for discipline so the crew didn’t have to build a “hot box”. Janet is thrown into it along with a fellow rebellious prisoner, and the only liquid available is the sweat on their own bodies, so we are eventually led into an R-rated lesbian sex scene. Speaking of lesbians, there is also a female guard who likes whipping prisoners on a St. Andrew’s cross.

And speaking of R-rated scenes, Frank was so impressed by his sex scene that he’s been doing detective work on what happened to Janet and even manages to substitute himself for the regular helicopter pilot to the prison. Just in time, too, because the warden has arranged for a Most Dangerous Game scenario with Janet and her rebellious prison mates. It’ll solve come discipline problems and act as an apology to some of his clientele, especially the one Janet kneed in the balls when he tried to rape her.

Frank manages to hide guns in the tiger pits meant for the girls and some satisfying mayhem ensues. The prisoners are freed, and the lesbian guard winds up in the cross, discovering she likes being whipped. Janet and her side action from that cage on the roof fly out with Frank, and decide to show him how grateful they are while he’s still flying the helicopter. Amusing as that may be, it is exceedingly dangerous, and I can only assume the movie ends just before they crash.

I went into this with a little bit of apprehension, as some of the European versions of WiP movies can be deadly nihilistic, but this particular one is not bad. Pilar Orive deserves some plaudits for spending most of the movie naked, or nearly so. Our audience certainly thought so.

We had fallen to reminiscing about the days of weird martial arts movies at Crapfest, and it turned out Erik had never seen Master of the Flying Guillotine, so we fixed that. If you haven’t, you should fix that, too. Especially if you were a Street Fighter 2 fan and ever fought Dhalsim. This was, like, the third time we’ve shown this movie at Crapfest.

We finished up with a tale of kung fu treachery, Chang Cheh’s Masked Avengers, starring the Venoms. The story this time out concerns a band of bandits who always wear garish masks while they rob and murder. My favorite Venom, Kuo Chui/Philip Kwok is one of the bandits who’s split off from the gang – after their usual attack and slaughter of a family on the road, they kept the pretty daughter. Robbing and murder is perfectly alright with Kuo, but rape is just beyond the pale. This puts him a position to aid the rest of the family in tracking down the bandits hideout to rescue the girl (unfortunately useless, the gang’s depredations have driven her mad), and put an end to the bandits reign of terror.

Chang Cheh’s flicks are often distinguished by their cruelty, and Masked Avengers might have the crown in that category, as lots of helpless people are pincushioned by the bandits’ trademark tridents and made to die slowly. The movie is fairly light on the fight scenes, until the final storming of the hideout, which results in an epic fight that lasts an astounding, exhausting nine and a half minutes.

Have you all been nice boys and girls? Well, okay then.

All right! Three more of these to get through!


Cabin Feverish

Friday Mornin’ Comin’ Down Freex: Yep, this is the post I started a week ago. Let’s see if the wait was worth it. It may seem quaint at this point. Back to a week ago, when we were all so young, and had such hopes:

That’s kind of an all-purpose title, isn’t it? Lots of people have it these days. I’m one of the lucky ones. As a practicing introvert from waaaaaaaaay back, not much has changed for me. This is how I normally live, folks.


The previous week was the scheduled Spring Break for the college where I work (what I often bitterly refer to as “unpaid vacation”), but I still put in some hours by going to the college, packing up my editing rig and camera equipment, then transferring it to my home so I can work this week. It’s now taking up the entirety of the dining room table and the only problem I foresee is the fact that dining room chairs are made to be comfortable for exactly how long a meal might last, no longer. My ponderous ass is already protesting.

The Boy’s college and my wife’s private school – for students with learning disabilities – have both gone online learning. Turns out the stuff my son has been studying at college has proven essential for converting wifey’s school for online. So yay us.

This is The Grinch. Its monthly payments WILL stop Christmas from coming.

I find it mordantly funny that the week before everything went to shit I got tired of only having one functioning automobile in the family and bought a used 2018 Kia Soul. I had long wanted a Soul. I just bought it at the most absolutely wrong time in all of recorded history, which also renders that moment quintessentially me.

I do like the car, though. Let’s see if I get to keep it.

But that’s not why we’re here (cathartic as that was for me). Artists have been putting stuff online for folks stuck at home, which is a Good Thing. After all this is over, I’m sure we will all have a deeper appreciation for them and their work. Who am I kidding, they will go back to being despised, spat upon, and told to get a real job.

Oooh, bitter twist there. Sorry. Back to being upbeat and entertaining.

Anyway – I have no art to give away except my words. Everything else I have is somebody else’s, and not mine to give away, except the stuff that’s already public. So.

Slight digression, but there is a reason for it:

One of my oldest friends, Scott, a good guy with religious convictions (unlike your humble narrator), once offered the following metaphor to explain different religions espousing different interpretations of God/Messiah: to him, God was a sort of Celestial Mirror Ball, constantly catching light and throwing it back out. You caught the light flash that mattered most to you, while other people caught different flashes, but they’re all from the same source.

I liked that metaphor. It was inclusive without the whole my-way-or-the-highway bent that turns me off so much religion.

For my part, I believe in God, just not necessarily the God I’m told I should believe in. Too many of those versions are small, entirely absorbed in earthly matters to the point of being judgmental of personal relationships or really wanting His (always his, never Her) mouthpieces to be wealthy. I instantly distrust anyone who claims to know exactly what God wants, because God is vast and unknowable; casting him/her as entirely absorbed in what we advanced monkeys are doing limits him/her.

I also think God is beyond gender.

(Man, I did not expect this to get all religious. It’s my habit not to discuss such things, as I think a person’s relationship – or non-relationship – to God is ultimately a personal thing, or at least should be. Man, all this to get to a really stupid point, and here it is:)

As a recovering hippie, I love kaleidoscopes. There is often a point while looking at one that the image gets so complex, the details so intricate, that you wish to stop them in time, to drink in all that elegance and detail. But you can’t. It moves on, and you cannot possibly comprehend all that is before you. It seems to extend beyond and behind you. And for all you know, the center point of the design is actually miles away.

And that, even more than the Mirror Ball, is what I think God is like. Mind-boggling, beautiful, and finally, incomprehensible. God isn’t limited; my mind is.

So for me, God is a kaleidoscope. At least, I dearly hope God is a kaleidoscope. That would be cool.

Cripes, all that to get to this, the aforementioned art I can give away:

Any of the videos on hdcolor‘s YouTube channel are worth watching. They help me achieve a nice, relaxed alpha state. The music is good, too. But I do prefer to supply my own.

What’s that you say? Am I still doing those psychedelic playlists? Funny you should ask.

There’s more, but why overwhelm you? That’s six hours of music right there. Also, I’m not saying you might want to cue one of those up and then open a kaleidoscope video in another browser tab, but I do rather wish I’d had that technology back in 1979.

Hey, we’re back to writing in the present day again. There are movie posts I want to get to, but I don’t have to tell any of you working from home that this shit is exhausting. Stress and anxiety are doing their usual jobs on me – they may have actually doubled their productivity – and watching movies is actually kind of depressing right now. Oh, look at how we used to move around so freely, get so close to each other without a second thought.

The Real World is messing with my escapism, yo.

Speaking of which, my Kindle just bricked itself. I want to speak to the manager.

On the other hand, I am also about to have the first true weekend I’ve had in some time. I can’t do any of the things that normally steal away those off-hours, except fill my pill organizers. My liquor supply is about to take such a hit.

Maybe I’ll sober up enough to do some writing. Who knows?

We’re all improvising like Second City here. Stay inside, stay safe. Watch a movie for me.


Well, Whaddaya Know

I was actually working on a post last Sunday, when I received a text message from my online gaming buddies that I should hop on right now. I hopped on right then. Every attempt since then has been interrupted by other texts and/or teleconferences as I work from home, so here’s some quick notes to let you know that yes, I am still alive, and I hope you are, too.

  1. I still hope to have that post out this week. It’s slight, but I also went into the subject of God and religion – one of those subjects I try to avoid – and I have to look at it again to see if it’s worth it.
  2. I’m an idiot, I’ll probably decide it is.
  3. Working from home is difficult when your job entails hustling a camera around to cover events and organizations. I’m considered to be in an “essential” field- news gathering – but the arcane structure of my job entails a second, maybe even third, layer of red tape. Contradictory orders have been the flavor of the day.
  4.  It’s surprising how disruptive just not bustling about in the morning to make myself presentable enough to haul my body to the workplace without somebody yelling “My God, what is it?” has been. I looked at my pill organizer yesterday and discovered I hadn’t taken my morning meds the previous two days. Being a lot more mindful about that now.
  5. The passing of Stuart Gordon hit me a lot harder than the passing of Terrance McNally. I am a terrible former theater person. Then, Gordon was also a major force in theater, and I had actually met him, once upon a time. Just to echo everyone else, he was as nice a fellow as you could ever hope to meet.

Time to prep for this morning’s teleconference which will likely only involve me tangentially. I’m currently working across three computer systems, and the only one that runs the Cisco Webex software well doesn’t have a webcam, which is good, since I’m starting to get really shaggy and look like a late 70s college English professor.

Which is actually a fairly good look for me.

I need some tweed, though.

Well. Hi there.

I have a veritable mountain of excuses. But let’s climb that mountain, stand on its summit with arms held high in exultation, and give you the most pertinent one: I finally bought a new keyboard.

I like things dim in my office, so I’ve been using backlit keyboards for the past several years. The latest was made by Redimp, and I bought it because it promised I wouldn’t be replacing it for the reason I was five deep into the specie: I couldn’t rub the letters off. I can touch type if I want, but it’s a slow process for me, so I usually do not want.

Nice keyboard. Clicky. I like clicky. But there was a flaw that I only truly discovered when I answered one of those consumer product questions from Amazon.

It was the space bar. It would either not put in a space, or it would provide two, per press. I’m one of those folks who if they see a problem with a line they just wrote, I have to fix it immediately. This had the effect of making me write each sentence twice, as it were. Very slow, very frustrating. No fix was forthcoming from the manufacturer, so I finally replaced it with one from Pictek, which was on sale.


Quick review: It sucks.

The left shift key and the Enter key (for God’s sake) didn’t work on that one. One exchange later, and here I am, making only one space per press and pressing Enter joyfully. Not a clicky keyboard, but the action on the keys is smooth as all get out. And just in time for Christmas! (In summary, and in keeping with the season: Redimp naughty, Pictek nice)

Now I should get back to work on the Crapfest recap I gave up on when I found myself in UnintentionalLongWordLand. Of course, there’s all sort of holly to be decked and fa’s to be la’ed, so it will take a while. I hope to do better in the future, and justify the hosting costs for this site.

That wasn’t an easy decision, either. Chad Plambeck recently shuttered his blog, after 20 years, and is shifting to podcasts. I considered that, but I edit video and audio for a living, so naaaaaahhhhh. But heaven only knows what 2020 will bring, eh?


Have the Happy Holiday of your choice, be safe, hug your loved ones for me. Seeya.


Reverse Hibernation

Oh, hi. Are you still here? Man, I would have given up on me ages ago.

We’ll play catch-up in a bit. There’s some community stuff I need to blurt:

Obviously, I’m not doing the Hubrisween roundtable this year. Chad Plambeck at Microbrewed Reviews and The Fiasco Brothers still are. You’re in good hands. Links can be found at the Hubrisween Central supersoaker page.

So. I’ve been off doing this self-care thing I’ve been hearing so much about. Turns out it’s actually pretty nice, but then that old itch starts at the back of my brain, like a rat trying to dig its way out, and suddenly here I am again, staring at a blank page. I’ve been blogging off and on since the 90s, and my God, do I respect the people who manage to turn out stuff on a regular basis for years. There are points in my (admittedly spotty) career when I just have to walk away for a while. Sometimes for years. Do other stuff.

So today we will be talking – probably to a tiresome degree – about “other stuff”. Probably no movies this time around, because I just haven’t watched that many. That’s how complete a break I made from my usual (increasingly and annoyingly regimented) routine. I point you again to the links above if you require ponderings about crap cinema. I have more if you need them.

This is how we used to have to do it. You kids have no idea.

But through all this I am still aggressively me, so we’re going to address How I Spent My Summer Vacation in a sideways manner. First, in my usual oh-look-let’s-try-this-new-thing-that’s-been-around-for-years habit, I finally made use of that Spotify account I’ve had since the dang thing was in beta. I didn’t find the UI as confusing as I did in my younger days, and after some poking around I found myself in lurv. People talk about falling into YouTube rabbit holes – that’s been me with Spotify. My musical tastes tend to the omnivorous, and there are plenty of musical rabbit holes for me to fall down. Discovered many new artists, revisited some old favorites of my youth to see if they still held up. Often they do.

Which brings me to a new version of an old pursuit: The Mixtape lives, we just now call it a Spotify Playlist.

I’m sure I’m not using the Playlist function correctly. I have every bit of 2 followers – one is an old college housemate – and I think the follow function on these are so you can keep up with new additions to the lists. I have one huge playlist – we will get to that shortly – that is constantly being added and subtracted. But the ones I work hardest on I don’t make public until I am satisfied with the flow of song to song. Like I said, mixtapes. Hitting Shuffle Play on those undoes my hard (snerk) work.

Yeah, this is me in my 20s. Recognize me now?

Once again my gloriously misspent youth trespasses on my elder years. In my 20s I played around with LSD quite a bit, and I generally ran the music for such things, solo or in groups. In my amazingly sober teenage years my friends were amazed I didn’t even smoke pot because I listened to music only potheads did, but I just really liked prog rock, and was such a science-fiction nerd that I found the gestating electronic music scene intoxicating. The closest I came was reading Carlos Casteneda, which certainly primed me for my college days, and the addition of physical intoxication in all its forms.

So I started making mixtapes for acid trips. I had a fairly impressive music library in those days, but it was nothing compared to what is available on Spotify. And I found myself engaged in that old pursuit, in my self-care time. Honestly, since I have a fairly nice sound system on my work computer, I can do research while working – just one more reason my job does not suck. If something is good enough to draw my attention from what I’m doing, it gets plugged into a temporary playlist for later appraisal.

The structure for the playlists is fairly simple – at least I think so, but this is the first time I’ve ever tried to actually write it down. I may look at the result, think it the rambling of a madman worthy of becoming President and delete the whole damn thing.

First of all, the playlist is limited to an arbitrary three hours. That is too short for an actual acid trip, which in my experience runs at least 6-10 hours followed by another 6-8 hours of what I called “thinking at right angles”. The Coming Down period is hopefully accompanied by plentiful orange juice and the music of the Grateful Dead and Free, which I found perfect for that time. Traffic is also good, but “John Barleycorn Must Die” still freaks me out.

Three hours just seems like the limit for a casual, non-altered state listen. I also check the flow at night in bed, through headphones plugged into my Chromebook. I have to go to sleep sometime. My first attempt at an acid Spotify list was the aforementioned 6 hours, and that was just ungainly. Psychedelic voyagers could, I guess, just go from playlist to playlist until the sun comes up and you start getting reacquainted with the real world, if need be. Maybe after I get three of these up and running I’ll attempt an integrated version for all your wasted needs.

Alex Gray provides us with an image for #4.

My playlist structure is as follows:

  1. Let’s have fun, and get in a happy, jolly mood. We’re going on an adventure!
  2. Increasingly psychedelic-tinged music as the tide of the drug begins to flow in. One of my great loves, late 60s-early 70s music is perfect for this.
  3. Oh, hey. Something is happening. Ride with it.
  5. Wow oh wow oh wow that was amazi-HERE WE GO AGAIN HAND ME THAT KALEIDOSCOPE (repeat as necessary)
  6. Calm down those over-stimulated nerves with some slower, mellower, and dare I say it – beautiful music.

Obviously, I can go no further without posting the links, should you care to know what it sounds like in my head. Here they are, under the fairly innocuous title, “Headphones Strongly Recommended”:

After a certain point in my 20s, I had gotten everything I felt I could get from the psychedelic experience, and went my separate way. I’ve been asked if it was something I’d consider revisiting in the present day, and my response is: no, probably not. The most remarkable thing about acid, in my experience, was it gave you the ability to see everything as if you were seeing it for the first time, without preconceptions. That includes yourself, and that can turn into something remarkably ugly if you’re carrying any emotional baggage or trauma. I now have about 40 years of such baggage stored up, which I’ve no desire to face in a state where my coping mechanisms are diminished.

Now, as to why I got so into Spotify and created a huge frickin’ playlist that HAS to be put on Shuffle: City of Heroes is back. Goodbye, free time.

Painful as it is, I have to consider that normal people have no idea what I’m talking about, so here goes: City of Heroes was a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (henceforward MMO) that went live in 2004, in a period where there seemed to be a new one released every month, all chasing the dollars being earned by the most successful MMO of all time, World of Warcraft (equally henceforward WoW). This one, though, wasn’t about orcs and other Tolkein lifts, it was about superheroes. At the time, it was the only one about superheroes. My pal David Harlan turned me on to it, and thus began a monstrous time sink for me.

I’m not a big fan of MMOs, but City did an exceptional job of functioning without what I found to be drawbacks in other games. There was no waiting around for hours for a special hoohah to spawn for lotsa elite lootz, or even to be able to continue in the game. It was impossible to kill other player characters (people, being jerks, still found ways, and steps were taken to counter them). Every mission (or “quest” if you prefer) was in an instanced space, not the overworld map, so it ran pretty smoothly on most rigs. Combat was a fairly simple matter, and could be controlled by almost any device: keyboard and mouse, joystick, programmable gamepad. All that mattered was which of your superpowers you fired off when.

And I love flying. Flying is fun.

And you get to hang out with giant octopodes. How cool is that?

A companion game was spawned, City of Villains, where, of course, you played an up-and-coming super-villain. The two games were quite popular, though never reaching the player population of World of Warcraft. And in 2012, that all came to an end when the game closed down. I’ve heard varying stories about the whys and wherefores of that shutdown, but while it made me sad, it didn’t affect me all that much at the time. My core group had gradually drifted away to other pastimes, and though it’s possible to play solo, it’s just not as much fun. Playing with strangers did not appeal to me. So I had taken my 15 bucks a month elsewhere long before sunset came to Paragon City.

There was quite a bit of nostalgia over the years. People who loved that game really loved it, and they missed it. I confess the occasional pang or sorrow that I could not simply log on and throw fireballs at demon-worshipping street gangs in the name of justice.

Then I started hearing rumors about a rogue server that was still running City. Membership was closed, and there was a possibility of regaining your old characters from Live! Getting into it was a problematic and lengthy process, until it was revealed that the source code had been released into the wild and there were suddenly several servers openly running the game, so secrecy was no longer an option. A friend who had been working to get the old crew admitted to the closed server was finally successful, and goddammit I was in Paragon City again, and falling madly in love once more.

The reclaiming of old characters wasn’t possible anymore, but I didn’t care. It was a gas playing with the guys again. Now everything is open to all players – Heroes and Villains had separate power sets and archetypes, and now those – and all the costume pieces and other stuff formerly locked behind a paywall – are available to everyone. You don’t have to hit level 50 – once the highest possible level – to unlock the Super Special Ultimate Nitro Platinum Character Types anymore. It’s also free to play, so win-win, as we say in the trade.

I had attempted to start Discord once to participate in a No Budget Nightmares event and it mystified me (occasionally life likes to rub my nose in my increasing decrepitude). I had to demystify it so we could have a (once-again free! Yay!) alternative to our old standard, TeamSpeak. Voice communication is an absolute boon to slow typists like myself, so it became essential. In an attempt to bring the top part of this post into sync with this lower part, I should point out that in the halcyon days of the latter half of the aughts, when we were all heavily into the game, Dave and I ran a station on Live365 that purported to be a Paragon City radio station, so we could all listen to the same ass-kicking music at the same time. Dave produced some fun commercials, too. I finally ran out of money to fund that, but again, here we are, ten years later, with better tools. A truly enormous playlist on Spotify (currently 1814 songs, over 115 hours worth, quite a bit carried over from the Live365 days), and a bot to run that playlist on our Discord server. So even though the game is free, I’ve still found a way to pay 15 bucks a month just to play City of Heroes.

Look, in 1980, when I was a stoned student reading Heavy Metal and listening to Hawkwind over my headphones – had you told me then that 40 years later, I would be guiding a flying laser squid through twisting blue and purple caverns, all the while zapping evil magic users while still listening to Hawkwind over headphones… well, I’d ask you what you were on, why you weren’t sharing and where could I buy some.

Squad Goals

I’ve mentioned before that one of the few things that kept me sane during these last three years of garbage government shenanigans was Marvel movies (and thank God DC finally started making entertaining ones). Being able to briefly inhabit a world where good could overcome evil in a matter of a couple of hours – hopefully as violently as possible – got me through the darkest times. I had forgotten, though, how much physical tension could be drawn away through my guidance of an online avatar to do the same thing in a shorter time frame. There are at least two enemy factions in-game that are obvious Nazi analogs (we refer to them as “Illinois Nazis”), and it’s remarkable how easy it is to gravitate toward the missions that involve taking them down. Hard.

There. I think I’ve bored you enough. Just talking about it makes me want to go online and freeze Illinois Nazis in crushing time distortion fields. Maybe we can talk about movies next time. I did watch a few.

FUTURE FREEX BURSTS IN THE DOOR. It was revealed to me this morning that the megalomaniacs downtown have scheduled not one, but two extra City meetings next week, stealing away three evenings of what remains of my life. Y’all will be waiting for a while on that next installment, I’m afraid.


Everybody’s Doing Marvel Posts

…just in case you hadn’t noticed. Consider this your permission to click elsewhere. I understand.

I’m still dealing with writer’s block… well, perhaps not block, but writer’s naaaaaaah I don’t wanna! with a soupçon of agonizing over whether that’s because I’m better medicated these days and not thinking about death every 30 seconds instead of sex. I had a very unique – at least for me – moment a few weeks back when I paused and thought, “Hey. I feel absolutely normal.” It was uncanny in a very calm way.


I have a Crapfest to write up, but even the pressure of that is not enough to pry me from my hour or so of playing an RPG featuring cute anime girls every night. And realistically, after nine years of piecemeal part-time labor, the last 8 months of suddenly working 8 hours a day, if not more, takes a toll.

So with that as a backstory, let’s launch into the preamble major: As most of you know, I perform in a murder mystery show on the weekends, along with one of my oldest theater friends who lives nearby. We carpool to the show every week, and last Saturday we fell to talking about the Marvel movies. This was triggered by one of the actresses (who insists on telling us each week how much her life sucks, including the insane traffic between Houston and her beach house, gaaaaawwww!!) saying how much she hated Endgame, sight unseen, because it was all her students would talk about all week.

My friend, however, had already found out about Fat Thor and was intrigued. He had tried to watch Infinity War on Netflix and wasn’t impressed, because he hadn’t seen any of the former movies (yes, such people still exist), and I replied of course, he had no emotional stakes in it. He mentioned he had read an article that said you only needed to watch four movies to be up to speed for Endgame. Not being a complete geek like myself, he couldn’t remember any of the movies they chose, and I started mulling over what four movies that could possibly fit the bill. Googling when I got home I found lists of eight and eleven, so that four thing I chalk up to rank optimism.

In case you forgot.

Speaking of rank optimism: he thought he’d be able to find them all on Netflix. I laughed so hard I nearly drove us off the road.

This week the weather in Texas has been giving us lots of ammo to unload on climate change deniers, which meant just about every shoot I had scheduled for work got cancelled, so I sat in my dry office while biblical rains raged outside and did what nerds do: I got evangelical, and wrote up my list with annotations.

And now I’ve probably scared my friend off entirely.

But let’s start. I tried to do this in chronological order of the Infinity Saga arc. I’ve also added more notes, because that is what I do. On the list I sent him, there were no notes for movies essential to the storyline, because that’s how I roll. He didn’t find out about Fat Thor from me.

Gonna try to be as spoiler-free as possible.

* = “Contains Infinity Stone”

Skippable movies say so in the closest to Thanos purple WordPress could give me.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER – I saw a graphic on Reddit where votes were taken and this movie wound up on the absolute bottom of the list, causing me to utter what the absolute fuck in my workplace. Fortunately, they are used to such outbursts from me and likely thought I just needed more coffee. This was one of the most solid Marvel flicks in Phase One, and it kickstarts the whole Infinity Stones thing. And I hate people.

CAPTAIN MARVEL * – comes out on home video in June, which is fortunate for my friend, as he doesn’t intend to start this binge until the Summer. Takes place in the 90s, and the post-credits scene won’t make much sense, seen in this order. As a period piece, you could probably slot it in anywhere in the viewing order. Marvel sure seemed to think so.

IRON MAN – This is where you have to start making tough decisions. It can be considered skippable, unless you’re a Robert Downey Jr. fan. BUT. It has enormous historical significance. It introduces the supporting cast from the comic book, complete with early 60s comic book names: Happy Hogan, Pepper Potts. Jim Rhodes (Rhodey), was introduced later in the series, so he’s spared that cuteness. First of the now-mandatory post-credits scenes, introducing Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, and the Avengers Initiative.

THE INCREDIBLE HULK – ultra-skippable. Even the other movies ignore this one. (I don’t mind it, but it’s obvious they hadn’t quite figured out their formula yet)

IRON MAN 2 – My least favorite MCU movie, and therefore skippable. It’s a mess, story-wise; this baby was rushed to the screen, and it shows. Absent a time-proven template, panicky studio interference really cripples it as it jams lead-up materials to The Avengers in any available orifice, and makes them when it can find none. Does introduce the Black Widow and Agent Coulson, though. And Rhodey confiscates an Iron Man suit to become, briefly, the Iron Patriot, and eventually War Machine. Pretty good finish, but often a slog to get there. I’m also assured it’s better than I remember.

THOR – Can be reluctantly skipped, if necessary (I’m always amazed that a movie that takes place on three different worlds still feels so small). Introduces his supporting characters, though, who will get a workout in the next Thor flick.

AVENGERS – Let’s get this damn ball rollin’. This movie and Iron Man made my wife into an MCU geek. Team comics are my favorite comics, so you can bet I love this one. 

IRON MAN 3 – Could be skipped, but if you skip all the Iron Man movies simply because they don’t advance the Infinity Saga, you are hobbling a major part of that saga, which is the Steve Rogers/Tony Stark dichotomy. And this is such a good movie. PTSD is a running thread through the saga, and Tony Stark is definitely suffering it after the events of AVENGERS.

THOR: THE DARK WORLD * – everybody seems to hate this one, but I like it, and I totally loved Endgame calling back on it hard. Far as I’m concerned, Jane Foster took up with Richard after Thor split again after Ultron. Richard seems like a very nice guy.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER – on the other hand, everyone loves this one while I’m kind of meh on it. Superb action film – the Marvel formula completely gels here. No Infinity Stones, but major changes that will affect the following movies.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY – You know, when I left the theater after seeing this, I felt the same lightness as when I left my first viewing of Star Wars back in ’77. That is no small thing. We start seriously leaning into the Infinity Stones. I think Ronan the Accuser would gain a fair amount of resonance and menace by being able to watch Captain Marvel earlier in the order.

AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON – Another ragged-on movie. Bah and phooey on the haters. I admit it has much the same problem of Iron Man 2, in shoe-horning in seeds for future movies, then cutting those segments back for time (three hour Marvel movies were not yet a thing). 

ANT-MAN – Sorry Paul Rudd, but skippable if you’re pressed for viewing time. The Ant-Man movies have the lightest tone of all the Marvel movies, so if you’re tired of HUGE EXPLOSIONS and COSMIC CALAMITIES and PEOPLE DYING BY THE HUNDREDS they’re actually quite refreshing.

DOCTOR STRANGE * – Trippy as hell. This is Marvel’s kung fu movie, and I absolutely love the fact that the final battle is fought with wits and determination, not seeing who can punch the hardest.

CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR – again, no Infinity Stones, but besides having the best fight scene in the series up to that point, sets up so much forthcoming stuff. Also, The Black Panther! And the most adorable Spider-Man ever! (some will argue that Doctor Strange should come after this, but I just can’t make that chronology work)

FUTURE FREEX WEIGHS IN: That last comment was due to one of the cases offered to Strange over the phone that leads to his fateful crash, which seems to be a very direct reference to an injury suffered during Civil War. However, I was reminded by one of a number of YouTube blatherings that one of the threats detailed in Winter Soldier is “Stephen Strange”, which is causing me to consider slotting it before Winter Soldier. I think that actually works.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2 – Skippable if need be (both the online lists I mentioned earlier did so), no Infinity Stones, but c’mon! KURT RUSSELL. Oh, and some guy named Sylvester Stallone. Character development! Mantis! I love Mantis!

SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING – Skippable. Not much impact on the Infinity saga; mainly notable for the deepening father/son relationship between Tony Stark and Peter Parker, which a lot of people HATE. Nice villain work by Michael Keaton.

BLACK PANTHER – No infinity stones, but essential setup (and really, really good) (this, I believe, is where Netflix’s current offerings begin)

THOR: RAGNAROK – God bless Taika Waititi for making a movie as fully weird as the comics and honoring Jack Kirby. The post-credits scene leads directly into Infinity War, which means it happens at approximately the same time as:

ANT-MAN AND THE WASP – contains what will be important plot points, and is happening at approximately the same time as:

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR* – Man, the switch from the end of Ragnarok to the opening of Infinity War is the starkest example of “new artist this issue!” ever translated to the screen. Also best cinematic equivalent of a 12-issue maxi-series crossover event evar (also likely the only-est).

AVENGERS: ENDGAME – Ecstasy. I see people bitching about “fan service” on the interwebs and you know what? I was the fan being serviced. And I liked being serviced. *phbbbbbbt* (I mean, if you’re looking for fan disservice, you can go watch Batman v Superman again, you nattering nabobs of negativity)

By my count that’s 15 out of 22 that are essential viewing – only one more than the professionals. That’s not much of a time savings – what? maybe 12 hours? – and they really should all be watched, sez the nerd who’s already seen them multiple times.

Gosh. Maybe I don’t have writer’s block after all?


Galaxy Lords (2018)

It has been a hectic and horrible couple of weeks, let me tell you. Most of it is extremely boring, unless you’re in my skin, and you don’t want to be in here, it would get too crowded. So let’s talk about movies.

One of the non-horrible pieces of news in this period was the Criterion Channel finally going live. I’ve only had time to look around briefly, but I have loved what I’ve seen. Several films I’ve always meant to track down and watch are now literally at my fingertips. The Spirit of the Beehive, Tokyo Story, Last Hurrah for Chivalry, The 400 Blows. Spectacularly, there’s also Karl Zeman’s Baron Prasil, under its more familiar American title The Fabulous Baron Munchausen. That was my introduction to Zeman, on a laserdisc I found in a cutout bin years ago. I recalled Tim Lucas praising it in the late, lamented Video Watchdog, and it was a dazzling purchase I never regretted. It gives me hope we will see a Zemen set from Criterion at some point. To my fellow subscribers: add that to “My List” right now,  if not watch it right away. It is that much fun.

So, with some of the greatest cinema in the world at my disposal, what did I watch? Galaxy Lords.

To demonstrate the enormity of this disconnect, I should forego my usual practice of putting the trailer after the review, and serve it up to you right now:

Some of you are reacting with appropriate horror. Most of you are thinking, From you, I expect nothing less.

In case you couldn’t figure out the plot from that trailer, here’s the official synopsis from their IndieGoGo campaign:

A mere decade after the Heptigalaxial Cosmic Infinity War, the Kingdom of the Seven Galaxies is once again on the precipice of oblivion. The evil prince ADORASTIUS has escaped his icy incarceration and threatens the universe with the most fantastical yet calamitous power imaginable.

The multiverse cries out in peril, and the beleaguered hero GALACTIC COMMANDER HELIOS must forge a crew of old friends and new allies to defend the sanctity of the cosmos. Still tormented by the shadows of the past, he must once again breathe the air that smells of interstellar combat.

From the tranquil glades of KELVADOR to the perilous crags of GRINDLEBAR, the fate of the history of all existence rests upon the shoulders of the GALAXY LORDS!

To the obvious: this is a tribute to the movies that flooded cinemas after the summer of Star Wars. In a backstory that will itself be exceedingly familiar to anyone who follows low budget movies, it was shot by a group of friends on weekends and holidays over a course of several years. Its reported budget is $15,000, and all that money (all that money – it is to larf) is quite literally on the screen. It is remarkably cheap and cheesy, and that is kind of the point. The costumes (including the wigs and beards) are from thrift stores, with possibly a few leftovers from cosplaying; the armor is literally cardboard, and so is  a lot of the tech and miniatures, along with pieces from the hardware store put together with what the filmmakers say is “a horrifying amount of hot glue”. Every single scene is green-screened with a fabricated background, even the few that probably would have been easier to do in an actual location.

A lot of the reviews I’ve read of Galaxy Lords latches onto the 80s sensibilities and utterly excoriate the movie for its budgetary limitations. I think the primary problem with these reviews is they are deliberately ignoring the cybernetic gorilla in the room, and that is amount of inspiration derived from anime. One look at the meticulously overdone eye makeup on the character Wranthelon (director Von Bilka, who also plays the villain, Adorastius) should clue you in to that. The overwrought angst of our hero Helios (co-writer Dan Underhill, also villainous Chicago-accented sidekick Quazar) is also lifted from any given anime movie/series; and my favorite lift is the very end, when Helios addresses what’s left of his crew in a St. Crispin’s Day speech that promises excitement and high adventure in pursuit of the villain, getting your blood to a fever pitch – and then the movie ends. Not sure how many tapes I saw in the 80s cobbled together from TV episodes that ended that way, but there were enough to scar me.

Visual tropes from anime are present too – good grief, just look at Wafelord Hagglehawk and his immensely impractical warhammer! – and my absolute favorite is when the Lords of the Galaxy finally get back together to help Helios and each one is given their own animated intro with high tech animated backgrounds, Olen Mills double exposures, and a flyby of their ship. This entire flick is like Starcrash and Battle Beyond the Stars had a sleepover with a bunch of sci-fi anime bootleg tapes and somebody spiked the punch with MDMA. If you miss the tremendous love for anime at also at work here, you’re going to miss a lot of the fun.

The miniature work here (by Nicholas Schwartz), the landscapes, fantastic cities and space battle scenes are gorgeous. With the Lords of the Galaxy you have seven different ships, each different with unique cockpits, controls and weapon arrays. Yes, yes, Battle Beyond the Stars did that, but they had a budget of $2 million. These guys had three fiddy, an out-of-commission GameCube, and an abundance of pluck. This is a labor of love, and it looks great.

The baroque storyline and dialogue is delivered with earnestness – this isn’t a jokey pastiche, but it is an amusing sendup if you’re willing to accept it for what it is, and ride with the archness of the offering. It is about 20 minutes too long – perhaps even as much as 30 – but by golly, they finished it, it looks slick, and I admire them for that.

It’s on Prime Video, even. Go for it.



Hello Again. Suspirias (1977 & 2018)

This growing old shit is fascinating and terrifying at the same time and not necessarily in the same amounts.

My wife had urged me to talk to our doctor during my scheduled follow-up because “You haven’t been yourself lately” and after the usual battery of questions it was decided to up the dosage of my happy pills (I had been on the starter dosage of the original Mother’s Little Helper), and that took getting used to. I spent a couple of weeks feeling like I was wrapped in styrofoam sheets, like some figurine bought on eBay. This week I actually started feeling like a normal human being again, which was novel. I’ll be digging into my taxes soon, which will likely put an end to that.

I could finally afford an ophthalmologist appointment again, and they tried a new prescription on me and there was no improvement. The upshot of that was not that I needed new glasses, but cataract surgery. Oddly, this doesn’t frighten me or worry me too much – it’s outpatient surgery these days, my insurance should cover it. The major impact will be on my jobs – you know, the fact that I won’t be able to lift anything heavier than 10 pounds or bend over for two weeks (both eyes are shot). Nor can I afford the super deluxe lenses that would correct my astigmatism (not at $1200 a pop), so I’ll still be wearing glasses. Hell, at this point eyeglasses are a part of my character. Finally getting a pair that aren’t absolutely essential to survival, progressive trifocals half an inch thick, or cost an arm, leg and kidney will be a refreshing change of pace.

Still, I haven’t felt a desire to write during all that hoo-rah. A look at my Letterboxd profile reveals I’ve only watched 17 movies so far this entire year, which for me is bizarre. Admittedly, most of my viewing has been TV shows – The Umbrella Academy, Doom Patrol, American Gods. I started the video game Battle Chasers: Nightwar for the third time on a third computer and dammit this time I am going to finish it.

But maybe I am back to a point where I can finish this damned piece that I started in, like, February. Wish me luck. Here we go.

Suspiria (1977)

Indulge me for a few minutes. I’m going to delve into a bit of personal history that will eventually land on a point. I’ll try not to vent too much, but once you get a Scorpio rolling…

So way back in the days of The Bad Movie Report I chanced upon an internet article where a guy had actually gone to the various fora available at the time, had folks vote on a ballot ranking the 100 Greatest Horror Movies of All Time (possibly because the AFI had done something similar?), and eventually published the results. Those results, I seem to recall, relied on maybe a hundred responses, not exactly the sort of sampling that gets you published in the real world, to be sure. I in turn grabbed the results (with a link back to the original article, of course), and critiqued the ranking.  I didn’t agree with a lot of it, but some I did. I’m not a big fan of ranked lists, anyway.

And that, as Maus would say, is where my troubles began.

I was immediately pilloried for the rankings. No matter how many times I pointed out that these choices were not mine, the comments and e-mails most ran to “You should really know more about horror movies before doing something like this” sneers. I finally got tired of it and deleted the whole thing (about a year after the original poster deleted his, come to think of it). At which point the e-mails calling me a coward started.

Welcome to the Internet, I know, I know. Hopefully those folks whose entire lives seemingly depended on belittling me and calling my qualifications into doubt, have moved on and are now enjoying their lives as ICE officers and YouTube pundits with a following of three or less. While you’re here, please check out my Patreon.

To the point: one of my more chill, responsible readers (I do not recall who, I’m sorry, I blame my advanced age) pointed out that in my comments on the rankings, I referred to Suspiria as “a middling horror movie”, and wondered if I still felt that way. I responded that I had mellowed toward the movie with age and experience with Italian WTF cinema. It wasn’t that I had watched it again, I just felt I had a better handle on where Argento was coming from when he filmed. Time passed; Synapse spent four years creating a 4K restoration, and that eventually became available on blu-ray, which added some speed to any inclination to revisit it.  Then Luca Guadagnino’s remake/reboot/rewhateverthehell hit home video, and away we go.

First: The Synapse restoration is magnificent, ravishing to the eye. I am glad I waited for it, it is that breathtaking.

Second: I still feel it’s a middling horror movie.

We’ll bypass the SPOILER ALERTS FOR A FORTY-TWO YEAR OLD MOVIE and move right into the fact that Suspiria is the tale of Suzy Bannion (Jessica Harper), an American who has come to study at a dance academy in Freiburg, only to find out that the academy is run by witches. That’s about as much plot as you actually get. There is plenty of weird, wild stuff happening, but past our opening murder setpiece, everything fits into a one-damned-thing-after-another structure so rococo that you’re going to hurt yourself if you try to fit it into a normal movie. That murder – which, like all Argento’s cinematic murders, are among the few that can actually make me physically wince – serves a plot purpose, as the victim (and her unfortunate friend) know too much and must be eliminated. After that…. uhhhhhh…

  • There’s the famous rain of maggots sequence, which is found to have a (sort of) logical explanation. Squidgy and unnerving, which I guess is the point. Serves to set up the revelation that the Academy’s director, Helena Markos, is actually in the building, instead of jet-setting around Europe. And has no bearing on anything else.
  • The architecture inside the Academy makes very little sense, which leads some to speculate that Stanley Kubrick saw this before filming The Shining. Still, keeping a roomful of razorwire in a third floor storeroom seems… a bit much.

These are, however, points with which I thought I had reached a rapprochement, since in the intervening years I had become a fan of Lucio Fulci’s crawling chaos motion pictures, particularly The Gates of Hell and The Beyond, which employ the same dream logic – okay, nightmare logic – to forward their stories. Why something I accept in those is a sticking point for me in Suspiria is annoying, a personal puzzle that I cannot seem to unravel.

  • I’m still all sorts of put out that the Tanz Academy invited Bannion to study there, and then proceeds to drug her into oblivion and plot to kill her, when it would have been much simpler to not invite her to study in the first place.
  • Then, I’m not at all sure why the blind piano player is such a menace to the coven that he has to be driven out and killed, except oops witches are evil.
  • It had been so long since I’d seen it I’d forgotten Udo Kier was in the movie, with the unenviable role of Dr. Plot Dump, which he immediately hands off to an older actor who tells Suzy that witches are evil and Helena Markos was the worst.
  • Dude, I know some witches and I protest this characterization.

It is this overarching question of why that has kept me from placing Suspiria in what I am told is its rightful place in the horror pantheon. There are some king-hell horror movie bits in it, to be sure, but it lacks that little bit of plot pushing it (and me) forward to a satisfactory conclusion. Though – speaking of conclusions – I do appreciate the Roger Corman-esque protagonist escaping from a burning, collapsing edifice of evil that closes Suspiria. Also that you could tell that it was an Argento movie simply through the device of an important clue hidden in muddled memory suddenly made crystal clear at exactly the right moment to land our hero(ine) in a world of trouble.

Really, I had no idea that Germans loved red lights this much. It’s fascinating to me that Argento and cinematographer Luciano Tovoli didn’t use a Technicolor camera, but used the Technicolor developing process for better control of the truly wild colors in the movies’ palette, and is possibly the last movie to use that process. Despite all my kvetching, if you haven’t seen the original Suspiria, you should, and hopefully this restoration is what you watch. It is beautiful, creepy, and the casting is spot on. No small amount of credit is owed Daria Nicolodi, Argento’s muse for several years, who urged him to move from straightforward gialli into the realm of the supernatural and to feature stronger female protagonists, both good things for his oeuvre.

Suspiria (2018)

So then onto the modern Suspiria, or as I prefer to think of it, oh thank christ finally a plot.

First off, there is no playing cute, plot-wise: there it is, first scene of the movie: they’s witches.

  • Overall, the thrust of the narrative in this version is much clearer; Tanz is now a professional dance company, and the coven is somehow feeding off and using the energies of the young members. Susie (Dakota Johnson, who is pretty amazing in the role) is a prodigy who is being primed to be the recipient of Helena Markos’ soul. All my misgivings about the story of the original movie evaporate.
  • For a movie that took place at a dance academy, the original Suspiria had remarkably little dance in it; this newer version corrects that, and it is a wonderful thing. The fact that the witches derive and utilize their powers through dance is like the unmistakable power of song in The Wicker Man. Both were vital to ancient religions, and this aspect of the movie seems reasonable, even logical.
  • I don’t have enough adjectives to adequately praise Tilda Swinton. She is magnificent as Madame Blanc, the head of the company, taking Susie under her wing, and emotionally torn over the girl’s eventual fate. She also plays Helena Markos and the elderly psychiatrist in that first scene, both under tons of prosthetic makeup. I was also pretty sure that she was the Edna Mode-lookalike witch who commits suicide because she foresees how badly Markos’ machinations are going to end up, but I haven’t found anything to verify this.
  • Jessica Harper’s cameo was a shock. Always good to see her, though.

Guadagnino takes pains to distance himself from the original while still acknowledging its existence; there’s no bizarre lighting and Lynchian lingering on mechanical doors in this opening, but we’re still in the German underground and the film’s title appears as a street sign. Gone is the fairytale technicolor, replaced by a wintery palette that renders the occasional color even more striking. The first Suspiria is relatively timeless, but here we are specifically in 1977 Berlin, still separated by a wall, and the news dominated by the German Autumn and hijacking of Lufthansa Flight 181. The real world insinuates itself regularly into this version of the story. The original intended vessel for Markos (Chloë Grace Moretz) was “more interested in blowing up supermarkets” than learning the craft.

Turns out things like that, things that give some form of signpost into the story’s intentions, are immeasurably helpful to my enjoying that story. The new version is an hour longer than the original, and I didn’t mind, as I was fascinated by the newer subplots, complications, and the chemistry between Swinton and Johnson’s characters. It has its place in the pantheon, is what I am saying.

The only thing I have left to say concerns my bewilderment at the post-theatrical marketing for the new Suspiria. For a movie with so many remarkable, unsettling images (even if you’ve never seen the movie itself, you have almost certainly seen some of those images), the cover of my blu-ray seems rather bland (it’s from a fleeting moment in the movie, and I guess someone found it evocative), and Amazon’s Prime Video ad (remember, it’s “Amazon Studios presents”) seems to cast it as a coming-of-age domestic drama, perhaps Ladybird but with witchcraft this time.

Then, I despair of the current state of such things, and yearn for the return of actual illustrators doing these ad materials, not just somebody with a semester of Photoshop.

I can dream.