Tag Archives: Highlander

A review of Season 2 of “The Exorcist” (2017)

A show like “The Exorcist” must be difficult to write.  It stands in the shadow of some of horror’s greatest films (William Friedkin’s 1973 original and the third movie in 1990).  Its plot device is inevitably redundant.  (How many possessed innocents can we see strapped to beds while priests pray at them?)  It seems easy to stray into camp.  And it seems like a story concept that is tough to structure into a serialized format.

But the second season of “The Exorcist” was … fantastic.  It surpassed the first season, and I’d rate it a 9 out of 10.

The ten-episode arc wisely changes things up a bit from Season 1, which was maybe a bit too reminiscent of the films.  Our priestly dynamic duo are on the road in America’s northwest, and on the run from a Vatican that has been infiltrated by followers of the demon Pazuzu.  (As stupid as all of that sounds, the show actually depicts it quite well.)  As the story proceeds, there are a couple of surprise plot developments that will contradict most viewers’ expectations.  (I won’t spoil them here.)

The characters are all likable and all well played.  Ben Daniels remains possibly the show’s strongest asset as the senior priest; he’s just a superb actor.  John Cho also gives a fine performance as the head of a foster home where a demon runs amok.  Alfonso Herrera is quite good as the apprentice priest — his character is better written this time around, and isn’t saccharine to the point of annoyance.  And Herrera himself seems more comfortable in the role.  The kids are damned cool — all of them, and their interaction with their foster father was surprisingly sweet and funny — which raises the stakes emotionally when the entire household is besieged by a sadistic force.

The weaknesses here were minor.  I think the ten episodes could have been shortened to seven or eight, to make them tighter.  (I realize I write that about a lot of shows, and I’m not sure why.)  The first five episodes were tightly plotted, while the second five were a little loose.  I think better editing would have entirely excised the flashback scenes depicting Daniels’ character and this season’s new female exorcist, played by Zuleikha Robinson.  (Yes, that is indeed Yves Adele Harlow from “The Lone Gunmen” and “The X-Files.”)

The flashbacks were cheesy, even if they gave Daniels a chance to show his range.  They depict his tutelage of Robinson’s character decades prior, complete with some cliche pulp novel stuff.  (Ugh.)  We’re shown that the priest is younger because of his blond, surfer-esque haircut.  (Really?)  The flashbacks were out of place, and a little too campy.  They reminded me of the comic book style of the “Highlander” films and TV series — this show could have done without them.

I also found myself slightly annoyed by a dearth of exposition about the process of exorcism itself.  After the films and now two seasons of the show, I wanted to know more about the key actions here that affect the story’s resolution.  Do some prayers or methods work better than others?  Then why not use them all the time?  Why are some interventions more lengthy or difficult?  We are told that the demon attacking this family is different than Pazuzu, who we’ve seen in the past (though Pazuzu still puts in an appearance this season).  Can the demons coordinate their efforts, or at least communicate with each other?  If not, why not?  These seem like logical questions to ask, both for the characters and the viewers.

But there is something more that bothered me.  If a demon is intelligent and wants to harm people, then why make its presence known — and why torment or kill only a few people?  Why not remain undetected until it can commit a mass murder?  Or even perpetrate an act of terrorism, and harm far greater numbers of people by causing riots or wars?  That would suit evil’s purposes far more than the garish individual spectacles we find them performing in horror tales like these.  (Maybe I’m just analyzing too much.)

Anyway, I cheerfully recommend “The Exorcist.”  It might be the most grownup horror show on television.

And one more thing — there’s some fun to be had here recognizing actors from other roles.  Daniels was a member of the Rebel Alliance in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” (2016).  And there is actually another “The X-Files” alum here — even if it was only a small role.  I thought that Harper’s mother looked familiar — the actress playing her was Rochelle Greenwood.  She’s none other than the teenage waitress who witnessed Walter Skinner getting shot waaaaay back in 1996’s classic episode, “Piper Maru.”  (Can I remember faces or what?)

 

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A tiny review of “Stake Land II” (2016)

“Stake Land II” (2016) can’t match the magic of the original, but it’s still good enough to recommend, I guess.  I’d give it a 7 out of 10.  (I’m told that an alternate title is “Stakelander,” but I refuse to call it that, because it sounds too much like a spoof of either “Zoolander” or “Highlander.”)

This sequel has a direct-to-video feel to it.  Set a decade following the events of the original, the movie reunites Connor Paolo and Nick Damici, as the now-adult Martin and the enigmatic, vampire-killing powerhouse, “Mister.”  Paolo feels flat this time out, the movie is occasionally slow, and the action sequences are a little underwhelming.

Still, Damici shines.  And I couldn’t help but find myself engaged by the movie as a whole.  Even if the film isn’t a classic, the brutal, unflinching “Stake Land” fictional universe is still front and center.  The post-apocalyptic setting and character backstories are so dark and unpredictable that the film is still fun for a seasoned horror fan.  It’s at least as interesting as an average episode of AMC’s “The Walking Dead.”

 

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A review of “Special Bulletin” (1983), with link

There’s a pretty damn interesting chestnut from from 80’s-era nuclear nightmare films available on Youtube — 1983’s “Special Bulletin.”  (The link is below.)  I was surprised I hadn’t heard of it.  I think most 80’s kids remember ABC’s “The Day After.”  That infamous television movie was a cultural touchstone that scared a generation of kids.  “Special Bulletin” was produced by NBC the same year, actually preceding “The Day After” by nine months.  Instead of a world-ending war with Russia, the feature-length special imagined a single incident of nuclear terrorism in Charleston, South Carolina.  (I myself had no idea that Charleston was the strategic military nexus that the movie explains it to be.)

“Special Bulletin” was filmed as a “War of the Worlds”-type narrative, consisting exclusively of faux news coverage, and it’s pretty damned good.  (It won a handful of Emmys.)  It’s just as frightening today — or maybe more so, given the increased threat of precisely this kind of terrorism from stateless groups.

The acting is mostly good, the directing successfully captures the feel of live news coverage, and the absence of a musical score further lends the movie a sense of realism.  The story has a few surprises for us, too — the plot setup is creative and interesting, and much more thought went in the the teleplay than I would have expected.  The film asks some difficult questions about the role of the media in affecting the outcome of high-profile crimes like the one depicted.  (Would such questions be more or less relevant in the age of camera-phones, uploaded ISIS executions and Facebook Live?  I’m not sure.)

I was also quite impressed with some of “Special Bulletin’s” thriller elements.  (I’d say more, but I will avoid spoilers for anyone who wants to watch it below.)

One thing that detracts from the format’s realism is the fact that some of this movie’s actors are easily recognizable from other roles in the 80’s (although it’s fun spotting them as an 80’s movie fan).

Most viewers my age, for example, will recognize Ed Flanders and Lane Smith.  The utterly sexy female reporter who arrives on location at Charleston Harbor is Roxanne Hart, who later played Brenda in “Highlander” (1986).  (She’s still quite beautiful, guys, and she’s still making movies.)  Most jarring of all, however, is a prominent role played by David Clennon, who any fan of horror-science fiction will recognize as Palmer from John Carpenter’s 1982 masterpiece, “The Thing.”  This is still fun, though — he has that same disarrayed hair.  Was it his trademark back in the day?