A short review of the pilot for “Night Gallery” (1969)

In some ways, I’m a poor excuse for a horror fan.  I haven’t seen any episodes of some of the classic anthology series that my friends regard as biblically important.  Such was the case with “Night Gallery” — at least until a couple of nights ago.  (You can find it online, if you look hard enough.)

I checked out the 1969 feature-length pilot for the series, and I’m glad I did.  It was good stuff, despite the now lamentable 1960’s music and camera effects that were occasionally distracting.  I’d rate it an 8 out of 10.

There were three half-hour tales comprising the made-for-television movie: “The Cemetery,” “Eyes,” and “The Escape Route.”  “Eyes” was by far and away the best written and performed, but they were all quite good.  The twists for all three tales were quite satisfactory, and the tone was nice and macabre.  And the cast was terrific — Roddy McDowall and Ossie Davis starred in the first segment; Joan Crawford and Tom Bosley appeared in the second.  It was weird seeing such youthful versions of actors that were familiar to me in the 1980’s and 1990’s.

The format, along with Rod Serling’s unique narration, was engaging, if a little quaint.  It’s easy to see how this went on to become such a popular television show.

Here’s an odd trivium -in the establishing shots for the second segment, which takes place in New York City, the Twin Towers are missing.  That’s because construction had only just begun on the first tower in 1969, when this pilot was released.  The entire World Trade Center was completed three years later.

 

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A very short review of the pilot for “Iron Fist” (2017)

They said that Netflix’ “Iron Fist” (2017) was bad.  They were … mostly right, at least as far as I can tell from the pilot.  I’d rate the first episode a 4 out of 10.

This episode was a thinly scripted collection of common tropes, cluttered with clunky exposition and weird, improbable plot points.  (A friendly homeless man helps the hero by googling key information for him on a stolen iPhone?)  The show even managed to be briefly boring in parts.

“Iron Fist” has the depth and hastily concocted story of an 80’s primetime action show.  But I don’t mean that in a fun, nostalgic way, I mean it in a bizarre, awkward way.  I was actually reminded of Mystery Science Theater 3000 lampooning 1984’s ninja groaner, “The Master.”  In fact … don’t “Iron Fist” and “The Master” have a similar story setup?  There are some weird parallels, if you think about it.

Look … it wasn’t all bad.  The fight choreography was actually damned good.  I don’t know if that was actor Finn Jones performing the Kung-Fu, or a stunt double.  But it was believable and a lot of fun to watch.  It was nicely shot, too — the vibrant visuals had an appropriate comic-book feel, and were better than those that I would expect from this show’s companion series, “Daredevil” and “Jessica Jones” (2015).

I also submit that Jones is great in the role of the titular hero.  He’s a decent actor, he’s well cast in the part, and I find Danny Rand to be a surprisingly likable protagonist.  I just hope that “The Defenders'” new team-up places him in the hands of a better set of writers.

 

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A short review for the pilot of “The Last Ship” (2014)

So I finally got around to checking out “The Last Ship” (2014), and while the pilot didn’t immediately have me hooked, it seems like a decent show.  I’d rate it an 8 out of 10, and I’ll probably continue watching it.

I was surprised I’d heard so little about this program … it’s a big-budget, post-apocalyptic military science fiction series, but none of my fellow horror or sci-fi nerds mentioned having seen it.

The plot setup seems like something that would please horror fans — a virus eradicates 80 percent of the world’s population, and a lone American naval vessel elects to remain at sea.  (They’re fortunate enough to be carrying a civilian virologist who was tasked by the fallen United States government to develop a vaccine.)  And there are hints that the show’s writers would do well scripting a frightening TV series — there are a couple of nice flourishes for a serialized horror show right here in the pilot.

But the story’s horror elements are minimized in favor of a more mainstream, safe-for-general-audiences techno-thriller.  And that’s not a bad thing, because it succeeds as a such.  The show is based on a 1988 novel by William Brinkley, and it’s produced in cooperation with the United States Navy.  (The destroyers U.S.S. Halsey and the U.S.S. Dewey stand in for the fictional U.S.S. Nathan James.)  It seems smartly scripted with respect to both virology and how the military works.  I’m barely literate in either of those subjects, but what I watched seemed coolly authentic, and that entertained me and held my attention. So while I might not recommend this to fellow “The Walking Dead” fans, I’d definitely recommend it to fans of Tom Clancy.

The directing is pretty good, the story moves along quite quickly, and the action scenes in the pilot are surprisingly ambitious and effective for a TV show.

The acting, I suppose, is average — though it’s always fun seeing Adam Baldwin on screen, and the square-jawed Eric Dane seems well cast and shows promise as the ship’s commanding officer.

The dialogue and character interaction are average at best.  This isn’t high art when it comes to human storytelling.  There are some pretty predictable character tropes, and a few exchanges are so cheesily melodramatic that they nearly insult the viewer’s intelligence.  Dane’s commander faces off, for example, against a beautiful, independent, female scientist who doesn’t like following orders … gee, I wonder if we’ll see any romantic tension there?

Still, this looks like a good enough show, if its pilot is any indication.  The good outweighs the bad, and I’m glad I heard about it.

 

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A review of the “Westworld” pilot (2016)

Blog Correspondent Pete Harrison suggested I give the Westworld” series (2016) a try, and I’m damn glad he did.  The first episode was superb, and it’s safe to say it’s reeled me in.  I’d give the pilot a 9 out of 10; this seems like it could be the best science fiction television show I’ve seen in a long time.

I still think the premise is just slightly cheesy — grown men and women spending a fortune to visit a western-themed amusement park with interactive android cowboys.  (I think maybe westerns were a more mainstream genre in 1973, when Michael Crichton’s original film was in theaters.)  And there are times when the show’s central western-themed motifs are a little annoying to me … even though I know the park is supposed to appear superficial and cliche.

But “Westworld” is a highly intelligent thriller — it looks like a hell of a lot of thought went into the script.  Just about every aspect of the show seems like it was well developed — everything from the actors’ performances to the set design.  And don’t let the gorgeous, idyllic, sunny landscapes fool you — there is no shortage of pathos here.  It’s brutally dark in its storytelling.  (By the way, if you happen to be a fan of this show, I must recommend 2014’s “Ex Machina” film — it is similarly cerebral and dark in its outlook.)

Anthony Hopkins is fantastic, as usual; Jeffrey Wright, James Marsden, Evan Rachel Wood and Thandie Newton are all very good.  They’re all overshadowed here, though, by two stellar performances.

The first is Ed Harris as a black-clad psychopathic visitor to the park — I had no idea he could be so frightening.  Dear God.  Has he played bad guys before?  I’ve always associated him with nice-guy roles — even his antagonist in 1996’s “The Rock” was misguided and sympathetic.  I’d love to see him get a role in an upcoming “The Dark Tower” film, maybe as one of the Big Coffin Hunters, if they are ever featured.

The second is Louis Herthum, the ostensible “father” of Wood’s heroine.  (They are both androids within the park — I don’t think that’s much of a spoiler, as it’s all over the show’s advertising.)  Herthum may be a lesser known actor, but he stole the show in a tour-de-force performance, in my opinion.  And that’s no small feat in a cast including Hopkins and this surprisingly vicious Harris.  I haven’t seen a performance that good on television since NBC’s “Hannibal” went off the air.

Anyway, I noticed something funny here.  Steven Ogg plays a bandit who invades people’s homes and murders them … this is basically the same role he plays as Negan’s chief henchman on “The Walking Dead.”  It must be weird to be typecast like that.

Hey … it is only just now that I realized the logo below is a riff on Da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man.”

 

Pete Harrison recommends 10 horror movies for Halloween!!!

Among the many unique Internet resources for horror fans, the best just might be blog correspondent Pete Harrison. Pete’s got an encyclopedic knowledge of horror, whether it’s films, books, comics, classic short stories, or even vintage radio broadcasts.  The guy’s priceless.

Pete regularly swaps tips online about the best movies to watch — including fright flicks that are older or more obscure.  So he’s the ideal candidate for suggestions about Halloween viewing.  I asked Pete to name ten great fright flicks for October, and the list below is what he recommends.

I love that he’s included 1973’s made-for-tv movie, “A Cold Night’s Death.”  You’ve probably never heard of it.  But I know it.  It was one of the features that my “movie uncle,” Uncle John, screened for me back in the pre-Internet days of VHS — when hard-to-find thinking-man’s horror films were even harder to find.  It’ll get under your skin.  If it’s any indication of quality of the rest of the films that Pete has listed here, then this is advice for some damned fun late-night viewing.

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From Pete Harrison:

Per your request, SIR!!!!! There’s a million more!

TEN HORROR MOVIES I DEARLY LOVE, NO PARTICULAR ORDER!

1) JOHN CARPENTER’S “PRINCE OF DARKNESS” (ALL TIME CLASSIC!)
2) “RITUALS” (HAL HOLBROOK)
3) STEPHEN KING’S “THE NIGHT FLIER” (WAY BETTER THAN ANYONE THINKS)
4) “SHOCK WAVES” (NAZI ZOMBIES! PETER CUSHING!)
5) “A COLD NIGHT’S DEATH” (1973 TELEFILM)
6) “THE INNOCENTS” (OOZES WITH GOTHIC DREAD)
7) “THE SENTINEL” (1977)
8) “NIGHT GALLERY” (1969 TV PILOT- PORTIFOY? PORTIFOY!!!!!!!!!!)
9) “DEAD AND BURIED” (HELLUVA TWIST ENDING!)
10) “THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA” (SPIES, VAMPIRE BRIDES, PLAGUE, KITCHEN SINK!!!!!!)

Thanks, Pete!

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“Fear the Walking Dead,” but Crave the Next Episode!

The pilot of AMC’s prequel to its little known zombie tv show was just great!  I’d give it a 9 out of 10.

It looks as though “Fear the Walking Dead” will be a smartly scripted horror drama with relatable, realistic, three-dimensional characters — something I think “The Walking Dead” has often stumbled with.  (Other fans strongly disagree, of course.)  The cast was quite good across the board — but especially Frank Dillane, whose performance as a heroin addict with tragic recognition was just outstanding.   And “Fear” shows fans of the zombie horror sub-genre exactly what the vast majority of movies fail to examine — what happens when an epidemic is in its infancy.  No, there are none of the zombie “swarms” that are the bane of Rick Grimes and company, but the “slow burn” horror here delivers nicely.

I am on board with this.

Hey … when Dillane’s addict character starts screaming at the character of “Gloria” in the abandoned church, am I the only one who started humming Laura Branigan’s “Gloria?”

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