As a reviewer, I find that it's much easier to talk about things that I either love or really dislike. When I love something, I can go on and on about all the things I found interesting about it, and when I hate something, it's fun to diss all the terrible things it has going on. What’s difficult to do is review something that was just kind of meh. When something isn’t audaciously terrible or really fantastic, when I just kind of enjoyed a film, show, or what have you, it is really difficult to find something to say about it.
This week was filled with a lot of meh, but I’m gonna try to find some cool little pieces to discuss about everything I watched. It helps that I caught two Classic Doctor Who stories this week instead of my usual one.
Cat People (1982)
I am a big fan of the 1942 Hal Lewton horror film of the same name and I was kind of excited to see how Paul Schrader updated it in the '80s. It is a very loose remake. He kept the basic idea - a mysterious woman turns into a murderous cat when she is sexually excited and things get weird when she meets a nice boy - but the rest of the story turns in lots of weird directions. He moved it to New Orleans, amped up the sex and violence, added in a incestuous brother, and made the horror a lot more explicit. The 1942 film is a blueprint for how horror is more frightening when left to your imagination. Schrader’s film is all about showing in graphic detail every ounce of horror it can squeeze from the story and it's a lesser film for it. It reminded me of Brian De Palma’s films from the '80s in terms of the sleaze, but with a lot less artfulness and none of the joy. Still, there is something kind of fun about awful it really is. It definitely falls into the "so bad it's good" category. I’d love to watch it again with some good friends and better drinks.
Steven King’s novel is a master work in building dread. The story builds to a horrifying finale but it takes its time getting there. It paces itself. It builds its story step by step. The horror comes from knowing what’s eventually going to happen but having to wait for it. The film adaptation makes similar mistakes to Schraeder’s remake of Cat People. It places its horror front and center. It adds in several instances of bloody violence and gore which creates a few jump scares but lessons the story’s overall impact. Still, there are some really creepy set pieces and its always nice to see Fred Gwynne in something other than those old TV shows.
Doctor Who - Meglos
This late Tom Baker story features a sentient cactus that possesses a human that then shape shifts into The Doctor, a giant stone called the Dodecahedron (can you guess how many sides it has?) that doubles as an immense energy source, man-eating plants, and a time loop which causes the Doctor to stumble over his coat and K-9 to wiggle his ears over and over again. It is a ridiculously silly, and over-stuffed story that works because Baker is clearly having loads of fun.
Doctor Who - Earthshock
Peter Davison’s Fifth Doctor and his (entirely too many) companions - Tegan, Nyssa, and Adric land on Earth in the future where they battle the Cybermen in a set of caves and then on a space ship hurtling towards Earth that ultimately causes the extinction of the dinosaurs. There are so many characters that the story struggles to give them all something to do and the Cybermen (who had not been seen since Tom Baker’s years and then only once) prove pretty ineffective (I mean more ineffective than usual). There is a twist at the end that is more moving than I would have guessed, making it a pretty big turning point for the series all together.
Everyone seems to be trying to cash in on the whole multi-platform, perpetually cycling cinematic universe now that Marvel has proven the form is a gigantic cash-making machine now for a decade. Castle Rock, the new Hulu series from J.J. Abrams, is an original story set in the Stephen King universe. That’s not too much of a stretch since King tends to reference his stories over and over in his various books. I’m three episodes in and while I like it, there definitely seems to be something lacking. There are King references galore (and I’m not a superfan so I’m sure I’ve missed a-plenty) but the main story seems to be struggling to find its own original pathway. Still, there is enough there (at least in the first three episodes that I’ve seen) to keep me interested for the time being.
My wife and I will celebrate 16 years of marriage Saturday. Like all marriages, we’ve had our ups and downs, but mostly it's been a really wonderful adventure. I’m excited to see where we go next.