Universal Pictures Unveils a DARK UNIVERSE of Gods and Monsters

[Dark Universe logo courtesy Universal Pictures]

If British secret agents (James Bond), custom car enthusiasts (The Fast & the Furious), and comic book superheroes (Marvel & DC Cinematic Universes), are suitable subjects for multi-picture, multi-million dollar grossing interconnected movie franchises, then why not The Mummy, The Invisible Man, and Dr. Henry Jekyll?

Universal Pictures is getting their monsters together and putting on a show — or several shows, to be more precise. This week, Universal announced plans for an interconnected series of movies under the Dark Universe banner, featuring iconic characters like Frankenstein, his Bride, The Invisible Man, and The Mummy.  Each movie in the Dark Universe series will feature a new musical theme intro by Danny Elfman along with the Dark Universe logo (seen above).

The Mummy, starring Tom Cruise and Sofia Boutella, is the first movie in the series; it’s scheduled for release June 9.  Universal confirmed the second film in the series will be Bride of Frankenstein, directed by Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters, Beauty and the Beast) and scheduled for release in 2019. Johnny Depp is slated to portray The Invisible Man, and Javier Bardem will become Frankenstein’s Monster in future installments.

Russell Crowe, Johnny Depp, Tom Cruise – the Dark Universe is certainly star-studded; along with the respected Javier Bardem and newcomer Sofia Boutelia. [Photo credit: Marco Grob /Universal]
According to Unviersal, “At its organizing principle, Dark Universe films are connected by a mysterious multi-national organization known as Prodigium.  Led by the enigmatic and brilliant Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe), Prodigium’s mission is to track, study and—when necessary—destroy evil embodied in the form of monsters in our world”

A look beyond this summary at the announced talent and resources involved in the Dark Universe projects makes it clear what this series of movies is – and what it is not. For diehard fans of the classic Unviersal Monsters, realistic expectations now may save a lot of angst down the road.

The creative brain trust setting up the Dark Universe includes Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan. As The Mummy press release notes, both “have been instrumental in growing some of the most successful franchises of the past several years.”

Kurtzman’s experience with multi-movie franchises includes the Star Trek, Transformers, and Mission: Impossible movies. Chris Morgan has been involved in The Fast & Furious movies since Tokyo Drift (2006). Other creative personnel familiar with the care and feeding of blockbusters includes writer/directors Christopher McQuarrie (Mission: Impossible) and David Koepp (War of the Worlds, Jurassic Park).

After being denied the throne and entombed for thousands of years, Princess Ahmanet is – rather upset. [Photo Credit: Universal Pictures]
Iconic characters and franchises have to adapt – or die. But for every Star Trek relaunch or new James Bond actor that manages this trick, there is a Lone Ranger or Tarzan remake that fails to reignite the interest of the moviegoing public.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) may be the example Universal is going for – a movie series interconnected by characters, advancing each movie’s story while also forwarding a larger series-wide saga. But there is a twist. Instead of bringing comic book characters and their stories to the big screen, Dark Universe wants to take the Universal Horror icons created on the screen, and graft them onto original action-adventure tales.

Horror fans in general, and fans of these classic monsters in particular, might want to accept that these movies are not aimed specifically at them. DU looks like a series designed to thrill and terrify like The Mummy ride at Universal Studios Orlando, not inspire a creeping sense of dread and fear.

The nature of the Dark Universe mission is made clear by a quote from Kurtzman and Morgan. “When Universal approached us with the idea of re-imaging these classic characters, we recognized the responsibility of respecting their legacy while bringing them into new and modern adventures.”

Russell Crowe as Dr. Henry Jekyll – and the villainous Mr. Hyde. [Photo Credit: Universal Pictures]
Another concern? The star power some of the announced actors outshines whatever character is supposedly the focus of the movie. Looking at the group photo, I see Johnny Depp (not the Invisible Man), Russell Crowe (not Dr. Henry Jekyll), and Tom Cruise (not the character playing somebody very much like “Tom Cruise”).

The original Universal Monsters featured the characters first, played by actors who became famous after their turns as Dracula (Bela Lugosi) and Frankenstein’s Monster (Boris Karloff).  While Lugosi did become stereotyped as Dracula, Boris Karloff avoided that fate. He went from Frankenstein, to The Mummy, and then to a long and varied career.

Speaking of Dracula – where is he? Aside from a skull with very prominent fangs in the VR tour of Prodigum available online, there is no hint of Universal’s heaviest hitter in the monster department – Dracula, the Lord of the Undead.

Which could be a problem. An interconnected monster universe without Dracula is like MCU without Captain America or the DCU without Batman. Donna Langley, Chairman of Universal promises “we will expand this series strategically.” Let’s hope this absence of Dracula is strategic misdirection on Universal’s part; much like DC keeping Superman out of the publicity buildup for Justice League, even though every fan knows he’s coming back in that movie.

Bela Lugosi as the amazingly fabulous Dracula in 1931's Dracula. [Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.]
Bela Lugosi as the amazingly fabulous Lord of the Undead in 1931’s Dracula. Let’s hope he’s part of the Dark Universe. [Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.]
Will Bill Condon approach Bride of Frankenstein as he did in 1998’s Gods and Monsters? The true horror in the Bride’s hissing at her prospective groom, both trapped in a world has no place for either of them moves Bride from horror and into heartbreaking tragedy. Or will Bride be another Maleficent – a movie that discards whatever darkness was in the original characters to make a feel good Girrrl Power movie about someone who’s not actually a monster, just misunderstood?

The horror genre has many winding rooms, hallways, extensions, and annexes. If it can encompass everything from the latest Friday the 13th slasher movie, the Blumhouse business model of micro-budget and interesting story, and the art house stylings of Get Out (2017), The Witch (2016), and The Babadook (2014), it can handle – and maybe even welcome – the new Unviersal thrill ride in the backyard.

 




Simon Pegg & Nick Frost Launch Stolen Picture with SLAUGHTERHOUSE RULEZ

[Banner Image Courtesy Gage Skidmore under a Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike license]

In partnership with Director Edgar Wright, Actor/writers Nick Frost and Simon Pegg have upended the Zombie Romantic Comedy (Shawn of the Dead, 2004), the Buddy Cop Comedy (Hot Fuzz, 2007), and the Alien Invasion Comedy (The World’s End, 2013) with their Cornetto Trilogy.

Now Pegg and Wright are setting up their own production company, Stolen Picture. And their first announced release may do the same for the Harry Potter “Unsuspecting Kid Goes to Weird Boarding School” genre. Slaughterhouse Rulez, co-written by Crispian Mills and Henry Fitzherbert and directed by Mills, introduces a “wide-eyed new boy” to a very British and very ancient boarding school.

Like Harry Potter … with added blood, laughs, and despoiling of nature.  (Photo courtesy Harry Potter Official Facebook page)

Instead of the Harry Potter formula of magic, dragons, and long-buried secrets, Slaughterhouse Rulez introduces a bit of Hellmouth opening to the school routine. According to Deadline Hollywood, the everyday horrors of a British boarding school education are forgotten after “a controversial frack site on prize school woodland causes seismic tremors, a mysterious sinkhole and an unspeakable horror is unleashed.”

Pegg and Frost may get the most of the initial publicity for Rulez, but co-writer and director Crispian Mills has a rather colorful history himself. The son of actress Haley Mills, he wrote and directed Pegg’s 2014 movie A Fantastic Fear of Everything. And before turning to writing and directed, Mills led the British band Kula Shaker.

So if nothing else, Stolen Picture’s first production has an interesting take on the usual school story.

 

 




HBO Heads for LOVECRAFT COUNTRY with GET OUT Director Jordan Peele

[Banner image courtesy HarperCollins Publishers/Jarrod Taylor]

If you read Mindy Inlow’s SciFi4Me article a few weeks back, you already know that HBO is preparing for the end of Game of ThronesSeveral thousand (OK, four five) GoT spinoffs are now being developed. But thanks to Get Out director Jordan Peele, there’s going to be at least one horror adaptation among the fantasy epics.

Earlier this week, Deadline Hollywood reported exclusively that Peele and HBO, working with J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot and Warner Bros Television, are adapting Matt Ruff’s 2016 novel Lovecraft Country as an hour-long drama. According to the article, the producers are aiming to make “an anthological horror series that reclaims genre storytelling from the African-American perspective.” Misha Green, co-creator of WGN’s historical drama series Underground, will write the pilot episode and serve as series showrunner.

Lovecraft Country begins as a road trip story in a slightly off-kilter 1950’s America.  Atticus Black comes home to Chicago from a tour of duty in Korea. He discovers his estranged father is missing, and the few clues remaining lead him on a journey to Ardham, Massachusetts … and Lovecraft Country.

Matt Ruff, author of Lovecraft Country © 2006 Michael Hilliard/MHHM

If the television version of Lovecraft Country aims to tell stories in an anthology format, there’s a wealth of folklore to tap into. It’ll be interesting to see what happens after the series tells the story in Ruff’s novel. Will the series continue to explore a Lovecraftian inspired mythos specific to the novel? Or will it move into folklore-inspired stories based on the African-American experience – like the paths taken in movies such as To Sleep With Anger (1990, Dir. Charles Burnett), Eve’s Bayou (1997, Dir. Kasi Lemmons) or Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012, Dir. Benh Zeitlin)?

Jordan Peele’s Get Out maintains a 99% Fresh Rating at Rotten Tomatoes. (image courtesy Get Out Official Facebook page)

Howard Philips Lovecraft (1891-1937) has, to put it mildly, a complicated legacy in the horror genre. Alongside his undeniable imagination and creative energy is a clear record of unabashed racism.  Perspectives on HPL vary wildly; passionate defenders like anthologist S. T. Joshi (visit his blog and scroll down to the 11-24-15 entry) contrast with authors like Daniel Jose Older, who launched the petition that ultimately moved the World Fantasy Convention to drop  HPL as the image of their award in 2015.

Joshi protested the decision by returning the awards he received from the group. You can check our article on the new award design here.

Perhaps it’s easier to deal with the views of an author when they’re safely removed from our own time by a hundred years. Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864), my favorite Great American Novelist, created the quintessential heroine in Hester Prynne and acted as a higher-brow creator dark gothic tales along with his contemporary Edgar Allan Poe. Hawthorne also held the deeply racist views of his time.

Richard Klayman, in his essay “What Should We Make of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Racism?” quotes Hawthorne biographer Philip McFarland about the discomfort in admiring the superlative work of people who have very real faults. “We would prefer that those we admire be admirable in every way.”

Unlike Hawthorne, HPL is of our time. He is intimately connected to the changes in society in 20th and 21st century America. Books like Lovecraft Country specifically address his complex legacy and movies (like Get Out) telling socially relevant stories through the lens of the horror genre insure that we’ll be debating HPL for some time to come.

 

 




THE BLACK WITCH – Superior YA Fantasy with Real World Echoes

The Black Witch
Written by Laurie Forest
Published by Harlequin TEEN (May 2017)
608 pages
ISBN-13: 978-0373-212-316

(Cover image courtesy Harlequin TEEN; Author Photo – Beltrami Studios )

 

 

 

Confession time – I am a charter member of the “I Like Big Books and I Cannot Lie” Club, especially if that doorstop of a book is in the Fantasy genre.

  • Maps in the front? Yes, please.
  • Lists of characters helping me keep track of who’s who? Bring it!
  • “Book One of the Something Something Chronicles?” I am so there!

I did read an advance copy of The Black Witch without the second item – so I made my own list of characters. Even without this tool, Laurie Forest’s debut novel makes it pretty easy to keep track of who is doing what. Teen and adult readers looking for their next Harry Potter or Chronicles of Shannara may find it in The Black Witch Chronicles.

In true “Harry Potter” fashion, young Elloren Gardner has spent her life tucked away in a remote corner of prosperous Gardneria, tending to the plants she feels so connected to. Luckily for Elloren, her uncle Edwin is a marked improvement over the Dursley family.

 

 

Elloren is soon whisked away from her sheltered existence to begin a formal education in the apothecary arts at the fabled (and distant) Verpax University. As her education progresses, we learn along with Elloren that the reality of her world, and her place in it, is far different than the comfortable assumptions of her childhood. Forest does an admirable job of drawing parallels between the issues of our world (racism, prejudice, fundamentalism) and the papered over conflicts that simmer beneath the surface of Gardneria.

Author Laurie Forest

As the first novel in a series, The Black Witch spends a lot of time establishing the world our heroine lives in – then revealing the hidden (and ugly) truths about that world. Even if I found some of the sections a bit stretched out, I enjoyed learning, bit by bit, the intricate (and interconnected) landscape Laurie Forest has built around her heroine.

It’s a good bet you will as well. Laurie Forest seems like an author who’s put an immense amount of effort in combining a vividly imaged world filled with interesting characters. The Black Witch ends on a cliffhanger (of course!); I for one will be waiting on Volume Two of The Black Witch Chronicles.

 

 




ROGUES GALLERY #53: Barry is Still Dumb, Supergirl Needs Focus

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This week: it seems that Barry Allen is still not through making dumb decisions. And even though we now know the identity of Savitar, there really doesn’t seem to be any kind of a plan from the writers room. And Supergirl has yet to get out of being about all the lovebird characters and get back to being about … well… Supergirl.

Arrow continues to slide into irrelevancy. Powerless is cancelled, but we have Black Lightning waiting in the wings.

Plus: we’ve decided to weaponize Mr. Townley’s recaps and unleash him on Gotham

Watch a special LIVE edition of episode 53 here on SciFi4Me TV

The panel: Ann Laabs, Jennifer Wise, Jeff Hackworth, Will Tramp, Jason Hunt

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Folklore and Restless Ghosts Make a Haunting Mix in LORD OF TEARS

 

[All images courtesy Hex Media]

 

Lord of Tears
Written by Sara Daly
Directed by Lawrie Brewster
Produced by Hex Media, Dark Dunes Productions
Copyright 2016 (Special Edition)

 

 

 

Can a movie still be a satisfying viewing experience even if some the elements don’t quite work for the viewer? In the case of Lord of Tears from Scotland’s Hex Media, the answer is yes.

Lord of Tears isn’t without issues (more about that below). But Director Lawrie Brewster mixes classic ghost story tropes, an atmospheric setting and strong cinematography to produce a movie that creates, in the word of ghost story master M. R. James, “a pleasing terror.”

Lord of Tears was originally released in 2013 as The Owlman. Hex Media recently released a spiffed up version (including a new sound mix and brand new edit) available for a free viewing to people who sign up for the Hex Media mailing list. Lord of Tears is worth it – and crew at Hex Media look like they’re putting their heart & soul into creating interesting, original horror with a Caledonian touch.

Here’s a look at the trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ReJ5rcNDRZ4

Teacher James Findlay (Euan Douglas) receives word of his mother’s (Nancy Joy Page) death. After a sparsely attended funeral supported by his friend Allen (Jamie Scott Gordon), his childhood friend who is dealing with his own father’s terminal illness, a bit of disquieting mystery seeps into the reading of his mother’s will when the solicitor (Alan Ireby) hands James a letter. Apparently, Mrs. Findlay insisted the letter be hand delivered  to her son by the solicitor upon her death.

The letter warns her son to never go to one of the properties he has inherited, a stately, desolate house in the Scottish Highlands. Which of course prompts James to make a beeline for the place.

 

Argdour House – the breakout star of Lord of Tears.

The only other person he meets at the house is Eve Turner (Alexandra Nicole Hulme), a free-spirited American claiming to live in the coach house while keeping an eye on the property.  “Evie” and James begin to fall in love as memories of his childhood resurface. Mixed in with the joy of new love are dreams of his friend Allen wielding a bloody ax, a basement cavern lit by red candles, and a man with an owl’s head and hands of long cruel talons warning of disaster.

As James learns more about his childhood, his parents and the cruel history of the house he inherited, the pasts – and futures – of Evie, Allan and James become intertwined and overshadowed by the warnings from the Lord of Tears.

What Didn’t work (for me)

*(Spoiler Alert – Don’t clink on the following link until after you’ve seen Lord of Tears). As a ghost story fan, I was already suspicious of the overly helpful Evie. But I could not get into or understand Evie as a character (instead of a trope) until she … um …  revealed a new aspect of her personality and truly came to life.

 

The only other person James meets at his childhood home is the oh-so-helpful Evie.

*I wish there’d been a clearer connection drawn between James, his friend Allen, and their connection to each other and the house James inherited. I understood enough about their relationship to make sense of the twist at the very end of the story. But for me, the elliptical nature of how their backstory was told didn’t help me connect it to events in the present. The final act in their friendship didn’t quite pack the wallop it could have.

*Some scenes took me out of the story due to their length.  In particular, a scene between Evie and James in the “living room” of the house just seemed to drag to the point where I was actually wondering is this scene going to end soon? The scene did provide clues that played out in the ending of the story – it just felt like it went too long.

 

No cable or cell reception gives everyone plenty of time to read.

What Worked

*The script by Sara Daly script contains – and uses well – all the basics of a good ghost story. In particular, Lord of Tears eminded me of how classic ghost stories like The Old Nurse’s Story by Elizabeth Gaskell and The Mezzotint by M. R. James use the setting to increase the mood of dread and tighten the suspense. The setting becomes a major character without speaking a word.

*Lawrie Brewster masterfully integrates another classic trope ghost story trope; an unsuspecting protagonist interacting with someone who is … not what they appear to be. Another good example of this is the 1995 Aiden Quinn/Kate Beckinsale movie Haunted.

*Argdour House is a perfect setting for a relaxing vacation stay – or a ghost story.  Cannot say enough of the skill Brewester and cinematographer Gavin Robertson used the magnificent isolation of the Scottish setting to build mood and tension.

*Real World Folklore  – The Owlman is an actual folk legend based in Cornwall that works just as well in the Scottish setting of Lord of Tears.

*The Owlman – Kudos to mask sculptor Angela Allan and actor David Schofield  for bringing the Owlman to life. Unlike the overly chatty Freddy Krueger, The Owlman  is an almost motionless entity. But the menacing of tone of the few lines he does utter leaves a menacing aura throughout the movie (and James’s head) that you feel even when he’s not on screen.

Those gigantic black beady eyes and razor sharp claws ….

Hex Media has some interesting project in the pipline (including another Owlman movie that’s almost reached its Kickstarter goal called The Black Gloves) So if Lord of Tears sounds interrguing, check here for more details.

 




Free Comic Book Day 2017 at Milwaukee’s Lost World of Wonders

[All photographs by Dave Margosian]

 

Free Comic Book Day started in 2002 and according to the owner of Lost World of Wonders in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, “every year it gets bigger.” Airi Williams noted that for LWoW, FCBD brings in “non-hardcore comics readers” to comic shops and as evidenced by the many children in the shop, exposes a new generation of readers to comics.

Williams estimated that Lost World hosted approximately 1,000 FCBD visitors in 2015 and around 1,200 in 2016. From the looks of the line stretching around the building this year, that number will most likely be higher for 2017.

 

Young Alessandria enjoys her first Free Comic Book Day.

 

Boo, the Comic Store Cat at Lost World of Wonders, maintains her cool.

 

Felicity enjoys FCBD decked out in her Superman sparkle t-shirt.

 

The helpful Staff at Lost World wrapping up each visitor’s free comics.

 

Lily and Callie wait in line to pick out their free comics (and pet Boo the Comic Store Cat).

 

Writer and Artist James Lynch displays some of his graphic novel titles.

 

Isaac dressed up with some Spider Man gear for FCBD.

 

Did we mention the line was long before the store opened?

 

Author James Lowder helps  Kayla and young Rain find some more comics. Kayla said comics helped her daughter become an avid reader.

 

Nick, Chris and Gabriel – first in line FCBD 2017!

 




Norman Can’t Cut THE CORD in BATES MOTEL Series Finale


Season 5, Episode 10  “The Cord”
Written by Kerry Ehrin and Carlton Cuse
Directed by Tucker Gates

[All images courtesy A&E/Cate Cameron]

Here at the end of all things Bates Motel, “The Cord” features a series of events that, at least within the context of everything that’s come before on this show, can be thought of as a “happy” ending.

If you consider a carjacking, a near-death beatdown, and two fatal shootings happy.

 RELATED ~ Review – Bates Motel Season 5 Episode 9  “Visiting Hours”

Alex, Norman, and Norma

We join Romero (Nestor Carbonell) and Norman (Freddie Highmore) on the road, continuing their midnight “Take Your Stepfather to Your Mother’s Corpse” field trip. Police station receptionist turned unwilling driver Regina (Aliyah O’Brian) begs Romero not to kill her. He obliges after the unhappy trio turns off the road towards Norma’s shallow grave. Romero “frees” Regina to walk back to the highway in freezing temperatures and sets off with Norman through the woods.

Mother is still controlling Norman (and in her mind, the situation). “Norman isn’t here … you can’t touch him.” Even digging through the snow with bare hands Mother can’t resist taunting Romero before asking for help. “It would go faster if you help me.”

Being the vengeance-crazed, sleep-deprived, and grief-stricken widower that he is, OF COURSE Romero tucks his gun away and pitches in. Norman briefly overpowers his stepfather before Romero beats him bloody.

Norman sets the final tragedy in motion – killing Romero next to Norma’s corpse.

Turning away from the dazed Norman, Romero completely loses any composure he had left at the sight of  Norma’s frozen corpse, vacant open eyes staring upwards. “I’m going to get you out of here … I’m sorry I couldn’t help you.” He doesn’t notice Norman staggering to his feet. Norman has Romero’s gun in an instant and shoots his nemesis.

Before his joins Norma in death, Romero says words that doom Norman. “You killed your own mother. You can’t hide from it.” Romero’s death seems to snap Norman back to himself. Mother appears. She’s bathed in a golden light as she tells Norman, “I have to leave you now. There’s nothing for me to protect you from. Goodbye, Norman.”

What follows is a fascinating jumble of images. Norman lies in the snow next to Norma and dreams. He opens his eyes on a golden morning and tells his mother, “I just had the most horrible dream.” Norman gets out of bed, running through the house to find Norma. She’s in the kitchen making breakfast. Norma gently tells her son, “you just have to learn to wake up from them.”

We see Norman lying in the snow between the corpses of Romero and Norma. He asks his mother, “Am I still dreaming?” As Norman thinks he’s driving to White Pine Bay with Norma to start a new life, we see a bloody, beaten Norman driving through the night.

Dylan can’t NOT try to save Norman from himself. Even if it kills him.

Norman gently tucks Norma’s corpse into her bed and hurries to prepare the hotel for opening. He’s back at the beginning of their lives at the Bates Motel.

A new start means a time to repair frayed family ties. Norman calls his brother. He knows Norma and Dylan (Max Theriot) fought terribly, but he’d like to invite his brother to dinner. “We’re at the new house with the motel. I miss you and our mother does, too.” Norman doesn’t understand why Dylan’s asking him about someone named Romero.

Dylan

By the time Norman calls his brother, Dylan already put in a full day’s work. His day started with a tense discussion with Sheriff Greene (Brooke Smith) regarding Norman’s inadvertent jailbreak, moved on to a quick stop to pick up an illegal handgun from his old pot farm coworker Remo (Ian Tracey) before ending the day with a shot of liquid reflection (aka alcohol).

Dylan is surprised Norman called him, relieved he’s alive – then crestfallen as he realizes Norman has retreated into a fantasy world where Norma is still alive. He agrees to come to dinner.

Mother … isn’t herself today.

Norman and Dylan

Before entering the Bates House, Dylan takes care of a few loose ends. He warns away the mother (blonde) with two young sons (one named Dylan) whom Norman checked into the motel. Then he makes a heartbreaking call to Emma (Olivia Cooke).

She begs him not to do this – he has a child, responsibilities, a life beyond Norman. “I know I have a child. Do I have a wife?” Emma doesn’t answer that one, nor does she respond to his I Love You. She won’t give him that final goodbye.

Now to dinner. Norman has done a remarkable job cleaning up the place and removing all the crime scene tape. He’s also dressed Norma in a lovely skirt and sweater combo and seated her at the head of the table; her makeup, smearing and running down her face, does ruin the effect.

Dylan refuses to play along with Norman’s delusion. Norman hustles his brother into the dining room. “We can talk over dinner. Just sit here by Mother.” The sight of Norma’s corpse prompts a fairly normal reaction out of Dylan – he vomits.

As the illusion begins to unravel, Norman clings to it. If he just keeps pretending hard enough, everything will be as it was. He counters Dylan’s insistence that he live in the “real world.” “In a prison for the criminally insane?” Dylan doesn’t want that; as he explains to his brother, he wants a lot of things that will never happen. “I want you to be happy. I want you to be well … I want Mom to be alive again.” This is (I believe) the first time Dylan has called Norma “Mom,” and it’s one of the most heartbreaking moments in all of Bates Motel.

For a moment, it seems like Norman will go with his brother and rejoin the “real world.” But Norman picks up a long kitchen knife, sadly tells Dylan, “I just want to be with her, ” and commits suicide by brother (aka the “Kill the Ones You Love” trope).

“Thank You.” Norman lies bleeding to death cradled in a weeping Dylan’s arms. In his mind, he is running through the forest, joyfully reunited with his one true love – a smiling, loving Norma.

********

We see Dylan sitting on the house porch steps; he watches the police take Norman and Norma’s bodies away.

“Dream a Little Dream of Me” plays as we see the future in sunlight. A man and woman buy the Bates Motel. As Remo told Dylan earlier, the legalization of marijuana in Oregon has transformed the secret pot farms into booming artisanal weed growers. Maybe these two can make the place a success.

Emma leads a Katie through a crowd of people. They meet up with Dylan. He scoops up Katie in his arms. Are they still together, or now former partners who put their child first? I suspect the later even if I hope for the former.

In the sunlit graveyard, the audience makes the final pilgrimage to Norma’s headstone. Next to her name and testimonial is a simple inscription. NORMAN.  Together with Mother, today and always.

 

Psycho Notes

~ Norman liked the “cord between our hearts” line he cribbed from Jane Eyre and quoted to Norma in the very first episode of Bates Motel (“First You Dream, Then You Die”), he used it for Norma’s headstone (as seen in The Convergence of the Twain and the series finale.

~ Norman ends up killing his mother and her lover in both Psycho (simultaneous poisoning) and Bates Motel (carbon monoxide poisoning and gunshot spaced two years apart).

~ Norman worried about being committed to “a prison for the criminally insane.” Ed Gein was sent to the Wisconsin Central State Hospital for the Insane before being transferred to the  Mendota Mental Health Institute, where he died in 1984.

~ Dylan’s “drink & think” bar features the 2016 song “Magi Bullet” by the band My Morning Jacket; ironic in the light of the magic bullet that saves his life at episode’s end.

~ At the Bates home, classic easy listening of the 50’s & 60’s hold sway – on vinyl of course.

  • “Que Sera Sera” – sung by Doris Day. The actress also starred in Alfred Hitchock’s 1956 movie The Man Who Knew Too Much.
  • “You Belong to Me” (1952) by Pee Wee King, Chilton Price and Redd Stewart; first recorded by Joni James, most popular version recorded by Jo Stafford.
  • “Dream a Little Dream of Me” (1931) by Fabian Andre and Wilbur Schwandt, lyrics by Gus Kahn. Covered many, many times, including a version by Doris Day.

 

Sadly, Bates Motel is no longer airing on A&E Network.

 




VISITING HOURS at BATES MOTEL – Emma Says Goodbye, Romero Says Hello


Season 5, Episode 9  “Visiting Hours”
Written by Scott Kosar
Directed by Olatunde Osunsanmi

[All images courtesy A&E/Cate Cameron]

Despite a little bit of filler in the RomeroWatch story, “Visiting Hours” brought this season’s three parallel storylines (Dylan & Emma, Romeo, and Norma/n) together with plenty of heartbreak all around. Emma says goodbye to a mother she barely knew while Romero adds to his lengthy list of felonies on his way to a reunion with his stepson Norman.

 RELATED ~ Review – Bates Motel Season 5 Episode 8  “The Body”

“Visiting Hours” opens with a snippy Mother (Vera Farmiga) grudgingly putting up with the indignities of being booked for multiple counts of murder in the 1st Degree. Electronic fingerprinting, mug shot — so undignified!  Over at the Bates place, Sheriff Greene (Brooke Smith) oversees a mass of crime scene techs sweeping over the grounds.

Even if Mother refuses to talk, there’s plenty of physical evidence being collected.  A deputy’s discovery of the suitcase belonging to Emma’s mother is one-upped by a tech discovering Chick’s (Ryan Hurst) body slumped over his typewriter in the basement. Poor Chick; he died as he lived — an unpublished writer.

Dylan (Max Theirot) is stunned to see Emma (Olivia Cooke) pulling into the parking lot of the King’s Motel. He embraces her tightly as Emma explains, “I want to be here to help you with this.” Her concern turns to shock as Dylan breaks the news of her mother’s death; he knows Norman is responsible.

After all they’ve been through, realizing the truth about Norman may break their relationship. Even as Emma reassures Dylan that “it’s not your fault,” her emotions rapidly shift to vengeance. She doesn’t want to hear Dylan say anything supporting Norman. At this point, Emma swears she’ll kill him herself (though she will have to get in line behind Alex Romero, of course).

In the contest of “who has the worse family member?” I’d give Dylan the edge.

Unfortunately for Norman, Mother’s strategy for resolving the “pickle” they’re in amounts to declaring “I didn’t do it – so Not Guilty!” She’s not as thrilled by Julia Ramos’ (Natalia Cordova-Buckley) news that even with a best-case scenario, a Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity verdict will land Norman in a mental institution for life. To Mother, physical death or life in a mental institution mean the same thing: hell. Mother puts her Norman act into overdrive, telling her attorney, “everyone has multiple personalities, Julia.”

This interview with her client compels Julia to visit Dylan and Emma. She begs Dylan to attend the preliminary hearing. Given the amount of evidence gathered by the state and what’s she heard and seen from her client, Julia needs Dylan to be at the preliminary hearing. Dylan is Norman’s connection to humanity; she needs all the help she can get putting Norman’s illness front and center.

Mother may have to destroy Norman in order to save him.

Emma goes to White Pine Bay’s only funeral home. She arranges for a less expensive cremation for the mother she had no relationship with in life and will now never have a chance to know. Emma’s stoic act breaks down when she makes her pilgrimage to Norma’s headstone. Emma cries openly by Norma’s headstone. “I’m so sorry, Norma. I miss you.”

At least she chooses a memorable spot to disperse her mother’s ashes. In sight of majestic snow-capped mountains, Emma shakes the ashes free while “Crimson and Clover” reverberates around her.

Dylan, prompted by the photos of his mother and brother, attends Norman’s preliminary hearing. He avoids the front row seat reserved for him by Julia Ramos and sits in the back row. Both he and Madeline Loomis (Isabelle McNally) leave the courtroom after hearing the matter of fact descriptions of the gruesome deaths of Joe Blackwell, Audrey Ellis, and Sam Loomis.

Madeline angrily asks Dylan, “How did he trick you your whole life? You knew. How can you live with yourself?” She was only fooled for a couple of weeks, although the whole “giving you my dead mother’s clothes” bit should’ve been a gigantic red GET AWAY FROM NORMAN flag.

That overconfident smirk? Norman is still sleeping.

By the light of the most annoying neon sign ever, Emma and Dylan tell each other about their respective days spend attending hearings and dispersing ashes. Guys, I know that that incessantly flashing neon light represents the hell you’re going through right now, but please — those pieces of fabric hanging over the window are called curtains and they were invented to help you get some sleep.

The next morning Emma bids a sad goodbye to her husband, but does not proceed straight out of Crazytown. She stops at the White Pine Bay jail to visit Norman. As the visit proceeds Emma sees how completely the Norman she knew (or thought she knew) has vanished into Mother. Mother’s Norman act works about as well on Emma as it did on Julia — which is to say, not well at all. “It’s me, Norman. Your Norman, your friend.” Emma sadly asks “Can I talk to Norman?” Mother smirks: “He’s sleeping.” Tears welling in her eyes, Emma asks Mother to “tell him I miss him.”

Look at Norman. So harmless. Wouldn’t hurt a fly.

RomeroWatch

After a meandering conversation with a fellow gas station customer regarding differences between the 1968 and 1968 Dodge Fury models, a stop at Maggie’s (Jillian Fargey) house to use her computer and refuse her tempting offer to flee to a life on the lam in Montana, former Sheriff Romero is ready for his final act of suicidal vengeance.

Alex makes an after-hours visit to the White Pine Bay jail. He adds to his long list of felonies by taking the receptionist hostage, rounding up every deputy in the building, shooting one in the shoulder. Romero tops off the crime spree by taking Norman and the thoroughly terrified receptionist off on a field trip. Norman stammeringly demands to know, “What do you want from us, Alex?”

“You’re going to take me to her body.”

And we’re off to the Bates Motel finale!

 

Psycho Notes

~ Even in sleepy White Pine Bay, digital fingerprinting is putting the ink pad out to pasture.

~ Ever wonder why TV (and real life) crime scene techs wear those DuPont Tyvek suits at crime scenes? Here’s your answer!

~ I looked into why a tech told Sheriff Greene “the pulp’s still fresh” while collecting samples from Norma’s bed. I’m very grateful Bates Motel didn’t go into detail on how that pulp got there.

~ Norman’s journey through the Oregon criminal justice system is tracking pretty accurately with Ed Gein’s journey to a mental institution.

***Somebody snuck in a very deep reference to the infamous true crime case that inspired Robert Bloch to write Psycho. The judge at Norman’s hearing, the Hon. Sybil Meredith Gollmar; the judge at Ed Gein’s hearing? Judge Robert Howard Gollmar.

~ This week’s swingin’ 60’s Hit Parade includes

  • “Call Me Irresponsible” – Bobby Darin version
  • “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” – Beach Boys
  • “Crimson and Clover” – Tommy James and the Shondells

 

The final episode of Bates Motel, “The Cord,” airs Monday April 24 on A&E at 8/9 Central.




THE NUN Gets Her Star Turn in THE CONJURING Franchise

[Images courtesy The Conjuring 2.com]

 

I was not a fan of The Conjuring 2 – it was the “One Dishonorable Mention” in my “Five Great Horror Movies of 2016” linked below. But I acknowledge being in the minority on this one. With an 80% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a worldwide gross of 320 million dollars (from a budget of 40 million), The Conjuring 2 had plenty of positive reviews and moviegoers worldwide who chose to pay good money to see it.

RELATED ~ Opinion – Five Great Horror Movies of 2016 and One Dis-Honorable Mention

The Conjuring (2013) didn’t just spawn a sequel, but also a 2014 spinoff starring Annabelle, the creepiest doll since Chucky. And like its parent, The Conjuring 2 has its own breakout supporting prop – a Night Gallery worthy portrait of an unquiet Sister menacing paranormal investigators Ed and Elaine Warren. As noted by the Hollywood Reporter last year, The Nun will be leaping off the canvas and into theaters in 2018.

More recent news about the director and at least one of the stars of The Nun indicate that this latest addition to the Conjuring family may turn out to be a spinoff (like Annabelle was to The Conjuring) that’s actually scarier than the movie it sprang from.

Elaine Warren vs The Nun in the mirror.

In February of this year, Corin Hardy was announced as the director of The Nun.  If you’re asking “Corin Who?” you’re not alone. Hardy is best known for The Hallow (2015) – a “Nature Strikes Back” story set in rural Ireland. The Hallow is a small indie movie that uses atmospheric locations, practical effects, and Irish folklore to create a sense of dread to go with the scares. Check out Hardy’s website to see his other work, including the short film “Butterfly.”

If nothing else, The Nun has a director who knows how to create a unique look and atmosphere – in a horror movie that is more than half the battle.

Another promising sign is the recent announcement of The Nun’s leading man. Mexico City-born Damien Bichir, besides appearing in television series Weeds and The Bridge, also earned a Best Actor nominee in 2012 for A Better Life. He’ll be playing Father Burke, “dispatched by Rome to investigate the mysterious death of a nun.”

The Nun – Another delightful resident of the Ed & Elaine Warren Souvenir Room.

Anabelle grossed  257 million worldwide (against a budget of 6.5 million) and created a fun, scary “evil doll” movie from another movie’s prop. With the creative talent announced so far, The Nun may do the same with an equally creepy supporting player from the Conjuring franchise.

 

 




THE BODY (of Evidence) Points to Norman on BATES MOTEL


Season 5, Episode 8  “The Body”
Written by Erica Lipez
Directed by Freddie Highmore

[All images courtesy A&E/Cate Cameron]

Last week, Freddie Highmore made his Bates Motel writing debut with “Inseparable.” This week Highmore again pulls double duty; working behind the camera as director as well as starring as Norman Bates in “The Body.”

This third to last episode moves with intensity as it chronicles Mother’s increasingly desperate attempts to fix the awful “pickle” Norman has landed them in.

 RELATED ~ Review – Bates Motel Season 5 Episode 7  “Inseparable”

Norman (Freddie Highmore) sits in the Bates home living room, eyes shut. We hear Sheriff Greene’s (Brooke Smith)  voice as if from the bottom of a well. She asks, “Can you open your eyes? Can you look at me?” But if Norman opens his eyes, he’ll see Mother stomping furiously towards him.

He shuts his eyes – then opens them. Mother is gone.  Norman works up the courage to defy Mother and speaks directly to Greene. “I need my meds … I can’t be in this house. I’ll tell you everything.”

Dylan (Max Theriot) doesn’t even wait for the EMTs to finish stitching him up before racing out the door. Before Norman’s driven away, he promises to get a lawyer for Norman, “Please let me help you.”

In the police interrogation room, Norman may be fuzzy on the exact location of the well where Sam Loomis rests; as Norman explains, “I just was not myself that night.” Greene speculates that Norman is just acting out for attention but he’s emphatic on that point. “I am not lying about this. I killed Sam Loomis.”

Norman can’t look under the bed – or over his shoulder. Mother is everywhere.

A deputy does give Norman his meds – but doesn’t bother to stay and make sure Norman takes them. Which, surprisingly, he does. Mother senses the threat to her existence and forces Norman to vomit up the pills (Vera Farmiga’s face as Mother daintily drops the toilet paper she used to induce Norman’s vomiting? Priceless)

After the abuse comes the forgiveness. Mother takes Norman in her arms and croons,”You’re sick. You’re weak. You’re not equipped.” She’ll take care of everything.

Norman replies that this is one situation Mother can’t take care of. Mother agrees; she can’t – “not with you here.” Last episode Mother sweetly volunteered to take over if things got to be too much for Norman to handle. With so much at stake, she takes the lead and bashes Norman’s head into the toilet seat. She’ll wake him up after things are safe again.

Hope Dylan saved up some personal time at work. He might be taking care of Norman for some time.

Turns out Dylan hung on to some mementos from his Season One and Two pot-farm employee days, like business cards for local criminal defense attorneys. In a very Twin Peaks-esque diner, attorney Julia Ramos (Natalia Cordova-Buckley) finishes her eggs, bacon, and coffee. Dylan explains (or tries to) the complicated Bates family history to an outsider. Missing mother-in-law and glass-smashing brother included.

Dylan believes Norman “needs to be in a mental facility. He’s crazy … he’s not a bad person or a criminal.” Apparently Dylan’s never heard of the legal concept of “guilty but mentally ill?” At least his heart’s in the right place and he’s paying for Norman’s attorney.

Back at the White Pine Bay Jail, Mother as Norman has had enough of being cooped up like a criminal. She condescendingly informs Sheriff Greene, “Actually Jane, I’d rather leave. I’d very much like to go home now.”

OF COURSE Mother in her arrogance believes it’s as simple as that; throw a hissy fit and get out of jail. Unfortunately, calling the Sheriff’s bluff results in Norman being arrested, not freed. “Enjoy your accommodations.”

Both in the initial meeting with Julia Ramos and a later interview with Greene in the presence of his attorney, Mother as Norman manages to insult the brother providing the attorney, the attorney herself, AND make a mess of attempting to frame someone else for the many bodies showing up.

Mother takes this opening and attempts to frame Madeline Loomis for murder with it. Madeline was a lovely woman and turned to Norman for solace from the pain of her husband’s adultery. What Norman felt for Madeline was “madness.” But as his mother often said, Norman was “too naive about beautiful women, and my mother was always right.” Greene lets Norman talk, on and on, saying nothing but letting the recording device get it all down for posterity.

The Sheriff Greene interview technique; let the other person do the talking

Unfortunately for Mother, dental records trump any attempt to frame Madeline Loomis. The second body in Lake This Is Where We Hide The Bodies is identified through dental records as Audrey Ellis, Emma’s missing mother. Greene has Norman perp-walked back to the interrogation room to cool his heels. Mother reassures Norman that it’ll be over soon and he can come back when they get home. After all, she misses him.

Then Greene enters the room. Mother taunts the Sheriff – it’s nice of her to visit, but Norman has nothing to say. Greene informs Norman that since he’s also being charged with the murders of Jim Blackwell and Audrey Ellis, he doesn’t have to say anything.

Mother doesn’t realize who’s the cat and who’s the mouse just yet.

Romero Watch Featuring Chick Hogan

Yay! Chick (Ryan Hurst) Is Back!  Our favorite White Pine Bay weirdo pulls into the motel parking lot, listening to classic 70’s folk crooner John Denver with a freshly dead racoon in a sack for Norman. Stopped by the police from barging his way up to the house, Chick reveals his actual name (Charles Hogan). In return, Chick deduces that such a massive police operation could only mean one thing for Norman – a murder investigation.

Chick is sincerely relieved Norman’s not dead.  But his arrest does leave the Bates house empty and need of a caretaker …

Former Sheriff and Current Escaped convict Alex Romero continues his implacable journey to avenge Norma’s death. He steals his gun from a sleeping Maggie (Jillian Fargey) to wander the empty Bates Home. Seeing phantom visions of his wife everywhere, Romero finally falls asleep on her bed.

But he isn’t alone with his memories. Through the vents, Romero hears a muffled dialogue. He follows the voices to Norman’s cold storage shrine that formerly held the corpse of his mother.

Amid the dead flowers and candelabra, Chick Hogan listens to the tape of his demented dinner with Norman and “Mother” while he writes his masterwork. Dressed like Grizzly Adams gone mad, Chick admits, “this looks weird.”

Unfortunately for his survival odds, Chick decides to respond to Romero’s basic question -what are you doing here? – with an only-from-Chick soliloquy praising the demented magnificence of Norma and Norman.

Romero slowly loses patience with Chick’s ramblings. Chick tells him that Norman dug up his mother, put her on private display, then got rid of the body before the police showed up, building his monologue to a truly magnificent finale.

He dug her up! The artificiality of scripted drama doesn’t hold a candle to True Crime!

Alex unceremoniously shoots Chick straight between the eyes. Chick, silenced at last, falls to his keyboard and we hear the tiny “ding!” of the return bar.

Psycho Notes

~ What Dylan calls “multiple personality disorder” is more commonly known today as Dissociative Identity Disorder.

~ to his brother’s belief, in many states Norman could be found to be BOTH mentally ill AND a criminal. Oregon follows a Guilty Except for Insanity guideline, governed by a Psychiatric Security Review Board.

~ If you were wondering “Remo Who?” with respect to who gave Dylan “Julia Ramos, Attorney At Law” card, you’re not alone. Back in Dylan’s career as a pot farm flunky, Remo Wallace was a co-worker.

~ Chick Hogan, a John Denver fan? He’s listening to “Back Home Again” as he pulls into the Bates Motel for his “business meeting” with Norman.

~ Sheriff Greene’s technique is neither the old-fashioned “good-cop bad-cop” or less confrontational techniques used in other countries. Greene uses an information-gathering interview style that encourages Norman (or Mother as Norman)to  do most of the talking.

~ Mother as Norman describes  Sam Loomis as a “nasty, nasty man” and a Madeline Loomis throwing herself on Norman echoes Mother in Psycho haranguing Norman about  “young men with cheap, erotic minds,” and Norman remarking, “She might have fooled me, but she didn’t fool my mother.”

~ The next to last shot of “The Body” is Sam Loomis’s corpse being pulled out of the well. The last shot of Psycho – Marion Crane’s car dragged out of the pond.

 

Bates Motel airs Monday 8/9 Central on A&E.

 




SciFi4Chicks: Disney’s Live Action Plan – Should They Adapt Every Animated Story?

[Featured image courtesy Disney]

The Walt Disney Company is known for their ground-breaking classic animated films: Snow WhiteCinderellaSleeping Beauty, plus more recent classics like The Lion KingThe Little MermaidMulan, and Beauty and the Beast. In recent years, though, they’ve been dipping back into that same well to take those classic animated stories and rework them into live-action pieces such as Maleficent, 101 Dalmatians, and Cinderella. The latest release, Beauty and the Beast, gives us a chance to compare and contrast this version and the classic animated feature.

Along the way, we discuss the other projects in the pipeline: Mulan, a sequel to The Jungle BookDumbo, The Lion King, and more. Should Disney be re-making all of these classic films? Or should they work to deliver new classics?

The panel: Mindy Inlow, Jennifer Wise, Teresa Wickersham, Sonya Rodriguez, Ann Laabs, Lauren Garrison




Mother and Norman – INSEPARABLE Partners in Crime on BATES MOTEL


Season 5, Episode 7  “Inseparable”
Written by Freddie Highmore
Directed by Steph Green

[Images courtesy A&E/Cate Cameron]

How can Bates Motel top the death of Sam Loomis (Austin Nichols) last week in “Marion“? By charting through the post-Marion Crane story giving Norman (Freddie Highmore) a bit more agency while revealing how determined, tenacious, and ruthless Mother (Vera Farmiga) can be when her existence and relationship with Norman is threatened.

Add in a whopper of a misdirection reveal and you’ve got one heck of a script — written by Freddie Highmore himself.

 

 RELATED ~ Review – Bates Motel Season 5 Episode 6  “Marion”

 

“Marion” put a Bates Motel spin on the Psycho Shower Scene to create something new within the classic. “Inseparable” borrows directly from the film; the first thing we see is Sam’s open, “dead-still … fish-like right eye.” Bloody faced, Norman stands mute against the bathroom wall. He doesn’t even notice Mother bustling in with her fully-stocked cleaning cart. “I know you’re in shock … You can think about the meaning of life later. Right now, we’ve got s**t to do.”

Mother’s non-helpful pep talk continues on their midnight ride to dispose of Sam’s body. But somebody’s beaten them to Lake This-Is-Where-We-Dump-Corpses. What looks like the entire White Pine Bay police force is parked by the shore as a body (most likely the missing Joe Blackwell) is retrieved from the water. Norman vomits. Mother sighs. “It’s going to be a long night.”

If Mama Bates isn’t happy, nobody’s happy.

Luckily for Norman, Mother’s kept her eyes open for other spots to dump bodies since they can’t use the lake “this time.” He asks her, “How many bodies are they going to find in that lake? How many times have we done this?” Be careful with your questions, Norman. You may not like the truth Mother tells you.

One comically inept trip to an abandoned well in the forest and Sam Loomis is history — for now. Norman continues to be amazed at Mother’s knowledge of things like “chop shops” that will give money for cars. Chick Hogan (Ryan Hurst) didn’t give him any money for Jim Blackwell’s car!

Norman and Mother walk home after a long night of evidence disposal. Mother wonders where she left the Luminol. Norman, still apparently in shock, wonders if he should just turn himself in. With a combination of concerned care and and unstated threat, Mother offers to “take over” if things get to be too much for Norman to deal with.

The family that disposes of bodies in remote locations together STAYS together.

Our murderous duo arrives back at the motel just in time for Norman to completely fail at deflecting Detective Arbogast Sheriff Greene’s (Brooke Smith) kind but persistent questions regarding the motel, guests at the motel, and those odd tire tracks in the parking lot gravel. Oh, and by the way, “multiple” bodies were recovered from the lake nearby. Norman nervously babbles his way through a very unconvincing story about recommending the lake to guests and getting started on “Linen Day” before Sheriff Greene takes her leave.

Whew! Norman now has time to drag a wheelchair (?) from somewhere in the house, drag Norma’s corpse out of cold storage, bury his mother in the shallowest grave in Oregon before promising, “I’ll be back as soon as I can.” If Norman isn’t consciously trying to turn himself in yet, he’s unconsciously leaving plenty of clues for the White Pine Bay Police.

Dylan – WHY did you come back to the Bates Home of Insanity?

To make Norman’s day even more crap-tastic, Dylan (Max Theirot) pulls up to the house! No naptime for Norman yet. Norman apologizes for not telling his brother of Norma’s death. Seeing Mother behind Dylan, Norman whispers to his brother, “I do miss our Mother, so very much Dylan … I can’t even tell you.” Dylan, puppy-dog eyes full of tears, says “I don’t think you’re well, Norman,” and offers to stay for a few days.

Norman (finally!) goes to take a nap after leaving his brother with a Norman Bates Sandwich Special for lunch. Dylan opts for a self-guided tour through a home full of pictures, dust, and wilted flowers. He breaks down in tears in Norma’s room. Even in death, Norma’s ability to guilt trip the men in her family is uncanny.

Norman may want to take his medicine, but Mother most certainly does not.

Poor Norman. Mother wakes him up from nap time to deliver another veiled threat; this time it’s about Dylan. He’s a nice boy, they all love him, but “he’s never really understood us. We can’t have him in our lives anymore.” Norman must get him to leave — with the silent promise that Mother can take care of the situation if Norman cannot.

Dylan will not give up on Norman. But trying to help his brother sets in motion a  confrontation with Mother that almost costs Dylan his life. He stops at a pharmacy in White Pine Bay, asking them to contact Dr. Edwards (Damon Gupton) for a prescription refill. The pharmacist has to tell a shocked Dylan (and an equally shocked audience) that Dr. Edwards has been missing for about a year and is presumed dead.

A stunned Dylan tells the pharmacist his brother needs his medication or “something bad will happen.” Too bad he (or the pharmacist) doesn’t go to the police with this information. Dylan gets a few pills and heads “home.”

Madeline, loitering by the motel, delivers a helpful “my husband Sam Loomis is mysteriously missing” plot point to Dylan before leaving her only scene of the episode.

Take your most awkward family dinner and multiply it by infinity for the Last Supper of the Sons of Norma Bates.

As is Tradition in the Bates home, a tension-filled dinner (in a remarkably cleaned up kitchen) ends in disaster with food on the floor, broken glass, and attempted murder. Dylan begs Norman to take one of the pills he brought. Norman in return begs Dylan to “just leave me be and let me live how I need to live.” Pill in hand, Norman walks to the sink to get a glass of water.

Mother “just wants to talk” to Dylan; she turns from the sink and addresses her eldest son. Mother loves him very much, but can only be a real mother to one person. Dylan means well, but he is in the way.

Down comes the water class on Dylan’s head, followed by a knife wielded by Mother. Dylan, stunned and bleeding, sees Norman fighting with himself; we see Mother viciously fighting to break free and kill Dylan. Norman manages to take control, shoving Mother off the table before scrambling to the phone.

Norman calls 911 and says words that sets Bates Motel on a fascinating, uncharted course.

“My name is Norman Bates, and I killed Sam Loomis.”

 

Psycho Notes

~ RomeroWatch – Former Sheriff and Current Prison Farm Escapee Alex Romero is still recuperating at the home of former flame (?) Maggie (Jillian Fargey). Romero is feeling well enough to frantically search Maggie’s home for his gun after a good breakfast of scrambled eggs, toast, and sausage.

~ This season began two years after Norma’s death; Dr. Edwards “disappeared” one year ago. The coffee talk scene between Norman and Dr. Edwards in “Dreams Die First” was all in Norman’s mind.

When (and how) did Dr. Edwards become such a threat to Mother’s existence that he had to die? Will we get to see THAT flashback? Congratulations to the entire Bates Motel crew for pulling off the rare (and tricky) “Sixth Sense” twist.

~ In a Hollywood Reporter interview after “Marion,” Executive Producer Carlton Cuse used an interesting word with respect to  Norman killing Sam in the Bates Motel version of “the shower scene.”

“There was a very clearly designed progression in terms of his culpability, and that was his journey as a character as a serial killer. It’s weird to use those words, because I don’t think we ever thought of him as that. We thought of him as someone who was troubled and had this horrible psychopathology and it’s just getting progressive, and it’s part of that progressive journey as he becomes more and more on the hook for his actions.”

Good News – Norman Bates is getting some agency in his story and some responsibility for the many crimes in his wake. Bad news – the Norman of Bates Motel may end the same way as Norman in Psycho – with the son subsumed completely into Mother.

~ Mother remembers the Luminol – so important for the “micro cleaning” of Room One.

~ Oregon does have the death penalty – for aggravated murder. However, there is currently a moratorium on executions.

 

Bates Motel airs Monday 8/9 Central on A&E.

 

 




Ice-T Rules as a Vampire King in BLOODRUNNERS

Bloodrunners (2017)
Written by Michael McFadden
Directed by Dan Lantz
Speakeasy Pictures
95 minutes, not rated

[All images courtesy Dan Lantz]

In the rural New Jersey community of South Hampton, a small and thoroughly corrupt police department spends most of their time before Prohibition ends collecting bribes instead of enforcing the law. As Bloodrunners begins, two of these cops are checking out the newest joint in town, a jazz club called Chesterfield’s.

Jack Malone (Michael McFadden) is the older, alcoholic mentor to younger (but equally corrupt) younger partner Sam (Dan McLaughlin). While the club clearly makes money serving illegal booze, Jack suspects they have a larger operation – which means more money for the police to extort. Unfortunately for Jack, Dan, and every human in South Hampton, these bootleggers are much smarter – and deadlier – than anyone realizes. Whoever’s running Chesterfield’s isn’t just out to separate customers from their money; they aim to literally bleed the town dry.

In my previous article on the release of Bloodrunners, I noted the potential of different elements mixed together in this movie to result in an entertaining popcorn movie for  viewers.

Placing a classic horror movie character type in a historical setting? Worked pretty well for Interview with the Vampire. And pitting an “evil” supernatural character against a group of scummy humans creates an interesting “who do I want to see win” situation (done to perfection in From Dusk Til Dawn).

The look, sound, and feel of Bloodrunners does not reflect a very modest production budget.

Does Bloodrunners successfully mix vamps, jazz, and small town Americana? Surprisingly well. Let’s start with what works.

Dan Lantz didn’t just do triple duty as Director, Production Designer & Cinematographer for Bloodrunners. He’s also credited with the concept and co-creating the original story with writer (and leading man) Michael McFadden. With an estimated production budget of $180,000 (if IMDB is correct), every penny is on the screen.

Lantz has made a very small budget movie that never looks it. Whatever its faults (see below), Bloodrunners transports you to the past, especially during any scene set at Chesterfield’s when the band is playing. The jazzy music throughout the film – credited on IMDB to Bruce Greenwald as arranger/studio musician and Jerome Danoff and F. William White IV as studio musicians – was, for me at least, a key element pulling me into the story. The special effects served the story, instead of the other way around.

 

Yes bandleader/vampire Chesterfield and chanteuse/vampire Alexandra are evil, but they do know how to have fun with immortality.

Another element pulling Bloodrunners together is the performances. Ice-T gets top billing as suave, ruthless vampire boss Chesterfield. But the supporting members of his vampire clan/business model also shine. Slinky singer Alexandra (Julie Ek) loves torturing townsfolk almost as much as singing. Peter Patrikios plays the human (and more importantly in Jim Crow-era America, white) figurehead Victor Renfield with relish. Renfield loves serving his vampire masters – and duping cops too blinded by greed to notice the truth until it’s too late.

Star-crossed lovers Anna (Airen DeLaMater) and Willie (Chris James Boylan) play the two humans in town we actually root for. Cigarette Girl/Betty Boop wannabe Rita (Tina Marie Connell) can’t carry a tune in a bucket but did make me smile.

Victor Renfield – the human servant of vampire boss Chesterfield – takes his last name from one of Dracula’s human flunkies.

What doesn’t work in Bloodrunners? Some aspects of the story that got the most screen time proved not as interesting as bits with much less.

We get to know a lot about why Jack Malone became an alcohol-sodden wreck; WWI and a Vampire medic played a big role. But his story isn’t as interesting as the amount of time the movie devotes to it. Which means less time for things I wanted more of – from the spectacularly creepy Vampire Dungeon below Chesterfield’s to the suave, mysterious and deadly Mr. Washington. The whole concept of a traveling coven of vampires, moving from town to town with a – shall we say – unique business model deserved more screen time than the story of Jack Malone’s Bad War Experience.

One of the most interesting parts of Bloodrunners – a basement “blood farm” draining the town dry.

Bloodrunners may not be greatest vampire movie I’ve ever seen. But it is a fun, entertaining B-movie with performances and production values that belie its small indie budget.

Bloodrunners is available on DVD/BluRay, as well as multiple streaming platforms, including iTunes, Google Play, and Vimeo On Demand.

Check out the official Bloodrunners web page for more trailers like the one below, movie clips, and photos.

 

 




“The End” for GRIMMLY SPEAKING? It’s a GRIMM Life


Episode 6:13 “The End”
Written by David Greenwalt & Jim Kouf
Directed by David Greenwalt 

[recap by Maia Ades]

Here it is, my last Grimm episode post. We may do a series wrap up at a later date, but this is the last episode and last post covering one of the episodes. Overall I think the writers did a good job of wrapping this series up. I have some niggling issues with some of their choices, but it did bring the story to a conclusion.

Talk about cramming story in. This episode is still only 43 minutes long. I thought since it was the series finale that they might make it a longer episode. Instead they put it all in one regular length show. It manages, to not only give us some catch up scenes of what came before, flash backs of bits from the original pilot, it also manages to have the final battle and resolve it all in the end. And that is probably the highest compliment I can pay this episode. It manages to wrap up a series that has been playing out its storylines for the past five and half seasons. It does a fairly good job of resolving many loose ends. It doesn’t go back and resolve story ideas from some of the first seasons, but I’ll forgive them at this point.

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Grimm has been building to a huge showdown, an ultimate battle for the world as we know it. Or actually the world Grimm has built, which, let’s be clear, is not the same world I live in.  So, they had to give us a pay off for the long build up to that. They also had to leave their audience with an ending that they would be happy with. This ending probably didn’t make everyone happy, but if they’d left all our favorite characters dead, there just might have been riots in the streets.

(Photo by: Allyson Riggs/NBC)

My biggest peeves with this episode were the breaking of their own rules and the final, “Twenty Years Later” part. By my count Nick (David Giuntoli) offered the stick to the Devil twice. I thought that the rule was, Nick had to give the stick to him. Well, he tried to, twice. I don’t know why that wasn’t the end of it. It would have been a very unsatisfying ending. True. But the way it played out, they weren’t following their own rules. That always bothers me. If you create a world, create rules for that world and then break them, what was the point of making the rules? Why did the Devil bring Trubel (Jacqueline Toboni) back to life? It did not serve him well. Why would he give Nick an ally to use against him?

Have you seen It’s a Wonderful Life? The end reminded me of that movie. Nick experienced the deaths of everyone that was important to him, and then they were all given back to him. Okay, everyone doesn’t die in the movie, but somehow it felt similar. I expect he will go on to live the end of his days not taking them or their friendship for granted. I do like that there are some key details that are different in the two times Nick comes flying through the mirror. The second time, Eve/Juliette (Elizabeth Tulloch) retained her Hexenbiest powers. Trubel goes to Monroe (Silas Weir Mitchell) and Rosalee’s (Bree Turner) house, instead of to the Spice Shop. Adalind was not wearing Bonaparte’s ring, because Nick took it off her after she was dead, and Diana (Hannah R. Loyd) remembered what happened. Oh, and of course, the Spear of Destiny made the trip through the mirror with Nick and Eve.

(Photo by: Allyson Riggs/NBC)

The whole thing at the very end with the kids now as adults seemed unnecessary. We see now grown up Kelly writing his dad’s story in the Grimm book. Not surprising that he embellished the story. While Nick is to be credited with saving the situation, he did have his weak moments. He did turn his back on his duty as a Grimm. He tried to give the stick to the Devil. In fact, if it weren’t for first Trubel taking him on and then the spirits of both his Mother and Aunt, he would have given up. He also could not have defeated the Devil without the aid of all three women.

I never did get my Baby Jack Jack moment with baby Kelly. I so wanted that. Seeing Kelly as a handsome young man did not make up for it. I still felt cheated out of that.

Can we be honest? Diana is creepy. That child could give anyone nightmares. Which makes it a bit odd when Renard (Sasha Roiz) and Adalind (Claire Coffee) agree that she is their shining achievement. That child has created a lot of chaos and death. That’s before the whole issue of the Devil coming to claim her for his bride. People were dying because of her before she was even born. Then more people died trying to either get her or protect her as a tiny infant. I wonder what her teenage years were like?

(Photo by: Allyson Riggs/NBC)

In the flash forward, we learn that Monroe and Rosalee’s triplets arrived safe and sound. But we don’t get to see them. They’re just mentioned in passing. I didn’t need to see them. But then, I didn’t need to see adult Kelly and Diana. It really could have ended with the group hug. I’d have been fine with that. Was that part necessary to other audience members? Did you feel the need to see how the kids grew up? Did you need to know that for some reason, Kelly is the one writing his Dad’s story twenty years after it happened? We’ve seen Nick adding to the Grimm books after various encounters. Why would this story have been different? Why would he not have written down his own story shortly after his re-entry through the mirror? Yes, it’s cool that his son is carrying on the tradition. I just don’t understand why he’s writing that story and not his own.

Well Grimmsters, it’s been quite a ride. Thanks for following along with me. It’s been an honor and privilege to share with you my thoughts and critiques of each episode. Maybe I’ll see you at a comic-con some day and we can chat about a Grimm world.