What I'm Watching: Underwater

In the grand tradition of underwater horror movies:

  • Sealab 2020 (1972, Hanna-Barbera), Sealab 2021 (2000-2005, Adult Swim): "Oh, those aren't horror, Mark." Aren't they? MARDUK SAYS THEY ARE.
  • Abyss (1989): Pretty good for a self-indulgent James Cameron flick. Fun up to "live damn you live!", but the ending is stupid, aliens make contact underwater and just want us to stop having wars. Will do, Mom.
  • Deep Star Six (1989): Miguel Ferrer, Greg Evigan (minus the chimp), and a lobster.
  • Leviathan (1989): Peter Weller, Amanda Pays, Ernie Hudson, and Meg Foster! But the monsters a lame Thing ripoff.
  • Lords of the Deep (1980): Priscilla Barnes trying to act with her clothes on, do not watch, unbelievably awful.
  • Underwater (2020)

And many more in between, but that batch of 4 "Cameron's working on an underwater movie? Let's beat him to the theatres!" flicks already did pretty much every scene you can get here, and Sealab 2020 (the serious one) defined the look and many basic plots.

  • Deep sea stations are so dangerous that nobody would actually work in one. And in reality, nobody does.
  • That poor little spider. It gets more characterization than most of the other crew; we don't even see the crew, except a couple runners and a couple corpses. I don't know if there's 10, 20, 100, 1000 people supposed to be down there.
  • Running from pressure breaches and slamming pressure doors shut on people. Why can't they make the entire station out of pressure doors and the walls around them, which never blow?
  • Don't get emotionally attached to any black character (Mamoudou Athie) in a horror movie, no matter how much he seems to know the tropes. In contrast, fucking TJ Miller (the asshole from Silicon Valley), one of the shittiest wastes of human skin ever to darken a movie screen, gets to live more than half the flick and annoy me every minute of it.
  • Stoic captain (Vincent Cassel) can solve every problem except his own heart (in this case an obvious crush he ignores and his backstory daughter we never see…)
  • Heroic engineer (Kristen Stewart) can solve every mechanical, electrical, programming, tactical, and nuclear engineering problem. Well, that's the one good point of these flicks. She's basically just Ripley, but you know, I love Ripley.
  • Power armor deep sea suits with giant glass dome helmets and lights everywhere, so you can see the actors' faces, even tho a major plot point is that glass and lighted targets are a bad idea.
  • Chicks get sexy when they strip down to get in their power armor. Dudes look like hairy potatoes in bad underwear.
  • Let's go for a long walk underwater, even though we would realistically have subs, jetskis, or just oxygen tanks with straps and a valve as a "jet pack".
  • Don't worry about those oxygen alarms, those go off 10, 15 minutes before the plot will actually require you to get more air. Normally oxygen tanks are giant tanks, but this one has teeny little oxygen scrubber cylinders, which takes a lot of the resource management out of it.
  • Monsters always look humanoid, even though they originate in deep underwater vents, cephalopods have no need for bones, arms, hands, legs, or recognizable humanoid heads. Minor points to this one for having the baby stage be an ugly tentacle monster, and grampa Dagon is giant, weird, and hideous. But the middle stage is bullshit. I approve only of Deep Star Six, where the monster is a crab.
  • All you have to do is reach the escape pods and you'll be safe, because deep-sea creatures can't survive on the surface.
  • Tell, don't show. Half the plot setup and resolution is given as either voiceover by Kristen, GLADOS-like voiceover by a glitching-out computer, or spinning newspaper headlines in the start/end credits. Cheap and bad writing.

Missing:

  • Undersea romance. There is one, but it has zero chemistry, is only mentioned in backstory. Most of these have everyone fucking everyone else, because that's what Humans normally do, it gets the audience excited, and it gives you some reason to care if they live or die.

★★☆☆☆ — I didn't hate it, it just does absolutely nothing new, 31 years after the movies it's ripping off. Ranks poorly, above only Lords of the Deep, but not poison to watch like that was.

What I'm Watching: The Dead Don't Die

Welcome to Centerville
A Real Nice Place
Pop 738

Not for long.

Directed by Jim Jarmusch, starring Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Danny Glover, Tilda Swinton, Chloë Sevigny, Steve Buscemi*, Iggy Pop and Sara Driver (no relation) as the coffee zombies, and Tom Waits as a beardy hermit/psychopomp/Monty Python's "It's!" man.

Sturgill Simpson's "The Dead Don't Die" is the theme song, and played far too many times, it's the only song in the soundtrack. I now hate Sturgill Simpson, despite normally liking outlaw country.

This is the slowest goddamned movie I've ever seen. 30 minutes to introduce… 12 named characters? Before anything happens, and then they reuse a lot of footage and B-roll driving thru town. The cinematography's like a student film, so awkward. And in the cop car, they break the 4th wall, or just fail to cut and edit out the actors talking about the scene, I'm not sure which. I mean, even for a Jarmusch movie, there's not much evidence of editing, it's kind of "start recording until we got maybe a scene, then go somewhere else".

And I will continue to complain about color grading. Half of the film is shot day-for-night and then tinted to almost jet black, it's very hard to see.

The film isn't just genre-aware, it's script-aware, it really makes no sense without seeing, you know, every zombie and vampire movie. So I'm good, and the gas station geek and Adam Driver will sit and explain some basic rules like tone-deaf nerds explaining Star Wars (Uh. Pointed pop culture reference.), but everyone just goes along with it except Chloë who screams and fidgets a lot, as if she was 20 and not 45.

I do like zombies that need coffee after gutting their enemies; as we see, all the zombies want something. They're the one part of this entire film so far that's not boring. Takes 30 minutes to get two zombies. Almost 60 minutes to get more, but now we got some action.

Tilda Swinton's albino Scottish samurai undertaker is fantastic, like a stoner's character for Witchcraft RPG or some such; not played for laughs, but just total bullshit. And then she gets weirder.

I don't like the ending. The long scene in the car leading up to it. There's finally some action… but it's not making any point, which is what I want from my zombie flicks. If the moral is "consumers are zombies/zombies are literally consumers", why are the cops fighting them, when cops are the enforcement wing of our corporate state?

★★½☆☆ — sometimes amusing, but a long dull journey to get there.

* Wearing a "Keep America White Again" red baseball hat; maybe in a couple months if we ain't all dead, that'll be a funny period piece.

What I'm Watching: Twilight Zone

In this case, the 1983 movie. It's kind of a waste of celluloid, the originals were better, but back then you would be lucky to ever see a good episode in syndication, and if there were VHS tapes of the series, they would've been very expensive. Maybe the best case would've been to never make another Twilight Zone after Rod Serling's death. Not all the originals were great, many were repetitive, but they had a real sharp edge which is missing here.

The two Dan Aykroyd scenes are short but OK. Dan driving around scaring people would be a better show.

"Time Out" with the racist becoming prey for the racists. I hate the time-jump mechanic, and it's a very selfish revelation. What does Nazi Germany or Vietnam have to do with him, anyway? Maybe if they'd just had 'Nam and the KKK as his direct ancestors, and it would've been less preachy. The original plan was to have two Vietnamese kids he has to protect to redeem himself, but they and Vic Morrow died in a helicopter accident on set, so what you see is what they could salvage from that footage.

"Kick the Can" with Scatman Crothers making old people in a retirement home young for a night. The original was kind of a traditional fairy tale except in reverse, the fairies take the elders instead of the children, and leave the narc behind. The remake has only the fun "kid" run away young, with no real moral for everyone left behind.

"It's a Good Life" introduces a new character, teacher Helen (Kathleen Quinlan), instead of just having the miserable "family", and the town isn't nearly as bleak and horrible as the original episode. Little Anthony is now… 9? instead of 6, which makes him more capable of reason, if still having tantrums. The new kid isn't as creepy as Billy Mumy was, but he's fine. There's no cornfield. The cartoon monsters are hard to even look at, they're cel-painted instead of CGI or practical, but it's not comic like Who Framed Roger Rabbit. The happy ending is so weird; is Helen hoping to be this new god's controller, or is she horny for the boy, or genuinely wants to teach? Nothing about her motivation is revealed so we can't tell.

Notable for having a Tempest arcade cabinet and gameplay!

"Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" remake with John Lithgow doesn't work at all. William Shatner always looked competent, so his breakdown was frightening. Lithgow is a crazy man when he's sane, and he's a plausible Trinity Killer or Lord John Whorfin when he's not. The new gremlin is differently awful from the gorilla-suited original. Nothing is resolved, nobody learns anything, it just gives up.

★★☆☆☆ — I remembered this as being much better than it was.

What I'm Watching: Three Korean Zombies Edition

  • Seoul Station: Animated prequel to Train to Busan. Hye-sun, a young woman of negotiable affections and her douchebag boyfriend/wannabe-pimp, and a hobo and his mysteriously dying "bro", cross paths at Seoul's main subway station just as the zombie plague starts. It is successful at getting me to care about the girl, and to a lesser extent the men around her; one character flip didn't surprise me much but it needed a little more evidence.

Animation's kind of stiff, low FPS, but detailed, very much not in the style of most anime. What it most reminds me of are the Long Tomorrow and B-52 segments of Heavy Metal; I think it's not actually rotoscoped, but looks a lot like it. Despite being animated, with "unlimited special effects budget" as it were, there's not a lot of sets, not a lot of speaking parts, not a lot of flashy action pieces, it could've all been filmed practically for less money.

I'm a little put out by the cell phone vamping. Girl turns off her iPhone. Then it's out of reach. Then they're in a tunnel. Then coverage just stops because… it's plot convenient. And the other side just sits there shouting her name into it, instead of doing anything. It's a good way to pad out 30 extra minutes of "tension" that wouldn't exist if people just calmly (under zombie attack, yes) left messages for each other while travelling towards a common point.

It is very Korean, where the government is not on the side of the people, it's in self-preservation mode and has been putting down anti-government riots since the war. An American version of this (suppose Fear the Walking Dead was animated and wasn't absolute trash) would make different stupid mistakes; just as many dead civilians but less heartless bureaucracy. A Japanese version would be briefly hilarious, and then everyone would die because they were too polite to break skulls. The Chinese version would probably drop fuel-air bombs on the area.

★★★½☆

  • RV: Resurrected Victim: A prosecutor comes over to his crazy sister's house, and finds his dead (murdered by a mugger) mother there watching TV. A pastor (ugh, Korean christians; worse than zombies, and they're all thru this film) barges in and falls to his knees calling out to Jesus, quoting his "resurrection" fairy tale, singing and praying like the crazy people they are. She goes all zombie on them, as anyone would. Then we get an official briefing/infodump about resurrections, because apparently the writer hasn't heard of "show, don't tell".

It feels like a TV series, several episodes spliced together into a "movie". Or a fever-dream scenario by a Call of Cthulhu referee. Coincidence or fate brings everyone who needs to be in a scene together, but the B-team and C-team investigators just get forgotten for long stretches of the film, then show up again to tag along a couple scenes behind the prosecutor.

"The fact that RVs always appear in the rain is related to the fact that 80% of the human body is H2O.
And the iron content in their blood is more than ten times higher than that of normal humans.
When the vengeance is enacted, all these seem to be related to the strong magnetic field that is formed."
—inexplicably bad English-speaking… Italian? gentleman with a priest sidekick, possibly in the wrong movie.

The mystery being solved is fine, and eventually all the plots are tied together, if not at all satisfactorily at the end, with a preachy speech. The "RVs" do almost nothing, the entire plot could be a non-supernatural drama, or have hallucinations or visions of ghosts, with minimal changes and far less of a wasted premise.

★★★☆☆

  • Stranger: I'm only a few episodes into this series, about a prosecutor (again?!) who feels no emotions (a philosophical zombie!) after a childhood surgery. He solves crimes, fights corruption in his bureau, tries to pass as a person but doesn't really succeed. The sympathetic woman cop Han (Doona Bae, most recently from Kingdom and Sense8) and his rival prosecutor are well-played. There's an overall season plot, and not much episodic plot, which makes it hard to decide where to stop, doesn't give a clear delineation between episodes, and I can't binge more than a couple hours of Korean TV at a time, so it's taking a while to get thru.

But so far, I like everything about this, good investigation, forensics, office treachery that isn't mysterious figures in the dark but rather just awful coworkers. Best of all, a protagonist who's proactive, isn't all weepy and stupid, has his own secrets but isn't a villain. Han is also really adorable, she tries to be a supercop (a coworker calls her "Angelina Jolie", but really she's more Michelle Yeoh ) but also takes in strays and is surprisingly good for a police force not exactly known for that.

★★★★½

What I'm Watching: Hammer Dracula

The Hammer Dracula films deviate weirdly from the book, and each iteration gets stranger. Still, I'd like to see the rest; I've probably watched all of them at some point but it's been many decades.

  • Horror of Dracula (1958): Jonathan Harker is an ineffectual agent for Van Helsing (Peter Cushing), this time posing as a librarian for Count Dracula (Christopher Lee), whose castle is in "Klausenberg"/Cluj, Romania. The castle is quite nice, moody and gothic but also cleaned up enough to be a run-down Romanian palace. There's a pretty, slutty vampire wench in lieu of the 3 vampire brides. Soon enough we're in Karlstadt, Bavaria: No London or long sea voyages for this production! Mina has morphed into (pompous asshole) Arthur's blonde hausfrau wife (100% opposite of the Mina of the book), Lucy has become his chaste, brunette, engaged to Jonathan sister (even more variant, and completely changes the sexual element of her corruption). There's a Dr John Seward, but he's incidental, there's never a Quincey Morris cowboy in these adaptations.

Van Helsing does soon recruit Arthur and reveals while recording a gramophone memo (for this is an advanced 1885) all the powers and vulnerabilities of the vampire, in case you didn't know. Dracula is physically very powerful in his castle, but here in Karlstadt he relies entirely on suggestion and sneaking around, and while he has his way with "Lucy" the heroes quickly apply their scientific knowledge to destroy him.

The sets are nice, the film is bright and colorful. Chris Lee and Peter Cushing are excellent in their characters. But the script is nonsense, the plot is nothing like Dracula.

★★★★☆

  • I can't find #2 Brides of Dracula or #3 Dracula Prince of Darkness in any reasonable way. Maybe later I'll catch up.

  • Dracula Has Risen from the Grave (1969): #4 in the series. It is now 1905. A girl is murdered in a church in the shadow of Dracula's castle; this is never clearly explained, because at this time Dracula is in torpor, frozen in a river (I dunno, #3 did it). A Monsignor (not quite a Bishop) takes the useless local priest up to Dracula's castle, does spiritual warfare (nothing) and claims victory. Well, no, because the useless priest coincidentally resurrects Dracula. So… did Dracula make that happen? Or is it just bad luck, dozens of people fell nearby over the decades but not quite in the right place?

But now we're in "Keinenberg", which sounds German but everyone and everything looks English, much less set decoration effort. The useless priest, a hot redhead barmaid, and a useless boyfriend of the Monsignor's "daughter" all bumble about, Dracula hangs out in the basement and does nothing but smoke a lot of dope, judging from his red eyes. Normally a Hammer film doesn't have time to be boring, but this one feels like it's taken hours.

There's no Van Helsing, is what it is. Say what you will about Abe's "YOU DAMNED FOOL" personality, it moves the plot along. The Monsignor putters about and does nothing, and is too fat and old for rooftop adventures. The lovesick useless boyfriend barely knows his line "where's Maria!" Dracula broods and stares, but apparently lacks the energy to do anything, except kill the slutty redhead, who was the only one I liked.

A very brief return to the bar and front door of the castle in Cluj isn't really enough of a set change, mostly it's just wandering thru woods like any Z-grade flick.

None of the vampire rules seem to apply to this one. You can see Dracula's reflections, it doesn't take multiple feedings to turn a victim, he can enter a house on his own. It is claimed you need prayer to defeat a vampire, which is not at all true in any other film; right angles inexplicably repel vampires, but the religious trappings don't do anything.

★★☆☆☆

Both have a rather overbearing score by James Bernard, who did many another Hammer soundtrack. A lighter touch and it would've been a good soundtrack, but brass shrieking at the audience made it hard to hear lines.

Haunted Halloween

I've added a new seasonal game to my Mystic Dungeon: Haunted Halloween.

A text-mode twin-stick shooter (well, except it's an emulated Atari 800 "text mode", and the sticks are WASD and IJKL, I haven't written joystick support yet).

Five different levels:

  • Pumpkin Patch: Collect pumpkins for ammo.
  • Dark Forest: Find the path through.
  • Graveyard: Easy, just dodge gravestones and monsters.
  • Corn Maze: Unless you're Ted Forth you won't have a problem with this maze.
  • Haunted House: Just run thru the spooky house full of ghosts, and other monsters crawling in from the woods, get candy, get out!

Three difficulty levels:

  • Treat is turn-based, but there's so few monsters & candies you won't get a high score.
  • Trick is real-time, but you can generally outrun monsters.
  • Nightmare has twice as many monsters & candies, so it's the best way to get a high score… or die quickly, completely overwhelmed.

You can also play it like a stealth game, H hides you from non-adjacent monsters, so you can just run in, hide, wait for them to move off.

You collect candies for score (and banishing monsters earns candy), but every time you move to the next level you eat 10 candy to recover a hit and get some free pumpkins. So it's usually better to stay and clear all monsters, pick up all candies, then move on. But if you have a bunch of witches and ghosts, might be worth running away early.

The interesting thing from development is how little code is required for this kind of game. Halloween is under 1000 LOC, and that includes some long text blobs! Portal Worlds was 3000 LOC, Dungeon's over 3200 LOC and not even close to "done".

I'm still working on Public Caves, moving from BASIC to web-tech requires a lot more infrastructure!

What I'm Watching: Invisible Man (2020)

So, a woman (Elisabeth Moss) who's apparently been given everything she wants, sabotages security systems and flees her husband's home in the night, releases his dog, dings his car. Then she acts like a prisoner in a "safe house" of a single black cop and his daughter, but never explains why. The husband (Oliver Jackson-Cohen, generic English prettyboy but has the stupid Millennial mullet, which means he's coded as villain) is so distraught he commits suicide, and the disrespectful wench can't even sit through his prepared statement at the will reading, only wants money money money.

To say I'm not sympathetic to the viewpoint character is a massive understatement. You need to show, not tell, to get any kind of sympathy.

Lifetime Movie Aside: There's a movie I saw, Enough (2002, Jennifer Lopez), a ripoff of Sleeping with the Enemy (1991, Julia Roberts) where it spends half the film showing her life with an abusive husband who makes her clean perfectly, turn can labels forward in a cupboard, behave perfectly, every petty thing, or he'll beat her; then she escapes, learns "krav maga" (but what it shows is just kickboxing/tai chi), and kicks his ass. It was as preposterous as any other Lifetime movie, but I didn't mind it because it shows, not tells.

Anyway, then she goes paranoid, starts seeing moving shadows, and footprints in sheets in an utterly dark room we can't see anything in either, finds things she lost, and starts committing crimes and claiming her dead, invisible husband did it.

She tries to get a new job, and stays at the safe house, despite having all the money money money from her dead husband's estate. None of her behavior makes sense for someone newly rich. Did the writer (Leigh Whannell, dude best known for the horrendous Saw movies) just forget they'd done that? If he wrote this as little snippets while drinking, it would explain a lot of the "plot". In fact, several of the "I won't hurt you, I'll hurt them!" bits are straight out of Saw.

Security Aside: This shouldn't be news to anyone in 2020, but lock your damned computer. On the Mac, you can do System Preferences, Desktop, Screen Saver, Start after 5 minutes (or whatever), then Security, General, Require Password 5 Seconds after screen saver. The  menu also has ^⌘Q Lock Screen now (formerly in Keychain Access); I don't know/care how Windows and Linux do it, but you can figure it out. Now nobody can get to your desktop and send emails pretending to be you. This is the most basic security procedure. She h4xx0r3d her husband's security at the start, and lip-polishes over the webcam (which on good computers can't be accessed without the green light), so clearly learning security matters… Then she doesn't do the most basic thing. And while I'm at hit, the dead husband had terrible choices for passwords and PINs, do not use important dates in your life! Memorize random number & word sequences!

If this was going to be a psychological study of PTSD, then pretending that the "bad guy" is actually doing it ruins that. If it's going to be an Invisible Man horror story, then never showing the invisible man doing anything until nearly the end ruins that. Either way, it's just 90 minutes of Elisabeth Moss whining. Egregiously so when she whines "You can have any girl! I'm just a suburban girl!"; Mz Moss is dressed down in hoodies and bad makeup here, and nearing 40 not as young as Peggy on Mad Men, but she's still cute, fit, in the top 1% of pretty girls. Can you imagine what kind of psychological damage this is inflicting on girls who aren't her? "Nobody will ever love you if you don't look better than Mz Moss" is the writer's message. FUCK THIS GUY.

Suit Applications Aside: Suppose the invisible super-suit did exist (which it does not, it's her delusion). Every military, espionage, and assassination organization in the world would want it. Who cares about one possibly crazy ex-wife, if you get the ultimate weapon? And what happens when you scale that up to tanks, planes, missiles? You think a cop is gonna let someone walk off with one?

When the brother-in-law offers to make charges go away, to protect his brother's kid, he's just doing his filial duty, it's not a trap. And poor Zeus the dog, he just wants both his people back, but they keep fighting.

The entire last third of the film is a delusional, hallucinating, psychotic widow killing family, friends, and anyone else getting in her way. It's tragic, but there's no invisible man.

★★☆☆☆

(Disclaimer: Movie tropes about insanity are not reality; I'm not characterizing actual mental illness this way.)

Haunted House

You are a bold and courageous person,
afraid of nothing.
High on the hilltop near your home
there stands a dilapidated old mansion.
Some say the place is haunted,
but you don't believe in such myths.
One dark and stormy night, a light appears
in the topmost window in the tower of the old house.
You decide to investigate.
And you never return.

Ah, the classics.

[Update a few minutes later: Wow, "The Chinese Water Torture" is incredibly racist. Also it's called "waterboarding" and it's not a single drop of water, but wow.]


What I'm Watching: The Outsider

Miniseries on HoboMax based on a Stephen King novel; I haven't read him regularly since Gerald's Game, which I hated, so I'm not familiar, but if this is representative at all, which movies often are not of King's books, I should get back on the train. It's tangentially related to the Mr Mercedes series which I haven't seen yet.

I do note, almost every shot is in darkness, lit with the minimal number of in-scene lights, and often tinted cyan/orange as usual. It looks like absolute shit. The sound's worse, half the characters, especially the cop, mumble and slur their words, so you can't really watch it without subtitles. Bar music is muffled and ump-ump-umping, with colored gels making the bad lighting worse. Once in a long while, they manage to get a shot in sunlight, outside, and astoundingly they manage to point a camera at it correctly, but mostly this is just incompetently shot and miked. I miss films being, you know, watchable? Put more than a couple little streaks of photons on film?

Also like 90% of the dudes look alike, heavy middle-aged honkie goons with short hair, short beards. I don't know if this is bad casting or intentional? Since it could be anyone? But it plays hell with my mediocre face recognition skills.

The pacing in most scenes is somewhere between glacial and nonexistent, it could've been half the number of episodes with no loss.

On balance, the story being told just barely overcomes the drawbacks, but it's the worst-filmed of King's series and movies that I've seen.

The series starts like every crime drama, an old man with a dog out for a walk in the woods finds a kid's body, abused and bitten(!). Killers, stop leaving your bodies there, you know you're gonna be found, and then a detective with a troubled personal life will get involved and catch you. Well, this one maybe wants it.

So the cliché detective (small-town sheriff) with a troubled personal life arrests the person who looks good for it, with a bunch of blatantly out-of-character eyewitnesses and camera recordings, before the case starts falling apart badly.

Next a new protagonist, P.I. Holly Gibney (Cynthia Erivo, of Widows, Bad Times at the El Royale), goes looking for an explanation. She's a Rain Man fictional autistic genius type, which makes her awkward to watch and utterly implausible as a person, but a good stand-in for a text adventure or RPG player character, willing to go anywhere, ask anything, assemble giant notebooks of clues until the problem is solved.

SPOILERS

















Right up front Holly brings up the stories of Doppelgangers, Fetch, etc., dark shadows of people who commit atrocities in their form, and whether they're myth or just explanations for schizophrenia, dissociative identity disorder, etc., but misses my favorite, the Navajo myth of the Skinwalker, a witch that takes the skin of an animal (or in really dark variants, a person) and assumes their form. I've been expecting that since the moment Terry was accused and obviously not playing the same person as the killer.

So far we have no motive for the skinwalker, but everything in it leads that direction: Claude gets copied at the titty bar. Terry got copied by the skinwalker at the nursing home. Heath got copied in New York. Maria got copied there. If you're a murderous skinwalker, NYC would seem to be the place to stay, nobody'd notice a few missing. Out in the boonies, anyone out of the ordinary is suspicious.

Aside, at one point in a back-story, a kid is scared by the movie Leprechaun (starring the inimitable Warwick Davis!), but the thing is, the leprechaun only kills those who steal his gold (or that he thinks did), so a kid might be squicked out by the gore, but shouldn't be afraid of leprechauns. +5 for reference, -10 for missing the point.

And that's relevant because later Holly's theory is that it's El Coco, here called "El Cuco", or basically the boogeyman. Which also makes no sense because none of the victims were bad kids, and universally we know that the boogeyman only takes away bad kids. If monsters under your bed were eating good kids, parents would rise up in anger & torches & pitchforks, but if they take bad kids, silent sigh of relief and "oh no my dirty-faced angel is gone oh well time to make another".

By episodes 4-5 it really starts to drag, there's no plot advancement except a few minutes of investigation here and there. A lot of repeated scenes of indistinguishable honkie dudes being crazy, the cop brooding, Holly being nerdy at random people who have no reason to hear her out.

E6 manages to get back on track, with Holly explaining everything she knows, making the last few episodes redundant, and new investigation into the monster's abilities.

Nope, E7-E8 are right back to moody nothing, a long car ride into nowhere, Ralph whining at his therapist but unable to even articulate the plot, Holly gets to be cool and stoic until she's not.

Finally, E9-10 have a confrontation, a slow but somewhat tense shootout, and something like final showdown. Even that's made dull, slow and methodical. And then excuses and lies to get the survivors out of trouble.

There's a little post-credits scene, don't just close it, but it doesn't do anything.

I really want to like this. Every element it's doing is clever, in competent filmmakers' hands it'd be great, it's just so incredibly badly told as a show, I can't.

★★½☆☆

What I'm Watching: Lovecraft Country

Based on a fixup "novel" of short stories by Matt Ruff about racism and the supernatural in the lives of a black family in 1950s New England. And then adapted by Jordan "Get Out! I'm Gonna Make Another Good Movie or Show Someday I Swear!" Peele.

Humn, an unpleasant observation. I've read Matt "Chubby White Dude" Ruff before, and wasn't pleased. His Sewer, Gas & Electric trilogy uses tropes of cyberpunk without understanding the ethos of "the street finds its own uses for things (mil/industrial tech)", he just puts power in the hands of a bureaucracy and megacorporations. And it's grossly, excessively racist while trying to… make fun of racism? I don't know what his point was, as I threw the book out halfway thru. In it all black people die of a plague so androids are made with black skin and racist caricature behaviors, to be slaves forever, because white people missed them so. Yes, I'm serious. When you're looking for a guy to translate around H.P. Lovecraft's product-of-his-time racism into more modern terms, Matt Ruff's not the guy I'd pick.

HoboMax is doing the annoying "just like old-timey television" shit of only releasing one ep a week, which I haven't had to deal with since killing cable and buying DVD boxes around 2000. So this just covers S1E1.

On with the show.

A black Korean war veteran Atticus (Jonathan Majors) who loves pulp literature, his uncle George (Courtney B. Vance) who edits the Green Book, down-on-her-luck friend Letitia (Jurnee Smollett), go on a little road trip into "Lovecraft Country", weird New England from Salem up to Maine, looking for Tic's missing father. Who's an asshole, apparently.

They do need the Green Book, early on we see incredibly hostile racist places. I'm very far in time and culture from these, so maybe I'm off, but I've read period histories and a lot of crime & pulps… and they're exaggerating to an extreme level. I don't buy fat New Englanders racing out of nowhere in car chases with fire engines and gunfire, just because black people sat in a restaurant, without first escalating from threats and bats, to threat of lynching, and then going Mad Max. Inbred pyschotic states like Kentucky, Alabama, Arkansas, or Texas, sure, but not Pennsylvania. The Green Book used to recommend that black people always carry bail money if they went to Missouri, not "Don't go they'll KILL YOU!"

Matt Ruff. Jordan Peele.

The period is often confused, between Tic's dreams which waver all over time and space from WWII to aliens & saucers from '60s-70s UFO nuts, Cthulhu illustrations popularized in the '80s-'00s, and sets, cars, and costumes which are almost but not quite period '50s, a lot of it looks '60s. I'm not sure how much of that is intentionally making a timeless hostile place, some of it the difficulty of actually making period sets. The music is intentionally anachronistic, which has modern rap mixed in with period blues and jazz; I find that jarring and incompetent, regardless of what their intent was.

So after meeting all the Human monsters, we get 10 minutes with the "real" monsters. Who do great at killing no-name mooks, but are apparently utterly helpless against named characters. For a scene that's supposed to be a horrific chase… it was just goofy. Letitia's running scene, in particular, looked like one of those endless runner videogames, or Telltale Games' "story on rails with quick-time events" games, where you dodge a little left or right, jump now, hammer X to grab the thing. The pacing, the comically bad CGI cartoon look of the monsters, and the stoic/detached/whacked out on 'ludes attitude the actors all have, destroy any "horror" from these things.

I like Tic, he's a good adventurer hero, and his love of pulp SF which often has unpleasant attitudes with a "people are complicated" philosophy. Letitia's a little strident but bland. Uncle George is awfully naïve and passive for a civil rights organizer.

The plot so far has been very episodic and unconnected, a toddler's "and then this happened, then this, then this", and the cliffhanger of them knocking on a front door, wearing bloody rags, and not being shot for their hubris is out of nowhere.

I'm willing to put up with a lot if they actually get to some real horror, but so far it's very comical.

★★★☆☆