What I'm Watching: Post Mortem: No One Dies in Skarnes

Oh, Netflix. There was a long dry spell of Grim Scandinavian Crime Dramas after the last Bordertown, and Deadwind S2 was aimless without a main plot (tho still amusing mostly). But now they have Post Mortem: No One Dies in Skarnes (there's like 3 other Post Mortems in the last couple years). Also technically horror, but mostly comedy.

A young woman Live (pr. "Leeva", Kathrine Thorborg Johansen) is found dead in a field… mostly dead. Not all that dead. Her brother Odd (Elias Holmen Sørensen being a Norwegian Zach Galifianakis, just hilariously incompetent) and father run the small town's only mortuary. And then she starts to have problems with a need for blood.

Odd is soon in charge of the mortuary, and struggles desperately to keep it open. Live's murderous instincts should be a nice windfall… Instead she just gets wannabe cop/boyfriend Reinert (André Sørum) tangled up in it, and hapless Odd nearly bankrupted a couple times.

It's shot like a horror story or drama, but everyone is so foolish and slapstick it never manages to not be comedy (very morbid, hope you don't mind blood & dead bodies). Some of the eps drag or cycle over the same ground a bit; hopefully if they get more seasons they tighten the plot up more. But just a charming little show.

★★★★½

What I'm Watching: Fear Street

So, I'd heard enough chatter about Fear Street to wtach it. New slasher flicks are rare enough. What I didn't realize is these are based on R.L.Stine books, which I have never read (obviously). So for the first two movies, 1994 and 1978, I was baffled. Are these comedy horror? There's almost no jokes; only in the end of the third film does it get funny. But there's barely anything more than a few jump scares and bad fake blood in dark sets. While there's some borderline teenage sex and drugs, it's PG-13 even if it says "R".

The first one's not bad at 1994 period, but I assure you Nine Inch Nails was not played on mall PAs, and the black girl dating a very generic-brand white cheerleader would not have passed without comment in the time, nor would Nurse Betty (who I'll note is a straight man playing a gay crossdresser/transwoman like Klinger, because there were apparently no gay/trans actors to take the role? This ought to be as taboo as putting honkies in blackface). If you're gonna do period, you might at least milk the period's tail-end racism and homophobia for some drama.

The unstoppable killers each have some unique character, but we never really find out much about several of them, and I'd much rather hear that. Long flashbacks to why they were chosen and what they did; instead we get a few quick-cut repeats of the same crimes. Everyone's dumb in this. There's one gross-out kill that actually startled me, telegraphed for like a minute and I still didn't think they'd do it. But otherwise it's the dullest, dumbest thing I've seen, there's a half-assed explanation for the killers, a story about a witch which is driven into the ground so hard that it's obviously bait.

After credits and at the start of each segment, there's a tediously long spoiler and recap, as if they weren't meant to come out at the same time. According to wiki, they started development in 2015, wrapped shooting in 2019(!), and then it took until this month to release them.

The summer camp story in 1978 is much better, focusing on "Ziggy" the tomboy redhead, her square sister, a punk rock girl, stoner dude, and about 30 absolutely indistinguishable honkie automaton clones blundering about. The problem is one of those is the killer, and another is… another problem… and I couldn't pick them out of a lineup. But Ziggy and punk rock girl are pretty tough, the party sticks together until they stupidly split up and then terrible things happen, but we get another different bullshit explanation for the killers.

Third film is two films. 1666 fills in the Pilgrim Times theme park setting, but does the American Horror Story hack trick of reusing actors from the present as their ancestors, except Deena inexplicably plays someone who won't have any descendants, least of all her. This is not The VVitch. This is tedious RenFaire play-acting with pig shit, co-ed dances in the woods, and an old wise woman with a copy of the Necronomicon. OH NO don't read from the scary magic book, not-Deena, we don't know what the consequences are. Then it's back to reenacting Salem but with actual black magic so someone really did need to be hung & burned.

The final half, the comedy writers finally got their turn, and it becomes goofing off in a mall lit with blacklights, shooting super-soakers at killers, a lot of Scooby Doo hijinks, and an ending that doesn't really make sense, permanently stop the killers, or provide any closure. But everyone who lives gets a cameo so that's nice.

There's a couple moments where R.L.Stine's books are used as props in the show, and not respectfully. Stephen King is mentioned much more seriously.

These aren't even as good as the worst Friday the 13th movies, let alone any actual horror movie, but I was amused enough to stay awake thru three movies. If you're normally scared of horror movies, these are like tiny baby stories which won't upset you much.

★★½☆☆

What I'm Watching: Manifest

Just started, dunno how long. They did 3 seasons and cancelled, so now I know I can actually watch the whole thing without 'flix cancelling it on me.

Watched first two eps. Plane flight from Jamaica to NYC vanishes, lands 5.5 years later without time passing inside, nobody mentions Langoliers. They start having auditory hallucinations which lead to saving lives or solving crimes or standing outside at night to stare at a plane, some of them think it's God, others are relentlessly sane. Again nobody bothers to mention Stephen King. The government investigates them. Nobody mentions The Shop, from multiple Stephen King books about traumatized, time-lost psychics investigated by the government like say The Dead Zone or Firestarter.

The writing's nowhere near Stephen King level, but the family dramas are all tightly interconnected, the rather obvious bad guys are rather obvious, it's an enjoyable enough popcorn show ripoff of his books. I could do with less "God" from the stupid, life-disaster NYPD lady who's often the protagonist.

I'm tagging this "horror" but that's really not accurate. They don't have the balls to show anything dark and terrible, this aired on NBC for weak-spined old people who don't have streaming, so a young man in prison is just beaten up a little, not… The girls in a cage are… cared for off-screen, so you don't have to hear what happened. Fake sex is done with lingerie and taffeta sheets, not sweaty people boning just short of real porn. There's a murder… shown only as bloodspatter cut away from the victim.

The amazing world of the future of 2018 from 2013 doesn't seem to phaze anyone, just minor notes that their iPhones don't connect to obsolete 2G towers or long-cancelled phone accounts. Medical research girl's work has gone on without her. Nobody so far has noted that they went from a bright, hopeful America with President Barack Obama, to a war-torn hellhole dystopia under Traitor Tr@mp. If I found out I'd skipped over half of Barry's term and into that shit, I'd be pissed.

★★★½☆

What I'm Watching: Army of the Dead

This is a zombie flick, the most worn-out of genres, by Zack Snyder, the most worn-out edgelord filmmaker of the millennium. And it's vastly, vastly better than I would expect.

The title credits show the rise and fall of Las Vegas zombies with Elvis singing, you think "oh that character's totally surviving"… no mercy. Over the top but not quite into comedy range, tho I did laugh at some of the machine gun scenes.

So now years later, Vegas is walled off, the few surviving heroes are in dead-end jobs, or refugee camps. A fixer (Hiroyuki Sanada) hires ex-hero/fry cook Dave Bautista to gather a heist team to extract wealth from Vegas before the inevitable military solution.

The team's full of fun character actors, from Garrett Dillahunt (Francis from Deadwood, Ty from Justified) as the Carter Burke company man type, to Ella Purnell, one of the girls from Miss Peregrine's. And a lot of the crew are stunt performers. Samantha Win does a great job channelling Vasquez from Aliens, right down to the red bandana, tho there's no Lieutenant Gorman analogue in this.

The gunfights, knife fights, and brawls are quick and bloody, nice honest squibs it looks like in most shots, with a few cartoony but generally blurred-out CGI shots for machine-gun fire melting armies of the dead.

The crawler zombies are slow, dumb, and follow Night of the Living Dead tradition of just being extras in makeup, not too much effort. The ghouls, or "alpha zombies" as they call them, are heavily made up and sometimes CGI'd, especially their bright yellow eyes. There's some interesting zombie ecology/culture built up here, especially Valentine, and the showgirl, and Zeus.

I make a lot of comparisons to Aliens, because this is clearly like 50% Aliens + 25% original Dawn of the Dead + 25% Zack's Dawn of the Dead. Which is fine, Snyder needs a better template than just "dark superheroes brood and kill people", and here he's got one. This is shockingly superior to anything Zack's done since… Sucker Punch?

There's a spinoff TV series already in production, it seems, covering the zombie war, I'm definitely watching that.

★★★★★

What I'm Watching: Love Death Robots S2

Previously, part 1 and part 2.

A short set of S2, maybe not trying to flood us like S1 did. I will note, S1 had very little diversity; a couple girl MilSF authors, and the worst story of last season was by a woman who writes vamp-fucker books. S2 has zero, 0, none, not a fig: It is all white male honkie dudes. Probably all straight. A couple are English, Dutch, kinda imperialist. Look, I'm not saying "you can't use stories by honkie males", some honkie males are my friends and I pass for one, but I am saying in every video, they're fucking all honkie males?! I'm very disappointed in you, Netflix.

Anyway, the shorts:

  • Automated Customer Service, by John Scalzi: Too obviously a Scalzi piece, so it's trying to be super funny but instead at best gets a snicker or chortle, and then has a terrible ending because Scalzi can't write his way in or out of a plot. Accurately captures how I think Judgement Day will go: Stupid consumer electronics and overzealous marketing AI start terminating all the Humans. I dislike the weird stretchy big-head geriatric Humans, and the dog has creepy Human teeth which is NOT OK, but the robots are cute so it gets a better rating than the writing deserves. ★★★☆☆

  • Ice, by Rich Larson: short story has a much less kind tone than this video. The premise that you can't genetically engineer someone after birth is just false, a pre-CRISPR/mRNA view. I dislike the art style in this, shadow puppets with minimal detail. ★★★☆☆

  • Pop Squad, by Paolo Bacigalupi: Blatantly ripping off Blade Runner, from the grim cops in black murdering innocents, cars flying up above a grimy city, punching thru clouds to sunlight, Vangelis-lite ripoff music, fake geisha looking entitled rich wench. Zero subtlety or writing, just blunt: "not having kids seems a small price to pay for getting to live forever".

    Done exponentially better in Ad Vitam despite its many flaws; yes, that's 6 hours instead of 15 minutes, but this had more money in it.

    I'd be more impressed with the sets if they were anything but stock "grimy cyberpunk city" and "house inexplicably next to ruins", probably bought directly from the Unity store. Ends with a direct ripoff of the Roy Baty "tears in rain" scene. This is so preachy, obvious, and trite, it's like every trashy non-SF writer's condescending opinion of SF was true. And I fucking hate Blade Runner ripoffs. ★☆☆☆☆

  • Snow in the Desert, by Neal Asher: An old survivor, albino (but incorrectly blue-eyed, not pink; I think an error by the filmmakers, but I don't remember the Asher story well) and full of weird surprises, tries to stay ahead of bounty hunters. Very nice modelling, the desert and scrapyard bartertown are spartan enough you don't really hit uncanny valley, and the not-always-Human people don't look cartoony. Plot's kind of trivial, the reveals aren't surprising if you know anything about Neal's Polity series, but it's all well-done, never stupid. ★★★★½

  • The Tall Grass, by Joe Lansdale: Fantastic oil-paint art style. HP Lovecraft-looking protagonist gets off a train and wanders into the grass. This is a very very dumb idea, but we have the advantage of having seen Children of the Corn. I'm extremely unimpressed by what's out there, the mood is great until they're revealed and then it's just "oh for fuck's sake". Ending is moody again, it's just the whole middle bit that needed a rethink. ★★★½☆

    Notably this is vastly superior to Stephen King & Joe Hill's In the Tall Grass.

  • All Through the House, by Joachim Heijndermans: It's Xmas in May! Brats sneak up on Santa and find out why you should stay in bed and be good. This was just delightful, and doesn't overstay its welcome. Every child should be shown this one, in between Frosty the Snowman and episodes of The Cinnamon Bear. ★★★★★

  • Life Hutch, by Harlan Ellison: So far there hadn't been any dumb Call of Duty videos. Well, here it is. After attempting to murder aliens in space, space murderer crash-lands on a planet, finds an automated survival shelter, and then the systems don't like him much. Which sentiment I share. Possibly unfair. The short story was Harlan's second published, and it fits in an arc of a Human-alien war with a little more question about "why", and the robot isn't self-motivated like in this video. BUT. It's still a dumb piece. ★★☆☆☆

  • The Drowned Giant, by J.G. Ballard: A long, talky, introspective story by Ballard turns into a long, talky voiceover video over a dead giant on the beach. Bored out of my skull by this. Narrator does nothing, learns nothing. Purpose and origin of the giant is unknown. Almost literally anyone else visible in this video would be more interesting to follow. ★☆☆☆☆

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 (1989): 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.